Review: A Redemption of Time: A Three-Body Problem Novel

The Three-Body Problem is the Chinese science fiction series; it’s a grand romp through a first alien encounter sci-fi trope that gets progressively more epic with each novel, culminating with the fate of the universe and any humans that somehow survive across the time and space at the grandest scales. Its author, Cixin Liu, is known for infusing tremendous feats of engineering and bits of pseudo-physics into his writing; Three Body itself is a reference to an established physics problem.

As with most pieces of pop culture, Three-Body has its share of fans and hence fan-fiction. A Redemption of Time is one such piece of derived work, with the unique distinction and honor of stretching what is usually a long online forum thread into a fully-published novel, and then translated by the same translator as the original novel. A cursory reading of the online reviews for this book suggests that most people didn’t quite realize how this book came about. For a piece of fan fiction, though, A Redemption of Time is mostly well-written, at least in terms of its literary mechanics—granted, some of it may just be the quality of the translation.

From a plot standpoint, however, it’s clear that this is indeed fan service: the book doesn’t seek to expand beyond the Three Body universe but rather explain some of the gaps between the tentpoles set up by the series, in particular, with the massive leaps of galactic and universal scale that the final book takes to the story. I suspect that the author felt they had little artistic license to create ex nihilo, and straying too far from the source material was probably not something that their intended audience would want anyway.

How this plot ties desperate story elements together is sometimes clever, sometimes convoluted. At its best, it does a good job reconstructing and refitting characters and plot points into cohesion, almost as if they were initially designed to be connected. Other times, the chapters get bogged down by too much talking and explanation, with extra doses of 21st century anthropomorphism1 which feel completely out of place when everything else is talking about destroying solar systems to affect multiverses. It’s a bit like how Star Trek’s 30th century citizens always seem to go back to 80s and 90s Americana for reference points.

Of course, many of these criticisms don’t matter when the entire point of A Redemption of Time is to provide just a bit more fleshing out of the Three Body world and give a sense of closure to some of its open-ended plot points. Know that this is what you’re getting coming into this book, and it should hit all the guilty pleasure points that can come from well-meaning fan fiction.

  1. Or worse, references of 20th century China, which the author somehow works in a reference…in a conversation between a pair of aliens.

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