August 09, 2015

Liu Cixin's "...'The Dark Forest' picks up the story as the invaders, the Trisolarans, are en route with a giant fleet of warships."

Washington Post It will take them 400 years to reach Earth, leaving our panic-stricken species in a state of fevered war preparation. By Stephen Benedict Dyson

'Liu’s literary strength is the marriage of his vaulting imagination to startling set-piece narration. In the first book, he wends into his story a surreal immersive online game called “Three-Body.” It’s full of jarring anachronisms, as figures from world history grapple with the gyrating geometry of the Trisolaran system: three suns orbiting a single planet, the gravity of each pulling the others into chaotic orbits. In a memorable scene, the 20th century mathematician John von Neumann convinces Qin Shi Huang, the 3rd century B.C. emperor of China, to deploy his vast army in such a way as to mimic the circuitry of a modern computer, each soldier holding aloft a black or white flag and so, in aggregate, building millions of the logic gates that comprise a motherboard. Cavalry sweep through the ranks of formed-up soldiers transmitting data from one system component to another, and Qin I, the world’s first computer, attempts to predict the orbits of the triple suns and so solve the three-body problem.

'Liu wraps his story in what he calls the theory of “cosmic sociology,” a line of reasoning reminiscent of some classic works of international relations. Posit a few key axioms, Liu writes: there are many civilizations in the universe, they all want to survive, and there is only so much space out there. Follow the logic through, and it’s clear that every civilization must regard every other civilization as an existential threat, leaving attack on sight as the only safe strategy. All that keeps technologically inferior civilizations safe is the ignorance of others about their existence.

'The universe, then, is Liu’s “Dark Forest,” and each civilization is a hunter with knife in hand, carefully brushing back tree branches, ready to strike at the first sign of other life. And here is humanity firing messages into space, building bonfires and standing beside them screaming, “Here I am! Here I am!”'

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