The Multiple Bodies of The Three-Body Problem

Extrapolation (2019), 60, (2), 183–200.


Unbeknownst to most anglophone readers, Cixin Liu’s acclaimed Santi trilogy has been published in three discrete versions, each one with unique features. In its earliest incarnation, the first novel of the Santi trilogy was published serially in a Chinese sf magazine before appearing in novel form in Chinese. The third iteration, an English translation titled The Three-Body Problem, was primarily based on the initial serialized version. In each version, the title is reimagined, pages are shuffled around, and the narrative rhythm is modified. Taking The Three-Body Problem as its key example, this paper provides perspectives on how to approach a fiction that has not one but multiple “bodies.”

Access Token
If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here

Works Cited

Chow, Rey. Writing Diaspora. Indiana UP, 1993. Google Scholar

Csicsery-Ronay, Istvan, Jr. “What Do We Mean When We Say ‘Global Science Fiction’? Reflections on a New Nexus.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 39, no. 3, 2012, pp. 478–493. Google Scholar

Dyson, Stephen Benedict. “Why You Should be Reading Cixin Liu, China’s Hottest Science-Fiction Writer.” The Washington Post, 8 Aug. 2015, www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2015/08/08/why-you-should-be-reading-liu-cixin-chinas-hottest-science-fiction-writer/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.doc9e9494953. Accessed 30 Apr. 2019. Google Scholar

Ercolino, Stefano. The Maximalist Novel: From Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow to Roberto Bolano’s 2666. Bloomsbury, 2014. Google Scholar

Goldie, David. “Scottish Fiction.” The Cambridge Companion to British Fiction, 1945–2010, edited by David James, Cambridge UP, 2015. Google Scholar

Han, Song. “Chinese Science Fiction: A Response to Modernization.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 40, no.1, 2013, pp. 15–21. Google Scholar

Heller, Jason. “‘Three-Body Problem’ Asks a Classic Sci-Fi Question, in Chinese.” 13 Nov. 2014. National Public Radio. 2018. Google Scholar

Lee, Chia Yi. “On At the Mountains of Madness–Enveloping the Cosmic Horror.” Euramerica, vol. 39, no. 1, 2009, pp. 1–27. Google Scholar

Li, Hua. “The Political Imagination in Cixin Liu’s Critical Utopia: China 2185.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 42, no. 3, 2015, pp. 519–540. Google Scholar

Liu, Cixin. Santi. Chongqing, Chongqing Chu Ban She, 2008. Google Scholar

Liu, Cixin. “Beyond Narcissism: What Science Fiction Can Offer Literature.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 40, no. 1, 2013, pp. 22–32. Google Scholar

Liu, Cixin. The Three Body Problem. Translated by Ken Liu, Tor Books, 2014. Google Scholar

Lovell, Julia. The Politics of Cultural Capital: China’s Quest for a Nobel Prize in Literature, U of Hawai’i P, 2006. Google Scholar

Lukacs, Georg. The Theory of the Novel: A Historical-Philosophical Essay on the Forms of Great Epic Literature, MIT Press, 1971. Google Scholar

Mendelson, Edward. “Encyclopedic Narrative: From Dante to Pynchon.” MLN, vol. 91, no. 6, 1976, pp. 1267–1275. Google Scholar

Obama, Barack, Michiko Kakutani, and Doug Mills. “Transcript: President Obama on What Books Mean to Him.” The New York Times, 16 Jan. 2017, p. A15. Google Scholar

Owen, Stephen. “The Anxiety of Global Influence: What Is World Poetry?” The New Republic, 19 Nov. 1990, pp. 28–32. Google Scholar

Poole, Robert. “The Challenge of the Spaceship: Arthur Clarke and the History of the Future 1930–1970.” History and Technology, vol 28, no. 3, 2012, pp. 255–280. Google Scholar

Richardson, Nick. “Even What Doesn’t Happen Is Epic.” London Review of Books, vol. 40, no. 3, 2018. pp. 34–36. Google Scholar

Saint-Amour, Paul K. Tense Future: Modernism, Total War, Encyclopedic Form. Oxford UP, 2015. Google Scholar

sfreviews. “The Three Body Problems.” sfReviews.net, 2015, www.sfreviews.net/liucixin_3_body_problem.html. Accessed 30 Apr. 2018. Google Scholar

Shen, Hui. 2015 Zhong Guo Ke Xue Nian Du Xin Wen Ren Wu [2015 News Figures of Science in China], 9 Jan. 2016, /www.ce.cn/xwzx/gnsz/gdxw/201601/19/t20160119_8381530.shtml. Accessed 14 Aug. 2018. Google Scholar

Shih, Shu-Mei. Visuality and Identity: Sinophone Articulations across the Pacific. U of California P, 2007. Google Scholar

Song, Mingwei. “Variations on Utopia in Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction.” Science Fiction Studies, vol.40, no. 1, 2013, pp. 86–102. Google Scholar

Song, Mingwei. “Popular Genre Fiction: Science Fiction and Fantasy.” The Columbia Companion to Modern Chinese Literature, edited by Kirk Denton, Colombia UP, 2016, pp. 394–399. Google Scholar

Wasserstrom, Jeffrey N. “The Big Bad China and the Good Chinese.” China Beyond the Headlines, edited by Timothy B. Weston and Lionel M Jesen, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2000, pp. 13–35. Google Scholar

Wu, Hung. Making History. Hong Kong, Timezone 8, 2008. Google Scholar

Wu, Yan. “‘Great Wall Planet’: Introducing Chinese Science Fiction.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 40, no. 1, 2013, pp. 1–14. Google Scholar

Wu, Yan, and Kerry Mallan. “Children’s Science Fiction in China.” Bookbird, vol. 44, no. 3, 2006, pp. 40–47. Google Scholar

Žižek, Slavoj. Incontinence of the Void: Economico-philosophical Spandrels. MIT Press, 2017. Google Scholar

If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here


Author details

Cao, Xuenan