Usually, when I review prose, I review anthologies, full issues (if a magazine), or a novel. But I’m making an exception for Ken Liu’s brilliant novella, “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary”. It appeared in Panverse Three and is available as a PDF download here.
It is a time-travel story, but it has the most unique, most intriguing premise among all the time-travel stories I have encountered so far: Chinese-American Dr. Evan Wei, along with his wife, Japanese-American experimental physicist Dr. Akemi Kirino, develop a controversial technique that will allow people to travel back in time and experience history firsthand. Wei demonstrates this by traveling back to 1940 Harbin, to witness the atrocities committed inside Unit 731. Unit 731 is a research facility of the Japanese Army responsible for fatal human experimentation during World War II. Wei gets hit by critics for bringing relatives of the Unit 731 victims instead of professional historians. The critics contend: How effective is a firsthand historical record if the events are witnessed behind an explosively emotional screen?
In any event, the relatives, being untrained observers, did not make great witnesses. They failed to correctly answer observational questions posed by skeptics (“Did the Japanese doctors wear uniforms with breast pockets?” “How many prisoners in total were in the compound at that time?”). They did not understand the Japanese they heard on their trips.