The Three-Body Problem

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The Three-Body Problem
Author Liu Cixin
Original title 三体
Translator Ken Liu
Country China
Language Chinese
Series Remembrance of Earth's Past
Genre Science fiction
Publisher Chongqing Press
Publication date
Pages 302
Awards Hugo Award for Best Novel (2015)
Kurd-Laßwitz-Preis for Best Foreign Work (2017)
ISBN 978-7-5366-9293-0
Followed by The Dark Forest
The Three-body Problem
Simplified Chinese 三体
Traditional Chinese 三體

The Three-Body Problem (Chinese: 三体; literally: "Three-Body") is a science fiction novel by the Chinese writer Liu Cixin. It is the first novel of the Remembrance of Earth's Past (Chinese: 地球往事) trilogy, but Chinese readers generally refer to the whole series by the title of this first novel.[1] The title itself refers to the three-body problem in orbital mechanics.

The work was serialized in Science Fiction World in 2006, published as a book in 2008 and became one of the most popular science fiction novels in China.[2] It received the Chinese Science Fiction Galaxy Award in 2006. A film adaptation of the same name is scheduled for release in 2017.[3]

An English translation by Ken Liu was published by Tor Books in 2014.[4] It won the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Novel[5] and was nominated for the 2014 Nebula Award for Best Novel.[6]

(In this article, Chinese names are written with the family name first and given name second. Liu Cixin's family name is Liu. Ken Liu's surname is also Liu; he is American and uses the English order.)



The Trisolaran world is a stellar system with three suns, the Alpha Centauri System, whose trajectories are entirely unpredictable, because they are an example of the three-body problem from physics. The problem described in the book is actually a four body problem, since the action takes place on a planet which is also a part of the system. The gravitational forces between the suns and the planet are extremely chaotic, and have caused 11 of the original 12 planets to be consumed by the suns. The living environment on the sole remaining planet, Trisolaris, is also extremely harsh: when the planet is within the orbit range of one sun, it enters a short era of stable day-night cycle, which the native Trisolarans term as Stable Era; when the planet is trapped between the orbits of multiple suns, its day-night cycle becomes distorted, and the days may become extremely hot should the planet be too close to any of the suns, or extremely cold if otherwise, and this period is termed as a Chaotic Era.

Throughout the centuries, with the rise and abrupt terminations of many civilizations, Trisolarans have learned to predict the movement of the suns for several years at a time, and evolved to be able to hydrate and dehydrate their bodies to adapt to the environment of the Stable Eras and Chaotic Eras. However, eventually research determines that there is no solution to the three-body problem. With no definite pattern to the suns' movement, Trisolaris may be destroyed at any time in the future. In the face of this existential crisis, Trisolaran society evolved to become highly totalitarian and fully dedicated to the exploration of habitable planets in outer space to colonize and resettle upon.

First Contacts[edit]

Parts of the novel take place during the Cultural Revolution in China, as told through flashbacks. The family of a Tsinghua University astrophysics alumna, Ye Wenjie (叶文洁), was shattered when her mother and younger sister joined the Red Guards and her physicist father Ye Zhetai was killed by Tsinghua High School student mobs during a public struggle session. Ye barely escaped persecution and was exiled to the countryside, where she got into deep trouble after commenting on Silent Spring, a banned book at the time. She managed to find political refuge after being recruited into the "Red Coast Base", a top-secret military establishment commissioned by the communist government to establish contact with aliens.

In 1971, Ye discovered the possibility of coding information and transmitting it using the principle of solar waves. Gravely disheartened by the cruelty of humans and human society, she secretly sent a message about Earth's basic information and a request for help into space, without the knowledge of her co-workers. Unwittingly, the message was received by Trisolaris four light-years away. Eight years later in 1979, Ye Wenjie received the first response by a concerned pacifist Trisolaran Information Receptionist, warning her not to reply, as the Trisolaran civilization was hostile and invasive. By this time, Ye had observed the environmental destruction caused by humans in the name of progress. This reinforced her belief that humanity is not to be trusted, and it would be desirable for an alien race to come to Earth and purify the human race. Ye replied to Trisolaris.

The Trisolaran government was able to determine Earth's location based on Ye's second message, and a full-scale campaign to invade and colonize Earth soon began. Trisolarans developed the Sophon technology (a word amalgamation of Sophia, meaning "wisdom", and Proton, consisting of a supercomputer embedded into a single proton that had been unfolded from eleven space dimensions to two dimensions, programmed, and then refolded), with plans for two such Sophons to secure the complete lockdown of Earth's scientific research and development by giving out false results in particle accelerators. In the meantime, they remained in contact with Ye Wenjie and gave her instructions to prepare for the coming of Trisolarans, while concealing their real motives. Ye and Mike Evans, the heir of a rich American oil tycoon and a "pan-species communist", then established the Earth-Trisolaris Organization (ETO), calling upon people who have lost faith in human society to prepare and welcome the arrival of their new Trisolaran overlords on Earth.

The present[edit]

In 2007, nanomaterials expert Wang Miao (汪淼) is shocked when he is given a countdown warning (by the Sophons, unknown to him at the time) for him to terminate his new research project. He does so, and is given a reprieve. In the meantime, his contact with some of his colleagues and his efforts to find out the truth have also made him chance upon a game developed by the ETO, titled Three Body. He registers into the game with various personas, to find it fully simulating the living environment of a world revolving around three suns, with its Stable and Chaotic Eras. At one time, taking on the persona of Copernicus, Wang manages to explain to other players and NPCs the nature of the three-body world, earning himself respect within the Three Body community. After the last simulated scene, which shows three-body people finding out the truth and planning to migrate elsewhere in the universe, he joins a players' meetup, where he is briefed by the biologist Pan Han about the game being a real-world simulation, and is invited to join the upcoming ETO meeting. Wary of possible deception, Wang Miao notifies his good friend Shi Qiang, a police detective and counter-terrorism specialist, to stand by.

During the ETO meeting in an abandoned warehouse, in which Ye Wenjie appears as the spiritual leader, Wang Miao is shocked by the anti-humanity stances portrayed by its members, its display as a formidable fighting force with capable weapons of destruction (courtesy of funding from Mike Evans), as well as the infighting between the Adventist and Redemptionist factions within the organization. A police-military intervention quickly takes place, resulting in the destruction of the warehouse and deaths of many ETO members. Ye is taken into police custody and interrogated about her agenda about the ETO, about which she reveals possible classified information present on board the transport ship Judgement Day, which is disguised as an ordinary merchant ship.

To collect the information about the Trisolaran world on board Judgement Day, the Chinese authorities work with international police and military organizations. Initiated by Shi Qiang, they successfully carry out Operation "Zither Plan", making use of Wang Miao's specialization in nanomaterials to lay a nanofibre trap at the Panama Canal, which traps the Judgement Day and kills all the ETO members aboard, including deputy leader Mike Evans. They recover the information stored in a computer in the control center. It reveals the Trisolarans' plans in two phases: initially to halt science research and development through the Sophons' lockdown of particle physics, which has already begun, and eventually to send all of its galactic fleet to Earth to populate and colonize it in about 400 Earth years' time. In response to their discovery, the Sophons condescendingly comment to the team through a short message, that humans were bugs. Humanity is supposedly doomed.

After reviewing the information, a desolate Ye Wenjie asks to make a trip back to Radar Peak, the site of the former Red Coast Base, and comments how the end of the day signified the end of her story as well as the sunset of humanity. Separately, Shi Qiang comforts Wang Miao and Ding Yi that humanity actually stand a chance of survival, akin to how bugs have survived despite being repeatedly persecuted and exterminated by humans, as the story concludes.


In the following, Chinese names are written with the family name first and given name second.

The Ye Family[edit]

  • Ye Zhetai (叶哲泰) - Physicist, professor at Tsinghua University, killed during a struggle session
  • Shao Lin (绍琳) - Physicist, Ye Zhetai's wife
  • Ye Wenjie (叶文洁) - Astrophysicist, daughter of Ye Zhetai, first person to establish contact with the Trisolarans, later spiritual leader of ETO
  • Ye Wenxue (叶文雪) - Ye Wenjie's sister, a Tsinghua High School student and a zealous Red Guard, killed during factional violence
  • Yang Weining (杨卫宁) - Chief engineer at Red Coast Base, once a student of Ye Zhetai, later Ye Wenjie's husband, murdered by Ye

The Cultural Revolution Time[edit]

  • Lei Zhicheng (雷志成) - Political commissar at Red Coast Base, who recruited Wenjie, later murdered by Ye

The Present[edit]

  • Wang Miao (汪淼) - Nanomaterials researcher
  • Yang Dong (杨冬) - String theorist and daughter of Ye Wenjie and Yang Weining, later committed suicide
  • Ding Yi (丁仪) - Theoretical physicist, Yang Dong's boyfriend
  • Shi Qiang (史强) - Police detective and counter-terrorism specialist, nicknamed "Big Shi" (大史)
  • Chang Weisi (常伟思) - Major-general of the People’s Liberation Army
  • Shen Yufei (申玉菲) - Japanese-Chinese physicist and member of the Frontiers of Science
  • Wei Cheng (魏成) - Math prodigy and recluse, Shen Yufei's husband
  • Pan Han (潘寒) - Biologist, friend/acquaintance of Shen Yufei and Wei Cheng, and member of the Frontiers of Science
  • Sha Ruishan (沙瑞山) - Astronomer, one of Ye Wenjie's students
  • Mike Evans (麦克·伊文斯) - Son of an oil magnate, main source of funding of the ETO
  • Colonel Stanton (斯坦顿) - Officer of U.S. Marine Corps, commander of Operation Guzheng


2015 Hugo Award for Best Novel awarded[7]
2014 Nebula Award for Best Novel nominated[8]
2015 Locus Award for Best SF Novel nominated[9]
2015 Prometheus Award nominated[10]
2015 John W. Campbell Memorial Award nominated[11]
2017 Kurd-Laßwitz-Preis for Best Foreign SF work awarded[12]
2017 Grand Prix de l'Imaginaire for Foreign Novel nominated[13]


Former U.S. President Barack Obama said "The scope of it was immense. So that was fun to read, partly because my day-to-day problems with Congress seem fairly petty".[14]


The subsequent books in the Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy are:[15]

  • 黑暗森林 (The Dark Forest), 2008; English translation by Joel Martinsen published by Tor Books in 2015
  • 死神永生 (Death's End), 2010; English translation by Ken Liu published by Tor Books in 2016


  • Czech:Problém tří těles,2017
  • French:Le Problème à trois corps,2016
  • German:Die drei Sonnen,2016
  • Greek:Το πρόβλημα των τριών σωμάτων,2016
  • Hungarian:A Háromtest-probléma,2016
  • Polish:Problem trzech ciał,2017
  • Portuguese:O Problema dos Três Corpos,2016
  • Russian:Задача трех тел,2016
  • South Korea:삼체,2013
  • Spanish:El problema de los tres cuerpos,2016
  • Thai:ดาวซานถี่ อุบัติการสงครามล้างโลก,2016
  • Turkish: Üç Cisim Problemi,2015
  • Vietnamese:Tam Thể,2016


There is a significant amount of fan-made music for the trilogy.

A fan-made soundtrack album by Chinese electronic musician Wang Lifu, titled PROJECT Three-Body OST,[16] is popular among Chinese fans of the Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy.


  1. ^ Liu, Cixin (7 May 2014). "The Worst of All Possible Universes and the Best of All Possible Earths: Three Body and Chinese Science Fiction". Retrieved 8 May 2014. 
  2. ^ 陈熙涵 (2012-11-30). 《三体》选定英文版美国译者 (in Chinese). 新华网转载自《文汇报》. Retrieved 2013-02-19. 
  3. ^ Marcus Norton (July 22, 2016). "The Three-Body Problem: I". IMDB. Retrieved July 22, 2016. 
  4. ^ "Three Body." Ken Liu Official Website. Retrieved on July 29, 2015.
  5. ^ "2015 Hugo Award Winners Announced". The Hugo Awards. August 22, 2015. Retrieved August 23, 2015. 
  6. ^ "2014 Nebula Awards Nominees Announced". Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. February 20, 2015. Retrieved February 21, 2015. 
  7. ^ Kevin (2015-08-23). "2015 Hugo Award Winners Announced". The Hugo Awards. Retrieved 2017-08-06. 
  8. ^ "2014 Nebula Awards Nominees Announced". SFWA. 2015-02-20. Retrieved 2017-08-06. 
  9. ^ Publications, Locus. "Locus Online News » 2015 Locus Awards Winners". Retrieved 2017-08-06. 
  10. ^ Publications, Locus. "Locus Online News » 2015 Prometheus Award Winner". Retrieved 2017-08-06. 
  11. ^ Publications, Locus. "Locus Online News » 2015 Campbell and Sturgeon Awards Winners". Retrieved 2017-08-06. 
  12. ^ Publications, Locus. "Locus Online News » 2017 Kurd Laßwitz Preis Winners". Retrieved 2017-08-06. 
  13. ^ Publications, Locus. "Locus Online News » Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire 2017 Winners". Retrieved 2017-08-06. 
  14. ^ Michiko Kakutani, Obama’s Secret to Surviving the White House Years: Books, January 16, 2017
  15. ^ "Three-Body Introduction". 
  16. ^ "「PROJECT 三体OST」 (T.S.O. 萨满·ONE的小站) (豆瓣音乐人)". Retrieved 2016-09-21. 

External links[edit]