Death’s End by Cixin Liu is the concluding novel in the epic science-fiction series, Remembrance of Earth’s Past. As in The Three-Body Problem and The Dark Forest, new characters are the center of focus for this novel while the continued history/future of humankind plays out in a vicious universe. One remaining character from The Dark Forest is Luo Ji, the Wallfacer who discovered the dark forest theory and began the era of dark forest deterrence; however, he is more of a minor character in Death’s End.
The novel begins slowly and is a little confusing. Instead of beginning after the events of The Dark Forest, the first chapter starts in 1453 with Constantinople besieged. It’s not a particularly necessary opening for the novel, but one that later on is explained. There’s a sense of “oh, that’s cool,” and nothing more. After this prologue, the novel introduces us to Yun Tianming, a young man dying of cancer, and Cheng Xin, a smart and beautiful engineer. We initially see these characters during year 4 of the Crisis Era. If you haven’t read the previous two books, that’s four years after humanity learns an alien force will invade Earth in roughly 400 years. It’s hard to move back in time like this after the action and consequences of The Dark Forest. What happened to the humans aboard Blue Space? What will they evolve into as they leave Earth behind? Those questions do get answered, but not until page 183. We see some of the same events until then, but from Cheng Xin’s perspective.
Cheng Xin and Yun Tianming are literally star-crossed lovers. After his cancer diagnosis, Tianming decides to kill himself as part of a newly created euthanasia program. Finalizing his end-of-life plans takes additional work as he comes into a ton of money from a friend and decides to anonymously buy a star and give it to his long-time crush, Cheng Xin. The star is available through a dubious cash-raising scheme created by the U.N. Think people today buying land on Mars and fake P. T.Barnum quotes. The star Yun Tianming can afford is star DX3906, which is about 286.5 light years from Earth and has no planets orbiting it.
‘”There’s a very big advantage to this star,” Dr. He said. “It’s visible with the naked eye. In my opinion, aesthetics matters the most when you’re buying a star. It’s much better to possess a faraway star that you can see than a nearby star that you can’t. It’s much better to own a bare star that you can see than a star with planets that you can’t. In the end, all we can do is look at it. Am I right?”‘
The novel hinges on Dr. He being wrong. Tianming’s romantic gesture forever changes Cheng Xin’s life and how she is perceived by the people of Earth.
As humanity learns more about the dark forest nature of the universe, they learn there are ways to escape ultimate destruction from outside forces. First, one can leave before a strike turns deadly. Second, one can create a defense against a photoid or other object shot at the solar system. This information is all encoded, so the Trisolarans won’t know there’s a leak, in a story that Cheng Xin is told. However, is it too heavily encoded for humanity to have hope?
There is a perverse treatment of people in the book as events cause a mass migration. As with the Great Ravine in The Dark Forest, Cixin Liu imagines terrible situations that affect everyone on Earth. It’s tough to read, but I also wondered why have that? Does that moment galvanize humanity and change the entire viewpoint of humanity? It does. And, it also shows us the enduring guilt that Cixin Liu feels.
The hardcover of Death’s End weighs in at a long 600+ pages. Characters move through time by hibernating in stasis. A lot of narrative exposition dampens the action. When I first finished the book I was slightly disappointed. Partly, because this is a novel about humanity’s survival and Cixin Liu trends towards people’s baser instincts. It can be depressing. The title “death’s end” isn’t just a throwaway title. It’s part of an answer to the question, “what happens when the universe ceases to exist?”
A few days later, my impression of the book improved. I liked it more than The Three-Body Problem, but less than The Dark Forest. However, I’ll think about the book often. The entire story is unique and interesting, taking the reader right to the end of the universe and then.
The suspense is intentional. Enjoy the book.