Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Book review: The Dark Forest

The Dark Forest is the 2nd book in the trilogy of books Remembrance of Earth's Past written by Cixin Liu. 

Having recently read the first part of it, I couldn't resist moving forward with the sequel, and so, finished reading this one recently. This one continues from the earlier ending, where humans learn of the incoming TriSolaris fleet. Mostly written from PoV of Luo Ji, it contains some very interesting themes which have been well explored. Some of the themes I feel are very well explored in the book include:

  • Escapism - the human response of fight or flight has been dealt in very good detail, and how it can demoralise the society at large
  • The notion of wallbreakers - what to do when the enemy erects a wall restricting future progress is one way of dealing with such problems
  • Cosmological Sociology - I think it has very sound basic principles. Though many of them can be countered, but let me reiterate the ones mentioned here:
    1. Survival is primary need of civilization - this is the survival principle of modern day thinkers adapted to civilization - all life exists to protect itself
    2. Civilization continuously grows and expands, but the total matter in the universe remains constant - This is akin to a Cosmological Malthusian trap - where population growth is geometric but resource availability is linear, which puts pressure on overall social stability
    3. Chain of Suspicion - reflects the problem of trust that organisms, organizations, and society have faced since inception. While human civilization has existed for only few thousand years, the underlying trust relations have actually been building up over 100s of thousands of years since the very process of evolution began.
    4. Technological Explosion can be understood with importance of surplus in capitalism - technological surplus generated though one advancement serves as capital for further technological advancements and helps fuel them, thus it is hard to predict what kind of surplus and products a galactic civilization may generate within a given timeperiod 
  • The Dark Forest explanation - a response to Fermi's paradox using the cosmological sociology is itself well explained by the conversation between Luo and Da Shi
  • The battle of darkness is similar to Hobbesian state of anarchy, except that it is motivated by absolute belief in defeat - it clearly shows how the material progress is premised on abundance of resources
  • Finally, it is interesting how 2 wallfacers chose the method of cosmological ransom of mutually assured destruction to deter the TriSolaris from annihilating humanity, the first using threat of human technology, while the second successfully getting deployed the technology of other aliens.

However, key themes that I did not find sufficiently answered are (which may get explained in later works):
  • why are there only 4 wallfacers, and how are they chosen?
  • what made the wallfacers derive their phobias? was it another one of the sophon effects, where the trisolaris already had knowledge of neural modification and used it to induce fear?
  • why couldn't the wallfacers innovate out of their wallbreakers attempted explanation by considering that a wallbreaker could be part of the plan as well? Any successful military plan would entail accounting for scenarios where the enemy gets knowledge of the plans, and with sophons, that was very much to be expected

Thus, while the book makes for a compelling read, it does leave a few things to be desired. Yet, I find it a must read book, because of the way the various themes are explored. Overall rating: 5/5.

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