Book Review: The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu

Rating:  ★★★★

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.

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories releases on February 25, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher for sending an ARC for review.

Sunday Short Fiction Review: The Best Science Fiction of the Year Vol. 4 Edited by Neil Clarke

A couple quick reviews for some short fiction I read this week.  All of these were found in the following anthology.

The Best Science Fiction of the Year Volume 4 Edited by Neil Clarke

“When We Were Starless” by Simone Heller: 3.5 stars.  Really unique take on the post apocalyptic landscape. While the setting sounded just how I always picture that kind of setting (crumpled glass, fallen steel, random detritus), descriptions of the non-human characters and tech were frustratingly vague.  I would have loved to have just a little more time to explore.

“Intervention” by Kelly Robson: 3 stars.  Loved Jules’s character- but not much else.  Jules leaves her comfy job on the moon to manage a creche.  We pick up toward the end of her creche career to see what fate has in store for her.  This was okay.  I thought it was a little boring. The prevailing attitude towards children throughout the solar system I found somewhat unbelievable (in that literally every occupied planet finds children deplorable).  It vaguely reminded me of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World in that regard.

“All the Time We’ve Left to Spend” by Alyssa Wong: 5 Star read.  Honestly- I was almost as blown away by this short story as I was by The Lady Astronaut of Mars.  Wong made me care about the character, but also let the mystery unfold naturally which kept me engaged. I found myself wondering what else she has written. Cool world building and cultural elements too.

“Domestic Violence” by Madeline Ashby: 5 Stars.  This is exactly the kind of story I love- cool tech, women who can fend for themselves and others. Not at all what I expected from the title.  I will say I had guessed the ending- but I really didn’t care.  The journey was still a blast.

“Ten Landscapes of Nili Fossae” by Ian McDonald: 3 stars. I apologize, I couldn’t find a link to this story.  This is about the theoretical first painting on Mars.  To be honest I really didn’t get it.  I am someone who is super straight forward and logical and likes reason.  So abstract art and general ambiguity are not really my things.  Therefore this story was also not my thing.  It felt like an homage to art and artists everywhere.  Which is great, they deserve it, it just wasn’t my kind of story.

That’s it for this week!  I will definitely be checking out other work by Alyssa Wong and Madeline Ashby (although I’ve heard lukewarm things about Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach).  I’m slowly working my way through these and plan to have a few to post every week.

Have you read any good short fiction lately?