Sunday, August 22, 2021

The Big Book of Science Fiction

As this book has been chosen as a "Group Read" at the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction FaceBook Group, I'll be adding synopses here as the book progresses.

Amazing Stories, June 1926

“The Star” (1897, H.G. Wells)

A giant, glowing object approaches the solar system and collides with Neptune. Humanity is fascinated by the spectacle but one mathematician calculates that it will cause the end of the world. The object seems to be headed only for Jupiter, but Jupiter’s gravity well causes it to change trajectory towards Earth. It nearly misses the Earth, but its approach causes massive tidal waves and earthquakes. Oblivious to the great loss of life on Earth, aliens on Mars observe the episode and remark that the Earth has been mostly spared, since the continents have not changed much in their shape.

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Discussion

"Sultana's Dream" (1905, Rokheya Shekhawat Hossain)

Sultana is an Indian woman who lives in a society where men dominate and all women are veiled and kept in seclusion, with their only responsibilities being knitting and cooking. One night, Sultana has a dream in which she is transported to "Ladyland", a utopian city where women rule and men are instead kept in seclusion. At one point in the past, female scientists had developed advanced technology allowing them to manipulate solar energy and control the weather, and using this had defeated an invading army while the men had been either killed in battle or hid in barricades. After this conflict, the women had maintained control and now live in a technological paradise, complete with anti-gravity air-cars. Eventually Sultana awakens from her dream. 

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Discussion

(Tibor Csernus, "Le Triomphe de la mécanique")
"The Triumph of Mechanics" (1907, Karl Hans Strobl)

A company run by two men, Stricker and Vorderteil, produces amazing mechanical toys invented by a man named Hopkins. One day, Hopkins asks for a raise, but is refused. He quits, intending to go into business for himself. However, Stricker and Vorderteil convince the Mayor to reject all of Hopkins' construction requests. Hopkins confronts the Mayor and threatens to unleash a billion mechanical rabbits on the town. The Mayor scoffs at the imagery, but soon the city is inundated with indestructible white rabbits, which appear from every corner and can even reproduce asexually. Eventually, Hopkins demands that he be allowed to build his new factory or he will unleash rabbits which eat. He holds up a rabbit which begins eating some vegetation. Fearful of the consequences, the Mayor relents and approves Hopkins' application. Later, it is revealed that the rabbit Hopkins had used to make his final threat was actually a live rabbit, and that his threat was essentially a bluff.

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Discussion

“The New Overworld”, from the collection Astrale Novelletten (1911, Paul Scheerbart)

Two species live on the side of Venus facing the Sun: the turtle-like Unhurried (who prefer contemplation) and the many-legged Dynamic Ones (who enjoy an active lifestyle dominated by walking). Due to the lack of room on the surface of Venus, the Dynamic Ones feel penned in by the unmoving Unhurried. Knax, an inventive member of the Dynamic Ones, develops hot air-driven aerial balloon-cities on which the Dynamic Ones can walk on. However, the balloon-cities soon begin to obscure the sunlight, causing the Unhurried to complain about the overabundance of shade. Eventually, the balloon-cites are extended high up into the atmosphere to allow for more sunlight to reach Venus' surface.

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Discussion

“Elements of Pataphysics”, from Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician (1911, Alfred Jarry)

  1. Definition: Pataphysics is defined as "the science of imaginary solutions" (i.e., the study of supernatural phenomenon based on observable facts and the use of "symbolic language" to describe them). The text then goes on to ridicule the traditional approach to science in a comically-naive way. 
  2. Faustroll Smaller Than Faustroll: Dr. Faustroll shrinks himself (by force of will) to the size of a water droplet in order to examine its unique properties up close.
  3. Ethernity: Faustroll sends a telepathic message to his friend Kelvin explaining that his astral body is in a region beyond time and space, and that "Eternity appears to (him) in the shape of unmoving ether". 
  4. Pataphysics and Catachemy: Man and God are described through three-sided shapes.
  5. Concerning the Surface of God: Based on the assumption that God is an equilateral triangle, the author comes to the conclusion that "GOD IS THE TANGENTIAL POINT BETWEEN ZERO AND INFINITY".

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Discussion

“Mechanopolis” (1913, Miguel de Unamuno)

Lost in the desert, the speaker comes across a mysterious train which quickly transports him to a city named Mechanopolis. Mechanopolis is seemingly a technological utopia, with every imagined want catered to through automation. However, it is apparently no longer populated (by people). The speaker finds a newspaper reporting on his own arrival in Mechanopolis, predicting that the visitor will soon have a mental breakdown. Sure enough, the speaker goes mad with loneliness and begins to suspect that the machines themselves have souls. After he throws himself in front of a train, he wakes up in the desert and later finds a Bedouin encampment. Overjoyed at being reunited with fellow humans, he now feels trepidation whenever he finds himself amidst machines, and cultivates a fear of "progress".

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Discussion

 “The Doom of Principal City” (1918, Yefim Zozulya)

Airborne invaders drop flowers into the streets of Principal City and make loud celebratory music. No troops enter the city, but at night many advertisements are illuminated in the sky above. A small detachment of citizens try to fight the enemy forces outside the city but are captured and "civilized". An enemy envoy enters the city and informs the President of Principal City that the conquerors plan to build an "upper city" above Principal City, and to keep the lower city preserved for its cultural value. Unfortunately, the citizens of Principal City will not be allowed in the Upper City, and will have to live under artificial lighting. When the citizens try to rebel, the city is targeted by giant amplifiers emitting loud, inhuman laughter. As the weeks pass, the citizens become indifferent, self-destructive and depressed. Although professing love and hope for the citizens of Principal City, the conquerors are nonetheless very heavy-handed towards rebellious factions. After the Upper City is eventually built, a tense peace is maintained. However, one day the citizens of Principal City mount a final rebellion and begin setting off explosives all over the lower city. Both Upper and Principal Cities are destroyed, but the surviving inhabitants of Principal City rejoice in the return of sunlight to their streets. 

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Discussion

“The Comet” from Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil (1920, W. E. B. Du Bois)

A black man named Jim Davis is sent to the basement of his New York City office to retrieve some old records. When he emerges, he discovers that fumes from a passing comet have caused death to come to everyone in sight. As he searches through the city he only finds one other living being: a wealthy white woman named Julia, who had spent the night of the comet's passing working in a darkroom developing photos. Although at first taken aback by the color of Jim's skin, Julia gradually overcomes her class-consciousness and begins to accept a future with Jim as the new Adam and Eve of the world. However, they are eventually found by other survivors, who inform them that only those in New York had been affected by the comet's passing. Julia returns to her grateful father (who also hands Jim a fistful of money). Jim is relieved to reunite with his wife, another survivor (although their child has died).

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Discussion

Amazing Stories, June 1927, Frank R. Paul
“The Fate of the Poseidonia” (1927, Clare Winger Harris)

In the year 1994, a man named George Gregory attends a lecture on Mars where he is startled by the strange bearing (and appearance) of another attendee named Martell, who expresses concern for the vanishing seas on Mars. Weeks later, Martell has stolen away Gregory's girlfriend, Margaret. Jealous and suspicious, Gregory spies on Martell's apartment and discovers a strange cube-like device (a two-way video receiver) connecting the operator to various locales occupied by odd-looking humanoids. At one point, he tunes into a scene showing the launch of a fleet of spherical spaceships from an alien world (presumably Mars). Unfortunately, before Gregory can expose Martell as a "Martian spy", Martell has Gregory put in an insane asylum. There, Gregory learns that an ocean liner named the Poseidonia has gone missing just after reporting on a fleet of spherical spaceships hovering above the ocean. Even worse, the world's sea-level has dropped. Eventually, Gregory receives a package containing Martell's communication device, showing a visual feed from a verdant Mars now replenished by water stolen from Earth (he also sees the Poseidonia held hostage by a gigantic Martian gyroscope). Finally, he connects with Margaret who has been kidnapped and taken to Mars by Martell, but reassures Gregory that Mars now has enough water and will no longer need to steal from Earth. 

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Discussion

Weird Tales, Feb 1929
“The Star Stealers” (1929/1965, Edmond Hamilton)

  1. A Federation of Stars battle-cruiser commanded by the human Ran Rarak lands on Neptune for a briefing. There, he and his crew are given a new mission: Lead a group of Earth ships to investigate the appearance of a massive "dark star" approaching from inter-galactic space, heading on a possibly-disastrous course towards Earth.  
  2. After navigating through a maelstrom of deadly "ether currents", the Earth expeditionary force soon arrives at the dark star discovers it to be a luminescent planet, hundreds of times larger than the Sun. Shortly after spotting pyramidal cities on the surface of the glowing world, the Earth fleet is attacked by black cones ("etheric bombs"). Ran Rarak's battle-cruiser manages to destroy a few of the explosive cones with decoherence rays, but is eventually shot down. They appear to be the only surviving ship of the expedition.
  3. On the planet surface, Ran Rarak leads a few of his crew towards a nearby city where they see black, cone-shaped creatures on tentacles moving about towering pyramids. When a loud horn signals a "sleep cycle" for the native populace, Ran Rarak's force explores the city and discovers a pit filled with glowing orbs. However, they are soon spotted and, after a brief battle, captured by the cone creatures.
  4. Several weeks go by, in which the Earth-men learn that the tentacle creatures had once lived on a planet orbiting the dark star, but as the star cooled, the creatures settled on the star itself. Now with the dark star nearly burned out, the creatures are using gravity waves (directed from the orb-pit) to alter the course of their careening star-world so that it will soon be able to catch Earth's Sun into it's orbit, and use it as an energy source. The humans decide to escape their prison before the Sun is stolen from the galaxy.
  5. While hanging from a prison window by a chain, the humans are spotted by one of the creatures from above. Ran Rarak climbs back up the chain and throws the tentacled Star Stealer down to its death.

    While racing back to their ship, the humans are nearly caught by pursuing Star Stealers but Ran Rarak's ship comes out to meet them. After boarding, Ran Rarak is informed that the ship's weapons systems are offline and therefore cannot blast the gravity condensor in the middle of the city. Even worse, Star Stealer etheric bombs begin converging on the ship. Fortunately, the Federation Fleet arrives and engages the Star Stealers in battle. With only minutes to spare, Ran Rarak uses his own ship as a battering ram to destroy the control antenna for the gravity condensor, sending the dark star careening away from Earth's Sun.
  6. Ran Rarak eventually learns that one of the ships from his exploratory expedition had earlier managed to escape the Star Stealers' etheric bombs and return to the Solar System. It had then summoned help from the Federation Fleet, leading to their sudden appearance at the critical moment. After many celebrations, Ran Rarak and his crew return to space to rejoin the fleet of the Federation of Stars.

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Discussion

Wonder Stories, April 1931
“The Conquest of Gola” (1931, Leslie F. Stone)

The planet Gola (Venus) is ruled by a race in which the female of the species dominates over the males. Over time they have developed advanced technology and mental abilities. When visitors from Detaxal (Earth) arrive, the Golans patronize the "barbarians", but after they tire of their antics they order them to return home. However, the Detaxalans state that they intend to force Gola to join their "Federation" and engage in trade and tourism with the other planets of their interplanetary alliance. When the Golans mock the Detaxalans' demands, the Detaxalans return to their ship and start bombing Golan cities. Using their advanced technology (force fields, matter transporters, paralyzing tractor beams, etc.) the Golans destroy the Detaxalan ships and take captives. However, a short while later a second fleet of ships from Detaxal arrives and manages to inflame a rebellion amongst the Golan males. After a brief setback, the Golans overpower their would-be conquerors with their mind-control abilities and destroy them and their ships. Eventually, Detaxal stops sending ships to Gola. 

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Discussion

Wonder Stories, July 1934
“A Martian Odyssey” (1934, Stanley G. Weinbaum)

Jarvis, a member of a Martian exploration team, becomes stranded when his rocket crash lands far from his base. While heading back on foot, he rescues an ostrich-like alien from a black, tentacled creature and earns its trust. After naming his new friend “Tweel”, Tweel escorts Jarvis on his days-long odyssey home. On the way they encounter various Martian life-forms, including animated grasslands, silicon-based creatures who spend their lives building small pyramids, and a predatory creature which uses mental visions to lure its victims (Tweel’s original attacker). They later encounter a race of barrel-shaped creatures who gather surface detritus and sacrifice it to their giant underground grinding wheel. Near the grinding wheel is a strange crystal which apparently heals through some kind of radiation. The barrel creatures chase Jarvis and Tweel to the surface and are about to kill them when they are saved by the sudden arrival of an Earth ship. Tweel returns to his own people, while Jarvis reveals that he now possesses the healing crystal worshiped by the barrel creatures. 

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Discussion

Thrilling Wonder Stories, October 1936
“The Last Poet and the Robots” (or "Rhythm of the Spheres", from Chapter 11 of the Cosmos group serial, 1934, A. Merritt)

In the 30th century, several utopian-minded scientists from around the world pool their knowledge in order to create an underground wonderland in which they can pursue science and art unhindered by the rest of mankind. One day, a great disturbance occurs on the moon (in the original Cosmos serial this is from an attack by the "Wrongness of Space", but in the adapted stand-alone story the cause is attributed to a "space warper ray" invented by the Ruler of Robots). The leader of the scientist/artists, Narodny, contacts an Earth spacecraft and learns that robots have taken over the surface of the Earth (this part is omitted from the stand-alone version). After capturing a few robots, Narodny creates a device which will cause resonating vibrations in the robots and destroy them en masse. After the robots are all destroyed by this method, Narodny and his colleagues retreat back to their underground caverns, leaving mankind to pick up the pieces.

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Discussion

Thrilling Wonder Stories, Oct 1936
“The Microscopic Giants” (1936, Paul Ernst)

A copper mining operation reaches a depth of 40,000 feet underground, where mysterious, small footprints begin appearing. One of the workers reports seeing small beings inside the translucent walls. Frayter, the manager, and his foreman Belmont go down into the mine to investigate and are shocked when they see three 18-inch tall men approaching them from inside the depths of the translucent rock. Frayter reasons that these beings must be an evolutionary offshoot of humanity which had developed underground and eventually adapted their bodies to the extent that their atomic structure allows them to pass through solid matter found nearer the surface. The beings soon attack the two men with strange weapons, but due to the "low pressure" of the region, the beings are eventually forced to return back to the much lower depths in which they can exist more comfortably. Injured in the attack, Frayter blows up the mine and hopes the "microscopic giants" do not decide to invade the surface world anytime soon.

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Discussion

“Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” (1940, Jorge Luis Borges)

When the narrator's friend paraphrases an epigram about mirrors and copulation, a question about the quote's source leads to a hunt for information about the little-known city of Uqbar. Two years later, the narrator discovers a book about the mythical planet Tlön (also cited in some articles about Uqbar's literary mythology), possibly written by "Orbis Tertius". This world exists as a kind of metaphysical reality. A postscript describes the authorship of the book (actually an encyclopedia volume) by a cult (presumably Orbis Tertius), and notes that some aspects of this fictional reality have begun to enter the narrator's own world. The popularity of books about Tlön also begin to cause the philosophy of Tlön to take hold in the real world.

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Discussion

Astounding Science Fiction, Nov 1944
“Desertion” (1944, Clifford D. Simak)

On Jupiter, a bio-dome administrator named Fowler has men undergo a "conversion" process whereby they are remolded into Jupiter's native lifeform, the Lopers. Only in this fashion can mankind hope to eventually colonize Jupiter. Unfortunately, five men who have undergone the conversion and entered the Jovian atmosphere (as Lopers) have never returned. Uncomfortable with sending more men to their apparent doom, Fowler decides to undertake the mission himself, accompanied by his dog Towser. Once reconstituted as a Loper and outside in the Jovian atmosphere, Fowler feels a sense of health, pleasure and heightened intelligence. Additionally, Towser can speak to him telepathically. Unwilling to return to the protective dome and to be remade back into a man (and his pet), the two abandon the dome and go off in order to seek adventure in this new "paradise". 

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Discussion

“The Martian” (1949/51, Ray Bradbury)


“Baby HP” (1952, Juan José Arreola)

“Surface Tension” (1952, James Blish)

“Beyond Lies the Wub” (1952, Philip K. Dick)

“The Snowball Effect” (1952, Katherine MacLean)

“Prott” (1953, Margaret St. Clair)

“The Liberation of Earth” (1953, William Tenn)

“Let Me Live in a House” (1954, Chad Oliver)

Infinity Science Fiction, November 1955
“The Star” (1955, Arthur C. Clarke)

A Jesuit priest joins an expedition to investigate a distant supernova which has destroyed an advanced civilization. His faith is shaken when he discovers that the date of the supernova reveals that it was in fact the Star of Bethlehem marking Christ’s birth.

“Grandpa” (1955, James H. Schmitz)

Galaxy Magazine, October 1955
“The Game of Rat and Dragon” (1955, Cordwainer Smith)

  • The Table: Because interstellar space holds deadly beings called "Dragons", spacecraft require telepaths ("Pinlighters") who can detect these creatures before they attack. However, since the Dragons are extremely fast, the human Pinlighters need Partners (cats who communicate telepathically through "Pinsets") who have much faster reflexes. To the Partners, the Dragons are "Rats".
  • The Shuffle: The four members of a Pinlighter team roll dice to see which cat they are paired with. A man named Underhill is pleased to be paired with an agreeable Persian cat named Lady May.
  • The Deal: After sending Lady May out in a drone capsule, Underhill dons his Pinset headset, which enables him to perceive millions of miles of space in his mind and to communicate with Lady May.
  • The Play: While skipping through space ("planoforming"), the ship encounters Dragons/Rats. When the human Pinlighters sense the Dragons, they send the drones holding their cat partners ahead, who trigger photonuclear bombs to disperse the creatures. In one battle, Underhill is slightly wounded by one of the creatures, but Lady May destroys it.
  • The Score: Recovering in a hospital after his shift in space, Underhill senses that the staff do not understand his relationship with his Partner.

 “The Last Question” (1956, Isaac Asimov)

“Stranger Station” (1956, Damon Knight)

“Sector General” (1957, James White)

“The Visitors” (1958, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky)

“Pelt” (1958, Carol Emshwiller)

“The Monster” (1958/65, Gérard Klein)

“The Man Who Lost the Sea” (1959, Theodore Sturgeon)

“The Waves” (1959,  Silvina Ocampo)

“Plenitude” (1959, Will Mohler)

“The Voices of Time” (1960, J. G. Ballard)

“The Astronaut” (1960, Valentina Zhuravlyova)

“The Squid Chooses Its Own Ink” (1962, Adolfo Bioy Casares)

“2 B R 0 2 B” (1962, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.)

“A Modest Genius” (1963, Vadim Shefner)

“Day of Wrath” (1965, Sever Gansovsky)

“The Hands” (1965, John Baxter)

“Darkness” (1972, André Carneiro)

Underwood Books, 1997, Rick Berry
“Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman” (1965, Harlan Ellison)

In the future, tardiness (or any kind of loitering) has been deemed the ultimate bane of society. To combat this problem, all wasted time is measured and automatically deducted from a person’s allotted lifespan by the “Ticktockman” (Master Timekeeer). When a person has wasted enough time amounting to the rest of his/her allotted lifespan, the Ticktockman deactivates that person’s implanted cardioplate, which causes instant death. A man named Everett rebels against this harsh, regulated existence and, disguised in a Harlequin outfit, roams around society causing mischief. In one instance, he floods the people-mover belts with jelly beans, causing delays all throughout the system. Eventually Everett is exposed by his wife Alice (who is tired of his nonconformist antics) and is captured by the Ticktockman. Although Everett refuses to repent, the Ticktockman decides not to execute him. Instead the Harlequin is brainwashed so that he "self-criticizes" himself publicly. However, in the end, the Ticktockman himself is then accused of having been late, although he vehemently denies it. 

“Nine Hundred Grandmothers” (1966, R. A. Lafferty)

“Day Million” (1966, Frederik Pohl)

“Student Body” (1953, F. L. Wallace)

“Aye, and Gomorrah” (1967/70, Samuel R. Delany)

“The Hall of Machines” (1968, Langdon Jones)

“Soft Clocks” (1968/89, Yoshio Aramaki)

“No Cracks or Sagging” (1970, David R. Bunch)

“New Kings Are Not for Laughing” (1971, David R. Bunch)

“The Flesh Man from Far Wide” (1959, David R. Bunch)

“Let Us Save the Universe (An Open Letter from Ijon Tichy)” (1964, Stanisław Lem)

“Vaster Than Empires and More Slow” (1971, Ursula K. Le Guin)

“Good News from the Vatican” (1971, Robert Silverberg)

“When It Changed” (1972, Joanna Russ)

“And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill's Side” (1972, James Tiptree, Jr.)

“Where Two Paths Cross” (1973, Dmitri Bilenkin)

“Standing Woman” (1974, Yasutaka Tsutsui)

“The IWM 1000” (1975, Alicia Yánez Cossío)

“The House of Compassionate Sharers” (1977, Michael Bishop)

“Sporting with the Chid” (1979, Barrington J. Bayley)

“Sandkings” (1979, George R. R. Martin)

“Wives” (1979, Lisa Tuttle)

“The Snake Who Had Read Chomsky” (1981, Josephine Saxton)

“Reiko's Universe Box” (2007, Kajio Shinji)

“Swarm” (1982, Bruce Sterling)

“Mondocane” (1983, Jacques Barbéri)

“Blood Music” (1983, Greg Bear)

“Bloodchild” (1984, Octavia E. Butler )

“Variation on a Man” (1984, Pat Cadigan)

“Passing as a Flower in the City of the Dead” (1984, Sharon N. Farber, as S. N. Dyer)

“New Rose Hotel” (1984, William Gibson)

“Pots” (1985, C. J. Cherryh)

“Snow” (1985, John Crowley)

“The Lake Was Full of Artificial Things” (1985, Karen Joy Fowler)

“The Unmistakable Smell of Wood Violets” (1991, Angélica Gorodischer)

“The Owl of Bear Island” (1986, Jon Bing)

“Readers of the Lost Art” (1996, Elisabeth Vonarburg)

“A Gift from the Culture” (1987, Iain M. Banks)

“Paranamanco” (1988,  Jean-Claude Dunyach)

“Crying in the Rain” (1987, Tanith Lee)

“The Frozen Cardinal” (1987, Michael Moorcock)

“Rachel in Love” (1987, Pat Murphy)

“Sharing Air” (1984, Manjula Padmanabhan)

“Schwarzschild Radius” (1987, Connie Willis)

“All the Hues of Hell” (1987, Gene Wolfe)

“Vacuum States” (1988, Geoffrey A. Landis)

“Two Small Birds” (1998, Han Song)

“Burning Sky” (1989, Rachel Pollack)

“Before I Wake” (1989, Kim Stanley Robinson)

“Death Is Static Death Is Movement” (from Red Spider White Web) (1990, Misha Nogha)

“The Brains of Rats” (1986, Michael Blumlein)

“Gorgonoids” (from Mathematical Creatures or Shared Dreams) (1992, Leena Krohn)

“Vacancy for the Post of Jesus Christ” (1992, Kojo Laing)

“The Universe of Things” (1993, Gwyneth Jones)

“The Remoras” (1994, Robert Reed)

“The Ghost Standard” (1994, William Tenn)

“Remnants of the Virago Crypto-System” (1995, Geoffrey Maloney)

“How Alex Became a Machine” (1997, Stepan Chapman)

“The Poetry Cloud” (2003, Cixin Liu)

“Story of Your Life” (1998, Ted Chiang)

“Craphound” (1998, Cory Doctorow)

“The Slynx” (excerpt) (2007, Tatyana Tolstaya)

“Baby Doll” (2002-2007, Johanna Sinisalo)

Friday, August 20, 2021

Liu's "Death's End" (2010)

Death's End, published in 2010, completes Liu Cixin's Remembrance of Earth's Past Trilogy (also popularly known as "The Three Body Problem Trilogy" due to the high profile of the first book in the series). Preceded by The Three-Body Problem and The Dark Forest, this final novel first describes the end of mankind's conflict with the Trisolarans, and then addresses humanity's growing relationship with a universe teeming with advanced, highly lethal civilizations. 

Like the previous novels, its story introduces many advanced scientific concepts such as those involving the use of multi-dimensional space as a weapon, light speed travel through manipulation of space-time, the creation of "custom-made" black holes through the manipulation of physical constants, and the use of cryogenics to sustain human life into an era of immortality ("death's end"). 

Aside from the scientific concepts explored, it also examines the different ways in which humanity (both as a whole and on an individual level) might react when faced with the choice of short-term gain against the possibility of greater hopes for the future. In other words, the novel asks: When faced with extinction, to what extent can mankind sacrifice its own moral nature and still remain human?  

While the narratives of the previous novels took place over about 200 years, here the narrative begins in the Middle Ages and then extends all the way to millions of years in the future. In order to maintain a character-based POV through this enormous time-span, Liu repeatedly puts his main character (a scientist named Cheng Xin) into hibernation (or subjects her to light speed relativity) in order to have her re-emerge in various eras.

Structural Breakdown (Brief synopsis with spoilers minimized as much as possible)

  • A preliminary scene involving a mysterious "witch" (set near the fall of Constantinople in 1452) opens the novel. Afterwards, the main narrative begins, taking place roughly in the same time period described in the first two novels. Alongside the Wallfacer Project (as described in The Dark Forest), another strategic group works towards the Staircase Plan, in which a manned investigative probe is sent off to intercept the Trisolarans a couple hundred years before they arrive on Earth. Unfortunately an accident throws the probe off-course.
  • In Part 2, the narrative then jumps ahead into the Deterrence Era, in which Earth and Trisolaris maintain a peace held together by the Dark Forest Deterrence Plan (as developed in The Dark Forest). For over 60 years, Trisolaris halts its invasion of Earth and instead works towards a cross-cultural peace. During this time, Luo Ji continues to hold the "trigger" which could spell doom for both Trisolaris and Earth in mutually-assured destruction. Eventually, he is deemed "too old" for the position and a scientist named Cheng Xin (also the main protagonist of the Staircase Plan sequence) is chosen to replace him. During this "hand-over", the Trisolarans take the opportunity to drastically alter the conditions of the peace. When Cheng Xin is faced with capitulation or total self-destruction, she chooses the former. However, at the same time, a deep space vessel discovers "4th dimensional zones", and uses this knowledge to foil Trisolaris' plans. Unfortunately, this solution also exposes Earth to the Dark Forest. 
  • Part 3 describes the development of various plans designed to prevent the destruction of Earth by interstellar "hunter" civilizations. During this time, a previously-thought "lost friend" makes his return and tries to help humanity make the right choices through veiled parables.
  • In Part 4, humanity has settled on the Bunker Plan, in which the population of mankind lives in space cities situated in geosynchronous orbit behind the four outer planets (Jupiter, Uranus, Saturn, Neptune), hoping that the planets' bulk will protect the space cities from a detonation of the Sun. Cheng Xin is awakened from hibernation in order to settle a conflict between a group of ambitious scientists (under her employ) and the greater Solar Federation. In order to avoid civilian bloodshed, she sides with the Federation's more conservative approach.
  • In Part 5, the Bunker Plan fails and only Cheng Xin and her assistant "AA" escape the consequences.
  • In Part 6, Cheng Xin discovers the remnants of human survivors in "galactic space" and learns much more about the ruthless conflicts being waged amongst the advanced civilizations of the universe. However, due to a chance accident, she is soon thrown millions of years into the future, and then into a parallel "bubble universe". At this point, she is faced (for a third time) whether to choose for her immediate safety or invest in a riskier, but possibly more rewarding, future.

Subterranean Press, Marc Simonetti

Detailed Synopsis

Part 1

May 1453, C.E.
  • The Death of the Magician: Towards the fall of Constantinople, a prostitute promises Emperor Constantine that she has magical powers. To demonstrate this, she obtains the brain of a guard (without cutting open his skull) and delivers it in a bag. Constantine then tasks her with obtaining the head of the Ottoman sultan, Mehmed II, leader of the Turkish siege forces. She fails. Later, it is revealed that in order to perform her "miracles", she had gone into a ruined minaret. Somehow, the top of the minaret had briefly disappeared and then re-materialized. From May 3 to May 28, a "high dimensional fragment" had intersected with Earth, allowing for "magic" to exist. The female "magician" loses her powers with the departure of the fragment. Constantinople falls the next day.
Crisis Era, Year 1-7
  • Year 1: The Option for Life: Ye Wenjie's daughter Yang Dong becomes despondent after her faith in physics is broken by the sophons' interference. Additionally, she has discovered that her mother has betrayed humanity to the Trisolarans. On one of her last days at her physics lab, a scientist shows her a computer simulation of the development of Earth from its beginnings. She learns that the current state of Earth's atmospheric and geologic conditions has been achieved with influence from life's appearance on the planet, and that if life had never surfaced, then the Earth would have become a desert wasteland. She wonders if the same holds true for the entire universe, that nature is not "natural" at all.
  • Year 4: Yun Tianming: During a student outing, a shy young man named Yun Tianming becomes infatuated with a female colleague named Cheng Xin, and maintains feelings for her without ever acting upon them. Years later, he is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Shortly afterwards, euthanasia is legalized. He decides to end his life, but before he undergoes the procedure, he decides to spend a recent chance windfall on Cheng Xin by buying her a star through the new Stars My Destination Project, a UN resolution to auction off ownership rights of distant stars in order to raise money for its own political ends.
  • Year 4: Yun Tianming: Yun Tianming buys and deeds a star to Cheng Xin, and asks that she not be informed that it was from him. Afterwards, he schedules his euthanasia appointment. However, just before he is injected with the lethal toxin, Cheng Xin bursts in and halts the procedure.
  • Years 1–4: Cheng Xin: A bright young aerospace academy graduate named Cheng Xin is chosen to join the PIA, an intelligence group designed to form strategies against the Trisolarans. When Wade, the head of the PIA, proposes to send a probe out to intercept and investigate the approaching Trisolaran fleet, Cheng Xin suggests the use of sequenced, pre-positioned nuclear explosions to push forward a probe propelled by radiation sails (the "Staircase Plan"). However, the UN eventually feels that such a probe would not be very useful. Wade then decides to send a live human out (in a hibernated state) to intercept the Trisolarans, with the intention of having this agent be captured. In this way, they may be able to engage in some form of espionage against the "transparent" Trisolarans. (Prior to the Crisis Era, hibernation technology had been suppressed for fear of tempting people to escape to a future in which immortality ("death's end") had been achieved. However, once the Trisolaran threat appeared, such concerns were no longer valid, and hibernation became commonplace.)
  • Years 1–4: Cheng Xin: Cheng Xin learns that, due to weight restrictions,it is impractical to send hibernation apparatus into space. She proposes that the PIA "flash-freeze" a volunteer and assume that the Trisolarans have the technology to safely reawaken a "dead" human (which they would hopefully value as a live prisoner for study). Later, another weight restriction appears: the capsule will only be able to carry half a kilogram of weight. Wade suggests that only a frozen brain be sent.
  • Years 1–4: Cheng Xin: In order to find a suitable brain for the mission, the PIA press for euthanasia to be legalized. Cheng Xin receives the deed to her new star, but has no idea who it might be from. She also hears from a mutual classmate that Yun Tianming has terminal lung cancer. She decides to fly to China to ask him to volunteer his brain for the mission. When Yun Tianming realizes that Cheng Xin had only interrupted his euthanasia procedure in order to get his permission to send his brain to the Trisolarans (and not because she loved him), he reacts with understandable bitterness. Nonetheless, he agrees to put off euthanasia and volunteers for her mission.
  • Years 5–7: The Staircase Program: When Wade informs Cheng Xin that Yun Tianming had been the one to give her her star, she tries to stop the procedure but is too late: Yun Tianming's brain has already been extracted and frozen. Cheng Xin goes into hibernation so that she can monitor the project when the probe intercepts the Trisolarans. The Staircase probe is soon launched, but weeks later an accident causes the probe to head off course, and missing the Trisolaran fleet entirely. 

Part 2

Deterrence Era, Year 12-62
  • Year 12: Bronze Age: With the Trisolaran conflict now over, the Bronze Age is told to return home as heroes. However, when they arrive on Earth, they are all arrested for treason and murder.
  • Year 13: Trial: During the Bronze Age trial, it is revealed that the ship had quickly descended into totalitarianism and cannibalism (of the bodies of the Quantum crew). Near the end of the investigation, a Bronze Age communications officer manages to send a message to Blue Space, warning them of what awaits them on Earth if they return. The Earth ship Gravity (accompanied by two Droplets) heads off in pursuit of Blue Space, although it will take 50 years for them to intercept it.
  • Year 61: The Swordholder: With new technology obtained from the Trisolarans, interstellar real estate gains great monetary value. In order to buy her now very valuable star, the Earth government awakens Cheng Xin from hibernation. She discovers that all men have now become feminine, and that the surface of the Earth has returned to a pre-Industrial state of forestry (although gigantic "leaf cities" dot the surface). Cheng Xin elects to keep her star, and hires an assistant named AA to help her manage it as a company. One day, Cheng Xin is lured to a forest area where a reawakened Wade tries to kill her for obstructing his "Swordholder" plan. Fortunately, his attempt fails and Wade is arrested.
  • Year 61: The Swordholder: Cheng Xin recovers from Wade's attack and begins to appreciate the modern art scene for its serenity. She is stunned to learn that the artists are Trisolaran. During the Deterrence Era, the Trisolarans had begun to value human arts. Eventually they began imitating Earth culture themselves. However, they never reveal much about their own culture to the humans.
  • Year 61: The Swordholder: Cheng Xin is invited to meet Sophon, an android Trisolaran representative. After a serene tea ceremony, Sophon implies that Cheng Xin should become a "sympathetic" Swordholder. Due to the self-destructive, genocidal implications of the Dark Forest Deterrence plan, only Luo Ji himself had been deemed qualified to insure that such a threat truly existed. His role had become known as the "Swordholder". After her meeting with Sophon, Cheng Xin is also visited by other Swordholder candidates who insist that she is too soft-hearted to handle the role. In the end, the public reject the "hard-liners" and choose Cheng Xin to take the position.
  • Year 62: Gravity, in the Vicinity of the Oort Cloud: The Gravity eventually begins to catch up to the Blue Space. However, unexpectedly, they reach an area of space in which instantaneous communications with Earth through the sophons is no longer possible. These "Sophon-Blind Regions" apparently occur throughout the universe, and seem to be zones created by intelligent civilizations (perhaps to "hide" the forest around them).
  • Year 62: Gravity, in the Vicinity of the Oort Cloud: The crew of the Gravity begin seeing strange phenomena, such "ghosts" of Blue Space crewmen, or empty voids appearing in the middle of the ship bulkheads. One navigator reports feeling claustrophobia after having experienced an "openness" unknown to man. However, these concerns become unimportant when the Droplets move to attack the two human ships.
  • Year 62 November 28, 4:00 P.M. to 4:17 P.M.: Deterrence Center: The Swordholder's trigger is located deep underground so that it is inaccessible to hard-line terrorists. However, because the Trisolarans still maintain Droplets in the Solar System with the capability to destroy the gravitational signal stations, a Swordholder has only 10 minutes to pull the trigger if the Trisolarans decide to break the peace. Now elected to the Swordholder position, Cheng Xin enters a tomb-like facility located 45 km below Earth's surface.
  • Year 62 November 28, 4:00 P.M. to 4:17 P.M.: Deterrence Center: After half a century of vigilance, Luo Ji passes the Swordholder "hilt" (trigger device) to Cheng Xin and departs.
  • The Final Ten Minutes of the Deterrence Era, Year 62 November 28, 4:17:34 P.M. to 4:27:58 P.M.: Deterrence Center: 5 minutes into Cheng Xin's stint as the new Swordholder, she learns that Trisolaran Droplets are heading towards the gravitational wave transmitters intending to destroy them. Faced with putting an "ending period" to the entire history of humanity, Cheng Xin decides to throw away the trigger. The Earth-based gravitational signal transmitters are destroyed by the Droplets and mankind's ability to send "spells" into deep space is terminated (however, the ship Gravity also possesses a gravitational transmitter).
Post-Deterrence Era, Year 1, 2
  • First Hour: A Lost World: Cheng Xin emerges on the surface and runs into AA, who has not yet realized that the Trisolarans have defeated Dark Forest Deterence.
  • First Hour: A Lost World: The Trisolaran android Sophon meets Cheng Xin and AA at one of the Droplets' impact craters (where a gravitational transmitter had just been destroyed) and mocks her, telling her that they had expected her to fail (and in fact they had most feared Wade becoming the Swordholder). When AA mentions the gravitational transmitter on Gravity, Sophon tells them that Gravity has already been destroyed.
  • Day 60: A Lost World: A 2nd Trisolaran fleet is detected on its way towards the Solar System. Unlike the first fleet (which required 450 years of travel time), this fleet only requires 1 year, due to advancements in Trisolaran technology. However, it does require a few years to reach Earth, since after coming out of "light-speed" it must use conventional propulsion to navigate inside the solar system.
  • Day 60: A Lost World: Sophon tells mankind that, out of respect, the Trisolarans will allow humanity to live primitive lives in Australia and on a part of Mars. When mankind resists, a Droplet destroys several major cities. Afterwards, the mass emigration to Australia begins.
  • Year 2: Australia: After the emigration is complete, Sophon announces that electricity in Australia will be turned off for three months. During that time, she expects that mankind's population of 4 billion will be reduced to a more manageable 50 million due to starvation and cannibalism.
  • The Final Ten Minutes of the Deterrence Era, Year 62 November 28, 4:17:34 P.M. to 4:27:58 P.M.: Gravity and Blue Space, Deep Space: Somehow, using unknown technology, the Blue Space is able to destroy the Droplets targeting them before they are destroyed. The two ships rendezvous and Chu Yan, captain of the Blue Space, explains that a Trisolaran fleet has launched towards Earth and that the Trisolarans are likely exterminating mankind as they speak. The two crews vote to activate their gravitational transmitter, knowing that they are putting both Trisolaris and Earth under a spotlight in the Dark Forest. The coordinates to Trisolaris' location is sent out in an omnidirectional interstellar broadcast.
  • Year 2, The Morning After the Great Resettlement, Australia: The Trisolarans detect Gravity's transmission and immediately abandon any further plans for Earth.
  • Day 1–Day 5, Gravity and Blue Space, Deep Space Beyond the Oort Cloud: Chu Yan explains to Guan Yifan (a scientist from Gravity) that the crew of Blue Space have discovered that the two ships have been traveling through a 4th-dimensional fragment about the size of the Solar System. Intersections with points from this fragment cause spherical "warp zones" to appear, which allow trips in 4th dimensional space. By this method, the Blue Space had been able to approach the Droplets from a 4th dimensional location and destroy them. The two crews then conduct additional missions into the 4th dimension and soon discover that the fragment contains sentient 4th dimensional structures (including a gigantic Ring), and that the fragment is slowly dissolving for some reason. As the 4th dimensional "tombs" are exposed to 3-dimensional space, they disintegrate. After leaving the 4th-dimensional region, a small ark of a couple hundred people head back towards the Earth, while the rest continue into deep space on Gravity and Blue Space

Part 3

Broadcast Era, Year 7, 8
  • Year 7: Cheng Xin: With the Trisolarans gone, mankind returns to a form of normalcy. Some try to maintain a sense of optimism by even questioning the validity of the Dark Forest theory.
  • Year 7: Cheng Xin: One evening, Cheng Xin is alerted to a glowing star in the sky. It soon fades away. She realizes that Trisolaris has been destroyed, and the Dark Forest theory is real. Records show that one of the Trisolaran suns had been destroyed by a "photoid" traveling at light speed.
  • Year 7: Sophon: Cheng Xin and Luo Ji are invited to meet Sophon for a "friendly" meeting. She reveals that Earth may have more time left because Trisolaris looked "more dangerous". Luo Ji asks if there is some way that Earth can signal their "harmlessness" to the Dark Forest with some kind of "cosmic safety notice" (stating that mankind is harmless, or that mankind has "self-mutilated" itself into a state of harmlessness). Sophon says yes, but refuses to say how.
  • Year 7 Sophon: Cheng Xin descends into a depression. However, before she takes a fatal pill, Sophon contacts her and tells her that she is leaving Earth. She also tells Cheng Xin that Yun Tianming would like to see her.
  • Year 7: Yun Tianming: Cheng Xin is brought to a Lagrange Point between Earth and the Sun in a small space "dinghy". A sphere appears displaying a video-feed of a healthy Yun Tianming (apparently in a clone body) in a field, farming. During the conversation, Yun Tianming is prevented from giving any explanation of his relationship with the Trisolarans, due to an explosive device in Cheng Xin's dinghy controlled by the Trisolarans. However, he does tell Cheng Xin three "stories" which he passes on as "childhood memories".
  • Year 7: Yun Tianming’s Fairy Tales:
    • “The New Royal Painter”: When the King of the Storyless Kingdom decides to give the throne to Princess Dewdrop, her nefarious brother Prince Ice Sand becomes angry and hires a magic painter named "Needle-Eye" to kill the royal family. He does this by painting their portrait, after which their real forms disappear. However, before Princess Dewdrop is killed, Needle-Eye's old master, Ethereal, gives her a protective umbrella (that must be constantly spun). He tells her that she must seek out her kindly other brother, Prince Deep Water. Prince Deep Water is immune from Needle-Eye's magic because Needle-Eye can only pant in the "Western style".
    • “The Glutton’s Sea”: A soldier named Long Sail takes Dewdrop on a journey to seek out her brother Deep Water. On the way, Long Sail tells Dewdrop that the Storyless Kingdom is actually an island surrounded by glutton-fish, which can chew boats to pieces. This glutton sea isolates the island from contact with the outside world.
    • “Prince Deep Water”: At the shore of the Storyless Kingdom, Long-Sail and Dewdrop see the giant figure of Prince Deep Water on Tomb Island, located some distance away. They use "magic soap" to create a layer of bubbles which prevent the glutton fish from destroying their boat as it crosses the glutton sea. As they approach Tomb Island, Prince Deep Water appears to shrink into normal size. It turns out that the Prince does not obey the laws of perspective: his size appears the same no matter what distance he is being viewed from (and therefore looks like a "giant" from a long distance in relation to the smaller objects seen in perspective, such as as seen in ancient paintings from Egypt, China and India). When Prince Deep Water returns with his sister to the Storyless Kingdom, Needle-Eye is unable to paint him into non-existence because he only knows how to draw in perspective. Deep Water kills Ice Sand and becomes the king, while Dewdrop and Long-Sail leave the Storyless Kingdom in search of adventure.
  • Year 7: Yun Tianming’s Fairy Tales: The IDC try to interpret Yun Tianming's stories for clues to their salvation, but nothing concrete emerges. The Solar Federation eventually comes up with their own solution, the Bunker Plan, which involves the construction of geosynchronous space cities situated "behind" Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune (when seen from the Sun). This way, if a Dark Forest attack destroys the Sun, these cities will be shielded from the blast by the large planets.
  • Year 7: Yun Tianming’s Fairy Tales: One day AA demonstrates that soap bubbles can be used to propel a paper boat through water. This leads to the idea of "curvature propulsion" for light-speed travel, in which an artificial imbalance in time-space curvature can be used to propel a craft forward. Space is curved, and if an area behind a ship is "flattened", the area in front will naturally increase its curvature to compensate, thereby "dragging" a ship forward. This leads to the Lightspeed Spaceflight Plan, in which mankind might simply flee the Solar System before a Dark Forest strike occurs.
  • Year 7: Yun Tianming’s Fairy Tales: Further leaps in deduction lead Cheng Xin and the IDC to deduce that Yun Tianming's stories hint at the concept of creating a "virtual event horizon" around the solar system ("glutton sea"). This could be done by lowering the speed of light in the region to below the velocity necessary to escape the Solar System. In effect, this would be a cosmic safety notice, both hiding the Solar System and signalling that it was harmless (by disguising it as a black hole). This idea becomes known as the Black Domain Project.
  • Year 8: Fate’s Choice: When a planetary alert system is first turned on, it reports that a photoid attack is inbound. Mankind goes into a panic and every ship available tries to take off in order to escape the ensuing destruction (in the hopes of reaching Jupiter). However, the alert turns out to be a false alarm.
  • Year 8: Fate’s Choice: Two days before the false alarm; Observation Unit #1: Astronomers detect "soap bubbles" in space, apparently trails left by Trisolaran ships using curvature propulsion. For this reason, the Lightspeed Spaceflight Plan is officially abandoned due to its tendency to attract attention in the Dark Forest. Lightspeed research is also discouraged because mankind has by now realized that deep space is not particularly safe.
  • Year 8: Sun-Earth Lagrangian Point: During a scaled-down test of the Bunker Plan, Cheng Xin is among the volunteers aboard a ship positioned behind an asteroid intended to represent Jupiter, while a large explosion occurs on the other side. During the test, Wade convinces Cheng Xin to give him all of her assets and power (gained from the star which Yun Tianming had given her long ago) so that he can secretly continue research into lightspeed technology (which Cheng Xin supports). Cheng Xin complies, but Wade is also instructed to consult her if any possible harm to the human race may result from his work. Afterwards, Cheng Xin and AA go into hibernation to be awakened when the project is a success (or she needs to be consulted). 

Subterranean Press, Marc Simonetti
Part 4

Bunker Era, Year 11
  • Bunker World: Cheng Xin is reawakened 62 years later. One of her old associates, Cao Bin, gives her a tour of Bunker World, which is comprised of 164 space cities situated behind the four outer planets. Due to the limited resources, suburban life inside the spinning cities has returned to something much closer to 21st century life, with a wide range of social classes.
  • Lightspeed II: One structure, Lightspeed II, had been constructed in order to enclose a miniature black hole (as part of research into the Black Domain Plan to slow down the speed of light). However, one scientist had fallen into the black hole and become trapped at its event horizon. Eventually, the Lightspeed II had been abandoned.
  • Halo City: Cheng Xin is brought to Halo City, where Wade has finally taken the first concrete steps towards perfecting curvature propulsion. However, the Federation has now put Halo City under a blockade and demands that the work stop and the city surrender. Wade however, has amassed an army equipped with antimatter weapons. Not only that, but he also has agents in the other Bunker cities similarly equipped. Cheng Xin realizes that Wade is willing to go to war with the rest of humanity in order to continue his quest for the stars. As promised in their meeting during the scaled-down Bunker Plan test, Wade has awakened Cheng Xin to decide on the next course of action. Unwilling to sacrifice the civilians of Bunker World, Cheng Xin orders Wade to disarm and surrender. Wade complies and is eventually executed. Cheng Xin and AA decide to go back into hibernation to await the Dark Forest strike still to come.

Part 5

Bunker Era, Year 66-68
  • Year 67: Orion Arm of the Milky Way: An alien observer named "Singer" detects the lightspeed trails of the Trisolarans near Trisolaris. However, Singer also sees that the system has already been "cleansed". Singer then detects the communications between Trisolaris and Earth. It sends a "dual-vector foil" towards the Solar System in order to cleanse it as well.
  • Year 67 Halo: Cheng Xin and AA are awakened from hibernation aboard the Halo. An aged Cao Bin tells them that a Dark Forest strike is on the way, and that the Bunker Plan will not save humanity.
  • Year 66: Outside the Solar System: A year before Cheng Xin's reawakening from hibernation, the space alert system detects a foreign object approaching the Sun, apparently of alien design. When a ship goes out to investigate it, it appears to be a glowing "slip of paper" (a credit-card-sized plane with no thickness). However, the glow soon fades away and the rectangular 2-dimensional object begins dissolving the surrounding 3-dimensional space into 2-dimensions (much like Needle-Eye painting the royal family in Yun Tianming's fairy tale). The plane continues to expand like a whirlpool funnel, rendering everything caught in its influence into lifeless 2 dimensions. The astronauts quickly realize that the entire Solar System will eventually be consumed by this expanding plane in 8-10 days, and in order to escape the pull of this 2-D plane, lightspeed must be reached. Thus mankind had failed to correctly interpret Yun Tianmimng's true message: Escape being "painted" into non-existence by achieving lightspeed using curvature propulsion.
  • Year 68: Pluto: The Federation asks Cheng Xin and AA go to Pluto so that they can move objects from an Earth Civilation Museum into space so that they might be recoverable someday by aliens (even after conversion to 2-dimensional space). There, they are greeted by Luo Ji in an underground complex. The purpose of the complex is to act as a "tombstone" for humanity, with words carved in the cavern walls. The three of them begin collecting famous paintings from the museum storage area (including "Starry Night" and the "Mona Lisa").
  • Year 68: The Two-Dimensional Solar System: Back on the surface of Pluto, Cheng Xin, AA and Luo Ji watch the rest of the Solar System become two-dimensionalized by the plane. When Cheng Xin and AA take off in the Halo in order to disperse the museum artifacts into space, Luo Ji elects to remain behind in the museum to be near the "Mona Lisa" (a painting which once connected him to his wife). Once off the planet, Luo Ji contacts Cheng Xin and AA and tells them that the Halo is equipped with a curvature propulsion (the only one in the Solar System), and that they can escape the 2D plane. The true purpose of Cheng Xin and AA's trip to Pluto was to pick up Luo Ji and then escape the Solar System in the Halo. However, Luo Ji has decided to remain behind. He also informs Cheng Xin that curvature propulsion effectively slows down the speed of light in its "backwash", and that a fleet of lightspeed ships could theoretically create a Black Domain to protect the Solar System. However, because Cheng Xin had stopped Wade's takeover, this had not been discovered in time. Finally, Luo Ji also advises Cheng Xin to consider seeking out the Trisolaran fleet which had fled into deep space after their planet had been destroyed. After Pluto (and Luo Ji) are consumed, Cheng Xin tells the Halo AI to head toward the star which Yun Tianming had bought for her long ago.

Part 6

Galaxy Era
  • Year 409, Our Star: 52 hours later by Halo time (and 286 years by Solar System time) the Halo reaches Cheng Xin's star ("Our Star"). Eight days later they reach a "Blue Planet" using fusion propulsion. As they approach, the Halo detects a radio signal. When they land, they are greeted by Guan Yifan, the astronomer from the Gravity, who is still alive due to hibernation, and had been visiting the planet on a research expedition. Guan Yifan explains that long ago the Gravity and Blue Space had discovered worlds to settle, and even developed curvature propulsion on their own. In fact, life on the three human worlds of the "Galaxy Era" is proceeding well. He also explains that the two-dimensionalization of the Solar System has removed that area of space from visual detection, and now exists only as a gravitational effect (a condition which possibly explains dark matter). 
  • Year 409, Our Star: When Guan Yifan is alerted to the presence of visitors on the Gray Planet (the other planet orbiting Cheng Xin's star), he decides to investigate in his ship Hunter, and brings along Cheng Xin (who hopes to reunite with Yun Tianming somehow). 
  • Year 409, Our Star: On the way, Guan Yifan tells Cheng Xin that the universe is a cosmic battlefield, with civilizations waging war using the laws of physics as weapons. For this reason, the initial state of the universe, a 10-dimensional "Eden", has over billions of years gradually been dissolved into lower and lower dimensional levels (through weapons such as the 2D plane which had destroyed the Solar System). Additionally, reduced lightspeed regions are used to create black hole "walls".
  • Year 409, Our Star: On Planet Gray, they discover that some visitors have created "death lines", essentially black holes in the shape of long columns. These visitors, "Zero-Homers" ("Resetters") hope that when the universe is completely destroyed, a new, "reset" universe will come into being as another Eden. 
  • Year 409, Our Star: On the way back to the Blue Planet, AA contacts the Hunter and informs Cheng Xin that Yun Tianming has arrived, drawn by an automatic signal from the Halo. Cheng Xin and Guan Yifan begin descending to the Blue Planet in the Hunter's shuttle, but the death lines on the Gray Planet rupture (inadvertently caused by the arrival of Yun Tianming's curvature propulsion ship in the system). This traps the Hunter shuttle in a lightspeed orbit around the Blue Planet, enclosed in a localized black domain. Cheng Xin and Guan Yifan are forced to go into temporary hibernation due to the lack of oxygen in the shuttle. Due to the effects of special relativity, eons pass by on the planet while only days pass inside the shuttle.

About Seventeen Billion Years After the Beginning of Time, Our Star
  • When Cheng Xin and Guan Yifan come out of hibernation they bring the shuttle out of its lightspeed orbit. When they land on Planet Blue they learn that 19 million years have passed. However, in the bedrock, a partial message from AA and Yun Tianming can be read, describing the happy life they had lived, and hinting at some kind of "gift". A door then appears in mid-air, apparently designed to activate when recognizing the body signatures of Cheng Xin and Guan Yifan. They step through the door.
Outside of Time, Our Universe: 
  • Cheng Xin and Guan Yifan arrive in a pastoral landscape occupied by a white farmhouse. Sophon emerges from the house and informs them that they are in Yun Tianming's "gift", a self-sufficient "bubble universe" (Universe 647) maintained outside of the main universe through Trisolaran technology. Also included is a database containing the history, arts and sciences of Earth and Trisolaris. As per Yun Tianming's design, time passes at a different rate in Universe 647, and in 10 years the greater universe will have undergone another Big Bang reset, at which point Cheng Xin and Guan Yifan can return to a new and (hopefully) Edenic Age. 
  • A year passes, during which time Cheng Xin begins writing a book titled A Past Outside of Time. One day, Universe 647 receives a broadcast from the greater universe. A group called "The Returners" claims that, due to the creation of many other self-contained bubble universes like Universe 647, the greater universe no longer has enough critical mass to contract and reset. The greater universe will essentially expand until it completely dissipates into a heat death state. The Returners ask that all of the "escapees" return so that the mass regained will allow a Big Crunch to proceed. Although Cheng Xin and Guan Yifan could live comfortably in Universe 647 no matter what happens to their original universe, they elect to return for the sake of the greater universe's future.
  • In preparation for their return, Cheng Xin and Guan Yifan prepare a "message in a bottle" (computer database) containing the knowledge of Trisolaran and Earth civilization. This bottle will remain behind in Universe 647, but after the next reset, the bottle will automatically return to the newly-reborn universe, hopefully allowing for a rebirth of the past. After all of the earth and metal comprising Universe 647 is funneled through a door leading back into the greater universe (restoring its mass), Cheng Xin and Guan Yifan pass through as well, but not before also leaving behind a small, self-sufficient "aquarium" containing some fish. 


Thursday, August 12, 2021

Carroll's "Alice In Wonderland" (1865/1871)

Grosset & Dunlap 1910
Lewis Carroll's book Alice's Adventures In Wonderland (frequently filmed as "Alice In Wonderland") was published in 1865 with illustrations by John Tenniel (some of which appear below). Inspired by an extemporized story-telling session during a boat ride near Oxford, Carroll (real name Reverend C. L. Dodgson) wrote the book as a gift to Alice Liddell, one of the passengers of the boat ride and one of a the children of the Dean of Christ Church where Carroll was teaching.

Grosset & Dunlap 1919

In the book, a very precocious, independent and curious young girl follows a humanized rabbit into a rabbit hole down a well. She eventually emerges in a "Wonderland" where she meets many strange (but witty) talking animals, and changes size frequently. After many pun-filled, semi-surrealistic conversations with these anthropomorphized animals (as well as a "Mad Hatter" and an abrupt "Duchess"), she ends up playing a game of croquet with a pack of playing cards cast in human shape. During a final "trial scene", Alice calls out the ridiculous nature of the arguments and wakes up to realize that she has been dreaming. 

Aside from the many fascinating creatures and whimsical settings, much of the text is dominated by humorous word-play, rhymes and double meanings, as well as parodies of popular songs and poetry of the time. With the denizens of Wonderland being so "odd", Carroll naturally makes Alice herself fairly level-headed, although some humor derives from her limited grasp of science and culture. Not only that, but in a comic reversal, even though the talking animals say obviously nonsensical things (to us, anyways), they usually act in a rude, condescending manner towards Alice, as if they are the "adults" of this world (which they are, essentially). In any case, Alice, empowered by the sheer force of her curiosity, is a pioneering figure of early fantasy fiction (particularly as an unusually-courageous female hero).

Alice's Adventures In Wonderland

  1. Down The Rabbit Hole: While sitting on the bank of a river with her older sister, a precocious young girl named Alice spots a white rabbit in a waistcoat as it checks its pocket watch. When the rabbit hurries off, Alice pursues it down a rabbit-hole. Soon she finds herself falling down an interminably deep well, dotted with shelves filled with jars and pictures. She eventually lands (safely) and enters a long hall filled with doors. The doors are all locked except for one, which is too small for her to fit through. She then comes across a bottle labelled "DRINK ME". She does this and proceeds to shrink down to a few inches in height. Unfortunately, she has left the door key on the table above her.
  2. 1st official edition, printed in 1865 and dated 1866.
    The Pool Of Tears: After eating a bit of cake (labelled "EAT ME"), she grows taller. Now however, even with the key, she is too big to fit through the small door. The White Rabbit then dashes through the room, and drops his hand-fan and gloves. At this point, Alice suffers a sudden (but brief) identity crisis, leading to a fit of crying. However, when Alice picks up the White Rabbit's hand-fan she shrinks again, but then finds herself floating in her own pool of tears. Alice next encounters a Mouse, but momentarily offends it when she ruminates on the virtues of her pet cat. Eventually, Alice, the Mouse and several other small animals land on the bank.
  3. A Caucus-Race And A Long Tale: In an attempt to dry everyone out, the mouse begins reciting a "dry" account of William the Conqueror's historical exploits. When this fails to have any effect, a Dodo suggests a "Caucus-race", in which all participants run in a circular path. After this is completed, Alice rewards the winners (which is everyone) with some candy (and herself with a thimble). Next, the Mouse is given the floor. When Alice appears bored by the Mouse's tale (shaped like a "tail"), the Mouse leaves in a huff. When Alice begins talking about her cat Dinah again, the remaining animals (mostly small birds) become alarmed and depart as well.
  4. The Rabbit Sends In A Little Bill: The White Rabbit reappears and mistakes Alice for his house-servant. Alice obeys the White Rabbit's order and goes into the Rabbit's house to retrieve his gloves and a fan. However, Alice impulsively drinks from another bottle which makes her grow until her hands and legs stick out of the doorways and up the chimney. When the White Rabbit notices these strange limbs coming out of his house, he has a lizard named Bill go down the chimney to investigate, but Alice merely kicks it back out. Ultimately, the animals end up throwing some cake into the house, which, when eaten by Alice, turns her small again (about 3 inches tall). After fleeing into the forest she runs into a puppy. Worried about being eaten, she escapes the puppy after tiring it out with a stick game.
  5. Advice From A Caterpillar: Alice next comes across a contemptuous caterpillar perched atop a giant mushroom and smoking a hookah pipe. Alice is then asked to recite a poem ("You are old, Father William", a parody of Robert Southey's "The Old Man's Comforts and How He Gained Them.") about an elderly and corrupt - but strangely talented - man. After criticizing Alice's recitation the caterpillar then decides to depart. However, before it does so, it tells Alice that she can adjust her height by nibbling on the opposing edges of the mushroom. When she eats one piece she becomes small. When she eats a piece from the opposite side it makes her neck elongate until her head floats above the treetop. A nearby pigeon then mistakes her for a serpent. Eventually, Alice eats the correct amount of mushroom to attain a manageable height. She then spots a 4-foot-tall house, and then shrinks herself down further to 9 inches in order to visit it properly.
  6. Pig And Pepper: Before entering, she notices a Fish-Footman deliver a letter to the house's Frog-Doorman, inviting "the Duchess" to a croquet match with the Queen. Inside, she finds the Duchess holding a baby and being served by a very excitable cook - nearby is a smiling cat (the Cheshire Cat). When the Duchess departs for the croquet match, Alice is given charge of the Duchess' baby. However, when she exits the house, she finds that the child has become a pig, and lets it loose in the forest. In a nearby tree, the Cheshire Cat points out where Alice might find a mad March Hare. After growing herself to 2 feet in height, she heads towards the March Hare's house, which is shaped like a rabbit's head.
  7. A Mad Tea-Party: In front of the house, Alice finds the Mad Hatter, the March Hare and the Dormouse (a kind of British squirrel) gathered in one corner of a table having tea. She learns that the Hatter's watch tells the day but not the time. The Dormouse frequently nods off, while the March Hare makes bizarre statements about butter. The Mad Hatter relates a story in which he once sang a song for the Queen, prompting her to declare that he was murdering Time ("killing time"?). After that, Time had punished him by trapping him at 6 o'clock (tea time) forever. The Dormouse then begins telling a pun-filled story about three girls in a "treacle-well". When Alice asks too many logical questions, the other members begin shouting her down. Upset, she departs the tea party. However, she soon finds a door (embedded in a tree) which leads to a beautiful garden.
  8. The Queen’s Croquet-Ground: In the garden, Alice comes across three gardeners in the form of humanized playing cards ("Spades"). A procession of additional playing cards soon arrives, with the Queen of Hearts at its head. When she becomes angered at the gardeners she shouts her favorite phrase, "Off with their heads!" After Alice saves the gardeners from execution (by hiding their heads), she joins the Queen's croquet game, which is played by hitting curled up hedgehog-balls through card-soldier hoops using flamingo mallets. When the Cheshire Cat's head reappears, the King asks the Queen to have it beheaded. However, confusion soon mounts, as beheading a floating, disembodied head seems irrelevant. After Alice mentions that the Cat belongs to the Duchess, the Duchess is brought forth (from imprisonment), but by that time the Cheshire Cat head has vanished.
  9. The Mock Turtle’s Story: Alice and the Duchess have a pun-filled conversation punctuated by the Duchess' favorite "morals", but the Queen returns and scares her away. After the croquet game resumes, the Queen continues to issue her favorite command, "Off with his head!", to her various card-servants until no more cards are available to form croquet hoops. While the King of Hearts surreptitiously pardons all of the condemned, the Queen asks a Gryphon to take Alice to the Mock Turtle. There, the Mock Turtle (derived from "Mock turtle soup", a veal broth) explains that it is sad because it is not a "real turtle". It then begins telling Alice of an undersea education in which it was taught washing, "uglification" (multiplication), "drawling, stretching, and fainting in coils" (drawing, sketching, and painting in oils).
  10. The Lobster-Quadrille: The Mock Turtle then begins describing a Lobster Quadrille, a song and dance in which rows of lobsters are thrown out to sea and then chased after. When Alice recounts her recent adventures in their world, the Gryphon and Mock Turtle become skeptical and insist that Alice repeat her story. Alice then begins reciting some mangled up nursery rhymes. Failing to understand her, the Mock Turtle then begins singing another song, but the Gryphon drags Alice away when they hear that a trial about to commence.
  11. Who Stole The Tarts?: They soon arrive at a trial (heralded by the White Rabbit and his trumpet) in which the Knave (Jack) of Hearts has been accused of stealing tarts from the Queen of Hearts. The first witness is the Mad Hatter, but he offers little that makes sense. The next witness is the Duchess' cook, whose testimony is mocked by the Dormouse. Finally, Alice is called to the witness stand.
  12. Alice’s Evidence: Alice claims ignorance of the entire affair, after which the King tries to dismiss her for being too tall. A note containing a nonsense love song is brought forth, purportedly written by the Knave. When the King tries to reinterpret the verses as some kind of confession, Alice mocks the members of the court. The cards immediately rise up into the air, poised to attack her. Alice then wakes up, with her sister brushing fallen leaves from her face. Alice then describes the dream had just had to her sister. The older sibling soon sends Alice inside for her tea, and then listens to the sounds of the field and stream, imagining that they must have inspired the events and characters in Alice's dream. She then hopes that Alice will remain a child at heart and tell similar adventures to her children one day.

Through The Looking-Glass, And What Alice Found There

A sequel to Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, titled Through The Looking Glass, appeared in 1871. Because this narrative concerns Alice's exploits in the "Looking-Glass world", none of the underground "Wonderland" characters from the first book return here (although the Mad Hatter and the March Hare are here "mirrored" as "Anglo-Saxon messengers"). Instead, insects, plants and figures from nursery rhymes (such as Humpty Dumpty, the Tweedle twins, and the Lion and the Unicorn) appear. Also, due to the "opposite reflection" nature of this world, cause and effect are frequently reversed. Finally, while the first book featured playing cards as characters, Looking Glass uses chess pieces as the primary character figures, and the story concerns Alice's traversal from her initial "Pawn" position to her arrival at the 8th square where she becomes "Queened" (Alice's "playing field" is marked by perpendicular brooks and hedges). In fact, the opening pages of the book identify the characters in the book as specific chess pieces, and an "order of play" is provided which matches chess piece positions with actual episodes in the text (the mirror-formation of chess pieces in the beginning of a game also echoes the idea of a "mirror-world"). The climax occurs during a feast which, like the trial of the first book, features a return of many of the main cast and ends up in a moment of youthful rebellion as Alice "captures the Red Queen". 

  1. Looking-Glass House: On one cold day, Alice tries to tell a young kitten (Dinah's offspring) about the magical world in "Looking-glass House" (the world reflected in the room's large mirror). When Alice reaches out to touch the mirror surface, she realizes that she can pass into the Looking Glass world. Once there, she sees that the paintings of the room now have living faces, and that the chess pieces are now living figures. When a "pawn" becomes distressed, Alice carries the White Queen and the White King to its rescue. However, since Alice is both invisible and inaudible to the chess pieces, the Queen and King become terrified. Alice then reads a nearby book containing a poem titled "Jabberwocky", in which a young warrior is congratulated by his father for defeating a "Jabberwock" with a "vorpal sword". Eventually, Alice leaves the room and floats downstairs like a spectre. On the ground floor she soon learns how to walk more naturally.
  2. The Garden Of Live Flowers: Alice tries to reach a distant hill but somehow the path always leads her back to the house. After a pointless conversation with some talking flowers (a parody on the talking flowers in section 22 of Tennyson's poem "Maud"), Alice spots the Red Queen, now grown large. She reaches the Red Queen by walking in the opposite direction of her destination. At the top of the hill, Alice notices that the field is laid out like a giant chessboard. The Red Queen states that Alice can be a White Pawn. After she and the Red Queen "run in place" for awhile, the Red Queen explains the dominant features of the various regions denoted by the squares. She then puts some peg markers into the ground and disappears (Queen chess pieces can instantly cross any number of squares).
  3. Looking-Glass Insects: In the distance Alice sees some elephant-sized (shaped?) bees (Bishop chess pieces) hovering above flowers. However, she elects to head in the opposite direction towards the other end of the chessboard. She somehow next finds herself aboard a train carriage facing a paper-clothed man, a goat and a beetle. A Guard appears, looking for tickets, but Alice, of course, doesn't have one. In any case, the train jumps over a brook to reach the Fourth Square (pawns can jump a square in their first move). Suddenly, Alice appears under a tree and finds herself speaking to a chicken-sized Gnat. She ends up naming various insect species which the gnat then proceeds to re-characterize as hybrid insect-objects: Rocking-horse fly, Snap-dragon-fly, Bread-and-butter-fly. After the Gnat departs, Alice enters a forest where all names are forgotten. After meeting a Fawn (another white pawn), she eventually emerges from the forest and remembers her own name.
  4. Tweedledum And Tweedledee: Following two signs, she runs across two fat schoolboys, Tweedledum And Tweedledee (nursery rhyme characters), who like to say phrases like "Nohow" and "Contrariwise", and are mirror-images of each other. After a bout of "mulberry bush dancing", Tweedledee recites "The Walrus And the Carpenter", a poem in which a Walrus and a Carpenter entertain a bunch of oysters, but end up eating them all by the end (this is an original Carroll poem and not a parody). Alice is then led to a sleeping Red King. The twin schoolboys then annoy Alice when they accuse her of being a figment of the Red King's dream. One of the boys then discovers that his new rattle has been abused. With Alice's assistance they armor themselves for a duel using pots, pans and bits of fabric. However a black crow then flies overhead, scattering the boys (following their original nursery rhyme narrative).
  5. Wool And Water: The wind from the crow's beating wings blows a shawl past Alice. She discovers that it is the White Queen's and helps her adjust her hair and clothing. The unkempt White Queen then claims to remember things backwards, such as punishments being carried out before the crimes (she also tells Alice to believe in impossible things). After another wind blows away the White Queen's shawl again, Alice suddenly finds herself in a dark shop facing a knitting Sheep. In the store, everything Alice wishes to examine seems to move farther away from her (this refers to the effect of looking through a reversed telescope). Alice and the Sheep then briefly find themselves in a rowboat amongst reeds, but they soon return to the shop (now fitted with trees and a brook) where the Sheep sells Alice an egg (which also seems to evade her grasp).
  6. Humpty Dumpty: The egg gradually grows closer until Alice sees that it is the fabled Humpty Dumpty, sitting on a wall. Humpty Dumpty is provoked by Alice's knowledge of his background, and soon begins treating her rudely. Eventually, Alice asks him to explain the meaning behind the words to "Jabberwocky", but his explanations are nonsensical. Afterwards, he proceeds to recite his own song about an attempt to communicate with some fish, but stops mid-sentence. Humpty Dumpty then says goodbye and stops talking.
  7. The Lion And The Unicorn: After a loud crash, the White King's soldiers begin to rush through the forest ("All the king's horses and all the king's men.."). An Anglo-Saxon messenger arrives and informs the White King that the Lion and the Unicorn are fighting "for the crown" in town (the King's messengers, "Haigha" and "Hatta" are reimagined versions of the Hare and Hatter from the previous book). The White King brings Alice to the town to observe the fight. During a break in the struggle, Alice serves the two combatants some plum-cake and is introduced as some kind of exotic monster. Suddenly a loud drumming noise erupts.
  8. “It’s My Own Invention”: A Red Knight and a White Knight engage in battle. After the Red Knight is defeated and driven away, Alice remarks on the White Knight's impractical inventions (including an upside-down backpack), which are designed to handle unlikely emergencies. As the White Knight escorts Alice across the chessboard square (while periodically falling off his horse), he explains many more bizarre, nonsensical inventions and then recites a song about an old man becoming wealthy ("Sitting on a Gate", a parody of Wordsworth's "Resolution and Independence"). Eventually, they reach the border and the Knight departs. However, just before crossing into the next square, Alice offers to comfort an ailing old Wasp, who bemoans his ill-fitting wig. Eventually, the insect begins criticizing Alice's bodily makeup, prompting Alice to move on. (The "Wasp In A Wig" episode is only included in The Annotated Alice). In the 8th square, a crown appears on Alice's head ("pawn promotion").
  9. Queen Alice: After chatting with an annoying Frog doorman, Alice enters a castle where she becomes the featured guest of a feast hosted by the White Queen and the Red Queen. However, the food becomes offended when Alice tries to slice it up. Eventually frustrated, Alice scatters the party by pulling out the tablecloth, after which she grabs the Red Queen and begins shaking it, hoping it will become a kitten (this is Alice "capturing the Red Queen" to checkmate the Red King).
  10. Shaking: Immediately, the Red Queen begins to transform...
  11. Waking:...into a black kitten.
  12. Which Dreamed It?: Alice muses that the black kitten was the Red Queen and that the white kitten was the White Queen (and their mother Dinah was Humpty Dumpty). She also asks the black kitten if the Red King was a dream of hers, or the other way around. 

Some notes on Jabberwocky:

The opening of "Jabberwocky" goes like this:

"'Twas brillig, and the slithytoves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe."

Based on Carroll's early notes, the passage can be translated as follows:

"It was evening, and the smooth active badgers 
Were scratching and boring holes in the hill-side:
All unhappy were the parrots,
And the grave turtles squeaked out."

In "Stanza of Anglo-Saxon Poetry" (1855, from Mischmasch), Carroll writes:

BRYLLYG (derived from the verb to BRYL or BROIL), "the time of broiling dinner, i.e. the close of the afternoon."
SLYTHY (compounded of SLIMY and LITHE). "Smooth and active."
TOVE. A species of Badger. They had smooth white hair, long hind legs, and short horns like a stag; lived chiefly on cheese.
GYRE, verb (derived from GYAOUR or GIAOUR, "a dog"). To scratch like a dog.
GYMBLE (whence GIMBLET). "To screw out holes in anything."
WABE (derived from the verb to SWAB or SOAK). "The side of a hill" (from its being soaked by the rain).
MIMSY (whence MIMSERABLE and MISERABLE). "Unhappy."
BOROGOVE. An extinct kind of Parrot. They had no wings, beaks turned up, and made their nests under sundials: lived on veal.
RATH. A species of land turtle. Head erect: mouth like a shark: forelegs curved out so that the animal walked on its knees: smooth green body: lived on swallows and oysters.
OUTGRABE, past tense of the verb to OUTGRIBE. (It is connected with old verb to GRIKE, or SHRIKE, from which are derived "shriek" and "creak"). "Squeaked."
There were probably sundials on the top of the hill, and the "borogoves" were afraid that their nests would be undermined. The hill was probably full of the nests of "raths", which ran out, squeaking with fear, on hearing the "toves" scratching outside. This is an obscure, but yet deeply-affecting, relic of ancient Poetry.