This collection of short stories is one of those works of literature that feels like no review could ever really do it justice. Over the course of fourteen stories—each tying together culture, history, and raw human emotion across a range of subgenres—Ken Liu proves himself to be a master of short fiction.
The titular Paper Menagerie is still the most emotionally powerful story for me. This was my third time reading it and it still reduced me to tears. There’s a reason why it’s the first work of fiction to win to collectively win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards. If you haven’t read it yet, the story is available to read for free on io9. Or you can have LeVar Burton read it to you.
The Perfect Match tackles the invasive nature of consumer data collection and would make for a great Black Mirror episode. Hell, Good Hunting already did make for an incredible TV episode when it was featured in Netflix’s “Love, Death & Robots” anthology series.
The Regular shows that Liu can write incredible long(er) fiction, too. It’s a novella about a cyborg private investigator tracking down a ruthless serial killer, and it’s such a tension-packed ride that I finished it in one sitting. On the other end of the spectrum, State Change was a beautiful piece about not being afraid to live your life that managed to be an uplifting tearjerker.
Then are stories like The Literomancer, which follows a young girl who moves from Texas to Taiwan and befriends a young boy and his grandfather. It was charming, educational, and got my blood boiling like few stories ever have before.
And these are just some of the excellent stories found in this collection.
Every story blends multiple speculative elements—each of which would make for a compelling story on its own—into a concisely-yet-beautifully written tale that strikes a powerful emotional chord. Many of Liu’s stories also teach the reader about tragically forgotten moments in history, Asian culture or mythology, and the fundamentally flawed nature of humanity.
It’s no surprise that most of works in The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories either won an award or were nominated for one. The collection itself even won the 2017 Locus Award.
I can’t wait read more by Ken Liu. He recently announced that he’s finished writing the final book in his epic Dandelion Dynasty trilogy, so maybe now is the perfect time for me to dive in.
If it’s even remotely as good as his short fiction, I’m sure it will be something truly special.