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May 8, 2015

The Three-SPOILER Problem
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 07:02 AM * 139 comments

You put on your V-suit and log in.

You stand on a desolate plain. Before you rises a great pyramid, standing like a tall mountain in the first glimmers of dawn. At its base there is a small door, standing open, and the light from the space beyond spills onto the sandy ground. The light dims as a stranger comes to stand in the doorway, then brightens as he passes through.

He approaches you, and says…what?

At least here in the game you don’t have to ROT-13 your spoilers.


ETA Extra credit points to Steve Wright @81 with “I am the very model of a modern Trisolarian”!

Comments on The Three-SPOILER Problem:
#1 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 07:13 AM:

"Are you concerned about ethics in game journalism?"

#2 ::: Steve Wright ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 08:09 AM:

"He who would cross the Bridge of Death must solve for me these bodies three, ere the other side he see"?

#3 ::: Danny Sichel ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 08:44 AM:

"Are you loyal to the Group of Seventeen?"

#4 ::: Robert Z ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 08:50 AM:

"We Await Silent Trisolarans' Empire."

#5 ::: Fred ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 09:09 AM:

"Hodor!"

#6 ::: Tyler Tork ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 09:15 AM:

"Can you can you do the Can Can?"

#7 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 09:31 AM:

Only the inept are deweaseled, your organization is the sounder for their loss.

#8 ::: Bart Kid ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 09:31 AM:

Blue and black or gold and white?

#9 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 10:49 AM:

"Why is a raven like a writing-desk?"

#10 ::: Duncan J Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 10:55 AM:

XYZZY

#11 ::: Yarrow ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 11:03 AM:

so sweet
and so cold

#12 ::: cleek ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 11:13 AM:

"Uhhh... Whew. Umm. Sorry about that. You might want to wait a few minutes for things to air out in there."

#13 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 11:17 AM:

He does not ask about the horses.

#14 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 11:23 AM:

In the beginning was the word, and the word was: aardvark.

#15 ::: Mongoose ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 11:31 AM:

"Greetings, stranger! I belong to one of three races. One race, as you know, always tells the truth; the second race always lies; and the third race alternates. You may ask me two questions, and if you can successfully deduce which I am, you may enter."

#16 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 11:39 AM:

10
PLUGH

#17 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 11:41 AM:

"Dude! Great shoes."

#18 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 11:43 AM:

"tp pls! tp pls! tp!! pls1 tp pls!"

"sry rong wndow"

#19 ::: Laertes ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 11:48 AM:

"I, for one, welcome our new dessicated overlords."

#20 ::: Laertes ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 11:54 AM:

The sophons are sandbagging. Within moments of their arrival they could have been in complete control of every networked computer on Earth. They could accomplish a lot more softening-up than merely killing a handful of scientists.

#21 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 11:57 AM:

You're in a desert, walking along in the sand, when all of a sudden you look down and see a tortoise. It's crawling toward you. You reach down and you flip the tortoise over on its back. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can't. Not without your help. But you're not helping. Why is that?

#22 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 11:59 AM:

Because the second sun has risen and I've dessicated.

#23 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 12:18 PM:

I don't think this thread is happening the way Abi intended it to.

#24 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 12:22 PM:

So, where's the other two guys going to the wedding?

#25 ::: JBWoodford ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 12:29 PM:

"I am Groot."

#26 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 12:53 PM:

One. All the others were going in the other direction.

(People will discuss 3BP when they want to.)

#27 ::: Danny Sichel ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 12:55 PM:

How many legs do humans have? (My only connection to the Net is very expensive.)

#28 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 01:00 PM:

Some interesting insights on The Three-Body Problem here.

#29 ::: Stephen Rochelle ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 01:09 PM:

At the risk of being topical...

Laertes @20: The sophons are sandbagging.
I agree. Part of the reason I'm not sure whether I want to continue in the trilogy is that I don't see any semblance of limit imposed on their potential (and in this regard, I see it as "Liu sandbagging where the sophons are concerned").

The question was raised in the Hugo 3 thread: "what would have happened at the end of the countdown?" I don't think the answer is terribly important to the story of TBP, but the problem I see is that the answer devolves to "pretty much whatever the sophons want". They're capable of interacting with large-scale matter to the extent of superimposing text on the vision of a room full of people; why can't they cause an aneurysm or some other highly-localized fatal injury? They can disrupt the subatomic processes of a particle accelerator, why can't they disrupt those processes in a nuclear warhead (or, per Laertes' "networked computer" comment, hijack the data bus that sends launch commands)? They can envelop the Earth and selectively filter or amplify radiated energy, why can't they use the sun as a giant magnifying glass? There are a lot of really bad things that (1) don't rely on the sophons deciphering an alien culture beyond their currently demonstrated capabilities and (2) look like really good options to someone familiar with the "Exterminate" portion of 4X games.

Don't get me wrong, "disrupting the principle that science is repeatable" is a cool supervillain plot. It's only carrying it as far as "thereby confusing your enemies" that bothers me.

#30 ::: William Burns ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 01:38 PM:

Who is the man that would risk his neck for his brother man?

#31 ::: Steve Wright ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 02:01 PM:

I must admit, I can't bring myself to swallow the sophons. It's the sort of way-out, mind-boggling concept that you might expect in, say, a Stanislaw Lem cybernetic fable - but it's just too way-out for me to buy it in what's basically a solid hard-SF story otherwise.

(I mean, apart from anything else, what are they inscribing that supercomputer circuitry with? Really, really sharp pencils?)

#32 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 02:25 PM:

The other you asked me to tell this you that you've been betrayed.

#33 ::: Tony Zbaraschuk ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 02:30 PM:

The eschaton is about to be immanentized.

#34 ::: Harry Payne ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 02:57 PM:

"Will no-one help the widow's son?"

#35 ::: Danny Sichel ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 03:19 PM:

THOU SHALT NOT VIOLATE CAUSALITY WITHIN MY HISTORIC LIGHT CONE.

OR ELSE.

#36 ::: Laertes ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 03:41 PM:

There was a lot of fuss about recovering the data that the Adventists were holding on their boat. We're told that the people on the boat are keen to keep the data to themselves, and will destroy it rather than let anyone else see it, which led to the mass-murder-by-nanofiber setpiece.

When that scene goes off we readers don't yet know about the Sophons, but with hindsight we know that they were active at the time and were monitoring the clown car that planned that operation. They could easily have alerted the Adventists to the danger. Having dropped the ball there, they could still easily have obstructed the effort to recover the data.

They did neither. Which suggests that they simply don't care. And that makes sense--who cares what these bugs say to those bugs? You're coming to kill them all, and it scarcely matters how they chitter at one another while you're doing it.

The problem with that explanation, however, is that once Detective Gary Stu and his supporting cast of uniformed buffoons start speaking with one another about the data they've recovered, the Sophons react swiftly and visibly, taunting the cops-and-soldiers and ceasing to communicate with the Adventists, as though they were horrified to suddenly discover that their communications with their agents had been compromised.

Can anyone make any sense of this?

#37 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 04:03 PM:

"We're no strangers to loooooove..."

#38 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 04:13 PM:

"Speak 'friend' and enter."

#39 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 06:00 PM:

Oh, I'm sorry. Are we supposed to be talking about a book?

*saunters away, giggling*

#40 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 06:27 PM:

Mmmmmmmaybe.

#41 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 06:33 PM:

Klaatu barada nikto.

#42 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 06:54 PM:

Yeah, that whole business about inscribing the circuits on the unfolded proton did not sit well with me at all (using what I can remember of my physics degree from 1976). There's no there there. So okay, suppose you can unfold it from 11 dimensions to 2, there would be a huge area, yes. But it's just an elementary particle with a huge area; there's still no room for any substructure.

#43 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 06:58 PM:

On the other hand, I am looking forward to the sequel to The Goblin Emperor, where surely Znvn jvyy trg zneevrq, yrnea gung uvf jvsr pna'g ernyyl or uvf sevraq rvgure, znxr n erghea ivfvg gb gur Terng Nine, naq yrnea n ohapu bs cbyvgvpny yrffbaf.

#44 ::: charming.quark ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 07:11 PM:

Many people have speculated that if we knew exactly why the bowl of petunias had thought that we would know a lot more about the nature of the Universe than we do now.

#45 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 07:40 PM:

I think part of what I was feeling reading this book was a mismatch of expectations. Which for all I know may partly reflect cultural differences in literature patterns, but I don't know much of anything about Chinese literary or SF culture.

In particular, I was wondering initially why so many of the scientists despaired and committed suicide simply due to the anomalies they'd seen. OK, I thought, if they had a bedrock conviction they had to be living in a hard-SF world with no supernatural, *some* of them might have an existential crisis. But if this were more of a fantasy-based world, or even one with the possibility of the supernatural existing alongside the natural, what they were seeing would be unusual but not inconceivable. (If it were a horror-fantasy world, they might feel a sense of doom for *other* reasons, but not because the universe had fundamentally betrayed them.)

Like some others upthread, I don't manage to find it believable as a hard-SF world. (It got a *bit* more plausible as a few more things were explained, but still didn't seem convincing to me as a physical possibility-- and if the sophons *do* have the god-like powers that are effectively implied by what we see them do, I agree with others upthread that they're a lot less imaginative than I'd expect they'd be in their tactics.) I could still go along with it if the book were more in the fantasy mode-- but then I'd expect the book to do more interesting things with metaphor and psychological exploration than I saw.

I ended the book thinking, "Well, that was okay, but I'm probably not going to bother with the sequels unless I hear really good things about them." But I've heard a number of other people gush about the book, so maybe they've seen things in the book, or had different expectations, that'd make them enjoy it more than I did.

#46 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 07:46 PM:

What really gets me is that somehow, in the space of a few kilobytes, Red Coast managed to define a language that allows for the communication of highly abstract concepts like "pacifist". I want to see their encoding system.

And if the Trisolarians really wanted to wipe out humanity, they could do it quickly and easily using nothing more than the already-demonstrated capabilities of a sophon. Just have it go 2D, wrap around the planet, cut us off from the sun, and wait.

#47 ::: Cat ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 10:38 PM:

It did not work for me.

How the hell do you etch circuits on a proton? It's not like you can dope it with other subatomic particles--how is that even going to work? If you *can* change its shape--scratch it with something, I guess?--wouldn't that break it into other particles? If it reforms, as they talk about later when it's supposed to be broken up in supercolliders to give wrong results--wouldn't it reform back to a perfect (unmarred) proton? That just doesn't make any sense.

Nor do I understand why, as John Mark Ockerbloom points out @45, the scientists are committing suicide over this. I have a PhD in Molecular Biology and if I was getting really inexplicable results with some experiment my reaction would be that I was doing it wrong. Things go wrong with experiments all the time; if you kill yourself every time you can't figure something out, you die pretty young. Surely this would hold in subatomic physics also? I could see them getting frustrated and giving up, switching research areas or even dropping out of science, but not committing suicide.

And people keep behaving in extremely weird ways. Here's this guy, he's married, and he knows his wife is concerned about him because he's been doing things like screaming in the middle of the night, but he doesn't care whether she's worried or not. He gets really upset and sleeps drunk in the car for two nights--and he doesn't call his wife to let her know he's okay. And there's no personal fallout from this. And there's nothing in what we see of the marriage to suggest there is trouble between them that might explain his lack of concern.

And how the hell do you send a self-translating message? I challenge you do that with other *humans* let alone an actual space alien.

And how are the protons observing earth? They're too small to have much in the way of sensors (and besides they're all one proton anyway, right? What are they going to sense with?) How do they know where to teleport through people's eyeballs to make countdowns?

For that matter, it's basically a hydrogen ion. How does it keep from getting trapped in chemistry?

And how did life even *evolve* on Trisolaris if conditions keep changing that radically? I would expect the planet to be basically burned clean every now and then, and after a few rounds of that I wouldn't expect much atmosphere to be available.

I read it, it was interesting, and obviously a lot of people honestly liked it enough to put it on the Hugo ballot without being coached by a slate. But it doesn't do it for me. Maybe I just don't have the cultural background to appreciate it properly or something.

#48 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 10:53 PM:

I think I'm going by the local branch library tomorrow to see if it's still available.

#49 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 11:00 PM:

Chris @46, if the Trisolarians want Earth for to live on, they probably want its biosphere more or less intact.

Also, an unfolded sophon might be vulnerable to primitive attacks like rockets. I can’t imagine a computer being unaffected by having holes punched through its circuitry.

#50 ::: JJ ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 11:06 PM:

Laertes, #36: "who cares what these bugs say to those bugs? You're coming to kill them all, and it scarcely matters how they chitter at one another while you're doing it."

This is pretty much the conclusion I've drawn. Whilst the concept of sending two protons to Earth, where they intelligently undermine all Physics research to the point that Physicists may as well kill themselves, because there are not going to be any more amazing discoveries in that field (ever! no way! no how!) is clever -- it's the sort of deus ex machina that would tend to render any further books moot.


Chris, #46: "And if the Trisolarians really wanted to wipe out humanity, they could do it quickly and easily using nothing more than the already-demonstrated capabilities of a sophon. Just have it go 2D, wrap around the planet, cut us off from the sun, and wait."

Except that the reason they want the Earth is for its pleasant environment as a colony for them, so trashing the ecology is going to be self-defeating.


John Mark Ockerbloom, #45: "I think part of what I was feeling reading this book was a mismatch of expectations. Which for all I know may partly reflect cultural differences in literature patterns, but I don't know much of anything about Chinese literary or SF culture."

Ken Liu says in his Translator's comments something along the lines that Chinese SF has a very different affect than Anglo SF. I suspect that it's a cultural thing.

If that's true, though, then what I don't understand is all the Anglos who are raving about the book. I've had university courses in physics, and engineering, and electronics, and logic. I work in IT with a hugely technical background. I was very immersed in amateur astronomy as a child. I'm a total geek. So why am I not raving about this book?

Is it that I'm not a videogamer? The first time we visit the VR game, I'm like, "Oh, here is what is going on with those suns, and those stars, and that's lovely, but what's your POINT?" I just don't find the videogame that impressive.

Also, that the book is called The Three-Body Problem rather than The Four-Body Problem is hugely annoying to me.

#51 ::: Cat ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 11:32 PM:

JJ @50

"Except that the reason they want earth is for its pleasant environment as a colony for them, so trashing its ecology is going to be self-defeating."

Well, except they're quite used to their own ecology being routinely trashed in that way. They must be used to rebuilding from seed and (I suppose) animal cultures that they preserve throughout the Chaotic ages. Killing most life on earth would leave the way open to Trisolariforming the planet, right?

And regarding the name, wouldn't three suns and a planet be a case where the planet doesn't have much gravitational effect on the suns, because it is so much smaller? After all, our solar system has a lot of planets, but it's not wildly chaotic because the planets are small compared to the sun. The issue with Trisolaris is the three suns are all in the same "weight class" and thus yank each other around a lot more than the planet yanks any of them. Hence the name, I think.

Remember, the TriSolarian solar system starts out with a lot of planets--at least if we can trust the video game it does (which is another thing; would planets even form in a solar system that was forming three stars? I don't know enough astronomy to answer that) so if you included the planets in the title, it would be the N-Body Problem, where N is anything from, I think 14 to 4. Part of the urgency on the part of the Trisolarians is that the suns keep engulfing the planets and near the end of the book Trisolaris is the only planet left.

#52 ::: JJ ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2015, 11:39 PM:

Cat, #51:

I'm not an astronomer (nor do I play one on TV, though I shagged one, once), but my understanding is that despite having a much smaller mass than the 3 suns, a planet would still significantly affect the calculations.

#53 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2015, 12:07 AM:

Your hovercraft? Totally full of eels, mum.

#54 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2015, 12:39 AM:

52
Earth-sized, not so much. It needs a lot more mass to do that.

#55 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2015, 12:53 AM:

The planet is the fourth body because you (well, the inhabitants) still care about its position over time, relative to the three suns.

#56 ::: Laertes ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2015, 01:08 AM:

If the planet is small enough that you can neglect the effect of its gravity on the three stars, then you have a three-body problem, plus a related one-body problem that's not very difficult.

#57 ::: Laertes ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2015, 01:18 AM:

Gosh that sounded peremptory. I apologize. If you'll permit me to try again:

I think when you're counting bodies, what's really interesting is how many are all influencing one another.

Say, for instance, we had a binary star with a single planet orbiting them. That's three bodies, but you wouldn't characterize that as a three-body problem because you can attack the problem by first modeling the motion of the two stars and disregarding the negligible influence of the planet. Once you understand the motion of those two stars, you can then trivially model the motion of the planet.

Similarly, while there are four bodies in our story, mathematically speaking it's still only a three-body problem IF you can solve the motion of the stars without considering that fourth body.

I'm not sure you can, though. The three-body problem is extremely sensitive to small perturbations. While Earth doesn't have much effect on the motion of Sol (which masses about 330,000 Earths), I wouldn't be surprised to learn that a planet of similar size in a chaotic three-star system could have a significant effect because the system is so unstable.

#58 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2015, 04:08 AM:

Drifting away from science for a bit, did anyone else notice that the fate of the ship’s crew in the Panama Canal — utterly defeated by a threat they couldn’t even see, set in motion by a ruthless enemy they weren’t even aware of — parallels the fate of humanity?

#59 ::: Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2015, 05:26 AM:

@42: According to the standard model of particle physics is not an elementary particle, but has structure. It has 3 valence quarks, plus an indeterminate number of gluons and sea quarks.

The 11 dimensions presumably comes from supersymmetric theories.

Sufficiently advanced physics is indistinguishable from nonsense, but the unfolding does strike me as nonsense - the structure of the proton is of particles scattered in several dimensions, not a 2-dimensional object embedded in a higher dimensional space.

#60 ::: Steve Wright ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2015, 06:05 AM:

Another thing that bothered me about the unfolded proton was the first attempt - the one that went too far and unfolded the proton into a one-dimensional line.

The line breaks up, and the bits drift about in the planetary atmosphere, kept aloft on... air currents. Now, my question here is, how? How does a one-dimensional fragment of an elementary particle interact with everyday matter like air at all?

With regard to trashing Earth and starting over - like others, I don't see why the Trisolarans don't do that. We know very little about their biology, but what we do know suggests it's radically different from Earth life; there's the voluntary dehydration thing, there's the fusion-fission reproductive method, and there's something about them being able to turn a mirror-surface protective layer on and off... and that's about it. It all adds up, though, to something that's not going to be terribly bothered about the condition of Earth's ecosphere. The only thing that makes Earth desirable real estate for them, as far as I can see, is the simplicity of its orbital cycle - which will still be there, whether they nuke the ecosphere or not.

#61 ::: Edmund Schweppe ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2015, 10:00 AM:

Oh, give me a locus
Where the gravitons focus
And the three-body problem is solved;
Where the microwaves play
Down at three degrees K
And the cold virus never evolved.

Home, home on Lagrange,
Where the space debris slowly collects,
And we have, so it seems,
Two of man's greatest dreams:
Solar power and zero-G sex!

(I'm a little bit surprised that Bill Higgins hasn't already chimed in with this one!)

#62 ::: Edmund Schweppe ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2015, 10:07 AM:

Laertes @20:

Within moments of their arrival they could have been in complete control of every networked computer on Earth.
They already have. How else do you explain the persistence of spam?

(Actually, they take turns: one spamming, the other trolling.)

#63 ::: Edmund Schweppe ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2015, 11:09 AM:

Overall, I really liked The Three Body Problem. I was caught up in the flow of the story from the beginning, and felt the sort of sensawunda that was conspicuously missing from last year's Puppy-approved products. (I haven't gotten through this year's Puppy chow yet, but what I've read so far has been pretty poor.) I was able to suspend my disbelief over the "self-interpreting code system" (in only 680KB! Supporting both Chinese and Esperanto!), and I don't know enough about string theory to be knocked out of the story by any massive goofs. First showing the dehydrate/rehydrate mechanic as part of a VR game made it easier to suspend disbelief when it turned out to be the real deal for the Trisolarians.

The Three Body Problem will likely be either #2 or #3 on my Hugo ballot, behind The Goblin Emperor and fighting for second place with Ancillary Sword. (I don't have huge hopes for the two remaining Puppy Best Novel picks, although the Butcher will probably be at least readable.)

#64 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2015, 11:54 AM:

To be honest, I found the way that Wang Miao figured things out through the middle of the book to be somewhat clunky. He seemed to stumble from one discovery to the next, each one correct, with no false steps or blind alleys. Everyone he met was useful, significant, and forthcoming.

It came across as very...expository. I kept putting the book down and having to decide to pick it up again.

Interesting problems, and I thought the set-piece on the Panama Canal was neat in its own way. But again, how convenient that he had just the right amount of monofilament, yes?

#65 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2015, 01:15 PM:

I kind of agree with everyone here. There are a lot of interesting bits, but it doesn't seem like they are well-connected. The omnipresent countdown (Omnicount?) is a wonderfully menacing thing, but omnicounting and making the detectors lie and driving people to suicide seems like such a Wile E. Coyote way of getting what you actually WANT. (Given the number of suicides in the early days of Stat Mech, I can believe there are SOME suicidal scientists. ) There have to be easier levers to pull if you want your planet free of high-tech opposition and you have a decent-sized and well-funded fifth column in place.

One of the things that I liked about it, which hasn't been mentioned much, was what it was like to read something that was built in another culture with different assumptions. (I didn't even know that the Cultural Revolution was basically a civil war. Trisolaris is interesting, but China is real and interesting! )

#66 ::: Steve Wright ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2015, 01:35 PM:

I found the business with the tanker mildly annoying (though it's a great "visual" set-piece, I have to admit). The thing is, at the planning session, the detective is adamant that they have to overwhelm the tanker instantly, so that nobody aboard has even a moment to hit some sort of panic button that deletes the data. But the nanomaterial trap isn't anything like instant - my back-of-envelope calculations (based on the approximate dimensions of a Panamax vessel and its maximum speed) give at least twenty seconds to go right through the ship. (Longer if it's travelling at less than maximum speed - which, in the confines of the canal, it might well be.) It's fast, but by no means as fast as Da Shi seems to want... if someone at the back end notices people at the front are falling to pieces, and has good reflexes and access to that panic button, then the plan (like the ship) falls apart.

(I still think it's a good book, mind. It's just the devil is in all these little details!)

#67 ::: Robert Z ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2015, 02:14 PM:

Cat @ 47:
He gets really upset and sleeps drunk in the car for two nights--and he doesn't call his wife to let her know he's okay.
And how did life even *evolve* on Trisolaris if conditions keep changing that radically?

I had real problems with these two as well. Even so, I never quite got knocked out of the story.

For me, 3BP was a study in icebox logic. While I was reading it, I was happy to be carried along, enjoying myself and largely untroubled by the Handwavium. It wasn't till I'd finished that I was struck by just how unnecessarily complicated everything seemed, like this first part of the trilogy is setting us up for a Great Battle of the Rube Goldberg Strategies.

#68 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2015, 03:09 PM:

In #61 Edward Schweppe writes:

(I'm a little bit surprised that Bill Higgins hasn't already chimed in with this one!)

I can modestly claim to have been writing about the Three-Body Problem long before Cixin Liu was writing about the Three-Body Problem.

(Stray thought: does the Pluto-Charon system have Trojans? I'm sure New Horizons will take a look.)

He's coming to Chicago for the Nebula Awards, and my wife is working on the Nebula events, so perhaps I'll have a chance to meet him,

Regarding the novel, I am intrigued by the thought that China's science nerds have been arguing about 三体 since 2008. We ourselves are just getting started. Once again, America has fallen behind!

#69 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2015, 03:24 PM:

"Stray thought: does the Pluto-Charon system have Trojans?"

For prevention of disease only.

#70 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2015, 08:33 PM:

I am the very model of a modern Trisolaran.

#71 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2015, 08:35 PM:

Robert Z #67: I haven't yet finished 3BP, but I am trying to figure out if the Handwavium is Handwavium dioxide or Handwavium trichloride.

#72 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2015, 08:36 PM:

The biggest problem I'm having with 3BP is that reading it makes me thirsty. In consequence, I find myself needing frequent rehydration.

#73 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2015, 08:37 PM:

Also, didn't they use that computer in the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics?

#74 ::: Robert Z ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2015, 08:40 PM:

Fragano Ledgister @71: Could be either: all Handwavium is unstable in large quantities.

#75 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2015, 08:48 PM:

"The biggest problem I'm having with 3BP is that reading it makes me thirsty. In consequence, I find myself needing frequent rehydration."

This is known in some circles as the Three Bottle Problem.

#76 ::: Edmund Schweppe ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2015, 10:09 PM:

Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey @68: <grump>It's Edmund, not Edward.</grump>

HelenS @69: I don't think those Trojans protect against S(e)TIs.

#77 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2015, 10:42 PM:

I recall learning from Hal Clement's "Trojan Fall" that the 60 degree special solution to the gravitational three-body problem requires a mass ratio over 25:1 between the other bodies. Iirc, Pluto and Charon are too close in mass to have stable Trojan.

#78 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2015, 12:26 AM:

Could it be Handwavium monoxide?

It's actually interesting reading. I think, even with clunking, it's going to be above Noa Waard.

#79 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2015, 01:05 AM:

#76, Edmund Schweppe:

Aaargh. I sincerely apologize for misspelling your name. Should have proofread more carefully.

#77, Henry Troup:

I'd forgotten about that. L4 and L5 are not stable if the ratio of the masses isn't large enough. Pluto is only about 8 times Charon's mass.

#80 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2015, 01:27 AM:

79
And looking at the pictures we've been getting, when they're animated, their barycenter is outside Pluto. You can watch them both going around that point.

#81 ::: Steve Wright ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2015, 06:37 AM:

Fragano Ledgister @70 - well, I'll try, but don't expect miracles. (I got nine penalty points on my poetic license already.)

I am the very model of a modern Trisolarian
Desirous of a solar cycle cosily invariant.
I dread Chaotic Eras and I use the dehydratory
When gravitation makes my world excessively gyratory,
I'm adept at unpacking things that shouldn't be dimensional
(That business with the floating lines was wholly unintentional)
And now I have a cunning plan, though some would call it farcical,
To carve a big computer on a subatomic particle!

I've heard from many scientists, both taciturn and voluble,
But now I know my orbit's mathematically insoluble.
So, working for a princeps who is quite totalitarian
I am the very model of a modern Trisolarian!

Our princeps is the boss and we all dread the surly visage he
'll display if we are threatened by a rogue trisolar syzygy.
Now, probing from my outpost into cosmical immensity
I come upon a signal of vast information density.
In Chinese and in Esperanto these guys want to be our mate
While living on a planet that is quite delightful real estate.
Their scientists would help them fight against us, if they did exist,
But sophons are enough to discombobulate a physicist.

We hold a public meeting underneath a massive monument
(There's two in the VR game and it is the later one you meant).
Now, working for a system that is hardly libertarian
I am the very model of a modern Trisolarian!

Our space fleet's on the way now to their general vicinity
Though hobbled by the tiresome laws of special relativity.
I'll send in an advance guard made of protons who write video games
They'll puzzle cops who're only good for kicking ass and taking names.
The sophons' games are playful and it's hard for me and you to hide
The prestidigitations that drive scientists to suicide.
They've got the wind up, now, and our approach is looking ominous,
Thank God I've got the aid of a reliable Fifth Columnist

With circumstances tragic and Mom-issues indeterminate
So now she'd take it kindly if her species we'd exterminate.
With help from this fanatic and a wealthy vegetarian
I am the very model of a modern Trisolarian!

#82 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2015, 07:34 AM:

*applause*

#83 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2015, 10:42 AM:

Steve Wright #81: You have a time machine and access to W.S. Gilbert?

#84 ::: Cat ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2015, 12:57 PM:

Steve Wright @81

Very nice!

Aside from the unlikelihood of etching on a baryon
You are the very model of a modern Trisolarion!

#85 ::: Another Quiet One ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2015, 01:14 PM:

This is why I miss Making Light when I get busy doing other things. Bravo, Steve @81. Bravo.

#86 ::: Steve Wright ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2015, 05:19 PM:

You're all terribly kind. (I'd better put Mr. Gilbert back where I found him, though.)

#87 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2015, 05:19 PM:

Steve Wright @81, WS Gilbert himself would be envious of the “visage he”/“syzygy” rhyme.

#88 ::: Edmund Schweppe ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2015, 06:37 PM:

Steve Wright @81: Bravo!

#89 ::: JJ ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2015, 07:23 PM:

Steve Wright, #81:

I'm just stunned. That was amazing.

#90 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2015, 11:09 PM:

One man's view of SF, from Cixin Liu's afterword to the novel:

As a science fiction writer who began as a fan, I do not see my fiction as a disguised way to criticize the reality of the present. I feel that the greatest appeal of science fiction is the creation of numerous imaginary worlds outside of reality. I've always felt that the greatest and most beautiful stories in the history of humanity were not sung by wandering bards or written by playwrights and novelists, but told by science. The stories of science are far more magnificent, grand, involved, profound, thrilling, strange, terrifying, mysterious, and even emotional, compared to the stories told by literature. Only, these wonderful stories are locked in cold equations that most do not know how to read.

One of those sentences-- "I've always felt that the greatest and most beautiful stories in the history of humanity were not sung by wandering bards or written by playwrights and novelists, but told by science." --holds the seed of the urge to create SF stories. Science gives us ideas; writers seize some of the ideas and weave stories around them. Verne had that urge. So did Wells. So did Mary Shelley.

#91 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2015, 11:16 PM:

Things to do:

Read The Three-Body Problem CHECK

Post to "Three-SPOILER Problem" thread CHECK

Read Ancillary Sword (currently about halfway through)

Take K to see More Avengers CHECK

Allow myself to read "The War of Orange vs.Teal" spoiler thread...
(heading over now!)

#92 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2015, 11:31 AM:

It is a pretty weird experience to read this thread if you haven't read The Three-Body Problem.

#93 ::: Laertes ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2015, 11:37 AM:

It's okay if you don't understand what's going on. If you just hang around long enough, a poorly-written character will be along to drop some exposition on you. This also won't make any sense, but if you just go with it, it kind of flows.

#94 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2015, 07:10 PM:

If you think three bodies are bad, I've started reading The Dark Between the Stars. There's a planet with no shadows because it has seven suns.

#95 ::: Edmund Schweppe ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2015, 07:18 PM:

HelenS @75:

This is known in some circles as the Three Bottle Problem.
I've been trying (unsuccessfully) to come up with a few slightly risque jokes. It's a Three Bawdy Problem.

#96 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2015, 08:34 PM:

If there'd been two additional guards in King Duncan's chambers that had to be disposed of as well, would Lady Macbeth have had a three bloody problem...?

#97 ::: Robert Z ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2015, 09:00 PM:

And when they were clearing the forest at the beginning of the book, that was definitely a Tree Balding Problem.

#98 ::: Elyse ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2015, 12:13 AM:

I just gave up on the book. And I'm not sure WHAT I am going to do with it on my Hugo ballot. Aside from the last 30 pages or so that I abandoned in a fit of 8 deadly words, there are at least 2 earlier sections, each nearly as long, where I was doing serious skimming trying to find the next section of actual story as opposed to infodumps of really bad science and worse technology.

Before I gave up, I was thinking that it was like reading really bad imitation late Asimov, except there were actual women in the story. (I'm not entirely sure why it had that effect.)

The early political stuff seemed good, but I'm not sure it wasn't just the apparent access to social-political information I didn't have before. But as the book progressed, I began to doubt whether the accounts of the Cultural Revolution in the early sections were any more reliable than the science in the later sections.

I did wonder whether the suicides of the researchers were related to the suicides of the scholars during the Cultural Revolution -- an attitude that if the premises underlying your work can be questioned you are better off dying cleanly before someone else does it less cleanly. There were related patterns in the sections set in Tri-Solaris, so I suspect that bias is real in the book, whether or not it is real in China.

This is depressing. I really wanted to like the translation of a major Chinese SF work. Time to excavate Romance of the Three Kingdoms from the To Be Read pile, or maybe Outlaws of the Marsh...

#99 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2015, 01:21 AM:

98
I have both of those in a box (boxed set of paperbacks). Possibly more entertaining, but very long, and sometimes hard to follow.

I'll put 3BP above Noa Waard, because it did suck me in, even if I skimmed the infodumps. (I've met far worse; those had recommendations, and two of the three got dumped unread.)

#100 ::: Steve Wright ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2015, 05:02 AM:

Allan Beatty @94 - I'm confused, now, because I'd always heard that seven moons' light cast complex shadows....

#101 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2015, 08:55 AM:

#81 ::: Steve Wright

Spectacular!

#102 ::: Elyse ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2015, 09:42 AM:

99

The trick is finding the right translation. I have sets in boxes of all 4 Chinese classics, but those aren't the versions of 'Dream of the Red Chamber' and 'Journey to the West' that I ended up finishing. (The Yu translation of Journey to the West is very good.)

Hauling things back on topic -- I don't think the problem with 3BP was the translation.
To the extent that it is visible through the translation, the writing of 3BP as prose/storytelling also seems good. Even the info-dumps were annoying but not clunky, if that makes sense.

But if SFF is a literature of ideas, that was where 3BP eventually failed for me. The parts that I know enough about to be able to fact check rang so false that they poisoned my ability to accept (or at least suspend disbelief about) the rest.

I wonder if there is a term for being too paranoid to trust the evidence of someone else's paranoia and PTSD.

#103 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2015, 09:46 PM:

abi @64: I kept putting the book down and having to decide to pick it up again.

I just resolutely ran aground about two-fifths of the way through. Combination of factors: I haven't read much sf in years,* a mismatch of cultural narrative styles, it's all mathy which zzzzz, I'm in the middle of my job's Month from Hell and thus way short on spoons, and it's due at the library on Thursday. Also, no characters or story hooked me particularly, which is my minimum requirement. Oh well.

So: I called it close enough.

* I don't actually enjoy reading fiction much anymore (with a very few exceptions); managed to acquire the taste as a teen through early adulthood, but nowadays there are too many things that are more interesting demanding eyeball time.

#104 ::: johnofjack ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2015, 09:50 PM:

abi @ 64: I kept putting the book down and having to decide to pick it up again.

Likewise. I enjoyed individual chapters as I read them, but when I put the book down I was never in a hurry to get back to it.

On another note, I doubt Liu would do anything so clichéd and obvious as to have the Trisolarians defeated by contact with Earth bacteria/viruses--it's only the ending of one of the best-known SF novels ever--but once the Trisolarians called humans "bugs" I couldn't stop thinking about it. Undoubtedly Liu has much more creative (and less plausible) ideas than that, though I imagine I'll probably just read about them on Wikipedia.

I'm not sure if I'll rank it above Noah Ward--the characters and relationships didn't work for me; I didn't like the pacing; and the ideas were mostly entertaining once I looked past the handwavium--but then the sophons completely broke my suspension of disbelief. (Inscribing on a photon? What? Light that goes wherever it wants? That's ... not how light works. I think. But I'll admit I've never spoken with light; maybe when I turn on a flashlight the light just always wants to go where I'm pointing it.)

#105 ::: Phil Palmer ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2015, 07:45 AM:

I liked it. There's no knowing how much of the bluntness and expository nature comes from the shift from Chinese to English, so I just allowed myself to be entertained by it. The science is clearly of a Ray Bradbury nature rather than an Isaac Asimov one, and some parts are so flat-out wrong - page 2 of chapter 22 for example, paragraph beginning "The interference that Red Coast had to deal with was similar" for you Kindle users, p.258 in my hb - that I took it that the author felt justified in demanding trust. But oh joy, the penultimate chapter and the purpose of the pendulum and suddenly we are no longer in a quirky police procedural technothriller. SF doesn't get better than this, I thought, then it did, suddenly introducing us to alien scientist Butterfingers who drops an entire dimension in front of the Emperor (sorry, princeps) but makes up for it next time by adding three spoonfuls instead of two. I'm also very much looking forward to what is going to happen with the rude policeman who seems to be the secret protagonist but who might just be only a rude policeman. I've still got The Goblin Emperor to read but this one looks like getting my first preference.

#106 ::: Phil Palmer ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2015, 07:56 AM:

I haven't peeked, by the way, at reviews of the Chinese editions of the sequels, so I don't know if we are going to jump forwards hundreds of years to mount an insurgency in the next book or else stay in the near-present to get science back.

#107 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2015, 02:25 PM:

I've finished it. It, well, clunks quite a bit, though I'm not sure how much of that is the novel itself and how much is the translation effect.

I wonder how many people would, were this a real-life situation, choose to betray the human race?

#108 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2015, 04:53 AM:

I am not sure I am going to finish it. I cared for Ye, and the first sections were well written and believable and affecting, but when Wang Miao came in I stopped caring AT ALL. Life is short and there are lots of Sarah Monette books out there.

I am not sure wether to put it below Noah Ward or leave it off the ballot altogether. And yeah, verily, I wanted so much to like it, too.

Crikey, I am now cross and annoyed because AFAIR no Greg Egan novel made it to the Hugo Shortlist, and they all deserved it more than this.

#109 ::: Steve Wright ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2015, 05:11 PM:

I'd say it's worth finishing... but, then, I say that about most books. You never know, until you reach the end, whether a book's going to take some unexpected but satisfying twist, or whether it will succeed in tying up what look like mystifyingly disparate plot threads.

(Which last The Three-Body Problem does, in my opinion, manage to do, although you may find some of the explanations hard to swallow. Personally, I could cope with Ye's motivations, but rather choked on the sophons. That's just my individual reaction, of course.)

#110 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2015, 05:14 PM:

109
The sophons are a not-very-effective macguffin. But I would believe Ye's motivations, given her history. (And, having met a former violinist from the PRC who was sent to the country during one of their anti-intellectual movements, it's easy to believe.)

#111 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2015, 03:01 AM:

Just barely above Nooa Award, for me. If I'd read it last year, I don't think it would have been one of my five (whereas Ancillary Sword was).

It basically unsuspended my suspension of disbelief too many times. Which is a shame, because I would like to love a close cognate of this book. And I can't even coherently express what changes would be required.

#112 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2015, 04:22 AM:

Ok so i finished it, skipping over much. I still don't know if I will put it above or below No Award. I won't leave it off the ballot, but I expect more than this from a Hugo candidate.

#113 ::: Mad Professah ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2015, 10:51 AM:

I really liked The Three-Body Problem.

It is definitely above No Award for me. In fact it is
probably going to be #1 on my ballot.

I really liked the Tri-solarians and was intrigued
by the countdown appearing and the explanation being
provided by the end. I was fascinated by a villain who
was so damaged by her country's political system that she
would sell out her entire planet and species to aliens!

It's true that it's not perfect. I'm not a gamer so the
video game seemed more than a little silly and more
than a little too obvious a metaphor.

I loved the intrigue of the secret society of people who
want to "save the planet" by destroying humanity.

It may not be the best SF book of the year but I do think it's the
best SF book of the nominees.

#114 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2015, 05:08 PM:

Anyone who wants my copy can email me at the livejournal name linked, at juno dot com.

#115 ::: Will McLean ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2015, 09:59 PM:

A lot of it was excellent, but the sophons really, really yanked my suspension of disbelief.

#116 ::: Laertes ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2015, 08:25 PM:

I keep changing my mind about whether to put it third, just ahead of no award, or fourth just behind.

You're right, Will: A lot of it is excellent. If it weren't this would be easy.

But some of it is so clumsy, so outright amateurish, that I really struggle to say it's Hugo-worthy.

I just finished Leviathan Wakes, which was a 2012 nominee. The highs aren't as high as TBP--there's no moment that gives me chills the way "Do not respond!" did.

But there were no lows. The characters all worked. There was nothing like that weird scene in the park with the now-grown-up murderers of her father. Or the oddly stiff and demonic portrayal of every maoist. Or, worst of all, that juvenile scene where Detective Gary Stu is preening in front of all the soldiers and wins them over by hatching his monofilament plan.

Go read that scene again. It reads like a child's idea of how grown-ups interact with one another.

I think I'm back to No Award in 3rd. There's a lot of neat stuff here, but there are just too many wrong notes. I can forgive a few flaws--no work is perfect--but I'd be embarrassed to recommend this book to a friend. I'd have to spend a minute or two making apologies first. "Now, just so you know, the characters can be a little goofy sometimes..." A Hugo-winner should be something you can recommend whole-heartedly, without another word. "Just read it."

#117 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2015, 07:59 PM:

I just finished it, with some disappointment. It felt to me like good solid 1950s sf with a lot more women. I decided not to be bothered by the sophons, but the teeny little translation program bugged the hell out of me. The prose itself...felt very Chinese. I had an awful lot of Chinese ESL students, and that's what their writing was like.

This won't be higher than #3 on my ballot. I like my books to have non-dehydrated human characters. Ye was the only one I believed in, and if she'd stayed the main character I would have been a lot more enthusiastic.

#118 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2015, 09:26 PM:

TexAnne, I've read about bootstrapping-translation systems designed for use by 'aliens'. They might, if done as a compiler/interpreter, actually be that small. They're not going to be doing much, though: it's a one-off deal, I think, to get their message across to the Trisolarians, so not a lot of extras involved; it won't help with interpersonal relationships or recreation or shopping or any of the stuff we'd consider essential.

#119 ::: dm ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2015, 11:21 PM:

Because of this thread, I went off to take a look at the book.

It is a story that is almost unrelentingly pessimistic until the last page, which turns the last message from the Trisolarians on its head.

The book made me think of Stanislaw Lem with all the charm and the sense of the absurd removed. I think it is worth finishing, once started[1], but I'm not sure it's worth starting.

[1] Finishing the book makes "I am the very model of a modern Trisolarian" much, much sweeter. Future editions of the book should have that printed in invisible ink on the last page.

#120 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2015, 08:57 PM:

Okay, I'm willing to overlook the 11-dimensional handwavium for the sake of the rest of the story. I think each SFF book or story should be granted one waiver from science as we know it. If I'm willing to accept the malices in The Sharing Knife, which are the most bizarre biology I've seen since the heyday of Jacqueline Lichtenberg, then I can happily place The Three-Body Problem on my Hugo ballot.

#121 ::: Nenya ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2015, 03:03 AM:

I think I, too, would have enjoyed it more if Ye Wenjie had stayed the protagonist throughout. I know I found her parts of the story much more engaging than Wang's. He was a bit too cardboard.

There were at least a few moments of true wonder in the book for me--that moment when I realized that the weird videogame world was actually explicable as a world with three suns was pretty awesome. The nanofilaments and the boat was both really terrifying and kinda cool. And "Do not answer!" was a wonderfully chilling first-contact message, the most original I've read in years.

But the videogame was boring, boring, boring; Wang was boring; the pacing was uneven (though I don't know if that had to do with Chinese literary conventions for writing mystery plots or not). I didn't get why people were killing themselves over science, but maybe that's a cultural mismatch as well.

I did like the scene with the now-grown teenaged Red Guards and Ye Wenjie. I'd been hating them all book for murdering her father on the first page...and then it turned out that they'd been fucked over by the revolution as well. It was really heartrending, in a "no good answers, even the bullies are themselves victims" kind of way. I'm glad the scene was there.

Basically, this felt like two or three books cut and pasted together. And it worries me that I feel this way because I'm not familiar with Chinese literature so I'm not judging it on its own merits. It will go above Noa Waard for me, but probably below AS and TGE.

#122 ::: Nenya ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2015, 03:04 AM:

I think I, too, would have enjoyed it more if Ye Wenjie had stayed the protagonist throughout. I know I found her parts of the story much more engaging than Wang's. He was a bit too cardboard.

There were at least a few moments of true wonder in the book for me--that moment when I realized that the weird videogame world was actually explicable as a world with three suns was pretty awesome. The nanofilaments and the boat was both really terrifying and kinda cool. And "Do not answer!" was a wonderfully chilling first-contact message, the most original I've read in years.

But the videogame was boring, boring, boring; Wang was boring; the pacing was uneven (though I don't know if that had to do with Chinese literary conventions for writing mystery plots or not). I didn't get why people were killing themselves over science, but maybe that's a cultural mismatch as well.

I did like the scene with the now-grown teenaged Red Guards and Ye Wenjie. I'd been hating them all book for murdering her father on the first page...and then it turned out that they'd been fucked over by the revolution as well. It was really heartrending, in a "no good answers, even the bullies are themselves victims" kind of way. I'm glad the scene was there.

Basically, this felt like two or three books cut and pasted together. And it worries me that I feel this way because I'm not familiar with Chinese literature so I'm not judging it on its own merits. It will go above Noa Waard for me, but probably below AS and TGE.

#123 ::: Jameson Quinn ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2015, 07:48 PM:

I was inventing a plot where the whole universe is a simulation in an attempt to find how to make the laws of physics stable, which involves not having too many scientists, and everything else in the book was just nested metaphors. And the people running the sim are the third body after humans and trisolarians. Which was fun to think about, and the book was fun to read while I thought about that. So, although I may have been reading a book other than the one that was written, I enjoyed it a lot, so definitely above No Award for me.

#124 ::: Jamoche ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2015, 02:14 PM:

"Except that the reason they want earth is for its pleasant environment as a colony for them, so trashing its ecology is going to be self-defeating."

But... how do they even know that Earth - not simply any planet in our nice stable single-sun system - is going to be pleasant *to them*? The trouble with the VR game translating their experiences into human analogues is that we have only the vaguest ideas about their actual biology - do they really "hydrate" with H20? Seems unlikely, given the temperature ranges they can endure - they seem to have survived extremes worse than anything even Mercury or Pluto could throw at them. So would any planet with an atmosphere do? We've got plenty of those. Or even Mars, if it turns out none of the atmospheres are quite right.

#125 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2015, 02:00 AM:

Yes, the sophons and every part of the plot related to them were, from a scientific viewpoint, hopelessly silly. Silly can be ok; I was willing to forgive the author for that, and he did a few interesting things with them.

The nanowires weren't totally ripped off from Johnny Mnemonic and multiple other sources, but there wasn't anything new there.

I haven't decided whether I'm putting this first or third.

#126 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2015, 03:23 AM:

I put my comments on 3BP in the wrong thread. I'll only repeat one bit here: when the protons are unfolded into two dimensions, they're the size of a planet's atmosphere, but still have the mass of a proton. Before they could wrap around the planet, they would be blasted out of the Trisolaran system by the impact of uncountable numbers of photons from three stars.

Interesting at the beginning; lapses into some really stupid (and boring) rubber science by the end.

#127 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2015, 04:53 AM:

I agree with Xopher about what happens to those protons. Plus, the whole idea of "unfolding" a proton into different numbers of dimensions is just strange: it's obviously based on the idea that the universe has 11 dimensions; but, in those theories, the other 7 are extremely small, so small that you really can't do anything with them.

And, also, if I've understood my reading right, fundamental particles such as protons can't have internal microstructure for quantum-mechanical reasons. One proton is always exactly the same as every other proton. So turning a proton into a supercomputer is not on for that reason also.

I found the book interesting and do plan to read the sequels, but I had some serious trouble with suspension of disbelief.

#128 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2015, 09:06 AM:

It's more interesting than Anderson's doorstop.

#129 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2015, 10:46 AM:

Yes, but that's setting the bar awfully low.

#130 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2015, 10:59 AM:

PJ Evans @128; Anderson's doorstop, as you put it, bears the dubious distinction of being the only book in the 19-year history of the Compuserve SF book discussions which was voted, unanimously, to be abandoned mid-book because nobody had any interest whatsoever in what happened next to any of the characters...

#131 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2015, 11:15 AM:

130
A decision with which I'm in full agreement: I abandoned it, too.

#132 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2015, 02:13 PM:

John Mark Osterbloom@45, in hindsight (having read the next book in the series), the unimaginative tactics, and many other inexplicable actions on the Trisolarians' behalf, are completely understandable. We have -- no doubt intentionally -- been misled by the game of _Three Body_ into seeing them as people in a horrible environment, but their psychology has been shaped by their physiology into something quite different (as memorably explained in the prologue of _The Dark Forest_).

They don't engage in sophisticated tactics because they have no experience of sophisticated tactics, because gurl qb abg haqrefgnaq qrprcgvba, snyfrubbq, be pbaprnyzrag bs vasbezngvba. Without *that*, nontrivial tactics are more or less a nonstarter. (In hindsight, this giant hole in their psychology is strongly hinted at in the Trisolaris sections of the previous book, particularly the section involving the princeps and the Listener.)

As for the whole 'unfolding' and inscribing things on a proton and the question of how sensors sit on a proton, it's Clarketech, it doesn't have to be explicable to us. As for why the protons don't reform into an unmarred whole, it's the self-repairing circuitry and sensors/effectors etched into the proton by techmagic that's doing the reforming: a bare proton can't do that (except insofar as every nucleon is an entire universe complete with its own sentient life: now *that* is a bizarre idea.)

The sophons are clearly setup for the next book, giving the Trisolarians a perfect spying technique and preventing humans from out-teching them. So we'll have to be clever and sly and not use brute force. :)

I agree with the clunky part -- I'd call it a problem with translation, except this was translated by Ken Liu, who is about as clunky as a ballet dancer crossed with a swan. So I have to write this off to either cultural differences or, well, that SF in China is still exploring the sorts of writing styles the West got away from in the New Wave.

#133 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2015, 12:39 AM:

So I just recently finished reading The Dark Forest. Seems like we could use this thread to discuss that too? At any rate, I'm going to do that.

Just in case:

MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THE DARK FOREST! READ ON AT PERIL OF SPOILAGE!









I MEAN IT!








So...our hero, Luo Ji, manages to thwart the Trisolaran invasion by creating a sort of MAD situation. The resolution of the Fermi paradox is that the galaxy is hostile: all technical civilizations launch preemptive attacks on any other ones they detect. So Luo forces the Trisolarans to back down from genocide of humanity, by threatening to broadcast the galactic coordinates of their planet, in effect calling in a remote drone strike. The hostile aliens out there will destroy Earth for this, but they'll destroy Trisolaris too.

The Trisolarans lock down the solar amplification method of sending radio, that was used for communication in the first book. But Luo invents an ingenious method of sending out coordinates by other means, and so wins.

Except – his method depends on there being aliens who are closely observing our sun. And any such aliens would already have noticed the interplanetary civilization we read about.

What's more, the Trisolaran lockdown consists of beaming powerful radio at the sun, jamming any messages. But surely that sends out just that powerfully, the one message: "Here we are!" Any interstellar civilization would surely know about the solar amplification, and would correctly interpret our sun's sudden enormous increase in brightness in certain radio bands. It's like trying to stop a burglar alarm being noticed, by drowning it out with an air raid siren.

Basically, under the rules set up in the book, it seems like both Earth and Trisolaris are already toast.

I know that there's a third book, and perhaps it'll address these issues – just as the opening of this book addresses a plot hole at the end of the first one (i.e.: why didn't the sophons warn the ETO about the ambush in the Panama Canal?). But it's still a failing in this book, that they're there.

#134 ::: Inst ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2015, 01:49 AM:

Just passing through, but I do want to mention that the sequel is really, really good. Consider the first novel's awards a placeholder for the second one; and while Joel's translation is often flawed, rushed, and unprofessional, I prefer his dialect to Ken's. Book Three will tell us if it's the difference in translator that made the difference or if it's Liu Cixin getting better; I guess Joel Martinsen wants a career in this.

I also found the sophon concept laughable in the first book, but in the second it makes sense, in that the Trisolarians really do have a ton of clarketech; yet humanity still triumphs, not by luck, but by social science, a truly bizarre thing.

#135 ::: Inst ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2015, 02:39 AM:

Not necessarily a given that the jamming can be distinguished from a natural phenomenon or that it could be designed to closely resemble a natural phenomenon; a signal, on the other hand, is clearly anthropogenic and indicates risk.

#136 ::: Inst ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2015, 03:56 AM:

Also, this is a totally Xeelee-universe (Stephen Baxter) solution, but if a particle is not real matter but rather a mass field with specific properties, space-time distortion on the nano-scale can be used to provide order on nanoscale engineering, i.e, the Trisolarians have already shown their ability to fold a proton across different dimensions, so time-space manipulation a la Baxter is probably not beyond them. So imagine the particle fields being channeled through space-time distortion, so that from an outside observer's point of view, a proton's force field (strong, weak, gravity, electromagnetic) could take any given shape, and within these shapes you could have circuits and p-n junction equivalents based on differing levels of force or the interaction between constituent bosons of the fermion. Someone with a better hard physics understanding than me could verify that if you somehow have the ability to do both nano-scale engineering and space-time distortion on the nanoscale would it be possible to do this.

So, voila, microscopic Xeelee nightfighters without true FTL.

Also, the stuff about higher dimensional unraveling, think Orion's Arm science fiction about four-dimensional simulated lifeforms, as you go into higher dimensions the level of complexity increases exponentially, so much that an 11 dimensional universe may in fact be large enough and complex enough, even if in three dimensions it's near-Planck length, to support life and complicated civilizations, perhaps through naturally-occurring space-time warping functioning akin to my proposed micro-nightfighter.

#137 ::: Inst ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2015, 04:15 AM:

I'm not sure if this scientific explanation makes sense without violating fundamental laws, but in retrospect it's an unimaginably creative idea; even Baxter, with cosmic-scale portals into other dimensions wouldn't have come up with it, but that's because he has a large-scale orientation; Liu's ideas, incidentally, were all presaged in the Wandering Earth; he had a part called "The Micro-Age" about the superiority of shrinking people to the size of bacteria without sacrificing the degree of sentience using quantum mechanical functions for cognition. The theory is that micro-scale efficiency allows humans to trivially transition into a post-scarcity society, a sort of inverse Swift's Gulliver's Travels where it's the giant that's satirized instead of the tiny people.

On SpaceBattles.com; well, Baxter and Liu Cixin need to be compared due to their predilection for the cosmic scale and macro-engineering, but Liu is the better humanist; Baxter's view is Catholic, with man's greatest enemy being himself, which God, in whatever form he may take, being on occasion necessary for intervention, as in Vacuum Diagrams, where Paul, a quasi-human quantum intelligence, does battle with the Qax aliens to ensure the safe departure of reverted hunter gatherers out of a dying universe.

Liu is similar; he views evil as a part of man, but also as something inalienable, like a malignancy that can only be expressed upon ïmmunosuppression. If the circumstances are right for it, Les Fleurs du Mal; otherwise, it stays as a hidden dark potential, and since he doesn't believe in God's grace; it is up to man to escape it or drown in it; the solution often being the latter as circumstances require.

I prefer Liu to Baxter, with Transcendent and Resplendent Baxter takes a hard step back from the nihilism of Vacuum Diagrams. After all, he writes children's books as well; the sheer darkness he has to turn away from. Liu, on the other hand... "so f[expletive] dark", as a character remarks in The Dark Forest.

#138 ::: Inst ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2015, 05:05 PM:

One other thing, if the second novel Hugos and the third is respected, I want to see what Ursula Le Guin thinks about Liu's trilogy. To some extent she identifies as a Taoist, with her own translation of the DDJ, and there are elements of Taoism in Liu's work, and they are both interested in sociology and anthropology. However, Le Guin believes in hope, even if it does involve an ambiguous utopia, while Liu is darkly Marxist and Malthusian, sooner or later the resources will run out and we'll all be turning on each other like cannibal wolves.

Alternately, we should ask Liu when the opportunity presents itself what he thinks of Le Guin.

#139 ::: Inst ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2016, 07:00 PM:

just fyi, regarding the proton-unfolding / sophon-concept:

http://www.symmetrymagazine.org/article/july-2013/real-talk-everything-is-made-of-fields

http://profmattstrassler.com/articles-and-posts/largehadroncolliderfaq/whats-a-proton-anyway/

Think about it this way, a field radiates in its dimensional space. In 11 dimensions, the size of a field is infinitely small, because the force of the field is roughly a/d^11. Bring it down to 3 dimensions, the force of the field rises to a/d^3, meaning that the d for a field to become insignificant rises significantly, by d^8, implying an increase in size by a similar exponent.

Now, if you go with Liu and assume that protons are 11-dimensional fields that exist compactly at an infinitesimal size, it makes sense to assume that by changing their dimensionality, you can change the apparent volume of the particle so much that a proton can have the same area, length, or volume as the Earth or more.

I agree that there are problems, though. Etching with mesons implies that you somehow defeat Planck-length effects, which is a bit much. Dimensional distortion and routing various parts of the field back within itself is a better way to explain particle-scale engineering.

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