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Interview: Ken Liu on the performance of translation

'... It's just fascinating how writing really changes the way we think about language.'
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  • The Three-Body Problem
  • '... It's just fascinating how writing really changes the way we think about language.'

Publisher's Summary

Soon to be a Netflix Original series!

“War of the Worlds for the 21st century.” (Wall Street Journal)

The Three-Body Problem is the first chance for English-speaking listeners to experience the Hugo Award-winning phenomenon from China's most beloved science fiction author, Liu Cixin.

Set against the backdrop of China's Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.

The Remembrance of Earth's Past Trilogy:

The Three-Body Problem

The Dark Forest

Death's End

Other books:

Ball Lightning Supernova Era

To Hold Up The Sky (forthcoming) 

©2006 Liu Cixin (P)2014 Macmillan Audio

Featured Article: The Most Stellar Sci-Fi Authors of All Time


Science fiction is a genre as diverse as you can imagine. There are stories that take place in deep space, often depicting teams exploring or running away from something; stories that focus on life at the most cellular level, such as a pandemic tale; and stories that take place in times that feel similar to our own. Depicting themes of existentialism, philosophy, hubris, and personal and historical trauma, sci-fi has a cadre of topics and moods.

What listeners say about The Three-Body Problem

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Epic trilogy is one of my all time favorite SciFis

The scope of this series is incredible and makes you feel smaller in the universe with each book you read. Mindblowing sci fi concepts that are well researched. some reviewers say charecter development is 'flat' but the author makes up for it with great imagery and imagination. Great almost seemless translation into english and i like this narrorator better than the one for the 2nd and 3rd book

38 people found this helpful

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High sci-fi from a stunted soul

It takes a grim, Nietzschen view of humanity from China’s grim past, and extends it to the stars. Definitely clever and visionary, dealing intelligently with big themes and big time scales, but also morally ignorant and fundamentally hopeless. Christianity gets a one-line write off as too human-centric to be worthwhile, but the story then finds nothing else worthwhile either. Interesting, but unpleasant.

31 people found this helpful

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They create a computer using a 30 million man Army

Any additional comments?

It's very difficult to describe this book. It's reminds me of the book "Spin" by Robert Wilson. It takes many strange science related events and use many characters smaller stories to relate these events, which in the end add up to something big and sinister going on. This book was apparently translated from Mandarin to English. I am 1/2 chinese, growing up up in America but my family spoke Hakka do I can't really say how well the translation is done. I will say that if I wasn't told it was translated, I would have assumed it was originally written in English by someone with a Mandarin background.

While reading, I had to do a lot of searching on Wikipedia as large portions of the story occurs during the 1960 - 1980's. I personally did not know much about the cultural revolution, youth red guard, or the period known as the Great Leap Forward, and other things that occurred in China during that time but this book made me want to find out. I don't think you have too do a lot of research to enjoy the story, for example if you don't know what a "Struggle Session" is (I didnt), the story gives you enough information to infer what it is. Though if you do a little research I personally think you will enjoy it a lot more.

The other portion of the book takes place in a modern to slightly futuristic setting. Say a state that the world could theoretically reach in the next 10 years. During this period, strange this are happening in the areas of science both in academia and industrial application. These strange things almost seem to have a supernatural force causing/guiding them from the background. To unravel the mystery a bunch of smaller stories of these strange occurrence are told from multiple characters and eventually they are slowly linked up to help you get a larger understanding.

I wish I could describe it better but like I said the closest book I've read to this type of story telling is "Spin" by Robert Wilson. The book is a little slow so I'd suggest trying to get a least 2 hours in before you decide whether you like it or not.

Luke Daniels does a great job narrating. I actually liked the fact that he didn't use a lot of Chinese accents when reading. As the bulk of the characters are Chinese and they are supposed to be speaking Mandarin, Mr. Daniels just chooses to to different voices with no accents. Rough throaty voice voice for the hard boiled detective, soft we'll spoken voice for the academic professor, nonchalant blasé voice for the lazy uncaring stay at home husband. It works well.

Two personal things I really enjoyed about this book is if you were heavy into math or science in college, this will probably trigger some memories. I learned both assembly and machine code in college and as I stated in the reviews title, there is a scene where they create a human computer using a 30 million man Chinese army holding flags to represent or/x-or, and/n-and gates. I pretty much died laughing during that scene. Wish my college professor would have made us do that when I took the class. Would've made understanding logic gates and transistors so much easier. Also this is the first book I think I've read where China, the U.S., and U.K. are all on the same side working together. While the book does show the differences in ideological views between the east and west and doesn't try to hide past and modern animosity, it does portray a situation where the governments recognize their differences and are able to work past them due to a larger issue being at stake. It was really nice to not have the stereotype of the eastern block as being the enemies. It was pretty cool for the author to imagine what could be done if east and west were able to work together as allies and equals.

Apparently this book is the first of a trilogy and I believe while all 3 books are complete only the 1st book has been translated to English. I believe the 2nd book is being translated now for written release but no word yet on a audio release. If you enjoy the book like I did please send audible a content request for the remainder of the series.

410 people found this helpful

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  • K
  • 06-23-18

The science blew my mind!

This story takes time to reveal its gems and when it does it is totally worth your investment. The science made my brain hurt in the best way possible. Asimov would have wished he wrote this. Getting the second book right now.

15 people found this helpful

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WOW! Even after being translated to English

Any additional comments?

Thank You Liu. The journey opened my mind to some prior incomprehensible concepts. Would recommend to anyone who likes to push the boundaries of what physical reality can be.

15 people found this helpful

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Hard science fiction

This is one of those science fiction stories for which the SCIENCE should be capitalized. It is definitely hard science fiction. In fact, the science can bog the story down at times, just a bit, but not enough to detract from what is an amazing story.

61 people found this helpful

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Not in love, but definitely intrigued

No science fiction works without a great plot/concept driving it and The Three-Body Problem has zero problem on that score - an experiment, done out of a kind of desperation, actually results in first contact with an interstellar alien community and sets up a pending crisis. But even a great concept still needs good characters, setting, and fluid writing to make for a great sci-fi read.

I didn't have much trouble with setting. This first book of a trilogy draws on the Chinese Cultural Revolution, past and current geopolitics, and current and theoretical quantum physics to set the stage for the saga - interesting, with plenty of potential to sustain the trilogy. My only quibble with the setting used was with the sequences that take place within an on-line game. It is in the game that characters attempt to resolve the Three Body Problem and I found those segments of the book to be rather dull and confusing. No doubt some of the information in those sections will come into play in later books, but they read like bad dream sequences where you don't have any context to make sense of what is going on. And, there is no plot or character development happening during those passages so I just wasn't engaged during those sections.

The flow of the writing feels a bit choppy, but I would chalk that up to the fact that this is a translation. The translation seems pretty good in that the meaning is clear, but English and Chinese are such very different languages there is bound to be some loss of fluidity. Ultimately, my biggest difficulty with The Three-Body Problem is the characters. The book starts with Ye Wenjie during the Cultural Revolution and she is a very interesting character throughout the book and the only character that is ever really fleshed out. Much of the book is from the POV of Wang Miao, a character that gets little back story and is hard to connect with, and none of the other characters is more than sketched. The Aliens may have some potential in the sequels, but ruthlessness is about the only characteristic they show in this first book.

Luke Daniels does his normal phenomenal job of creating great character voices which is a huge help with a book with unfamiliar names and he adds much to making this a good listen.

Bottom line, The Three-Body Problem is challenging, but intriguing and I will listen to the sequels when Audible has them available.

111 people found this helpful

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didn't blow me away

I dip now and then into the supposed SF masterpieces of the new writers, and often I'm disappointed. This is all the rage at the moment, and while it was good and had some interesting ideas and is no doubt well researched, I found myself listening just for the plot and ideas; I didn't connect with any of the characters really. I think again this shows a fundamental problem with current writers of SF and other genres, but especially SF, where the science and ideas are the story, and the writing is at times atrocious (not here) and the characters and human-ness and individuality are at best secondary. Maybe much is lost in translation, I'm willing to concede that possibility. There are some nice moments and writing and imagery here, but over shadowed by plot. There are many references to SF writers (Clarke Asimov) and novels (Fountains of Paradise, Foundation) along the way which was fun in an easter egg type of way.

I'm probably not that helpful here as I don't want to spoil it for anyone. Basically there is a bit of a 1984 style opening; there is a Contact type of plot; there is a Gibson-esque virtual reality game element (which normally leaves me cold but worked along with the story to reveal important ideas); there is a bit of a Crichton use of science element which I liked very much. In all there are enough story elements to keep you interested as it shuttles about, I just wish I had been able to attach to the characters better. It may be that part of the trouble for me was that many names sound similar (not being racist here) and our unfamiliarity with Chinese names hinders english speakers a bit. A couple of times a name is given and someone mentions what the name means in Chinese; it may be that all of the names mean something we're unaware of and for Chinese speakers this helps to delineate who is who.

I did go on to the 2nd one, Dark Forest, but may not 3rd.

Again, I like very much the ideas and science and plot and the logical thought processes and the philosophical and buddhist pondering; if I could have really gotten attached to a character I might have given it 5 stars.

24 people found this helpful

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One of the absolute best..

Where does The Three-Body Problem rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

With little doubt this is the best audio book I have ever listened to and ranks as one of the best books I have read. Being a huge Iain M Banks fan that is saying something.The narrator was simply brilliant. Narrators like Luke Daniels make movies seem shallow and unsatisfying. When coupled with a writer like Cixin Liu and the superb translation by Ken Liu.. unlike Cixin I don't have the words to describe this level of the art form. Listening to this book was a wonderful experience.

What did you like best about this story?

The exposure to the Chinese way of thinking and problem solving.

Which scene was your favorite?

When the detective takes a drunk professor Wong and the physicist to the field outside the city and shows them the locust plague...Absolutely beautiful piece of prose. Mind altering.Also the end... don't want to give too much away. Just brilliant.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

It changed my western bias about Chinese thinking and gave a very different perspective of China. Living in a developing country that has 11 official languages I am no stranger to cultures other than my own and I can relate to the seduction of ideology and theology.
As Michael Stipes of the rock band REM wrote: "Mythology; seductive, and it turned its trick on me, but I have just begun to understand..."
I liked how the author demonstrated that amidst the extremism and irrationality it is the steadfastly rational that ultimately hold things together and that ultimately there are no heroes

The ending also provoked a strong reaction... lol. You'll see.

Any additional comments?

I worry that a sequel will ruin the story. As much as this book cries out for one... In fact it throws a little tantrum for one... Ok maybe that last bit was me.. :P

65 people found this helpful

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Series Review - Why Oh Why?

Why oh why did I listen to this series all the way through? I suppose because I like all sorts of science fiction and asian fiction. I suppose because Amazon recommended it and because of all the rave reviews. I thought there must be something, at the end perhaps, that would redeem this story - explain why people say they love it. Maybe someone hacked the review system and all the great reviews are fake?

This first book of the trilogy is by far the best of the three. It is the most interesting and the most creative. It seems to be a decent translation and the narrator did a pretty good job. It was a sort of insightful story and there was a little tiny bit of depth to some of the characters. It was uniquely weird and culturally enlightening. The "hard science" other listeners are impressed with is highly suspect - mostly absurd nonsense masquerading as science. But this book is not in any way a complete story. You must read all three for any sense of completion. And the other two books? Painful.

The story is all over the place, the characters like paper dolls, the "science" both tedious and total garbage. The translator needed a translator - it seemed to be an incredibly literal translation (for books 2 and 3), which simply doesn't work with metaphors, which are not cross cultural. The dialogue in all three books is jarring and unnatural. The narrator of the second and third book is horrible. He has a nice voice, but every single line that isn't dialogue is read as if he is the voice of a promotional movie preview. Every single description and thought is read as if it were monumental and mind blowing. If someone uses the bathroom, he reads the line as if this were earth shattering news. Why didn't someone stop him? Coach him a little bit? He could be good, if he were self aware.

This story itself just went on and on and on, and in the end, there was no payoff. I was simply relieved it was finally over. I sort of feel like I should get a medal for surviving the tedium of this series. Then again, I'm ashamed I put so many hours into these horrible books.

The first one was alright - the complete trilogy was atrocious. You have been warned.

12 people found this helpful

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  • colin steele
  • 03-07-16

Very technical hard Sci fi

Great story, but didn't get too stuck up on the details. If it was a book I would have re read some parts to understand it more. The story line was jumpy but that's not a criticism, as it's quite common but difficult to understand the narrative at times. It all comes together at later points and returning themes and characters can be quite enjoyable. For. Fans of complicated hard Sci fi. Some. Great ideas and explains the technical parts very week.

2 people found this helpful

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  • C. Ellis
  • 01-11-17

Impenetrable

Since I am unfamiliar with Chinese names I couldn't keep track of the characters and the slow story failed to grab me.

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  • redfeend
  • 10-11-16

Concentration required

The narration was excellent.

The story was both absorbing and frustrating at times and I sometimes found it difficult to connect the different elements of the novel. At times I was left thinking 'oh, how did that happen'. Or 'what's the connection'
Some sections consist of long narratives about 'hard' science. I don't know if this was real or imaginary physics, but it took application and concentration to stick with those sections.
The end of the book wraps up the story without leaving one thinking things gave just stopped in limbo.
This book is a translation from the Chinese original. Perhaps that explains some of its minor shortcomings.
Would I listen to it again? Yes I would.

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  • Robin
  • 09-11-16

Disappointed

I really had my hopes up and was expecting a slow burner. But it's really the last two hours I enjoyed the book, the rest spent waiting for it to get good.

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  • Stephen
  • 07-23-16

awesome

wish it had been longer, will look for more from this author and narrator, recommend

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  • Niall
  • 07-07-16

Excellent Narration!

Good narration with clear vocal character definition. You have to suspend disbelief at some point but well worth the time

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  • Daniel Suss
  • 06-01-16

Interesting and odd

Definitely got better. I enjoyed it more as it went on. Still has an oddness to it, although I think it probably is meant to be delivered with more humour than the narrator gave it.

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  • kingsrollo
  • 04-14-16

sublime

excellent story and a wonderful way of handling complex material. very good and nuanced translation.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Mrs
  • 03-01-16

Very enjoyable

It's structure was quiet unique I suspect that is due to it originating in another language.

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  • P. Ellis
  • 10-17-15

wonderfully original

Abstract concepts explained with such amazing clarity. wonderful. If you like computers or science, you'll like this book

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  • Ben taylor
  • 04-29-16

Zzzzzzzzzzz

Terrible narration, story was soooooo slow and confusing, probably lost in translation. Thank god for the refund option. I couldn't get through this one... Gave up halfway through.

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  • Roger
  • 04-01-16

Interesting content, difficult to digest

While I enjoyed the overall story, it's slow and has so many tangents. I think high ratings come from the novelty of the core theme and story, not so much the journey to get through that.

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  • Nick
  • 04-20-15

Scientificly deep within the grasp of mere motals

While listening I was embracing new ideas and concepts stepped in the history and culture of modern China. For those uninitiated in high physics this will streach their minds to accept the ideas central to the story, but it is presented in a way that allows the listener to keep up with the level of discussion between characters.

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  • Andy Yang
  • 01-21-15

Complex but interesting!

I purchased this audiobook on recommendation from a Chinese friend who had read the original Chinese version. I'd be lying if I said this was an easy read, the physics references alone would scare off most people, but trust me when I say if you just ignore most of the technical stuff and focus on the core story it is definitely worth it because this is such a fascinating treatment of a story that has been done so many times before. I eagerly awaiting the translation of the next book!

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  • Takudza
  • 09-13-15

I want my credit back.

Maybe something got lost in translation but this book is awfully boring. I thought it was hard sci-fi but it's full of airy-fairy nonsense. No wonder there was a big uproar when this won the Hugo. I thought this was a straight up alien invasion story but no it's some spiritual pseudoscientific tale about what I can't really tell.