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In Cixin Liu's Trisolaris novel trilogy, in particular in the second book "The Dark Forest", a small number of humans acts as so-called "wallfacers". They are supposed to devise a (hopefully) failsafe plan to thwart an upcoming attack on Earth. The truth about this plan is kept exclusively in their minds and thus safely away from otherwise omnipresent surveillance by the adversary; wallfacers may (and even should) completely mislead the general public about their intentions.

In an effort to counter this, the adversary assigns a "wallbreaker" to each of the wallfacers. The wallbreakers' mission is to find out the actual plan of their respective wallfacer... and confront them with what they have deduced.

In so far (just reading the third one of these events) all of these cases, the wallfacer who has been confronted by their wallbreaker is implied to have failed. I do not understand why.

Suppose a wallfacer has devised a plan in secret. Once confronted by their wallbreaker (which, I think, does not even have to happen in public!?), the wallfacer typically admits the wallbreaker was right. While I fail to see the necessity for that part already (couldn't the wallfacer just keep denying everything, or pretend they have successfully mislead the wallbreaker?), why is it that the wallfacer wouldn't start working on a new plan? They came up with an idea once, who's to say they cannot do it again?


Note 1: As mentioned above, I am still reading the novels. An explanation might follow later in the book. Yet, the way the described sequence of events appears to be presented as the invariable logical way of things to go is really confusing me and diminishing my enjoyment of the books as I cannot follow the author's logic.

Note 2: I have deliberately been very brief and superficial in my summary of what happens in order to not take away the suspense for visitors who would still like to start reading the books.

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Conjecture based on the narrative, as I don't think there's a clear statement in the novels.

  1. The plans are generally expensive, and certainly involve putting huge resources in the hands of the wallfacer. They only had four in the first place, rather than tens or hundreds - probably to permit each individual to access the resources they needed. Letting them start another plan would entail committing all that resource again.

  2. There was a psychology element; the wallfacers were coming up with plans within plans. Direct confrontation was not expected to work, so the aim was to outsmart the Trisolarans. I don't think it's stated explicitly, but the wallfacers appear to have been selected in the belief that they are those best able to do this. If their wallbreaker works out their plan once, it suggests that their thought process can be reproduced by someone else and the risk of their plan being exposed again is higher.

  3. Over time, the confidence in the 'normal' military ability of Earth increases - the need for the wallfacer project is not considered to be as significant, until it's too late to re-initiate.

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    I think you may be right in that this was the intention by the author - I'll wait for a few more days, then I'll probably accept your answer. Nonetheless, allow me to get nitpicky for a moment (because it's fun :) ): 1) You have a point there, though I do think the very low number of only four wallfacers (rather than, say, somewhere between 20 and 50) was most likely for storytelling reasons - Liu wanted to describe each of their stories in detail within one book, had to come up with sufficiently unique plans for each of them, and also wanted to give each of the wallfacers a distinct ... Commented May 26, 2020 at 19:33
  • Out of universe - almost certainly! Probably not a motivation for the in-universe government of the time though. (Four not five wallfacers as you say - have corrected my answer)
    – Michael
    Commented May 26, 2020 at 19:36
  • ... personality. 2) I agree this is probably what Liu intended, although frankly, it doesn't seem convincing to me. Except maybe for the brain researcher's wallbreaker, most of the wallbreakers' success seemed to be the result of painstakingly tracing every single action of their wallfacer and trying to put the pieces together to figure out the actual hidden plan. That is, it seemed like the more important bit of understanding was a general in-depth insight into "how everything works together" than the wallfacer's personality in particular. In that ... Commented May 26, 2020 at 19:37
  • ... respect, once again - while it made for dramatic twists to have each wallfacer face exactly one wallbreaker, I think the wallbreakers would have been even more successful by assigning a team of specialists to each wallfacer. (I think they had nothing to fear from the sophons, so they did not have to cut down their internal communication.) 3) Agreed, though I was indeed asking about the immediate reaction to a wallbreaker confrontation while the wallfacer programme was still fresh and considered the best hope for victory, rather than its dwindling perceived importance over the centuries. Commented May 26, 2020 at 19:38
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The wallbreakers' assessments are so thorough that it leaves no doubt that they are correct, and once known, the plans are easily blocked by the Trisolarans or are so despicable to humanity that they will not allow the wallfacer's plan to proceed. They also induce despair in their respective wallfacers, hence the name "wallbreaker." They are BREAKING the will of the wallfacer.

Ironically, one of them that humanity rejects is a Mutually Assured Destruction plan (similar to the decades of detente between USSR and US during the nuclear cold war), which is effectively what they end up doing at the end of Dark Forest anyway.

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Also as the end of the book implies the sophons are hearing everything and can relay info back to Trisolaris so that’s why an official wallbreaker statement carries weight.

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    Hi, welcome to SF&F. The question was why, once the wallfacer is discovered, they can't simply come up with a new plan?
    – DavidW
    Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 23:39

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