Cixin Liu – The Dark Forest (2008) Review


  • Genre: science fiction
  • Series: Three-Body series, part 2
  • Pages: 550
  • My Rating: 8/10

Earth is in crisis. The alien invasion fleet is at a distance of 4.3 lightyears and closing. It will take them another 400 years to reach Earth. In the meantime, the aliens have launched an advance attack by shooting three single atoms in our direction. These somehow contain advanced AIs hidden inside their deeper dimensions and will somehow halt all human scientific progress till the aliens arrive. We have 400 years to devise a solution.

The Dark Forest is the sequel to the successful The Three-Body Problem (2008) by Cixin Liu, and got translated in 2015 from Chinese to English. In China, it was already a part of the popular Three-Body trilogy since 2008. The dark forest refers to the universe as a dark, scary place where stealth is a virtue, lest you are discovered by a hostile civilization. The warning came too late for humanity, though. Super-advanced aliens are on their way, and The Dark Forest starts with a symbolic scene of an ant whose living area gets destroyed by giants (humans) who act beyond its understanding. I get it: we are the ants in the universe.

I have a lot of problems with this book, which gives me a constant sense of alienation. The biggest one of all is that I don’t buy it. I don’t accept some of the story’s premises. So, while the aliens fly towards us, a main part of the plot revolves around a human organization that tries to help the aliens to wipe out the human race. I don’t think such an organization would arise and I don’t buy its existence in the book. Then, more stuff happens that I just don’t buy. One of them is that in the story, the UN declares that it is forbidden for countries to create generation ships and leave Earth to search for another home, because “everyone needs to stand together” and efforts to choose the inhabitants of the generation ships “would lead to world chaos”. I don’t buy the UN making a ruling like that and countries sticking to it. Also, the whole nature of the international relations seems off in the story.

I sense a cultural difference at work here. The “everyone equally together” ties in with communist sensibilities, and this becomes even clearer when Cixin Liu shows how Venezuela changed into a rich socialist paradise in this future, and how the US doesn’t want to “socialize” its tech knowhow. Also, the Chinese leaders worry a lot about having the right zeal and ideology in their army to face the aliens. One character (Beihai) symbolizes unwavering zeal and duty and another (Luo) symbolizes irresponsibility and free-spiritedness. They were very one-note and therefore rather uninteresting to me.

So, The Dark Forests twists into odd storylines for me, and add to that that I couldn’t keep the Chinese characters apart in the first half. I can’t keep the names straight in my mind, and the characterization is really thin. And in addition to all this, some characters act rather weirdly and make the strangest decisions. One of them is in love with an imaginary girlfriend, and that storyline becomes even more unbelievable later on. Liu has some really unrealistic ideas about love, or at least the “dream girl” in the book doesn’t seem like an actual human being, but more like a puppet. The consequence for me is that I feel a constant sense of alienation while reading this book. I don’t seem to sync with its ideas.

After complaining about this book, I’ll now say that it is also quite brilliant. The story is so unique that I want to keep reading and just take the weirdness in my stride. A small group of individuals named Wallfacers become the central defense against the aliens due to the human talents of deception and subterfuge, which work in our favor. It’s the strangest story but it is very intriguing. Every Wallfacer has complete freedom to work on a strategy and keep it hidden from the rest of humanity, so that the aliens also don’t get to know the plans. But each Wallfacer has a nemesis, a Wallbreaker, a human who tries to figure out their plans and communicate this back to the aliens.

The story has a giant scale of world-encompassing events that play out through the centuries, and a sharp focus on cutting-edge science. There’s a philosophical depth to this series that is reminiscent of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation books with his psychohistory ideas. It regards human civilizations and strategic plans from a great distance.

I’m going to end this review by saying that I liked it. It’s weird, crazy and fascinating. It was a similar experience for me as Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora (2015) was, in the sense that it was both really good, but some of the author’s idea about humanity don’t seem right to me, which also made reading frustrating. Not all of it makes sense to me, and especially the love story I am not buying and the Wallfacer project seems very unrealistic, but the overall story is very unique. It surely kept me on my toes and made me think a lot.

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1 Response to Cixin Liu – The Dark Forest (2008) Review

  1. Pingback: Cixin Liu – Death’s End (2016) Review | A Sky of Books and Movies

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