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Death’s End, by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu)

Review copy provided by Tor.

I don’t always, or even usually, note who translates a work in translation, but Ken Liu did such a beautiful job with the balance of fluid English prose and not flattening out cultural differences. He also translated the first volume of this trilogy with similar skill, and I was pleased with the translator of the middle volume, Joel Martinsen, as well. I hope that both Ken Liu and Martinsen get further translation jobs, because I would love to have more Chinese SF out there to compare and contrast.

Because of how the publishing industry works, this makes me encourage people to buy and read and talk about this book and the two before it in the series, even though I…didn’t really enjoy it. I respect some of the things it’s doing. It’s a major achievement. But enjoy? No. I can’t say that I did.

Here’s why: this is basically a horror universe, which is not my jam. The universe is not indifferent, it is actively hostile. And not just outside forces in the universe. “Space was like a distorting mirror that magnified the dark side of humanity to the maximum,” is a line in the book that is not really contradicted by anything else in the book. It is, in fact, exemplified by a lot of things in this book. There is more than one discussion of cannibalism in fairly flat affect, so if you’re not down with that, this is not the book for you.

Further, while it has central female characters (unlike the book before it), the degree of sexism and gender essentialism is pretty staggering. Somehow Liu managed to get to 2016 without realizing that “she was a woman, not a warrior,” needs to be preceded with “Dammit, Jim” or omitted completely. (Seriously, can you imagine writing, “he was a man, not a warrior”? No? Then cut it out. “She was a woman, not a” should be finished with “man” or “genderqueer/nonbinary person” if absolutely necessary. Otherwise, in this century and most of the last one we acknowledge that womaning doesn’t interfere with professions, thank you and good night.) Further, there is a whole long riff on feminized men in the middle, culminating in a time jump forward to: “This was another age capable of producing men.”

There is one autistic character who doesn’t ever appear on stage, he is just there to be the source of genius solutions and “tortured by his illness.” Do I even need to? NO JUST DO NOT DO THIS.

So. This is a book that is Stapledonian in scope, the entire age of the solar system available. It is sweeping, it is full of ideas about space travel and the continuation of the human race. It is doing some interesting things. And I want there to be more Chinese SF translated into English, so I really want to encourage people to buy and read and talk about this book. But for weird and substantially external reasons, so I’m pretty conflicted about that.

Please consider using our link to buy¬†Death’s End from Amazon.

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