My rating: 4 of 5 stars
If you haven’t read the first book of the trilogy, you can read my spoiler free review of The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu Translated by Ken Liu (Book Review) instead!
A lonely ant is out on an expedition to discover and lead his family to some source of food and thus becomes the only witness on a conversation between the leader of the Earth-Trisolaris Organisation, Ye Wenjie and Luo Ji, an astronomer and sociologist that knew Ye’s daughter from school. The topic of their conversation revolves around cosmic sociology and the two professors come up with the two fundamental axioms of this discipline. First: Survival is the primary need of civilisation. Second: Civilisation continuously grows and expands, but the total matter in the universe remains constant. Based on these two axioms the story of humanity’s efforts against the Trisolaran invasion unfolds on an epic journey that expands over two centuries.
In The Dark Forest, Liu Cixin narrates the story of the scientific community’s endeavours to save the future of humanity and effectively resolve the threat that appeared in the face of the people of Trisolaris in The Three-Body Problem. This second novel takes place during the first 200 years of the Crisis Era pending the arrival of the first Trisolaran probe to Earth’s solar system. In the meantime, the Trisolaran fleet is underway to our solar system and the imminent Doomsday Battle is fastly approaching. The dark days for humanity have begun.
Make time for civilization, for civilization won’t make time.
After pondering on this novel overnight, I decided to change my initial rating of 3.5 to 4 stars. Let’s discuss the negatives first and get them out of the way before going into what makes this novel so wonderful. The difficulties I had with The Dark Forest mainly revolve around the writing style, as was the case with Liu’s first novel in the series. This can be read as another very interesting scientific article or lecture but to me it much loses the feeling of a novel. There are long paragraphs where Liu discusses and tries to explain simple or more complex ideas in a deductive or inductive manner following the idea of Occam’s razor and only including the most necessary information and words to best make clear what he wants to convey to his readers. He does it successfully though, and manages to keep the reader’s attention and focus without inducing feelings of being overwhelmed by the amount of information introduced. Liu knows when to repeat himself when needed and always explains in both more analytical and in simpler, shorter words the ideas and conclusions he wants his readers to follow.
One criticism that most reviewers agreed on in The Three-Body Problem and which caused Cixin Liu’s first novel a lower Goodreads rating than deserved was the fact that each and every character served as a passive observer only used to allow the plot to move forward and create a relationship between the storyline and the reader. Basically, in his first novel, Cixin Liu wrote characters severely lacking in substance and personality with no interest whatsoever to the reader. The Dark Forest brings a considerable improvement in respect to character development. While it is still far from perfect, the second novel tries to familiarise and introduce us to Luo Ji’s personality and finally manages to make us sympathise with him and feel for him. Definitely an improvement from the first novel but still, one disadvantage that I cannot oversee in reviewing the book.
Admittedly, the first 350 pages of this novel do not constitute the most exciting and thrilling story one can read. Indeed, as was the case with The Three-Body Problem, Liu sets the stage and takes his time introducing a slow-moving plot, making sure all the elements that need to be included in the end are where they need to be. It begins with the Wallfacer Project which constitutes humanity’s first undertaking in countering the Trisolaris invasion by striking to their one known weakness, their inability to perceive deception and lies. Four Wallfacers are chosen, among them our boy, Luo Ji, with the task of coming up with a strategy or solution to get humanity out of the desperate situation they have found themselves in. The Wallfacers are to be given power and resources to allow them to, practically, do everything they want with them, inside some loosely defined boundaries. The Wallfacers do not answer to anyone but themselves and are, in fact, encouraged to deceive everyone in coming up and executing their plan. Amidst all this, the Trisolaran organisation comes up with a counter attack to this design by introducing four Wallbreakers whose only job is to find out what the Wallfacers plans are against Trisolaris.
Interestingly, Liu Cixin also introduces some brilliant new ideas along the lines of sociology and psychology. Specifically, how the scientific community and the army forces deal with the hopelessness of their situation and their complete inability to do something to change their future. Defeaticism and escapism are central ideas to the novel which embody the illegal beliefs that humanity is doomed and we should either sit around and wait for the Trisolaris to destroy us or devise a plan to escape into the depths of the cosmos in search of a better home and salvation of the human species. Cixin Liu invites readers to think of long-term implications of what would happen where we to encounter a situation like this in our future. Alongside the more philosophical ideas that he proposes, I also found myself speculating and trying to come up with a solution as to what the hell can we do to get out of this mess?The Dark Forest is a novel that cordially invites readers to engage in constructive inner dialogue and discuss with themselves some new concepts, notions and hypotheses.
Finally, on the last 150 pages the book completely takes off and becomes truly unputdownable. The story evolves into a fast-paced, epic adventure with twists and turns and spectacular space scenes, new technology and all around awesomeness. This last part is truly memorable!
Overall, the second novel in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy is far from perfect, but where it lacks in writing style and information regarding the sociological implications over the wider human community not necessarily involved in dealing with the Trisolar invasion, it makes up for a, literally and figuratively, explosive ending that science fiction fans will love. I am so happy to have discovered this brilliant trilogy and this wonderful and imaginative author and I am very excited to see how the story concludes.
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