Men Who Can't Read Given Free Rein to Adapt Incredibly Dense Chinese Sci-Fi Epic

Illustration for article titled Men Who Can't Read Given Free Rein to Adapt Incredibly Dense Chinese Sci-Fi Epic
Image: Angela Weiss (Getty Images)

Game of Thrones was a show that “existed,” for a time. It was praised for its fantasy spectacle and gritty realism, which often involved rape and women getting shot by crossbows. Its showrunners, D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, were also prone to laughing off critics. After Thrones ended, they briefly began work on a show set in an alternate timeline in which the Confederacy won the Civil War and slavery still existed. The project was canned for being a very stupid idea, and HBO swept their failure under the rug. Now they’re back, and this time, they’ve been given license by Netflix to adapt Liu Cixin’s legendary sci-fi novel The Three Body Problem, which won China’s Yinhe Award in 2006, and Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novel in 2014.


Polygon reports that on the heels of their recent $200 million Netflix deal, during which the duo jumped ship from HBO and abandoned a prospective Star Wars Trilogy, Benioff and Weiss will be adapting The Three Body Problem. The duo said in a statement announcing the project:

“Liu Cixin’s trilogy is the most ambitious science-fiction series we’ve read, taking readers on a journey from the 1960s until the end of time, from life on our pale blue dot to the distant fringes of the universe.”

They also said they “look forward to spending the next years of our lives bringing this to life for audiences around the world.” True Blood writer and executive producer Alexander Woo will also join them in adapting the project.

What’s important to note in the pair’s joint statement is the absence of any reference to the novel’s Chinese origins, or close ties to Chinese history, both central to its plot. Woo noted in his own statement that it’s “a privilege to be adapting one of the great masterpieces of Chinese science-fiction,” but Benioff and Weiss’s lack of acknowledgment just makes this project that much more worrying.

It cannot be understated that Liu Cixin’s The Three Body Problem, which exists as part of the greater Remembrance of Earth’s Past series, was one of China’s most successful science fiction novels ever. It was eventually translated by Chinese American science fiction author Ken Liu in 2014, and the English language translation—which won multiple awards itself—is stuffed with footnotes and detailed explanations of Chinese history and cultural nuance, something that is typically lost on clueless western audiences in most translated works.

The Three Body Problem, coincidentally, also has an upcoming adaption in China, which might not compete directly with Netflix’s adaptation. But the juxtaposition is absolutely hilarious!


More troubling is Benioff and Weiss’s purported reading comprehension skills. During the making of Game of Thrones, they were quite candid that they had no deeper intentions other than to make a big, flashy spectacle. Sometimes, they’d even insinuate they did not—or could not—read at all, telling reporters of the show’s critical aspirations: “Themes are for eighth grade book reports.” Said themes, however, drove the original plot of the books, lending to their status as a landmark fantasy property when they first released. Funny, because The Three Body Problem makes Game of Thrones look like an 8th-grade book report in thematic and literary comparison.

And, at the risk of belaboring the point, this is a pair of white men who thought it would be a fabulously innovative idea to create a television “epic” about a world where slavery is still real because the Confederates won the Civil War. (Never mind the numerous instances of modern-day enslavement, like the use of prison labor to fight wildfires, or the fact that the U.S. is witnessing the resurgence of a militant white supremacist movement in real-time.) Not to mention they thought it best to bring Confederate to fruition in Trump’s America, where one can just look out the window if dread and existential horror is what one craves.


Netflix’s single-track focus on spending as much money as possible in its continued cannibalization of culture and available intellectual properties can’t be helped, at least not by this lowly blogger. But I will be starting a betting pool on just how long it takes for the studio to quietly shuffle these two out. Two weeks? A month? Leave your guesses below!


Hey so the main writer on this series, Alexander Woo, is Chinese American.  That should be acknowledged somewhere in this article.  The question should be why can’t Woo do this alone w/out these white guys.