Cixin Liu’s Dark Forest

Wow. One of the joys of literature is to meet others’ minds. I liked the first book in the trilogy, the Three Body Problem. In that story, it centered on a scientist who had to survive China’s Cultural Revolution. While the broad arcs and plot details are very similar to Western scifi, the points of view are refreshing.

In The Dark Forest, which I finished on a plane ride, the peculiarities of a Chinese protagonist recede.  It is more of a conventional ensemble thriller, closer to The Expanse than the Three Body Problem. At this stage, it is known that Earth will be invaded. Further, the enemy has sent a weapon that prevents a level of technology beyond theoretical quantum mechanics. This is crucial to resolving a dilemma in two competing interstellar civilizations.

It is in this hotbox that the story unfolds. Due to other machinations (such as use of quantum entanglement as a surveillance tool), humans have realized the only source of information that the aliens are not privy to are unspoken human thoughts. Thus they place their faith in 4 appointed “Wallfacers”, who have carte blanche in marshalling resources for a grand defense strategy. While the actions and technologies are laid bare for all observers, the idea is that the true stratagem will be unveiled at the Final Battle.

Despite the somewhat contrived circumstance, the story and character development do not feel cheap. Maybe the resolution is a tad rushed, but what is most memorable is that the people react in ways that make sense. So far, The Expanse and the Nexus Trilogy are recent series whose characters act true to life. Rightfully so, the scifi trappings are simply cladding to explore how humans react and behave. Of course, being scifi, the trappings do matter.

I will leave my thoughts on this somewhat vague. The game theory idea that serves as the plot device is somewhat bound with the denouement. It is as good as any an explanation for why the universe is so silent.

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