The Dark Forest
One of the more intriguing Sci-Fi novels I have read in recent days (and I read a lot of them) has been Remembrance of Earth’s Past, written by a Chinese author Liu Cixin and expertly translated in English. Actually, this is not one book but a trilogy. The three voluminous books are: “The Three-Body Problem”, “The Dark Forest”, and “Death’s End”. In China, the trilogy is referred to as The Three-Body Problem, the title of the first book, however, the title of the second book is most descriptive of the central theme of the trilogy.
The universe is a dark forest with hunters quietly moving around. Since you don’t know the intentions or capabilities of the other hunters, it makes sense to take a hostile position against any civilization you find out about and eliminate it. However, you cannot take an instantaneous action due to distances involved. Even at the speed of light, the nearest star is more than four light years away. So, there is a potential negotiating window.
Under this scenario, one of the most precious commodities you have against your enemy has is their exact location. You use the information of their location as a deterrent during the negotiating window. “If I see you coming after me, I will broadcast your location to the universe so some others will come and kill you. So better not come after me.”
This is similar to mutually assured destruction (MAD) used at the height of cold war. “If I detect your missiles coming towards me, I will fire mine and destroy you.” The way such a deterrence can be neutralized is if the enemy is able to destroy your broadcasting capability through a sneak attack, just like the enemy wiping out your counterattack capability during the MAD days.
Three different technologies are envisaged for broadcasting the location of your enemy to the universe: amplification of the radio signals by using sun, creating a morse code using precise detonation of nuclear weapons in orbit, and gravity waves. Without giving away too much of the story, I can say that each one of these is considered.
Besides these principal themes of dark forest, deterrence, and attack running through the three volumes, there are some other interesting future projections, some literally mind bending.
Hibernation will allow humans to live almost forever, as long as they are willing to skip years of experience in between. The purpose may be to pass time while they are looking for the cure of your disease. It could also be a societal decision to send you to the future where you will be more useful.
The Superstring Theory proposes the presence of ten physical dimensions, not three that we are familiar with. In this Sci-Fi work, these extra dimensions are unfolded and come into play in several different ways. One is used by the aliens to interfere in the life on earth by managing to stop advances in science (so they will have an easier time defeating us), the other in travelling through space almost instantaneously, and yet another in causing massive destruction.
Several ideas related to protecting human beings from an attack on the sun are described in detail. One involves using a spaceship that uses propulsion system manipulating curvature of space. It can achieve speed of light almost instantaneously without crushing the occupants. The other has humanity hiding behind the gaseous planets, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Yet another speculates slowing down the speed of light, so that the entire solar system can go into hiding.
The name of the first novel, The Three-Body Problem, is one of those hard to solve challenges in celestial mechanics, making it virtually impossible to predict motion of three objects in space moving around each other. So, if you have the misfortune to live in a system with three stars, you will have no idea how they are going to behave. During some periods, they will all be together, frying the surface of your planet. Other time, they will all in different locations and your home will be frozen and nothing will grow.
The aliens living under these terrible circumstances do develop a technology which depends on dehydrating themselves during rough times, and rehydrating when things are going well. During the good times, they develop a very advanced civilization but they are very eager to leave their home and find someplace more pleasant. Fortunately for them, someone on earth sends out a signal inviting outside forces, because that someone, a woman scientist, is fed up with her government (China during the cultural revolution).
Stephen Hawking, one of the most famous astrophysicists of our time, had warned us not to reach out to aliens out there in universe because an advanced civilization can put us at risk. This dark tale speculates what can happen.