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Netflix's '3 Body Problem' makes some big changes from the book. Here's how the show and novels differ.

Palmer Haasch   

Netflix's '3 Body Problem' makes some big changes from the book. Here's how the show and novels differ.
  • "3 Body Problem" is based on Liu Cixin's "Remembrance of Earth's Past" novel trilogy.
  • Here are nine of the biggest differences between the show and books.

Netflix's "3 Body Problem" is an adaptation of Liu Cixin's wide-ranging "Remembrance of Earth's Past" trilogy of novels. And while the show hews close to its source material in some instances, it wildly diverges in others.

The series was adapted for the small screen by "Game of Thrones" showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, in addition to "True Blood" writer Alexander Woo. Liu's original novels are strongly anchored in China: They begin during the Cultural Revolution, something that carries over to the show, and primarily feature Chinese characters in the modern day.

"3 Body Problem" moves the show's focus away from China to a more global stage, and its modern-day sequences take place primarily in England rather than China. As a result, the show features a global cast.

Here are the other major differences between the books and the show. Warning — major spoilers ahead for all eight episodes of "3 Body Problem," and Liu Cixin's novels, which will likely serve as a roadmap for a potential season two.

The show splits up one of the book's main characters into several different people

In "The Three-Body Problem," the first of Liu's novels, Wang Miao is one of the primary characters. He's a nanomaterials researcher who starts to see a countdown in his photographs after becoming embroiled in an investigation into the deaths of scientists alongside gruff police officer Da Shi. In the process, he begins playing an immersive video game about a world within a three-star system. Wang Miao learns that the world — and its inhabitants — are real, and is brought into an organization preparing for their arrival on Earth.

Wang Miao maps most closely onto Augustina ("Auggie") Salazar, played by Eiza González in the show. Auggie is working on developing nanofiber technology — that is, until she stops her research when she begins seeing a countdown in her field of vision. In both the books and the show, it's Wang Miao and Auggie's nanofibers that get put to use slicing apart the Judgment Day in order to gain intel on the aliens.

However, parts of Wang Miao's character were also incorporated into Jin Cheng, played by Jess Hong. In the show, Jin is the one who first plays the virtual reality game, and she does so under the name "Copernicus," Wang Miao's player name. When she progresses far enough in the game, she's also told the truth about the aliens, serving as a double agent.

Jin Cheng also bears similarities to another character in the novels

Wang Miao aside, Jin Cheng more precisely corresponds to the character Cheng Xin, who doesn't appear until "Death's End," the third book in the series.

In the books, Cheng Xin proposes the Staircase Project, an initiative to launch a probe towards the alien fleet. She's also the one who persuades her terminally ill former classmate Yun Tianming to participate in the Staircase Project.

Speaking of Yun Tianming, he got turned into Will Downing

"3 Body Problem's" answer to Yun Tianming is Will Downing, part of the cohort of Oxford alums in the show. He's quit research to teach physics — that is, until he receives a terminal cancer diagnosis. After coming into a large amount of money following their friend Jack Rooney's death, Will purchases a star for Jin Cheng and agrees to participate in the Staircase Project.

Yun Tianming also purchases a star for Cheng Xin that becomes important later in "Death's End." She enters hibernation after the launch of the Staircase Project but gets woken up when an astronomer discovers that her star has planets.

Saul is based on a character named Luo Ji

Saul, another member of the Oxford Five, spends much of the show's first season mucking around. However, in its final episode, he's named a "Wallfacer," a position created by the United Nations that gives three individuals unlimited power to fight the San-Ti. The trick? They can't tell anyone their plans due to the San-Ti's observational powers. By the end of the first season, Saul isn't too keen on being a Wallfacer and doesn't understand why he was chosen.

In the books, he most closely resembles Luo Ji, the primary character of the second novel, "The Dark Forest." The UN bizarrely chooses Luo Ji to act as a Wallfacer, and he shirks the responsibility after realizing that he can't turn down the role. Eventually, he's the one to temporarily solve the Trisolaran problem, locking them into a deterrence-based stalemate.

The aliens are called 'Trisolarans' in the books

In the English translation of Liu's novels, the alien colonizers are referred to as "trisolarans," as a reference to their tri-solar world. The organization preparing for their arrival on Earth is the ETO: the Earth-Trisolaris Organization. However, in the Netflix series, they're called the "San-Ti."

The moniker in the show is a reference to Ye Wenjie's first contact with the aliens while she was based in China. "Sān tǐ-rén" means "three-body people" in Chinese.

The show doesn't explore the factions of the ETO

In the books, the ETO has a few different factions: the Adventists, who want the Trisolarans to destroy humanity; the Redemptionists, who religiously worship the Trisolarans; and the Survivors, who serve the Trisolarans in the hope that they and their descendants may be spared when they invade.

In the show, things are a bit simpler. Mike Evans is a leader of the movement, while Ye Wenjie is its founder. The members of the organization refer to the San-Ti as their "Lord," and some, like Tatiana (Marlo Kelly), display religious zealousness.

Sophon comes in much earlier in the show

In both the show and the books, sophons are protons that the San-Ti have turned into supercomputers. They're sentient, and make the San-Ti essentially omniscient on Earth.

In the books, Sophon doesn't manifest as a physical character until the third novel in the series, "Death's End." In the book, she's a robot representative of the Trisolarans on Earth.

However, Sophon, played by Sea Shimooka, shows up in season one of the show as the katana-wielding game master. She's also the voice of the San-Ti during conversations with Evans. Shimooka told Business Insider in a recent interview that she drew from performances like Alicia Vikander in "Ex Machina" and Evan Rachel Wood in "Westworld" while crafting her approach to the character.

"Where we see her in season 1 is so far from where we see her down the line," Shimooka told BI. "I really had to rely on the scripts the writers gave me. When I had finished the books by the time we started filming, I was glad that I had already zeroed in on her calm demeanor even if her arc changes dramatically."

The VR headsets are way simpler in the series

The silver, metallic headsets of "3 Body Problem" are one of its most prominent symbols. In the show, they're completely seamless, transporting the viewer into a hyper-realistic virtual world immediately after donning them.

In the book, things aren't quite so advanced. Wang Miao plays the video game through a V-suit, composed of a "panoramic viewing helmet and a haptic feedback suit." This suit is able to mimic hot and cold temperatures, as well as physical sensations like getting hit.

"In the books, it's meant to be kind of a slightly advanced consumer technology where it would be as if everybody had an Oculus headset and this was a game that showed up," Weiss told BI during a roundtable interview.

"Whereas we'd made a conscious choice to make something a lot, lot farther along than that," he continued. "Something that obviously was tied in its origins to the alien civilizations that we were in contact and conflict with. So that meant photo-real, or at least a hyper-real kind of feeling."

In the show, Ye Wenjie has a child with Mike Evans, not a Red Coast colleague

In "3 Body Problem," Ye Wenjie's daughter Vera Ye dies by suicide in the first episode. We later learn that her father was Mike Evans, the oil heir and one of the leaders of the organization preparing for the San-Ti's arrival.

In the book, Vera Ye is Yang Dong, Ye Wenjie's daughter who also dies by suicide early in the novel. She's the daughter of Yang Weining, one of Ye Wenjie's supervisors at the Red Coast base, whom Ye Wenjie married during her time there.

"3 Body Problem" is now streaming on Netflix.

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