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Monday, January 8, 2024

One of the Greatest Sci-Fi Novels Come to Life...

THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM
The series portrays a fictional past, present and future wherein Earth encounters an alien civilization from a nearby system of three sun-like stars orbiting one another, in an example of the three-body problem in orbital mechanics.
 
During the Cultural Revolution, Ye Wenjie, an astrophysics graduate from Tsinghua University, witnesses her father get beaten to death during a struggle session by Red Guards from Tsinghua High School. Ye is officially branded a traitor and is forced to join a labor brigade in Inner Mongolia, and is later sentenced to prison. In prison, Ye is recruited by Yang Weining and Lei Zhicheng, two military physicists working under Red Coast, a secret Chinese initiative to use high-powered radio waves to damage spy satellites.

After working with them for some time, she learns that the stated purpose is a front for Red Coast's true intention: the search for extraterrestrial life. Ye discovers the possibility of amplifying outgoing radio waves by using microwave cavities within the Sun and sends an interstellar message to test her theory, but tells no one else. Eight years later, 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 be able to deduce the Solar System's location and invade Earth. Disillusioned by the political chaos and having come to despise humankind, Ye responds anyway, inviting the Trisolarans to come to Earth to settle its problems. She murders Yang and Lei to keep the alien message secret.

Some time later, with the end of the Cultural Revolution and Ye's return to Tsinghua as a professor, Ye encounters Mike Evans, a hermit and the son of the CEO of the world's largest oil company. Evans is also a radical environmentalist and anti-speciesist. Seeing that Evans is direly angry at humanity as well, Ye confides in him and tells him about the events at Red Coast. Evans uses his inherited financial power to hire men and purchases the Judgement Day, a giant ship which he converts into a mobile colony and listening post. Upon receiving messages from Trisolaris, validating Ye's story, Evans announces the creation of the militant and semi-secret Earth-Trisolaris Organization (ETO) as a fifth column for Trisolaris and appoints Ye its leader. According to the messages, the Trisolaran invasion fleet has already departed, but will not reach Earth for 450 years.

The society attracts numerous scientists, minor government officials, and other educated people who are disappointed with world affairs. They assemble a private army and 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 Yufei, seeking to help the Trisolarans to find a computational solution to the three-body problem, which plagues their planet. A third, smaller faction, the Survivors, 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 suicides of several scientists, including Ye Wenjie's daughter Yang Dong. The two of them notice that the world's governments are communicating closely with each other and have put aside their traditional rivalries to prepare for war. Over the next few days, Wang experiences strange hallucinations and meets with Ye. Wang sees people playing a sophisticated virtual reality video game called Three-Body (which is later revealed to have been created by the ETO as a recruitment tool) and begins to play himself. The game portrays a planet whose climate randomly flips between Stable and Chaotic Eras. During Chaotic Eras, the weather oscillates unpredictably between extreme cold and extreme heat, sometimes within minutes.

The inhabitants (who are portrayed as having human bodies) seek a way to predict Chaotic Eras so they can better survive. Unlike humans, they have evolved the special ability to 'dehydrate', turning themselves into a roll of canvas. They do this in order to lie dormant when the Chaotic Eras occur, saving valuable resources that otherwise would have been wasted. A second individual is required to rehydrate their body, as self-rehydration is not possible. Characters resembling historical figures, including Aristotle, Mozi, and Isaac Newton, fail to produce a model for the planet's climate, as multiple civilizations grow and are wiped out by large-scale disasters. It is Wang who ultimately happens upon the insight that explains the climate of Three-Body, and wins the acclaim of the others. The planet is part of a system with three suns, whose distances from the planet and thus their appearance and disappearance in the sky are stochastic and hard to predict. When two suns are far away and Trisolaris orbits the third, the climate enters a Stable Era. When the planet is too close to two suns, the climate is disrupted, causing a Chaotic Era. If it is close to all three suns, a planet-wide firestorm occurs. If all three suns are distant, the planet enters an ice age. Eventually, at a future time impossible to predict, Trisolaris will collide with one of the suns and be consumed. The game shows the Trisolarans building and launching colony ships to invade Earth, believing that the stable orbit will allow unprecedented prosperity and let them escape the destruction of their planet.

Wang is inducted into the ETO, and informs Shi of one of their meetings. This leads to a battle between the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and the society's soldiers, as well as Ye's arrest. The PLA works with the Americans, led by Colonel Stanton, to ambush Judgement Day as it passes through the Panama Canal. To prevent the crew from destroying records of their communications with the Trisolarans, the team follows Shi's suggestion to use Wang's nano-material filament in a fence, which will quickly cut the ship apart and kill everyone aboard but will not damage the computer systems beyond repair. From the Trisolaran communications, several revelations are discovered. The Trisolarans possess extremely advanced picotechnology that allows them to create 11-dimensional supercomputers called "sophons" which, when viewed in three dimensions, occupy the volume of a proton. Two of these sophons have already been laboriously manufactured and sent to Earth, where they have the power to cause hallucinations, spy on any location, transmit the information gathered to Trisolaris using quantum entanglement, and disrupt the operation of particle accelerators. The Trisolarans fear humanity will develop technology advanced enough to fight off the invasion by the time the fleet arrives, and have decided that disrupting the accelerators to give random results will paralyze Earth's technological advancement.

Once several sophons have arrived, they plan to fabricate visual miracles and other hallucinations on a massive scale to make humanity distrust its own scientists. The Trisolarans detect that humanity has made these discoveries via sophons and beam to the eyes of the PLA one final message, "You're bugs!", then cease all communications. Now in custody, Ye 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. Shi Qiang finds Wang Miao and his colleagues in a depressed drinking binge, and sobers them up by driving them to his hometown village in Northeastern China. Shi reflects on how despite all the advances humanity has made with pesticides, the simple-minded locust still manages to survive and thrive. With renewed hope, Wang and Shi return to Beijing to help plan the war against the Trisolarans. Now old and weak, Ye Wenjie returns to the top of Radar Peak, once the location of the Red Coast SETI base of operations. As she watches the blood red sun set in the west, she remarks the sight as a "sunset for humanity".

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