I love science almost as much as I love science fiction. It’s amazing when an author can tell a fantastical tale entirely within the bounds of reality. When the tiniest parts and the biggest parts of our universe intersect and have meaningful impact on the characters and story, I feel a lightening bolt run down my spine. I devoured Charles Stross’s Accelerando, I nearly lost my mind reading Hannu Rajaniemi’s Quantum Thief, and I worship at the feet of Peter Watts’ Blindsight. Then I read Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem. The second I finished reading it, I bought the second book in the series, The Dark Forest.
Imagine you’re an ant. You’re crawling along a smooth surface only to find an indentation. Its long and winding, but not that deep. Crawling through that groove, you experience the twists and turns, maybe even discern some of the greater shape. But the whole of the puzzle is too great, and you too small. Somehow you know there must be some greater meaning, some grand design, but you simply cannot see it all at once.
The first few pages of The Dark Forest remind the reader the kind of extremes of scale they’ve experienced in the first book. Extremes of engineering projects ranging from weaponized protons to interstellar invasions lasting centuries; human lives traversing time in ways only futuristic technology can allow. Just like the first book, everything matters, no detail is irrelevant. And the level of detail is astounding.
Liu lays out a series of complex puzzles, then, one after another, lays out scene after scene showing the reader why everything they assumed was wrong. Every puzzle seems like it has an obvious solution, something that has been gone over time and again in the writing of the golden age of science fiction. But the characters don’t live in a vacuum. They’ve read 2001: A Space Odyssey, they’ve watched Independance Day. Hari Seldon gets a shoutout. These people live in our world. The real world. And this encyclopedic knowledge of classic science fiction tropes is responsible for a non-trivial amount of my love for these books. Everything is there: human hibernation, space colonization, solar system destroying super weapons, alien invaders, technology based on bleeding edge physics. Everything, from the Sophons to a curse cast on a star, everything brings you one step closer to understanding the big picture. And despite treading on ground that seems to have been gone over so many times, all the answers are knew, the solutions, sometimes so simple that their novelty is astounding.
Even a complete understanding of the ideas in this book doesn’t bring total knowledge. This is the middle book of a trilogy. The third book, Death’s End, has only just come out, two weeks ago. I’m not even halfway through, and already I can feel myself strapping in for some huge revelations.
I love history as much as I love science. The first chapter of Death’s End flashes back to a very important historical event, an event generally regarded as one of the most important turning points in European history. Some strange things happen, none of which has been explained yet. I don’t know how it’s all going to turn out, but I know it won’t be the way I expect.
The Three-Body Problem trilogy is some of the best fiction I’ve ever read, science or otherwise. I know I’m going to be digging into Liu Cixin’s back catalog for quite a while.