Finally, we finish The Three-Body Problem series. And thank fuck for that. Because for all this was better than the rampant horrendousness of The Dark Forest, Death’s End is still a shitty, awful, horrible book. There’s misogyny (and gender essentialism) and some really not ok stuff about ASD people. And for some reason, in the distant space future, everyone is heterosexual. And, to be honest, even if you leave aside the ways in which I think this book is actually objectionable, it’s also just… not very good.
So, to keep it brief, we deal with a lot of the same issues as in the previous two books. The sexism et al. is a bit toned down compared to The Dark Forest, but worse than in The Three-Body Problem. It’s still awkward, still stilted, and some of that is probably still because it’s been translated (even though it’s better than TDF, and clearly benefitting from Ken Liu’s input). None of the people read like real people. No one talks like a human. Humanity still behaves as one predictable mass, and never deviates from that, even across huge spans of history. It still makes terrible assumptions about things that aren’t science, and still treats “romance” in a way that I would find creepy at best and downright problematic and unacceptable at worst. Men are still in charge and best at everything. Everything can still be generalised. Everything is still stretched out of way too long a time period and loses any cohesion it might have had…
I could go on, but if you read my post on The Dark Forest, you’ll get the gist.
The things I want to talk about now are just the following: the weird-ass obsession with maternal instinct, why the future is heterosexual, why men are still basically in charge of everything and how the series fits together as a whole.
So, point one, and my chief source of anger throughout the book, is the maternal instinct bollocks. Our main character is a woman, and gets put into a position of power… and somehow, by the magic of holding a baby, she finds the strength to do it because she puts herself into the position of the world’s mother. She does what she does through LOVE. And she keeps getting cast into this role throughout the book, for no… real reason that I can see. It doesn’t fit with what little characterisation she otherwise gets. It just seems to be “oh, a woman has to protect the world but it’s hard… MUST BE MATERNAL SHIT”. And it’s meant to be the future… surely in times ahead we can drag ourselves awa-… no? Apparently not.
Because apparently everyone in the future is also heterosexual. And men are in charge of everything too.
What I’m basically saying is that for all the logistical and scientific changes the author writes about, he in no way accepts that society might change too. That things may be different for people. I don’t know what China is like for gender stereotypes and LGTB+ acceptance right now, so I don’t know if his future represents their past or their present, but it does not tally even with our Western present right now, and that seems weird to me. Most of the books I read these days at least accept that in our distant space future, maybe women will be awesome and in charge too. Maybe we’ll even have women *gasp* in the military. Gosh. Wouldn’t that be remarkable? But this has just thrown it out of the window and gone “eh, whatever”. And I’m sorry, but you can’t write distant space future without any sort of acceptance that people and people as a mass change, as well as technology. It just doesn’t bear out. If you’re going to be a misogynist prick, at least come up with a justification for it. But no.
Now, the series as a whole. Frankly, I think it gets worse as we go on. TDF is the low point, in many ways, but I think that’s because Ken Liu has done a lot of work as translator to get things to a place where a Western reader can get on with it. If I try to account for that, I do think DE is the worst book of the lot. We get progressively shitter morally, socially and story-wise, and by the end of the book it all just falls apart. You don’t get decent resolution, or an ending that fits emotionally to good or bad. I struggled to connect with it to begin with, and that only got harder as I carried on reading. It’s not even story at the service of science. It’s science clinging to a vague idea that story is a thing, then giving up and not even engaging that deeply with the science.
As such, I think this goes to the bottom of my pile for the Hugos, leaving the table thus:
Ninefox Gambit – Yoon Ha Lee
All the Birds in the Sky – Charlie Jane Anders
The Obelisk Gate – N. K. Jemisin
A Closed and Common Orbit – Becky Chambers
Too Like the Lightning – Ada Palmer
Death’s End – Cixin Liu
For all that I found Too Like the Lightning deeply objectionable in many ways, it at least had the decency to try to have an interesting setting. The world building wasn’t enough to save it as a book, but there’s something there worth having. Whereas, honestly, I don’t think I can find anything worthwhile here at all. There is nothing that he’s doing that I think is of any value. Which is a shame, because at least The Three-Body Problem managed to be a bit interesting.
But that’s me done on the Hugos! FREEDOM. I’ll be happy if either of my first two win, and I’ll sigh but accept if the next two do. Be prepared for ranting otherwise.
Just one more Nebula nominee left – Borderline by Mishell Baker – and I’ve already started reading. It’s definitely more enjoyable than this.