THE MAN WHO ENDED HISTORY: A DOCUMENTARY
by Ken Liu
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
When Ken Liu’s “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” first appeared in Panverse 3 in 2011, I reviewed the book and promoted the story as a potential Hugo and Nebula nominee. I found the work disturbing, but very informative as it revealed the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps were mirrored in camps set up by the Japanese during World War II. While some authors would have been content to allow the dehumanization of those camps to be the focus of their story, Liu looked beyond what was happening and wove it into an intriguing science fiction story. Figuring that Panverse 3, published by a relatively small press, wouldn’t be widely read, I was very pleasantly surprised when the story was nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, and Sturgeon Award.
WSFA, the Washington Science Fiction Association, frequently publishes guest of honor books in association with its annual convention, Capclave. Liu was guest of honor in 2017 and WSFA Press published The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary, which collected the original story, an author’s note, and a second work, “Lecture 14: Concerning the Event Cloaking Device and Practical Applications Thereof.”
Unit 731 was a Japanese organization operating in Manchuria conducting horrifying experiments on Chinese civilians, similar to those conducted by the Nazis in Germany. Had Liu set his story in the more familiar Nazi occupied area, it would not be a strong a tale, because people have become somewhat inured to the monstrous deeds the Nazis committed. Liu shows the same sort of experimentation in a fresh light and also introduces his readers to the atrocities conducted by the Japanese. Although this forms the basis of the story, along with the part that remains with the reader longest, it is not Liu’s focus.
Long after World War II, Eric Wei and Akemi Kirino develop a way of exploring historical events first hand. When turned on Unit 731, both the Japanese and Chinese governments object to the technology. Liu tackles numerous issues in “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary,” from the mythologies which grow up around history events to the idea of a group “owning” history to the ability of a culture to view a different culture as “the other” and deny or explain away the deeds of their ancestors rather than come to terms with what was done.
Liu has includes a brief author’s note following the novella in which he provides some background and source material. This information is a nice addition which gives readers who are interested in learning about not only the history of Unit 731, but also gives an idea of where Liu modeled other activity and behavior covered in the story.
Liu also includes a short piece from a 2014 issue of Cosmos, “Lecture 14: Concerning the Event Cloaking Device and Practical Applications Thereof.” The work is less a story than musings on the concept of playing with the path and speed of light to possibly hide an activity. Liu presents it as a lecture which provides the explanation and hints at a reason, but the work feels more like notes for Liu to eventually use in writing a more traditional narrative while also explaining the ingenious cloaking methodology to his reader. The piece feels like it was unnecessary included in the book while “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” could stand on its own. It does not, however, distract from the main story.
Seven years after “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” was originally published, the story retains its emotional and intellectual impact. The Japanese atrocities in Manchuria are still not very well known in the United States, but Nazi sympathizers are feeling empowered to speak out and march in the streets, attempting to further expunge the history of the atrocities carried out during World War II and deny their existence.
|The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary|
|Lecture 14: Concerning the Event Cloaking Device and Practical Applications Thereof|
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