“The universe is a dark forest. Every civilization is an armed hunter stalking through the trees like a ghost, gently pushing aside branches that block the path and trying to tread without sound… The hunter has to be careful, because everywhere in the forest are stealthy hunters like him. If he finds other life—another hunter, an angel or a demon, a delicate infant or a tottering old man, a fairy or a demigod—there’s only one thing he can do: open fire and eliminate them… This is the picture of cosmic civilization.”
Liu Cixin’s answer to Fermi’s Paradox as to why humanity hasn’t had contact with aliens lies at the heart of the sequel to Cixin’s magnificent Three-Body Problem. And it hit stores right as Three-Body was making Hugo history. As a result, The Dark Forest has some high expectations to meet.
The Dark Forest picks up a couple years after Three-Body, with humanity looking for a solution to the inevitable invasion of the alien Trisolarans 400 years in the future. The Trisolarans have released microscopic “sophons” into the Earth’s atmosphere, which prevent certain technological advances and also allow them to record everything they see and hear, preventing humans from plotting an adequate defense.
Humanity responds with the “Wallfacer Project” — four individuals who will develop their plans to defeat the Trisolarans in secret, not sharing their ideas with anyone, even intentionally misdirecting with their announced plans. The Trisolaran sympathizers on Earth have also appointed Wallbreakers, who will attempt to unravel the web of lies and misdirections to determine the Wallfacers’ plans.
Three of the Wallfacers are political and military leaders but the fourth, Luo Ji, is a mystery. A failed academic who is more interested in making a quick buck and living an idle life, he is nonetheless the focus of the bulk of the Trisolaran efforts.
The story spans hundreds of years, culminating in a magnificent philosophical stand-off that forms the heart of the novel. It is a worthy successor to Three-Body Problem — indeed, in some ways I found it more accessible and intriguing than that Hugo winner. Joel Martinsen’s translation has a different flavor than Ken Liu’s work on Three-Body. Liu’s work was a bit more poetic and much more steeped in Chinese history, with extensive footnotes explaining issues with Maoist China and the Cultural Revolution. The Dark Forest is more straightforward and has less footnotes, but it also has less historical context to explain. Liu returns to the translator’s role next year for the finale of the trilogy, Death’s End.
Regardless, The Dark Forest will certainly be a staple of many best-of lists and garner a handful of award nominations in the coming months.
Read the full review at “The Nameless Zine.”