Started: December 03, 2018
Finished: January 15, 2019
It took more time than I anticipated reading the second book in this sci-fi trilogy, but I’m so glad I was patient and finished “The Dark Forest.” I’m usually ambivalent towards the middle section of a series. In a lot of ways, it feels like unnecessary filler before we get to the real action of the story and (hopefully) a satisfactory finale. “The Dark Forest” is one of the few examples where the midpoint in the series is just as strong as the beginning.
“The Three-Body Problem” could best be described as a sci-fi “whodunit”, while “The Dark Forest” is akin to a futuristic survival novel. The Trisolarians are en route to the Solar System with the intention of destroying humanity and settling on Earth. Sophons are in place around the globe preventing scientists from making breakthroughs that would level the playing field between humanity and the Trisolarians. It all seems hopeless. And yet, certain sectors of humanity are strategizing and planning for the upcoming Doomsday Battle, including the four Wallfacers, who are given near limitless resources to devise and implement a plan to defeat the Trisolarians when they arrive. In many ways, the Wallfacers are seen as the final solution for humanity and the saviors of Earth. But as the story progresses, we learn that the Wallfacers struggle to overcome their flaws for the betterment of the world.
The first thing that stood out to me about this book was the actual translation. The first and third book were translated by Ken Liu, but “The Dark ForesT” was translated by Joel Martinsen. It felt like Martinsen played with the language in the story and as a result, there were some well-written and beautiful passages.
When the hearing ended, the Wallfacers went to the Meditation Room, their favorite place in the UN headquarters. It now seemed to them that this room designed for silence was built especially for Wallfacers. Gathered there, they waited in silence, each of them feeling that he would never be able to exchange thoughts until the final war came. The slab of iron ore lay silently in their midst, as if absorbing and collecting their thoughts and silently bearing witness.
Reading “The Dark Forest” was an excellent reminder that a translator can make or break the narrative. While Ken Liu’s translations of the first book were good and I anticipate his translations of the third book will be of similar quality, I was much more engaged with the second book in part because of the Joel Martinsen and his ability to fine-tune the language to suit his needs.
This second installment in the series focuses on humanity, what it means to be human and what we need to survive. In many cases, the author, Cixin Liu, appears to have a pessimistic outlook on any potential contact with future alien civilizations. And this pessimism in evident throughout the narrative. Each character that we encounter are engaged in a long game of bluff. On the surface, they appear to work in the favor of humanity, but as the story progresses, we see that a majority of characters believe the Earth is engaged a war they will inevitably lose. We rarely learn of a character’s true intentions until the end of the narrative (or their final appearances in the narrative). And once the truth is revealed, I felt both sorry for and infuriated by the characters and their actions. The book’s title refers to a theory put forth by one of the main characters, Luo Ji, and the theory itself is further proof that humanity needs to be EXTREMELY cautious when considering interacting with an alien civilization. Despite this overwhelming pessimism woven into the narrative, there are glimmers of hope that seep through and make you root for the characters.
Both “The Dark Forest” and “The Three-Body Problem” are enjoyable reads, but they are filled with scientific reasoning and explanations. This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I enjoyed the passages that delved into the science of the series. But I warn that it takes time to get through these books. I spent at least a month reading both “The Three Body Problem” and “The Dark Forest.” As I begin the final book in the series, “Death’s End”, I anticipate it taking another month to complete it. Your patience with the series will be greatly rewarded and I highly recommend you stick it out as best as you can!
I have high hopes for the final book in the main series. The biggest question I have is how will the relationship between the Trisolarians and humanity evolve? I certain Cixin Liu and translator Ken Liu will serve an ending that is both poignant, thoughtful and satisfactory!