The Biggest Differences Between 3-Body Problem and Cixin Liu’s Book

The Biggest Differences Between 3-Body Problem and Cixin Liu’s Book

preview for 3 Body Problem new Official Trailer (Netflix)

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The following story contains spoilers for Season 1 of 3-Body Problem on Netflix.


ANY ADAPTATION OF a book as dense as Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem is going to need to make some major changes. The sci-fi bestseller, originally published in China and translated into English by Ken Liu (a heralded sci-fi writer in his own right), tells an intensely complex bit of speculative fiction in the form of a world where Earth makes contact with aliens. Sounds familiar, right?

Tor Books Three-Body Problem Boxed Set: The Dark Forest, Death’s End (The Three-Body Problem Series)

Three-Body Problem Boxed Set: The Dark Forest, Death's End (The Three-Body Problem Series)

Tor Books Three-Body Problem Boxed Set: The Dark Forest, Death’s End (The Three-Body Problem Series)

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What makes The Three-Body Problem—and Netflix’s adaptation, the similarly-titled 3 Body Problem—different is the complexity with which it tackles this age-old sci-fi question. Readers and audiences may be used to E.T. showing up from space without much initial fanfare, or the goofy undercover world depicted in something like Men in Black; 3-Body Problem puts forth the science, politicking, and overall societal mania that would realistically come along with an impending alien invasion.

If you find yourself a bit lost in the minutae or nonstop science watching Netflix’s 3 Body Problem, though, it’s important to recognize one major fact: the book goes far deeper. The science is more detailed, the physics are more complex, and the political context—the book is based mostly in China—is somewhat esoteric.

The show makes this easier to swallow, but that comes due to some major changes from the book. Below, we dive into the most notable of these.

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The Protagonist (s)

In The Three-Body Problem, the protagonist is one character: a nanoscientist named Wang Miao who uncovers the entire story of the Trisolarans coming to earth, has a countdown in front of his eyes, plays the Three-Body Problem video game, uncovers the political conspiracy around the Trisolarans’s existence and the behind-the-scenes battle about their impending arrival, crosses paths with the grimy, mysterious detective Da Shi, and even finds his way into the ETO (Earth-Trisolaris Organization) meetings.

In Netflix’s 3-Body Problem, Wang Miao is split into five different characters, the above traits shared among a group of scientist friends who all studied together at Oxford.

The Game

The experience of the Three Body Problem game within The Three-Body Problem is largely the same in Netflix’s series—but just with one minor change. In the novel, the game is played through a technologically-advanced virtual reality suit, but one that nonetheless is fairly common and known throughout society.

In the show, the game is played through a virtual reality chrome helmet, described as technology far, far advanced from the cutting edge in our present—this is later revealed to be because it’s technology coming directly from the advanced Trisolaran society.

The Flow

Rather than cleanly adapting just The Three-Body Problem as novel into the show’s first season, Netflix’s 3 Body Problem pulls some elements of the second book, The Dark Forest—particularly the idea of the Wallfacer program—into the tail end of the first season. It also pulls some from the third book in the series, Death’s End, as it begins to set up future seasons of its advanced and ambitious sci-fi story.

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