Last in the novella category is Ken Liu’s “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” from Panverse Three. Read it here.
This story deals with Japanese atrocities against the occupied Chinese, specifically a region where the Japanese built a complex in which to perform medical experiments on Chinese civilians. Thousands endured hideous tortures and died; their families never received news or heard from them again. The story takes place long after World War II has ended, and Japan and China have rebuilt; researchers have discovered a way to view the past, but it can only be viewed once, and then it is gone. Should this technique be used, and how, to view what happened?
This story treats two of Liu’s recurring themes, problems of Asian heritage and extreme cruelty. I’m going to punt on evaluating the merits of the story: for me, the atrocity overwhelms the ostensible story problem, and I doubt whether any reader cares much about the question of whether history should be preserved and not observed, or observed and thus destroyed for any subsequent observations. (The answer seems fairly obvious.) I invite others to comment on this story, especially anyone who may have voted for it. This blog, being new, has a small readership, but any observations are welcome.
With Worldcon about to begin, we will have the actual winners this weekend.
Fourth on the ballot for Best Short Story: “The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu. You can read it here.
Jack is the son of an American father and a Chinese mother, who was a mail-order bride. The marriage is a successful one, but at age 10 Jack becomes aware of the ethnic differences between himself and his American classmates.
When the family moves, two neighbors come to visit the new arrivals, and Jack overhears them talking about him:
“Slanty eyes, white face. A little monster.”
He begins to resent his mother’s lack of assimilation, refuses to speak to her in Chinese, and asks for “real toys” instead of the origami that his mother makes (animal figures which are more marvelous than the Star Wars toys that he desires, because his mother animates them with life).
The situation and the characters are compelling. But… it may be hard for a reader to believe the extreme coldness that Jack displays toward his mother, unrelenting until he reaches adulthood, a coldness that verges on cruelty when she appeals to him in vain and he rejects the new origami animals that she makes, her overtures to regain his love. Even ten-year-olds are not that easily ruled by peer pressure, or so steadfast in rejecting a loving parent. Nor is it easily credited that neighbors, no matter how prejudiced against a Chinese mother married to an American, would describe the child as a monster. I, at least, began to feel unfairly manipulated.
And this is a pity, because it is a lovely story that doesn’t need the excess. I think it has a chance of winning the Best Short Story award. Comments?