Death’s End by Liu Cixin (tr. Ken Liu)
Published: Tor Books (Sept 20, 2016)
Posted: Cross-posted (Dec 25, 2016)
(5 / 5)
[Series Spoilers! See: The Three-Body Problem (Book #1) & The Dark Forest (Book #2)]
“Better leave the rest unsaid,
Beauty, darkness, vehemence
Let the old sea-nurses keep
Their memorials of sleep
And the Greek sea’s curly head
Keep its calms like tears unshed
Keep its calms like tears unshed.”
– L.G. Durrell
Death’s End is the final novel in Liu Cixin’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy. It continues the epic story set in motion by The Three-Body Problem and The Dark Forest. When they were released, the first two novels exemplified hard sci-fi at its finest but Death’s End shatters that record. It’s easily the most ambitious and captivating of the three. Combining both history and speculative fiction, the story explores humanity and its existence in the universe.
Three-Body starts with a glimpse of Earth’s recent past, during China’s Cultural Revolution. By comparison, Death’s End aims to tell a deeper and more fundamental story. It opens with a seemingly magical tale set during the Ottoman siege of the Byzantine Capital of Constantinople in 1453. Through the use of advanced technology introduced during the Crisis Era, the story gracefully spans the centuries, exploring various human Eras through the eyes of protagonists journeying across time in hibernation.
In parallel to The Wallfacer Project, established during the Crisis Era, intelligence analysts seek to transplant themselves into the enemy Trisolaran fleet. An aerospace engineer named Cheng Xin is sent to the Deterrence Era to see this Staircase Project come to fruition. We experience Death’s End through Cheng Xin just as last two novels focused on the protagonists Luo Ji and Wang Miao.
Facing the wall for 54 years has taken its toll on an old Luo Ji. The years of his steward vigil have not been kind to him. While humanity thrives under Luo Ji threat-imposed-peace with the Trisolarans, he’s become emotionally detached by the idea of mutual destruction. When Cheng Xin awakens, humanity places its faith in her to maintain the peace through strength and compassion as their new “Swordholder.”
But, as the Chinese saying warns, one must be prepared for danger in times of peace. Although Cheng Xin is well-meaning and intelligent, she bears none of Luo Ji’s gravitas. She’s also tested more than any other character in recent sci-fi. In a tradition set by the former novels, each step forward takes the protagonist two steps in reverse. Because of this Death’s End is often depressing and reminds the reader of human fragility at every turn. It’s tough to swallow but Death’s End emphasizes the trilogy’s overarching themes flawlessly: Memento mori and our masterworks are but castles in the sand.
“Death is the only lighthouse that is always lit. No matter where you sail, ultimately, you must turn toward it. Everything fades in the world, but Death endures.” – Jason
Death’s End touches on topics such as astronomy, cosmology, physics, classical mechanics, quantum mechanics, sociology, and psychology with a fluidity that blends surprisingly well with its suspenseful story. Yes, it’s science fiction and defies the laws of physics, but it’s believable. This final novel takes the thought-provoking elements of The Three-Body Problem and The Dark Forest and amplifies them to dizzying heights. From the study of subatomic particles, aerospace engineering, the implications of lightspeed travel, to the cataclysm of stars, the scope Death’s End outdoes its predecessors and hits like a brick.
I especially liked the chapters about Blue Space and Gravity. Their deep space “journey” stretches the boundaries of a series otherwise firmly rooted on Earth. These scenes are heavily descriptive and serve to steer Remembrance into new territory. Fans of superstring theory will have plenty of material to dissect and enjoy. The author’s unfettered embrace of innovative and speculative ideas make this essential reading for sci-fi enthusiasts looking for something different.
As other reviewers have mentioned, Liu Cixin’s writing shines with the telling of Yun Tienming’s three stories. As spoiler free as possible: there is a part where Cheng Xin believes her old friend is trying to give her a covert message in the guise of stories. Similar to One Thousand and One Nights, the stories told by Yun Tiengming are highly reflexive and use the medium itself as a means of delivering complex ideas. They are stories within stories within the novel. Metaphors and symbols aside, his fictitious story happens to be an excellent piece of fantasy.
“The universe is not a fairy tale.” – Sophon
The writing and pacing are top notch. Suspenseful chapters filled despair-ridden moments are elegantly interlaced with awe-inspiring descriptions of advanced technology and space. Cheng Xin handles the deeply emotional story of a civilization at its precipice like none of the other protagonists. The reactions of everyday people are believable and downright frightening at times. You may even find yourself losing all hope in humanity at times (but that’s nothing new if you made it this far in the series!).
In honor of humanity’s past and in anticipation of its mysterious fate beyond the stars, Death’s Edge is a must read for fans of the series. I’d also recommend it to all fans of hard sci-fi. It features great storytelling, strong world building, and plenty of new ideas. While it doesn’t always paint humanity in the most positive light, Death’s End is a surprisingly quintessential tale of human existence. I rate the novel and the series with a solid 5/5!