I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

The Three-Body Problem trilogy (review)

I just finished reading the Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy (AKA The Three-Body Problem trilogy; or TBP for short).

I'll write my impressions of the series without major spoilers

Which is difficult (and will seem kinda vague), but I think if you're going to read this one, it is better to find out as you go, as the first novel contains a mystery that will only be revealed halfway.

Also, there are some adaptations out there, and another one coming in 2024 - let's hope they're good.

Anyway, here is a small summary from Wikipedia:

Ye Wenjie is an astrophysicist who saw her father brutally murdered during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Later, she was conscripted by the military because of her scientific background and sent to a secret radar base in a remote region of China. Her fateful decision in the 1960s echoes across space and time to a group of scientists in the present day, forcing them to face humanity's greatest threat.

First things first: the trilogy is well worth the read, maintains a similarly decent quality throughout the three entries, and has a definitive and satisfactory (if not perfect) ending.

It contains aliens, spaceships, cryogenics, flying cars, lasers, anti-matter weapons... all the things you'd expect from a sci-fi epic (except, maybe, much transhumanism and AI).

TBP is both "hard" sci-fi, discussing physics and engineering extensively, with aspects of "soft" sci-fi, analyzing the political, sociological and psychological consequences of many catastrophic events on humanity.

Although the attention to detail and accuracy is noteworthy, the technology becomes more extreme and speculative as the novels progress (and the feeling of "deus ex machina" gets stronger as we go on) - to the point of being "indistinguishable from magic" to my eyes, especially in the third book (it might be different if you have any knowledge of theoretical physics; I wouldn't know).

More than anything, it is a epic tale spanning dozens of characters in multiple galaxies across millions for years, maybe more - from ancient China and Constantinople to the Cultural revolution and aeons of space exploration.

It reminds me of the Foundation series in this regard.

But TBP trilogy manages to be a lot scarier, dealing with war, genocide and mass extinction on a regular basis. The third book gave me existential anxiety as few books have before. Everything feels always at the brink of destruction.

The writing is slow at times - I often skipped technical details and lengthy description of places - but I never felt exactly bored (maybe anxious). There was just certain parts that felt unnecessary to the story.

The characters are well-written if occasionally a bit shallow, although this is not the focus of the books for the most part. I like the fact that here are few clear "villains", and even the protagonists manage to fail spectacularly at times.

TBP is full of big ideas - it discusses many difficulty questions but provides no easy answers.

All things considered, it is a page-turner - and I read the last book over a weekend because I was curious to finally get to the conclusion.

If you like epic, hard sci-fi, this one is worth checking out.


  1. I agree that they are great books, well worth reading.
    But I'd argue that Ye Wenjie is the worst villain in human history. The horrors of her life may explain her choices, but does not absolve her.

    1. Good point.
      I like the fact that the book tries to explain some of the motivations for the villains, but you're right, there are crimes that cannot be justified.