The Biggest Differences Between Netflix’s ‘3 Body Problem’ and the Book

Editor's Note: The following contains spoilers for Season 1 of 3 Body Problem and spoilers for the books in the Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy.

After what feels like 400 years of waiting, 3 Body Problem finally hit Netflix this week. The new series by David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, and Alexander Woo adapts the seminal Remembrance of Earth's Past sci-fi series by Liu Cixin. With his blessing, the trio did a major overhaul of the original novels to make their premise and stories fit the television format, and, lucky for readers and viewers alike, most of these changes work. From the number in the title to replacing "Trisolarans" with "San-Ti" as the name of the alien invader species, a lot was changed, but there are five changes that work especially well in the context of the adaptation. Let's hope the Sophons agree.

Netflix's 3 Body Problem poster

3 Body Problem







A fateful decision made in 1960s China reverberates in the present, where a group of scientists partner with a detective to confront an existential planetary threat.

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Benedict Wong , Rosalind Chao , John Bradley , Saamer Usmani with Shailene Woodley , Eiza Gonzalez , Liam Cunningham , Alex Sharp , Jess Hong

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David Benioff , D.B. Weiss , Alexander Woo

'3 Body Problem' Features Five Main Characters Who Are Friends

The most immediately noticeable change 3 Body Problem made from the novels are the protagonists. In The Three-Body Problem, the first book in Liu Cixin's trilogy, there are two main characters who are followed around – Ye Wenjie (Zine Tseng/Rosalind Chao) and Wang Miao. Only the first is in the Netflix adaptation, while Miao's role was diluted into five original characters, who then take the role of protagonists.

Each of the protagonists embodies a different aspect from the novels, not only the first one, but the other two as well. Augustina "Auggie" Salazar (Eiza González) is the closest to Wang Miao, as she is the one who sees a countdown projected into her retina and is a nanotechnology researcher. Saul Durand (Jovan Adepo) is based on Luo Ji, the main character in the second novel, The Dark Forest. He is the person to whom Ye Wenjie tells the secret of how to beat the San-Ti, and is then targeted by the aliens to be killed. Later, he becomes a Wallfacer because of that, although he doesn't want or understand the job.

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Jin Cheng (Jess Hong) is based on Cheng Xin, one of the main characters in Death's End, the third novel. She proposes a plan to send a probe to the San-Ti with the brain of a human as a reconnaissance tactic. Will Downing (Alex Sharp) is based on Yun Tianming, also of Death's End, the dying friend of Cheng who is in love with her and volunteers his brain to be sent on the probe. Only Jack Rooney (John Bradley) is a real original character, whose death drives the other four to go further in the plot of the San-Ti invasion.

Vera Ye Becomes the Mentor of the Five Protagonists

The Biggest Differences Between Netflix's '3 Body Problem' and the Book

What first puts the five protagonists on the path to fighting back against the San-Ti, however, is their mentor, Doctor Vera Ye (Vedette Lim). In the past, she put together a group of "star pupils" with the five protagonists, who were her students at Oxford. Years later, she commits suicide at the beginning of 3 Body Problem, one of many scientists who became traumatized after science "broke," which we learn after was caused by the Sophons. She is also the daughter of Ye Wenjie and Mike Evans (Ben Schnetzer/Jonathan Pryce).

In the novels, this character is very different, starting with the name: Yang Dong. She is the daughter of Ye Wenjie and Yang Weining, Wenjie's superior at the Red Coast installation. She commits suicide at the beginning of the novel, prompting her boyfriend, Ding Yi, to be called to the war council meetings afterward. Wang Miao admired her from afar and never had the courage to talk to her, but grew closer to Ye Wenjie and Ding Yi after her death. Hers shocking statement that "Physics has never existed, and will never exist" is the result of the Sophons meddling with her research, leading to her suicide. But there was no group of star pupils.

Thomas Wade Commands a Supranational Secret Agency

The Biggest Differences Between Netflix's '3 Body Problem' and the Book

The investigation around the suicides of scientists and other members of the scientific community is carried out by Clarence Shi (Benedict Wong), who reports to Thomas Wade (Liam Cunningham). In the novels, Shi goes by the name Shi Qiang (or by his nickname, Da Shi), and starts off as a Beijing cop who gets tangled in the investigation with Wang Miao, but in 3 Body Problem, Shi is part of the Strategic Intelligence Agency (SIA), which seems to be a supranational organization led by Wade. In the novels, Wade also leads an intelligence agency but is a much different character, and definnitely not as charming.

In the novels, especially the first one, every decision and initiative that concerns the fight against the San-Ti invaders goes through a war council with members of many national governments and their military, including China and the USA. Later, the UN establishes the Planetary Defense Council (PDC), a central body to carry these things out. In the series, however, it looks like the SIA is taking the place of the war council, with Wade himself centralizing every major decision. His job description isn't clear, but he has a very hands-on approach and goes from interrogating suspects to creating and supervising all projects that humanity has to fight back against the San-Ti.

The Wallfacer Program Is Bigger and More Complex


In the last episode, Saul Durand's life is turned upside down as he's ordered to take part in a ceremony at the UN headquarters in New York. There, he is nominated as one of three Wallfacers. Wallfacers are people who are handpicked by the UN to come up with secret plans to defeat the San-Ti. They will create those plans only in their minds and have carte blanche to use any resource they require, and their plans will become public only when it's time to execute them at the Doomsday Battle against the invaders.

Saul was nominated as a Wallfacer because he is the only person the San-Ti are actively trying to kill, although no one knows why. There are two others with him: General Hou Bolin (Clem Cheung), who is a military strategy scholar, and Professor Leyla Ariç (Salem Hadeed), a soldier who fought and defeated ISIS in Kurdistan. Saul's equivalent in the novels is Luo Ji, an astronomer and social science enthusiast who figured out his nomination came because of Ye Wenjie's suggestion to create a new field of study called "cosmic sociology." There are three other Wallfacers with him: former US Defense Secretary Frederick Tyler, former president of Venezuela Manuel Rey Díaz, and Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist Bill Hines. Eventually, only Luo Ji survives, as people are attempting to debunk each Wallfacer's plans, the Wallbreakers.

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‘3 Body Problem’ Mixes Elements of All Three Novels, Not Just the First

Adapting such a complex story from books to screen can't be easy. Of course, many elements had to be changed, so Benioff, Weiss, and Woo remixed the whole trilogy to make it fit the television format. This way, the first season of 3 Body Problem contains elements not only of its trilogy counterpart, but of the other two novels as well. The overall setting of the narrative corresponds to that of The Three-Body Problem, with the Trisolaran — I mean, San-Ti! — invasion being gradually revealed until the point at which humanity panics about it, but the series also makes it much more about the characters.

This is important because audiences tend to react better to character-driven narratives and story arcs, and that's something that the Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy doesn't really focus on — it's a whole other medium, after all, and it works there. Although humanity's overall arc moves through the trilogy, each novel focuses on different characters, and this would never work on a television show. This is why introducing such different arcs right in Season 1, like the Wallfacers and the human brain probe, for example, is so important, as it gives them time to develop over the next seasons. Hopefully, 3 Body Problem performs well with Netflix's audience, and we get to see how all these changes develop in the future.

3 Body Problem is available to stream on Netflix in the U.S.

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