The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The second part of the epic saga that is the Remembrance of Earth’s Past is far, far better than the first.
The human civilization has 400 years to prepare for an attack from a far more technologically advanced civilization called Trisolaris. What can you do to defend yourself against an enemy that has better weapons and is privy to any and all defense strategies you can come up with? What is the psyche of the people living their life knowing that a few generations down the line, their descendants will face certain death? The Dark Forest is an imaginative exploration of these questions. But I liked that it was not simply an alien invasion story. We learn so much about Trisolaris and their unpredictable weather in the first book that their threat, though dangerous, seems reasonable. They want to survive and they have nowhere else to go.
200 years after the discovery of the Trisolaran threat, we see a world that is supposedly modern. The new generation thinks that they are so much more advanced than their ancestors but the hibernators, who lived through the initial threat, know that the advancement is just not enough. I found their patronizing attitude towards their ancestors as believable as it was misguided. For some reason, I identified with the hibernators and felt a weird sense of satisfaction when the harmless-looking Trisolaris probe destroyed half of their space fleet. But when I got to this point, the helplessness of the humans made me suffocate a bit. I had a vivid dream where I had to come up with a solution to save humanity and failed. And this is why the book wins. No matter how wild the author’s imagination was, the dangers felt so real and disturbing. Kudos to Liu Cuxin for setting up the dangers slowly throughout the book rather than suddenly flinging it at you for shock value.
The first thing I noticed when I started reading was that the main character, Luo Ji, was much more interesting compared to the MC in the first book. He is an aloof and a bit narcissistic astrophysicist and he is suddenly thrust the responsibility of saving the world. It was a little surprising but also interesting to see that the ‘chosen one’ trope was being perpetuated in a science fiction book. But overall, the growth of Luo Ji as a character throughout the book was remarkable and believable.
I have not read enough science fiction to really know what good sci-fi is, but I can recognize a good story. And The Dark Forest is one hell of a story. I also loved the stories within the story like Luo Ji falling in love with a character he creates or the incredible story of Zhang Beihei who always did the right thing even if it was wrong.
The pacing was slow now and then but it’s not really supposed to be a page-turner; this book wants you to stop and think about the complexity of the problem. I appreciate the science and the very real way in which this unreal story is told. I recommend this book to everyone who appreciates a good story.