Book Review: The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Dark Forest (Remembrance of Earth’s Past #2) by Liu Cixin

Four Stars

“It’s part of the plan.”

I struggled through the first hundred pages, thinking it’d be a shame to give up when I liked The Three-Body Problem so well. Slow pace and lots of references to the first book. Yes, I’ve read it, but I’ve slept since then. No clue who many of the players were or why I should care.

“It’s a wonder to be alive. If you don’t understand that, how can you search for anything deeper.”

Finally came into focus midway through. The pace accelerated and Liu swept me away again. Until the last hundred pages, I was still going to give it four stars, but the denouncement was great, if a lot more obvious to us than to the protagonist.

“I can’t see humanity. I can only see individuals.”

Speaking of obvious, once again Liu telegraphs his punches. It’s almost no spoiler to tell you what happens halfway through, but I’m not. Read it for yourself. Once again he explains the involved physics in excruciating detail. Lots of “as you know, Bob” data dumps.

“Thought control is everywhere in modern society.”

Love the references of psychohistory from Asimov’s foundation series. Liu’s cosmic sociology posits:

Axiom #1: Survival is the primary need of civilization.

Axiom #2: Civilization continuously grows and expands, but the total matter of the universe remains constant.

Factor in: chains of suspicion and technological explosion.

“A soldier who is only willing to engage in a winnable war is unqualified to be one.”

Liu is right. We have lit a bonfire in a dark forest potentially full of armed, paranoid hunters of indeterminate benevolence.

“Do you think [keeping quiet] will work?”

Quibble #1: Access to the Cheyenne Mountain Complex is sideways. An opening at the peak would obviate burying it under a mile of granite.

“There’s nothing excessive about imagination, especially where love is concerned.”

Quibble #2: The asteroid bullet thing doesn’t work. How do you fire “cylinders …about the thickness of a pencil lead” from a 7.62 mm pistol? If you do, how does it not rattle around inside the barrel and therefore fly out like shotgun pellets? How do you aim a pistol to hit a barn, let alone a man, at five kilometers (even in space)? What happened to Newton’s third law of motion? Firing a pistol thirty or forty times in succession would result in the shooter jetting backward almost as fast the bullets fly forward. Why would a plug of metallic asteroid disintegrate on impact? Some would survive, with their telltale evidence of machining.

“Mom, I’m going to be a firefly.”

Quibble #3: The big space battle is well developed but unconvincing. No power would put all its eggs in one basket. For starters, earth’s three space-faring powers would not have their only base in Jupiter orbit. They certainly wouldn’t have all their ships there. Nor would they dispatch them all to face an unknown enemy, even if they think they’re vastly superior. All generals are optimists, but successful generals have at least one pessimist whispering in their ears, “Remember that you have to die.”

“The greatest obstacle to humanity’s survival comes from itself.”

Waiting patiently for Death’s End.

“The universe contracted and collapsed, until at last everything was annihilated in the creative light of love.”

It should surprise no one that China produces gifted science fiction authors. The wonder is that we get to share them. Liu’s fiction rises above the genre. He raises basic issues of life, value, sacrifice and redemption. Thank you.

“With enough time, you can move the earth.”