Thursday, May 28 2015

The Three-Body Problem Problem

This Chinese SF novel is being praised as good old-fashioned hard science fiction, filled with powerful and fantastic ultra-science and a gripping plot that uncovers a secret war against humanity that opens Earth up to alien conquest.

Yeah, not so much. The only two on-camera technologies that exceed present-day capabilities are:

  1. The bad guys remotely project a countdown timer into Our Hero’s field of vision. At the end of the book, they use this technology again to project a short insult to the eyes of a small group of people.
  2. The good guys use Our Hero’s experimental nanomaterial to construct monomolecular garrotes that slice an oil tanker into ribbons as it passes through the Panama Canal.

You have a well-funded secret society that sincerely believes in an upcoming alien invasion, but despite the complete lack of hard evidence, a room full of generals (and one suspicious old cop) is convinced that they desperately need to destroy that tanker in a way that kills everyone on board before they can delete their files (which are believed to contain additional messages from the aliens). Why a tanker? Because it was in fact a sea-faring radio telescope, used to carry out decades of two-way communication with the invaders.

But let’s assume for the moment that all of the third-hand evidence collected from the conspirators and the tanker is true, and aliens really are on their way to conquer Earth. What is their powerful and fantastic ultra-science weapon (singular, despite the blurbs)?

Two protons which have had their 11-dimensional superstructure unfolded into a flat sheet big enough to wrap around a planet so they could be engraved with integrated circuits that converted them into supercomputers, then folded back up and sent to Earth at near-lightspeed, so that they can disrupt particle-accelerator experiments and project rude messages into the eyes of contrary humans. As a bonus, they kept two more protons at home so that quantum entanglement would give them FTL communication between the pairs.

Disrupting the accelerators is supposed to halt all basic physics research on Earth until the fleet arrives in 450 years, guaranteeing an easy conquest. Never mind that a proton-sized supercomputer that can travel at near-lightspeed and pass through any barrier without being detected could completely destroy human civilization within a day.

That’s some mighty hard science ya got there, son.

If this wins a Hugo or Nebula, I can only regard it as a pity fuck for Chinese SF fans. “This is the best you’ve got? Oh, you poor dears. Here, take this copy of Ring of Charon home with you, so you can learn how it’s done.”

Yes, they’re making a movie; it has two hot actresses prominently billed, so I’m guessing they’ll be taking a few liberties with the story, as in “deleting most of it”.

Yes, it’s the first book of a trilogy, and presumably Tor’s deceptive blurb was really referring to the series as a whole, not just this book.

Yes, this all feels about as ridiculous as the revelation in Battlefield Earth that the entire galaxy has been stumped for centuries by the invading race’s scientific equations, because they used base-11 math and disguised the variables with a substitution cipher.

Yes, I’m giving it a pass for the flat prose, rambling narration, and indifferent characterization, on the grounds that translating Chinese fiction isn’t easy. Still ain’t worth $13.50 for the paperback.