Death's End (book review) Liu Cixin

(Remembrance of Earth’s Past #3)



090917: i am definitely in a gr minority (this is new?). for me this 'three body trilogy' has become less interesting as it goes, perhaps not enough to retroactively reduce previous volumes, but certainly questioning my original enthusiasm. i think it is a combination of uninterested reading of this subgenre of sf (hard science, epic) and some dislike of the artistic cultural tendencies (Chinese fiction). both of which seem to promise very long books...


i have read this all. i read with less pleasure each page but captive to narrative momentum, my usual inability to stop, my usual constant hope, but found neither rewarded. i broke off to read another book then decided, well, so it is only two hundred more pages... i seem to recall some interesting aspects in volume one (three body problem https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20518872-the-three-body-problem), some patience for volume two (dark forest https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23168817-the-dark-forest), diminishing hopes in volume three (death's end)... but then once the original discovery, problem, ideas are revealed there is not much but more and more somewhat scientistic versions of human history, motivations, mass psychology, and by this book a lot of fascinating sf ideas, mostly dedicated to new ways of destroying the universe, new threats, new tech...


and while hard science progresses apace, there seems close to no human sciences, no connection between remarkable tech advances and human being and society... except new wow tech. this reminds me of Victorian sf where we might go to the moon but the idea women vote, act, think, is completely unimaginable- here, over centuries, everything from corporations, legal systems, governments, interpersonal relationships, sexualities, arts, remain recognizable even when we have the usual flying cars... and while it is helpful perhaps to have the focal character with us through the eras via the magic of hibernation: could we not have a more active, competent, complex person? she is she may be some advance from volume two but she is still very much stereotyped as beautiful young woman incidentally most valued in one era as some manifestation of maternal goddess...


if it is true that sff is always about the world it is written from... well maybe i just do not live in china but this world seems singularly homogenous, with virtually all cultures collapsed into one 'world culture', even indigenous australia is same and maybe... kind of boring. this is the world that makes great art for the aliens? this is the culture to look forward to?


so i have some philosophical problems with this future (well i would, wouldn't i?) but major difficulty is poetic/structural in this book: with the story spread out through eras, the narrative skips around, the voices and texts various, and it is hard to feel as if any of the people you meet have living complexity. this is not Marxist concept of the person (self shaped/defined by class etc...) instead rather strange that in these big moments individuals somehow, suddenly, wield great powers... and if it is she, well logic is out, we have no hope of predicting a woman... but then, this resembles more american golden age or earlier sf as less ideas and more adventure- with more physics! more dimensions! more weapons! more robots! more aliens! more weapons! casts of millions! vast space! vast time! more weapons...


there seems to be here unspoken 'scientism', the idea natural science, technology, is the way to live in the universe, which by definition is a hostile and not simply unknown and indifferent place. the idea that this sort of science will have universal effect, that other human projects and being are negligible or magical or both, such as any sense of individual psychology, that humans will move in great masses according to simple models- that are summed up as this or that 'X age'- that there is possibility of controlling such things as basic scientific research by political forces... that history is ever so linear, results of sciences, results of arts, ever so predictable... well this does not even seem possible let alone plausible... or at least not in the future i imagine, i desire, though i am a westerner for whom the collective serves the individual and all individuals have intrinsic value...


this is a long book. there are many ideas, many sketched, not so many characters, none more than sketched. frustrating, because indeed some of the sf ideas are engaging, but not very philosophically interesting. this is not the kind of sf i like to read, not the kind i usually read, but i thought that as it is Chinese perhaps it will be different... not enough to enjoy it...


note: someone complains of nihilism expressed but i think it is actually the opposite, that by the end 'life' survives, the universe has 'meaning' in itself (where else?), though this remains through the 'world' of science even as it gets metaphysical...

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