Ghost Days • 2013 • Transhuman SF novelette by Ken Liu


Synopsis: Ona is a transhuman girl gene-tailored to survive the harsh conditions of planet Nova Pacifica in the year 2313. All her classmates dress up to remember lost Earth a wormhole and a whole galaxy away. She must use some spade formed coin in her re-enactment.

“They cling to their past like rotten glue-lichen”

The coin is the recurrent artifact of two timeslices on Earth in the years 1989 – where Chinese immigrant Fred Ho dresses up as Ronald Reagan on Halloween and is happy to dance with Carrie and meets her bigoted parents. Even further back in Hong Kong of 1905 when William pays tribute to his ancestors, and finds out that his father forged old coins.

Review: The story starts with an algorithm written in Lisp which recursively calculates the Fibonacci numbers. That’s when I knew that I would love this story, as I heavily programmed in Lisp in my university times – I could have written that algorithm 30 years later. The story’s structure perfectly resembles the algorithm’s recursiveness, i.e when a function calls itself. This alone is a marvel which I could call “literate programming” if the term wouldn’t have been used in a different context.

But the story is not only for computer science nerds. It is also a deep dive into identity and the clash of cultures. Which makes it a valuable and relevant piece of fiction in these days of Black Live Matters.

And when it comes to introducing insights to Chinese culture, no one can beat Ken Liu as a SF writer:

“Have you ever noticed how similar the character ‘jyu’—for the universe, which is also the first character in your name—is to the character ‘zi’—for writing?”

When this seems puzzling, there is an even more interesting translation later on

Which is authentic? he thought. The World or the Word? The truth or understanding?

And this just blew my mind. In the end, it is a story about the value of history:

She would show them how she now understood that digging into the past was an act of comprehension, an act of making sense of the universe.

Packed full of koans, this story gives great brain food. Just don’t expect a huge plot. As with many Lightspeed publications, there is a great interview with the author online giving further insights.

I heavily recommend reading this, if you love concept-driven stories.

Meta: isfdb. It is available online at Lightspeed. I’ve read it in the collection The Hidden Girl and Other Stories.

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2 Responses to Ghost Days • 2013 • Transhuman SF novelette by Ken Liu

  1. Wakizashi says:

    Thanks for the review and the link. I’m going to read this after work as it sounds really good:-)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. pdtillman says:

    One of my faves in his new(ish) collxn. I’m sure I called it out: Yup,
    4+ stars per me, & I see GR has corrupted my link to the story!

    Liked by 1 person

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