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The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken…
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The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories (2016)

by Ken Liu

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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While I never made it through The Grace of Kings, I’ve discovered that I quite like some of Ken Liu’s shorter fiction. The Paper Menagerie is an anthology of his shorter fiction, much of which has science fiction or fantasy elements.

The stories tend to be concept focused rather than character focus, and they are generally very well written and told. However, they tend to have a melancholy tone, and I think I would have enjoyed the collection more if there was more variation in tone.

The first story, “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species,” is a series of vignettes describing how various alien species craft books. It’s a short and lovely piece, and I think it works well as an introduction to the rest of the tales.

Probably my favorite story of the collection is the titular “The Paper Menagerie,” his short story that won the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award. That story always makes me tear up. The narrator is the son of a Chinese mail order bride and an American man. When he was a child, his mother would make origami animals that she would breath life into, so that they moved on their own. It’s a story about relationships between parents and children and about assimilation and immigration. It’s incredibly powerful, and I can see why it won so many awards.

Other stories deal with the ideas of cultures colliding and changing. In “The Waves,” Earth makes contact with a generation ship, offering them the formula for eternal life, and each individual on the ship must decide whether to stay as they are or to change and adapt. “Good Hunting” is a steampunk tale where the laying down of railroad tracks disrupts chi flow and gradually removes magic from the land, leaving those dependent on it adrift. “A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel” is an alternate history tale where the Great Depression is staved off with a giant building project: an underground tunnel beneath the Pacific Ocean, connecting the East with the West.

Some stories contain no or few speculative elements and are instead historical fiction. “The Literomancer” is an incredibly dark tale about a little girl living in Hong Kong who befriends a Chinese boy and his grandfather. Another very depressing historical tale is “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King,” about the Manchu slaughter of Yangzhou and then the repression of any mention of the massacre. On a bit of a lighter note (although still not light exactly), “All the Flavors” is a historical novella about Chinese immigrants to the Midwest.

While the story “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” is entirely in the realm of science fiction, it deals with some of the same ideas about remembrance of historical tragedies as some of the historical fiction stories. In this story (which is told in a documentary format, akin to Ted Chiang’s “Liking What You See: A Documentary”), a physicist invents a way for one person to re-experience a historical event… but each event can only be re-experienced once, by one person. Who does history belong to?

“The Regular” is a longer cyberpunk, sci-fi noir crime thriller about a serial killer murdering prostitutes and a private investigator trying to catch him. It was all right, but I feel like it resembled other stories I’ve read. However, it was more original than “The Perfect Match,” a dystopian about a future where one corporation guides your every desire, without you ever knowing it. It ended up feeling like a rehash of so many different stories, where a mediocre man meets a woman who shows him how to resist, but resistance ends up being futile.

“State Change” is a conceptually driven story where each person is born with an object that houses their soul. If the object is destroyed, you die, a real difficulty for a woman who’s born with ice cubes housing her soul. This story is almost the literal embodiment of the Defrosting Ice Queen, a trope I’m not super fond of, especially as it can be not great to aro and ace people.

None of the three other stories in the collection made much of an impression. I can hardly remember what happened in “An Advanced Readers Picture Book of Comparative Cognition,” aside that it had some similarities to the very first story. “Mono No Aware” is the tale of the only Japanese man on a generation ship. “Simulacrum” is another conceptual driven story, this time about the idea of record keeping and reality.

All in all, I’m glad I took the time to read this collection, although the only story I see myself returning to again is “The Paper Menagerie.”

Originally posted on The Illustrated Page. ( )
  pwaites | Aug 16, 2017 |
There were multiple five star stories for me in this anthology. However, because there were also some two and two and a half star stories, this gets four stars overall. Ken Liu is such a smart writer. I really enjoy his style. ( )
  ReadandFindOut | Jul 14, 2017 |
For the Robbins Library Goodreads account:
An astounding and unique collection of stories and novellas. Ken Liu's imagination and technique are astonishingly good in every genre represented here: fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, realistic fiction, mystery/suspense, even "documentary." To call this collection wide-ranging would be an understatement: stories are set in different times and places, on Earth and in space, in the past and the future, in alternative histories and realities (e.g. a world in which WWII was averted, a world in which there is a Trans-Pacific Tunnel connecting Asia with North America, a world in which a meteor ("the Hammer") crashes into Earth and only a thousand people escape into space. This is a long book, but entirely memorable and worthwhile.

*

Though they take place in a wide range of settings (past and present, Earth and space), there are some common themes in these stories. Liu examines how people react in extreme situations, whether that is a personal tragedy, a world war, or a natural disaster. Many stories feature parent-child bonds, and the sacrifices people will make to save those they love; other stories show the unspeakable things some humans will do to others, then make the point that those things must be spoken and remembered, or else the crime is committed twice: once in the action, and once in the forgetting. Many of Liu's stories also explore memory and cognition, drawing from real science to make compelling science fiction and speculative fiction.

*

ToC
Preface
The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species
State Change
The Perfect Match
Good Hunting
Literomancer
Simulacrum
The Regular
The Paper Menagerie
An Advanced Readers' Picture Book of Comparative Cognition
The Waves
Mono No Aware
All the Flavors
A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel
The Litigation Master and the Monkey King
The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary

Quotes

From the Preface
Every act of communication is a miracle of translation. (vii)

From "The Perfect Match"
"Centillion is in the business of organizing information, and that requires choices, direction, inherent subjectivity. What is important to you - what is true to you - is not as important or as true to others. It depends on judgment and ranking. To search for what matters to you, we must know all about you. And that, in turn, is indistinguishable from filtering, from manipulation...
We made machines to help us think, and now the machines think for us." (49)

From "Good Hunting"
She wasn't exactly a friend. More like someone who you couldn't help being drawn to because you shared the knowledge of how the world didn't work the way you had been told. (58)

From "The Literomancer"
"Even after so many men died because of a few magic words, we continue to have faith in the power of words to do good."
...
"The Chinese are like wildflowers, and they will survive and make joy wherever they go." (100-101)

From "The Regular"
The Regulator, a collection of chips and circuitry embedded at the top of her spine, is tied into the limbic system and the major blood vessels into the brain....The implant allows a person control over her basic emotions: fear, disgust, joy, excitement, love. (147)

Sometimes you help a friend even when you disapprove of their decisions. It's complicated. (165)

From "An Advanced Readers' Picture Book of Comparative Cognition"

It has been argued that thinking is a form of compression.
...
Time's arrow is the loss of fidelity in compression. A sketch, not a photograph. A memory is a re-creation, precious because it is both more and less than the original. (194-195)

All parents make choices for their children. Almost always they think it's for the best. (204)

...most of our thoughts and memories are destined to fade, to disappear, to be consumed by the very act of choosing and living. (206)

From "The Waves"
"You wonder why there are so many stories about how people came to be? It's because all true stories have many tellings." (212)

"We humans have always relied on stories to keep the fear of the unknown at bay." (220)

From "Mono No Aware"
"Everything passes. That feeling in your heart: it's called mono no aware. It is a sense of the transience of all things in life....we are all ephemeral patterns destined to eventually fade, whether in a second or an eon." (244)

From "All the Flavors"
"I don't know I will succeed. All life is an experiment. But when I die I will know that I once tried to fly as high as a dragon."

"Lots of things start out not Chinese and end up that way." (310)

"It is hardly the happy and the powerful who go into exile." -Alexis de Tocqueville (324)

"All life is an experiment." (334)

From "A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel"

Politics were for those who had too much to eat. (347)

In some sense I had become like a turtle, with a shell around me that kept me from feeling anything. (357)

From "The Litigation Master and the Monkey King"
"We're all just ordinary men...faced with extraordinary choices." (380)

"But the past lives on in the form of memories, and those in power are always going to want to erase and silence the past, to bury the ghosts. Now that you know about that past, you're no longer an innocent bystander. If you do not act, you're complicit...in this new act of violence, this deed of erasure." (380-381)

From "The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary"
History is like that: The truly important decisions never seemed important at the time. (396)

"It's one of the central paradoxes of archaeology that in order to excavate a site so as to study it, we must consume it and destroy it in that process." (410)

"Evan was forever struggling with the competing claims between past and present." (410)

"Unwittingly, Evan had also invented the technology to end history forever, by denying us and future generations of that emotional experience of the past that he so cherished." (437)

Year after year, history grew as a wall between the two peoples. (441)

"The truth is not delicate and it does not suffer from denial - the truth only dies when true stories are untold." (447) ( )
  JennyArch | May 12, 2017 |
4.5 stars.

After finishing "The Three-Body Problem", I was curious to know more about Ken Liu, the book's translator. And I picked up this collection. I've always thought short fiction is harder to write than longer works. And what a choice it was. Not all of the stories are clear winners, but the ones that are, oh my.

When I'm driving and the sun sets over the huge fields around me and the music's just right and the warm wind in my hair and my wife next to me and conversations go quiet and the long winding road ahead and my mind goes suddenly blank and I find myself staring into the distance and then I snap out of it, everyone knowing I've had – but can't keep – that moment that just passed.

If you're into SF of a superior kind, read the rest of the review on my blog ( )
  antao | Dec 10, 2016 |
These stories may be the best literary science fiction/fantasy I've read in years. Each story is superb and each is unique, and most are intensely moving. The characters are wonderful.

Liu incorporates history and classic fiction into some of his stories, for example, the story "The Litigation Master and the Monkey King," which brings the Journey to the West and the Chinese detective story tradition (e.g. Judge Dee) together with the historical Manchu Army massacre of Yangzhou at the start of the Qing Dynasty.The story "The Man Who Ended History" incorporates the grotesque history of Unit 731 of the Japanese Imperial Army in Pingfang, outside of Harbin, in north China, during World War II. The story is structurally interesting, as is the fictional science.

The title story, "The Paper Menagier," is sad, magical, and beautiful. "A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel" is terrifying; in an alternate history in which World War II was averted, the people are still frighteningly and tragically human.

I've already reread some of the stories; if I could give this book 6 stars, I would. ( )
  NatalieSW | Nov 24, 2016 |
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Yoshimi-dori, FurusawaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Book description
A selection of the short stories of Ken Liu, including "The Paper Menagerie," the first work of fiction, of any length, to win the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards.

Contents:
The bookmaking habits of select species
State change
The perfect match
Good hunting
The literomancer
Simulacrum
The paper menagerie
An advanced readers picture book of comparative cognition
The waves
Mono no aware
All the flavors
A brief history of the trans-pacific tunnel
The litigation master and the monkey king
The man who ended history: a documentary.
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