Netflix and Sci-Fi

Netflix's next big show will bring the best modern sci-fi book trilogy to life

Liu Cixin's 'The Three-Body Problem' is set to become an epic series from David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.

Tor Books/Macmillan

The best science fiction book trilogy of the 21st century is set to become your next Netflix obsession. Netflix has confirmed The Remembrance of Earth's Past series — better know by the name of the first novel, The Three-Body Problem — will become an epic original series. Chinese novelist Liu Cixin and his American translator Ken Liu will be a part of the creative team as consulting producers with a writers' room headed by Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.

The news is a good sign for science fiction fans for one crucial reason: Not since Game of Thrones has massive science fiction or fantasy show united all aspects of pop culture in the 21st Century. Here's why The Three-Body Problem has the potential to be bigger than Game of Thrones and for sci-fi fans, more important than Foundation, Westworld, or Altered Carbon.

Light descriptions of The Three-Body Problem ahead. No major spoilers.

Although science fiction fans will usually go to whatever platform happens to be showing great sci-fi, the idea that hard SF will find its way onto Netflix is actually huge news. After the cancelation of Altered Carbon, to the sci-fi connoisseur, Netflix could have been perceived as declining. Yes, there is a steady stream of new sci-fi movies on Netflix, but the announcement that The Three-Body Problem will be a Netflix series feels like the second coming of mainstream sci-fi on TV. If a truly quality sci-fi show dominates Netflix for the next decade, it could change everyone's watercooler conversation about sci-fi TV. In the Netflix press release, Benioff and Weiss said:

"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. We look forward to spending the next years of our lives bringing this to life for audiences around the world."

Just how many years of their lives will the former GoT showrunners be devoting to The Three-Body Problem? Well, there are three books in the series — The Three Body-Problem, The Dark Forest, and Death's End — but this series could easily be more than three seasons. Because the books span several generations, and well over 450 years (with some time jumps) there's every reason to believe that the show could be six seasons long, maybe even eight. In fact, because certain events in the third book take place in the time frame of the first book, there's plenty of material to re-order or recontextualize in a TV series. Not only that, but there's also "flashbacks" to the 1960s and the distant past.

Liu Cixin, author of 'The Three-Body Problem.'VCG/Visual China Group/Getty Images

Haven't read The Three-Body Problem? Curious why, you, as a person who casually likes science fiction, should care? Well, even though the Netflix description is: "The story of humanity’s first contact with an alien civilization," this book series has nothing in common with Arrival or Close Encounters of the Third Kind or even War of the Worlds. If you're an old-school sci-fi reader, The Three-Body Problem series is like Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End, but with way more action, a lot more realism, and stakes that defy the tropes of Western sci-fi.

The story focuses on aliens covertly contacting humanity, which eventually results in several factions on Earth who all want different outcomes for the eventual alien invasion. The title references the physics problem of a "Three-body problem," which refers to three objects interacting with each other in space. The aliens in the book series, the Trisolaris, live in a star-system beset by a three-body problem on a planetary scale. On Earth at some point, people play a VR game based on this three-body problem to try to solve the Trisolaris's biggest problem. On some level, these novels ask a simple question: What if we wanted the alien invasion to come? Could it actually be a force for good? And what would we do once it was over?

The fact that The Three-Body Problem is the first Asian novel to win the coveted Hugo award is not only important but an essential reason why these books — and this series — are so urgently relevant. American science fiction has a patchy history of representation in futuristic storytelling. Some sci-fi representation is laudable (most of Star Trek) but some of it, like the whitewashing of the live-action Ghost in the Shell, is simply embarrassing. The promise of The Three-Body Problem, will — in theory — be a seamless adaptation of the books, meaning the essential Chinese perspective will not be diminished. It's reasonable that in an English-language adaptation of a series that spans the entire universe a few white actors might be cast, but, the fact that Liu Cixin and his translator are supervising producers seems to point toward a TV series that maintains the vision of the books. In other words, it feels like we can expect a version of The Three-Body Problem that avoids whitewashing by just not even thinking about it. (Imagine if George R.R. Martin stuck around and helped guide Game of Thrones even after the show sped past his books.)

"I have the greatest respect for and faith in the creative team adapting The Three-Body Problem for television audiences,” said Liu Cixin, in a Netflix press release. “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.”

The Three-Body Problem will hit Netflix sometime in the near-ish future. The executive producers are David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, and Alexander Woo. They are joined by executive producers Rian Johnson and producing partner Ram Bergman. Additional producers include Lin Qi for Yoozoo Group, Zhao Jilong, Vice President of The Three-Body Universe, Plan B Entertainment (which includes Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, and Jeremy Kleiner’s company; Okja, Moonlight), and Rosamund Pike and Robie Uniacke for Primitive Streak, a company that specializes in acquiring literary properties.

The release date for Netflix's The Three-Body Problem is not yet known.