WIRED Book Club: Picking Apart the Satisfying, Uncheesy End of Three-Body Problem

In the beginning of Liu Cixins The Three-Body Problem, humanity faced off against itself. By the end, that division made room for a new enemy from another world. It is, as the novel states, sunset for humanity and for The Three-Body Problem. As factions of humanity try to science their way out of annihilation by the time the Trisolarans reach Earth, the story continues in the second part of the Remembrance of Earths Past series, The Dark Forest. Next week, well chat with The Three-Body Problem’s esteemed translator, Ken Liu, and announce the next WIRED Book Club read (where well navigate uncharted territory in more than one way). Stay tuned.

What do you think about the echo between Ye and the Trisolaran listener from Post 1379?
Lexi Pandell, Assistant Research Editor: Maybe it read as gimmicky to some people, but that part of the book totally delighted me.
Jay Dayrit, Editorial Operations Manager: Me too! Much to my surprise, I was totally charmed by the listener of Post 1379. Yes, it was gimmicky, but gimmick aside, the parallelism worked. It made Ye Wenjies life seem less lonely, less isolated. Theres someone out there in the universe, literally, who understands her. It kind of broke my heart that Ye and the listener of Post 1379 would never meet face-to-face, or face-to-whatever-the-listener-has-for-a-face.

What’s changed for Ye by the end of the book?
Pandell: Her original idea was to let alien culture reform us but, as she said, she started the fire, but […] couldnt control how it burnt. But she faces her death largely in silence—I cant tell if she feels regret or remains defiant.
Dayrit: Ye is a scientist who suffered tremendous betrayal and loss at a young age. I dont think she spends a lot of time pining over what could have been. She seems pretty accepting of the fire she started, perhaps because her faith in humanity has never really been restored. And yet, she isnt bitter. She looks after neighborhood children. OK, yeah, I dont understand her either.
Sarah Fallon, Senior Editor: I loved the setup of Fuck you assholes, Im calling in my new alien friends. Who wouldnt summon the aliens after cultural revolutionaries killed your father in front of you?

Whats the future of humanity?
Pandell: There are two clear paths. On the one hand, were a society that makes huge leaps in technology, so maybe well surpass the Trisolarans before they get here in 400-ish years! Or we may remain as insignificant as bugs—though very pesky, hard-to-get-rid-of bugs, so…thats something? I, for one, think that whole bug message was just sent to psych us out.
Dayrit: Swarm! Were gonna swarm! No, but seriously, there must be a way to use the Trisolaran dehydration-rehydration cycle to our advantage. Find a way to force them into dehydration and then burn the bastards. Or maybe well just use physics, like every other tactic in this book.
Fallon: Like in the Star Trek movie where Picard tells the Borg to sleep!

Time to brainstorm: How do you defend against an enemy with sophon spies?
Dayrit: Flying Blades! Cmon, that scene at the Panama Canal was pretty badass.
Fallon: Yes, it was! As were the sophon one-dimensional glitter-bomb strings, and creepy sky shapes, and planet-enveloping mirror thingie. I love the scope of Liu Cixins imagination.

Lets talk about the boundaries, or lack thereof, between science and religion.
Pandell: This line really summed up the book for me: To effectively contain a civilizations development and disarm it across such a long span of time, there is only one way: kill its science. And, to do this, the Trisolarans tapped into the slippery slope from science to dogma to religion, the one thing that has reliably swayed and stymied science throughout history. Still, despite siding with science, Liu Cixin doesnt deny the possibility of some higher force. I love the way the Trisolarans describe the intelligence and wisdom of the universe.
Fallon: I underlined that too, the part about killing its science. I was more fascinated however by the language that follows about creating miracles. If you follow that to its logical conclusion, then you get to this place where Jesus miracles (or Gods, if you like) are really feats of technology. Imagine Jesus was an alien sneaked onto earth. He brings antibiotics to cure the leper. Nitrogen fertilizer (from the fishes, who knows) to make all those loaves. Fermentation to make all that nice wine at the wedding. Christo helped him walk on water with submersible foam cubes. The people at the time didnt have such science, so they thought it was a miracle and believed in Him. Turning actual science into faith.
Dayrit: Jesus as time-traveling scientist. I love it! Speaking of science and religion, I am reminded of Arthur C. Clarkes third lawAny sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magicfor what is religion, but magical narratives for that which we cannot explain? The Trisolarans have cleverly tapped into this pathos of ours to lead us toward doom.

How about that ending?
Pandell: Initially, I thought it was too abrupt. I even did that thing where you flip back to make sure you havent skipped a page. (Did that when I finished My Brilliant Friend, too.) But, upon revisiting it, Im actually pretty satisfied with this poetic final moment. And were left with a choice as readers—this certainly works as a stand-alone book, but theres enough to chew on for those who want to forge on.
Dayrit: I was quite pleased with the ending. No epic battle scene, no cheesy cliffhanger either. Just a tidy circle back to where it all started, and flick to the next book. And sunset for humanity. A poetic cliffhanger is not an easy thing to pull off.

Now that youve finished the book, what do you think was the point of grounding the beginning of the story in the Cultural Revolution?
Dayrit: Aside from grounding the book in real world history and building Yes backstory, starting the novel in the Cultural Revolution serves as a reminder that, throughout human history, ideas, whether righteous or corrupt, are just as powerful in initiating reform as any true physical threat to resources. The Trisolaran signals and their photon origami were the ideas that weakened us as a species and laid the groundwork for their invasion. The insidious divide before the conquer!

Would you read the next part of the trilogy?
Pandell: Probably, if only to see how the heck Liu Cixin imagines we might be able to deal with those sneaky sophons…
Dayrit: Yes, Im game for an epic battle that involves physics. Plus, I need to know what the Trisolarans look like. I somehow picture banana slugs, mostly based on the super-gross, Trisolaran reproductive cycle. Yuck!

Read more: https://www.wired.com/2016/09/wired-book-club-three-body-problem-3/