Liu Cixin:The Film Adaptation of The Three-Body Problem Will Either Be A Smash Or A Major Failure

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(Chinese Version)

On August 23rd, Chinese Sci-Fi writer Liu Cixi’s The Three-Body Problem was announced to have won the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Novel, setting a record in the sci-fi community in the country. This is also the first time that an Asian writer was awarded a Hugo Award.

On the 2015 Hugo Award, the Award for the Best Novel was unveiled by Kjell Lindgren in a space station. “We have made a record!” the award host said. “I mean, this is the first time that the Chinese sci-fi community has made such a major progress, a big step to the world. It’s a milestone for the Chinese sci-fi community. I am so thrilled!”

Some netizen commented that Liu Cixi alone had brought Chinese Sci-fi literatures to the world class.

The Hugo Awards are a set of awards given annually for the best science fiction or fantasy works and achievements of the previous year. The awards are named after Hugo Gernsback, the founder of the pioneering science fiction magazine Amazing Stories, and were officially named the Science Fiction Achievement Awards until 1992. The Hugo Award and Nebula Award are considered as the two most prestigious science fiction awards in the world. The Hugo Awards have been termed as "among the highest honors bestowed in science fiction and fantasy writing". Simply put, it’s the Nobel Prize in the sci-fi world.

The Three-Body Problem film adaptation has finished shooting in July and it’s under the editing and production process at present. When the film producer Kong Ergou learned the novel had been awarded the Best Novel Award, he told the media: “As the producers, we must be more responsible for this novel. We will give the team more budget if needed.” Kong added that they would give as much money as the team needed to make better special effects for the film adaptation. “We have already invested a lot in the shooting session and stuff, and we will sure provide more attention and budget for the movie in this stage.” Kong concluded.

Previously, it’s said that The Three-Body Problem film adaptation had a budget of 2 hundred million RMB, which is clearly not enough to make spectacular special effects that can make the audience go wow. The worst part is that the Chinese audiences have just welcomed two standard-lifting movies that have world-class special effects, The Monkey King: Hero Is Back and the Monster Hunt. After watching these two amazing movies, the Chinese audiences will no doubt become more picky about the special effects in the film and have a higher expectation in everything given the fact that The Three-Body Problem is the most outstanding science fiction in China.

As for the final result of the film adaptation, I guess we will have to wait till the movie hit screens in July next year.

A few months ago, the founder of TMTpost Zhao Hejuan had an in-depth conversation with the very novel’s author, Liu Cixin. Together they discussed topics ranging from technologies, sci-fi works, and The Three-Body Problem film adaptation. He stated that The Three-Body film adaptation would either be extremely successful or dreadful. What follows is the transcript of the discussion between Zhao and Liu, edited by TMTpost:

1. The future is not as bright as people expected.

Zhao Hejuan: Are you constructing any ideas for your new novel or have you already started it?

Liu Cixin: As a writer, if you plan to write, then you would probably come up with only a few novels in your life. Some writers even could only write one novel and that’s it. Two years after I finished writing The Three-Body Problem, I wrote parts of my new novel in the first year and I gave the whole thing up because it’s not satisfying enough. The second year I start all over again but it still didn’t feel right. I restarted again and again. This year I am still writing, but I am not sure if it will meet my standards or not.

Zhao Hejuan: What’s your standard to evaluate if your current work has the potential for you to continue to write on?

Liu Cixin: It’s easy. If the story you are writing gets you exited and blows you away, then it’s a good story. The worst thing an author could experience is losing faith in his or her own story. It’s the worst nightmare for every author.

Everything changes at a high speed. It’s pretty much just like what I have written in the Three-Body Problem; “Miracles come after miracles”. Miracles keep taking place around us.

Zhao Hejuan: Chinese Sci-Fi movies are very rare and immature. Whether it’s the movie concept, the ideas, the creativity, or the production level, the whole movie industry is just lagging behind. But it’s said that some film studio was adapting your trilogy into movies. Is there any expectations you have for the adaptation? Who’s your ideal director in mind to direct this film? And what about the leading actors and actresses for the movie?

Liu Cixin: I do know a bit about the movie industry in China. Big-budget movie productions are extremely difficult to handle. We need to, however, have more faith in Chinese Sci-Fi movies and give them time and space to grow. A good start is needed in order to catch up with Hollywood blockbusters. If I were to describe the situation of this adaptation, I would say it’s playing with fire. Fans in the country will absolutely have a very high expectation. There are risks alongside with opportunities.

Big-budget movies have a way to achieve success commercially, that is, keeping a low-profile. In this way, they might not earn much but they won’t lose much either. However, The Three-Body Problem doesn’t have such options. It either becomes a huge success or a major failure. It’s a win-or-nothing scenario. We need to have an objective evaluation on its possibility to succeed and fail. So in my opinion, The Three-Body Problem film adaptation is actually playing with fire and in a dangerous situation.

About the ideal candidate for the female lead, I honestly couldn’t think of any actress that would be suitable. In The Three-Body Problem, there are a lot of scientist characters, which are quite rare in traditional movies in China. By the way, it wasn't mainstream directors that made American Sci-Fi movies fly, it was hardcore Sci-Fi directors that were on the fringe. It was them who brought Sci-Fi movies into its booming age and made them popular.

At present, I don't have any high expectations for Chinese Sci-Fi movies, but I do hope they can have a good start.

2. Sci-Fi works are nurtured by technologies, but will also be destroyed as technologies and science advance.

Zhao Hejuan: Nowadays there are all kinds of things happening in the Silicon Valley. For instance, we are creating the robots that might evolve to be artificial intelligence beings in the future, which might be as intelligent as humans. Besides that, we also have Google Glass and other wearable gadgets maturing and rolling out to the market. The fictions in the past are now becoming a reality. Would the advancement of technologies holds back our imagination in terms of sci-fi? Or would it create more possibilities? In the mean time, leading-edge technologies also bring up many social and ethical problems in China. It had happened to the US as well. The more influential a sci-fi work gets, the more impact it has on the young generation. This influence can and will translate into real-life situations and reflect on ethics. What your opinion?

Liu Cixin: The development of science and technology has a great influence on the world of sci-fi. Science fictions in the US started to decline after Apollo 11 successfully landed on the moon. Before the moon landing, there was an American movie called the Count Down, which had great technological details and sophisticated scenes. But after the astronauts successfully landed on the moon, the movie was quickly forgotten.

This actually shows how technology and science advancement will affect sci-fi movies. Science and technology give birth to science fictions and will eventually destroy them.

When science fictions become common, then there’s no science fictions to begin with. The same thing applies to leading-edgy technologies.

What sci-fi works are facing now is by nature the lack of mystery. This could be improved in two aspects. First, we sci-fi writers need to fully exploit our imagination to further predict the future, making the things we have visioned in our mind more mind-blowing, more like a miracle.

Secondly, we can think deeper about the Internet and the outer space. You know, all civilizations would probably end up in the virtual world where no one has a physical body. This could be a crisis. If we look further to the outer space, to where the stars shine, there are endless possibilities for us to imagine and make use of. This is my opinion.

The second question is the relationship between social ethics and sci-fi works. Personally speaking, sci-fi works are quite positive. Sci-fi works in my opinion make people curious about the future and feel for a new world. They guide people to look for a better life and a better world. They make people look to the stars. Besides reflecting on the reality, sci-fi works also should reflect on the future of the human beings. I believe this is the core of sci-fi works.
As for the impact sci-fi works have on science and technology, they have been the great debate ever since science and technology were born. We have optimists like Voltaire as well as pessimist Rousseau. This is a strong contrast. Let’s put it this way. We all need food to survive, then food must be great right? But food could lead to many diseases as well, such as angiocardiopathy. But we humans can’t live without food, jus like we can’t live without science and technology. So we need to be extra careful when developing technologies and science advancements, especially for the negative effect that they might bring.

Zhao Hejuan: Nowadays more entrepreneurs are entering the tech world, what can they learn from sci-fi works?

Liu Cixin: Creativity is invaluable to me. You can never expect creativity or inspiration to come whenever you need them. Instead, they come to you themselves. However, if we work really hard to work on our mind, our mind won’t be limited to the things we are currently seeing. We will then have more imagination. This is my suggestion as a sci-fi writer for entrepreneurs.

3. The Internet is the first inner sense appears in human history. The core of dimension reduction theory is to upgrade first then degrade again.

Zhao Hejuan:Everybody knows that you have a dimension reduction theory in your novel The Three-Body Problem. It’s a method to destroy a civilization by reducing the civilization level of the mankind. However, this concept is also being used in the Internet industry in China, becoming a well-known business strategy. People actually pretty like it. When the dark forest law becomes the common status of the Internet economy, overnight successes become more frequent and possible. But still, it reduces the civilization level of the business world. Does it fit into your vision? Or let’s put it in another way, is that what your novels trying to tell the audience?

Liu Cixin: Science fictions have a very interesting characteristic, that is, they have very weak economic concepts. For instance, when some scientists are running experiments in a secret lab in a remote area, they don’t really care about who built the lab for them. And it’s sure that they don’t really care about who funded their project and gave them such a big facility.

Sci-fi writers usually neglect the economic setting in their novels. When I was writing The Three-Body Problem, I was no exception. I created the dimension reduction theory to try to imagine the most powerful weapon in the universe. And what I came up with was the laws of the universe. The laws of the universe can change the speed of light, and the constant. The most powerful thing I could come up with was the dimension reduction theory, which reduces three dimensions to two dimensions.

But the dimension reduction theory in the Internet industry is a very different concept. It means something like “I am weaker then you and I will destroy you by making you on the same level as me first”. I am not sure whether this is a normal strategy or not. But I can say that this is a phased strategy.

The Internet economy is a newly-emerged economy and it’s still in a pretty wild state. The time of chaos has passed and the Internet economy is getting more stable. Rules have been established and rationality is becoming more important. The virtual world the Internet has created is the first inner sense paralleled to the earth. Back in the age of uncharted waters, explorers were also discovering uncharted lands, but those were still part of the earth as well, the reality.

But of course, we are going to enter many new worlds, such as the space and the solar system.

However, will the things happened in the past take place once again in the new world? This is a cruel thing to consider. To be specific, will something like the Second World War happen in the solar system?

We might find some answers in the development of the Internet.

First when I was creating the dimension reduction theory, I was thinking about making it that humans first leveled up to the four-dimension civilization from three dimensions, then attacked from the four-dimension world. I intended to make humans be able to level up to eleven-dimension civilization. But I have my limits. We human beings have limits. I failed to vision the world of the mankind after upgrading to a higher civilization. That’s why I came up with the dimension reduction theory. But to be clear the dimension reduction theory means attacking from above, from a higher level, not getting your enemy to the same level as you are.

Writers want to create a good story. But the works they create, they stories they write, also have deep meanings worth thinking about in terms of the philosophy and sociology behind them. But first, you need to have a story that your audience will like. My dimension reduction theory is the very example of that.

[The article is published and edited with authorization from the author @TMTpost, please note source and hyperlink when reproduce.]

Translated by Garrett Lee (Senior Translator at ECHO), working for TMTpost.