Netflix's 3 Body Problem looks ambitious and thrilling

Streaming on March 21st, 2024

Netflix's 3 Body Problem looks ambitious and thrilling
Image: Netflix

After teasing the series way back in June 2023, Netflix released a full trailer for its upcoming science fiction series 3 Body Problem, as well as a release date: March 21st, 2024.

The series is an adaptation of the novel and trilogy by Chinese SF author Cixin Liu, about humanity's devastating first contact with an alien civilization known as the Trisolarans, beginning in the midst of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and extending all the way to the heat death of the universe. It's safe to say that this is a series that's epic in scale.

This trailer really leans into the mystery at the center of the novel: a number of scientists begin committing suicide after experiencing some mysterious hallucinations, with a mysterious virtual reality game potentially connected to them. There's a bit more to it than that: the novel begins with an imprisoned astrophysicist during the Cultural Revolution who makes contact with a distant alien civilization, and their impending arrival to escape their hellish solar system.

I'm digging how this looks: the first novel has a lot in it, from social commentary to virtual reality, astrophysics, alien contact, and that's just the first book: the second and third novels are even bigger and it'll be wild to see how that ends up in streaming form.

The trilogy (Three-Body Problem, The Dark Forest, and Death's End, translated by Ken Liu and Joel Martinen) has garnered considerable critical acclaim from readers and reviewers since their publication between 2014 and 2016. Three-Body Problem earned Cixin Liu the first-ever Hugo Award for Best Novel to be won by a Chinese author in 2016, and it helped to open the floodgates of translations of science fiction from the country. In recent years, publishers have released novels like Hao Jingfang's Vagabonds and Chen Quifan's Waste Tide, while magazines like Clarkesworld and Uncanny have released a number of translated short stories from Chinese authors, introducing them to English-speaking audiences for the first time.

Narratives of modernization
A history of Chinese science fiction Image: Andrew LiptakIn 2015, author Ken Liu stepped up to the podium at Sasquan, the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention, to accept the Hugo Award for Best Novel on behalf of Liu Cixin, author of The Three-Body Problem. It was a historic moment: Liu

Netflix announced the series back in September 2020 with some high-profile names behind it: it was created by Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, with Star Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson and his producing partner Ram Bergman, The Terror: Infamy producer Alexander Woo, translator Ken Liu, and and Liu Cixin serving as producers. I know the GOT guys caught a lot of flack for how they bungled the ending of that adaptation, but they did have a good track record of adapting a sprawling and complicated story into a successful TV series. I'm optimistic here, although it does look like there'll be some changes – this feels like it has more of an international angle to it, rather than being set mainly in China.

Writing for The Hollywood Reporter, James Hibbard (author of the excellent Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon: Game of Thrones and the Official Untold Story of the Epic Series) peeled back the curtain a bit on the genesis of the series, noting that Benioff and Weiss recognized that it was an ambitious story (not unlike GOT), and that it was less about the horrors of alien contact and more about how humanity responds to a global challenge – not well. The whole piece is worth a read: it provides a good amount of detail about how the series came about, as well as some bits and pieces about their post-GOT experience, and what happened to their canceled HBO series Confederates and the Star Wars film they were working on.

Liu's Remembrances of Earth's Past trilogy has remained one of the highest-profile science fiction stories to come out of China, and has catapulted the author into domestic and international fame. He's released a number of other books over the years, but his novella The Wandering Earth garnered headlines when it was adapted and billed as "the first Chinese sci-fi blockbuster" when it was released back in 2019 (a prequel, The Wandering Earth 2 was released in 2023), while Three-Body Problem has endured adaptations – a film back in 2015 that was produced but shelved, an animated series in 2014, and a Chinese live-action series in 2023.

I'm looking forward to checking this one out when it debuts in March.