The Dark Forest (The Three-Body Problem book 2) by Cixin Liu translated by Joel Martinsen (book review).

Cixin Liu’s classic of Chinese Science Fiction continues in this second volume, translated into English by Joel Martinsen as ‘The Dark Forest’. The same mixture of contemporary settings, cutting-edge technology, political intrigue and glimpses of a frighteningly powerful alien civilisation make this book just as riveting as the first volume ‘The Three Body Problem’. There is a wide cast of characters, each of them drawn with realism and a set of human characteristics that make them easy to identify with. Even the seemingly most powerful people involved in the plot are not mere representations of power and bravado but flawed and troubled people attempting to see their way to a future for humanity.


At the end of the multi-faceted plot of volume one, we learn that the Trisolaran fleet is on its way to conquer Earth, though it will admittedly take four centuries to arrive and that the Earth is under constant real-time surveillance by the Trisolarans, via their quantum entangled ‘sophons’.

With four hundred years to play with, you might assume that all of the tension would be taken out of the situation but Cixin Liu has given much thought to the psychological and sociological effects of the forthcoming and currently undefeatable invasion. Big questions about what Earth’s economy should invest in, what lines of defensive research to take, how humanity will cope in the face of its own extinction and what they should do in the meantime, provide the grand backdrop to the stories of individual characters.

One of the main ingredients of the first volume was the plotting and secrecy around the Three Body Problem game world, the terrorist organisation it begat, the tense atmosphere of the cultural revolution and the intrigue of life at a top secret research base. With the knowledge that the Trisolarans can effectively see and hear anything that happens anywhere on Earth, this would seem to obviate the necessity for any clandestine operations. This is where the marvellous concept of the Wallfacers is introduced. Four individuals are appointed as Wallfacers by the UN and imbued with almost unlimited authority to direct Earth’s defence against the Trisolarans. They are virtually unanswerable to anybody, the idea being that there will be no conversations or reports for the Trisolarans to spy on. Their plans can be as convoluted and confusing as they like with the intention that nobody will be able to work out how their plan will defeat the invasion. They can request anything to be done with the only explanation being that it is part of their plan. Initially appearing to be a post ripe for self-gratification and egomania, this supremely powerful position is quickly revealed to be a curse for the individual Wallfacers. Along with a selection of secondary characters, ranging from a disillusioned Chinese naval captain to three retired neighbours observing developments from their apartment block in Beijing, we follow the four Wallfacers and the development of their plans.

The time scale covered in this volume is much longer as hibernation techniques are developed that allow the Wallfacers and others to sleep away years at a time while they await the fruition of their plans. Every development in society and technology is given solid backing by Cixin Liu as he explains the way Earth has reacted to the latest developments and changed direction in research or in societal attitudes. As Earth’s future wavers between optimistic and bleak, we are kept in a constant state of anticipation to see how things will develop.

My favourite character is probably Da Shi, originally a police detective in ‘The Three-Body Problem’ and later attached to the Wallfacer project. He’s a typical unhealthy, cigarette-smoking, noirish detective who turns out to have great insight, good instincts and unswerving loyalty. Despite all of the bizarre and frightening things that happen, he’s always there with a cynical comment and a practical solution to help out the scientists, world leaders and starship crews.

The book starts off with the prose feeling a little forced, maybe a product of it being translated. I soon got used to the style, though, or maybe it became smoother and I became thoroughly engrossed. As a warning to those who have spent out on the hardback version: the gold lettering wears off. By the time I finished reading, the title of the book was ‘The D Γor’, which is not very helpful if you want to keep a nice-looking copy on your shelf.

The plot resolution at the end of this volume is wonderfully satisfying and I am intrigued to see what the third volume ‘Death’s End’ will bring.

Gareth D. Jones

September 2016

(pub: Head Of Zeus, 2015. 512 page hardback. Price: £18.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78497-159-5

pub: TOR/Forge. 512 page small hardback. Price: $25.99 (US), $29.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-7708-1)

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