Blocked future

Cixin Liu's science fiction bestseller 'The Three-Body Problem'

The Chinese writer Cixin Liu has landed an international bestseller with the novel 'The Three-Body Problem'. Now his story about the fight between the Earth and the Trisolaran population is also available in German translation. In the dress of a science fiction novel, the 53-year-old author expresses his deep conviction: without fundamental research in physics, technical progress remains on the line.

The science fiction novel 'The Three-Body Problem' written by Cixin Liu was released in December 2016 in German (titled 'Die drei Sonnen').

There is, obviously, a political and economic giant slumbering in China. The Middle Kingdom also draws attention to itself literarily: by it's science-fiction genre whose home is commonly assumed in the US and Europe. The book is titled ‘The Three-Body Problem’. It was written by Cixin Liu, a writer originally educated as a technician. The novel is the first volume of a trilogy, which has appeared in China already in 2008/2010 and has fascinated readers nationwide. The first volume of the trilogy is available in English translation since 2014. The book has inspired US President Obama as well as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. In December 2016 the German translation was published under the title 'Die drei Sonnen'. A movie based on the story is to come to the cinema in 2017.

Disappointed by the Cultural Revolution

A main character of the novel is the astrophysicist Ye Wenjie, the daughter of a political dissident. During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Ye Wenjie is working at an astronomical observatory in the Chinese province. In this seclusion, the scientist receives a vital sign of the Trisolarans, a technically advanced culture, living four light years away from the sun on the three-star system Alpha Centauri. Disillusioned by the brutality of humanity, Ye Wenjie calls to the aliens for help, believing that the Trisolarans could improve the misguided humanity with their advanced culture.

The hope of the scientist is not being met, as it turns out later, when the space fleet of the Trisolarans actually makes its way to Earth. The Trisolarans own a highly sophisticated technology, but they also have an underdeveloped cultural understanding.

Assumptions about the strangers

Unlike in many science-fiction works, in 'The Three-Body Problem' the war between stars is not the main plot. The novel has several levels of action, and one of its qualities is the idea-rich representation of the fantastic strangeness. Nice to read the assumptions that earth-dwellers and Trisolarians make about each other's culture. And very stimulating the scientific philosopher's ideas, which the novelist Cixin Liu puts in the mouths of his characters.

The Trisolarans are technically superior to Earth inhabitants. Yet they are not sure of their victory over mankind. For their interstellar journey, the Trisolarans estimate about 450 years. They fear that humans could make a strong technical development during this period in order to defend the attack of the extra-terrestrial army. In order to prevent this, the Trisolarans decide to block the technical development of mankind.

"Kill its science"

The leader of the Trisolarans has clear ideas about how to confine the mankind to its current state of development: "To effectively contain a civilization's development and disarm it across such a long span of time, there is only one way: kill its science." And: "Overall technological development depends on the advancement of basic science, and the foundation of basic science lies in the exploration of the deep structure of matter. If there's no progress in this field, there can be no major breakthrough in science and technology as a whole."

In order to block scientific research, the Trisolarans start the 'Project Sophon': They embed four supercomputers into four protons, although microscopically small. They send two of them to Earth, where they enter the particle accelerators with which physicists conduct fundamental research. "Earth physicist will not be able to tell the correct result from the numerous erroneous results," the Trisolarans rejoice, "their high-energy accelerators will all have been turned into heaps of junk." We don't wan't to reveal the whole story, but one thing may be told: Finally the earth civilization will seize a chance to survive the extra-terrestrials coming from Alpha Centauri.

Reality fantastically decorated

Cixin Liu skilfully develops his science fiction by starting from real knowledge of modern physics, in order to build up his imagination and to embellish it in detail. The dimensions of the macrocosm and the microcosm "produce lively, grand pictures in my mind and arouse in me an ineffable, religious feeling of awe and shock", writes Cixin Liu in the epilogue of the English-language edition of his novel. These feelings would have made him a science fiction fan and later a science fiction author.

The author, who worked in a remote power station as a software engineer before becoming a writer, has great admiration for science and technology: "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 play wrights 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," says the science fiction author.

Uncertainty about visiting aliens

For Cixin Liu, the extra-terrestrial life is a topic with which humanity should deal not only in literature but also in non-fictional reality. According to the Chinese author, extra-terrestrial intelligence is the "greatest source of uncertainty" for the future of mankind, greater than climate change and environmental catastrophes: "Perhaps in ten thousand years, the starry sky that humankind gazes upon will remain empty and silent, but perhaps tomorrow we'll wake up and find an alien spaceship the size of the moon parked in the orbit."

Author: Benedikt Vogel

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  • Elementary particles
  • Particle Physics