Hugo Winner: As the Last I May Know • 2019 • Alternate History short story by S.L. Huang

★★★+☆☆

Synopsis: Ten year old Nyma is the Chosen One: The access code for nuclear missiles (called “seres”)  is implanted into her body next to her heart, and the president would have to use a ceremonial dagger to retrieve them in the extreme case that the country would need to use the deadly weapon.

Nyma establishes a relationship to Han by reading him poetry and gets widely known by a published collection of her poetry.

But her country is about to loose the war. Will she be sacrificed?

“It’s not about right and wrong,” she said to him. “It’s about making it hard.”

Review: In 1981, law professor Fisher published the story’s core idea: Shielding nuclear weapons with a human body. It raises the old question: Is one life worth to be sacrificed for millions? In this case it is even strengthened because the missiles will cause millions of deaths – just at the enemy’s side. This setting’s culture is fascinating with a half religious order behind the regulation, a ceremony burdened upon the head of state which he can’t delegate. While the philosphy worked out in this story quite well, I’d rather relate it the better treatment in Le Guin’s The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.

The impuls for this devastating story was the author’s visits to Hiroshima’s and Nagasaki’s memorial sites, and it transports the emotional impact very well.

On the less positive side, the story’s tension arc is too flat, because nothing opposes the system and the story progresses linearly towards its predictable ending. I didn’t understand the setting for quite a while, because it read like a fantasy but then turned out to be an alternate history with clear relations to WWII.

Meta: isfdb. It is available online at Tor and I’ve read it as part of the Hugo and Nebula Award finalists.

 

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