21 December 2017

How to defeat the earthlings

Cixin Liu's science-fiction novel, The Three-Body Problem, won the Chinese sci-fi Galaxy award in 2006, and then in translation won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2015 - the first work ever to do so in translation.

I won't review the book, which I found a bit disappointing, but I wanted to share one excerpt.  The novel is about "first contact" with an alien society, with emphasis on the "dark forest theory" that any civilization advanced enough to make contact is a priori a threat.  In this book, the first of a trilogy, both earthlings and the aliens are preparing for an encounter with one another.  Here is the initial alien strategy:
The princeps said, "What we must do next is contain the progress of science on Earth.  Luckily, as soon as we received the first messages from Earth, we began to develop plans to do so.  As of now, we've discovered a favorable condition for realizing these plans...

Given a time gap of forty thousand hours, the strategic value of any traditional tactics of war or terror is insignificant, and they can recover from them.  To effectively contain a civilization's development and disarm it across such a long span of time, there is only one way: kill its science... In addition to highlighting the negative effects of progress, we'll also attempt to use a series of 'miracles' to construct an illusory universe that cannot be explained by the logic of science... Then unscientific ways of thinking will dominate scientific thinking among human intellectuals, and lead to the collapse of the entire scientific system of thought..."
What an outrageous concept - conquer the earth by steering earthlings away from the fundamental principles of science.  How ridiculous - no advanced earth society would allow itself to be deluded in such a fashion....

Wait a minute...


  1. So...what?

    Vladimir Putin is from another world?

  2. Any science fiction that presumes humans would return to a flat earth belief of the world is clearly ridiculous.

  3. Your analogy breaks down as this is (in the book) the scientific community itself that deludes and discourages the rest of the world from doing what they know to be right - which is to defend themselves from the impending threat.
    Now, apply that to the current world, where we have a scientific community actively engaging in green politics while the real, more pressing threat (NK, ISIS, others) is ingored or accomodated.

    1. Is it accurate to say it's the scientific community in the book that "deludes and discourages the world"? against some kind of defense? The matter of the sophons is pretty directly related to the world, and the world does try to mount a defense.

      You second statement is also a theme of the book(s): who decides what work is worthy of human endeavor? The response is that this is always an ambiguous and loaded question. Bad things come to pass no matter how we direct ourselves, individually or collectively, and this is only knowable in hindsight. In any case, there's plenty of human endeavor to go around. We're not going to run out of it because there's no agreement on what the "more pressing" tasks are.

      As a working scientist, I giggle a bit at the idea that there's some monolithic "scientific community" that is single-mindedly working on exclusively not-pressing things.

  4. "I won't review the book, which I found a bit disappointing.."

    For what it's worth, the two books that follow it are paced much better, and more "happens." The first book ends up looking like a long, dull history lesson relative to what follows in the second and third installments.

    1. I enjoy science fiction, but unfolding protons into five dimensions (or one) leaves me with little frame of reference.


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