3 Body Problem: 3 positive changes from the books (and 4 negative)

What we loved and didn't love about the Netflix adaptation of Cixin Liu's books.

3 Body Problem. Alex Sharp as Will Downing in episode 104 of 3 Body Problem. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2024
3 Body Problem. Alex Sharp as Will Downing in episode 104 of 3 Body Problem. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2024 /

3 Body Problem has been out on Netflix for a little while now and countless people across the globe have been eagerly binge-watching the eight-episode sci-fi epic based on Cixin Liu's acclaimed book trilogy Remembrance of Earth's Past.

But as is the case with all book-to-screen adaptations, there were some significant changes made to the source material that have ruffled some feathers. 3 Body Problem does its best to create its own version of Cixin's story and some of those changes paid off, while others left us feeling disappointed.

3 Body Problem. Liam Cunningham as Wade in episode 104 of 3 Body Problem. Cr. Ed Miller/Netflix © 2023 /

Positive: Introducing Thomas Wade earlier and expanding his role

Thomas Wade is an an important, but relatively minor, side character introduced in the third book, Death's End. Wade assists with the creation of the Staircase Project alongside Cheng Xin before entering hibernation and returning much later to play a pivotal role. In the Netflix series, Thomas Wade is a main character played by Liam Cunningham who is introduced immediately.

While contentious to some, I felt that bringing in Wade early was a smart decision by the writers. He serves as a focal point behind many of the planetary defense causes and creates the Wallfacer initiative in the show. Yes, his story is different than in the books, but I think it makes sense to use Wade as a figurehead that pulls all the strings and has Da Shi (Clarence) on his payroll.

Overall, it condenses and simplifies things that makes the different projects—Staircase, Wallfacers, Judgement Day, etc.—much easier to follow for non-book readers. Selfishly, I just loved seeing Cunningham acting across from Benedict Wong.

3 Body Problem. (L to R) Eiza González as Auggie Salazar, Jess Hong as Jin Cheng, Saamer Usmani as Raj Varma, Jovan Adepo as Saul Durand, Alex Sharp as Will Downing, John Bradley as Jack Rooney in episode 101 of 3 Body Problem. Cr. Ed Miller/Netflix © 2023 /

Negative: Creation of the Oxford Five

I think the conceit behind the Oxford Five, creating a tight-knit group of scientists with a connection to Ye Wenji's daughter so that we can follow them along the series, makes sense. The book characters were not generally praised as the most developed and complex beings, so I understand why the writer's chose to take things in a different direction and create composite characters that allow them to maneuver characters however they want, rather than sticking to the strict storylines from the book.

My problem with the Oxford Five isn't so much in the creation of them, but in the execution. Overall, they're just not very interesting characters, which is a shame. The writing makes it hard to get to know these guys and a large part of that is also due to the show's rushed pacing.

Auggie is one of the weaker characters in the bunch, with Jen Ching and Will Downing standing out as two of the more well-rounded individuals. I'm also very interested in Saul, since he's the Luo Ji of our story, but I wish they'd taken their time to let us get to know him better before charging ahead into the Wallfacer Project, which I feel should have been saved for season 2.

3 Body Problem. Alex Sharp as Will Downing in episode 107 of 3 Body Problem. Cr. Chris Baker/Netflix © 2024 /

Positive: Laying the groundwork for future storylines

Even though several storylines introduced in 3 Body Problem season 1 don't technically happen until the second and third books of the series, The Dark Forest and Death's End, it makes sense for the show to have established and laid the foundation for things like the Staircase Project and the Wallfacer Project early on.

Death's End features several pre-Crisis Era flashbacks that show the Staircase Project was developed during the timeframe of the first book. Similarly, The Dark Forest also chronologically features flashbacks and sequences that would have taken place in The Three-Body Problem. In short, Cixin Liu didn't tell his story in complete chronological order, meaning there is room for the show's creators to shuffle critical story events around.

For non-book readers, adding things like the book of fairytales, the paper boats, the goldfish are all ways to create payoff and foreshadow what's ahead for the show. Book readers get the added bonus of knowing what those moments are for, while non-book readers will be able to look back come season 3 (if we get one) and be like "oh my god, I remember when they talked about this!" It's a clever way to tease the show's future and ensure avid fans know that the writers have planned ahead and can foresee where this story is going.

3 Body Problem. Rosalind Chao as Ye Wenjie in episode 101 of 3 Body Problem. Cr. Ed Miller/Netflix © 2024 /

Negative: Cutting the majority of Ye Wenjie's storyline

Ye Wenjie is an extremely important character in the Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy, particularly in the first book. It is her actions that set in motion all of the events of the trilogy and the show does her character a disservice by removing a lot of her backstory, motivations, and complexity. I also really didn't like how they created a romance subplot between Ye Wenjie and Mike Evans.

Every part of her backstory is truncated to fit into bite-sized flashbacks shared throughout the first two episodes. It's hard to understand the intensity of Ye Wenjie's trauma with how fast the show moves through her life, checking off book scenes without really allowing viewers to understand the gravity of what each one means for the character.

3 Body Problem cuts out an entire murder subplot in which Ye Wenjie kills her own husband. In summation, I felt the show did a disservice to the character of Ye Wenjie, who is wonderfully complex in the book, and streamlined her story into something pretty shallow. It's especially unfortunate because the actresses who were cast to play her, Zine Tseng and Rosalind Chao, were excellent and I wish they'd gotten better material.

3 Body Problem. Sea Shimooka as Sophon in episode 103 of 3 Body Problem. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023 /

Positive: Simplifying the science behind the sophons

The cutting of the billiards scene and the shooter and farm hypothesis are two hotly debated topics among book readers and show watchers. I, too, lament their loss, but I don't think the show did that badly about simplifying some of the scientific concepts presented. Namely, I disagree with the popular take that the sophons were "overly simplified."

I was pleasantly surprised by how the Netflix series depicted the creation of the proton-sized supercomputers. For a part in the book that I struggled to grasp, the Netflix series did a decent job of making it digestible. Introducing Sophon early was also a smart move, to create a human-like liaison between the humans and the San-Ti rather than forcing viewers to read text unfolding on the screen like is presented in the books.

3 Body Problem. John Bradley as Jack Rooney in episode 102 of 3 Body Problem. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023 /

Negative: Condensing the Three-Body game and ETO

Even though the Three-Body game is in the show and plays a big role, I still felt like the series didn't spend enough time with the game world and demonstrating some of the cool concepts from the book. I highly recommend checking out the Tencent series if only to see how they represented some aspects of the virtual reality.

Not only that, but we don't really get to meet the other plays or see how Three-Body became used as a meeting ground for the Earth-Trisolaris Organization. In fact, the ETO is heavily downplayed on the show. It's not called the ETO, for one, since the aliens are now the San-Ti and not Trisolaris, but there's really only one scene where we get to see the humans who believe the San-Ti might be our saviors.

The show removed all of the depth and moral complexity presented by the ETO's division into Adventists and Redemptionists. It skips out on the stealthy civil war being waged on Earth by these alien devotees and thus removes a lot of conflict, tension, and character motivation.

3 Body Problem. Sea Shimooka as Sophon in episode 103 of 3 Body Problem. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023 /

Negative: The rushed pacing eliminates a lot of the compelling suspense from the books

My biggest complaint by far is the pacing of 3 Body Problem season 1. This show moves at a breakneck speed and doesn't give viewers any time to connect to the characters or digest the gravity each plot progression scene. Cixin did a fantastic job of creating an unyielding sense of unease and tension in the books. The slow build to revealing the ETO, the purpose of Three-Body, the grave news of the Trisolarian invasion, etc.

All of it was handled with care. You had time to sit and feel the cold chill as a revelation settled over you. Because the episode moves so quickly and shoves so many different storylines into its relatively short runtime of eight episodes, it ends up coming across as heavy-handed. Even though it was cool to see the Wallfacer stuff introduced, I'm not sure that was a necessary part of this season. The lack of suspense is what I struggled with the most while watching the show. It moves so fast it's nearly impossible to create any, especially if you read the books.

I do understand that one criticism of the first book in particular is that it moves slow. It takes a while to get going, so perhaps the writers wanted to avoid that in the show. On the flip side, the Tencent adaptation moves at a painstakingly slow pace, so it seems like the Netflix one does the opposite. Maybe in season 2 of both shows, the creators will finally find middle ground.

All 3 books in the Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy, ranked. dark. Next. All 3 books in the Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy, ranked