My goal this year isn’t to read a fixed number of novels. I don’t think it is, anyhow. My goal is simply to read more, better books, and to give myself an excuse for doing that, by thinking about them and then writing about them here. To be fair, I’d rather read ten really good books and savour them, contemplate them, and have them stick in my skull, than to push through twenty-five just to say that I reached that arbitrary goal.
Brad’s Book Club 2018 (Book: 1 / 20)
The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu
To recap, my first novel of the year is an English translation of a Chinese novel by Cixin Liu called The Dark Forest. It is the second book in a trilogy and the part of a small collection of novels that made it onto the presidential reading list (back in the days when they had a president who could read) not as a “Presidential Reading List” of recommended books, but rather as the presidents reading list, a list of books that had been hand picked for him to spend his time reading.
Not that this would necessarily be a good reason to read a novel, but it was a good reason for the book to have gained enough publicity to have landed on the types of web sites where I sometimes take my own reading queues… for whatever that is worth.
My point here is not necessarily to summarize or spoil the book, either. Go read it if you want to know what happens. That said, a brief summary might be valuable, such as saying that imagine that in the near future a nearby alien culture decided that they wanted to forcefully recolonize our planet and as their invasion ships launched from four light years distant they sent ahead of them a form of technology that enabled (a) instantaneous communication with a handful of humans, (b) the disruption of fundamental scientific progress, and (c) surveillance of anything and everything that was written, said, or done by us to try and prevent the invasion.
How would we attempt to stop the aliens?
The solution, and what is playing out in the book, is that a quartet of eclectic people are selected to envision a counter-strategy… but they can’t tell anyone what it is, write it down, or otherwise reveal the plan to the world. All the world can do is follow their instructions however strange or outlandish, and hope that the resources and time spent have been done so to good effect.
How would the aliens react?
They would use their “sophons” — elementary particles unfolded in thirteen dimensions to etch super-computers inside, then refolded and entangled across space to affect changes up on Earth — to attempt to unravel those secret plans and steer the course of human progress into a metaphorical ditch.
Like with any translated work where you fear you might be missing something in the xerox-cross-language, but it’s a good novel so far, full of grand ideas and clever twists. The book itself alludes to Asimov’s Foundation trilogy in one of it’s early chapters as one character discusses that story with another, and I find myself seeing a comparison to that work myself. The Dark Forest is less an action novel, though it sometimes strays there, than it is a methodical game of four dimensional chess, a strategic unfolding of layers upon layers of deception and long-term thinking that plays out not only as part of the story but through the reading of it as well.
I’ll read on…