A One-Body Problem

After the release of Ken Liu’s translation Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem it ended up on the reading lists of a lot of powerful people. A recent interview with US President Barack Obama in the New York Times includes his reflections on the trilogy, which he read over the last couple of years of his presidency. He commented,

“The scope of it was immense. So that was fun to read, partly because my day-to-day problems with Congress seem fairly petty – not something to worry about. Aliens are about to invade.”

I found it interesting to see such a powerful figure comment on a book about the big picture, but it also reminded me of something I’d thought about the Remembrance of Earth’s Past series while reading The Dark Forest and Death’s End that hasn’t yet make it into any of my writing about those books. In these novels [SPOILERS AHEAD!], there are a number of reactions to the Trisolaran invasion, from the ETO collaborators to the Wallfacer project, but no one in the trilogy, as far as I can recall, simply denies that the invasion is happening.

“But,” you might respond, “There is clear scientific evidence that the Trisolarans are on their way. Remember the dust trails? The sophons preventing fundamental research? Who could deny that?” To which I would reply, “Lots of people. Just look at climate change.”

There are lots of things going on in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy but the main plot thread is that the human race struggles against an existential threat over decades and even centuries that requires the co-operation of the entire planet to tackle. This requirement results in massive upheaval and the dedication of the entire planet’s resources, even though the threat itself is largely against generations yet to come. The parallels between the Trisolaran crisis and climate change were obvious to me, and yet the governments of Earth seemed to have no difficulty coming together to face the Trisolaran threat, despite the fact that it wasn’t ultimately going to be their problem (until hibernation was perfected).

One could perhaps argue that the scientific evidence for the Trisolaran invasion was overwhelming, but the consensus on climate change is pretty convincing too and people ignore that. Perhaps governments cared more about the Trisolaran invasion because of the economic possibilities on offer – for while the possibility of a green economy might be there, the attraction of military development offered by an invasion is much more delectable to the governments of Earth as a means of consolidating their hegemonic power structures. Or perhaps it is the source of the evidence – with China on-board there may have been fewer dissenting voices, assuming that the US president didn’t assume that they were making it up to damage the US economy.

All in all, the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy is an unsuccessful metaphor for the human race coming together against the actual existential threat that we currently face. Nonetheless, it would not entirely surprise me if the ultimate fate of humanity was similar to that imagined by Liu Cixin.

Goodread reviews of The Three Body ProblemThe Dark Forest, and Death’s End.

Blog posts featuring the trilogy: Contact; Hope and Despair.

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