Cixin Liu, The Remembrance of Earth,
There's something of Mamoru Oshii's Avalon in The Three body problem, and also something of Kim Stanley Robinson, and also something of Otherland by Tad Williams (in much, much better), and also something of Stephen Baxter... Actually, the list of works and authors who seem to have inspired Cixin Liu is a long one, but the novel can't be summed up to that because it's a story in its own right...
The Three-body problem takes place in China and alternates between two eras: the horrors of the Cultural Revolution and a more or less contemporary era.
In the past, we follow the story of Ye Wenjie, a young astrophysicist whose father has been lynched and who ends up working for a mysterious military project. In the present, we are with Wang Miao, an engineer in nanotechnology who will be dragged, despite his will, in an enquiry about the death of famous physicists. Poor Wang Miao ends up being caught in events he's unable to explain and that seem to overturn all the known laws of physics. Add to that a mysterious video game in VR where players must solve the enigma of a planet where chaotic periods follow stable periods.
Conspiracy? Aliens? The mystery is at the heart of this first volume.
It's not exactly necessary to brush up on your knowledge of the string theory and of Henri Poincaré work for this novel, but it helps! Yes, it's hard scifi and mathematics and physics are everywhere in the novel.
But where many hard scifi novels may seem a bit dry, Cixin Liu offers a story with a very intriguing mystery and a fast pace, while some moments in the novel are completely esoteric. The characters are well rounded and are much more than only agents of a concept.
Because it's a Chinese novel taking place in China, it also adds a touch of strangeness for the readers more used european and american scifi. Some historical references, some social codes, will probably be obvious for those who know well China, but it was a welcome discovery for me. And Ken Liu, the translator, did a tremendous work to make this culture accessible to everyone using footnotes.
In the end, it's the nature of the novel itself that makes it so intriguing: is it a conspiracy thriller? Some kind of physics whodunnit? A hard scifi story with aliens? Some sort of mystical story steeped in astrophysics? The reader will have to go to the end of the first volume to find the answer. The second volume, despite a pace that is sometimes awkward, further the overall story, up to a striking and pessimistic ending.
The Three-body problem has won the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Novel. The third volume is to be published in April 2016 and a film adaptation is currently being filmed in China.
Update - October 2016: the third volume was finally published with a delay. Honestly, I could take it or leave it. I had some issues with the main character and I think that if the series had stopped at the ending of the second volume, I'd have found it more striking.
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All reviews are spoiler free unless explicitly stated otherwise.
I only review stories I have liked even if my opinion may be nuanced. It doesn't apply for the "Novels published before 1978" series of blog posts.
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