Mono no aware • 2012 • SF short story by Ken Liu

★★★★★

Synopsis Hiroto, now the last of Japanese people, has to leave Earth on a rescuing spaceship, because a huge asteroid is about to invoke armageddon. The spaceship is built in a hurry, should last a couple of generations but soon they find out that the huge solar sail has to be patched. With Hiroto’s father’s teachings it soon becomes clear that the story is bound to be a tragedy of self-sacrifice.

Review  The story is nonlinear by jumping back and forth through different times in the protagonist’s life. I liked this style because it helped me connect the cultural importance to Hiroto’s character and behaviour. Japanese culture is the thing in this story, starting with the title, translated as “the empathy toward things” describing the sadness of transience. The author has Chinese roots but dares to embrace Japanese culture in this story. His trick is to have the main protagonist switch over to a different culture at the age of five, when he hasn’t got an adult’s awareness of his culture, yet. The second narrative figure is the confrontation with the universal holy grail of storytelling about the involvement of heroes. I never bought into all of those rules like “show, don’t tell” and I’m always happy to find excellent stories which proof that there are lots of cases where you needn’t follow them.

Believable characters, logical actions based on cultural background, great narrative techniques, and leaving me sad for a while tickled me to five stars.

Note also the spotlight on this story at Lightspeed.

Meta: isfdb. This SF short story was published 2012 in The Future Is Japanese. I read it as part of The Paper Menagerie. It is also available for free. It won the Hugo Award and was placed second in the Locus Awards.

 

 

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