- The Good: Short scifi and fantasy stories that ask you to think about the hard questions
- The Bad: Inconsistent theme throughout – very different stories
- The Literary: Rare combination of hard scifi and strong characters
This second collection by Ken Liu includes sixteen previously published science fiction and fantasy stories from the last five years, one new novelette, and an excerpt from the third book in the Dandelion Dynasty series, The Veiled Throne.
I adored Liu’s first collection of short fiction, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, and this new one is full of mostly 4 and 5 star gems as well. Liu has a way of creating memorable fantasy stories with intricate visuals, but grounds them with the emotional weight of Chinese family history, as he did with The Paper Menagerie, which became the first work of fiction to win the Hugo, the Nebula, and the World Fantasy Award. The trend follows into this collection’s stories, including Ghost Days, Maxwell’s Demon, and the titular story The Hidden Girl.
But in this collection a new type of story stands out for me. Liu veers away from fantasy into science fiction, from the internet, to post-humans and artificial intelligence, all from the intimate vantage point of small families living in post-apocalyptic landscapes, uninhabitable planets, or entirely digital worlds. Most of my favorite stories from this collection fall into this category of little girls and their relationship with their parents in a world propelled forward by technology, and the consequences that arise. These include:
- Thoughts and Prayers—The family members of a victim of mass-shooting attempt to find meaning in her death, using the countless videos she left behind to fight for policy change amid a sea of internet trolls.
- The Gods Will Not Be Chained—A bullied girl finds protection in a mysterious online persona who speaks only in emoji. The first of a series of three short stories, The Gods Will Not Be Slain and The Gods Have Not Died in Vain. All three stories explore online consciousness, whether uploaded from a human mind or a purely digital creation, and their relationships with a corrupt corporation, world politics, and a singular little girl, no longer bullied.
- Staying Behind—While most of humanity is uploading their consciousness, a young man rejects the digital world, embracing his physical body, and choosing raise children a post-apocalyptic landscape.
- Altogether Elsewhere, Vast Herds of Reindeer—A young immortal post-human explores the ruins of the real world, devastated by climate change, with her mom, who is leaving the expanse of the digital world to explore the solar system.
- Memories of My Mother—After being given only two years to live, a woman goes into stasis, only reemerging to visit her daughter every seven years.
- Seven Birthdays—Over the span of a million years, a young girl and her mother embark on a transition from organic to silicon-based life.
Technology is a powerful and inevitable force. Some may choose to embrace it and take advantage of the opportunities it presents. But even simple choices have consequences. Technology won’t solve all our problems, especially when strong biases push us away from those for whom we care deeply. I love how Liu builds these stories about the wonderful possibilities of technology, how it could shape and transform us as humans, against the built-in conflict of how it may impact one of the most traditional human ideals—the relationship between child and parent. Change is inevitable, beautiful, and tragic.
Highly recommended for fans of scifi with heart! Thanks to Saga Press and Netgalley for a free copy in exchange for an honest review!