It’s only been a couple years since I finished my initial read through of the (English) trade paperback edition of The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin, but I’ve been working my way back along the thread of the trilogy in audiobook format again this year and early this morning over coffee I completed the second book (for the second time.)
For those unfamiliar with the trilogy, Liu Cixin is a Chinese author of hard science fiction novels who has become somewhat famous and revered in North America (and maybe Europe, too, I’m not there) thanks to his Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, an epic series of novels that trace the story of humanity’s encounter with a neighbouring race of extraterrestrials known as the Trisolarans.
In the novel, the Trisolarans are in search of a replacement home world because of the instability of their three-sun (trisolar) origin world, and what ensues as first contact is made across a handful of lightyears is the slow motion strategic battle for the Earth that plays out over hundreds of years as the aliens launch their fleet towards Earth from Trisolaris, a journey that takes place through the centuries because this is hard science fiction and there is no faster than light warp speed shenanigans here. Instead, speculative fiction is invoked as the fringes of physics and intergalactic military strategy plays out with a veil of realism and plausibility.
In the second book, spoilers lightly avoided here, the alien fleet is roughly half way to Earth and the sociology of humanity is contrasted against the sociology of the intergalactic community as a kind of meditation on the notion that there are vast extremes in the human condition that would need to be explored (deliberately and incidentally) as a result of an encounter with a species that outclassed us in most every way related to scientific advancement. It is the story of humanity’s colonial past played out on a galactic scale where explorers arrive on a ship from afar with technology beyond the comprehension of the locals.
I chose an audiobook format for my second time through for the very simple reason that I’m not Chinese. The author, rightly so, gives many of his main (Chinese) characters Chinese names, and reading this made for a comprehension stumbling block for me as I found my brain tripped over these “words” as new vocabulary rather than as the anchors that character names should be for a reader. This is not a critique. It’s my own shortcoming, but I found that listening to the first book rather than reading it on paper or screen, I was almost 100% able to get through this block. The narrator did the heavy lifting of pronouncing the names leaving me to enjoy the plot more thoroughly.
If you have never encountered these books and are a science fiction nerd like me I would first ask you what rock you’ve been hiding under but second recommend that you hunt them down and read them. In my humble opinion they are one of those once-in-a-decade monumental works of science fiction and fantasy that will someday likely sit alongside Herbert, Asimov, Tolkien, and others.