Title: Death’s End
Author: Cixin Liu
Genre: Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction
Publication Date: September 20, 2016
Hardcover: 604 Pages
With The Three-Body Problem, English-speaking readers got their first chance to experience the multiple-award-winning and bestselling Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy by China’s most beloved science fiction author, Cixin Liu. The Three-Body Problem was released to great acclaim including coverage in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and won the Hugo Award for Best SF Novel (2015). It was also named a finalist for the Nebula Award (2014) making it the first translated novel to be nominated for a major SF award since Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities in 1976.
Now this epic trilogy concludes with Death’s End. Half a century after the Doomsday Battle, the uneasy balance of Dark Forest Deterrence keeps the Trisolaran invaders at bay. Earth enjoys unprecedented prosperity due to the infusion of Trisolaran knowledge. With human science advancing daily and the Trisolarans adopting Earth culture, it seems that the two civilizations will soon be able to co-exist peacefully as equals without the terrible threat of mutually assured annihilation. But the peace has also made humanity complacent.
Cheng Xin, an aerospace engineer from the early 21st century, awakens from hibernation in this new age. She brings with her knowledge of a long-forgotten program dating from the beginning of the Trisolar Crisis and her very presence may upset the delicate balance between two worlds. Will humanity reach for the stars or die in its cradle?
Stand alone or series: Book 3 in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy
How did I get this book: Review Copy from the Publisher
Format (e- or p-): Hardcover
**WARNING: This review contains unavoidable spoilers for The Three-Body Problem and The Dark Forest. If you have not read the first two books and want to remain unspoiled, look away.**
It is fifty years after the Doomsday Battle. The Trisolarans and Earth are locked in an era of deterrence, after Luo Ji has proven that the universe is actually a Dark Forest–any spark of intelligent life will be extinguished by others, protecting their own best interests. But first, let me rewind:
In The Three-Body Problem, humans had broadcast a signal of communication from Earth to the first alien race known to humankind, aka aliens from the planet Trisolaris. Unlike Earth, Trisolaris has a three-body star system, meaning that their planet and civilization undergoes immense catastrophic periods of chaos, followed by intermittent periods of stability during which life thrives. When the Trisolarans learned of Earth–thanks to a broadcasted signal–they sent a colonization fleet to take the planet. Since Trisolaris is considerably more evolved in their technological capabilities, they also sent sophons to Earth–all-powerful supercomputers folded upon themselves in lower dimensions, capable of seeing and overhearing anything on Earth and reporting back to Trisolaris in realtime. The mission for these sophons was simple: obstruct technological progress on Earth so that by the time the Trisolaran fleet arrives in 300 years, they can easily exterminate the Earthling bugs who were so luckily given such a beautiful, stable home planet.
In The Dark Forest, we saw humanity’s prolonged reactions to the impending Trisolaran fleet–some humans embraced the Trisolarans as saviors, others yearned for the alien race to destroy humanity. The United Nations and the leading governing bodies around the world, however, took a different approach: selecting four “wallfacers” who would have unlimited resources and no questions asked as they prepared their grand plans to save humanity from annihilation. Over the years, these wallfacers stumbled with their protective measures and projects–the Trisolarans sent “wallbreakers” to divulge each of these humans’ plans, defeating them one after another… except for Luo Ji. Luo Ji is able to devise the truth of the nature of the universe–it is not a happy place, where life coexists and grows naturally, but a dark forest, where each civilization acts as a silent hunter. Because survival is the primary need of civilization and all civilizations will do whatever they can to ensure their own survival, and because civilizations always grow and expand but the amount of resources in the universe is finite, it follows that civilizations in the universe strive to remain undetected, always hunting for new planets to colonize and destroy.
Luo Ji tests this theory at the end of The Dark Forest, and receives his answer when his test results in the destruction of a star system following his broadcast of its location.
And so, Earth-Trisolaran relations enter a third stage: Deterrence. Luo Ji now becomes the Swordbearer–his mission is to convince Trisolaris that he will broadcast the location of Trisolaris to the cosmos, which will result in the destruction of their world from other civilizations in the dark forest. Should Luo Ji broadcast that location, however, it also means sure death for Earth civilization–as an intelligent alien race capable of destroying a star system will be able to unravel the nature of the relationship between both Earth and Trisolaris. In short, Luo Ji has concocted a tense peace resting on the premise of Mutually Assured Destruction.
It is in this Era that Death’s End begins.
In Death’s End, there are three very important things happening at once:
The Staircase Project is the first introduction we have to Cheng Xin–a female engineer who has both empathy and creativity in spades. It is Cheng Xin who devises a plan to deliver a payload that will intercept the Trisolaran fleet several decades before it gets to Earth. The hope is that the payload–a human–will be able to infiltrate the fleet and either give humanity an edge, or destroy Trisolaris’ invasion.
At the same time, two warships are locked in deadly pursuit. Gravity, you may remember from the Doomsday battle, breaks away from Earth and holds onboard a broadcasting system that is able to share the location of the Trisolaran civilization. Another Earth ship, the Blue Space, pursues her in hopes of catching her, silencing her permanently, and forcing her crew to face trial and death for crimes against humanity (for, what greater crime could there be than the potential annihilation of all life on Earth).
Finally, a quiet, introverted man faces death from incurable disease. This man, Yun Tianming, is also a scientist who knew and fell in love with Cheng Xin when they were in university together. Before he takes his own life in state-sanctioned euthanasia, he makes a grand, romantic gesture. He buys Cheng Xin a star, spending all of his insurance money, in the hopes that she may one day realize how much he loved her and spark similar feelings.
I won’t spoil how these three threads mean everything for humanity in Death’s End, but know that each one of them plays vital role in the novel, and under Cixin Liu’s careful puppet-mastery and masterful plotting, each storyline builds to a dramatic crescendo and so much heartache.
From a pure plotting perspective, Death’s End is more like The Dark Forest than it is The Three-Body Problem; this is a book that dwarfs the other two in scope, as it extends not just the centuries before Trisolaris arrives in the solar system, but the decades, centuries, milennia that follow.
This is also a story that carefully dissects the nature of humanity, and our tendency to elect leaders who reflect the overall sentiments of the populace at any given time, and how leaders when elected hold a great deal of power that may change the course of human history.
Which brings me to the characters in this particular novel. Cheng Xin is the main character of this story, and hers is a tale of Empathy, humanity, and love.
I love that Cixin Liu goes the particular route he does with this particular protagonist. She is our counterpoint, our grounding narrator over the years as she is put into hibernation, skimming over eras, making decisions entrusted to her which will condemn her and absolve her as the centuries turn. Some interpretations or readings of this book may find that Cheng Xin is a weak woman who has made all of the decisions that have damned humanity over this dramatic take–personally, my interpretation is more favorable. Cheng Xin is not a perfect character, nor an ideal leader. She is not A Great Hero, and so she makes predictable, impossible decisions with immense consequence. My reading of Cheng Xin is not that she is weak or wrong; rather, humans are by our nature, flawed, emotional, and prone to our own inherent biases. I thoroughly appreciated this human interpretation–even if it ultimately means humankind is doomed.
Other things that Death’s End did exceptionally well:
The novel plays with metaphor and literary tradition, including secret messages embedded in fairy tales (which are thrilling and beautiful to read in their own right).
Liu also dives into groundwork laid in the first two novels vis-a-vis dimensions and the implications of two, three, four dimensions–and beyond.
Cixin Liu also poses an inadvertent question: at what point does life become not worth living? What sacrifices are so great that they are not worth the cost of implementing? Faced with an inevitable extinction event, how would humanity prepare or behave?
This is the finest book in the trilogy, the broadest reaching, the most terrifying. I loved it, and cannot think of a better book to end 2016.
Notable Quotes/Parts: Read a full excerpt online HERE.
Rating: 10 – Perfection. Epic, desolate, terrifying yet hopeful. Death’s End is my favorite book of 2016 and the best book in the trilogy.
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