Disclaimer: This not-a-review might contain spoilers for The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin. If you’re not into spoilers, read no further.
In previous posts I’ve talked very briefly about my impressions of Cixin Liu’s first two of books in his Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy. This week I read the last book of the series, and I think that my opinion of the second book also extends to this one: there’s just too much going on. This doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the novel or that I don’t think it’s good. In fact, I was just as immersed in this book as in the others, and Cixin Liu’s way of writing (perhaps I should say Ken Liu’s way of translating) just kept me glued to each and every one of the novel’s pages.
There is one real piece of criticism that I do have, and it deals with the novel’s characters. In the previous entries of the series, characters were active participants of whatever was happening around them. Despite facing impossible odds, they were willing to react and respond and struggle against those situations.
This time, however, our main character, Cheng Xin seems to be in the story just for the ride, just to witness everything that happens. I understand that the point of having such a main character is for the reader to come to the conclusion that most of humanity (Cheng Xin is essentially a democratically elected representative for the species) don’t really understand how the universe works, and keep making the wrong decisions. TVTropes claims that it’s because humanity is too soft for its own good, and the Trisolaran’s and Galactic Humans (the portion of humanity that left the Solar System and decided to find a better neighbourhood) confirm this. However, this softness has a deeper origin: arrogance, even the book makes the same point several times:
Weakness and ignorance are not barriers to survival, but arrogance is.
This theme of “arrogance kills” had been previously used in the first and second books. In The Dark Forest the clearest example of this is when humanity first meets with the droplets sent by Trisolaris, and loses its entire interstellar fleet. Even the Trisolaran’s exhibited this tendency towards arrogance during the first book, when they were still this ultra-logical-no-nonsense species, and the price they paid for it was the eventual destruction of their home world by the third book. At the universal scale, most of the species also suffer from arrogance, especially considering that their use of dimensional warfare (reducing the number of dimensions your opponent lives in) and physical-law-warfare (changing the laws of physics themselves) means that the universe itself is changed and slowly destroyed.
Despite all this, I think the series provides enough evidence to make the argument that arrogance does not prevail, that the universe can and will experience rebirth and that this state of cosmic warfare can be avoided. Towards the end of the novel, our protagonist is told that it’s just a matter of time before the universe goes through the Big Crunch, and a new Big Bang. Due to the position Cheng Xin finds herself in (a pocket universe within the greater universe), she can survive the cosmic rebirth and just move into the new universe when it’s appropriate. There’s just one problem: Cheng Xin’s pocket universe isn’t the only one in existence, and by removing matter from the greater universe into the pocket universes, there isn’t enough mass for the Big Crunch to happen. The solution’s obvious: the pocket universes must close up shop and their mass must return to the universe. Wether this happens or not isn’t answered, but by taking a look at the axioms of Cosmic Sociology introduced in the The Dark Forest we can get an idea of the point at which all species would be forced to leave their pocket universes and allow the universe to be recreated. The axioms are as follows:
- Survival is the primary need.
- Civilization continually grows and expands, but the total amount of matter within the universe is constant.
Under the conditions described at the end of Death’s End the second axiom can no longer be true, because the amount of matter within the universe is no longer constant (stuff has been moved into pocket universes). Furthermore, civilization cannot grow or expand, but it must remain constant or decrease in order for the first axiom to remain true. To make matters worse, the first axiom has an expiration date: whenever the last pocket universe can no longer sustain life. As such, the axioms of Cosmic Sociology break down. Given the options all species in the universe have (death vs death and someone else’s birth), the only choice for civilizations to try and keep the first axiom going is to attempt to send a part of themselves (akin to a time capsule) to the universe’s next version. In this way, arrogance guarantees some form of survival and the end of death is achieved.
See you next week!