The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories • 2016 • Collection by Ken Liu

★★★★+

I’ve previously read Lius’s story The Regular and his last year’s novel The Grace of Kings. Both make me think that this could be a must-read. I went first to the eponymous story The Paper Menagerie and after a couple of stories, I realized the author’s diversity in style and topics: I became a fan of this author, as you’ll never get bored, be it tin-foiled sharks or atrocities from Unit 731. Liu often contrasts Western and Eastern culture, placing a Chinese woman in the midst of USA in his awards winning story The Paper Menagerie, or the other way round, placing a U.S. family in the counterintelligence cold war of Taiwan’s 60s in The Literomancer. But don’t reduce the author to this topic alone: The stories‘ genres vary between magical realism (State Change), steampunk (Good Hunting), near future SF (The Regular, Simulacrum) or dystopia (The Perfect Match). I didn’t find horror stories in it, although they are sometimes at the border to it, e.g. when describing torture scenes like in The Literomancer. This sometimes bleak realism contrasts fascinating magic or unreal setting which creep into the story, like in State Change where souls manifest in real objects.

Lius’s publication frequency exploded since 2010, the collection contains only one story State Change from 2004 before that year. Now that he started his novels from the Dandelion War, Liu said that he won’t publish that many shorter works any more. An exception would be the excellent, but previously unpublished story An Advanced Reader’s Picture Book of Comparative Cognition which will delight old fans and new. In this sense, the collection is a kind of retrospective and I can fully recommend it.

One constant factor remains: How many U.S. girls curious about Chinese culture will crawl out of Liu’s pen?

My favourite stories were

  • The eponymous The Paper Menagerie
  • Mono no aware
  • The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary

Contents:

  1. ★★ • The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species • 2012 • SF short story • encylopaedic brainstorming how aliens would write books • review
  2. ★★★★ • State Change  2004 • Magic realism short story  Rina’s soul is shaped as an ice cube • review
  3. ★★★ • The Perfect Match  2012 • Dystopian short story  A.I. finds not only the perfect date • review
  4. ★★★+ • Good Hunting  2012 • Steampunk/Silkpunk short story  demon hunter transitions to the world of chrome • review
  5. ★★★+ • The Literomancer • 2010 • magic realism short story  60s Taiwan counterintelligence • review
  6. ★★★★ • Simulacrum  • 2011 • Near SF short story  Memory pictures lead to the destruction of the inventor’s family • review
  7. ★★★★The Regular • 2014 • Near Future SF novella • Cyborg detective resolves prostitute murder • review
  8. ★★★★★ • The Paper Menagerie • 2011 • Magic Realism short story • Origami animals come to life • review
  9. An Advanced Reader’s Picture Book of Comparative Cognition • 2016 (unpublished before) • short story • Sad love story •
  10. ★★+ • The Waves • 2012 • Post-humanity novelette • Immortality in several forms • review
  11. ★★★★★ • Mono no aware • 2012 • SF short story •  Preserve cultural identity in the face of armageddon • review
  12. ★★★ • All the Flavors • 2012 • novella • Silkpunk predecessor of The Grace of Kings • review
  13. ★★★ • A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel • 2013 • Alternate history short story •  mitigating the Great Depression • review
  14. ★★★★ • The Litigation Master and the Monkey King • 2013 • Historical fiction novelette • litigation hooligan turns tragic hero • review
  15. ★★★★+ • The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary • 2011 • time travel novella • atrocities from Japanese Unit 731 during WWII • review

Meta:  This collection of 15 shorter works was published 2016 by Saga Press.

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