My only experience with Ken Liu thus far has been in his translation of Cixin Liu’s The Three Body Problem and Death’s End. But I know he has a few beloved books already published out there, so I jumped at the chance to read this.
I generally try to read the introduction whenever one is included, and I definitely recommend reading the intro to The Hidden Girl and Other Stories. Liu talks a little about his writing process and how he went about selecting stories for this book. He says that stories are co-told by an author’s words and a reader’s interpretation; that writing a story is like building a house in which the reader moves in, arranges the furniture and decor to suit their tastes, and settles down.
He also goes on to say that it would be impossible for him to construct a home in which everyone was comfortable, so he selected the stories that he himself felt most comfortable in, and asks that the reader “find a story..to make [their] home.” I adored the metaphor and knew with that short but sweet introduction I was in for a treat.
That being said, I really am terrible at reviewing collections. So terrible in fact, that I’ve put this off for two months because I read it in December. It took me a week because these were stories that often required some processing afterward, so I know it’s worthy of a fantastic review and I’ve no idea how to convey that to you.
So bare with me friends, I’m doing my best.
The first two stories “Ghost Days” and “Maxwell’s Demon” absolutely blew me out of the water. They were both eye opening, haunting. They were stories I think it would benefit everyone to read at least once. While “Ghost Days” is about the importance of history and immigrant experience in America, “Maxwell’s Demon” is about the experience of a woman of Japanese descent in America during WWII.
For me, the stories that follow didn’t quite live up to the enormous standard by those first two stories. What they do instead, is follow, as Liu himself put it, a “meta-narrative”. Trailing different and yet similar themes (AI, digital immortality, virtual reality, shared experiences, parent-child relationships, etc.) weaving together an inventive tapestry of Science Fiction and Fantasy.
I will say this book ventures to some dark places. Sometimes I’d read a story and have to put the book down for a bit because it was that dark. Many stories don’t have a happy ending.
I do think the book finished strong, despite being a little bogged down in the middle. Other highlights include the miniseries starting with “The Gods Will Not Be Chained” and “The Hidden Girl”.
In the end, I liked The Hidden Girl and Other Stories enough that I will certainly be checking out Liu’s other work. This collection is well worth picking up for fans and newcomers alike.