Thursday, September 10, 2015

Cixin Liu's "The Dark Forest" - Enemy of my enemy is my friend

Cixin Liu's first book in "The three-body problem" trilogy won 2015 Hugo Award this August. In that first novel we are introduced to alien race, Trisolarians, technologically far advanced compared to humans on Earth. However, their planet, Trisolaris, 4.2 light years away, is a dying planet and after detecting a signal from Earth, Trisolaris had decided to invade the Earth and take it over for themselves. 

Since space travel from Trisolaris to Earth would have taken 400 years, a sufficient time for Earth to make technological advances necessary to protect against Trisolarians, the subatomic particles, sophons, were dispatched by Trisolarians ahead of their main space fleet. Deployment of sophons was designed to prevent further development in quantum physics and computation on Earth and essentially Earth technological development was frozen to early 21st century standards.      

In the second volume of this trilogy, called "The Dark Forest", we follow Earth development for next 210 years (crisis year 0 - 210), i.e. halfway before Trisolarian fleet arrives in solar system. 

While reading this second book, I frequently felt that it had a strong resemblance in style and concept to Asimov's "Foundation" series. As in "Foundation", the main and decisive concept in "cosmic psychology" and how to survive when dealing with "asymmetrically" advanced competitor. 

Unlike the first book, there is no "wow" moment in this book. Rise and fall of "Wallfacer project" is the only interesting concept. As expected, resources of Earth during the initial years of crisis were depleted within 50-100 years and brought with it a global decline called "great ravine" that lasted for 50 years. Afterwards we see a second Renaissance, rapid advances in living standards, subterranean cities, digital environments, and confident humans starting explorations and exploitation of solar system. However, book does not explain clearly how this transformation happened.

In any event all this "bravado" evaporates when around 210 crisis year a single Trisolarian's vanguard robotic probe arrives in solar system and completely annihilates human space fleet.

In the end, transmission of a simple "spell" (representing planetary coordinates) into space 200 years earlier by one of the Wallfacer appears to rescue humanity from a total collapse. Trisolarians become afraid of this "spell" and are finally forced to negotiate with humanity.

The novel's main idea is about how alien civilizations react to the intelligent signals. What is a cosmic psychology? How does the intelligent alien race think? How will intelligent civilizations respond when encountering alien civilizations? Would they be friendly or show hostile character? The author concludes that this is completely unknowable. The fear of "unknown" is the foundation of peace and coexistence, according to Cixin Liu's "The Dark Forest".

posted by David Usharauli 


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