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The Dark Forest (The Three-Body Problem Series, 2) Paperback – August 16, 2016
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"Wildly imaginative, really interesting." ―President Barack Obama on the Three-Body Problem trilogy
“A breakthrough book . . . a unique blend of scientific and philosophical speculation, politics and history, conspiracy theory and cosmology.” ―George R. R. Martin, on The Three Body Problem
“Extraordinary.” ―The New Yorker, on The Three Body Problem
“Remarkable, revelatory and not to be missed.” ―Kirkus Reviews, starred review, on The Three Body Problem
"A must-read in any language.” ―Booklist, on The Three Body Problem
"A meditation on technology, progress, morality, extinction, and knowledge that doubles as a cosmos-in-the-balance thriller.... a testament to just how far [Liu's] own towering imagination has taken him: Far beyond the borders of his country, and forever into the canon of science fiction. - NPR, on Death's End
"The best kind of science fiction, familiar but strange all at the same time." -- Kim Stanley Robinson, on The Three Body Problem
About the Author
Joel Martinsen is research director for a media intelligence company. His translations have appeared in Words Without Borders, Chutzpah!, and Pathlight. He lives in Beijing.
- ASIN : 0765386690
- Publisher : Tor Books; Reprint edition (August 16, 2016)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 528 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780765386694
- ISBN-13 : 978-0765386694
- Item Weight : 1.3 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.34 x 1.44 x 9.23 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #6,068 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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With all of that said, I feel strongly that The Dark Forest may be the best work of science fiction I have ever experienced. I read the English translation of Cixin Liu’s Chinese science fiction novel, The Three Body Problem. I thought that it was very good, but not excellent. I was sufficiently intrigued to proceed on to the second novel of the trilogy, The Dark Forest, and I am eternally grateful that I did. I am just floored by how good this novel is, on so many levels.
I have read so many science fiction novels that are little more than spaceships and aliens, with poor underlying stories or character development. The Dark Forest is an outstanding piece of literature, above and beyond its label as a work of science fiction. It has very thoughtful themes, touching on philosophy, anthropology, sociology and psychology. The advanced technology and elements of hard science fiction are outstanding, second to none. The underlying story is absolutely captivating, as are the characters.
At the conclusion of the Three Body Problem, we are left with an alien race, the Trisolarans, who have embarked on a four hundred year long trip across the galaxy, ostensibly to conquer and inhabit the Earth. Through use of their advanced technology, they have arrested the technological development of the human race and are able to eavesdrop on every aspect of life on Earth. Faced with this scenario, how does the human race respond? As the years pass and different generations are tasked with coming up with strategies to face the threat, the author continues, time and again, to impress with his vision and the elements of human psychology and philosophy that he employs.
Most impressive to me is the author’s ability to deal with these philosophical and technological themes in such a way that the reader can easily follow and appreciate. To me, he walks the perfect line between being intellectually challenging, yet approachable (unlike some of Frank Herbert’s work, which was more than I could handle).
So, if you have read The Three Body Problem and are trying to decide whether to proceed on to this second installment, I cannot encourage you strongly enough to do so. If you have not read the Three Body Problem, I urge you to do so, with the knowledge that the follow up book will be worth the effort. The Dark Forest wraps up very nicely and could easily be the end of the story; however this is a trilogy, so I will gladly continue to the final chapter, hoping not to be disappointed. The Dark Forest is a terribly difficult act to follow.
I'll tell you how good Death's End is when I'm done with it, but (if you haven't) buy book 1 today, and if you've read the first one and are not sure whether or not to continue, think no further. This trilogy should be required reading in schools. Liu is the first author I'm aware of to reach the heights of Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. In fact I think he's better than Clarke and gives Asimov a run for his money.
Liu's take on the Fermi Paradox in this series, particularly the second book, is so consequential that it makes his detours into discussions of euthanasia seem almost frivolous in comparison. He has probably invented an entirely new field of study in these novels. (He calls it Cosmic Sociology.) Along the way he dispatches themes like gender identity; loyalty; the relationship between being a sentient/intelligent species and being a culture or a people; the relationship between totalitarianism and democracy in times of crisis; the meaning of culture; the potential soul of atheism; nationalism; the hypocrisy of popular demands; the burdens of leadership; the relative importance of the environment; child rearing; the tugs of war between love and duty; death vs. living forever; faith in the future; and a bunch of others as if they were mere footnotes in the grand scheme of things, hitting you with revelatory meditations in almost every chapter.
Once you read The Dark Forest, the series' second volume, Cixin's ambition for this saga starts to come into focus. The question of first contact is settled, and the nature of the alien's approach is known: this is to be a takeover of our planet. But how can we deal with a race so much more advanced than our own, constant surveillance by extra-dimensional forces, and fractured elements of humanity working against us?
If The Three-Body Problem was a first contact novel done as hard science-fiction, The Dark Forest is an alien invasion novel, albeit one in which the actual invasion is still many, many years away. It's the first time Cixin starts using hibernation to leap through decades and even centuries, spanning huge chunks of time as humanity changes and evolves in the face of an arrival which will change everything. As humanity struggles to find ways to either defend itself or show that it means no harm, the race has to deal with its own fears of inevitable defeat or a desire to retreat from the only planet we've ever known.
It's not as if The Three-Body Problem wasn't already ambitious, but The Dark Forest is on a whole other level, dealing with interplanetary fleets, lightspeed travel, quantum computing, and more, watching as they evolve over huge swaths of time. But more than that, the novel is a deeply philosophical one, discussing the nature of life in the universe, questions about human nature and how we react in the face of threats, how we work together (or not), and game theory in how we try to handle uncertain intentions in allies and foes alike. Indeed, the central metaphor that gives the book its title (which doesn't arrive until near the novel's end) is a stunning one that helps you understand that what Cixin is writing about isn't just this particular alien invasion, but about the nature of all life in the universe and how we attempt to define ourselves in the face of reality.
That Cixin does this while, again, mixing in such a compelling story (focusing especially on the "Wallfacers", a small group of people tasked with covertly planning humanity's resistance against the invasion) is nothing short of remarkable. The Dark Forest builds beautifully off of the questions and ideas raised in The Three-Body Problem, but turns them into something else entirely, changing the questions from "how do we initially react" to "how would we redefine ourselves in the face of such news". Far from suffering from any sort of "middle book syndrome," The Dark Forest is incredible, engaging with incredible concepts but never neglecting the human characters that anchor its massive scope nor the ticking clock at its story's core.
To explain this series is a difficult challenge, to put it mildly. This is a series that spans a huge amount of time, deals with advanced scientific concepts in complex terms, grapples with rich philosophical and political ideas, debates questions without easy answers, and gives you a scope that can be daunting. It's a story of alien invasions, yes, but one in which the action sequences we're so used to are replaced with existential dread, a rethinking of our own lives, and a fear of the unknown that's hard to quantify. It's also the story of people caught up in these times, trying to give themselves a good life while never forgetting the larger questions of their era, and juggling their own fears with fears for humanity. In other words, it's what hard science-fiction is great at - thoughtful questions, big ideas, and speculation, all of which change the way you think about the world.
This series is a truly incredible achievement, one that honestly left me a bit staggered and reeling as I attempt to think about it all, but one that I love all the more for what it accomplishes. If you're a hard science-fiction fan, or simply someone who loves dealing with the complex ramifications of common ideas, this is a must read series. I've never read anything like it in my life, and I'm a richer person for the ideas it's inspired me to think about.
Top reviews from other countries
Right from the beginning, the world feels different. In the first book, it was the real world, as we know it, with just some hints of mystery and strangeness. Here, the whole world is aware of the approaching Trisolarian fleet, and cultures and economies and outlooks are changing in response, making everything feel much more futuristic and sci-fi even though only a few years have passed. I thought it did a good job in attempting to answer the question of how the world would react knowing that aliens would invade in four hundred years time and the extent to which we should make sacrifices now and seek near-impossible solutions, or accept our fates and live for the moment.
Once the book jumps forward in time, things feel more stereotypically sci-fi, with most of the action taking place in space and the depictions of life on earth also seeming more fantastical. This part was still inventive and enjoyable, just not quite as original and attention capturing, and I did miss the modern Chinese vibe that made the first book and the first part of this one so unusual.
On the plus side, I thought the dialogue and characters were much better here. There were quite a few POV characters, and while some of them blended into one a bit or didn't hugely capture my imagination, Luo Ji, probably the foremost main character, was pretty memorable and attention-capturing.
Definitely worth a read.
There are whole sections of this book that could be cut out without in any way affecting the narrative or the story, that's how padded it is. The Chekhov's Gun principle is broken over and over again by introducing characters and plots that go nowhere and are abandoned. Excessive exposition, drawn out conversations, endless internal deliberations only bored this reader instead of keeping him glued to the pages. While reading "The Dark Forest" I kept having flashbacks to George R.R. Martin's later books in the Song of Ice and Fire series: people talk. All they do is talk. Everyone talks. They talk while eating, sitting, travelling, or just standing around. Nothing interesting happens for a great majority of the book. Just talk. It actually says something about the novel's quality when the most interesting things happen on the last ten pages instead of throughout the 500 that the book actually holds.
On the upside, the translation is better than the first book's. It's a pity they didn't keep this translator for the third book.
Liu Cixin's science fiction is old-school and high-concept, inspired equally by Isaac Asimov's psychohistory and China's ancient history. This second volume grapples with the problem: how can you deal with an extermination force of overwhelming military superiority, almost perfect data intelligence but one which is hundreds of years away, past any planning horizon politicians, the military and the people are accustomed to?
As ever, the author's solutions are ingenious while in volume three, 'Death's End' (due out in April 2016), his ambitions seem to be set even higher.
The book itself is a wonderful blend of science, conspiracy, astronomy and philosophy, linking these key themes of the book together with lots of unpredictable and thrilling turns. The whole construction of the plot overall was truly stunning: the way the story panned out; the linking of everything by the end; the relationship between the two civilizations, including the final scene between Luo Ji and the trisolaris, was truly mind-blowing - the final ending particularly, as it really closed the book for me because it was just so perfect. The footnotes throughout the book giving context to references that otherwise would have confused me were also very helpful.
I was genuinely stunned and amazed by the book; when I put it down it took me a while to comprehend what I had just read - it was such a beautiful book. The theory of cosmic sociology (the Fermi paradox), the buildup to the finale and the final explanation was mind-blowing and beautifully crafted - representing everything that science fiction should be. I am definitely recommending the book to all lovers of science fiction.
The story didn't really seem to find its feet after - Liu had made the point he was going to make at the end, and the conclusion just felt very rushed. Considering how the book ended, there seems to be an awful lot that is actually resolved, and it's difficult at the moment to feel compelled to read the third book.
Additionally, while I found his suggestion for the Fermi Paradox interesting, it all seemed very dark - and the example underlining that with the starships seemed to go against human nature. Maybe that's just me, though.
Overall, not a bad book in the trilogy, but I'm not feeling particularly curious as to what might happen in the final book.