The Three-Body Problem (novel)

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The Three-Body Problem
Author Liu Cixin 刘慈欣
Original title 三体
Translator Ken Liu
Country China
Language Chinese
Series Remembrance of Earth's Past
Genre Science fiction, Hard 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"; pinyin: sān tǐ) 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 Yinhe Award ("Galaxy Award") in 2006.[3] A film adaptation of the same name is in production.

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.)


During the Cultural Revolution in China, Ye Wenjie, an astrophysics alumna from Tsinghua University, witnesses her father being beaten to death by Red Guards from Tsinghua High School, while the beating was supported by Ye's mother and younger sister. Ye is officially branded a traitor and is forced to join a labor brigade in Inner Mongolia, where she befriends a government journalist who recently read Silent Spring, and who wishes to write a letter to the central government containing policy suggestions based on the book. When the central government responds, viewing the letter as an act of sedition, the journalist betrays Ye, who helped to transcribe the draft, and Ye is set to enter prison. However, she is rescued at the last minute by Yang Weining and Lei Zhicheng, two military physicists working under Red Coast (a Chinese initiative for alien communication similar to SETI) who require Ye's skills in physics. Ye discovers the possibility of amplifying outgoing radio messages by bouncing them off the sun and sends a message. Eight years later, by now in a loveless marriage with Yang, Ye receives a message from a concerned alien pacifist from the planet Trisolaris, warning her not to respond or else the inhabitants of Trisolaris will locate and invade Earth. The alien proceeds to describe Trisolaris's environmental conditions and societal history. Ye, who has come to despise humankind, responds anyway, inviting them to come to Earth to settle its problems. Ye murders her husband, Yang, along with Lei to keep the alien message a secret.

Some time later, with the closing of the Cultural Revolution and Ye's return to Tsinghua as a professor, Ye encounters Mike Evans, the son of the CEO of the world's largest oil company, who is also a rabid environmentalist and a believer in the idea that all species are equal. Seeing that Evans is also direly angry at humanity, Ye confides to him the events at Red Coast. Evans uses his fortune to hire men and to purchase a giant ship, which he converts into a mobile colony and listening post. Upon receiving messages from Trisolaris, thereby validating Ye's story, Evans announces the creation of the militant and semisecret Earth-Trisolaris Organization (ETO) as a fifth column for Trisolaris and appoints Ye as the leader. According to the messages, the Trisolaran invasion force has departed, but will not reach Earth for 450 years, as they are traveling at 1/100-th of lightspeed. The society attracts numerous scientists, minor government officials, and other educated people who are disappointed with world affairs. They go on to assemble a private army and even to build small nuclear weapons. However, Evans retains control of most resources and starts to alter and withhold alien messages from Ye and others. Furthermore, the society splits into factions, with the Adventists, led by Evans, seeking complete destruction of humanity by the Trisolarans, and the Redemptionists, led by Shen, seeking to help the Trisolarans to find a computational solution to the three-body problem, which plagues their home planet. A third, smaller faction, the Survivors, consisting mostly of Chinese people, intend to help the Trisolarans in exchange for their own descendants' lives while the rest of humanity dies.

In the present day, Wang Miao, a nanotechnology professor, is asked to work with Shi Qiang, a cunning detective, to investigate the mysterious deaths of several scientists. The two of them notice that the world's governments are communicating closely with each other, and seem to be gearing up for war. Over the next few days, Wang experiences strange hallucinatory effects. Wang sees people playing a sophisticated virtual-reality video game called Three Body (which was created by the ETO as a recruitment tool) and begins to play himself. The video game portrays a planet whose climate randomly flips between Orderly and Chaotic Eras. During Chaotic Eras, the weather oscillates unpredictably between extreme cold and extreme heat, sometimes within minutes. Once in a while, the heat rises so much that a firestorm occurs and all civilization is reduced to ashes, or the climate becomes too cold for civilization to continue developing, as heralded by the presence of "three flying stars." The inhabitants (who are represented as having human bodies) struggle to develop their society and find means to predict the climate. Unlike humans, they have evolved the special ability to drain themselves of water, turning into a roll of canvas, in order to lie dormant when the Chaotic Eras occur. Characters resembling Aristotle, Mozi, Newton, and others try and fail to model the climate. Wang wins acclaim by figuring out how the climate works: (1) the planet Trisolaris has three suns, (2) the suns have different kinds of atmospheres, and when they are far away from the planet's surface, they no longer function as sources of heat and appear in the sky as stars, (3) Orderly Eras occur when two suns are far away, and Trisolaris orbits the third, (4) Chaotic Eras occur when Trisolaris is pulled by more than one sun, (5) firestorms happen when two or three suns are close to the planet's surface, (6) seeing three flying stars causes intense cold because it means all three suns are far away, and (7) if the three suns ever line up, Trisolaris will plunge into the nearest one and be consumed.

Wang is inducted into the ETO, and informs Shi, leading to a battle between the PLA and the society's soldiers, and the arrest of Ye. The PLA works with the Americans, led by Colonel Stanton, to ambush Evans's ship, following Shi's suggestion of cutting apart the ship and massacring the entire crew using nano-material blades, to stop them from burning their data. From the data, some new revelations emerge. For one, the aliens have extremely advanced picotechnology which allows them to create eleven-dimensional supercomputers called sophons which, when viewed in three dimensions, only occupy the volume of a proton. For another, two of these sophons have been laboriously manufactured and sent to Earth, having the power to cause hallucinations, spy on any corner of the Earth, transmit the information gathered to Trisolaris using quantum entanglement, and disrupt all of Earth's particle accelerators. The Trisolarans reason that, with particle physics being the bottleneck of science, shutting down the accelerators will paralyze Earth's technological advancement for the next 400 or more years before the Trisolarans arrive. Ye, now in custody, is allowed to visit the old Red Coast base, and reflects upon her past choices, noting that humanity from now on will never be the same.


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 younger sister, a Tsinghua High School student and a zealous Red Guard, killed during factional violence

Red Coast Base[edit]

  • Lei Zhicheng (雷志成) – Political commissar at Red Coast Base, who recruited Wenjie, later murdered by Ye
  • 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 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 "Da Shi" (大史), ("Big Shi")
  • Chang Weisi (常伟思) – Major-general of the People’s Liberation Army
  • Shen Yufei (申玉菲) – Chinese-Japanese 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


2006 Yinhe (Galaxy Award (China)) Awarded[3]
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 Premio Ignotus for Foreign Novel Awarded[13]
2017 Grand Prix de l'Imaginaire for Foreign Novel Nominated[14]


Kirkus Reviews described the book as "remarkable, revelatory and not to be missed."[15] 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".[16]


The subsequent books in the Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy are:[17]

  • 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

Other translations[edit]

  • Italian: Il problema dei tre corpi, 2017
  • Romanian: Problema celor trei corpuri, 2017
  • Czech: Problém tří těles, 2017
  • Finnish: Kolmen kappaleen probleema, 2018
  • 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
  • Ukrainian: Проблема трьох тіл, 2017

Fan Music[edit]

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

  • PROJECT Three-Body OST[18] is a 2011 fan-made soundtrack album by Chinese electronic musician Wang Lifu, which is popular among Chinese fans of the Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy. Lifu stated that the album was mostly composed of simple demos he wrote as he was reading the novel.[19]
  • Live From Afar Vol.1: Three Body in Sound[20] is a 2017 album also by Wang Lifu. It was aired first in a live session on the question-and-answer website Zhihu, as part of a live session series called Interpretation of Books: The Beauty of Expertise and Insight. Now it is available for online listening on Xiami Music. Lifu explained that this album is a combination of ambient music and drone music, due to his strong interest in them in recent years. The tracks' names are Chinese characters for numbers from 1 to 10. However, most of them have quotes from the trilogy as their themes.
  • Dark Forest,[21] a song performed by a fan known as Yun Yi Xing Chen (雲翼星辰) on the Internet. The name is cognominal to the second book of the trilogy. The lyrics was written by a fan known as Xiao Jiu (小九, meaning Little Nine). The music is Schwarzer Regen by regulus, a VOCALOID producer in Japan.
  • Three-Body Characters Songs (三体角色歌), which were made by Zhenyi Li, also known as Shen You Ba Fang (神游八方). These were created with his team along with an animation called My Three-Body (我的三体). The songs were sung by Bucai (不才), DaiDaiAkuma (呆呆Akuma), etc. They are published on Bilibili, a Chinese video-sharing website. These songs can also be found on NetEase Music (网易云音乐).


  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". Archived from the original on 8 May 2014. 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》. Archived from the original on 2013-03-01. Retrieved 2013-02-19.
  3. ^ a b Clute, John, "Yinhe Award" Archived 2017-12-01 at the Wayback Machine., Science Fiction Encyclopedia, 3rd edition. Accessed 21 Nov. 2017
  4. ^ "Three Body." Ken Liu Official Website. Retrieved on July 29, 2015.
  5. ^ "2015 Hugo Award Winners Announced". The Hugo Awards. August 22, 2015. Archived from the original on August 24, 2015. Retrieved August 23, 2015.
  6. ^ "2014 Nebula Awards Nominees Announced". Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. February 20, 2015. Archived from the original on February 20, 2015. Retrieved February 21, 2015.
  7. ^ Kevin (2015-08-23). "2015 Hugo Award Winners Announced". The Hugo Awards. Archived from the original on 2015-08-24. Retrieved 2017-08-06.
  8. ^ "2014 Nebula Awards Nominees Announced". SFWA. 2015-02-20. Archived from the original on 2017-08-01. Retrieved 2017-08-06.
  9. ^ Publications, Locus. "Locus Online News » 2015 Locus Awards Winners". Archived from the original on 2017-06-12. Retrieved 2017-08-06.
  10. ^ Publications, Locus. "Locus Online News » 2015 Prometheus Award Winner". Archived from the original on 2017-06-12. Retrieved 2017-08-06.
  11. ^ Publications, Locus. "Locus Online News » 2015 Campbell and Sturgeon Awards Winners". Archived from the original on 2017-06-12. Retrieved 2017-08-06.
  12. ^ Publications, Locus. "Locus Online News » 2017 Kurd Laßwitz Preis Winners". Archived from the original on 2017-08-06. Retrieved 2017-08-06.
  13. ^ "2017 Premio Ignotus Winners". Locus Online. Archived from the original on 2017-12-01. Retrieved 2017-11-21.
  14. ^ Publications, Locus. "Locus Online News » Grand Prix de l'Imaginaire 2017 Winners". Archived from the original on 2017-08-06. Retrieved 2017-08-06.
  15. ^ "The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu". Kirkus Reviews. October 15, 2014.
  16. ^ Michiko Kakutani, Obama’s Secret to Surviving the White House Years: Books Archived 2017-03-13 at the Wayback Machine., January 16, 2017
  17. ^ "Three-Body Introduction". Archived from the original on 2015-03-03.
  18. ^ "「PROJECT 三体OST」 (T.S.O. 萨满·ONE的小站) (豆瓣音乐人)". Archived from the original on 2017-04-28. Retrieved 2016-09-21.
  19. ^ 三体OST (in Chinese), archived from the original on 2017-11-10, retrieved 2017-11-10
  20. ^ 隔空现场Vol.1 声音中的三体 (in Chinese), archived from the original on 2017-11-10, retrieved 2017-11-10
  21. ^ Zhenyi Li (2016-06-09), 我的三体角色歌之 黑暗森林, archived from the original on 2018-01-21, retrieved 2017-11-10

External links[edit]