My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Death’s End: Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #3 (2010 in China & 2016 for Ken Liu’s English translation) by Cixin Liu is the final book in the trilogy beginning with The Three Body-Problem & its sequel The Dark Forest.
Death’s End (a book within a book) is told by its principal character Cheng Xin, who wrote a book (called “A Past Outside of Time”) to become an artifact holding her story, which lasts millions of years (yes, millions of years), and to tell the story of how humanity and its Solar System finally came to an end by an interstellar attack which caused the star system to fold into two dimensional space.
The Preface to Cheng Xin’s book (which also acts as a preface to Death’s End) provides clues as to what will happen to Cheng Xin in the final chapters of her story.
Also, there can be no doubt that the author, Liu Cixin, wrote the “preface” last after completing the story because it is less than one page long and connects mainly to the last twenty pages of the book.
Prior to Part 1 (there are a total of six parts in the 604-page book), the Preface begins:
“I suppose this ought to be called history; but since all I can rely on is my memory, it lacks the rigor of history” (p 11).
This line makes sense when connected to other lines found when Cheng Xin has decided to live with Guan Yifan, “a civilian astronomer” (p 548) who once flew on the spaceship known as Gravity from the preceding book called The Dark Forest.
Cheng Xin and Guan Yifan choose to live inside a constructed portal or “time vacuum” (p 582) called Universe 647, which was built by the Trisolarans (first introduced in The Three–Body Problem) because Universe 647 does not contain time and will allow them to live until the death of the universe. Therefore, by living inside Universe 647 Cheng Xin, Guan Yifan and Sophon (a Trisolaran AI robot) may escape the collapse of the old Universe and survive to see the new Universe born and established.
The “history” Cheng Xin mentions in the Preface becomes clear when the following lines are read:
“Time flowed by day after day like the smooth, placid water in that little brook. Cheng Xin began to write her memoir so that she could record the history she knew. She named the book A Past Outside of Time” (p 590).
The “little brook” is found inside Universe 647, which is an endless loop containing a “pastoral scene,” an “unplanted field with black soil,” and “an exquisite white house” (p 582) where the two could live until the birth of the new Universe, which would take billions of years outside Universe 647 but would only take ten years inside the time vacuum.
In the Preface, Cheng Xin also explains:
“It’s not even accurate to call it the past, for the events related in these pages didn’t occur in the past. The details that have been preserved are already abundant. Sealed in floating bottles, they will hopefully reach the new universe and endure there” (p 11).
The “floating bottles” and the “new universe” are vague references which will later connect the reader to the end of the book.
Page 601: “Sophon held a metal box. This box would be left behind in the mini-universe, a message in a bottle for the new universe that would be born after the next big bang. The box contained a miniature computer whose quantum memory held all the information in the mini-universe’s computer—this was practically the entire memory of the Trisolaran and Earth civilizations.”
Yes, by the end of the book humanity and the Trisolarans have all but become extinct with but a few survivors from each race scattered across a universe, millions and millions of years in the future, which is slowly dying. The death of the old Universe, however, will cause the “next big bang” thereby creating the “new universe” mentioned in the Preface.
The reference to the dying Universe can also be understood in the following line found in the Preface:
“I regret that day didn’t exist in the past, doesn’t exist in the present, and will not exist in the future” (p 11).
Cheng Xin can write this line because she knows once the old Universe is dead the Past, Present, and Future that all of humanity has ever known will no longer exist inside the new Universe.
In addition to the “floating bottles” and the “new universe” the Preface offers a strange illusion which can be baffling (intentionally made so by the author, Cixin Liu) if not properly put into the context of the story’s end.
In the Preface, Cheng Xin states:
“I wave at the silhouette; the silhouette waves back. Looking at the shadow of myself, I feel young again. This is a lovely time, just right for remembering” (p 11).
What could Cheng Xin possibly mean by this?
The silhouette waving back is actually Cheng Xin seeing herself waving as time is being looped back upon itself instantaneously inside Universe 647 with its pastoral scene with farm and white house.
The reference to her waving is identical in nature to the actual scene when Cheng Xin and Guan Yifan first arrive to Universe 647 and he waves at the silhouettes without knowing it’s actually them:
“Under the blue sky, a pastoral scene slowly took shape. There was an unplanted field with black soil; next to it was an exquisite white house. There were also a few trees that brought a hint of the exotic with their broad, strangely shaped leaves. As the sun continued to brighten, the peaceful scene appeared like a welcoming embrace.
“‘There are people here!’ Guan Yifan pointed at the distance.
“They could see the backs of two figures standing on the horizon: a man and a woman. The man had just put down his uplifted arm.
“‘That’s us,’ said Cheng Xin.
“In front of those two figures, they could see a distant white house and trees, exact duplicates of the ones nearby. They couldn’t see what was at the feet of those figures due to the distance, but they could guess that it was another black field. At the end of the world was a duplicate of it, or maybe a projection.
“Duplicates or projections of the world existed all around them. They looked to their sides and saw the same scene repeated. The two of them also existed in those worlds, but all they could see were the backs of those figures, who turned their heads away as Cheng Xin and Yifan turned to look at them” (pgs 582-583).
As the Preface ends with Cheng Xin writing in her book, A Past Outside of Time, “This is a lovely time, just right for remembering” (p 11), so it is.
Now that the beginning of Death’s End has been explained feel free to explore the sweeping epic that is Death’s End, a true science fiction masterpiece that will take you on a journey that any reader could never imagine nor thought likely.
Death’s End is also a fitting close to a spectacular trilogy which saw the rise of Trisolarans in The Three–Body Problem, the Doomsday Battle and the Swordholder & Wallfacer in The Dark Forest, and much more that cannot be easily described in a few sentences.
What can be said, however, is that any fan of sci-fi will not be disappointed with the overall trilogy, although the three books (The Three–Body Problem, The Dark Forest, and Death’s End) total approximately 1,300 pages, which does take a good deal of time and energy to complete.
Meanwhile, keep reading and thinking and smiling…
The Three-Body Trilogy:
#2, The Dark Forest
#3, Death‘s End
CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy), and a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU. He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father’s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), and forthcoming: Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being; Little Hometown, America: A Look Back; A Time to Forget in East Berlin; and, The Endless Endeavor of Excellence.
You can also follow the author on Facebook @ cg.fewston – where he has 390,000+ followers