Cixin Liu’s “Death’s End” – the final book of an outstanding trilogy – is not perfect, and can be especially daunting for those, like me, who are not familiar with the theoretical underpinnings of physics and astrophysics, but it was still a brilliant conclusion to the series. Like the first book, there was a balance between the advancement of human science and the ethical or moral implications which emerged, and like the second the plot was generally well-paced. In fact this third book plunges the reader right into the action between Earth and Trisolaris, where the preceding “The Dark Forest” left off, and even the seemingly-random snippets foreshadow future developments.
Against the Trisolaris invaders, “humanity had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat through tenaciousness, cunning, and luck”. Descriptions of the (one-sided) conflict and its fall-out are harrowing, though it becomes clear – soon – that bigger dangers await.
The negatives first. The book – in the lead-up to the first climax – did start off quickly, but there were one too many hibernations in the middle, slightly affecting the pacing, in the progress from the Deterrence or Post-Deterrence Era to the Broadcast Era. In this vein the conclusion to the encounter with the Trisolaran android Sophon and the imminent Trisolaran settlement, in contrast with how the first attack was built up and eventually unleashed, felt a little abrupt and odd. And finally, I was also worried in the beginning that I did not completely understand the initial interaction between three- and four-dimensional space, though the explanatory specifics, to me, are not as important.
Yet these are nitpicks. There are so many positives to “Death’s End”, and in my opinion they are anchored by the protagonists Luo Ji and Cheng Xin, as well as the continued reference to broader themes which are applicable to our contemporary society today. Cheng Xin may appear indecisive and unintimidating, oftentimes dithering at the most crucial moments, yet I was drawn to her moral strength and conviction. Luo Ji, along this tangent – as the “Wallfacer, Swordholder, and humanity’s final grave keeper” – is deployed so sparingly and so effectively, that his status cannot be mistaken. For a character so despised at the start of the second book, he redeems himself.
Some of the broader themes I enjoyed – besides the ones about historical and cultural progress, of human nature and the behaviour of individuals in collectives, and of escapism and euthanasia, covered in the first two books – concern the tension between technological progress and its costs, and the notion of inequality in the face of impending death and destruction. “Historically, inequality mainly manifested itself in areas like economics or social status, but [now] death basically treated everyone the same”, and more often that not these tensions are reflected in the decisions that Cheng Xin makes, or has to make.
To fully appreciate Liu’s masterpiece, I think comprehension of the science is critical, because I am sure that much of the imagery conceptualised and presented – of and beyond the solar system, and across different dimensions – was lost on an uninformed me. And that would be helpful, for a second read. Still, the book was immensely enjoyable, and very much unputdownable.