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The Three-Body Problem Book Summary

Remembrance of Earth’s Past #1

by Cixin Liu, Ken Liu (Translator)

The Three-Body Problem

Remembrance of Earth’s Past #1

Cixin Liu, Ken Liu (Translator)


During the Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction receives the signal and plans an invasion of Earth, while on Earth, different camps form, some planning to welcome the superior beings and others preparing to resist the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.

Table of contents

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Author & Writing Background

Cixin Liu is a renowned Chinese science fiction author, acclaimed for his thought-provoking and epic stories. Born in 1963, he worked as a computer engineer at a power plant before gaining recognition for his writing. His works, including the Three-Body trilogy, have won numerous awards and have been translated into multiple languages, earning him a global fanbase. Liu is known for his ability to blend scientific concepts with imaginative storytelling, exploring themes of humanity’s place in the cosmos, the nature of civilization, and the potential impact of technological advancements.

Key Takeaways

Cultural Revolution and Project Red Coast

The story begins during the Cultural Revolution in China, where Ye Wenjie, a disillusioned astrophysicist, witnesses the persecution of her family and becomes involved in a secret military project called Red Coast. This project aims to send signals into space in search of extraterrestrial life.

Trisolaran Civilization and the Three-Body Problem

The signal is received by the Trisolarans, an alien civilization facing extinction on their planet, Trisolaris. Trisolaris orbits three suns in an unstable system, leading to unpredictable and harsh environmental changes, hence the ‘Three-Body Problem’.

Invasion Plans and Earth’s Response

The Trisolarans, technologically superior to humans, plan to invade and colonize Earth, seeing it as their only hope for survival. On Earth, different factions emerge with contrasting views on the impending invasion.

ETO and the Advent Project

A group of humans disillusioned with humanity forms the Earth-Trisolaris Organization (ETO), collaborating with the Trisolarans and aiding their invasion plans. They believe that Trisolaran rule will bring order and progress to Earth.

Wallfacer Project and Sophon Interference

To counter the Trisolaran threat and their advanced technology, the UN forms the Wallfacer Project. Four individuals are chosen as Wallfacers, granted immense resources and autonomy to develop secret strategies to deter the invasion. However, the Trisolarans use sophisticated ‘Sophon’ particles to disrupt human scientific progress and monitor their plans.

Psychological and Societal Impact

The impending invasion and the revelation of the Trisolaran civilization have a profound impact on human society, causing widespread fear, uncertainty, and social unrest. The book explores the psychological and philosophical implications of first contact with an alien civilization.

Themes of Science and Technology

The Three-Body Problem delves into scientific concepts such as the three-body problem in orbital mechanics, the nature of time and space, and the potential limitations of human technology. It raises questions about the role of science in society and the ethical considerations of technological advancement.

Humanity’s Place in the Universe

The novel explores humanity’s place in the vastness of the cosmos, confronting readers with the possibility of alien civilizations and challenging anthropocentric views. It raises questions about our understanding of the universe and our significance within it.

FAQ about The Three-Body Problem

Is The Three-Body Problem hard to read?

The book delves into complex scientific concepts, but Liu explains them in an accessible way, balancing scientific depth with engaging storytelling. The translation by Ken Liu is also highly praised for its clarity and readability.

Is The Three-Body Problem a standalone book?

While The Three-Body Problem can be read independently, it is the first book in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy. The subsequent books, The Dark Forest and Death’s End, continue the story and further explore the conflict between humanity and the Trisolarans.

What awards has The Three-Body Problem won?

The Three-Body Problem has won numerous awards, including the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2015, the Nebula Award for Best Novel (translated version) in 2014, and the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in 2015.

The Three-Body Problem Quotes

  • “Weakness and ignorance are not barriers to survival, but arrogance is.”
  • “Time is the one thing that can’t be stopped. Like a sharp knife, it silently cuts through everything.”
  • “In the universe, there are no coincidences, only the inevitable.”