Hard Chinese sci-fi

Cixin Liu

Another mini-blog from me, perhaps this is the shape of the future? I wanted to write about the latest book I have finished reading just because it is so brilliant and has made me think so much. It’s ‘Death’s End’ by the Chinese sci-fi writer Cixin Liu. And this is the final part of the trilogy made up before this of ‘The Three Body Problem’ and ‘The Dark Forest’.

Hard sci-fi

video cameraAll 3 books but particularly Death’s End are hard sci-fi. They have a strong element of real science and big ideas in them. This is not gangs fighting space battles with zap guns. And I will be honest that I don’t always understand the science but it does make me go ‘wow’ with the concepts involved.

However, this is not to say that the trilogy does not have a story (or series of stories). With these being built around people’s lives and particular characters. Indeed, there is even a bit of space opera with the trilogy story covering literally millions of years.

The story

Surprised monkeyIt starts with the search for aliens; a good idea? And any aliens we find might be so far removed from what we as humans and our civilisation are about. Then there is the sheer scale of the universe and the very real practical limits to space travel.

Ultimately the other aliens leave the stage but final disaster comes from things that had not been foreseen. Although perhaps they could have been if humanity had thought more flexibly. The trilogy raises the big question about how far we tie ourselves down in our normal lives and shut out the things that can change or destroy us through our rigid thinking.

Positivism

Inside the Science MuseumIs it doom and gloom? Everything ends but that is inherently true. And there are lots of positive aspects to what Cixin Liu writes. Humanity survives, technology progresses, there is no man-made climate disaster, languages merge (Chinese-English), and countries disappear.

Periods and inevitability

Leonardo drawings

But the trilogy also shows history as phases of good and bad with enlightened happy periods and dark treacherous periods. I think this is a useful lesson and it is good to see life like that. There is no inevitability (apart from the ultimate death that awaits us all) and things are fluid changing, twisting, and sometimes going backwards.

China

Of course, all sci-fi says as much about the time it is written in. And the trilogy could be seen as a reflection of Chinese history with its huge periods of up and down. Great periods of civilisation punctuated by war, disease, conquest and death.

Why did I love this book and trilogy so much?

  • It made my mind dwell on the infinity of the universe which is staggering and puts our tiny existence into perspective.
  • I realised life is periods of good and bad which in themselves are very subjective terms. How things are now is no guarantee they will always be like this. And we must try to ride these waves.
  • Science is amazing and it is one of the very few things that may save humanity.
  • Everything ends and no matter how much we run away from this, we cannot escape it. That is not to say life should not be enjoyed but everything is finite including the people and world around us as well as the planet Earth itself and our Sun.
  • The future (and visions of it) do not just belong to America. The sci-fi triumph of Silicon Valley and Republicanism ‘democracy’ may well not happen. Indeed, is America at the moment anything to aspire to? Where are the heroes for us to look up to?

sci-fi

 

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