Visual artist Keeley Haftner, blog

Book Review: Death's End by Liu Cixin

** spoiler alert ** I really struggled as to whether or not to give this book 4 or 5 stars. In the end, though I adored its interminable imagination, its poignant reflection of our time, and its awe-inspiring scope, I could not let this book off the hook for its portrayal of feminine and female figures. Liu Cixin, in his seemingly boundless imagination, still can't seem to imagine a universe in which women are not either Eve-esque doomsday bringers (Three Body Problem, Ye Wenjie), delicate but inconsequential muses (Dark Forest, Zhuang Yan), literally alien (and stunningly beautiful) militaristic robots (Dark Forest/Death's End, Sophon), or angelic Virgin Marys whose maternal instincts doom not just humanity but the entire solar system (Dark Forest, Cheng Xin). When feminized in the Deterrence era, the human race is beautiful, peaceful, and superficial. This results in the near destruction of the earth in under 10 minutes when Earth's fate is transferred from the stoic, relentless hands of Luo Ji to those of Cheng Xin (notably: in her mentor-nemesis Wade's hands, deterrence would undoubtedly have been maintained). In her second chance to save the earth, Cheng Xin opts to once again choose the route of non-violence in opposition to our cut-throat Wade, which leads to a 35 year loss of progress on light-speed ship construction, a delay in part responsible for the collapse of the entire solar system into two dimensions (though this is later explained away as probably not the fault of a single individual - after all, humanity chose her as their representative - according to her placating male defender). Cheng Xin has a total of two knights in shining armor: the socially-defunct but loving Yun Tianming who gives her a star, a small universe, and is able to save her and her supportive counterpart, AA, with an actual Fairy Tale. Our second male savior comes in the form of Guan Yifan (former civilian astronomer from the starship Gravity), who protects Cheng Xin from emotional collapse and death with his timely arrival on the Blue Planet, and with his protectorate sensibilities when both fall victim to reduced light speed when black hole 'death lines' are ruptured. Indeed, this -1 star is accounted for when, like so many of his science fiction predecessors (Orson Scott Card, Isaac Asimov) Liu Cixin is able to imagine a brilliant new universe of infinite possibility, but not one in which we've progressed socially beyond the limitations of our current era. As Michio Kaku outlines in Hyperspace, this failure in imagination may literally mark the difference between what astronomer Nikolai Kardashev has described as Type 0 and Type I-III civilizations: that whether or not a civilization can catch up with its own technological progress after the advent of nuclear technology without self-annihilating on account of archaic and lagging social progression may actually be the reason we have not yet found intelligent life in the universe. In other words, intelligent life has, so far, not been culturally intelligent enough. That even a series of literary masterpieces like Cixin's Three Body Problem can fall victim to such failures in Sci-Fi imagination seems to verify the likelihood of such a theory.

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