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The Three-Body Problem - 三体

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wensente

I was going through President Obama's reading list and noticed he really enjoyed "The Three-Body Problem" (三体) a science fiction series by Chinese writer Liu Cixin. It was hugely popular in China and definitely want to read this. I'm wondering if anybody has read this in Chinese and could comment on the complexity.

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lechuan

I was planning to read this trilogy as I like sci-fi, it has good reviews, and a good-quality English translation. My plan was to read each paragraph in Chinese, then read the corresponding English paragraph to make sure I understood it correctly. I got through a few pages and felt it was too far above my level. so stopped for now. For what it's worth, I'm still learning HSK4 vocab.

Here's a small excerpt from Chapter 1 to help you judge the complexity:

Quote

"中国,1967年。

红色联合”对“四·二八兵团”总部大楼的攻击已持续了两天,他们的旗帜在大楼周围躁动地飘扬着,仿佛渴望干柴的火种。
红色联合”的指挥官心急如焚,他并不惧怕大楼的守卫者,那二百多名“四·二八”战士,与诞生于1966年初、经历过大检阅和大串联的“红色联合”相比要稚嫩许多。他怕的是大楼中那十几个大铁炉子,里面塞满了烈性炸药,用电雷管串联起来,他看不到它们,但能感觉到它们磁石般的存在,开关一合,玉石俱焚,而“四·二八”的那些小红卫兵们是有这个精神力量的。比起已经在风雨中成熟了许多的第一代红卫兵,新生的造反派们像火炭上的狼群,除了疯狂还是疯狂。

大楼顶上出现了一个娇小的身影,那个美丽的女孩子挥动着一面“四·二八”的大旗,她的出现立刻招来了一阵杂乱的枪声,射击的武器五花八门,有陈旧的美式卡宾枪、捷克式机枪和三八大盖,也有崭新的制式步枪和冲锋枪——后者是在“八月社论”发表之后从军队中偷抢来的[1]——连同那些梭镖和大刀等冷兵器,构成了一部浓缩的近现代史……四·二八”的人在前面多次玩过这个游戏,在楼顶上站出来的人,除了挥舞旗帜外,有时还用喇叭筒喊口号或向下撒传单,每次他们都能在弹雨中全身而退,为自己挣到了崇高的荣誉。这次出来的女孩儿显然也相信自己还有那样的幸运。她挥舞着战旗,挥动着自己燃烧的青春,敌人将在这火焰中化为灰烬,理想世界明天就会在她那沸腾的热血中诞生……她陶醉在这鲜红灿烂的梦幻中,直到被一颗步枪子弹洞穿了胸膛,十五岁少女的胸膛是那么柔嫩,那颗子弹穿过后基本上没有减速,在她身后的空中发出一声啾鸣。年轻的红卫兵同她的旗帜一起从楼顶落下,她那轻盈的身体落得甚至比旗帜还慢,仿佛小鸟眷恋着天空。

红色联合的战士们欢呼起来,几个人冲到楼下,掀开四·二八的旗帜,抬起下面纤小的遗体,作为一个战利品炫耀地举了一段,然后将她高高地扔向大院的铁门,铁门上带尖的金属栅条大部分在武斗初期就被抽走当梭镖了,剩下的两条正好挂住了她,那一瞬间,生命似乎又回到了那个柔软的躯体。红色联合的红卫兵们退后一段距离,将那个挂在高处的躯体当靶子练习射击,密集的子弹对她来说已柔和如雨,不再带来任何感觉,她那春藤般的手臂不时轻挥一下,仿佛拂去落在身上的雨滴,直到那颗年轻的头颅被打掉了一半,仅剩的一只美丽的眼睛仍然凝视着一九六七年的蓝天,目光中没有痛苦,只有凝固的激情和渴望。其实,比起另外一些人来,她还是幸运的,至少是在为理想献身的壮丽激情中死去。"

Excerpt From: 刘慈欣. “地球往事·三体.”

 

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realmayo

I got over half way through a year ago but found it really tiring. It felt like my brain had to work harder on the language than with any other novel I've read so far. I've still bookmarked my place though and ought to return to finish it before long. But a potentially discouraging read.

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Lu

I read it and would recommend it, it's a good book. (It won a Hugo award, so that's not really news.) I didn't find the language too difficult, except for the specialised vocab, which is quite a big part of the story.  I usually don't look up words, or only very few, but I looked up quite a bit more for this book.

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imron
3 hours ago, lechuan said:

My plan was to read each paragraph in Chinese, then read the corresponding English

Anyone doing this with this book should be careful because the chapters are in different order in the Chinese and English versions. 

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roddy

You could perhaps look at Ball Lightning, an earlier and much smaller and more manageable book by the same author. Don't think there's English available, but I also think you'd need it less. 

I'm dubious about the parallel reading - if you haven't understood something, you should notice as the story won't make much sense, and then you go back and see where you went wrong. 

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imron

There were a couple of posts on reddit a few days back where someone had used Chinese Text Analyser to generate some statistics for 三体 (see here and here).

 

The crux of it was that it's about 20,000 unique words for the entire trilogy, but only about 10,000 unique words for the first volume.

 

Of that, approximately 90% of all vocab is found in the first 100 pages, so if you were learning every new word as you went and could make it to 100 pages, it would get much easier - although at that point you'd still be seeing a significant number of new words per page (the poster there put it at around 50 new words per page at 90% comprehension).

 

To me, that makes it a relatively difficult and complex book to attempt, especially if it's your first novel.  Compare it with say 《活着》which has a total of 4,800 unique words.

 

If 三体 is something you want to read but you don't have a vocab level already in the 10,000-15,000 word range it's probably a better use of your time to read a number of other easier novels first to build up your vocabulary and reading skills.

 

I made a post about this here.

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wensente

Thanks everybody for weighing in. I think I will read this in English to ensure it can be enjoyed and focus practice on some simpler novels, Ball Lightning sounds promising.

 

Thanks.

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Lu
1 hour ago, imron said:

To me, that makes it a relatively difficult and complex book to attempt, especially if it's your first novel. Compare it with say 《活着》 which has a total of 4,800 unique words.

 

I agree that as a first book it's not the best choice. Still I think that it's mostly the specialised words that make it difficult, the language itself is not too hard. But then I think Ball Lightning is not that much easier, and also not a great idea for a first book, or even a second.

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imron

Ball Lightning is a pretty decent story I thought (I've also just updated the download link in that thread with a valid link).

 

Interestingly enough, I put the text through Chinese Text Analyser, and it doesn't look much smaller or more manageable than the first volume of 三体.  It has ~100,000 total words and ~10,000 unique words, with ~8,000 words required to get 98% coverage of the text.

 

Which is strange because I don't recall it being that difficult at the time, and looking at when that post was made, this book was likely among the first few novels I'd finished, and this was well before the post I linked to above about developing a reading habit.

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roddy

I think Ball Lightning's just easier to follow regardless of language - as I recall it's mostly scientists running around on Earth trying to solve a problem.  三体  has some way more abstract stuff going on. 

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imron

I haven't read 三体 yet myself so maybe that's it.

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roddy

Can't remember how far I got with it, but I remember some weird stuff about building a computer out of soldiers. Or maybe I completely failed to understand it. Either way, it was harder. Ball Lightning is less challenging, but as said perhaps a stretch for a first book. 

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realmayo

I tried to read it in a week and gave up halfway through after three days, perhaps if I'd taken it slower and been in less of a hurry, those abstract things would have seemed more interesting and less like a nuisancy barrier to comprehension.

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Lu

I remember Ball Lightning as not particularly difficult (except for the specialised language) but that was as my tenth+ book, after translating some books as well. But Roddy is right about more abstract concepts in 三体, that probably makes it harder. (On the other hand, I think that the story in 三体 is better, it has more momentum.)

But @wensente doesn't say if this would be their first book, so perhaps it's not a problem.

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L-F-J

I found Ball Lightning pretty easy, but boring as hell. Couldn't finish it. :-?

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Fancy Butterfly Chinese

The Three-Body is the one of the best  science fictions i read. Three-Body has three series. Here is a complete plot summary you might want to not read.

Spoiler

 It begins a women sends a message to universe, and a Planet Three-Body get the message, Then they try to invade earth. Here are some scientists try to save the earth, and then.........(here talk about how to fight with Three body). In serial I &II,  Tree-body and earth will know there are other advanced creatures in the universe, and both of Tree Body and Earth are crashed by advanced creatures, only left few.  At end, there is a message tells us old universe maybe will die, and humans and Three Body, and the rest planets try to find way out. Then end.

 

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imron

Excellent summary.  No need to read the books now :mrgreen:

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Publius

lol I tried very hard not to give you spoilers :mrgreen:

 

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