Review: The Dark Forest

The Dark Forest
The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very interesting and deep read with plenty of hard science and an interesting take on civilization on our planet and perhaps throughout the universe.

While a of people have been absolutely raving about this book, and I did enjoy it, I won’t say The Dark Forest is perfect. That said, it certainly covers very interesting material, with ideas that I’ve never seen mentioned anywhere else, which accounts for much of the interest in The Dark Forest. But it’s not an easy read (even in audiobook) as the characters are very difficult to connect with.

While this book is a direct sequel to The Three Body Problem, which was another fantastic book, the characters from the previous book aren’t really found here. The TriSolarans are on their way and Earth is trying to develop a defense. The problem is the sophons have locked down humanity’s ability to advance their level of basic science and are spying on everything the humans are doing to create a defense. Humanity’s response is to create the Wallfacer project – 4 humans are selected who are supposed to utilize deceit as the humans’ only advantage. Of the 4, the unlikeliest of the bunch, Luo Ji is the one the TriSolarans want dead. He is largely the focus of the book.

The problem is that I found the main protagonist to be impossible to connect with. As the events unfolded, that lack of connection. He’s moody, underachieving, and privileged. The other Wallfacers in ways are even worse.

The really interesting content in the book becomes clear in the last 1/4 of the book and involves the discussion of The Dark Forest – the idea that the galaxy/universe is full of hostile civilizations all competing for limited resources, all unable to trust one another and therefore inevitably to be in conflict. This proposes the ultimate answer to the Fermi Paradox – the reason we see no evidence of other life in the universe is that all other life is hiding. As soon as your civilization makes its presence known, another, more powerful civilization will come in to eliminate you.

Much of the book is used to set up analogies for this within human society just to illustrate this very point. But the big idea is truly fascinating and actually makes sense. It’s frightening. Ultimately, this is what makes the book worthwhile. It’s not easy to get through and I can’t say I truly enjoyed the story or the characters. But to get to the ideas, it’s worth the slog.

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