The world has been in a state of constant war for over a decade. All that remains are the lands won by the President of the West and the Emperor of the East. Kenji lives in a city controlled by the Emperor and his cronies — a place that conscripts children into the army at the age of fourteen.
Ellen Oh‘s dystopian short story “The Last Day” is featured in a short story collection titled Diverse Energies. It depicts a nightmarish place somewhere between the remnants of World War I and the start of World War II. The feuding powers stop at nothing to achieve total dominance — destroying the earth and its people. Forced into the conflict is Kenji’s city and everything changes on the day he spots a western bomber.
Overall the story is haunting and powerful. There are a few awkward phrases but they are bearable. While there is some interesting action in the beginning, the story begins to pick up in intensity about halfway through.
The characters are real. There is Kenji’s mother who is worried to the point of physical frailty. Kenji’s five-year-old sister is grumpy and hungry and longs for her brother’s small meals. Akira, Kenji’s best friend, is kind and thoughtful but also willing to do what it takes to survive.
The details concerning danger and pain are so vivid that the reader is able to experience it. By the end, the words of Kenji’s father is haunting: “War was only good for governments and always bad for the people.”