A review in which we are…conflicted.
Title: The Dark Forest
Author: Cixin Liu
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication Date: August 11 2015
Hardcover: 512 Pages
This is the second novel in the “Three Body” near-future trilogy. Written by the China’s multiple-award-winning science fiction author, Cixin Liu.
In Dark Forest, Earth is reeling from the revelation of a coming alien invasion—four centuries in the future. The aliens’ human collaborators have been defeated, but the presence of the sophons, the subatomic particles that allow Trisolaris instant access to all human information, means that Earth’s defense plans are exposed to the enemy. Only the human mind remains a secret.
This is the motivation for the Wallfacer Project, a daring plan that grants four men enormous resources to design secret strategies, hidden through deceit and misdirection from Earth and Trisolaris alike. Three of the Wallfacers are influential statesmen and scientists, but the fourth is a total unknown. Luo Ji, an unambitious Chinese astronomer and sociologist, is baffled by his new status. All he knows is that he’s the one Wallfacer that Trisolaris wants dead.
Stand alone or series: Book 2 in the Three Body series
How did we get this book: ARC from the publisher
Format (e- or p-): Print/EARC
I can’t think of a book that has squandered more of my goodwill than The Dark Forest in recent memory. Actually no, scrap that. I can’t think of a book that has CRUSHED me more than The Dark Forest did. Beware, spoilers and CAPS LOCK OF FURY AHEAD.
I loved The Three-Body Problem. I loved it so much, I handed it over to Thea, telling her: READ THIS NOW. We BOTH loved it so much, we gave it high ratings and the book eventually made our top 10 lists of 2014. I loved it so much, when it won a Hugo Award this year, I screamed. Needless to say, we were both super excited about reading The Dark Forest. Until it punched it me in the face. Multiple times.
Just like its predecessor, parts of The Dark Forest are bloody fantastic. In the previous book, humanity found out that 1) we are not alone in the universe and 2) the aliens? They are coming. More than that, they are coming for us. The doomed Tri-solarians have set forth on their long journey to Earth and humans have 400 years to get ready. How to do that? How to prepare for the inevitable moment when we face those who come to destroy us?
First, survival is the primary need of civilization. Second, civilization continuously grows and expands, but the total matter in the universe remains constant.
Here is the (awesome) catch: the Tri-solarians have sent ahead particles called sophons that have the dual mission to spy on humans and to curtail technological and scientific advance – the very thing that could potentially save us all. What makes this absolutely thrilling is that although humans are aware that the sophons are here, we don’t know at which point this block will start to work so the only thing we can do is to carry on, trying to advance as much as possible without knowing where or when or how the block will be enforced.
Also thrilling – and fascinating – is the great socio-political, philosophical insights into predicting how humans would react to all of this. There are many different answers to that: some wish to welcome our new overlords. Others wish for the destruction of the human race. Others want to invest in plans to escape Earth completely. Others want to stay and fight. All of those threads are examined and elaborated on and the result is thought-provoking.
There is a tapestry of stories here but the one storyline that drives the plot forward more than any other is perhaps the one concerning the Wallfacer Project: four people are specially chosen and given ample power, unlimited funds and resources to come up with a plan to defend the planet. They must do that on their own – never letting anybody know of their plans so that the sophons cannot decipher it. Because of that, no one is allowed to question any of their orders, or deny any of their requests – as ludicrous as they might be. As a counterpoint, the Tri-solarians (or rather, their friends on Earth) come up with the Wallbreakers – four chosen individuals who will try to break their allocated Wallfacer.
One of those Wallfacers is Luo Ji, a Chinese astronomer and sociologist and the closest thing that The Dark Forest has to a protagonist. Luo Ji has no idea why he was chosen as a Wallfacer, has no real plan, basically winging it throughout the novel – and yet for some mysterious reason, the Tri-solarians are determined to kill him at all costs.
Like I said, the premise of the book is exhilarating – and it’s incredibly well developed too, in spite of the clumsy dialogue and occasional info-dump.
Unfortunately, the book has one significant problem that I simply can’t overlook.
Its treatment of women throughout is appalling. Enraging. It is so bad, it almost transcends “bad” into comical.
There are no main female characters of any significance apart from perhaps, two or three: they are the Secretary General of the UN (described as a “refined Asian lady who didn’t project the sense of power needed”); a prominent scientist and Wallbreaker; and a general. In a cast of literal dozens, this is PITIFUL. Especially because their spotlight is short-lived.
In fact, the world in this novel seems to be mostly populated by men, it’s a veritable sausage-fest. Most characters in the spotlight are men. All the Wallfacers are men. Throughout the novel, other women appear but they go unnamed, have no stories. It’s as ridiculous as having one particular storyline that follows a group of male friends and all of whom have names and stories. One of those guys has a lover and she appears in the background of their interactions all the time, has dinner with them, is there in a lot of scenes but is referred throughout as “the Sichuan woman”.
Similarly, basically the first time we meet the book’s main character, he is in bed with a woman whose name he can’t remember:
Luo Ji lay limp on the bed, watching the woman put on clothes after a shower through eyes still hazy from sleep. The sun, already high in the sky, shone through the curtains and turned her into a graceful projected silhouette, like a scene from a black-and-white movie he had forgotten the name of. But what he needed to remember now was her name. What was she called?
Soon after that, they are walking outside, and she gets KILLED. He THEN remembers her name:
He didn’t hear the heavy thud of the other impact, but then he saw the woman’s body soar over the top of the car and fall behind it on the road like a boneless rag doll. As it tumbled, the trail of blood it left behind on the ground seemed like it ought to mean something. As he stared at the bloody symbol, Luo Ji finally remembered her name.
Do you think the narrative bothers to finally NAME her? No. Of course not. Why would it? Women are unimportant.
Luo Ji is a man-child who says he has never been able to truly connect with a woman because when he was at university he made up a female character for an unwritten novel and fell in love with this imaginary person because she was the perfect woman. This is a part of the story that goes and on and on on how he created this imaginary woman. When he becomes a Wallfacer and is given unlimited resources to save the planet, he sets out to find this perfect woman, by asking his bodyguard to find her:
“She… how should I put it? She came into this world like a lily growing out of a rubbish heap, so… so pure and delicate, and nothing around her can contaminate her. But it can all harm her. Yes, everything around her can hurt her! Your first reaction when you see her is to protect her. No, to care for her, to let her know that you are willing to pay any price to shield her from the harm of a crude and savage reality. She… she’s so… ah, I’ve got a clumsy tongue. I can’t say anything clearly.”
He described how she had come alive for the first time in the library, how she appeared in his classroom during lecture, how the two of them had met in front of the imaginary fireplace in his dormitory, the beauty of the firelight shining onto her face through the bottle of wine like the eyes of twilight. He recalled with pleasure their road trip, describing every last detail: the fields after the snow, the town and village under the blue sky, the mountains like old villagers basking in the sun, and the evening and bonfire at the foot of the mountain…. After he finished, Shi Qiang stubbed out his cigar.
“Well, that’s about enough. I’ll guess a few things about the girl, and you see if I’m right.”
“Education: She’s got at least a bachelor’s, but less than a doctorate.”
Luo Ji nodded. “Yes, yes. She’s knowledgeable, but not to the point where it calcifies her. It only makes her more sensitive to life and to the world.”
In a gross, completely unbelievable turn of events, they find this woman and Luo Ji marries her. And then the story proceeds to objectify and infantilise the character:
Looking at her innocently holding the wineglass stirred the most delicate parts of his mind. She drank when invited. She trusted the world and had no wariness about it at all. Yes, everything in the world was lying in wait to hurt her, except here. She needed to be cared for here.
When she saw its true appearance for the first time, what Luo Ji heard was not the squeals and fussing and exclamations that young women like her usually made. No, in the face of such a magnificent vista, she fell into an awed and breathless state and was unable to speak even one word of praise. He could tell that she was far more sensitive to natural beauty than other women.
He was completely overcome by her childlike nature.
Her English was strained, but her voice retained a childlike softness and she still had that cool spring of a smile, which stroked his weary soul like an angel’s hands.
You might have been wondering… this is a book about alien invasion and high stakes, wtf is all this doing here. Well, dear reader: the zenith of this storyline is that Luo Ji is not doing his work properly and so THEY TAKE AWAY HIS WIFE AND FREEZE HER UNTIL SUCH A TIME WHEN HE DOES HIS WORK AND SHE CAN BE RETURNED TO HIM.
Yes, you heard that right. This book LITERALLY fridges the woman to LITERALLY motivate the main character.
Now, in fairness, there is an argument to be made that the story is taking Luo Ji’s misogynist views of women and using it against him. Especially when we find out that Zhuang Yan chose to sacrifice herself for humankind. I will counter-argue that we never get to hear from Zhuang Yan – her perspective and her choice are invisible to us, info-dumped from afar. This is particularly egregious in a book with multiple viewpoints and a lot of head-hoping.
Ultimately, I deeply resent the fact THAT I HAD TO SPEND SO MUCH FUCKING TIME INSIDE THIS ASSHOLE’S HEAD. And more than being an actual, developed plot point, I’d say that there is no narrative pay-off for this misogyny. It’s there, normalised as a character trait and it goes nowhere. There is no point to it and it goes unchallenged. Was this a problem that existed in The Three-Body Problem and I glossed over it because one of the main characters in that book was a woman? It’s possible. I also wonder, perhaps uncharitably and unfairly, how much the change in translator from book 1 to book 2 has made an impact in the way the English narrative conveys all of this.
At the end of the day, even though the main narrative thrust of the novel was incredible, I care far too much about about the book’s treatment of women to come close to liking The Dark Forest. In fact, I wish the Tri-solarians to come and obliterate this book from orbit.
Ok. This is a tough one to write.
It’s tough because I completely, wholeheartedly understand and agree with Ana. The treatment of female characters in this particular novel is appalling. It’s pointless misogyny, serving no actual purpose in the development of the overall story, it’s accepted and adopted by multiple characters (all men, of course, because there are no main female characters in this novel), and it actually is the literary equivalent of being punched in the face. Multiple times.
For the entire first act of this book, we are subjected to the vile thoughts (and I say vile, because of the casual banality of this character’s attitude towards women) in Luo Ji’s head. These thoughts go unchallenged by the text; moreover, these sentiments are echoed by others in the novel (in particular, Da Shi, who plays a big part in Three Body Problem). What’s worse is, all of this narrative shittiness is utterly throwaway–in the first 200 pages of the book, nothing of real import or interest happens!
It’s very, very hard to recommend a book–or continue reading a book–where nearly a third of the text is superfluous douchecanoery without forward momentum in terms of overall storyline.
Once you get past the first part of the book and enter part 2, with the Wallfacer Project taking off in earnest, the Wallbreakers, and the looming reality of Trisolaran invasion and Earth’s preparations for the Doomsday Battle…once you get there, The Dark Forest delivers. BIG TIME. There are twists and shocking surprises and metaphors–and they are brilliant, if darkly shrouded in pessimism in the innate nature of intelligent life in the universe.
And that’s where the conflicted part of my brain kicks in, because for as much as I hated the first 200 pages or so, I absolutely loved the brilliant, unexpected, and thoroughly awesome 300 pages that followed. The Dark Forest examines the 400 years that humanity has to prepare for the Trisolaran invasion of Earth, and face a huge disadvantage. To the advanced Trisolarian civilization, humanity are mere bugs–what’s worse, Trisolaris has sent sophons to Earth that are capable of preventing huge leaps in technological progress, listen/read/perceive of all human conversations and communication. What this means, effectively, is humanity can form no plans to fight the invasion without the sophons finding out and transmitting that information back to Trisolaris. In response to this formidable and seemingly unbeatable enemy edge, the human Planetary Defense Council creates the Wallfacer Project, in which four men–Frederick Tyler, Rey Diaz, Bill Hines, and Luo Ji–are selected to formulate plans that will save humanity. The kicker? These men can never reveal their strategies. They can never speak of or write their plans. They are granted unlimited power and privilege, given access to any resources they require to execute their defense and defeat of Trisolaris–and the sophons, for all their ability to eavesdrop and process information, cannot read minds. Nor can they understand the intricacies of human thought or deception.
The plans that each of these men create–and the opposition they face from their respective “Wallbreakers”, human Trisolaran-sympathizers given the task of discerning the plans of the Wallfacers–are varied, completely unexpected, and utterly exhilarating to read. The one wildcard in the project is Luo Ji–who doesn’t want to be a Wallfacer, who squanders resources and time initially, but who is the key to humanity’s survival and victory. He’s also a pathetic human being and character–but that’s kind of besides (or maybe it is) the point.
I don’t want to spoil how things unfold (ha) in The Dark Forest, or the revelations that the Wallfacers and Luo Ji in particular make. Suffice it to say, there’s a haunting elegance to the metaphor of the eponymous “Dark Forest” and that Cixin’s ultimate design by novel’s end are almost wholly breathtaking.
For as much as I appreciate the metaphor of the title, the unexpected message of love and hope, and the unexpected and bizarre way things shake out in this novel, it is hard to recommend The Dark Forest. It’s hard to tell someone that they might be punched in the face for about 200 pages, but stick with it because the payoff is good. I completely understand and respect Ana’s opinion and position when it comes to this second novel.
For me… I want to know what happens next. No, I need to know what happens next. I abhor the misogyny of the book’s first half–but I will be back to read Death’s End in 2016.
Ana: 1 – NOPE
Thea: A 2 for the awful first 1/3, an 8 for the brilliant subsequent 2/3. So let’s call it a 6.
Buy the Book:
(click on the link to purchase)
Catherine Faris KingDecember 11, 2015 at 1:10 pm
I was so intrigued by The Three Body Problem but to read this… and I mean, damn, that Wallfacer/Wallbreaker plan sounds like an absolutely terrific engine to run a plot on. But I know all too well the disappointment of an extremely promising series that disintegrates into dreck (one day, ask me about the Bitterbynde Chronicles.) Yikes. I guess there’s no chance that Cixin Liu will reform between this book and the third?
AnonymousDecember 11, 2015 at 11:20 pm
AnonymousDecember 12, 2015 at 8:59 pm
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BethanyJanuary 14, 2016 at 11:18 am
Thanks for these reviews…I’m trudging through the first 200 pages in audiobook form right now. Came online to find out if it gets better, apparently the answer is “sort of.” PS I don’t recommend the audiobook; the narrator for this one sounds like a robot. I keep expecting him to tell me to turn left in 1.3 miles or something.
The literal and complete objectification of women so far is especially weird because the female main character in 3 Body was so great.
(mild spoilers ahead)
It does seem like Luo Ji is sort the butt of a joke about misogynists–other people find his dreamgirl very predictable and unoriginal, and his invention of her sort of cuts him off from the rest of the world. And I liked the implication that his (real) ex-girlfriend is in love with a dream-guy.
But so far it feels like this is a story written explicitly for sexist men. It allows realistic women to exist in the story, but all of the focus is on the male perspective. It’s like the duche at the duche-party saying, “You know, this isn’t critically important or anything, but women are real people. Just as a bit of trivia.” And that’s the only unsexist thing that happens at the whole party.
anonMarch 14, 2016 at 8:57 pm
I read that the misogyny in the original was even worse; the female UN secretary general was described frequently as “angelic”.
In fact, Liu Cixin is generally criticized as misogynistic, but that seems to have more to do with his personal background. He’s probably not comfortable with capable women or strong female protagonists, and the entire trilogy, I’m told, is filled with misogynism. For example, Ye, the fascinating female protagonist in the first novel, is the one who brings disaster to Earth. In the third novel, which I’ve not yet read, supposedly has a female protagonist to compensate, but she’s also involved in a colossal screw-up. In Dark Forest, every major female character is a token female; there is no discourse on feminity or gender and while this could be good in a “post-feminist” way, the status quo is relatively sexist.
That said, the female captain in the last section was relatively competent, just not competent enough. Also, I think the character of Luo Ji needs to be discussed more in a Chinese cultural context.
Luo Ji actually seems a bit like a character out of The Dream of Red Mansions, which is considered the greatest Chinese novel, if the greatest Chinese novel was a pastiche of Austen. In The Dream of Red Mansions, you have a portrait of a declining, but prosperous, clan, with concubines presented to the Emperor providing status and wealth. However, to retain their status once the concubines become old, the family needs other means. Enter Bao Yu, a teenage boy of whom the family expects to do well at the imperial examinations, earning their family tax exemptions and status among the aristocracy. He’s talented, absolutely, but he’s like Luo Ji, supremely indifferent and more content to play with the maids and write poetry with his female cousins than to attend to his familial duties. The crux of the novel lies on the love triangle between him and two of his cousins, so if you can’t sympathize with him, sympathize with his true love, the feisty and sickly Lin Daiyu, who upon finding that he’s been married to the other cousin, whom the family feels is more suitable due to her tactfulness and robust health, dies of a broken heart.
It’s actually considered a feminist text, in that the women are usually shown to be more capable than the men. Bao Yu is an example of this; he’s classically feckless despite his significant talent, and it’s only when Lin Daiyu dies that he actually applies it, restoring the family’s status, only to retreat to a monastery upon fulfilling his duties, leaving his wife with his family to tend their kids. That’s pretty irresponsible, isn’t it, even if you’re forced into an arranged marriage.
That’s what I see when I see Luo Ji. The man-child part and dissolute personality is part of his characterization: like Bao Yu, he’s supremely irresponsible. The part where he breaks up with his girlfriend after inventing his own dream woman is supposed to suggest his sensitive (to his own feelings only, but then again, his ex-girlfriend has her own dream man she keeps in her head), artistic, and intellectual side, which is ultimately integral to his breakthrough. And like Bao Yu, the state (the family) opts to control him through his love-life.
Not necessarily the nicest guy, but I just want to show you where I think Liu Cixin was trying to go with the character.
The other part to notice is the character of his wife. This book bears close readings, but throughout those scenes you have to realize that she’s a volunteer prostitute. She must have been a talented or at least capable art student in her previous life, but as part of the Wallfacer project she either opted for or was dragooned into playing Luo Ji’s wife, even after the Wallfacer project was aborted. In every scene with her, keep that fact in mind, and try to read behind the lines to intuit her own quiet suffering, and what she really feels. It is, at the end of the day, duty that drives her; in the majority of the novel, it is her duty to humanity that allows her to tolerate her spouse, and after the crisis is over, it is her duty to her child that keeps her in the marriage, although, as with many arranged marriages, love sometimes blooms after a prolonged attachment, and Luo Ji isn’t actually despicable to her, telling her that she should be as happy as possible, and this is “part of the Plan”. This may be alien to Western sensibilities.
As to whether this actually happens; as some have mentioned, the romance is actually a horror story and the worst part is that it’s true. In traditional Chinese culture, one strategy wealthy families use to control their youths and heirs is to adopt pretty peasant girls as their wives, and use them to manipulate their husbands, with the wives knowing that their primary loyalty should be to the family. Something akin to this still happens; some Chinese women marry not for love, but for money, and not money for themselves, but for their family. The golddigging is a part of their duty to their families, who are often impoverished and need money.
All that said, I don’t deny Liu Cixin’s misogyny. However, it’s not an active hatred of women or a desire to keep women in their place, it’s an artifact of the culture. If it’s not sophisticated enough for Western readers, well, you tolerated the “Chineseness” of Three-Body, why not chalk this up to the same quality?
The brief parts involving Luo Ji’s wife can sustain a serious feminist reading, if that’s what you’re looking for, and she shows as much strength in submitting her own personal happiness to the greater good as Zhang Beihai does in long-term planning and determined will toward achieving escape. When you consider that, in her social class as a Beijing art student, she had a chance of achieving independent and personal fulfillment without having to shack up with little boy Luo Ji, she is a heroine of the story.
anonMarch 14, 2016 at 9:14 pm
Actually, the last post was a ramble. The tl;dr is that you have to read the sections about Luo Ji’s wife/girlfriend as Luo Ji’s wife deliberately subjugating her agency for the sake of humanity. She’s not really that childish; she’s playing a role as much as Nora Helmer from Ibsen’s A Doll House.
Because this is Chinese fiction, a lot of the stuff is sometimes not spelled out. This is one of them. Imagine if the government came and said a top-tier government project was looking for women who fit a specific description, and that you had to put away your career and your own life aspirations. You had to be mature enough to be dependable for the government, and smart enough not to be manipulated by ETO riffraff. That’s a pretty tall order, isn’t it? The worst part is that you have to play a child-wife for some over-entitled playboy who, for only a matter of chance, is critical to global well-being, so whatever intelligence you have has to be suppressed to play the role the world and Luo Ji demands of you.
Not supported by the text? If you’d bear to reread it, Luo Ji notices a certain sadness in her eyes. Why is that? Because of Luo Ji, of course. And the fact that his wife and child supposedly agreed to be frozen, if you take that as face value, it’s she who knows what her responsibility and duty is.
Take it as you will. Just providing an alternate reading of one of the characters.
anonMarch 14, 2016 at 9:34 pm
One other note; Zhuang Yan in Chinese can mean “Pretend, Act”. It’s a subtle touch, which supports my Nora hypothesis.
panvertigoJanuary 10, 2017 at 3:16 pm
ana, your review is completely focused on your personal ideology. while this is part of your responsibility as a conscientious and informed cultural consumer, i feel that your review is unfair to the author.
let’s evaluate the example of luo ji’s introduction strictly through literary lenses – why would the author insist that this woman remain nameless? is it because he hates women? is it because he does not view them as important? for questions like these, we as readers have several choices in how to approach the answer: evaluate what we are given in a vacuum, give the author the benefit of the doubt, or interpret contradictions to our worldview as a result of malice.
ye wenjie was an excellent character in the three body problem in the sense that she was not a generically ‘strong’ Hollywood female lead. she was complex, flawed, and deeply interesting, and her treatment there should be indicative of the author’s judgment that women can be intelligent and engaging. he treats her story with tenderness and dignity. from this, i think we can give cixin liu the benefit of the doubt here and not rail against this book simply because it features men.
with this gentler perspective, we can interpret the continued anonymity of the woman as an intentional device that heightens the sense of numbness, languor, and malaise in luo ji. yes, we can argue that we are ‘using’ this anonymous woman to further luo ji’s character, but the author’s responsibility (in this framework) is to develop luo ji. there are real issues in the real life society we live in, but we do not need social justice movements for a character who simply exists to develop a main character. i would enjoy this continued anonymity just as much if luo ji was female, and it was her unnamed lover who died. it would be distracting artistically to name this woman many chapters later when luo ji remembers her name.
his daydreaming about an ‘ideal’ woman also furthers the point of lou ji being a manchild with naive ideas about romance and a woman’s role. this makes him an extremely interesting wallfacer: completely unmotivated and childish. it’s one of the ironies of the story, and it takes a perceptive author to craft a character such as this. it’s a superficial and kneejerk reaction to so quickly label this work as ‘misogynistic’ and give it such a low rating.
in fact, i think books that feature a bland one-dimensional female character who is good at everything are worse from a feminist perspective. they address the issues on the surface, but fail to capture the essence of the message.
Lorne SJune 17, 2017 at 10:07 pm
Spoiler alert, talking about Death’s End, the 3rd book in the 3 body trilogy, in which the anti-feminine theme reaches a crescendo. While I am an old male, I consider myself in tune with some feminist world views. I am so happy someone else sees the tragic misogynist (literally, not a generic curse – some ignorant men are not particularly misogynist) strain in this otherwise intelligent and funny writer. Having read Death’s End, believe me I was hoping the writer would redeem the story by having a female character who acts decisively when necessary and does not need a dirty Harry type male to save the situation. Boy, was I disappointed – worse and worse. I believe the writer is unaware of this and may be quite hurt by this characterization, but Death’s End puts the final nails in the sexist coffin. I disagree that the story lacks intelligent and in some ways ruthless female scientists. Rather, much of the story centers around brilliant and creative female scientists. The problem is, when the crunch comes, when decision time comes, they invariably have horrible judgement, that dooms the earth and billions of people because they always act emotionally with fatally faulty maternal-like concern. Only the old style manly men, according to the 3 body author, can make the tough and correct decisions., (the newer men of the future, he compares to male pop stars, are weak effeminate, and unattractive even to these women with phenomenally poor judgement) I think Cixin Liu needs to meet grizzly bear mothers. They assess complex situations daily and bravely decide to fight or flee with pretty good results. There is absolutely no evidence women in power make decisions worse than men. Quite a sad contrast with many contemporary female heroes, real and literary, Cixin Liu seems strangely out of touch.
MJuly 6, 2017 at 6:14 am
Hi Ana and Thea,
As a woman, I completely understand how Ana feels — but I didn’t read it as misogyny, but more as realism, the description of an imperfect character. I felt the same way about the first 200 pages of the book, but I felt disgust towards Luo Ji, the character, not really towards the author.
One thing I appreciated about the three body trilogy is the way characters approach love and romance change with the eras of time — in the first book, in 1960s China, relations between men and women seemed simpler — every character was married, and people got married after a short experience of attraction along with considerations of practicality.
But the second book opens and a new attitude immediately emerges — it starts with Luo Ji in bed with a woman he just met and whom he can’t even remember the name of. This is supposed to be the 2000s era and the author obviously took note of the change in social attitude toward love and sex in China between now and then – because such a scene would have been completely anachronistic in the first book in 1960s China.
[contains minor spoilers]
So I read Luo Ji’s … romantic story, let’s say? … as some sort of social commentary or a very non-romantic reflection on the nature of romantic love. In the Book Smugglers’ review of the first book (the Three Body Problem), Thea mentioned that the characters in the book are neither heroes nor villains, just history — in the same way, Luo Ji is just another one of these characters — he can’t be made into a hero, he’s just an imperfect human being that happens to be a part of history — in fact he can’t even take credit for coming up with his own ideas, as everything he’s developed came from a chance conversation with Ye Wenjie, and you can see it as him only continuing her work, and Ye Wenjie, a woman, is the truly brilliant character (She probably figured it all out already?).
The author in fact tries to extrapolate much about how gender, marriage, and “relations between the sexes” change through time — two hundred years into the future, the author writes that marriage no longer exists, and also that the members of the space fleets consisted of equal parts men and women — both are NOT the way society currently is — in many scientific and engineering fields today, men still very much outnumber women. And so considering this, and the fact that Dark Forest takes place mostly in an era close to our current time, it makes sense that all the wall-facers are men — if hypothetically we were to have an actual trisolarian crisis in our world today and we came up with actual wall-facers, it’s highly likely that they are all men, since many people in high positions of the government, the military, and the sciences, in fact are men.
ReyterJuly 20, 2017 at 1:00 am
Thank god political correctness hasn’t overrun China as well. The main protagonist is a guy who loves women very much in a country where, shockingly, women are generally looked upon as being as being flowers. This was a part of the story. That the “hero” is a lazy, philandering intellectual who really (for the first 1/2 of the book) doesn’t care about anyone but himself.
The Three Body Problem and it’s embittered, murderous “female” astrophysicist is a fantastic book. The Dark Forest is nothing less than a science fiction masterpiece.
Ignore this politically correct nonsense.
AnonymousJanuary 7, 2018 at 6:40 pm
Some of the comments here have done a great job of explaining what is missed in this review – the context of Chinese history and culture that adds much nuance to what you see as blunt.
bekibunny.January 22, 2018 at 2:57 pm
Just read the book and I thought it was clear that Luo ji was being set up as an obnoxious wastrel precisely to point out the writer’s thread thru all the books that ethics and survival don’t necessarily go hand in hand. I find it hard to believe that a writer who wrote such an amazing female character as ye wenji would be just an oblivious misogynist.
Lorne SJanuary 22, 2018 at 11:16 pm
Oh, no, I just read in Wikipedia that the English edition of 3 Body trilogy left out some parts, but the German translation has them.
I want the unabridged version with the formerly unincluded sections in red. Maybe we are missing something. Also, no novels since 3 Body, but 3 short story collections in the last 3 years. In spite of my criticism, I want to see the latest writing. Anybody know if any translations in the works? I saw an interview of him done when he visited Britain. He was critical of the US dropping out of the Climate accord, I think, even though my impression was he used an environmentalist as a traitor to the humans in the first book. She could not imagine aliens doing worse than humans to the environment.
Anon-2April 16, 2018 at 11:31 pm
Thank you for your review! I read so many glowing reviews of this book and I don’t see why more people aren’t talking about the ridiculous treatment of women in this story. The entirety of Luo Ji’s relationship with Yan is a cringe-fest.
Some people made nice counterpoints about how Yan is actually a much more important, complex, and tragic character than is directly spelled out in the text. But we could sit around and imagine lots meaningful stories around any of the superficial female characters in the book. That’s besides the point. The point is that the author didn’t include these imaginary stories in the book.
There aren’t even any female POV passages in this book. Females play so almost no role in the plot. When they are there, they are basically furniture.
Could you imagine how people would react if the gender lines were reversed in this book?
Here’s another passage from the book:
“He held a printout of a photograph, an overhead shot of a group of people looking upward excitedly. They were recognizably the crew from this very control room, Ringier in their midst, along with three women in sexy poses who might have been girlfriends of some in the group”
PsmithNovember 9, 2019 at 10:31 pm
Many years later, just to say thank you for deciding me against reading this. I read the first and was already annoyed by the gender roles and cardboard characterization, though at least there was one female POV character.
As to seeing Luo Ji as a modern day Baoyu, that sounds like a stretch. For me the first book read like Asimov et al, “classic” science fiction with 1950s American gender roles, and I suspect everything mentioned in the review stems simply from the generally agreed Chinese view that women are worth less than men, are less intelligent etc. This is so prevalent across China that I would be extremely surprised to find a man of Liu Cixin’s age with even a slight understanding of feminism, let alone a nuanced one. This is my problem with most Chinese science fiction I’ve read so far, and it’s a pity because books like Dream of the Red Chamber and many folk operas etc actually have good, nuanced portrayals of women. I find it sad that this aspect of Chinese (literary) culture has actually got worse rather than better.
SighMay 31, 2020 at 6:49 pm
Just wait til you get to the third book. Humanity is doomed because of repeated poor decisions of women, put in power by a “feminized humankind” (literal text from the book) where men have chosen to become so feminine that they are indistinguishable from women. The few remaining strong-willed violent tough guys are proven right in the end, and the women bemoan that these men actually listened to them instead of ignoring their poor womanly decisions and doing the right thing, as the entire solar system is destroyed… ?
carrotfaceSeptember 4, 2020 at 7:09 pm
Yeah, always blame the culture and history, poor innocent aothor so misunderstood. I have to laugh, Liu objectifies women in every interview. And I say that as a native Chinese speaker. And as a sci-fi fan, I watched a lot of his interviews. It’s so revolting I don’t even want to translate them to you.
AndrewFebruary 4, 2021 at 4:05 pm
Holy crap. I just started the audiobook. Parts are absolutely brilliant. Over the last few hours, however, I keep thinking “Has this guy ever MET A WOMAN??????”. I had to find a review to tell me if it ever ends, glad I’m not the only one who thinks this.
Lorne M SalterFebruary 4, 2021 at 5:39 pm
Glad to give you a heads up. I actually want to see his short stories since three body, if they become available in English. Meanwhile, an attempt to turn 3 body into an epic Netflix series has been stalled by a mysterious poisoning: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/31/business/three-body-problem-murder-poison.html
Lorne M SalterFebruary 4, 2021 at 5:43 pm
Glad to give you a heads up. I actually want to see his short stories since three body, if they become available. Meanwhile, an attempt to turn 3 body into an epic Netflix series has been stalled by a mysterious poisoning: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/31/business/three-body-problem-murder-poison.html
ConnyApril 7, 2021 at 10:39 am
I’m surprised to find so much praise for the first part with respect to the treatment of women – I read it years ago but decided against further reading of the series because I found the treatment of female characters painful. One the woman of desire that did not have a voice and two basically more or less heartless woman ready to kill their “loved-ones”. And that’s it.
I also wondered if the translation played a role in this perceiption with respect to the feel of a character. But then I thought, no it’s just weird.
Thanks for this review – there might be brilliant ideas in the new books, but I prefer to spend my time with interesting sci fi that that does not manifest traditional stereotypes – or in this case just a very weird and heartless understanding / view of women. Luckily, there are other brilliant authors out there who represent that point of view!