February Book Club: The Three-Reader Problem

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Fireblend, Feb 3, 2020.

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What did you think?

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  1. Fireblend

    Fireblend ABLF

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    Our book for February is:

    The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

    [​IMG]

    "Set against the backdrop of China's Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision."
    Feel free to discuss your current thoughts on the book while you read, report your progress, etc. and make sure to vote in the poll when you finish it!
     
  2. Fireblend

    Fireblend ABLF

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    I'll probably start reading after I'm done with Borne, so expect a late start from me this month!
     
  3. Flush

    Flush Poker Royalty

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    So, I'm sick right now which gives me the opportunity to get a lot of this book done.

    I think this is general enough to not count as spoiler, but I'll hide it just to make sure (Discusses Chapter 7):
    In general I can relate to a lot of the book so far since I studies physics myself. But: I'm past the virtual world chapter now and I have to say that its one of those authors that has virtually no idea how video games work? What is this even supposed to be? A MMORPG? The timelapse would make no sense there. And when is the "real" timeline supposed to take place? I thought we were somewhere in 2010s or early 20s (196x + 4x years). There is no such thing as a V-Suit in sight. I really liked the book so far, but that chapter threw me off big time.
     
  4. Flush

    Flush Poker Royalty

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    Okay, Chapter 16 done (yes, I've been reading all day). I don't know where this book is going but I don't think I like it a lot :/
     
  5. flatearthpandas

    flatearthpandas Round Moon Bears

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    I've read the book anyway and kind of reading the second right now so I'll hold back a bit. I'll say mixed feelings a bit but on Christmas sale bought the following three books so not bad at all overall.

    i'd put it in my top 5 book club books
     
  6. Flush

    Flush Poker Royalty

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    I'm not through the book yet, and I will write more on this after I gave the book a chance to redeem itself in the last few chapters, but I need to stress one thing that is annoying me beyond believe and I'm wondering how this could have ever made it into the book:
    Alpha Centauri is not a f*cking semi-stable trisolarian system as described in the book. Alpha-Centauri-a and Alpha-Centauri-b form a stable two-star-system by circulating around their common center of mass. Proxima Centauri is a tiny red dwarf star circulating around those two much further out*. The involved forces here are comparable to a planet orbiting the two. And it doesn't care if they're one, two or fifteen stars. It's so far away that the gravitational potential looks exactly the same! The whole premise of the book is just factually wrong. On top of that, I'm 95% sure that the timescales of stable and chaotic eras presented in the game don't make any sense at all.

    *In fact, according to Wikipedia, Proxima Centauri might not even be in a bound trajectory but only in a dented path past passing the other two. Observation data doesn't reach back far enough to confirm or reject this, though.
     
  7. weemadarthur

    weemadarthur Mad as in angry, or mad as in crazy?

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    Also that’s a 4-body problem
     
  8. weemadarthur

    weemadarthur Mad as in angry, or mad as in crazy?

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    Well, more of a 15-body problem before the stars start eating their own babies.
     
  9. weemadarthur

    weemadarthur Mad as in angry, or mad as in crazy?

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    Oh this thread isn’t a mafia game, I can edit. Eh. Screw it.
     
  10. weemadarthur

    weemadarthur Mad as in angry, or mad as in crazy?

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    The amount of mirror symbology is unreal. Individual, behavioral, societal, species-wise, and physics-wise.
     
  11. Flush

    Flush Poker Royalty

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    Done. Review:

    Science Fiction often gets categorized somewhere on a scale between two categories. On the one end is "hard" SciFi, where a lot of energy is spent on making sure the Science checks out and plot is often propelled forward by the constraints of technical limitations. The other end is formed by "soft" SciFi that operates under the mantra "sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" and wants to mainly look at what impact yet unknown challenges that arise from the use of those technologies might have on our society.

    For some reason I came into the book expecting pretty hard SciFi. It's not. In fact, the whole book's premise seems to be based on three fatal misconceptions:
    1. Yes, Alpha Centauri is (likely) a trisolarian system. However, only the inner two stars are close to what Liu describes. They orbit each other in varying distances somewhere in the range between Sun-Saturn and Sun-Pluto (for reference: That's a couple of light minutes). The third sun is a lot smaller and orbits the other two stars at a distance of around 0.2 light years. It affects the other two stars about as much as Earth affects the Sun and so far outside the gravitational well of the two star system looks exactly like the one from a single star with twice the mass.
    2. Nobody needs an analytical solution to the 3-body-problem to calculate the relevant future. You know the laws of physics, you can measure the position and velocity of your suns. Don't quote me on this but I'm pretty sure a 1990s computer could within weeks calculate a Million years into the future with not very large margin of error. What else would you possibly need? You can't tell me a civilization that has the technology to edge circuits into an unfolded Proton can't do some simple numerical integration!
    3. Why exactly do they need an inhabitet planet? Couldn't they just send ships to all nearby stars with planets in the habitable zone? They live under always changing conditions, so I'd imagine their definition of "habitable zone" even is broader than ours. What's this obsession with other species?

    I don't mind the "Sophons" (that's the sufficiently-advanced-technology-excuse); I don't mind the "sun as amplifier"-thing (I'm not a solar physicist but I don't think it's proven that this might not be a possibility, although extremely unlikely); I do mind that game a bit, that was clearly imagined by somebody who rarely to never plays games, but not enough to let it reflect negatively on the book as a whole; however, I do mind when SciFi just straight out ignores science while trying to be scientific.

    But, hold on, am I being unfair here? Am I judging the book by the wrong standards? Is the book not supposed to be hard SciFi? Well, the thing is, it also largely fails as a soft SciFi book. It asks no questions. It offers no new thoughts. It blatantly spews some standard demonization of environmental destruction and then does not even stand by those by having the ETO "fabricate" fear of ecological collapse. It offers some half-baked thought-scraps on how Trisolarians have no culture and little emotion in order to be able to survive only to in the same chapter feeling the need to send propaganda about dying worlds to their own people. The reaction of Earthers to the existence of Aliens is only explored through the doomsday cult ETO; the military officials do not share their thoughts and Wang seems to take the confirmation of intelligent outside Earth with a remarkable shrug.

    Okay, is it at least a good story then, ignoring the genre? It's okay-ish, I guess. The characters (except Ye) are walking cliches, the cafe-shooting is ridiculously bad and the pacing of the book after that scene is very weird. I liked the first couple of chapters, though; in fact, I liked them so much, that I'll probably read some more novels set during the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

    Has this novel any redeeming qualities at all? Well, actually, yes: Liu paints beautiful pictures. While the unfolding of the proton is a bit over the top, there are beautiful pictures such as the hourglass that is carried through the desert, dehydrated bodies being thrown into lakes, a planet falling apart under gravitational pull from above or the slicing of a tanker. I also liked how he used the exact same words to describe how Ye looked at her transceiver signal and how the listening post on Trisolaris looked at their transceiver signal. It would be interesting to read the Chinese original to see how Liu describes the more mundane moments. Does he have one of those rare styles, where the words themselves somehow invoke something (think, for the lack of better examples jumping to my mind, Cormac McCarthy's "The Road", where I could read any passage completely out of context and immediately get that mood of "I have to carry on because of the little one")? The English version most certainly does not. Do languages like Chinese or Japanese (are there other symbols=words languages?) even allow for such thing? I'll probably never know...

    So, overall, what do I think of the novel? It gets a big fat "Mediocre" from me and I do absolutely not understand how it could get all the appraisal and awards it got. I will probably not read the other two books in the series.
     
  12. weemadarthur

    weemadarthur Mad as in angry, or mad as in crazy?

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    That was beautifully written, and I appreciate the definitive line marking for the Science / Fiction question.

    I’ll type up some stuff later too.
     
  13. Flush

    Flush Poker Royalty

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    Thank you :)
     
  14. Natiko

    Natiko Town's Friendly Neighborhood Serial Killer

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    Finally gave it a whirl. I’m about 10% in I think, around part 2 or whatever it’s called.

    Thoughts:

    It really doesn’t start as slow as I felt the first time I went to start it. Despite the footnotes needed I didn’t think it was a hassle to keep up with the atmosphere and story beats it’s going for. I’m sure I missed out on some nuance but that’s okay. It was really starting to hook me as it discussed the radar station test, so I was a bit surprised by it immediately going to a time jump. I’ve read a bit past that point, but I’m only up to the new character arriving at the meeting.
     
  15. weemadarthur

    weemadarthur Mad as in angry, or mad as in crazy?

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    Da Shi is a weird character, he is all antagonistic to the “smart people” until the author needs someone to drop some exposition and suddenly he could teach Physics at the college with the rest of them. 2 pages later he forgets again.

    Or did I miss something, iono.
     
  16. flatearthpandas

    flatearthpandas Round Moon Bears

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    you're not wrong but he's kind of like the smart rebel archetype. my ride with the book overall was mild interest, interest, disappointment, reflection, enjoyment

    hope royal will join for the chat
     
  17. flatearthpandas

    flatearthpandas Round Moon Bears

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    i think it does pose some fun soft sci-fi questions
     
  18. Natiko

    Natiko Town's Friendly Neighborhood Serial Killer

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    I’m now up to:

    The point in which Wang gets the information about where to view the cosmic microwaves. Really not sure what to think so far. Feels like a lot of narrative threads are being tossed out, with no clear goal in mind yet. The video game bit was particularly strange. I’m curious if Wang’s section is going to end right after it being demonstrated that there is some greater force at play here given the first section of the book cut off right as it started to hint at what was going on.
     
  19. Natiko

    Natiko Town's Friendly Neighborhood Serial Killer

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    Halfway through the book now:

    Just got through the scene with Shen’s death. I still really don’t know how to feel about this book. It’s interesting, but more in the way an article about something technical can be. It’s simplified like an article would be, yet it’s still covering a technical topic. It’s almost impressive that the book just went through arguably a couple different plot dumps in the chapters I read tonight while simultaneously not feeling like it revealed very much about the direction of the book. I hit another Three Body section and had to call it a wrap for the night, but I am curious to see what level 2 of that is supposed to be like.
     
  20. Natiko

    Natiko Town's Friendly Neighborhood Serial Killer

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    Finished. I’ll save my full thoughts for the discussion. I’ll leave it for now at the book being decent, I enjoyed the way it culminated and tied the various threads together, but ultimately it was a bit plodding. I enjoyed it enough to try and finish out the series.

    I did think it was interesting that books 1 and 3 are translated by the same person while 2 is a different translator. Curious if that will be noticeable.
     
  21. Fireblend

    Fireblend ABLF

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    I'm over halfway with the book (60%).

    Good things:

    - The book is not nearly as technical or hard to read as I expected. I've kind of breezed through it so far which is good.
    - Some interesting thought experiments and the framing provided by the game is fun. The bit with the human computer was fun.
    - I like alt-history.

    Bad things:
    - I'm finding it very hard to suppress my disbelief about a lot of things like how the game works, its purpose, the Red Coast project, the organizations, etc. It's way too convoluted and hard to believe.
    - Characters are really not interesting to me. They all have one defining personality attribute and it's barely there.
    - I feel like finally 60% into the book things are starting to slot into place and they're not as excited as I'd hoped.
    - I was expecting hard scifi and I'm pretty sure this is not that.
    - There's a lot of set dressing that does very little.

    So, more things I dislike than things I like, but I don't hate it. Don't think I'll be continuing with the series though.