Summary: Overall, an amazing series that imagined a future for technology and humanity that was creative, awe-inspiring, and believable.
I don’t read much sci-fi anymore because my reading priorities have changed in recent years. I’m also a lot less likely to take the time to read a long book, much less a long series, since starting blogging. I just hear about too many good books from all of you and I want to be constantly sharing what I’m reading with you as well! However, when I saw The Three Body Problem was a trilogy, I decided I either wanted to skip it or read the whole thing. As you can tell since I’m writing this review, I decided to embrace the trilogy and wow, was that the right choice! Aside from enjoying reading a long, sci-fi trilogy again after so long, this was a particularly fantastic series. I’m going to give you brief, non-spoilery reviews for each of the books below. Then I also want to talk a bit about two major aspects of this books: the science the author imagined and the way he portrayed women in the story (also spoiler-free).Title: The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #1)
Author: Liu Cixin, Ken Liu
Links: Indiebound |Goodreads
The writing in this book, and the remainder of the trilogy, was fairly descriptive and slow-paced. Sometimes there was a little too much exposition, especially for the more action-y scenes, but I mostly enjoyed the beauty of the author’s prose. The main character and some of the supporting characters were drawn in loving detail. I found their emotions engaging and their hobbies and quirks made them feel real. The author also captured a feeling of immensity and awe-inspiring scale when describing the universe. In the post-script, the author talked about his love of science and it shone through in this book.Title: The Dark Forest (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #2)
Author: Liu Cixin, Joel Martinsen
Links: Indiebound |Goodreads
No middle of the trilogy slump here! In fact, I considered giving the first book 4 stars just so I could rate this book even higher. The idea for this book was particularly unique, as were the creative technological solutions the characters came up with to facing an alien threat. Even more than the previous book, this book achieved an epic sense of scale, not only in space but in time. He manages to span hundreds of years, but through some hibernating individuals who remain in the story and through others who leave tangible legacies, I continued to feel invested in the characters throughout. The ending surprised me in the best of ways.Title: Death's End (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #3)
Author: Liu Cixin, Ken Liu
Ugh, what a let down after the other two! I almost gave this book two stars for having a frustrating and stereotyped female protagonist, plus a boring final 150 pages. However, the author’s amazing imagination and his creative ideas about the evolution of the universe; technology; and the interactions between galactic civilizations made me give it another star. Honestly though, I might recommend reading the first two and just leaving them to sit in their perfection, while giving this book a pass.
Science in the trilogy
I cannot say enough about how amazing the science and technology in this book were. The ideas the author had about basic physics were fascinating to me. I’ve read a bit about theoretical physics, but only at the pop science level, and I was not only able to follow the concepts the author introduced, but to be genuinely excited by them. The author clearly loves physics, as do many of his characters, and he does a great job sweeping the reader up in that enthusiasm. Every book surprised me as the author imagined advancing our knowledge of science and the universe further beyond the bounds of what we know. Someone with a great knowledge of physics might disagree, but I found every idea the author suggested believable given what I know about physics, while simultaneously being so clever I never would have thought of his ideas myself.
Female characters in the trilogy
I mostly wanted to talk about female characters in this series because the author’s portrayal was such a mix of good and bad. In the first book, two of the main characters are women. One of them is briefly our protagonist and has a larger impact on the story than any other character. It even squeaks by the Bechdel test, with the female protagonist briefly interacting with some secondary female characters, although not in any way that impacts the story.
The second book has only a male protagonist. Women are shown as soldiers and starship captains, scientists and political leaders. However, none of them impacts the story in any meaningful way. (Some may consider the main character’s love interest an exception, but her only real impact is as motivation for him). Pretty much the only character the female characters interact with is the male protagonist, so this book is in no danger of passing the Bechdel test.
The third book passes the Bechdel test with flying colors, with the main protagonist and the secondary character we see most regularly interacting to make decisions that will change the world. Unfortunately, the Bechdel test isn’t everything and this book had the worst representation of women from any of the books. The main character consistently makes terrible decisions based on her ‘maternal instinct’. Honestly, I found her decisions even more frustrating because she consistently escapes from their consequences unscathed, spending large periods of time in hibernation. She also hibernates through most of the times where actual progress is being made, popping out only to give us updates on what the male characters have been accomplishing and to accidentally to fuck it up. As a bonus side of awful, she regularly comments on the fact that men appear more effeminate to her in some eras by describing different time periods as either ‘producing men’ or not. Blech. The only other secondary female characters are briefly mentioned as love interests and make no meaningful contribution to the story.
Sorry to leave you on a bit of a sour note there! The first two books were incredible. Their portrayal of women could be better, but wouldn’t bother me at all if representation was more balanced in sci-fi generally. The author’s imagination, especially about science and technology, blew me away. The third book wasn’t as interesting to me. The main character was so frustrating, I didn’t care much about her personal safety and she slept through a lot of the good stuff. As discussed above, the representation of gender in general was abysmal. I would highly recommend the first two books in the series, but if you aren’t too much of a completionist to skip the last book, I’d do that if I were you.