1500 pages of successively more impressive sci-fi action. The final volume of the trilogy is more sweeping and panoramic than the other two.
This is one alternate future I never would have anticipated. And thankfully, Cixin Liu does not offer us a trite, Hollywood ending. The ending kept me up thinking the night I finished it. The whole journey set my mind a whirl with the unsettling outcome of a carefully orchestrated series of strategic literary maneuvers. Untangling them is a literary chess game.
The author obviously has a workable command of engineering science, physics and other hard sciences. While those skills are not necessarily pre-requisites for writing good science fiction, they serve him in good stead, elevating the speculation to the believability of Orson Welles’ broadcast of War of the Worlds. In support of the complex set-up running through the first 2 installments, his characters are well-imagined, and their choices, personal or global, are compelling in the extreme.
The author brings the drama down to the human level often enough that lengthy scientific explanations bolster moral ambiguities. Desperate times call for desperate measures. That statement is almost a guiding principle for these novels.
Cixin Liu reminds me of Arthur C. Clarke in the way he integrates his ideas into an imagined society. (The author acknowledges the British author’s influence in interviews.) Cixin Liu relies heavily on summary and narration. The characters make their appearances and are responsible for all of the twists but they are commonly extensions of the scientific principles at work – ie. experts in a certain field – or future technological exploitation on display. Yet, they have a human dimension. They do somehow live beyond the pages. I think he betrays his method in the second book when he describes the writer and her summary of the proper method of developing a character by imagining every detail to the point where they become a real, living person in the writer’s head. The writer character was not the most influential in the narrative sense, but was a wink and a nod perhaps, to the relationship between the writer and reader.
Regardless of any imbalance in the dramatic tension, the last 2 volumes are clearly masterpieces in their genre, rising above nearly every other epic through the sheer number of innovations he introduces. There are possibly an unnecessary number of scientific breakthroughs and cutting edge ideas included, but their strategic deployment make all the difference, guiding the plot in unforeseeable ways. The lengthy series is justified through the exertion of inventive ideas, but it is also riveting to behold the strange contortions of his plot. Sometimes, when a new concept is introduced, it is only possible to understand its purpose by reading on, knowing that the explanation and importance of the plot element will become clear later. This is most prevalent in the three fairy tales, which are inserted into the text, clashing with the overall tone. They serve the plot, but one has to have unshakable faith in the author to endure them. The novels themselves are matters of endurance but are all the more enjoyable for this fact. They each say something profound about the human condition, applicable to anyone, anywhere. The human species has endured through so much, and Cixin Liu is trying to tell us that we must endure through so much more if we want to reach our true potential. Judging from his astute conjectures, we have only scratched the surface of human ingenuity. But we will never escape our true natures. This is a well-formed accomplishment and deserves all of the praise and awards it has garnered.
It is a breathtaking epic, not likely to be superseded in this or the next era.