Amazon in talks to produce ‘The Three-Body Problem’

According to the Financial Times, Amazon, who has recently announced deals to produce a Middle-Earth series, a Conan the Barbarian series, and series based on the books Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks, Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson and Ringworld by Larry Niven, is in talks to acquire the rights to The Three-Body Problem trilogy by Liu Cixin at a cost of $1 billion U. S.

The trilogy which includes, The Three-Body Problem, The Dark Forest, and Death’s End, has won multiple awards both in China and abroad, including the Hugo award in 2015. Acquisition of this trilogy, at first blush, seems like an excellent idea and a sure winner, but I’m not sure Amazon would see a return on it’s investment on the scale it would expect.

This is the front cover art for the book Three Body 三体 written by Liu Cixin. The book cover art copyright is believed to belong to the publisher, Chongqing Press, or the cover artist. (Source Wikipedia)
This is the front cover art for the book Three Body 三体 written by Liu Cixin. The book cover art copyright is believed to belong to the publisher, Chongqing Press, or the cover artist. (Source Wikipedia)

I read the The Three-Body Problem when it was first release in English and found it to be an excellent book, well written and well translated. The story was engaging, and the ideas and characters of the story were interesting and unique, especially to anyone not versed in Chinese culture. However, when I got to The Dark Forest things took a turn. There is some interesting imagery and a few interesting ideas again, but the plot started to drag significantly and the general tone of the story became rather depressing.

By the time I struggled to the end of Death’s End I found myself conflicted by the overall trilogy. The books are interesting and important for highlighting the quality of non-English science fiction, but for me it is not a trilogy I would readily recommend to the casual science fiction reader.

Therein lies the problem with developing The Three-Body Problem as a television series. Average viewers are not the type of people that would read this trilogy. While it isn’t a terribly difficult trilogy to read there is a lot that would need to be explained to make sense to people not well versed in this kind of story.

That isn’t to say this couldn’t be done, but there is a massive risk that it will be done poorly and viewers will lose interest early on. And let’s face it, there are plenty of films and television series that, loved by fans, didn’t cut it with the general viewership. I wouldn’t consider myself a great fan of the trilogy, but I would hate to see it become a series neglected or derided by viewers. That’s the sort of thing that makes it harder for good science fiction to be taken seriously by readers and viewers alike in the future.

I have been extremely excited by many of the announcements that Amazon Studios has made in recent weeks and months. However, in this instance, I think Amazon, in it’s drive to bring important science fiction books to life, may have reached a little too far with The Three-Body Problem. If they can secure the rights and do it well, it could be a good series, but I won’t be holding my breath to watch this one.

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