A consistent feature throughout Cixin Liu’s “The Dark Forest” is its excellent pacing, except at the very end, when the resolution felt a tad rushed. So even though there is a riveting climax in space, this action is balanced either by meaningful character development or by actions or plot progression, keeping the momentum going. And in fact through these features – especially compared to the first book of the trilogy – the socio-political themes are explored more extensively, promoting the reader to not only solve these dilemmas, but also to consider how they might be applicable in our contemporary context.
The first dilemma or question in the book is the dispute over escapism and its rights: “Who goes and who remains involves basic human values, values which in the past promoted progress in human society, but which, in the face of ultimate disaster, are a trap”. Thereafter, the wallfacers and the wallbreakers – whose logical interactions, albeit brief, were thoroughly enjoyable – who designed secret strategies and who sought to figure out these strategies, respectively, took centre stage. Other dilemmas or questions include: declaring escapism to be a violation of international law, the personalisation of ads and billboards in a wired new world (part of which is already happening now), and hypothetical plans to decide who could leave Earth.
The quip “there are no permanent enemies or comrades, only permanent duty” also drew a little smile. And in this vein many of these issues persisted across the two parts of “The Dark Forest”. The first part, when the Trisolaris invaders are 400 years away, and the second part, when they are just 200 years away. In the transition Liu painstakingly explained the scientific progress and illustrated incredible technological advancement – in a very different world – but which remained believable.
Because it is clear from the get-go that Luo Ji is the protagonist, and his slow initial progress in the first part can be agonisingly frustrating. And yet in the second part, following the aforementioned climax, the time between his course of actions and the eventual showdown with Trisolaris via the sophons was so short, and the resolution so abrupt. Even the explanation of “the dark forest” title came at the very end, in brief. Another quibble – in an otherwise fascinating and well-written book – is the missed opportunity for Shi Qiang to bridge the characters from the first book. The life of theoretical physicist Ding Yi was explained, though I was really hoping to hear more about nano-materials researcher Wang Miao, who featured prominently towards the end of “The Three-Body Problem”. The only brief reference Shi Qiang made was when he drew a parallel to Luo Ji, describing Wang Miao as “sitting out early in the morning in front of the Wangfujing church, crying”.
Still, the 550 pages went by really quickly, and leaves the reader eager for the final instalment. A great read.