The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Series: Remembrance of Earth’s Past (Book 2 of 3)
Genre: Hard science fiction
First English translation: 2015 by Tor Books (US), 2016 by Head of Zeus (UK).
The Dark Forest is a stunning sequel to the highly acclaimed The Three-Body Problem and in my opinion, surpassed it by the magnitude of astronomical units.
While I hold the first book in high regard, I had to admit that characterisation was sidelined in the narrative which focussed heavily on the science and plot. The sequel’s storytelling approach was more balanced with the hard science toned down somewhat and character development emerging more prominently. The leading character in this respect is Luo Ji, an astronomer and sociologist, who was given cryptic advice by the person responsible for the events leading to the impending extraterrestrial invasion. Luo Ji cuts an anti-hero figure who wanted nothing to do with saving the world and just continue flitting around in life, almost frivolously, as an ordinary person. On top of becoming invested in his person, I was also delighted that arising from his POV we have the return of my favourite character from the previous book, Shi Qiang (nicknamed Da Shi), the hard-boiled ex-policeman who works for the Planetary Defence Council security department. Between Luo Ji and another prominent character, Zhang Beihai, a naval political commissar turned space officer, the story and its central plot weave a compelling, fascinating and unpredictable path through the epoch-spanning narrative.
Being an ‘ownvoices’ reader, I appreciated how much the prose emanates one which is written by a Chinese. And I’m also grateful that the translation kept the essence of the writing style. Cultural values aside, the visuals which come across in writing is undisputedly Eastern. I cannot define nor explain what I mean, but it is a feeling that permeates my heart and soul, especially when I read some of the more abstract passages. I felt the female representation also stayed fairly true to Chinese culture. The female characters in the story, although none are main characters and do not appear often, radiate quiet strength, intelligence and sensitivity.
As the human-race cast their eyes into space through the Hubble II telescope, humanity is placed under a microscope in this riveting account of how mankind handle imminent annihilation. Life by nature is stubborn, and when survival instincts kick in, the prognosis can be shockingly dark. As much as I will like to gush about the masterful turn of events and circumstances in this book, I am all too aware that every little reveal will chip away at the story’s immense potential for inciting amazement the way it did for me. The unfolding of the story, which spanned a very substantial time-period, also conveys the stark reality of the infinitesimally brief lifespan of humans against that of the universe and the immeasurably vast distances of space.
I cannot even remember when these thoughts came into being, but I had always believed that the universe is too massive for other intelligent beings not to exist elsewhere. Plus, after knowing about how life has begun and evolved on this planet, I was also pretty sure that other sapient and alien life could be completely dissimilar from us due to the different planetary compositions and gravitation pulls across the boundlessness of space. The contention that we are the only intelligent lifeform in the whole universe, even with the lack of evidence to the contrary, strikes me as supreme arrogance, and yet so typical of humankind. The question then had always been why we have yet to come into contact or even caught sight of any extraterrestrial beings. Cixin Liu applied the discussion of what is known as the Fermi’s Paradox with the concept of The Dark Forest; hence the title of this book. Though I cannot speak on behalf of other readers, I found his argument convincing. This is summarily encapsulated in the quote below, and reinforced by a devastating display of preeminent power in a late scene.
“If I destroy you, what business is it of yours?”
Two books in and I hold firm on my view that Remembrance of Earth’s Past is the most original, thought-provoking and unpredictable science fiction narrative of plausible events that I’ve ever read. This second volume wrapped up the story so conclusively that I almost felt that the series could have ended here. Right here, right now, I am calling this one of my favourite science fiction series and highly recommend it to all fans of the genre.
Review originally written in 2018.
You can order the book from: Book Depository (Free shipping)