Disclaimer: This sort-of-review might contain spoilers for The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin. If you’re not into spoilers, read no further.
On a previous post I talked about Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem, the first entry of his Remembrance of Earth’s Past Trilogy. In that post I talked about how I just had to keep reading because I thought what was happening was so good. In The Dark Forest, on the other hand, there came a point where I just took a break from reading, not out of boredom or disinterest, but because the book itself seemed to be abruptly entering a different phase. Personally, I didn’t find that “cut” to be particularly jarring, and I think it works well in getting the reader to empathize with what the main characters will go through when the story resumes, but the case can be made that The Dark Forest could have worked better as two books rather than one:
I agree with some of the points made in the video, but I would like to focus on why this book, despite also being amazing, feels somewhat different when compared to the previous entry in the series: there’s so much going on.
Throughout the book we have to deal with
- Our main character (Luo Ji)
- The mental breakdown he goes through after creating a character with whom he falls in mad love with
- Whatever happens, could happen, has happened to his family. Of course, his wife is an exact replication of the character he created
- The main character’s friendly neighbourhood detective friend
- Three other characters who are in a similar position to our main character (let’s call them wallfacers, as the book does)
- The unknown characters who are in direct opposition to the previous three (the wallbreakers)
- Human society (x3 since there is a large timeskip and horrible things happen during the timeskip)
- Whatever it is that the Trisolarans are doing, especially considering that they are incapable of being deceitful, and the only person they consider a threat is Luo Ji
- The actions of an additional character who also goes through the timeskip, has reached the same level of understanding of the situation that the wallfacers have, and will allow a part of humanity to branch off and, apparently, live like the Quarians from Mass Effect
- The disaster humanity goes through during its first true encounter with the Trisolarans, and how hopeless the situation truly is
- The logical consequences of Cosmic Sociology, whose axioms were planted into the mind of Luo Ji at the beginning of the novel
- The revelation of the true nature of the universe once Luo Ji’s cursing of a star has results
- Luo Ji’s own explanation of the true nature of the universe and how that solves the Fermi Paradox
- The slow downward slope until humanity is destroyed
- Luo Ji’s big gamble toward the end and how it brings the interstellar conflict to a standstill.
There’s so much going on, and most of it is pretty good. Joel Martinsen, the novel’s translator, had quite a task to fulfill. Personally, I think he did a good job, and I didn’t realize that translators had been changed until reading some reviews.
I also think that, by taking a break just as the big timeskip arrived, I was able to look at both parts of the book with a better understanding of what was going on. Given that I wasn’t rushing through the novel this time, it functionally became two novels in one for me.
In closing, this novel is great, and should be read by any fan of science fiction. It is a worthy continuation of the previous book and provides a very interesting view on what the behaviour spacefaring civilizations might be like. I look forward to reading the last entry in the Remembrance of Earth’s past series.