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the thousand pitfalls behind the TV adaptation of an extraordinary Chinese novel

By Elisa Thévenet

Posted today at 00h31

” Come ! I will help you conquer this world. Our civilization is incapable of solving its own problems. We need your intervention. “ 1969, Inner Mongolia region, China: Ye Wenjie, resentful astrophysicist, has just communicated the position of the Earth to the vastness of the universe.

Traumatized by the public execution of her father during the Cultural Revolution (the decade of chaos, repression and denunciations imposed by Mao Zedong between 1966 and 1976, the year of his death), she is now jubilant. At the end of the interstellar wire, Trisolaris, a star inhabited by a civilization on the verge of gravitational collapse.

Forty years later, as a series of suicides rock the Earth’s scientific community, 4.3 million light years away, the Trisolarians embark on a space journey spanning more than four centuries. Their goal: to invade Earth.

Read also “Science fiction tackles planetary issues”: interview with three science fiction masters

Blockbuster apocalyptic space opera (with at least twenty million copies sold in China and millions elsewhere in the world), The Three Body Problem is a trilogy by Chinese science fiction leader Liu Cixin. Read by Barack Obama, recommended by Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg, the ambitious saga has democratized the speculative imagination of the Middle Kingdom in just a few years.

The first volume, published in 2006 in China and released in France by Actes Sud in 2016, won the prestigious Hugo Prize in 2015: for the first time, this distinction went to a Chinese writer. And, the 1er September 2020, we learned that the novels were being adapted to become a Netflix series.

A very ambitious space opera

Since the end of the 1990s and the return of science fiction (SF) in Chinese bookstores – after the wave of purification of Deng Xiaoping – Chinese number one from 1978 to 1992 – to counter the influence of the West – , Liu Cixin embodies the revival of Chinese-speaking SF, alongside Han Song and Wang Jiankang.

The recipe for its success: neoclassical hard-science, sprinkled with sense of wonder (that dizzying wonder specific to SF) very old school. At the origin of his interstellar epic, a research paper on the enigmatic problem of orbital mechanics of the “three bodies”: when three celestial bodies interact gravitationally, no modeling makes it possible to predict their movements.

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