Cixin Liu, The Dark Forest

Dark forest theory holds that civilizations fear one another so much that they don’t dare to reveal themselves lest they immediately be considered a potential threat and destroyed.

Essential book information

  • Author: Cixin Liu
  • Translated by Joel Martinsen
  • Name of the book: The Dark Forest 
  • A TOR book, published by Tom Doherty Associates Book, New York
  • 2015

Basic plot summary (amazon)

In The Dark Forest, Earth is reeling from the revelation of a coming alien invasion – in just four centuries. The aliens’ human collaborators may have been defeated. Still, the presence of the sophons, the subatomic particles that allow Trisolaris instant access to all human information, means that Earth’s defence plans are exposed to the enemy. Only the human mind remains a secret. This is the motivation for the Wallfacer Project. This daring plan grants four men enormous resources to design secret strategies, hidden through deceit and misdirection from Earth and Trisolaris alike. Three of the Wallfacers are influential statesmen and scientists, but the fourth is a total unknown. Luo Ji, an unambitious Chinese astronomer and sociologist, is baffled by his new status. All he knows is that he’s the one Wallfacer that Trisolaris wants dead.

My praise and critique

The question about the existence of aliens is one of the most popular out there. For years I have been a firm believer of the sci-fi theory presented by brothers Strugatskiy in Roadside Picnic. The aliens have visited the Earth briefly, used it as a roadside picnic place. They have paid humans as much attention as we would spend noticing an ants’ colony on the far side of the picnic spot we have chosen for lunch. And then they left. 

Aside from the more powerful storyline than in the first book of the trilogy, the Dark Forest captivated my imagination by the theory, whose name has given the book its title. Why have we not yet seen any alien civilization? Because alien civilizations are cautious. In the dark forest, you have no chance to know if someone you encounter is good or bad. You have no available metrics to measure this someone against because the level of your development and the value system is not the same. So, you don’t know. If this someone is more potent than you, you fear it will subdue you in the eternal quest for resources.

To avoid your extermination, you better destroy this someone in advance, without revealing yourself to him. And if this someone is weaker than you, it will eventually grow stronger and, if you have exposed yourself to him, it might destroy you at some point in time. Therefore, for your survival, it is better to stay concealed and destroy any discovered civilization in advance, to be sure.

Beautifully written (translated), the explanations are brilliant, and the theories lined up in a manner that makes you believe they are real (who knows). The general trend to humanizing everything we fear/want to encounter is the main motive, and the book makes it clear that it is a mistake. 

I was engrossed by the book.

My recommendation

Very entertaining and philosophical read at the same time. The physical copy is on my bookshelf, and the book itself joins the list of my favourite books ever.

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