‘As the Last I May Know’ by S. L. Huang [Short Story Review]

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You can read this story for free over on Tor.com here!

This is one of those stories that you find yourself being sucked into without really knowing at what point you found yourself so committed. And it’s a really good reflection of what the story is trying to communicate with this carrier character that we follow. We’re supposed to feel empathetic towards her because her job is to make you feel empathetic. At the same time it’s a very politically charged story in which we are forced to contemplate exactly what it means to be at war with someone. As a person who is extremely opposed to warfare in general, the story did something in my heart that I wasn’t prepare for when I started reading the story. I thought it was an interesting fictional world with this political institution that was going to maybe highlight some aspects of war. I didn’t expect it to be such a powerful metaphor for what exactly being at war means not only to the people of the countries that are in conflict but specifically to children who have to come to grasps with the fact that they probably won’t grow up.  

Quite honestly there’s so many nuances within this short story that even though it focuses around the central Narrative of this carrier–who is this young girl–there’s so much going on with the peripheral characters that add to why war is so complex. There is the carrier’s teacher, who is very aware of the political atmosphere locally while the war is happening. Even though he believes that weapons of mass destruction should not be used it starts to shift as he sees that the argument over whether or not they should be used is a domestic conflict in and of itself.

And I don’t think this is something that we talk about very much. We like to believe that conflict is exterior to our country; that it’s happening somewhere else. But at the same time our disagreements on how that conflict should be fought creates local conflict. On a different scale and yet it still causes this turmoil that makes it very difficult for decisions to be made about what’s going on. Because we’re so desperate for our belief to be the prevailing one we don’t take the time to see all the different sides of what’s happening.

I think my favourite part about this narrative is that the belief that humans have this limitless empathy is central to the plot. Nothing about how the story works would function properly if humans weren’t as empathetic as they are. So even with all this conflict, for all of this contemplation about whether or not to use these very dangerous and powerful weapons, there’s this very human moment of a man and a child having this father-daughter relationship develop and contemplating what it means to push a war so far that that relationship is lost forever. And weighing whether or not the loss of that relationship is worth the lives of a nation. And yet the stakes seem to not matter on that much of a scale. The important steak is: will our protagonist lose her life to this one man? It’s a very interesting dynamic to create in a world in which there are much higher stakes. For me while reading the story, the only stake that matters as this central relationship.

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