Returning to Death’s End or Dead End (刘慈欣的”地球往事:死神永生”), the third book in the Remembrance of Earth Chinese science fiction series by Cixin Liu, Part II of volume 3 begins in a new fictional era. The first segment title is “Military Deterrence Era Year 12, The Bronze Age,” which appears to be referring to a spaceship or warship out in space that can see earth with the naked eye from their windows. The people on The Bronze Age talk about going home to earth to see their children or to finally return to start families. They clearly have been gone from earth a long time on a military campaign but want to go back and are afraid out in space.
Another excerpt like those that come up at intervals to break the narrative appears almost right away, this one regarding humanity and the cosmos’ “dark forest.” It’s about Mars, dark forest phobia, and electromagnetic data.
The next major section is titled “Military Deterrence Era Year 13, Judicial Inquiry,” and it has a rather intriguing format for a few pages, describing a military court proceeding featuring interviews with various witnesses from aboard The Bronze Age. The ships and court are orbiting around Mars, Jupiter and the asteroid belt. Each man is interviewed by a judge and prosecutor, and they include Colonel Neil Scott, who had been The Bronze Age’s Captain; Major Sebastian Schneider, who had been the target and strategy command officer of the ship; and Lieutenant Colonel Boris Lovinsky, who had been assistant captain. The conversations with each witness mostly are interested in a “quantum” attack that occurred. The brief legal judgment is set off in a short paragraph after the interviews: Neil Scott and six other high officers are given life sentences for crimes against humanity and murder.
In the next section, titled “Military Deterrence Era Year 61, The Executioner,” the storyline returns to Cheng Xin. This is almost the last year of this era, and we last saw her during the Crisis Era at Yun Tianming’s death many decades earlier. I guess as with the earlier book, they have life prolonging technology at this point to make that happen. Maybe the years aren’t normal length either. If they explained any of that, I missed it, but time isn’t affecting people normally now. However, at this point, humanity hasn’t flown beyond the solar system to the stars, though the technology is being developed.
The DX3906 star has planets that were discovered by a new character Ai AA. Cheng Xin and AA talk together for a number of pages before we reach a partial sentence, bolded, stating “at this time, the murderers are put to death,” referring to the men sentenced in the judicial inquiry. The scene with Cheng Xin and AA continues after this brief break. Throughout this section, Cheng Xin notices there seems to be no men around them on the street and comments on it, but AA tells her that all of the men at this time have been feminized and still are men in spite of appearances. They also talk about how Luoji became the savior of humanity in the Crisis Era, though he has apparently now been declared a murderer and sentenced.
Later when she calls AA, AA answers with a man’s voice, so they get into another discussion about gender before AA suggests Cheng Xin become an executioner. The section ends with Cheng Xin asking, “What’s an executioner?”
Next, there is another excerpt, this one on the Wall Facers and the role of the Executioner. It starts off discussing Luoji’s achievements during the dark forest Three Bodies world. It seems Luoji was originally the first executioner, but he is now getting too old. It goes into the Wall Facers plan and even aspects of the Cold War here.
Then we see Cheng Xin in the hospital recovering from a gunshot wound that nearly hit her heart. AA and her friends come to see her. Another excerpt pops up here on civilization that I’m going to skip, but this sort of italicized aside that runs for pages does interrupt the narrative regularly, which adds an interesting structural aspect to the story. This particular one goes deeper into the Three Bodies world and earth’s technological data. Once it ends, we return to Cheng Xin leaving the hospital. AA tells her someone wants to see her, a robot named Zhizi or maybe Tomoko if it is pronounced the Japanese way. The name means “child of wisdom” either way, just like the famous Sofia robot in the real world. This robot is also female and is somehow controlled or created by intelligent nanotechnology. Tomoko has tea with Cheng Xin and AA.
Two days later after Tomoko’s visit, Cheng Xin is visited by six more “Common Era People,” which is also a phrase that I think also refers to Cheng Xin in places. This term is kind of odd, but I think it refers to people who were born in the time before 3 Bodies and are older than the new civilization that sprung up in the Military Deterrence era. The group includes men who were also candidates to become Executioners. They are compared here in the text to the feminized men of the era. She talks with the group of men a bit.
When they leave, AA comments on the lifestyle of the candidates for Executioner, but finds it an unpleasant rather than a desirable life. Finally, the chapter comes to a close with a focus on Cheng Xin’s parents and the time when she left them for the first time to go to college. The last sentence has Cheng Xin telling someone, “I will compete to be selected executioner.”
The story moves on with a new boldfaced title, “Military Deterrence Era Year 62, Beyond the Orte Nebula, Gravitation.” Gravitation was one of the warship names we were introduced to earlier along with Bronze Age and Blue Space. Mostly I’m going to skip the warship sections, but this one does have an immediately intriguing excerpt on the Dark Forest and Tomoko’s “blind spot.” This excerpt is only a few paragraphs, and Tomoko seems to be connected to this particular ship just glancing over the section.
A dozen or more pages later, we have a new chapter title, “Military Deterrence Era Year 62, November 28th, 1600 hour to 16:17, Military Deterrence Control Center.” Cheng Xin is now at the Military Deterrence Control Center where she is acting in an executioner-type role as a secondary system controller. An excerpt called “Executioner Selection – Ten Minutes of Life and Extinction” runs through the scientific foundation for their “dark forest military deterrence systems,” which seem to include radiation, electromagnetism and nuclear warheads.
Cheng Xin is one of three people who enter the Dark Forest Military Deterrence System Center where she finds Luoji sitting at a table, his hair and beard neat but very long. There’s a white wall nearby that was breached five times. This section recounts Luoji’s separation from his wife and daughter, and his subsequent role as executioner. It explains how he used Japanese kendo rather than Chinese or Western sword technique in this role and that he spent 54 years as a Wall Facer and Executioner against 3 Bodies World.
At this point, he is introduced to Cheng Xin, who seems to be already considered his successor at this point. Somehow, he is 100 years old and she is 29. She ponders the fact that humanity never thanked him for his service during this meeting.
The next title that comes up is “Military Deterrence Era Year 62, November 28th, 16:17 34 seconds to 16:26 58 seconds, Military Deterrence Control Center,” which has multiple subsections in bold over next few pages. It continues the scene with Cheng Xin and Luoji, emphasizing she’s a woman, not a warrior, and is therefore not the same as Luoji. It also gets fairly abstract in its references to huge time spans, discussing events from 21 hundred million years ago.
The era then shifts with the next section title, “The Post-Military Deterrence Era, The Lost World.” Cheng Xin takes the elevator to the ground level and exits. When she hears someone call her name, she finds Ai AA there dressed in a white dustcoat. The narrative breaks for a reflection on the dark forest military deterrence’s defeat. Things apparently aren’t going well with the selection of the Executioner.
Cheng Xin and AA take a flying car to the Gobi where they have a confrontation with Tomoko. At the end of the section, Tomoko raises her sword, laughing about how foolish they are before saying, “Prepare to go to Australia.”
Under the next title, “After the Military Deterrence Era 60 Days, The Lost World,” the 3 Bodies system is coming closer to the solar system, appearing in an interstellar dust cloud. This is the second warship fleet belonging to the 3 Bodies world. While humanity is working on military deterrence and selecting the second Executioner, 3 Bodies world already can predict their intentions with these projects as the fleet arrives in the solar system.
Another excerpt on 3 Bodies technology is quite short and notes that Tomoko arrived on earth after human civilization started to change, so she is their mouthpiece. Then the whole world gets news of the 2nd 3 Bodies fleet arriving and completely occupying the star system from earth to Neptune. Tomoko announces a change in 3 Bodies policy toward humanity and declares they must move. The 3 Bodies world doesn’t intend to annihilate humanity, though they will attack certain parts of the earth. Immigration is to begin to Australia, and also to Mars and outer space later.
In “The Post-Military Deterrence Era Year 1, Australia,” it goes through the details of this mass movement of humanity, giving the statistics for each location at different time intervals. Cheng Xin and Ai AA are among the earliest to immigrate to Australia. Life is difficult in the immigrant zone, and as immigration continues, Cheng Xin and AA share their room with six other women. The story gets into descriptions of some of their roommates as well as Cheng Xin going to visit one of the murderers sentenced to 30 years in jail. The UN moves to Sydney as people move to Australia, to bases on Mars and Jupiter, or to warships in space.
By the end of Part II, the story swings back around to the drama embroiling space warships Blue Space and Gravitation.
Next time, we’ll look briefly at the end of the book and finish the series.
Part 2 of 3.