To give you a good idea of how enraging this book was, about 75% of the way through, my nerve broke and I started ranting about it in Bookclub chat, because I just couldn’t take it any more. I could overlook the utterly contemptible “she’s a woman, not a warrior” misogyny that permeates the book, I could even forgive the unrelentingly pessimistic view of humanity and our place in the stars and amidst alien civilizations. What I could not set aside was the smug philosophical laziness that permeated all the socio-political thinking. Aside from the gross misrepresentation of military discipline as totalitarianism, Liu Cixin not only paints space-going humanity as irrevocably tainted by totalitarianism, but espouses terrestrial (or solar system, really) totalitarianism as not only acceptable but admirable! What the fuck with this convenient flip-flopping, dude?! The tone is too sincerely cynical, like that boring af guy you meet in freshman year in college who thinks he’s God’s gift to politics because he’s read Mein Kampf critically, to leave room for interpreting this as commentary on the fickle nature of the human condition. I wanted to beat Mr Liu about the head and shoulders with the collected Vonnegut, in hopes of some of that wisdom and style passing to him by osmosis, because Death’s End is just a determinedly nihilistic and thus highly unrealistic view of how human societies actually function. Survival is the basis of our collective humanity: Escapism and all that shit would never be outlawed.
And even the science, which I found breathtaking and gorgeous in the previous books, fell short for me here. Sure, there are some interesting theories towards the end, but when Ice pronounces the solution to their (very obvious, Jesus Christ) problem, I literally yelled out, “Duh!” They spend so much time literally exploring escape velocities that only someone completely unfamiliar with foreshadowing would miss this incredibly obvious answer. And whose fault was it that they didn’t have that answer, btw? Our fucking idiot heroine’s, Cheng Xin’s. You guys, she is the worst. She fucks up humanity not once, but twice, due to what Mr Liu characterizes as “mother love” and which I, as a mother, am completely offended by. Bitch, do your duty! And if you’re not going to, at least fucking own up in the end, instead of going off on an incredibly stupid and, again, lazily inconsistent meditation on the role of duty in your life. I did feel a little pity for her the first time, even as I thought the charges of mundicide against the previous Swordholder absurd (seriously, there’s no corpus delicti in the future?) I spent most of the book waiting for her to die, as better people than her have been so casually offed in previous books in the series, but kept being assured that her fate was worse than death… until it wasn’t. Vomit. I suppose if you like her character, you will like the book. As it was, I found both her and the book repulsive.
Maybe I’m too much of an optimist, a believer in both survival and elevation through cooperation. Honestly, I liked the ending. I wasn’t at all bothered by the effects of the light tomb towards the end: bad shit happens, and we should all do our best in the little time we have. I just find it too hard to reconcile the note of hope in the ending with the “everyone is out to kill us” tone of the rest of the book. It’s lazy and stupid and just reads like Mr Liu wants to impress with flash instead of substance. A fucking terrible coda to a dazzling first novel and problematic but brilliant second.