Death’s End is the final book of the trilogy that was kicked off by The Three Body Problem. As I have just finished this book, I’ve decided to pen some thoughts and I would have assumed that you had already read no only this book but the entirety of the series. Be warned as there will be major spoilers.
I wouldn’t go into the details of the book they can be found easily online but I would like to offer my take on the entire Three Body Problem trilogy. After reading the third and final book of this series, I must commend Liu Cixin on his creativity, boldness and sheer audacity in telling a tale about humanity’s future in our universe at large that spans billions of years. The scope of the stories kept getting bigger until it reaches it inevitable conclusion with this book.
One could draw parallels with our current existence with the stories contained within the Three Body Problem. In fact, one can read the series of books as an observation of human nature.
In the first book, fed up with humanity’s cruelty on Earth, a group of individuals decide that it would be better to work with an invading alien force to wipe out everything rather than trying to reform the errors of our ways. They form a group called ETO which believed that human nature itself is at fault- the individual attributes that make us loving and nurturing are the same ones that trigger group ruthlessness and selfishness. If allowed to propagate, this trait will eventually lead to not only our destruction but the destruction of all life on Earth.
With the forces of ETO destroyed, humanity then trudges on, knowing that the choices left to them is to fight an impending advance alien race that is coming to cleanse the Earth. Here again, humanity can’t form a unified approach in addressing a powerful existential threat. There has always been an inherent tension between individualism and collectivism but the second novel brilliantly plays these themes up very well. We have the Wallfacer Project (individuals tasked with saving the collective), the international and military organizations (group consensus for the collective) and the Escapists (individuals who believe that salvation is reserved for the few as collective survival in face of this threat is impossible).
While the first book is an indictment of the human race, the second book lays out the evidence. And the evidence is pretty damning- individuals tasked with unlimited power becomes megalomaniacal, group consensus dooms and hinders any meaningful progress for the collective while escapists makes murderously rationale choices for the survival of the few. Eventually, an equilibrium was achieved with the invading Trisolarans when a Wallfacer successfully deployed a mutually assured destructive deterrence. Is this an endorsement by the author of the power of an individual to affect changes that will benefit society at large? Far from it. Luo Ji’s motivation in coming up with the Dark Forest deterrence was personal- he wanted to be reunited with his wife and child who were held ransom by the governing bodies to ensure that Luo Ji stayed the course. Throughout the novel, he never had much regard to the long-term survivability of humanity and just wanted to spend the rest of his life in comfort and peace. What humanity won was a stay from invasion but it was far from climbing down from the precipice of destruction. The other wallfacers that failed came up with different ideas of deterrence as well but humanity treated them far less kindly.
The final book is the closing argument. This book follows Cheng Xin, a naïve engineer from the 21st Century, who plays the central figure in more than one pivotal moment in the future history of humanity. Readers are introduced to her during the Crisis Era as a young scientist who worked on a plan to send a human to intercept with the on-coming Trisolaran fleet to gather intelligence.
We see her next during the Deterrence Era when she was chosen to be the next Swordholder, a responsibility that requires an almost thoughtless dedication to execute what needs to be done- the pressing of a button that would bring about a chain of events leading to the mutual assured destruction of both humanity and Trisolarans. During a dramatic scene in the book, Cheng Xin couldn’t get herself to do what needs to be done and humanity is later subjugated by the Trisolarans.
The book could have stopped here. But it didn’t.
What happened narratively is that Liu Cixin took his readers on a timewarp, compressing time and moving the narrative forward years, decades, centuries and aeons. There are more twists and turns in this book that the first 2 books combined. There are so many details and dramatic scenes jammed pack in this final and thickest book that I am not going to go into all of them.
But I am going to do a summary of what I think is the point of this series.
In my over ambitious reading of the Three Body Problem, Liu Cixin’s closing argument is encapsulated in Cheng Xin, a character that represents humanity’s unique sense of hope and forgiveness. I do not know the author’s intention in writing the character to be so overtly feminine but it seems obvious to me that she is there to counterpoint the senseless brutality of life itself by bringing about meaning, continuity and beauty. In the first book, we see cruelty being inflicted on a few by a well-intentioned majority in carrying out an ideology. In the second, we cruelty being inflicted on a majority by a few well-intentioned individuals. In this closing book, we see that cruelty is an inseparable part of life and there is no escaping it- regardless of how far or how long one travels. The only way to move is always onwards, with a sense of hope and appreciation.