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The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin
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it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites

The grand design of Cixin Liu's Three Body Trilogy towers above just about everything else going on in SF lit today. The Dark Forest is an even more rewarding accomplishment than The Three Body Problem - a novel that is both hard SF and social SF, meditative and philosophically dense even while engaging in spectacle, that views humanity in scales epic and intimate. Mind. Blown. Again.

I expect this book has an excellent chance of ending up on the Hugo shortlist, but if it also gets nominated for a Prometheus I'm going to laugh my balls off. I was a little confused when The Three Body Problem received that honor. Liu's personal philosophy is too dark and troubling to comfortably fit into any single existing political philosophy, but it is most definitely not libertarian. My best guess is that the Libertarian Futurist Society looked at that novel's depiction of Maoist zealots and their anti-science bent and made the rash assumption that Liu was "one of them". The novel was subsequently praised by the same right-wing ideologues who had initially succeeded in blocking its Hugo nomination through slate voting.

More conscientious readers would have recognized the historical materialist perspective in that novel, and that Liu is, at the very least, more intellectually engaged with Marxism than any other philosophical movement. I'd like to think libertarian fandom simply appreciated that novel's brilliance without regard to ideology, but considering that most of them run screaming from the name Marx as if the mere mention of it will wrap its collectivist tendrils around their brains and assimilate them into the hive mind, the more likely answer is they just didn't understand it.

In The Dark Forest, Liu's application of Marx's materialist theory to his future history is so glaringly obvious it practically lectures you on the subject, and the libertarian worldview is very clearly demonstrated to have as many drawbacks and destructive tendencies as totalitarianism. They can't miss the point this time too, can they?

*sound of me not holding my breath*

So, easily the best SF novel I've read this year. This is classic, transcendent, next-leap-forward genre writing. Please leave your preconceptions at the door to appreciate it fully.
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Reading Progress

May 25, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
May 25, 2015 – Shelved
October 6, 2015 – Started Reading
October 6, 2015 –
page 39
October 7, 2015 –
page 70
October 8, 2015 –
page 98
October 9, 2015 –
page 134
October 10, 2015 –
page 171
October 14, 2015 –
page 211
October 15, 2015 –
page 250
October 20, 2015 –
page 285
October 21, 2015 –
page 326
October 24, 2015 –
page 366
October 29, 2015 –
page 406
October 30, 2015 –
page 450
October 31, 2015 – Finished Reading
June 5, 2016 – Shelved as: favorites

Comments Showing 1-8 of 8 (8 new)

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Stevie Kincade So you obviously are a lot more on top of the philosophy and sociology stuff in the Dark Forrest then I. I found it hard to understand the point he was making. Like the Trisolaran sympathisers admire Timothy Leary WTF?

Gary Stevie! Your comment finds me just as I am contemplating Death’s End (Spoiler alert: another five-star review forthcoming).
I read your review for The Dark Forest this morning (which I greatly appreciated as usual), and I totally understand what you’re getting at. I think the confusion arises from the fact that we in the western world are quick to associate Marxism with the political and social left – yet you look at Cixin Liu’s social views (as expressed in the Three Body Trilogy) he appears somewhat conservative, particularly in his views on gender. The female characters in all three novels most certainly set off alarms in the feminist corner of my brain.
Someone who had a lot of influence on my young mind - a radical lefty History professor I had in college – explained this to me in a way that upended all my preconceived ideas of what Marx was about. He told me that Marx himself was quite conservative – a traditional values guy who would have been appalled by feminism and gay rights and all the other social movements that were in many ways influenced by his writings. And at the heart of his economic and political theories was his teleological utopia – a sort of pastoral redux that he located in an idealized past. It doesn’t get much more conservative than that. You’ll see when you get to Death’s End that this notion of pastoral simplicity as an antidote to destructive conflict is even more pronounced than in The Dark Forest.
So, to answer your question: yes, it is probable that Cixin Liu doesn’t think much of Leary and his acolytes, and would not be averse to depicting them as planetary traitors.
I am about as far to the left on the political spectrum as one can be, but I really admire the depth and scope of this author's writing and can look past his cynicism to appreciate what he's accomplished.

message 3: by Abi (new)

Abi So, I read the Three Body Problem and I savagely hated it. Obviously at any given time you can totally find a bunch of people who want to wipe out the Earth because they never got over being teenagers or fail at empathy or whatever. And people will play some really whacked out video games, witnesses plants vs. zombies. The whole political party about how the people's revolution did everything wrong, destroyed not only their natural resources but the resources they had in their own people, fine, yes, traumatic and weirdly perfect way to put someone in position to make contact with aliens who want to kill us all.

It's the biology that is heinous and the anthropology and the preachiness and the really obnoxious nature of the discussion of the three body problem itself. But seriously, self desiccated people would be the same people. They wouldn't be starting over from scratch every time. Moreover, self desiccated people would be totally useless because most of the stuff people are made out of are layers of hydrophobic layers of fatty acids to keep the fluids contained where they're supposed to be. But if you sucked all the water out of a body, there's still a cornucopia of fat soluble substances in there that are now smashed all in tight together. You would turn into a bioactive blob of hydrocarbons and sterols and give off all kinds of gasses and other liquids and when you added water back into it, it wouldn't be like adding water into a balloon, it would be like adding water onto beef jerky or the pan that you cooked ham in and left sitting out for a week.

Possibly my background as a biochemistry major in college may be an issue for me here.

But the preachiness about the different styles of social order they were setting up was also quite heavy handed and dismissive. I can't say quite how much I did not enjoy that.

Knowing all that, do you think I should read this book?

Gary Abi wrote: "So, I read the Three Body Problem and I savagely hated it. Obviously at any given time you can totally find a bunch of people who want to wipe out the Earth because they never got over being teenag..."

Abi, I apologize in advance for the misunderstanding, but I can't tell if that's a sincere question or a rhetorical one.

Stevie Kincade lol I'm going to say that since the "death of humanity is awesome" cult and the rehydration of the Trisolarans was the least of my problems Abi that no you would not like it.

IDK why sometimes GR gives me notifications and sometimes it doesn't but I missed your comment before Gary. I'm with you but can you explain this part to me And at the heart of his economic and political theories was his teleological utopia – a sort of pastoral redux that he located in an idealized past

Gary Stevie wrote: "lol I'm going to say that since the "death of humanity is awesome" cult and the rehydration of the Trisolarans was the least of my problems Abi that no you would not like it.

IDK why sometimes GR ..."

It's been awhile, but as best I can recall - in Marx's teleology, capitalism was like the last stop for industrialized civilization before socialism and then communism were achieved. In this theoretical post-capitalist industrialized world, there would be social ownership of the means and distribution of production, and by cutting out the "profit" stage of capitalism that allows a small group of people to produce a surplus of wealth that exceeds the actual use-value of the goods being produced, there would be a direct relationship between the producers/production and the use-value of goods. (That's probably a shitty oversimplification, but it'll have to do).
Don't ask me where this particular piece of the puzzle is to be found among the volumes of writing Marx produced - because I don't remember and I'm too lazy to look for it - but at some point he posits that the model for his socialist utopia is to be found in some pre-historical concept of pastoral life (hence, reverting to the beginning of his teleology) where producers of goods (farmers, ranchers, cobblers, etc.) directly reaped the benefits of their labors, before kings and traders and merchants came along and invented the concept of wealth. You'll recall that in The Dark Forest, Luo Ji tries to cheat - to abdicate his responsibility to society and create a space where this pastoral paradise exists for his benefit alone. It fails because it is a selfish act (one in which he leeches off society's means of production without producing anything of value himself) and Da Shi refuses to let him get away with it. When you get to Death's End, you will see the motif reappear at two keys points in the novel, but in a different context. In that case, an individual tries to demonstrate how such an existence can be beneficial to all of civilization if they are willing to share in the responsibility to make it work.
That's basically what I meant by that sentence - although looking at it now, it's a pretty lousy (and vague) sentence and I probably should have figured out a better way to say it.
I still need to get on top of that Death's End review; I've been sitting on it forever. Your comments have definitely helped me sort through some of my thoughts. Thanks, Stevie!

Stevie Kincade Ah that was an illuminating explanation. Thank you Sir!

message 8: by William (new) - added it

William Great discussion here.

Thank you for the thoughtful review!

I’ve moved this up to my top-to-read list.

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