Posted in Short Stories

Ken Liu’s The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary

“The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” is Ken Liu’s final story in his collection The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories and it could be considered the antithesis of his story “All The Flavors”. It’s not uplifting, but it’s quite powerful.

A husband and wife team of scientists figure out how to travel back in time and use this new concept to go back and “prove” some of the atrocities that the Japanese committed on Chinese prisoners during World War II. It’s still difficult to prove history even if time travel is available. It’s interesting that the husband of this team is Chinese and the wife is Japanese.

Also interesting is that the story is formatted like a documentary. At first, I thought this would become tiresome but ultimately it works – especially in light of how documentaries can have their own biases even when billed as “proof”.

In the story, time travel becomes a controversial topic among the current governments and eventually a moratorium is put on the practice – too much potential for war or so the governments of the world say.

In the end, the wife of the scientist team has a voice over while the camera shows the viewers (readers) a starry sky. In a powerful conclusion, she states:

Look up at the stars, and we are bombarded by light generated on the day the last victim at Pingfang died, the day the last train arrived at Auschwitz, the day the last Cherokee walked out of Georgia.

Every moment, as we walk on this earth, we are watched and judged by the eyes of the universe.