Will the "Game of Thrones" Creators Whitewash Netflix's "The Three-Body Problem"?
The "Game of Thrones" show runners have an ambitious new sci-fi project in the works.
Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss are preparing to take TV by storm once again.
They've announced a new Netflix series, yet again an adaption of a series of ambitious novels—only this time, they're exchanging fantasy for a deep dive into sci-fi.
To bring the series to life, Benioff and Weiss will be teaming up with True Blood writer-director Alexander Woo to bring the Chinese sci-fi series The Three-Body Problem to the small screen. Rian Johnson and Ram Bergman of Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Knives Out will executive produce, along with Yoozoo Group and The Three-Body Universe, the groups who hold the rights to the franchise.
The series debuted in China in 2006 to massive acclaim, and won China's most prestigious science fiction prize, the Galaxy Award. Its English translation won the Hugo Award in 2015, making author Liu Cixin the first Asian writer to win the award. It's credited with sparking a new wave of science fiction in China.
The whole series is called Remembrance of Earth's Past, but it's usually referred to by the title of its first book, The Three-Body Problem; the following two books are entitled The Dark Forest and Death's End.
So what exactly is The Three-Body Problem about?
The Three-Body Problem concerns a parallel reality wherein humans face attacks from alien beings. The series' title refers to the three-body problem in orbital mechanics, an essentially unsolvable complication of Newton's two-body theory.
While two-body problems can be solved, problems that involve three objects in classical or quantum mechanics generally lack solutions. A famous instance of the problem involves the Moon, Sun, and the Earth; the presence of three bodies makes it near-impossible to track the motion of any one planet. There is no exact solution.
Playing out against the backdrop of China's Cultural Revolution, the series revolves around Ye Wenjie, an astrophysics graduate student whose parents are killed by the Chinese Red Guards and who is branded a traitor to the government. While in a forced labor unit, Ye joins a covert government operation and begins beaming signals into space in an effort to contact extraterrestrials.
Their signals are intercepted by a group of aliens whose civilization is failing, so they threaten to invade the Earth to steal our blue planet's resources. Exhausted by humanity, Ye invites them in, and the aliens begin their 450-year journey towards Earth.
"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," Ye thinks at one point. "To achieve moral awakening required a force outside the human race."
Their impending arrival generates rival factions on Earth, some of whom believe in aiding the aliens while others believe in fighting the invaders. The show also revolves around some interesting environmental themes—at one point, Ye is assigned to transcribe a copy of Rachel Carson's environmentalist text Silent Spring, which is intercepted and condemned by the government. She also befriends Mike Evans, the radical environmentalist son of one of the world's largest oil company CEOs. Together, Ye and Evans decide to work with the aliens, and things only grow more complicated from there.
Eventually, the series takes its characters far out into deep space and towards the most distant reaches of the universe. Virtual reality, holographs, extreme climate disasters and aerospace ambushes are only a few of the series' other themes.
Hard Science and White-Washing: Dangers of Netflix's The Three-Body Problem Adaption
The series presents some aspects that might make filming complicated. For example, much of the narrative relies on hard science, from particle physics and quantum entanglement to dark matter and the orbital mechanics concepts that inspire its name. Liu himself once stated, "I did not begin writing for love of literature...I did so for love of science."
Some have expressed concerns about the fact that The Three-Body Problem goes deep into Chinese history and culture and stars mostly Chinese characters, but its primary showrunners are two white men whose track record on race is not flawless. (Benioff and Weiss's unrealized Confederate drama series, a show set in an alternate reality in which the Confederacy hadn't lost the Civil War, did not go over well with anyone).
Fortunately, Woo will be on the team for The Three-Body Problem, and Liu will serve as a consulting producer, giving fans hope that the series won't be completely white-washed. The series' primary translator, Ken Liu, will also be on board to provide feedback, as will every bored ex-Game of Thrones fan with a Twitter account.
The Three-Body Problem Creators Hope to Celebrate Unity and Humanity
The end of Game of Thrones may have been unceremonious, but many are looking forward to seeing whatever its creators come up with next. An ambitious sci-fi story about apocalypse and colonization feels like an appropriate evolution.
"Liu Cixin's trilogy is the most ambitious science-fiction series we've read, taking readers on a journey from the 1960s until the end of time, from life on our pale blue dot to the distant fringes of the universe," Benioff and Weiss said in a statement. "We look forward to spending the next years of our lives bringing this to life for audiences around the world."
Woo stated, "It's a privilege to be adapting one of the great masterpieces of Chinese science-fiction. The Three-Body Problem trilogy combines so many things I love: rich, multi-layered characters and true existential stakes — all told as an elegant and deeply human allegory."
"The first time I read The Three-Body Problem trilogy (Remembrance of Earth's Past), it changed what science fiction meant to me forever," wrote Netflix's VP of original content, Peter Friedlander. "Although it may seem like a familiar premise — the story of humanity's first contact with an alien civilization — Chinese author Liu Cixin's ability to interweave science with fiction made his vision of the future and extra-terrestrial contact feel more realistic than any other science fiction I've read. At the same time, I was also drawn in by the story of all of humanity vulnerable to the same external threat and how this both unifies and divides humans.
"We have been granted the rights from The Three-Body Universe and Yoozoo Group to produce the English-language series adaptation and have assembled a talented and thoughtful creative team to do so," Friedlander continued. "Every person involved not only shares a passion and high esteem for the books, but also the creative vision and ambition to help bring this remarkable story to life for audiences around the world ... To quote The Three-Body Problem, 'In my line of work, it's all about putting together many apparently unconnected things. When you piece them together the right way, you get the truth.' We all share the same goal: to pay homage to this incredible story and take members on the adventure of a lifetime."
The novels have been name-dropped as favorites of Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg. Even George R. R. Martin has expressed admiration, calling it a "a unique blend of scientific and philosophical speculation, politics and history, conspiracy theory and cosmology, where kings and emperors from both western and Chinese history mingle in a dreamlike game world, while cops and physicists deal with global conspiracies, murders, and alien invasions in the real world."
Liu himself seems cautiously excited about the story's expansion. "I have the greatest respect for and faith in the creative team adapting The Three-Body Problem for television audiences," he said. "I set out to tell a story that transcends time and the confines of nations, cultures, and races; one that compels us to consider the fate of humankind as a whole. It is a great honor as an author to see this unique sci-fi concept travel and gain fandom across the globe and I am excited for new and existing fans all over the world to discover the story on Netflix."
In an era of climate disaster, extreme technological advances, state repression, and special UFO units, The Three-Body Problem seems like it might be perfect for our times—though only time will tell.