Consider my mind blown

Written by
Liu Cixin in 2008, translated into English in 2015

It is hard to imagine the future. We all know that various science fiction authors try, but the reality of the infinite possibilities available in the universe means that making an accurate prediction is about as likely as winning the lottery while being struck by lightning. On an asteroid. Still, the second book of Liu Cixin’s epic Three Body trilogy makes a decent go of it.

Following the revelation humanity is in peril from invading space aliens, who will arrive in…four hundred years, everyone is preparing for their arrival. The entire planet’s economy is now on a war footing, and preparations to build a fleet of warships to counter the Trisolaris ships are afoot. My experience of human nature, however limited, shows that humans would probably forget about the problem, eat some pizza and then panic at the eleventh hour.

However, humans are sometimes flighty creatures, and as they embark on this long term goal of repelling the Trisolaris threat, an ambitious, controversial and risky project is set up as part of this effort. The Wallfacer Project, as it is known, pits four individuals against the might of an advanced alien civilization. The reason? The Trisolarians have a weakness: they cannot lie, whereas humans can. Since humans know the amount of scientific knowledge they can possess is limited by the sophon barrier (as occurs at the end of The Three Body Problem), a slightly more desperate solution is needed.

The Wallfacers are given an ambiguous task: find a grand strategic plan that can defeat the threat, knowing the limits to technology humanity will be facing. The four people are a former world leader, a nuclear fetishist, a neuroscientist and a selfish, idle astrophysicist. Interestingly, the only one who is seen as a threat is the idle astrophysicist, Luo Ji, who has been on the hit list of the Trisolarians for years.

Unsurprisingly, the Wallfacers fail spectacularly. Pursued by their counterparts, the three most eminent of the group are ultimately outwitted and their plans are increasingly extreme to the point of utter desperation. Only Luo Ji’s mind and potential remains untarnished. What is it about him that Trisolaris fears so much? Only time will tell.

Though The Dark Forest takes a little time to get established, it does not slow down once it does. Where Three Body had to establish the reason for the hatred of humanity by some of its most prominent figures, Dark Forest deals with how people deal with a threat that is real, with a timetable that seems far away, but in reality is not. Will some leave before time and start again? Will some despair and give up, undermining efforts for defence?

I do not know how Liu Cixin came up with the ideas for this book. Certainly, the storyline threads follow directly from Three Body. But damn, The Dark Forest is a study on humanity’s innermost angels and demons, how defeat can seemingly be the only outcome, yet victory can still be snatched, seemingly out of nowhere.

If you are thinking about what to read, and you have a head for the more philosophical type of science fiction, do not walk past (or click past) this series. Liu Cixin’s work is amazing, and The Dark Forest does not disappoint. Its twists and turns are engrossing. You will probably need a sit down after this book, but that is a sign you have read something worth your time.

Rating

Wow. Just…I think I need a full body massage in Thailand to really be in the relaxed mental state required to process this book.

Read this if you…

Enjoy the thinking person’s science fiction.

Don’t read this if you…

Hate the term “ramming speed!!!”

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