The one significant flaw of The Three-Body Problem is a somewhat workmanlike, translator-ish stylie that actually comes from it being translated from the Chinese. Translator Ken Liu has a postscript explaining his approach and as a translator myself, I can’t fault it, and I can overlook that it doesn’t sing like the style of The Goblin Emperor does.
This novel is very cleverly constructed, setting its action over a period that’s just long enough for contact between Earth and the alien civilization to occur at the speed of light. Science and mathematics are woven into the narrative as needed, no more, no less, and are rarely obtrusive.
The earth side of things stays largely within the boundaries of mundane science fiction, except maybe as far as the environment of the “Three Body” game is concerned: no FTL, no laser guns, near-future, no cheating on the quantum physics, at least as far as I can tell as a non-scientist
However, Liu has his cake and eats it with the alien side of things, which he happily situates on a very nearby solar system and allows to develop a workaround for communication at a speed greater than light (also, in a Mundane SF novel, the alien civilisation wouldn’t exist at all)
I’m intrigued by how much of the novel is set during the Cultural Revolution. I would have assumed that writing about it at that length would still be a taboo in China. Shows how much I know. Maybe it’s just too big of a part of Chinese history to ignore if you need a timespan between 50 years ago and today. From what I’ve heard, Liu is very much an insider in China’s elites, and also he seems to take great care not to go too deeply into Chairman Mao’s role in the Cultural Revolution, describing it as a period of factional chaos instead.
In his own postscript to the novel, Liu takes great care also to emphasize that he is not writing social criticism into his Science Fiction work. No message fiction here, no sirree. But one gets the impression that he does not like fanaticism much and that he sees disillusionment as a corrupting influence on people whose intentions are otherwise good. He also mentions that he cannot ignore the realities of the world entirely.
This is not a review, and I don’t have a lot to say right now about why I think this is good. But it kept me immersed into its plot from beginning to end, and I preordered the sequel within half an hour of finishing the book.
More observations may be added here as I think of them.