Death’s End by Liu Cixin

Death's End by Liu Cixin
Death’s End by Liu Cixin

The novel “Death’s End” by Liu Cixin was published for the first time in 2010. It was translated into English by Ken Liu. It’s the third book of the trilogy known as The Three-Body Problem or Remembrance of Earth’s Past and follows “The Dark Forest“.

Cheng Xin is a part of the team working on the Staircase Project which aims to send a probe toward the Trisolaran Fleet. The examination of the technical limitations shows that it’s impossible to use it to send a human being, and director Thomas Wade decides to send only a person’s brain. Yun Tianming chose euthanasia because of an incurable disease but agrees to participate in the Staircase Project. The launch seems unsuccessful but Cheng Xin received a star as a gift from Yun, who was in love with her.

After a period of hibernation, Cheng Xin awakens in the deterrence era in which the Earth and Trisolaris maintain a fragile truce based on mutual threats to reveal the coordinates of their respective planets to the entire universe. Cheng Li is appointed to be the Swordholder, the human representative who is tasked with transmitting the coordinates of Trisolaris but when the Trisolarans attack, she decides not to activate the device.

I don’t know if Liu Cixin read the criticisms he received regarding the female characters appearing in “The Dark Forest”. Perhaps, it’s a coincidence that in this final book, the protagonist is a woman but the substance is that she’s a key figure in the future of humanity who, however, regularly makes catastrophic decisions. She’s portrayed as full of love and motherhood because she’s a woman, and for this reason, whenever there’s a difficult decision to make, Cheng Xin fails miserably.

Cheng Xin’s attempts to drive humanity to extinction even without wanting that seem to fail largely thanks to Thomas Wade, who seems like the stereotypical all-testosterone white American male. In short, in this book, Liu Cixin seems to have decided to include negative male characters as well. However, Wade is an anti-hero who ends up doing far more things that are useful to humanity than Cheng Xin.

“Death’s End” has among its greatest strengths the great fantasy in the story of a future of humanity that goes on for a very long time. Actually, the novel begins from the past with a chapter related to the fall of Byzantium. This already made me think that this novel could be too long and I still had this impression in some parts not really related to the imaginative future history.

I also wondered if the prose in Chinese might be evocative and elegant while the translation is sometimes dulled. Reading the translation, I found some parts boring: for example, the fairy tales told by Yu Tianming and all the subsequent discussions about the right way to interpret them seemed burdensome to me.

In my opinion, the novel works much better when Liu Cixin expands the concepts connected to the Dark Forest introduced in the second book by going beyond the relationships between humans and Trisolarans in a very vast cosmic dimension. The Dark Forest is full of predators but the situation is complex and even the top predators have to pay a price if they want to wipe out possible opponents.

Individual characters may be uninteresting but humanity as a whole is very interesting in how it reacts to the various crises that arise over the centuries. This, together with the relationship with the aliens, offers food for thought, also connected to the human reactions in the various situations connected to interpersonal relationships.

In some ways, the humanistic side is the really important one in this novel and in the trilogy in general. Liu Cixin spreads scientific and technological concepts in his novels that can be very advanced and futuristic but typically are very generic with explanations that tend to be vague.

Despite its flaws, in my opinion, “Death’s End” is interesting for the ideas connected to the concept of the Dark Forest and human reactions to a universe of that type. In the end, the trilogy is a mix of elements I found uneven but if you are interested in the topics that are developed, you can appreciate it. It’s available on Amazon USA, UK, and Canada.

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