Death’s End (Remembrance of Earth’s Past #3)
By: Cixin Liu
Translated by: Ken Liu
Published: September 20, 2016 (first published 2010)
The Rundown: “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 coexist 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 Trisolaris Crisis and her very presence may upset the delicate balance between two worlds. Will humanity reach for the stars or die in its cradle?”
Don’t Get Strung Out by the Way I Look: This cover is weird. There’s a barefooted man in a space-jumpsuit who looks like he’s exiting a wormhole located in a bubble. He is floating, indicating that he is in space. The bubble looks like it is partially in a spaceship; in the background is a second spaceship. This cover isn’t entirely unfitting, as Death’s End is more of a space opera than the first two novels in Remembrance of Earth’s Past. I think it is supposed to represent the encounter between the spaceships Gravity and Blue Space. In any case, the book will appear like a trippy space fantasy to those unfamiliar with the rest of the series, which is a little misleading, as it is heavily grounded in actual science.
What a Wonderful World: Death’s End is the final book in a trilogy. To summarize the two preceding books (spoilers, obviously): Earth has made contact with aliens from the planet Trisolaris, so called because it orbits a trinary star system. Trisolaris’s orbit is erratic, and will eventually crash into one of the suns, destroying Trisolaran civilization. Having been alerted to the presence of a habitable planet, the Trisolarans plan on colonizing Earth and exterminating all humans. Fortunately, Earth has fended off the invasion by developing a form of mutually assured destruction called Dark Forest Deterrence. Should Trisolaris invade, the humans will destroy both civilizations. The novel chronicles the technical solutions humanity arrives at to combat the continued threat posed by Trisolaris and other alien civilizations.
The Good Guy: The novel follows Cheng Xin, an aerospace engineer, who was part of the first group of humans to attempt to find a way to combat Trisolaris. Cheng Xin goes in and out of cryosleep, awakening in each new era of human civilization. She learns of each new plan formed by humanity to repel alien attacks, and plays a significant role in their development. Unfortunately, Cheng Xin is not very interesting as a character; she exists to give the reader a character to identify with in each era. Cheng Xin’s distinguishing personality trait is her empathy. She feels a maternal protectiveness toward all life on Earth, which regrettably leads her to make decisions that are not in humanity’s best interests. In fact, she single-handedly almost causes the complete destruction of all of humanity on two separate occasions.
The Bad Guy: The Trisolarans have an authoritarian society that places very little value on the individual. In the first two novels, they were determined to wipe out all of humanity, even those that viewed the Trisolarans as gods. Dark Forest Deterrence has lead them to adopt a mutually beneficial relationship with Earth, and they claim to respect and love human culture. However, it remains in doubt whether Trisolaris has truly given up their dreams of conquest.
The Love Interest: Romance is definitely not Liu’s strong point. Yun Tianming is alone and dying from cancer. A friend from college, who started a successful business based on one of Tianming’s ideas, gives him several million dollars as his share of the company’s profits. Tianming, who does not have time to enjoy the money, decides to use it all to by Cheng Xin a star. It’s portrayed as this grand romantic gesture, and it causes her to fall in love with him, but the two barely know each other. It’s the equivalent of a woman falling for a man solely because he bought her an expensive necklace.
A+: Each novel in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past explores a different scientific concept. In The Three-Body Problem, it was the three-body problem. In The Dark Forest, it was a possible solution to the Fermi paradox. In Death’s End, it’s the dimensionality of space. This idea was actually introduced back in The Three-Body problem, in which a multi-dimensional proton is “unfolded” into two dimensions in order to create a tiny, complex computer. This subject is expanded upon in Death’s End, where locations with both four-dimensional and two-dimensional space are discovered. Interestingly, various characters find ways to weaponize space itself using its different dimensionalities. In Death’s End, the physical principles of the Universe itself are tools of destruction.
F-: Cheng Xin. She’s presented as being the manifestation of the will of humanity, which chooses love and empathy over the brutal tactics necessary for survival. That is, we would rather die out than betray our humanity. A noble concept, though not one that I personally believe characterizes us. Here’s the problem. Neither Cheng Xin nor the rest of the population is aware that her choices will lead to the deaths of millions. What’s happening is that Cheng Xin is choosing the short-term survival of the few over the long-term survival of the many. It feels less like she’s making a positive choice for love and more like she’s unable to think about the long-term consequences of any of her actions. If Cheng Xin is supposed to be a representation of the “will of humanity,” then that just means that humanity is stupid and completely devoid of foresight.
Does it Represent…
Women: Well, the protagonist is a woman, as is her loyal assistant, Ai AA. However, I hesitate to label this novel as having positive representation of women. After Luo Ji develops Dark Forest Deterrence, humanity enters a period of complacency, as if they are now indestructible. The way Liu chooses to represent this is by having everyone in the Deterrence Era look super-feminine. Men now wear women’s clothing, and it is difficult for people emerging from cryosleep to distinguish between men and women. Liu may have been associating traditional femininity with love—somewhat problematic, in and of itself—but it reads like he is associating femininity with weakness.
People of Color: This book was translated from Chinese, and it has primarily Chinese characters. The only really important non-Chinese person of color is Fraisse, an Aboriginal Australian man who advocates a return to a way of life more connected to Mother Nature. He provides Cheng Xin with emotional support after the first time she almost destroys mankind.
LGBT People: No.
The Disabled: Thomas Wade gets his arm blown off in the first half of the novel and refuses to wear a prosthetic. He’s also a cold-blooded psychopath; ironically, it’s clear that if he were in charge rather than Cheng Xin, significantly fewer people would have died. I wish that he had been the protagonist of the novel.
Memorable Quote: “If we lose our human nature, we lose much, but if we lose our bestial nature, we lose everything.”
Recommended For: Death’s End, while imperfect, does provide a relatively satisfying end to the series. Fans of the first two books will enjoy it. If you like hard science fiction in set in a hostile universe, start out with the first book, The Three-Body Problem.
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars