3 Body Problem – Netflix

I gave up on the first of Cixin Liu’s novels because it was very slow, and reminded me of the sort of science fiction that I read when I was a teenager. Consequently I can’t comment on the quality of Benioff & Weiss’ TV show as an adaptation of the books. As I understand it, they have diverged radically from the original. So I’m going to judge it in isolation.

Whereas what little I read of Cixin Liu reminded me of Asimov at this most expository, the Netflix TV series is very character driven. The ‘Oxford Five’, as I believe they are known, are all interesting in their own right, and their various interactions are much more interesting than the science, which is just as well.

The plot occasionally shows signs of the script team having had to condense a trilogy of fat novels into very few TV episodes, and the CGI is sometimes rather wonky. But the series maintains a high level of drama throughout. I certainly finished each episode wanting to watch the next one straight away.

I thought the acting was pretty good. Benedict Wong steals the show, of course, but I was very impressed with Alex Sharp as Will Downing. It is a great part.

Something that may cause problems for other viewers is the way that the show teeters between trying to be a hard SF story and verging into fantasy. I’m not in a position to judge the physics, but I’m assuming that was taken from Cixin and is therefore good. Certainly the show has an impressive collection of science fiction ideas that it plays with. But the technology deployed by the aliens is very much in the Indistinguishable from Magic ballpark, regardless of how much technobabble is deployed in support of it.

I understand that there is a Chinese TV series available on Amazon Prime. That supposedly adheres much more closely to the original books, and also keeps the largely Chinese cast. Providing Western characters to front the show was probably necessary to finance a version for Western TV, but I can quite see why many people prefer something that hasn’t been wrenched from its cultural context. I hope to give that a try.

Having said that, I am also looking forward to a second season of the NetFlix 3 Body Problem. I am doing so with some trepidation because, by most reports, Benioff and Weiss missed sticking the landing on A Game of Thrones by a margin measurable only in units used by astrophysicists. But we shall see. Season 1 was good enough for me to give them a chance.