Death’s End by Cixin Liu

DeathsEnd_titleDeath’s End is by far the darkest, longest and the most expansive of three books and is a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, but in its own terms. When you wrap your head around the scope of this cosmic saga and ruminate on it like the title says, the intricately engineered story line, where everything was seeded in with careful future consideration, feels all the more epic.

While the 3BP opened with Red revolution and Dark Forest with detailed scanning of Chinese alphabets, Death’s End prefaced on a more familiar non eastern account – the fall of Constantinople. This western centric or rather international approach was a prevailing characteristic of the narrative, though story kept transcending inter gallactically. Wake of the novel is the failure of deterrence between Earth and Trisolaris under the new ‘sword-holder’ Cheng Xin, a female rocket scientist, and humanity’s efforts to evade annihilation in the Dark Forest universe. ‘The Staircase project’ is the first brain child out of this desperation, which sends a human brain for Trisolaris to intercept. Like the propagation mechanism of staircase project, readers are taken through the splintered timeline of Universe’s history, via main protagonist’s hibernation cycles, with divulged informations and throwbacks to previous legacies.

I didn’t have much patience after Liu’s direct reference to Bester-‘The Stars our Destination’ project, and my initial taking a sip of the book got elevated into full course dinner. Destruction of 187J3X1 by Luo Ji’s spell reminded me of Clarke’s Star, the Twilight Zone version in Dark Forest and original interpretation in this installment. The message in the bottle and unfolding of Universe from Garden of Eden state were reminiscent of The Last Question, though not directly referenced. Jovian space stations resembled Cooper Station of Interstellar or Rama in construction, and Liu traced it as far back as Poe’s Maelstrom. The initial existential questions of how natural nature is, and how much life has structured the universe offered interesting pov’s to the way we usually see things. The beauty of Liu’s writing was incorporation of all its Gordian knots into a comprehensive narrative, with invitation to view them from both sides of the equation. The obvious setback of this centenarian narrative was neglect for infos on galactic humans or decision making of humanity or relationships where the previous installments did well. And though imparted with understandable metaphors and detailing, much of book’s science felt like expositions.
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For a book about higher dimensions, characters were a bit 2D. I actually prefer story/idea driven book where plots are way bigger than characters, but here, Cheng Xin and AA had little flesh on them. Unlike Ye Wenjie or Luo Ji, who propelled the plot, Cheng Xni felt like a badly written trope with a cardboard sidekick, whose sole existence was to provide a narrative perspective. Acknowledging the sheer scale of story might be one way to evade this, for the Deterrence, Bunker and Galaxy Eras were highly different from Crisis Era of previous installments, which shared a lot with the CE we are in, both in terms of science and events. But the pity I felt for Xin’s mother like attitude to hang in and avoid risk probabilities, changed eventually after getting through the brand new universe, brand new life concept. Like the first person who send out the message towards Trisolaris out of her frustration towards cultural revolution, one cannot blame Xin solely for her decisions without considering the circumstances and cultural eras she was in. Like Yifan puts it “A single individual cannot destroy a world. If that world was doomed, it was the result of the efforts of everyone, including those living and those who had already died”.

Tianming’s fairy tales deserves a special mention, for if read individually, they are quite Hugo worthy. Though well elucidated later, Liu urges readers to form a educated view, along with characters trying to debunk it. The metaphors in the story made great sense and offered an enriching experience on possible evasion strategies for humanity with black domain, curvature travel or using laws of physics as weapons, when revisited after finishing the book.

renaissanceI couldn’t help but look back and wonder how perfectly titled the books in this were. In this retrospection, the title of trilogy, is all the more spectacular. Though the immediate response would be to attribute it with Cheng Xin’s ‘a past outside of time’ epitaph, Liu has been remembering or paying homage to epochal moments of Earth’s past as we know it, as well. The Great Ravine was a visible metaphor for Industrialization and Renaissance in general, Dark Forest deterrence stood for the nuclear stalemate and cold war history, Resettlement of humanity in Australia represented colonialism and genealogical migration. Sophones standing for Totalitarian regimes and welfare states, and the whole Trisolaran thing offering existential questions in Theocracy, were few other accounts where I suspected philosophical implications. The multitudes of universe was staggering as well, offering unlimited possibilities of ideas and persons, like diversity within a civilization, and in this grand scale Death itself wasn’t any fair or an ending for that matter.

3BP and The Dark Forest were slow burners for me, which I savoured over considerable time, but Death’s End hit me like a Trisolaran droplet. There was a part of me that wanted the darkness to be done with, and another part that couldn’t put the book down due to the cliffhangers and constantly mind blowing concepts. And, towards the end of the read, I found myself more eager to interpret the light at the end of tunnel as a speeding train than rescue dawn.

“The ultimate fate of all intelligent beings has always been to become as grand as their thoughts.”

Considering ‘Remembrance of Earth’s Past’ series, Cixin Liu is more close to this ultimate fate, by vacillating his ideas with probability and game theory, urging readers to think scientifically while constantly blowing their mind off.


Three Body Problem

The Dark Forest

 

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The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

The Forever War feels a lot like Halo, with Captain Mandella playing a novice Master Chief against the Covenant looking Prophet less Taurians. For a novel written in 1976 on horrors of Vietnam war with an Interstellar undertone, this hard science fiction feels so surprisingly contemporary and expedient. Or accurately prognostic.

Humanity is at war with Taurians, an alien civilization we know very little about except the fact that they initiated the conflict on the very first contact, attacking Earth’s outpost in farther space. Planet’s elites, the ones with IQ above 150, are soon absorbed by UNEF and then send to Charon for revenge and recon. Many couldn’t survive the rigorous training itself, and a lot more were killed during the first post-hypnotically suggested initial combat, thanks to the alien environments and weaponry. Soldiers travel intergalactically through Collapsor jumps (worm holes), with enigmatic relativistic effects, by the order of centuries back on Earth, making them alien to the world whose very future they’ve been fighting for.

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Sci fi is often metaphorical in nature, and in this novel Haldeman depicts the horrors he experienced in Vietnam war, without recreating it essentially. I don’t think any other linear work directly dealing with the subject of war could have accurately conveyed the essence and remained ageless at the same time. Another book I know which did a similar job, though not essentially similar is Slaughterhouse Five, which portrayed war through a nonchalant non linear life, where everything felt preordained with time travel.

Peter F. Hamilton calls this “damn near perfect” for a novel and I couldn’t agree more. Haldeman’s vision for future covered almost everything in Taurian war, where survival was only by mistake.

  •  Unaccounted combat units either slaughtered or lost or crawling through normal space at near light speed to a Earth, which by their arrival would be centuries ahead.
  • Heavily outsourced job scenario, where most of the countries are promoting homosexuality as a strategy for population control.
  • Temporal lingua franca with which a soldier could communicate with someone contemporary of his/her double digit time grandfather or grand-kid for that matter.
  • Wormholes and collapsor jumps making some one feel like Galileo meeting Einstein or Genghis Khan meeting Mass Effect’s Shepherd in terms of military tech (future shock).

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Couldn’t help but notice the areas Interstellar borrowed from this one, including the final letter between Marygay and Mandella. Even though this was a dystopian military sci-fi novel, it had a pleasant aura around it, and subtle humour, with a very satisfactory ending. Like Hamilton says- “damn near perfect.”

The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin, translated by Ken Liu

“The Universe consists of non-simultaneously apprehended events” – Buckminster Fuller
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There is this one particular scene where author explains how a 2D surface when unfolded contains more surface area for adsorption than its higher dimensional 3D form, with the example of a cigarette filter. Having given this analogy, Liu later cleverly segues into unfolding of proton which according to him is of 11 dimensions. This is the beauty of Three Body Problem, everything you require to pelt along the plot is right in front, kindling your scientific mind, like a Christopher Nolan movie.

I consider 三体 of a dimension higher than my usual perception, proper unfolding of which requires general understanding of engineering, physics, etiology, Chinese history, so on and so forth. Many allegories and references might have been lost in translation for English readers, who like me conclude the internecine civil unrest in China by a single red word – communism. Initial Red army prosecution of Zhetai for his reactionary ideas to the plight of Galelio or Brno, Red coast base for covert cold war weaponry, initial extremist transmissions for blind espousals, racial and communal fascism for officious government, scrupulous research for reservation of education, Trisolarian chaotic eras for Earth’s prime extinction events, ETC for religious invocation , miracles and religion in general were a few that caught my eye.
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As for the characters, though not coterminous, they were well developed for their roles, given proper background for their actions, allowing a character pov, from the Physicists Ye Wenjie, Nano research engineer Wang Miao to the arrogant Police officer Da Shi. The joy of discovering post convection zone reflectivity of Sun by Wenjie and the explanation of same was some of the finest science description I’ve ever encountered. Absolutely loved how they kept the mystery of Trisolarians till the end, though it was constantly teased through game plot of three body. Similarly the unfolding of Proton and the reaction of microcosmos on its first encounter with a higher dimension were highly thought provoking, bating the significance of our existence in the vastness of universe. And author was careful in keeping the Trisolarians on technologically comparable scale with their limitations rather than making them a highly Type 3 civilization.

I would advice a blind read, without any peek into the plot for the book cleverly holds back info, like the first Red Coast base did with Ye Wenjie.Perhaps the most science-y hard sci fi I have read till now, well written and translated, where it was way easier to consider the flummoxing science as something scholarly advanced than carefully crafted fiction. And Liu was considerate enough to give it a layman treatment where even the seemingly unintentional data dumps were secretly training readers for the intricacy of the plot that followed.

High quality of this book make me suspect a vastly unexplored sci fi scene from mainland China, which like Trisolarians, if could, would proton print these words to my retina.

“You are bugs”