The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary by Ken Liu
I thought I was getting into a sci-fi short story about the ability to look back into time, I didn't realize the story was actually about who owns history – historians, or the people who were affected by it? should we go back to analyze history or just move on? forgive and forget? This was a much more satisfying, thought-provoking and gruesome story than I could've imagined.
This story written as a documentary screenplay. It jumps from different narrators, and describes the 'images' that would be playing if it were actually a movie. There is a technological breakthrough where humans can use a machine to see back in time. Through this device, we can experience the past but in doing so it is forever erased so that no other person can experience that same time in the past again. There is also no way to record these time traveling experiences other than through a human retelling the story. The time period that grips the protagonists is Unit 731 of the Imperial Japanese military. This unit was based in current-day Harbin, China. During WWII, this group of soldiers and doctors performed awful experiments on the Chinese men & women there.
The documentary comes at this story from many angles: the scientists who invented this device, the re-telling of the terrible things that happened at unit 731 by those who 'traveled back in time' and by Japanese soldiers who worked there, the United Nations discussion about this new technology, law professors on the legality of who owns history, and historians on the value of this discovering of our past.
It is such an amazing story. It teaches you about a period in history that almost no 'Westerners' are aware of and makes you think, should we go back and demand reparations for the sins of our fathers? should we forget? Why did the USA go so light on Japan's wartime sins compared to how Nazi Germany was treated?
I will be thinking about this story for days. I will have to research this time period in more detail now. This is what literature should strive to do: teach, and let you experience other people's feelings.
My Rating: ★★★★ My 2019 Reading Challenge: Book #20