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.

Three Quick Book Reviews

I’ve actually finished several quick books the past week or two and I’ve been avoiding reviewing them because they were just the sort of books I didn’t have much to say about afterwards.  So I’m going to just give quick impressions here.

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Rating:  ★★

Alien Virus Love Disaster by Abbey Mei Otis (or: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,” my tag line, not the book’s.) This is the review I’ve been dreading most because I wanted so badly to like it and just couldn’t connect with it at all.  It’s a collection of bizarre short fiction mostly incorporating some kind of romance and/or alien contact.

With a title like Alien Virus Love Disaster– I was expecting something weird, yes, but also something funny.  Like the Stephanie Plum of alien books.  And it was just dark, depressing, despairing.  There isn’t a single shred of hope in the whole darn book.  Not one tiny story.

I gave it two stars instead of one because on the upside, the stories are unique and inclusive.  I can honestly say I’ve never read anything like them, and I can see how they would be right for someone, just not me.  I wanted to laugh, I wanted to be uplifted, and instead I ended up dragged down in a way I wasn’t prepared for.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Rating:  ★★★★

The Road by Cormac McCarthy (abridged, narrated by: Rupert Degas):  I know what you’re thinking.  “But Sarah, didn’t you just completely rip apart the last book you read by Cormac McCarthy just a few short weeks ago?”

Why yes, blogger friends.  Yes I did.  But I rewrote that review three times because I couldn’t get Blood Meridian out of my head.  And to me, the hallmark of a good book is one you can’t stop thinking about. (It’s the best 2 star book I ever read, lol.)  So I borrowed this on audio on a whim from my library.  Unfortunately all they had was the abridged version, so I can’t tell you what I missed out on, but I can tell you I would give this a go eye reading the full version.

The narrator, Rupert Degas, did a phenomenal job (except for his girly voices, which are weird, but only a small part of the book).  His voice is perfect for this kind of grim, desolate, post-apocalyptic world.  Hearing it instead of reading it solves a lot of McCarthy’s style choices.  The narrator was able to convey dialogue and made the issues I had with a lack of punctuation almost nonexistent.  I think audio is a good way to be introduced to McCarthy.

Anyway- our two MCs are Man and Boy.  They are traveling The Road to get South.  America’s population has been decimated by some kind of sickness.  What’s left are the good guys and the bad guys.  Man and Boy are “good” guys, as good as good can be in this world anyway.

The environment itself is the biggest challenge, lugging around supplies, enduring weather, falling trees (I got the sense the trees were all dying).  And when they encounter bad guys, it gets grim and dark real fast.  The message of the book is that hope and beauty can still be found in even the darkest places, I think, because despite all the many, many low points, there were still some significant high and happy points.

McCarthy’s writing really is beautiful and often reads like poetry.  I wasn’t glowing or gushing when I finished it, but I didn’t find my mind wandering too frequently when I listened, and that’s usually a challenge for me.  I’d definitely recommend this if you enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction.

Trigger content: again, if you have them I sort of must insist that you avoid McCarthy at all costs.  Nothing is off limits for him.

Stephen Kings N. by Marc Guggenheim

Rating:  ★★★★

Stephen King’s N. by Marc Guggenheim, illustrated by Alex Maleev – This is a graphic novel adapted from Stephen King’s novella of the same name found in his collection: Just After Sunset.

I enjoyed this- the art work was great and dynamic, and the mystery sucks you in right from the start.  It starts with a letter from a woman to an old friend talking about her brother’s death.  From there we flash back to where it all started.  The brother was a psychologist working with a patient who developed OCD after visiting Ackerman’s field in Motton, Maine.

It wasn’t quite a full five stars for me because the whole story is pretty ambiguous, but I enjoyed it nonetheless, and will definitely check out the novella.  If you decide to pick this up, don’t skip the foreword.  Guggenheim pays a beautiful tribute to a good friend and makes clear his fondness for King and his excitement over this project.  I’d love to see more of King’s short stories adapted into Graphic Novels turned into Graphic Novels.