11 July 2017

Hugos 2017 [Prelude]: The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu

Trade paperback, 512 pages
Published 2015 (originally 2008)

Acquired May 2017
Read June 2017
The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu

It took me longer to get into this book than it did the first Remembrance of Earth's Past novel-- no character here was ever as arresting as Ye Wenjie in The Three-Body Problem. What really carries you through the first two-thirds or so are the ideas: how would Earth react to an inevitable alien invasion centuries in the future, especially if Earth has entered a period of technological stagnation thanks to alien intervention, and if the aliens can monitor almost all electronic communications? The book answers these questions in a variety of ways, most of them interesting: I liked, for example, the Wallfacer Project, where certain men are granted the power to do anything necessary for Earth's defense, without explanation.

As one of them (Luo Ji, an astronomer and sociologist who seems to know very little about either astronomy or sociology) finds out, this can be a curse and a blessing. You can't not be a Wallfacer (because people will assume everything you do is part of the plan, including saying you have no plan) but you can also do whatever you want (because people will assume everything you do is part of the plan, though eventually they will get suspicious if you just buy a lot of fine wine). The social implications about how to plan a mass evacuation and such are also pretty interesting, and the various Wallfacer plans for Earth defense pretty epic. Unfortunately, Luo Ji isn't a great character, and outside of him, there are so many other characters that I struggled to keep track of them all. There's especially this weird, long subplot about a really weird romance Luo Ji has that had some pretty questionable aspects.

The last third of the novel, which jumps ahead two centuries (several main characters use suspended animation) really picks up, especially once the first alien probe arrives, and I found myself engrossed once more. There are multiple events that made perfect sense that I did not see coming, and the idea of the "dark forest" and the way it is used by Luo Ji is pretty interesting and clever. Not as good as The Three-Body Problem, but it contains the scientific and social inventiveness of the best epic hard sf.

Excitingly, this is the last Hugo "prelude" book I have to read: everything from here on out will be a finalist! Finally, my rankings will come together. (This is being posted on July 11, four days before the Hugo deadline, but I actually wrote it on June 10.) Five books to go!

Next Week: Now that the Wayfarer has arrived, it's time to settle into A Closed and Common Orbit!

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