(courtesy of Lightspeed Magazine: click on the link above to read the story)
Not for the first time I need to acknowledge that Ken Liu’s writing seems more appealing to me in its shorter form than in full novel size, since my attempt to read his larger work, The Grace of Kings, has so far caused me to shuffle it back in my reading queue – not because I didn’t like it, but because I believe it requires far more attention and involvement than I can give it at present.
Having appreciated The Paper Menagerie, I was curious to sample more of his shorter stories, and this one caught my attention, proving to be even better than my previous encounter with Mr. Liu’s writing – and not just better, but with a higher emotional impact: I’m not ashamed to confess that the ending moved me deeply, even more so because of its restraint, not in spite of it.
In short, what’s left of humanity – slightly more than a thousand individuals – is traveling on a solar-sail-powered ship toward a new home: Earth found itself on the path of a huge asteroid, and is no more. Main character Hiroto alternates details from shipboard life with memories of his childhood at the time in which the Hammer, that’s the name given to the asteroid, was nearing Earth and the evacuation of its people was underway. There is a sharp dichotomy between the events of the past and Hiroto’s quiet acceptance of what happened, of the tragedy that caused the whole of humanity to be reduced to the present scant handful, and it’s not because of the emotional removal, but thanks to the lucid awareness that to behave otherwise would be useless, that survival depends on the ability to rise above one’s personal needs, to care about “the web of relationships in which we’re enmeshed”, as Hiroto’s father used to advise him.
When a tear in the solar sail threatens to send their ship, the Hope, wildly off-course, it will be Hiroto’s job to step in and make sure that what future still is there for humanity will reach its fruition, and his choices will be determined by the meaning of the phrase that’s this story’s title, a complex concept that can have several meanings, the most important one being that all things in life are temporary, that everything passes: what matters is not so much an individual’s life, but rather “the places we hold in the web of others’ lives”.
Profound, and profoundly touching.