TV & Movies

The Book Behind Netflix’s 3 Body Problem Tells A Unique Alien Invasion Story

Here’s what happens in Liu Cixin’s Hugo Award-winning novel.

Eiza González as Auggie Salazar, Jess Hong as Jin Cheng, Saamer Usmani as Raj Varma, Jovan Adepo as ...
Ed Miller/Netflix

At first glance, the Game of Thrones creators’ latest project, 3 Body Problem, may seem quite different from the world of Westeros. But like Thrones, the new Netflix series, which David Benioff and D.B. Weiss co-created with Alexander Woo, is based on a critically acclaimed series of novels, whose scope layers real-life history with fantastical elements.

The series, which premiered on March 21, takes its name from Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem — winner of the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Novel. However, it also incorporates elements from the rest of Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy.

The source material seemed “unadaptable” at first, as Benioff recently told Inverse. “You’re getting into multiple dimensions, and it gets so mind-f*cky that I don’t know how we’re going to shoot things,” he recalled.

Despite the creative challenge, though, the team is already thinking about future seasons — as you’d need to with a universe this ambitious. But first things first: Here’s a brief summary and ending recap of the book that inspired 3 Body Problem.

Personal Tragedy Has A Ripple Effect

The book begins in 1967, during the Cultural Revolution in China. Ye Wenjie’s father, a physics professor named Ye Zhetai, is beaten to death at a public demonstration against “reactionary” teachings.

Ed Miller/Netflix

The young Ye gets in trouble for reading Rachel Carson’s book Silent Springfrom which she develops the philosophy that evil (like what happened to her father) was an inherent part of humanity, and that “moral awakening” would have to come from beyond the human race.

So when Ye is recruited to work at a defense research facility in punishment and has the opportunity to contact an alien race, she does exactly that. She also ignores a pacifist alien from the planet Trisolaris, who warns her that would lead to Earth being conquered.

Aliens On The Way?

An Earth-Trisolaris Organization (ETO) is formed so that when the Trisolarans arrive centuries later, they’ll be able to take over. (As it turns out, a lot of Earthlings are happy to get rid of humanity.) Eventually, a virtual reality game called Three Body is established to attract new followers to support the aliens’ advancement.

Meanwhile, the Trisolarans send out tiny, AI-powered particles called sophons that are designed to interfere with physics on Earth — rendering humans incapable of overcoming their alien visitors. The aliens even send Earth a message, calling humans “bugs.”


However, the novel ends on a somewhat hopeful note. Even though Ye believes she’s witnessing the “sunset for humanity,” many are planning to fight against the aliens anyway. In fact, Shi Qiang, an anti-terrorism officer investigating the ETO, points out that people have never fully been able to get rid of locusts or other bugs — so maybe the human “bugs” shouldn’t count themselves out yet.

It’s not a conclusive ending because The Three-Body Problem is just the beginning of a trilogy. So, you might want to pick up the next two books, especially if the show is renewed.

“In case anyone from Netflix is listening: It took years for [Game of Thrones] to become big, and they had faith in it and stuck with it,” Benioff told The New York Times, expressing his belief in Netflix viewers to do the same for his new show.