Cixin Liu (author), Ken Liu (translator)
Death's End is the third in an ambitious SF trilogy originally written and published in China. The first, The Three-Body Problem, won a Hugo Award; I generally concurred. The second, The Dark Forest, was less successful; I ultimately found it worthwhile, with reservations. Death's End, regrettably, has all of the drawbacks and few of the virtues of The Dark Forest.
Some of the drawbacks may be cultural. It's clear that readers' expectations differ widely across the world. In English fiction, for example, there's the famous shibboleth "show, don't tell." Like all hard-and-fast rules it's often overblown, but it's still there: it's part of the expectation. This expectation is blatantly violated in all three of Liu's books, and The Dark Forest is perhaps the worst of the three.
Similarly, I have strong reservations about (for example) a chapter that consists of twelve pages of dense descriptive text with a single lonely line of dialogue--or, strictly speaking, monologue--on page three. It's jarring at best and absurd at worst.
It's especially absurd when Liu spends his word count describing large-scale social changes which have no effect on the actual plot. For example: at one point, we're told that there's a large-scale religious revival--so much so that a giant illuminated cross is placed in orbit. About a quarter-inch of book (and some years of timeline) later, we're told that the revival has faded and they're dismantling the cross. That's all we hear about the matter.
The biggest problem by far, however, is characterization. One of three things is going on:
- People in China are just extraordinarily unlike Americans. (Unlikely. I've had many co-workers from China. They're people.)
- Cixin Liu is a very very strange man with very very strange ideas about people. (Possible.)
- The conventions of fiction are incompatible.
Character 1: Hey, how about you give me all your money and everything you've built up and basically your entire life, and go into hibernation for a while. Do it for the sake of the human spirit.That's a nice compact example, but it's far from the weirdest one.
Character 2: Okay! Sounds like a plan!
Now, none of this is without parallel in the English-speaking SF world. The largely-unread classics of Olaf Stapledon are one example. More recently, I'd cite the inexplicably popular Stephen Baxter, whose books are all basically travelogues. If you like either of these guys, particularly Baxter, go ahead and read Death's End. (It's not a slog, for what that's worth. I was, much of the time, eager to find out what happened next.) Otherwise, I'd only recommend this to readers who liked both of the first two books and want to know how it all turns out.