“Everything has an ending. The sun and the universe will die one day, so why should humanity believe that it ought to be immortal?”
Remembrance of Earth’s Past is a hard sci-fi trilogy by Liu Cixin (tr. Joel Martinsen) that focuses on Earth’s impending doom from an envious alien race. The Dark Forest is the second novel in the trilogy and continues the saga of the Earth-Trisolaris Conflict. Spanning multiple periods of time, the novel explores the lives of key scientists and soldiers on Earth. Humanity’s ultimate goal is to prevent Doomsday. But Earth’s conflicts are deeper than the threat of eventual annihilation.
In the first novel, The Three-Body Problem, an act of treachery establishes a connection between Earth and the hellish world of Trisolaris. In order to save their own civilization, the Trisolarans launch an interstellar force to steal the Earth and conquer humans. Since the journey to Earth will take centuries, Trisolarans develop ways to limit humans from becoming a potential threat. The sophons they send to Earth inhibit all technological advancement and provide real-time surveillance of everyone on the planet.
In The Dark Forest, humanity creates a solution to circumvent the dreaded final conflict. The Wallfacer Project. The U.N. act of the same name allows a select few wield tremendous power and call upon near-unlimited resources. Their goal is to plan and implement strategies for defense… all within the safety and secrecy of their own minds. But the Trisolarans know all. Their counter move utilizes the remaining ETO Adventists to thwart the Wallfacer threat.
There are three primary characters in The Dark Forest. The cosmic sociologist Luo Ji (a cynical and religious atheist), Quiag Shi (the former hard-boiled cop from 3BP), and Zhang Beihai (a strict Space Force soldier). Luo Ji’s character development more than makes up for Wang Miao’s mysterious absence. Luo’s transformation from a carefree lost soul into something greater is outstanding (his chapter with Bai Rong and the Girl in White was my favorite). The characters are thoughtful and aware of their own existence.
The Three-Body Problem was more than an alien invasion story. Speculative nanotech and virtual reality were explored. Key scientific theories of thinkers throughout human history were portrayed in a dynamic game world. 3BP examined China’s culture and history during the 1960s and provided an excellent backdrop for the events at Red Coast Base. The Dark Forest forgoes real world history and takes a very different approach to storytelling.
The Dark Forest is well paced but I couldn’t help but feel that too much time was spent on things that didn’t matter. Beihai’s time with his father? Wue Yue’s lack of involvement in the story? Neighbors Yang Jinwen and Maio Fuquan? They contribute to the “human” aspect of the story but their roles were minor. The vast scope of The Dark Forest feels cluttered.
As in photography, by slowing down your shutter speed, you can capture what the eye cannot: vividly colored motion lines of light emitting things like passing cars on a chaotic city street at night. But, with the passage of time, all that remains is a blur. The subject and details are lost in the desire for greater aesthetic creativity. Since The Dark Forest attempts to tell a compelling story on both the macro and micro-level (people and their interactions), it often felt like a snapshot or an approximation of humanity rather than something worth the emotional investment.
But telling an “alien story,” is clearly not the aim of Liu’s work. When considering humanity’s “Crisis Eras” and the Trisolaran “Chaotic Eras,” the reader can see that the author is painting a portrait of survival. That Luo Ji, the main character, is a sociologist highlights the novel’s strength: it’s about people and civilizations.
The idea of defeatism in the novel is both positive and negative. Depression and hopelessness in an unwinnable war works and makes sense. Liu Cixin conveys the “mood” of society flawlessly in with each age. Each time period is a natural evolution of the one that came before it. But it’s a bit of a let down when defeatism is the sole focus of the story. I was hoping for more scientific attempts against the prohibitive sophons.
Everything after Crisis Year 205 is highly speculative and well worth the long interstitial years between our past and future. Society is and its hopes and fears are honest and have a solid basis in the real world. I especially liked the use of the Fermi Paradox and Luo Ji’s role throughout the novel. Notable tech includes fusion-based wireless charging and advanced robotics. Also, the smart use of orbital mechanics hints at Liu’s familiarity with astrophysics.
Simply put, while 3BP was a tour de force, succeeding on many levels, The Dark Forest is a great story about humanity and despair manifested through time. Humanity’s reaction to the alien threat is even more interesting than the threat itself, so The Dark Forest works. I highly recommend it for fans of Three-Body. 5/5
Without the fear of heights, there can be no appreciation for the beauty of high places.
“The greatest obstacle to humanity comes from itself.”
“In her exquisite cabin in the snow, the Eve that Luo Ji had formed out of one of his mind’s ribs sat before an ancient fireplace quietly watching the dancing flames.”
“There are no permanent enemies or comrades, only permanent duty.” – Beihai
Darkness was the mother of life and of civilization.
The past was like a handful of sand you thought you were squeezing tightly, but which had already run out through the cracks between your fingers. Memory was a river that had run dry long ago, leaving only the scattered gravel in a lifeless riverbed. He had lived life always looking out for the next thing, and whatever he had gained, he had also lost, leaving him with little in the end.