I've gone back and forth in thinking about Paula Hawkins' The Girl On The Train. Is Rachel's blackout a clever editorial choice or is it a cheap trick? The blackout is what drives the reader to finish the book. We want to know what happened the night Rachel blacked out while drunk and Megan disappeared. Rachel wants to know as well, though she's tentative.
What intrigues me about Rachel's blackout is that it's a locked room mystery, which takes place in her head. She was there. She knows she witnessed something. Yet, she doesn't remember. The killer interacted with her. Snuck into her perception when the metaphorical lightning flashed and the power went out, and in that span: murder. But, that twist doesn't make up for the novels deficits.
The characters are mostly petty and shallow. I didn't identify with any of them, nor did I especially sympathize with them, accept for Megan in the last twenty pages of the novel. The detectives in the novel seem outrageously bumbling. I couldn't believe they were surprised by the outcome and didn't suspect the murderer. Finally, the murderer becomes a cliché, needlessly explaining how Megan died and why she needed to be killed.
The Girl On The Train draws readers in with a quick pace, clear writing, and shifting perspectives that keeps one engaged. After being drawn in though, I wanted something more. I wanted to be surprised....more
Death's End by Cixin Liu is the concluding novel in the epic science-fiction series, Remembrance of Earth's Past. As in The Three-Body Problem and The Dark Forest, new characters are the center of focus for this novel while the continued history/future of humankind plays out in a vicious universe. One remaining character from The Dark Forest is Luo Ji, the Wallfacer who discovered the dark forest theory and began the era of dark forest deterrence; however, he is more of a minor character in Death's End.
The novel begins slowly and is a little confusing. Instead of beginning after the events of The Dark Forest, the first chapter starts in 1453 with Constantinople besieged. It's not a particularly necessary opening for the novel, but one that later on is explained. There's a sense of "oh, that's cool," and nothing more. After this prologue, the novel introduces us to Yun Tianming, a young man dying of cancer, and Cheng Xin, a smart and beautiful engineer. We initially see these character during year 4 of the Crisis Era. If you haven't read the previous two books, that's four years after humanity learns an alien force will invade Earth in roughly 400 years. It's hard to move back in time like this after the action and consequences of The Dark Forest. What happened to the humans aboard Blue Space? What will they evolve into as they leave Earth behind? Those questions do get answered, but not until page 183. We see some of the same events until then, but from Cheng Xin's perspective.
Cheng Xin and Yun Tianming are literally star-crossed lovers. After his cancer diagnosis, Tianming decides to kill himself as part of a newly created euthanasia program. Finalizing his end-of-life plans takes additional work as he comes into a ton of money from a friend and decides to anonymously buy a star and give it to his long-time crush, Cheng Xin. The star is available through a dubious cash-raising scheme created by the U.N. Think people today buying land on Mars and fake P. T.Barnum quotes. The star Yun Tianming can afford is star DX3906, which is about 286.5 light years from Earth and has no planets orbiting it.
'"There's a very big advantage to this star," Dr. He said. "It's visible with the naked eye. In my opinion, aesthetics matters the most when you're buying a star. It's much better to possess a faraway star that you can see than a nearby star that you can't. It's much better to own a bare star that you can see than a star with planets that you can't. In the end, all we can do is look at it. Am I right?"'
The novel hinges on Dr. He being wrong. Tianming's romantic gesture forever changes Cheng Xin's life and how she is perceived by the people of Earth.
As humanity learns more about the dark forest nature of the universe, they learn there are ways to escape ultimate destruction from outside forces. First, one can leave before a strike turns deadly. Second, one can create a defense against a photoid or other object shot at the solar system. This information is all encoded, so the Trisolarans won't know there's a leak, in a story that Cheng Xin is told. However, is it too heavily encoded for humanity to have hope?
There is a perverse treatment of people in the book as events cause a mass migration. As with the Great Ravine in The Dark Forest, Cixin Liu imagines terrible situations that affect everyone on Earth. It's tough to read, but I also wondered why have that? Does that moment galvanize humanity and change the entire viewpoint of humanity? It does. And, it also shows us the enduring guilt that Cixin Liu feels.
The hardcover of Death's End weighs in at a long 600+ pages. Characters move through time by hibernating in stasis. A lot of narrative exposition dampens the action. When I first finished the book I was slightly disappointed. Partly, because this is a novel about humanity's survival and Cixin Liu trends towards people's baser instincts. It can be depressing. The title "death's end" isn't just a throwaway title. It's part of an answer to the question, "what happens when the universe ceases to exist?"
A few days later, my impression of the book improved. I liked it more than The Three-Body Problem, but less than The Dark Forest. However, I'll think about the book often. The entire story is unique and interesting, taking the reader right to the end of the universe and then.
At this point, I've finished the series. It's an overwhelming scale of time and events. I'll do my best to focus on The Dark Forest in this sprawlingAt this point, I've finished the series. It's an overwhelming scale of time and events. I'll do my best to focus on The Dark Forest in this sprawling narrative.
Out of the three books, The Dark Forest is by far the best one. The Trisolarans will attack Earth in 400 years. They've capped research in fundamental Physics by with their higher dimension sophons. Those same sophons are able to transmit information instantaneously from Earth to the Trisolaran fleet. With no secrets, what's Earth to do?
One tactic is the Wallfacer Project. Four people are chosen and vast resources are allocated for their use. The goal is to dream up a strategy for defeating the Trisolarans without communicating that strategy to anyone. The human mind is a blackbox. Everything these people do is scrutinized, because maybe it's part of their plan. Or, maybe they just want to live in a dream villa and have a fantasy life. Another interesting part of the novel is a character who, while not a part of the Wallfacer Project, nonetheless, has his own secret plans for thwarting Trisolaris.
The title of the book becomes obvious toward the end of the novel. I don't want to give anything away, because I really enjoyed the reveal.
In terms of writing, there is greater fluidity. My thought is that Joel Martinsen is a more accomplished translator, or perhaps, Cixin Liu, improved. For a better review than mine, and one that has a couple spoilers, check out Gerry Caravan's review in the Los Angeles Review of Books.