The Problem with "The Three-Body Problem"

The Problem with "The Three-Body Problem"

I don't often do reviews, but when I do, they're not usually in my blog, but they are very opinionated. You have been warned. Okay, so it's more personal observation than actual review, but there you have it. I promise to keep it short. Ish.

I'm talking about a new (as I write this) television series, airing on Netflix, that starts with a book. Previews proudly announce that it is from the "creators of Game of Thrones" (which I never watched). If you follow any of this stuff, then you probably already know I'm talking about "3 Body Problem," based on the book by Chinese science fiction author Liu Cixin, which started on Netflix a few days ago. Fun fact, the book is called, "The Three-Body Problem," and not "3 Body Problem," as Netflix has titled it.

Netflix trailer for "3 Body Problem"

For reasons which will become clear in a moment, I almost didn't want to watch the show. Nevertheless, I watched the first episode on Friday with my wife, and it is, in many ways, very different from the book even while keeping a lot of the same core concepts in play. This is actually a really good thing because the book, to me at least—and I know this is going to sound like blasphemy—is practically unreadable. I made it through from start to finish, and I understand why people think it's good, but damn, it was hard to read! And I don't mean because I had trouble understanding the words. I'm really pretty good with words and I've been known to use the right word here and there, over the years, when the situation calls for it.

The reason it was hard to read is that I don't think it's a particularly good book, despite the fact that it has some really cool concepts. However, the characters are mostly flat, as dessicated as the dehydrated Trisolarans during the dry chaotic seasons. The descriptions of the, ahem, science, particularly when it comes to folding that supercomputer into subatomic space, never mind the human supercomputer, stretch the imagination to the breaking point. In fact, some of the things in the book are downright ridiculous, particularly when it comes to understanding how actual humans would react.

Maybe something gets lost in translation from the original Chinese to English.

And yes, I know that I'm skewering a sacred cow as this is a multi-award winning book with a legion of fans. It even won the Hugo Award for 2015 and was nominated for a Nebula Award. But I digress...

Oh, and as a science fiction reader, I'm awesome at suspending disbelief (Transporters? Why the hell not?), but there's only so far I can go. In science fiction, and in the world of fantasy, which I appreciate and enjoy as well, there are rules, and you need, at the very least, to have some really good writing if you're going to stretch those rules to the breaking point. And again, anyway, I won't belabor the point, but the fact is, the adaptation on Netflix is actually really quite good, or at least the first episode certainly makes me feel that way. It got my attention, it held my attention, and I look forward to seeing where it goes from there.

I also like the fact that they created a composite of five characters from the one main character of the book, Professor Wang Miao. And the reason I like that, aside from the fact that it makes it much more interesting to develop a story around five people than just one, is that the one character, Miao, is part of the problem in the book. At some point, I just stopped caring about this person, and it looks like Netflix has fixed that problem.

Granted, Netflix kept one ridiculous concept, namely that scientists would, upon finding out that physics doesn't work the way they thought (I won't tell you why), commit suicide, is another Olympic level stretch. At least, with the right visuals, they make it look as though they might be going mad, more than just heartbroken that some scientific principles might have to be called into question.

Anyway, there you go, that's my mini-review, so to speak, of the first episode of Netflix's "3 Body Problem," and of course, a not-so-nice review, I suppose, of the book "The Three-Body Problem." I did, however, have to get that off my chest, and I appreciate your patience.

Feel free to tell me that I'm full of it, and why, in the comments below. 😄