Now we return to the second book in the Remembrance of Earth Chinese science fiction series by Cixin Liu, which was translated into English as The Dark Forest (刘慈欣的”地球往事:黑暗森林). Of course, the whole series was translated into English and won Hugo awards, but we’re reading it in Chinese. Either language edition can be purchased here, although the English edition can be found more easily on Amazon:
The book is split into four parts with no subchapters, so it will be challenging reading. Sometimes it helps to have smaller chapters just to psychologically cope with the foreign language text a bit more comfortably instead of seeing this big wall of text to tackle. The book’s four parts include a preface and three sections titled “Wall Facers,” “Incantation,” and “Dark Forest.” I’m going to do a much more brief discussion of the text since it is available in English translation and provide some study guide style information to help student readers of the Chinese edition.
The preface only has two scenes and is rather long. The first scene shows a creature named Heyi (褐蚁, meaning brown ant) who is typically referred to as it (它) until it shapeshifts into something recognizably human when it is referred to as he (他). It’s dusk, and the stars are coming out on Heyi’s old, forgotten homeworld, which is earth. This section refers briefly to ant clans who are now establishing a new empire on the sun, but Heyi, who must be from these ant clans, goes back to their old homeland to a lonely summit to look for food.
Heyi seems to have a number of different forms he can take, some that he likes and some that are frightening, but he at one point looks like a messenger from heaven, like a marble statue with eyes that have no pupils. These aliens are described here as cosmic conquerors who are not peaceful but who bring terror even as they are cautious. Heyi meets Lao Ye, that is Ye Wenjie from volume 1, and they talk about alien civilizations and what she knows about his culture. She calls him Xiao Luo (his formal name here is Luoji 罗辑 as far as she understands and doesn’t know his other name), and she knows him as her late daughter Yang Dong’s student from senior high school. He is an astronomer. They say their goodbyes at the end of the section.
The second scene shows Mike Evans (麦克‧伊文斯), the American member of the Three Bodies Movement we saw at the end of volume 1, and this is a transcript of a conversation between him and someone named Zimu (字幕, literally caption) late at night. This is Mike Evans’ 22nd dialogue with the alien, and he calls the alien “lord” or “my lord.” They discuss humanity and civilizations. Among the many things Zimu says, he asserts that humans hold an inferior biological position next to the aliens and that humans have defects in their “communication organs,” which the aliens don’t have. Mike Evans objects that Zimu is mistaken about this inferiority and points out in the interview how the aliens need humans to understand things. Zimu says the aliens are afraid of humans. This section really sets up the story and shows how far things have advanced since volume 1.
Part 1 runs 166 pages and is titled “Wall Facers,” which also has connotations of enlightenment and contemplation, though I’m not sure yet how the phrase is meant here. This part starts with a subtitle stating “The Crisis Era Year 3, Three Bodies Warship Fleet, 4.21 Light Years from the Solar System,” and this is the only heading of its kind in the whole of part 1. Part 1 is split into 40 sections only set off by a double space, so you have to really pay attention to where the story goes from section to section. A lot of characters appear in this part, so I’ll give some basic information and the Chinese version of the names to help students who want to tackle the original text rather than the translation. The whole section seems to stay in this time frame of crisis year 3. Part 1 has a number of storylines that are intertwined throughout it, and I’m going to group the basic outline of each together instead of following the constantly shifting storyline from section to section.
In the first storyline in this part of the book, we are introduced to a huge warship called the Tang in an ocean, which appears to be under construction, and we meet warship commander Wu Yue (吴岳) and political commissar Zhang Beihai (章北海). Beihai’s father is ill but has stabilized, and they are given orders by a general to attend the 5th division’s exercises.
It turns out the Tang ship is related to a Chinese astronaut program. Zhang Beihai and General Chang Weisi (常伟思) talk about space and their sea warship fleets in another segment. Zhang Beihai then goes to visit his father on his sick bed and tells him about the astronaut program he’s involved with. The program plans on building an astronaut fleet based on the navy to fight a galactic war.
Wu Yue and Zhang Beihai discuss building the Tang ship and their understanding of a space war in a later segment , and late one night, the astronauts have a meeting where they contemplate the most dangerous ideas for an astronaut, defeatism (失败主义). Zhang Beihai, General Chang Weisi, and Wu Yue all participate in this meeting. The astronauts face interference from the Wall Facers in their work later in Part 1.
Another significant if fairly brief storyline that appears early on in part 1 shifts to Colorado Springs’ Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station with main characters General Fei Ziluo (斐兹罗) and Lei De’er (雷德尔). Four organizations are mentioned here: NASA, ETO (The Earth Three Bodies Organization), PDC (The Planetary Defense Council), and NMD (The North American National Strategic Guided Missile Defense System). This section discusses whether there is an obligation to protect humanity from enemies beyond earth and whether earth needs defending by the ETO and PDC.
At the end of part 1, General Fei Ziluo orders Dr. Albert Ringer to immediately examine the Three Bodies world somewhere out in space, an order which Ringer balks at since he’s not military but works for NASA. They are in the same telescope control room we saw near the beginning of part 1, and they discuss the sort of photographs the telescope takes. They also talk about three fixed stars and Jupiter. The general wants him to take a certain type of photo, and they look at the Three Bodies planet and see a Three Bodies warship fleet. Of course, humanity is living through the Three Bodies Crisis, and they’re under the illusion that the Three Bodies invaders’ true plan is to exterminate humanity. They conclude at the end of part 1 that a huge change is coming to the world in five years.
A third, much more prominent storyline features Zhang Yuanchao (张援朝) and his neighbor Yang Jinwen (杨晋文), or Lao Yang. Zhang Yuanchao has been a chemical plant worker for more than 40 years, and Lao Yang is a retired middle school teacher. The men talk about retirement and the world’s problems. When discussing the state of humanity, Lao Yang surmises humanity won’t exist in 400 years. They listen to snippets of the news on TV about the NMD and PDC as well as a segment about an illness in a hospital that features an interview with Ding Yi, a character from volume 1. Lao Yang declares that the “cruel day” will come.
Later in another related segment, Miao Fuquan (苗福全) goes to see Zhang Yuanchao and Yang Jinwen, and they listen to another long TV news report about the Planetary Defense Committee while they drink and have a meal together. They discuss something about the war economy, rich people and the banks. One topic that comes up in this section is a major question in this part of the novel, 逃亡主义,or some sort of fugitive ideology. The news report discusses how humanity can avoid complete extinction by fleeing to the stars.
The next segment where we return to this storyline, Zhang Yuanchao has a new gabbing partner in a later segment named Shi Xiaoming (史晓明) where they talk about someone’s grandson flying in a ship in a century, space ships and space travel. As is typical in this storyline, Zhang Yuanchao and Yang Jinwen chat and watch more news reports. This time, an announcer talks about the fugitive ideology, and the men discuss the meaning of the report. These characters recede into the background in the second half of part 1.
Part 1 also has a number of fairly brief storylines only having a handful of sections dedicated to them. One of these brief storylines continues themes from the preface with another transcript of a conversation that Zimu has with someone called Wall Facer #2. Zimu talks some about the ETO’s implementation of some order, while Wall Facer #2 mentions the snake of the Bible who helps mankind get wisdom and emerge from a dangerous labyrinth. This section ends ominously with Wall Facer #2 promising Zimu that he and Mike Evans will get him proof of their loyalty. I’m not sure if he means their personal loyalty or humanity’s, but both sides seem to be very suspicious of one another.
The next time these characters come up, we have another segment with Wall Facer #2 and Zimu’s transcript. This time Wall Facer #2 says more about this snake and tells Zimu to trust him that none of humanity will escape some trap they have planned. This is the last time this storyline shows up in this part.
Another very brief storyline only appears in three very brief sections flash back to Zhou Wenwang from the Three Bodies videogame in volume 1. He only shows up three times in this part of the book, and in this section, he is mainly yelling, “Is anybody out there?” In the other sections, he has a brief dialogue with Niu Dun and another recurring character who were also in volume 1, but I felt nothing particularly significant came out of these sections.
The most significant storyline of part 1 also picks up the character introduced in the preface, whose real name is Heyi since he is not human but one of the aliens. Known by his human name in this storyline, Luoji wakes up to the sun shining and a woman in his home whose name he can’t remember. They have an extended conversation on alien civilizations, cosmic society, and he mentions the fact that he is a scholar of aliens. They go to a restaurant for breakfast and then part ways, figuring they won’t ever meet again. He realizes at the end of the section he still can’t remember her name.
In a later segment, Luoji meets police officer Shi Qiang, whom we first met in volume 1. They go to a small room deep underground via an elevator. Shi Qiang sits on a bed and smokes with Luoji, introducing himself as a police officer. Luoji asks if he’s under suspicion for some reason. Shi Qiang makes reference to the woman Luoji had been talking with earlier, but Luoji answers that he only knew the woman a week and doesn’t know her name. She is apparently now dead; Shi Qiang says they don’t believe he’s responsible.
Shi Qiang asks Luoji to put on a bulletproof vest, but Luoji wonders who would try to kill him. They walk to the elevator and take it to the 1st floor where it looks like they are in an underground parking garage. Apparently boarding an airplane at this location, Luoji and Shi Qiang fly over the seacoast. After flying a while and eating dinner, Luoji decides to sleep some after Shi Qiang tries once again to get more information out of him about this dead woman. However, Luoji just doesn’t know anything about her. Shi Qiang asks that Luoji not call him Officer Shi but Da Shi, or Big Shi, which is much more informal. Afterward, Luoji goes to one of the actual bedrooms on the plane and falls asleep.
In one of the longest segments of part 1, Luoji thinks or dreams about a woman named Bai Rong, a YA novelist. Luoji’s association with her was long-standing, and they even considered getting married at one point. This segment is a flashback to some of their time together, even a meeting at a library and enduring a snowstorm. When he wakes up, Shi Qiang gives him some medicine, and Luoji goes back to sleep.
Later, Shi Qiang comes to wake him up and urges him to get ready. He eats breakfast as the plane starts to descend. He is then prepped to go into a United Nations General Assembly meeting, where the secretary general is a woman named Sa Yi. She talks about how the Planetary Defense Council has chosen the participants in their “wall facer” plan, and the names of the Wall Facers will now be announced. She identifies four people designated as “wall facers”: first is Frederick Taylor; second is Manuer Leidiyazi, a name which looks like it’s probably an ethnicity not commonly found in Chinese to English dictionaries that I’m sure the English translation of the novel has turned into something more familiar; and third is Bill Haynes. At the end of this section, Sa Yi declares that Luoji is the fourth wall facer.
The “wall facer” plan is essentially to have war strategists come up with ideas which the Wall Facers will carry out in the outside world, presenting a deception to it as a form of camouflage and as a psy op. Many of the other segments in Part 1 introduce more details about the other three Wall Facers, such as Bill Haynes Japanese wife Keiko Yamasugi, as they come together to prepare.
That’s more than enough information to get readers started. I’ll pick up part 2 next time.
Part 1 of 3.