Brilliant Chinese “hard” science fiction from Cixin Liu (aka Liu Cixin, if you are Chinese).
The book is many things. It plays an unpredictable switch on first contact stories, because the scientists who make first contact are disaffected with their own worlds and invite the aliens to invade. It is also a political treatise, demonstrating how the Chinese Cultural Revolution stifled science, and then broadening perspective to show an alien race devising a scheme to squelch Earth science in order to make Earth easier to conquer. It is Pynchon-like, or even Phildickian, in its gradual unfolding of a secret world in the form of the Three Body game, only to have the game turn out to portray a real alien world. It is powerful in its portrayal of the human tragedy of the Cultural Revolution. It is chock full of physics, astronomy, nanomaterials technology, just enough on the edge of reality that you find yourself rushing to the Internet to hastily learn the science behind the book before you turn the next page.
To be sure, Cixin Liu is not a great literary practitioner. His characters are mostly one-dimensional and some of them wander through the plot without contributing much. Entire swatches of the story are telegraphed without much development, much like an old A.E. Van Vogt novel. But Liu succeeds on a literary plane because of the heartfelt human drama, mostly in the sections involving the toll of the Cultural Revolution. And the Three Body World that unfolds to the characters by playing the game called “Three Body” has to be one of the most compelling fantasy landscapes ever embedded in a hard sf novel.
First published in 2006 in China, then published in the English translation by Ken Liu in 2014, The Three-Body Problem was the first Hugo award for Best Novel ever given to a work in translation (awarded in 2015).