Perhaps in 10,000 years, or perhaps tomorrow, the inhabitants of Earth will wake up and find an alien spaceship the size of the Moon parked in orbit, writes China’s preeminent ‘hard’ science-fiction author and philosopher of alien contact, Liu Cixin, described as China’s Arthur. C. Clarke. Liu warns that the universe is a “dark forest” and a possible and terrifying reason behind the Fermi Paradox.
“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,” Liu Cixin warns in his novel, The Dark Forest, when Earth is reeling from the revelation of a coming alien invasion-in just four centuries’ time where the invaders have instant access to all human information, means that Earth’s defense plans are totally exposed to the enemy. Only the human mind remains a secret.
“Even breathing is done with care,” he writes. “The hunter has to be careful, because everywhere in the forest are stealthy hunters like him. 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.”
“I don’t have much to say except a warning, writes Liu in Death’s End, the third book in his Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy. “Life reached an evolutionary milestone when it climbed onto land from the ocean, but those first fish that climbed onto land ceased to be fish. Similarly, when humans truly enter space and are freed from the Earth, they cease to be human. So, to all of you I say this: When you think about heading into outer space without looking back, please reconsider. The cost you must pay is far greater than you could imagine.”
With a note that appears to captures our geoppolitical moment, Cixin says that “to effectively contain a civilization’s development and disarm it across such a long span of time, there is only one way: kill its science.”
In a moment of pure poetry that paints the transience of existence, human and cosmic, Cixin sees in the eternal night of the Orion Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy, “two civilizations had swept through like two shooting stars, and the universe had remembered their light.”
Liu, like the great and ancient civilization he represents, embraces paradox that exists alongside the vision of the “dark forest” –In the distant future, if human civilization survives and spreads through the cosmos, humanity must create technological marvels at ultra-grand scales,” he told the New Yorker. “I believe science and technology can bring us a bright future,” he wrote, “but the journey to achieve it will be filled with difficulties and exact a price from us. Some of these obstacles and costs will be quite terrible, but in the end we will land on the sunlit further shore.”
The Daily Galaxy, Max Goldberg, via Liu Cixin, The Dark Forest (Kindle edition), Death’s End (Kindle edition), and The New Yorker