I just finished The Dark Forest and I'm not loving the series.
By - TheSpanishImposition
Well, you aren't gonna like book three at all. The main character is a woman and he piles on everything you described here (and more).
They are ideas books at best. The characters are just vehicles. If anything, the books would be better if the characters were even more cardboard than they already are.
I think there are some major cultural differences at play here too, but most of my knowledge of modern Chinese culture comes from one friend who could not be happier to not be in China anymore, so I'll leave that for somebody more educated on the subject.
Yeah, it's hard to tell how many of the flaws of this trilogy, which are glaring and numerous, are problems with the source text, the totalitarian context in which it was written, or with the translation. This is one of those series I'm actually more interested to see the television adaptation than try and re-read it (I only got partway through the second book).
I don't disagree with any of that. I actually found some of the flaws interesting, though, since they seemed to reflect genuine cultural differences and not just the author's ideas.
Nevertheless I did get frustrated at several points in the trilogy. Fortunately, Liu kept providing interesting new ideas that kept me going. I'm also fond of stories with an epic, long-term scope - and this has that in spades.
In the end... I liked but didn't love it. It's unusual and well worth reading, but I'm not actively seeking more of his work.
> I actually found some of the flaws interesting, though, since they seemed to reflect genuine cultural differences and not just the author's ideas.
This is what I *thought* while reading the series, but I don't really have anything to compare it to or confirm, so I wasn't sure if I was just assigning those features as "Chinese things" myself.
I've lived in China for almost two decades and found his portrayal of gender in the series to be outdated even among his generation. His public stances on a number of issues definitely puts him on the conservative side of things and stands in contrast to other celebrities who either remain silent or confine themselves to vague support of central government positions.
I wouldn't judge anyone harshly who likes the concepts in the book and considers that enough to enjoy the series, but I don't think cultural differences accurately explains away the authors approach to characters.
Well said. I should admit that my experience with modern Chinese literature is very limited, and it is possible that this series just confirmed one of my biases. I've read a couple of articles about him, however, and haven't come across anyone describing him as unusually socially conservative for a Chinese writer.
I finished The Dark Forest a few days ago and agree with pretty much all of this. Decent read for the most part, but way too much of the plot relied on people acting like complete idiots. And the imaginary girlfriend subplot was the most cringey thing I've read in years.
Also, it's a bit baffling to me that these books are considered by many to be hard sf. The sophons are complete fantasy, so are the droplet and many other key plot elements. And the real Alpha Centauri system isn't as described in the series at all.
>the imaginary girlfriend subplot was the most cringey thing I’ve read in years
Thank you! It was almost hilarious. I had to put the book down and wasn’t sure I’d come back to it. Same thing happened again during the scene with them in the museum.
I’m convinced what it comes down to is Liu’s prose isn’t strong enough to support a real, human love story.
Agreed. The idea that life could exist at all on a planet that chaotically cycles between nice, frozen, and hell, much less technologically advanced life, was really hard to swallow, for me.
I was kind of annoyed when I went into universe sandbox trying to simulate trisolaris. Proxima Centauri is so small, dim and far away that it doesnt even qualify as third body in the system. I did after some trial and error manage to get a rocky planet to swap orbits from A to B however it still resulted in mostly a frozen world.
I wonder if the trisolarians could be a humanoid evolution of extremophile bacteria.
>Society in part 2 of The Dark Forest had become a real idiocracy.
Yeah, I used to think that too. No way the human race could be so incompetent when faced with a real existential crisis. I think that was my main criticism of the books.
That is until around March 2020...
OTH, I think there were a lot of great ideas in the books that kept me reading - as others have mentioned.
The characters don't get any better.
I read the trilogy more as a textbook on weird science. Liu is an engineer before a playwright.
This was great! Please post your thoughts after finishing the last book. Tbh, I just went through the series and enjoyed it without thinking too much about the characters and their interactions. I was there more for the ride though the situation and setting.
I think the books read a lot more like space opera of a couple of generations ago (back when men were real men, aliens were real aliens, and waifus with no personality who who have no job except to fall in love with our hero were real waifus with no personality who have no job except to fall in love with our hero).
Some of the ideas were pretty neat (although for every clever idea there were two applications of unobtainium or plotdevicium), but, although I'm glad I finished it, I will not be reading it again.
I’ll point out first that Cixin Liu has a huge problem with writing shallow characters in general. It’s an issue throughout the series and makes the books significantly less interesting than they would have been otherwise.
This issue is then compounded by the fact that he has no idea how to write women as actual people. It’s grating to me as a female sci-fi reader. I badly wanted to like the series so I chalked it up to a translation issue after book 1 and persevered into book 2.
Dark Forest was much worse. Revisit any description of Zhuang Yan, and you’ll see Liu describe her as childlike, innocent, pure, delicate. It’s the “born sexy yesterday” trope on steroids.
Example: At one point in the book, Zhuang Yan is observed while holding her baby. The observer complimentarily describes her as appearing so young that he couldn’t tell whether she was the mother or the baby’s sister (hot ????). Man should be on a list.
Anyways, I simply decided the books don’t live up to the hype and aren’t for me.
There’s so many sci-fi authors who write women well, no use wasting your valuable free time reading one who fails so miserably.
>Dark Forest was much worse. Revisit any description of Zhuang Yan, and you’ll see Liu describe her as childlike, innocent, pure, delicate. It’s the “born sexy yesterday” trope on steroids.
So true. And I forgot to mention Dongfang Yanxu. Ship's captain. Great. What do we learn about her? She's pretty and wants Zhang Beihai to be her daddy. Also, she's kind of gullible and gave daddy control of the ship again, which caused them all to die.
One of the themes of the book(s) is that feminine traits are not suitable for leadership positions and that men in charge should keep them firmly at arm's length. Bill Hines is betrayed by his wife. Dongfang Yanxu, as you mention. Humanity becomes "feminised" and irrational. The theme continues strongly in Death's End.
Yes even the more feminine evolved men of the future are whiney bitches. They could not even start a farm commune because the work is too hard and boring.
Yup, fully agree. I love some of the big ideas and how he uses them in the narrative but the characters are forever a gaping flaw in the series ( with female characters just destroying my ability to stay under the spell of the story).
I'm glad I read them, they have a place in my collection of cool ways of looking at the universe and humanity's place in it -- as a whole though I don't think of them that highly and I don't recommend them to people.
I am right there with you. The ideas in the book are great and parts of the series are really thought provoking and enticing, but it’s not enough to make up for the huge flaws and I’d never recommend the books to friends.
It's so slow I almost gave up at various points in the first two books and I don't think I ever even picked up the third. I remember the broad concepts and if there were characters, I couldn't name one of them.
The computer game they played was some of the most boring writing I have ever come across, in any genre.
>but I'm not feeling all that enthusiastic.
Definitely for the best.
I remember liking the second book the best, so if you don't like it, perhaps you will not enjoy the third one as well.. I enjoyed the third, but it felt like the author threw in a fee too many concepts at once
I enjoyed book 2 and 3 more than 1. But man there are serious serious problems some of which you’ve mentioned with this series.
And it’s a shame, it had some really good points. But the negative stuff is truely terrible. Could have been an amazing series, and instead it’s just...... mixed. Great stuff mixed with terrible.
I think most of the books just reminded me of crappy anime. I think they are so boring because of the differences in eastern and western cultures and what we value. All 3 did not seem all that fantastic or imaginative and just seemed to meander on and on and on until you are in a 4 dimensional space of boredom.
I very much enjoyed the simple strangeness and destructive power of the droplet. With that said, here’s my take on the series so far...
I just finished The Dark Forest yesterday. On the one hand, in many cases I had trouble buying the motivations and choices of many of the characters (and civilizations as a whole). But then, because their psychology was defying my initial expectations I was also intrigued. Lou Ji’s apathy, the myopic pettiness and idiocy of future humans, and the Hobbesian viciousness of galactic societies all had a thought provoking logic to them. Even if a bit oversimplified.
Especially coming from a Chinese authors perspective, I found some of the themes to be super fascinating. In particular the overlapping themes of civilizational development, civilizational competition, genocide, extinction (even references to *Silent Spring*!), environmental degradation, social engineering and social control, and individualism. I also found the motif of insects which recurs throughout the books to be smart and fascinating.
Finally, it is interesting to me to see a Chinese author cram in so many riffs on western SF... there is everything from cyberspace to generation ships, Clark and Asimov, and much, much more.
It’s funny, I agree with almost all of your critiques, but, while not my most beloved books, I am finding the series to be well worth the investment. And I am enjoying them.
I only made it 3/4 way through book 1. His characters are just the worst.
Bravo for pushing through to book 2. Book one was nearly a DNF for me. The only character he bothered to develop was the one gal.
I really don't understand how folks can recommend the series.
China has decided written SF is a good conduit for their soft power push, similar to what Korea has done with K-Pop and Japan with Anime.
I never understood the complaints about characters.
Sci fi to me at least is about the setting and ideas rather then plot or characters.
Asimov for example is one of the best but his characters and plots were pretty weak. It was what the characters and plot were guiding us through that was worth the journey.
I think this ultimately comes down more to what sci personally does for you. For me the character decisions in Dark forrest make sense. The cocky humanity, borderline reprehensible protagonist. Of course he would ask the UN to find him a hot wife. Dude basicly got himself a dreamgirl in a dream mansion on a dream land. While asked to save to planet. Ye is quite possibly also the greatest character in the first two books. Its shown exactly why she did what she did if you bother to follow the story and what the concequence was. Shes a downright feminist character in how she has her own motivations and agency and ultimately that she was allowed to be the villain of the first book despite being written as a coprotagonist.
There's a difference between characters that are just kind of flat and boring (see Arthur C Clarke) and characters that are terribly written and probably kind of sexist. I really don't care about characters very much, but the ones in the Three Body series were bad enough to pull me out of the books, even though I very much enjoyed most of the other content.
*caugh* Gladia *caugh*
I dont see it tbh. This isnt the first time somebody made this post and it was far fetched then as it is now.
Wheres the sexism? In Ye Wenjie? Because she was a villain? In Luo's wife? Because she was hired to keep a deeply selfish man content and working? She was basicly a spy. Hes sexist not her character. The ship captain?
Who honestly goes into a book like this with this setting and cries sexism when faced with realistic situations. Of course Ye hated humanity enough to try to end it. Of course Luo was a hedonistic ass. If the premise of the book is how a contemporary earth deals with a situation like this then you cant expect people to act like its the bridge of the Enterprise D
I think you're fixating on one complaint while also mischaracterizing it. Ye Wenjie is probably the most interesting character to me so far. On the other hand, that's not saying much. I include her in the list of duplicitous female characters because she is one, but I'm not complaining because a treacherous female character exists.
Zhuang Yen wasn't a spy. She was a solicited bribe. I'm pretty sure we're meant to believe that she fell in love with him. I'm not sure what you mean by "faced with realistic situations." You mean like, a woman's first impression on men she meets is how physically attractive they find her? I don't think the author is showing us that even 200+ years into the future sexism will be a thing. I think he's simply oblivious to the sexism. There's no commentary on sexism. It's just completely normalized.
I go into SF mostly the same way I go into any book. I don't go in expecting flat characters. I don't think people behaving incomprehensibly and giant plot holes are things we have to accept because of the genre. But I don't think you're wrong if you like these books. If they give you what you're looking for, enjoy.
Seriously I get where youre coming from. I felt it was necessary to respond because if I had a nickel for everytime someone accuses this book of being sexist here I would have two nickels (which isnt a lot but its weird it happened twice). So I try to counter that notion because I fear that somebody could ultimately miss out on the book due to what I see as a misrepresentation.
I understand this is my own personal experience with the genre and not a universal decree but to me Sci Fi especially slightly harder (not neccesarily hard) Sci Fi isnt about the characters or plot. They are to me mostly a neccesary component rather then the meat. Its about the setting, the ideas, the science, the wonder, the human existence and potential and our place in the universe. Its a commentary on what we could be as well as what we are.
Its why I dont mind the characters in the 3BP or Dark Forrest. The conflict is between earth, its society, the trisolarians and ultimately the very concept of first contact. It could be literally that or an alegory for western imperialists expanding into china during the colonisation. Theres many layers to the story which you dont seem to disagree with but the characters are just kind of there. Random people who happened to be put in this situation making the best of it trying to exist and survive. We dont need to know them or like them. We need them to experience the story almost like a silent video game protagonist. And they do get some characterisation when the story calls for it.
I dont think at its heart the Sci Fi genre is the same most other genres. Most books out there will focus on the protagonist and their story. Their character arcs and relationships rather than the setting and ideas they reside in.
But that honestly just my opinion. If anyone reads Sci Fi for the characters thats perfectly fine and valid. But if youre like me and enjoy the setting and concepts more then this trilogy is definitely for you.
While all of your points are valid and most of the other points listed here are as well, I feel like something being missed is that the English translator for book 2 is different from 1 and 3.
For me it felt different and I came very close to not finishing yet the idea of the story spurred me on.
Interesting. You know, I never really understood "The Ravine." It seemed like it implied what the English-speaking world would call a rift. To me, it felt like too literal a translation.
Absolutely a rift, mainly between current tech and future tech to the detriment of the world and the population. I think this is a solid explanation of it: https://reddit.com/r/threebodyproblem/comments/brhfy5/great_ravine_someone_help_explain_it_to_me/eoeu95m
I honestly couldn't even finish it. Apparently I'm missing out on a big thing at the end, but it was just so tedious to read that I moved on to something else.
I don't think you missed that much. It all felt pretty contrived.
No you didn’t. Not worth reading.
The concepts themselves kept me reading. The writing was pretty dry otherwise. I'm sure a lot got lost in translation. Gender stereotypes didn't bother me at all. Not every piece of literature needs to be written by a female. That's what Hugo and Nebula Awards are for.
You don't have to be female to create interesting female characters and male characters who see more in them than their looks.
Ugh, i went to all three and **hated** the last book. If it weren’t an ebook, i might have trashed it with all force. Ripped out pages, stomped on it and finally burnt it.
Yes the books have their moments, but they have also total fuckups.
Imagine how easily walllookers could be approached by their wallbreakers and how crappy their reactions were.
Then last main woman character in the third book...
I ended the book with total disgust for story and character development.
I will probably never read another book from that guy again.
[Morpheus voice] What if I told you that reading the whole series isn't mandatory, and you can stop at any time?