Immediately following the events of multiple-award winning novel The Three Body Problem, Earth begins preparations for an imminent alien invasion with four centuries to prepare. Despite eliminating any human collaborators, the Trisolarans have subatomic particles called sophons (supercomputers made out of protons) that allow instantaneous access to all human information, including Earth’s defense plans. With only the human mind safe, the Wallfacer Project grants four men enormous resources to find a way to save humanity and to keep it a secret through misdirection and deceit. Three of the Wallfacers are famous scientists or politicians or leaders, but Luo Ji is an unambitious college professor, chosen because Trisolaris wants him dead.

Whereas the first book in the series is an exciting puzzle to unlock, The Dark Forest is an extended strategy game. With so long to prepare and make each move, Earth and Trisolaris act and react with deliberate determination. Winner takes all. In those four hundred years, humanity faces extremes of optimism and pessimism, technological advances, and social upheaval. Among a tapestry of storylines and less fleshed-out characters, Luo Ji’s transformation shines through. Advances in time are handled exceptionally well through both plot mechanics and plot events.

Despite occasional info-dumps and some seemingly unnecessary scenes that slow down the overall plot (i.e. the first quarter), I am subtracting a star rating because of the noticeable lack of women. Only two that I remember play significant roles, which are mostly related to their relationships with their husbands. One of them is even sort-of made-up by Luo Ji, who begins his journey as an acute misogynist. If you can wave away the tame characterizations and dense sections of this book, you will find some fantastic ideas.

Overall recommended for fans of a strategic battle of wits with philosophical musings!

The universe is a dark forest. Every civilization is an armed hunter stalking through the trees like a ghost, gently pushing aside branches that block the path and trying to tread without sound. Even breathing is done with care. The hunter has to be careful, because everywhere in the forest are stealthy hunters like him. If he finds other life—another hunter, an angel or a demon, a delicate infant or a tottering old man, a fairy or a demigod—there’s only one thing he can do: open fire and eliminate them. In this forest, hell is other people. An eternal threat that any life that exposes its own existence will be swiftly wiped out. This is the picture of cosmic civilization. It’s the explanation for the Fermi Paradox.