Short Story Review: MONO NO AWARE, by Ken Liu




(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.


My Rating: 

15 thoughts on “Short Story Review: MONO NO AWARE, by Ken Liu

  1. Thanks for bring Ken Liu’s shorter works to my attention. Like you, I’ve found his novels a bit difficult to dive into, but this sounds like the perfect way to sample his writing style. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Glad you enjoyed this! If I recall correctly from my time with The Paper Menagerie anthology, this one did not impact me as much as some of the other offerings in the collection, but I do remember it fondly because of my love for generation ship stories 🙂 This was definitely a good one of sacrifice and survival.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This sounds so good, I have not read anything by Liu (hangs head in shame) but it sounds like his short stories might be best for me. Thanks for reviewing!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great review and very intriguing. I don’t usually pick up a lot of short fiction but the emotional ending you mention has given me pause for thought. I like a story that hits me like that and tbh I don’t usually find that short fiction has that type of impact. I did really enjoy Grace of Kings so I already know I like the writing so I’ll make a note of this one. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re more than welcome! 🙂
      It’s true, short stories don’t seem to have much space – or depth – for high emotional content, but this one (and a few others) do manage that with great skill. And when I find them, it’s a joy, indeed…


  5. His short stories are amazing, but I would urge you to try the long works again. I had trouble getting into the novels myself, but once I was able to understand the differences in the narrative style compared to what I’m used to, I actually really loved them.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I finally got around to reading this story (it’s only been 3 years since your review 🙂 ). I completely agree with you. This is one of those rare, special stories. Profound, moving, emotional, subtle. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I have The Grace of Kings but have yet to try it. So far I’ve only sampled some of Liu’s shorts. But I’m very glad I chose to read this one. Well worth it. It’s a beautiful exploration of the depths of the meaning of mono no aware.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So far I have only read Liu’s short stories and enjoyed them all, and from what I could gather from reviews I read they are far more “approachable” than his longer works, but I still would like to read Grace of Kings as well to see for myself… 🙂


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