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“The Man Who Ended History”, by Ken Liu

“The Man Who Ended History” is a 2011 science-fiction novella by Ken Liu.  It is a very emotionally difficult story.  It has been nominated for the Hugo for Best Novella of 2012.

Non-Spoiler Summary

I had heard the name Ken Liu before this year.  This year, he’s made me cry twice.  “The Paper Menagerie” was a wonder of emotion and small tempest.  This story. . .  is harder.  Much harder.  The crying here is because hundreds or thousands of real people are tortured and maimed in the events of this story.  It covers parts of the history of Unit 731, the Japanese parallel to Auschwitz, with parallels to the human experimentation that Mengele performed.  So.  Not an uncomplicated tear-jerker, like “The Paper Menagerie”, but a solid science fiction story that happens to have, at its core, incredible inhumanity.  Be prepared. Be warned.

A scientist develops a way to view the past, and attempts to use it to help people cope with the damage the events of Unit 731 did to their families.  The governments involved try to stop him from using it at all.  As a given point in the past can only be viewed once, the concerns of archaeology–where investigation is often destructive–are mixed with the attempts of governments to control and spin the observation of their past sins.

Why should you read it?

This is a sad story.  I said that about “The Paper Menagerie”, and I will say it again.  The science in this story is fascinating, and the political pressures are all too real and believable. . . and as much as I wished the events that were being viewed were sunshine and dandelions, the fact that they were war crimes and terrors makes it real.  Makes it count.  However, it also makes reading the story a bit like trying to appreciate stained glass by eating it.

The documentary style of the writing is genius, and brilliantly done.  The ideas are vast.  The story is no fun at all, so don’t go in expecting any.

Where to find “The Man Who Ended History”

Ken Liu has generously allowed us to read it online.

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The Hugos!

September 12, 2010 Leave a comment

In case this blog is your only source of news about the world of science fiction–and that’s all kinds of sad–the Hugo awards were given out a week ago.  The winners  were very satisfying to me, because I thought they were mostly great stories, and also because I got most of them right. 

You can find all the information on the official Hugo page, but here’s the highlights:

  • Best Novel: TIE: The City & The City, China Miéville; The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi (my first two picks, in the order I picked them.)
  • Best Novella: “Palimpsest”, Charles Stross (This one I got completely wrong–this was my last choice. Not a bad story in any way, but a tough field.)
  • Best Novelette: “The Island”, Peter Watts  (My second choice, and I understand why it won.)
  • Best Short Story: “Bridesicle”, Will McIntosh (My first choice, absolutely.)
  • I really enjoyed reading the nominees to vote, and will do so again next year.  Heck, maybe I’ll nominate this year, too.