The Three-Body Problem follows a split time narrative. One narrative occurs during the Cultural Revolution, while the second occurs during the present day. The book opens in the Cultural Revolution, when Ye Wenjie's father is killed during a show trial held by the Red Guards. Ye has a falling out with her mother and is branded as a dissident. She is sent to a labor camp near Red Coast base and befriends a journalist who is writing a book about the environmental impact of China's deforestation. He gives her a copy of his book and, after the book is found and he is interrogated, Ye is blamed for, essentially, treason. She is saved at the last minute by two military scientists working at Red Coast base, because they need her expertise.
Switching to the present day, Wang Miao is tasked by a military council with acting as a partner to Shi Qiang to investigate the mysterious rash of suicides among leading Chinese scientists. Wang discovers a virtual-reality game called "Three Body," during which the player interacts with famous scientists to solve the problem of predicting the duration of stable and unstable periods on a planet with three suns.
Moving back to the past, Ye Wenjie works on military attempts to find life in the universe by sending radio signal into space. She discovers that she can boost the signal by bouncing the transmission off the sun. She sends a message that is disguised as a test.
Moving back to the present, Wang moves through the Three Body video game and enters a group of top players, who are recruited into a new movement that seeks to prepare the planet for invasion by an alien race. Wang later meets Ye at a meeting of this group. However, he has informed Shi of the meeting, and a SWAT-style raid captures Ye. She narrates the remainder of her story from Red Coast.
About 8 years after she sent her initial signal, she receives a response. When decrypted, the message warns Ye not to send another message because the planet Trisolaris will then be able to locate Ye's planet and begin an invasion. Ye responds to this message, determining the mankind has done such a bad job of shepherding the world that aliens are necessary for aid. This message is intercepted, though not stopped, by her commander. He attempts to blackmail Ye, who begins acting as if he were successful while planning his murder. When she is ultimately able to murder him, there is a complication, and she has to murder her husband as well. Later, she meets an American who is the child of an American oil baron. The American, Mike Evans, is an ultra-environmentalist who is replanting trees...
(The entire section is 671 words.)