The dark forest (Liu Cixin, 2008)

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The dark forest, by Liu Cixin (2008).

Score: outstanding.

The second novel in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy after The three-body problem, The dark forest is a risky bet that Liu took on and won. Compared to its predecessor, The dark forest takes its sweet time to develop: some characters that are presented from the beginning only become important in the final third of the novel. The first two-thirds are set-up for the glorious last third and the reward for your patience is worth it. You’ll do well to trust Liu because everything he does in the novel he does for a reason.

***SPOILERS FOR THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM***

It is already clear that Trisolaris has launched an invasion of Earth that will arrive in over four centuries, and humanity needs to prepare for war. Intelligence gathered from the ETO has also revealed that Trisolarans are a telepathic species and therefore ignore the difference between thinking and saying, missing on the whole world of lying, scheming and deceiving. This prompts the international community to create the Wallfacer Project: four people are chosen to each devise a plan against Trisolaris but that plan cannot leave their respective minds, so the sophons won’t be able to figure it out. The Wallfacers are British neuroscientist Bill Hines, former US Secretary of Defense Frederick Tyler, former Venezuelan President Rey Díaz and Chinese astronomer Luo Ji. ETO launches the Wallbreaker Project: three ETO members will monitor the first three Wallfacers to crack their strategy. Luo Ji is thoroughly uninterested in the project and decides to spend the budget he’s assigned on a mansion in the woods, so the ETO ignores him.

The dark forest has traits of First Contact, alien invasion, military sci-fi, high strategy, space opera, low-speed interstellar travel and futurism tropes and they’re all finely tuned. Liu sets a very high bar for himself and is up to the challenge. He has thought of every detail thoroughly and built his characters with great care. Changes of mood and tone between the second and third parts are spot on in the sense that they lull you into false confidence and then you don’t know what hit you. The timeline is really clever and so is the way it is revealed to the reader.

It does have some flaws: it’s overpopulated with middle-aged male scientists with a military background. So much so, it’s easy to get them mixed up. It can get so slow and tedious at times it is at great risk of losing the reader so they won’t reach the awesome climax. I’m not sure whether Luo Ji’s love story with an imaginary woman makes any sense and/or is relevant to the story but there it is.

I’m so damn hyped at this trilogy. The moment I finished this I bought Death’s end and started it even though I’m supposed to be reading The sound and the fury for one of my classes. Don’t let your friends tell you all about it and dive into these great novels now!

Extra: Waterdrop, a tribute short movie produced by Wang Ren.

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