The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu, trans. by Joel Martinsen

UUUUUUUGGGGGGHHHHHHHH is my main reaction to this book.  My feelings can also be summed up like so:

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The whole thing was just so very, very frustrating mostly because there was some legitimately brilliant writing but the sexism was almost overwhelming.

There will be spoilers for the first book in this review and while I’m going to try to avoid major plot spoilers for the second book, it will be impossible to adequately convey my frustrations with the book without talking about some of the things that happen.

Okay.  So, in the first book, the world discovers that the Earth is going to be invaded by aliens in 400 years.  The aliens are intent on wiping out the human race and shaping Earth to fit their needs.  The aliens know that humans have the capability of making great technological leaps forward* so they have sent multidimensional subatomic particles called sophons, able to communicate instantaneously across space, to block certain kinds of research going forward and to spy on humans in general.  Some humans are sympathetic to the aliens (and think the human race need wiping out) and the  sophons also communicate with these humans, getting them to plan and scheme on behalf of the aliens.

At the start of this book, it is realized that to keep plans hidden from the aliens, humans must not write or speak their plans.  They must also not use any conventional strategies, since those are written in books of histories and tactics.  To this end four men are granted extraordinary powers and privileges.  They are the Wallfacers.  They have near unlimited resources for fighting the aliens and they must keep their plans a secret, having only to say that something is part of their plan to see it done.  Three of the men granted this power are respected statesmen or scientists.  The fourth is an unambitious Chinese professor, Luo Ji.  He is our main character.

Luo Ji tries to decline the honor of being named a Wallfacer but every word that comes out of his mouth is seen as part of the plan, even “I quit.”  So Luo Ji orders the project to find him his dream house in an idyllic location and goes to live a quit life far from the people who now want to kill him.  And this is where the problems start for me.  Well, the really big ones, at least.  Just as Luo Ji is able to describe his perfect house, so he describes his ideal woman.  She is tiny and beautiful and pure and flowerlike.  He thinks such an impossibly pure and lovely person cannot exist.  But the head of his security disagrees and says that finding such a woman should be no problem.  And it isn’t.  A couple weeks after her requests her, Luo Ji is sent the woman of his dreams.  She is told that she is part of the Plan to save Earth, to save humanity.  Her part of the plan is to make herself happy.  Apparently that involves falling in love with Luo Ji because the next thing we know the two are married and have a daughter.

But then a Wallfacer fails.  His plans are uncovered by an ally of the aliens, a Wallbreaker. So the world is growing increasingly worried about this Wallfacer Project and want to see something concrete from Luo Ji.  But as long as he has his wife and child and a beautiful place to live, why would Luo Ji do anything but what he is doing now?  So the world security counsel take his wife and child and put them in cryogenic sleep, to be woken when they are content that Luo Ji has really done all he can.  The main character’s wife (who, I remind you, was literally ordered up like delivery food (“No, not too much intelligence, wouldn’t want to ruin it too much spice.”)) is put on ice to motivate the main character.  ARG.

Authors, we’ve been over this.  Using the death/rape/harm of the female love interest of your male main character as motivation for that character is A TERRIBLE IDEA AND NEEDS TO STOP.  Esepecially when your book only has one other female character of significance and she has major daddy issue.  I repeat:

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The thing is, I can’t just call Cixin Liu a sexist asshat and call it a day.  Because The Three-Body Problem wasn’t sexist, as far as I can recall.  And I don’t think he meant to be sexist in this book?  Like, at one point it is mentioned that 50% of the people in the space fleet are women.  I honestly thing the author wanted things to come off as balanced?  But he failed so very, very badly in that.  But other parts.  Oh damn, he did not fail at all.  As I said, parts of this book were legitimately brilliant.  If the novel solely consisted of those parts I would be praising this as one of, if not the, most amazing sci-fi books I’ve ever read.

Do I think this book is worth your time?  If you like The Three Body Problem, then yes, absolutely.  I just also wanted to forewarn you that OH MY GOD SO SEXIST is also a reaction you will probably be having.

*Like, guys, planes were invented in ~1903 and we put a man on the moon in 1969.  That’s fucking astounding.  Go humans.

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