ARC provided by the publisher—Saga Press—in exchange for an honest review.
The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Sci-fi, Dystopia
Pages: 432 pages
Published: 25th February 2020 by Head of Zeus (UK) & 25th February 2020 by Saga Press (US)
Ken Liu is incredibly good at writing short stories.
I’ve been waiting for The Dandelion Dynasty to be completed for years now so I can binge read the epic fantasy series. During my waiting time, I have read The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories and also some books Liu has translated: The Three-Body Problem and Death’s End by Cixin Liu. I loved them all; The Paper Menagerie, in particular, is one of the two best short stories I’ve ever read so far. The Hidden Girl and Other Stories is the second collection of short stories published by Ken Liu, and as expected, it’s another wonderful collection of stories. I think of this as something wondrous because I’m not even a fan of short stories; I avoid this format more than I avoid novellas. However, this is Ken Liu, and this collection goes to show how good he is at writing short stories. Just try reading the beautifully written two-page long preface; I highly doubt you’ll be able to resist reading this collection after reading this.
“As the author, I construct an artifact out of words, but the words are meaningless until they’re animated by the consciousness of the reader. The story is co-told by the author and the reader, and every story is incomplete until a reader comes a long and interprets it.”
And so this will be my interpretation of these stories.
Few exceptions aside, most of these stories are connected, taking place in the same universe. I’ll be giving a very mini-review for each respective title.
Ghost Days: 4/5 stars
I loved this one. Liu tells a story that encompasses the importance of the past, culture, traditions, and how even the smallest of things could be the treasure that sustains our heritage and legacy for hundreds of years.
“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.”
Maxwell’s Demon: 3.5/5 stars
A brutal and dark read. Maxwell’s Demons is about a Japanese-American female living in America during the time of World War II, and she receives a task to go back to Japan and help bring victory to America.
“A war opened a door in men, and whatever was inside just tumbled out. The entropy of the world increased, in the absence of a demon by the door.”
Reborn: 3/5 stars
One of the three longest short stories in the collection, and it’s a good sci-fi story about the importance of memories. I enjoyed this one well enough, although it’s not as good as many other stories in this collection, I found the discussion regarding memories and how it makes us who we are to be well-written.
“You cannot tell which memories are real and which memories are false, and yet you insist on their importance, base so much of your life on them.”
Thoughts and Prayers: 4/5 stars
If you have lost someone to a mass shooting, be warned that this is a very dark story. Harrowing and thought-provoking, the loss of someone important due to a mass shooting is inexplicable; Liu goes further by exploring another danger that can come after the event through the misuse of technologies and trolling.
“What did I think was going to happen? After decades of watching the exact same script being followed to end in thoughts and prayers, what made me think this time would be different? It was the very definition of madness.”
Byzantine Empathy: 2/5 stars
Same as Reborn, this is one of the longest short stories in the collection, and I honestly didn’t enjoy this one. Empathy, Virtual Reality, and cryptocurrency are relatable topics of discussion, but this story was boring to read.
“A VR rig was the ultimate empathy machine. How could she truly say she had walked in their shoes without suffering as they did?”
The Gods Will Not Be Chained: 4/5 stars
This one was so intriguing and compelling, and it’s the first installment in a mini-trilogy available in this collection. It begins with a story about bullying, then it proceeds to show the limitless capability of technologies, the internet, and digital immortality.
“But the digital world, the world of bits and electrons, of words and images—it had brought her so much joy, felt so intimate that she thought of it a part of her. And it hurt.”
Staying Behind: 3.5/5 stars
Similar to the previous one, this is a short story that explores the idea of “immortality through machines” versus “meaningful life through mortality.” It’s a very interesting read because both factions have believable reasoning that makes sense.
“She taught me that our mortality makes us human. The limited time given to each of us makes what we do meaningful. We die to make place for our children, and through our children a piece of us lives on, the only form of immortality that is real.”
Real Artists: 3.5/5 stars
This is a very short story about doing whatever it takes to make a perfect movie, even if it means allowing technology to do all the heavy lifting.
“I was right about you; a real artist will do whatever it takes to make a great vision come true, even if she has to work with someone else’s art.”
The Gods Will Not Be Slain: 3.5/5 stars
A direct sequel to The Gods Will Not Be Chained with Maddie as the main character again. The themes of history, human nature, and once again, digital immortality dominate the story.
“They could use a historian,” she said. “Someone who knew something about how things used to work.”
Altogether Elsewhere, Vast Herds of Reindeer: 4/5 stars
This story shows the life of the people who have decided to go through digital immortality. Food for thought: what if infinity ends up decreasing the meaning of life?
”It’s not how long we have that matters, but what we do with the same time we have.”
The Gods Have Not Died in Vain: 3.5/5 stars
The end of the mini-trilogy revolving around Maddie. I think this is the weakest of the mini-trilogy, but the conclusion was satisfying enough.
“We have grown to the point where we must depend on machines to survive,” said Mom. “The world has become too fragile for us to count on people, and so our only choice is to make it even more fragile.”
Memories of My Mother: 2/5 stars
One of my least favorite from the collection. This one suffers from being way too short; the story ended before I even began to care about the characters.
Dispatches from the Cradle: The Hermit—Forty-Eight Hours in the Sea of Massachusetts: 3/5 stars
The story shows what happened to Earth in the year 2600 after its destruction caused by Climate Change. It’s a bit scary to be reading about this because there’s a chance of the situation portrayed in this story happening in our life.
“Humanity may have taken to the stars, but we have destroyed our home planet. Such has been the lament of the Naturalists for eons.”
Grey Rabbit, Crimson Mare, Coal Leopard: 4/5 stars
The most action-packed story in the collection, and it’s in my favorite genre: fantasy. Three sisters of different bloodlines find themselves united to for a purpose, fight against oppression and dictator. It’s a great fantasy story, and I believe there’s a potential for this one to become a series or a standalone novel.
“Greed and ambition are the rule at court, and the only goal of every governor, general, official, and legate, Revealed or not, is selfish gain, not the good of the people.”
A Chase Beyond the Storms
An excerpt from The Veiled Throne, The Dandelion Dynasty, book three: No rating
As I mentioned, I’m waiting for The Dandelion Dynasty to be completed first, and I highly prefer not having my reading experience of the series spoiled. I won’t be reading/reviewing this one.
The Hidden Girl: 4/5 stars
Here it is, the titular story in this collection, and this is one of my personal favorite stories within this collection. Filled with Buddhism, The Hidden Girl is a fantasy story about an assassin who’s willing to have the bravery to do what’s right, even when it means fighting against those who are important to her.
“There’s a greater promise we all must live by: to do what our heart tells us is right.”
Seven Birthdays : 4/5 stars
I don’t want to say too much regarding this one, let’s just say that I didn’t expect the scope of this short story to be this massive and insane. It reminded me of reading Death’s End by Cixin Liu.
“There is a darkness in human nature that makes certain conflicts irreconcilable.”
The Message: 4.5/5 stars
My favorite story in this collection. A heartwarming, meaningful, and lovely story about responsibility, legacy, and family.
“This was a story that would always mean something, a message worth passing on, even in a universe that was cold, dark, and dying.”
Cutting: 3/5 stars
The final story in this collection. A good story about cutting unnecessary words from a book to create a relatively better message/content.
“The act of remembering is an act of retracing, and by doing so we erase and change the stencil.”
Overall rating for The Hidden Girl and Other Stories: 63/90 stars
That’s it. The Hidden Girl and Other Stories is a clever and thought-provoking collection of short stories by Ken Liu. Diving deep into the possible benefits and destruction caused by technological advancement and digital immortality, Liu conveyed the meaning of life, tragedy, ambition, and so much more in his SFF/contemporary settings. I do think that the personality of the stories listed here lean more towards sci-fi than fantasy, and there’s a good chance that if you love watching The Black Mirror as I did, you’re going to love this one as well. So which Ken Liu’s books I’ll be reading next? Fingers crossed it will be The Dandelion Dynasty series. I already own the first two books in The Dandelion Dynasty for a while now, once there’s an official release date—which I hope will be soon—for The Veiled Throne, I will plan my reading accordingly.
You can order the book from: Book Depository (Free shipping)
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
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