An Advanced Reader’s Picture Book of Comparative Cognition • 2016 • Near SF short story by Ken Liu


Synopsis: A father reads a picture book about different alien life forms to his daughter. The author is her mother he reaches out for the stars. 

Review: Ken Liu often embeds highly emotional punches in his stories, very often with parent-children relations, and not all of them work well. One example is his weaker The Message, then his far better Memories of My Mother (which has been adapted to a short film), and finally a masterpiece in Altogether Elsewhere, Vast Herds of Reindeer.

This story is of weaker quality. While the interleaving picture books snippets (sadly without illustrations) speak of the highly imaginative author, they disturb the reading flow too much and don’t contribute enough to the plot. They remember me of Tchaikovsky’s biological snippets, e.g. in his great Children of Time or this year’s Doors of Eden – only that Tchaikovsky’s snippets are more scientifically plausible. 

The story tries hard to transport the balance between exploring mother and binding family relations, but it is too heavy-handed and abrupt to be effective. 

On the emotional scale, the story will play with everyone’s heart-strings. After a dozen stories from Ken Liu one gets a bit hardened and automatically braces for impact. Readers less acquainted with the author’s work might enjoy this story even more. 

Recommended for readers who like emotional stories with creative imaginations of alien life forms.

Meta: isfdb. Original story for Paper Menagerie and other Stories, reprinted in the anthology Escape Pod.

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