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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 478

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The Three-Body Problem is a critically acclaimed science fiction novel by Chinese writer Liu Cixin. The novel is the first part of trilogy. The story arc of the novel is centered on Ye Wenjie, a university professor and scientist at the time of the Cultural Revolution, who witnessed her father's murder. When she takes part in a secret government operation to send communications into deep space, an alien civilization receives it, and this leads to a series of events which take place 40 years later.

Quote 1

No, emptiness is not nothingness. Emptiness is a type of existence. You must use this existential emptiness to fill yourself.


This quote not only explores the philosophy of our individual and collective existence, but also has a double meaning in reference to the vastness of the universe. The galaxy appears to be devoid of other intelligence life, containing only cosmic bodies, thus appearing "empty," but it is in fact filled with sentient beings. Ye is affected by her father's death, which she witnessed, and thus begins to question whether her work is worth pursuing. There are several characters in the novel that exhibit a kind of existentialist mindset, in which they feel they are missing something important in life or within themselves. The ambition of humanity to contact other intelligent beings itself is derived from an act of existential despair and loneliness.

Quote 2

The universe is a dark forest. Every civilization is an armed hunter stalking through the trees like a ghost [. . .]


This quote articulates two concepts: the act of space exploration or hunting for other intelligent life in the universe, and the mentality of the alien race when they decide to invade Earth. Whether it is the humans or the alien race, both species are "hunters" and have predatory instincts. This "hunter" trait can be used in a positive way (i.e. space exploration) or in a negative form (i.e. space colonization and warfare). The main character in the novel is like a hunter as well, but as a scientist, she is hunting for truth. She symbolically illuminates the "dark forest."

Quote 3

It was impossible to expect a moral awakening from humankind itself, just like it was impossible to expect humans to lift off the earth by pulling up on their own hair. To achieve moral awakening required a force outside the human race.


This quote shows the silver lining of the impending alien invasion. The novel begins depicting the violence and ugliness of human politics. The human civilization has various examples of conflict, whether between nations or between fellow countrymen. The first part of the story shows that even one's own government will destroy you. Decades later, when the alien invasion is imminent, the people of Earth come together to address the issue, even if they have differing opinions on how to engage with the alien invaders.