The Dark Forest

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The Dark Forest
Cover page
AuthorLiu Cixin
Original title黑暗森林
TranslatorJoel Martinsen
SeriesRemembrance of Earth's Past
GenreScience fiction, Hard science fiction
Publication date
Preceded byThe Three-Body Problem 
Followed byDeath's End 

The Dark Forest (Chinese: 黑暗森林, pinyin: Hēi'àn sēnlín) is a 2008 science fiction novel by the Chinese writer Liu Cixin. It is the sequel to the Hugo Award-winning novel The Three-Body Problem (Chinese: 三体, pinyin: sān tǐ) in the trilogy titled "Remembrance of Earth's Past" (Chinese: 地球往事, pinyin: Dìqiú wǎngshì), but Chinese readers generally refer to the series by the title of the first novel.[1] The English version, translated by Joel Martinsen, was published in 2015.


Earth is under total surveillance by sophons,[2] sub-atomic AI surveillance devices sent by Trisolarans, inhabitants of a planet of the stellar system Alpha Centauri. The Trisolarans will invade Earth in 400 years. Despite their advanced technology, it is discovered that Trisolarans are incapable of internal monologue. Since the human mind is the only place the Trisolarans cannot see, the UN selects four men to be "Wallfacers", the keepers of plans known only to themselves, who are granted full access to the resources of the UN.

Luo Ji refuses his Wallfacer status, only to discover that his refusal is taken to be part of his plan. Resigned to his fate, Luo Ji lives a hedonistic life and finds and marries the woman of his dreams. Eventually, the UN kidnaps Luo Ji's wife and child, putting them in hibernation as a means of goading him to get to work. He begins his work as a Wallfacer, asking questions about how to transmit the information about the position of a certain star in the Milky Way to a potential third observer civilization. This causes the Trisolarans to become truly afraid of Luo Ji, so they redouble their efforts to kill him.

Luo Ji uses the solar amplification technique to send out three images that show the relative position of star 187J3X1 in the universe. He says that it is a "spell against the planets of star 187J3X1", which will take one hundred years to be verified. The effects of the spell will be catastrophic, he predicts.

The Trisolarans' sympathizers on Earth nearly kill Luo Ji with a flulike illness targeted to his genome. Unable to be cured, Luo Ji is put into hibernation to await a future time when a cure can be found. Almost 200 years later, he is awakened to discover a drastically changed world. There has been a massive ecological collapse, turning much of the surface into a desert. In response, nation states excavated large caverns underground where hyper-technological arcological cities have been established. Earth has a fleet of spaceships numbering in the thousands. Citing the fleet's strength, humans collectively assume that they can win against the Trisolarans; even with many discussing the potential for future peace talks with the Trisolarans. Luo Ji is taken to a meeting at the UN, where the Wallfacer project is disbanded.

With a Trisolaran probe fast approaching, Luo Ji's contemporary Zhang Beihai is given the position of acting captain of the ship Natural Selection. He deserts the Solar System to escape the Trisolarans' incoming fleet, and four other starships pursue him.

The Earth Fleet meets the Trisolaran probe in a massive formation of nearly all of Earth's starships. The probe, which appears to be a solid "droplet" of mirror-like metal, arrives and attacks the fleet. Due to the fleet's densely-packed grid formation, the droplet is able to destroy all but two ships, which flee into deep space. The droplet then parks itself in a Lagrange point between the Earth and the Sun, where it broadcasts a powerful scrambling signal to prevent Earth from using the Sun's amplification mechanism again.

The surviving ships decide to escape the solar system and head for nearby stars in hopes of founding civilization once again. However, the humans aboard these ships quickly realize there are only enough supplies for a single ship. Thus, in both groups of ships, one crew kills everyone else with nuclear weapons.

Back on Earth, Luo Ji and another contemporary, Da Shi, discover that star 187J3X1 has been destroyed, causing the UN to restore Luo Ji's Wallfacer status. Luo Ji explains to Da Shi the implications he derived from Ye Wenjie's two axioms of cosmic civilization: 1. Each civilization's goal is survival, and 2. Resources are finite. Like hunters in a "dark forest", a civilization can never be certain of an alien civilization's true intentions. The extreme distance between stars creates an insurmountable "chain of suspicion" where any two civilizations cannot communicate well enough to relieve mistrust, making conflict inevitable. Therefore, it is in every civilization's best interest to preemptively strike and destroy any developing civilization before it can become a threat, but without revealing their own location, thus explaining the Fermi paradox.

Forced by the UN's successor organization to work for them, Luo Ji is given a project to track the other probes that will shortly enter the solar system. Project Snow is intended to create a screen across the solar system, which when crossed will reveal the trajectories of incoming probes. Luo Ji quickly realizes the futility of this project, but throws himself into it anyway.

Three years pass, and Luo Ji falls from favor and descends into alcoholism. He travels to the grave of Ye Wenjie, the woman who first sent the message to Trisolaris and who told Luo Ji about the axioms of cosmic sociology. He digs his own grave and places a pistol to his heart. He then issues an ultimatum to the Trisolarans: He is wearing a biometric watch as a dead-man's switch, and has positioned the bombs of Project Snow such that they can selectively block light from the sun, creating a message that will broadcast to the galaxy the exact coordinates of Trisolaris and, by extension, Earth. The Trisolarans surrender and agree to change the course of their fleet, lift the sophon block, and teach humans their technology.


  • Ye Wenjie (叶文洁) – Astrophysicist
  • Mike Evans (麦克·伊文斯) – ETO financial backer and key leader
  • Chang Weisi (常伟思) – General in the PLA
  • Zhang Beihai (章北海) – Political commissar in the PLA Navy
  • Zhang Yuanchao (张援朝) – Recently retired chemical plant worker in Beijing
  • Shi Qiang (史强), also nicknamed Da Shi (大史) – Wallfacer Head of Security
  • Wu Yue (吴岳) – Captain in the PLA Navy
  • Zhuang Yan (庄颜) – Graduate of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Luo Ji's wife
  • Ding Yi (丁仪) – Theoretical physicist
  • Dongfang Yanxu (东方延绪) – Captain of space warship Natural Selection
  • Kent (坎特) – Wallfacer Security Staff for Luo Ji

Wallfacers (面壁者):

  • Frederick Tyler (弗雷德里克·泰勒) – Former US Secretary of Defense
  • Rey Diaz (雷迪亚兹) – Former President of Venezuela
  • Bill Hines (比尔·希恩斯) – English neuroscientist
  • Luo Ji (罗辑) – Astronomer and sociologist


The additional books in the Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy are:[3]


  • Waterdrop,[4] referring to the Trisolaran droplet probe, is a 14-minute tribute film produced by Wang Ren, who was then a graduate student studying Architecture in Columbia University. The author Liu Cixin commented, "This is the kind of film I have in mind. If the feeling of such an atmosphere can be delivered in a Three Body Problem film, I would rest in peace after I die."[5]
  • MC Three Body - The Dark Forest[6] is an animation series produced by a group of Chinese fans. Initially a machinima series produced using the video game Minecraft, they later switched to using professional animation software. The series was released online at the beginning of 2018.[7]

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