Three Body Problematic

by

I just saw a kangaroo.

  • Cixin Liu, Death's End

It's been a few years since I read the first two books in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy—I seem to recall the first one being fun, though fairly slight and a bit silly (magic remote-control photons, anyone?) moving into a meatier (though still somewhat silly) development of the premise in the second. The third, Death’s End is heftier still, with a timeline spanning the fall of Constantinople to the end of the universe. (The silliness is still present, but has largely morphed into different forms.)

It largely concerns Cheng Xin, an aerospace engineer who gets bought a star by her nice-guy admirer, who she then talks into being euthanised so his brain can be send into space to meet the alien invaders from the last two books. She then proceeds to be given huge amounts of power, and gets owned repeatedly by said aliens who proceed largely by taking advantage of her girly emotions (before some other stuff happens, it all gets taken out of her hands and she ends up being probably one of two humans left at the end of time).

I'm only slightly exaggerating here; I do not remember the gender politics in the last books being this weird1. There's a slightly Forever War-ish “person wakes up every few hundred years to discover everything is completely different” conceit, with a similarly “is this ok” feel, except here it's "the men are a bit feminine, which is socially pleasant but renders everyone entirely unable to make Hard Decisions" rather than "my mum is a lesbian now". It's still very enjoyable seeing the projecting-our of the behaviour of Sol-system humanity in the face of a potential extinction event, though, even if some of the stuff that happened (the "aliens force everyone to move to Australia" bit in partiular) felt a little... wacky.

The thing that struck me most, though—the thing that struck me most about the last book, too—is the way it treats the invented cosmic game theory, the Dark Forest, as some sort of nailed-on ironclad law of nature. Between this and a lot of the weirdly-precise fictional space mechanics, it felt a bit like one of those anime where a specific supernatural premise is established and the fun comes from seeing how the characters explore the boundaries of the ruleset. And it's an interesting, if grim ruleset—the calculus of civilisational survival in the vast unknown of space. Except here it's not exactly explored that much, since humanity, for what we observe of it, is not an actor, it is one of its victims. It's just theorised about, and then enacted. I quite like that.

On the whole, I enjoyed it (I definitely tore through it quickly enough) but I had my fill of the partiuclar vibe by the end. It was nice to finish the trilogy, and I greatly appreciated the timehopping, scope and imagination, if not some of the stuff the author put into the main character's mouth. 


  1. Then again, maybe I just noticed this stuff a bit less when I read the first few. I think it was around the time I read the first Expanse books, which Dan read recently, and had a good laugh at my expense when he got to the more "the boobs boobed boobily in the moonlight" bits in the that I apparently just skated over. ↩︎