This time I’m going to wrap up 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. It is available in English, so whatever I don’t get to you can check out in the translation.
Part II moves on to the “Broadcast Era,” which should be around 2277 AD, and this chapter focuses on Cheng Xin. At this point, Cheng Xin and Ai AA have been living in Australia for 6 years already. Cheng Xin has become a tycoon in the field of near earth orbit space construction, but she has a disease that the medicine of the day can only cure once her clone is ready, but it will still take five more years. The first section also describes the crazy behavior of a public order army, which has the power to try people in court. The narrative breaks briefly with another italicized excerpt, this one on an inquiry into the dark forest theory. Luoji caused the destruction of a fixed star system during this experiment, which is examined here. This chapter ends when Cheng Xin is awakened by the phone. It’s Fuleisa, one of her former roommates.
The next chapter is still set in the same year but focuses on Tomoko, who turns out to be quite a significant character, and it starts with another italicized excerpt. After a quick pass discussing Luoji fighting the 3 Bodies System, this whole section mostly is interested in Cheng Xin and Tomoko having tea together. There is an excerpt talking about the Japanese tea ceremony, the solitary arts, and safety statements. Then Cheng Xin gets another call from Fuleisa.
Two days later, Cheng Xin and Luoji go to visit Tomoko, who has announced she intends to depart. They have tea again and sit quietly together. This chapter ends with Tomoko telling Cheng Xin cryptically that Yun Tianming, who was euthanized in the beginning of the book, wants to see her.
The next chapter subheading opens another really interesting storyline. It’s the same year as the previous chapter, only focusing on the deceased Yun Tianming. We start off with an excerpt “Endless Staircase,” which mentions Yun Tianming is existing outside of his body in the first fleet of 3 Bodies and that his brain would be transplanted into a cloned body. He sees Cheng Xin at some point.
In the next scene, we see Cheng Xin in a spaceship where she can see the sun and star clusters through the windows, and she has a video and audio recorder that somehow accesses memories. She sees a man walking in a golden wheat field. It’s Yun Tianming in his full body wearing a golden jacket. His pants are covered up by the wheat, and his face looks young and tanned. He greets her. It has been three centuries since the met last time. He tells her a children’s story called “The Emperor’s New Painter” before she awakes from the dream and returns to the ship. The chapter ends with a scene of Tomoko at a villa, contemplating the interaction of the 3 Bodies and earth worlds.
The following chapter escalates this narrative by using the title “Yun Tianming’s Fairy Tales.” It presents three fairy tales he tells Cheng Xin in italics at the first meeting of the Intelligence Analysis Committee, also known as the IDC. There are thirty people at the meeting, and two of them are Common Era people who participated in the executioner selection: accelerator engineer Bi Yunfeng and physicist Cao Bin. They have lived under Tomoko’s surveillance for three hundred years. Cheng Xin addresses the meeting, and they talk a little about Yun Tianming’s compilation of children’s tales from the Crisis Era. The narrative then presents each of Yun Tianming’s stories, which are interconnected. Each story runs about 10 pages. The first one is “The Emperor’s New Painter,” the second one is “Taotie Sea,” and the third one is “Prince Deep Water.”
The first story establishes that the emperor has three children, two princes, Prince Deep Water and Prince Slushie, and one princess, Princess Dewdrop. Prince Deep Water goes to the Taotie Sea, but the Emperor recognizes that Prince Slushie is very violent and chooses his daughter Princess Dewdrop as his successor to become queen after him instead. Prince Slushie then decides to help his father select a new painter since the current court painter is getting too old. The prince introduces the new painting master, Zhenyan.
We get a description of him painting a snowscape for the Emperor, but really Zhenyan and Prince Slushie are interested in painting Princess Dewdrop. The princess wakes up from a dream and goes to her chamber door, but her aunt is already there with the palace guard head and Painter Kongling. Her attendants are concerned about Prince Slushie and Zhenyan’s interest in her. There’s a lot of discussion about an umbrella or parasol here that I don’t quite get the significance of, but in the end, Zhenyan does complete her portrait.
In the second fairy tale, the story seems to continue uninterrupted with the palace guard head and the princess. There is still concern about the painting of the princess, but they start talking about her brother Prince Deep Water, speculating why he went to the island and how he was considered a monster or a giant, though her Aunt objects to these characterizations. The princess wants to leave the palace, but her attendants are even more concerned since an evil monster known as the taotie is believed to live in the waters. Still, she goes to the seashore. By the end of the second fairy tale, they decide Prince Deep Water likely won’t return with them to the palace.
The third fairy tale continues with the princess by the sea. She sees her brother Prince Deep Water on a small island, though he is a giant. She calls to him, and they chat. She explains that she’s about to be made queen but doesn’t want to be. She wants to travel the seas with him instead.
After this final story is related, the people in the IDC meeting start talking and thinking deeply about the meaning of Yun Tianming’s fairy tale world. AA says she thinks the princess resembles Cheng Xin. The next day, the IDC analyzes the stories comprehensively. Then the chapter turns to another italicized excerpt on the “Bunker Plan – Earth’s Cultural Ark.” There’s an outline here of topics relating to predictions of the solar system’s dark forest attack, the need for a deliverer of the masses of people, the abandonment of humanity, fleeing the star boundaries, etc. This part gets into the interstellar interactions between the 3 Bodies Fixed Star, the sun, and the various planets in our solar system. One section mentions interesting details of the dark forest attack: at the beginning of the attack Mercury and Venus completely disintegrated, earth and Mars maintained their spheroid shapes but got their surfaces peeled off to varying depths, and the rest of the planets had their orbits adjusted due to some explosion on the sun.
The scene then shifts back to the IDC still analyzing Yun Tianming’s fairy tales using literary techniques and considering their hidden meanings, even hiring a linguist. These parts are intertwined with scenes of Cheng Xin talking with AA about things like bath soap, which is now apparently a historical relic in this era. It’s a very intriguing narrative progression, and this whole volume has been constructed in a rather unusual way throughout the chapters. On that note, I’m going to end this series looking at the trilogy here with this tantalizing glimpse of the story since it gets really philosophical.
Part 3 of 3.