ARC Review: The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

ARC Review: The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories
by Ken Liu

Genres: Anthology, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Historical
Publication date: 8 March 2016
Format: eARC

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A publishing event: Bestselling author Ken Liu selects his award-winning science fiction and fantasy tales for a groundbreaking collection—including a brand-new piece exclusive to this volume.

With his debut novel, The Grace of Kings, taking the literary world by storm, Ken Liu now shares his finest short fiction in The Paper Menagerie. This mesmerizing collection features all of Ken’s award-winning and award-finalist stories, including: “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” (Finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards), “Mono No Aware” (Hugo Award winner), “The Waves” (Nebula Award finalist), “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” (Nebula and Sturgeon award finalists), “All the Flavors” (Nebula award finalist), “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King” (Nebula Award finalist), and the most awarded story in the genre’s history, “The Paper Menagerie” (The only story to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards).

A must-have for every science fiction and fantasy fan, this beautiful book is an anthology to savor.

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories has jumped to the top of my list of favourite short stories collection. It’s introspective, experimental, and give the speculative genre a healthy dose of Chinese lore and mythology. Each story is fascinating, a surprise as I often find there’s a couple of duds in every collection. I savoured this book slowly, reading a story or so each week – and after two long months I finally turn the last pages on this wonderful book.

I usually try and list out my thoughts and feelings on each individual stories in a collection, but I won’t do that here because i) I read some of them so long ago I think it would be too vague and ii) the strength of this collection is in how disparate stories are united by that familiar cloak of Chinese folklores. Hence, I think they’re better viewed as a whole.

The collection is particularly heavy on science fiction, perhaps a little surprising, considering that it also melds Chinese history and experiences into most narrative. However, the scope of the book as a whole is impressive, we have stories from a multitude of settings and walks of life. Ken Liu proves that he can imagine the future just as vividly as he can draw from the past.

We start off with “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species”, which showcases Ken Liu’s formidable imagination as he describes various alien species and the way they create books, store words and memories. “An Advance Readers’ Book Of Comparative Cognition” similarly features a description of different communicative methods. These stories stand out amongst the collection as they hold little of the human instrospection signature to the other stories. However, they served as a nice break amongst the melancholy and heartache of the other pieces in the collection.

Many of the stories in this book focus on the change and the human response to it. This can range from Ken Liu’s documentation of an immigrant’s life in “All the Flavors (A Tale of Guan Yu, the Chinese God of War, in America)” – which deftly combines historical fiction, fantasy, and confronts xenophobia. “Good Hunting”, on the other hand, follows a demon hunter and a hulijing (nine-tailed fox) as they face an ever changing China – looking at how traditions, and even monsters, fare in a world which forgets them as it advances. “The Waves” is set in the distant future on a spaceship looking for new land, and looks at human identity and the technology which gradually changes it – at once chilling and regretful.

Aside from the sheer creativity and grand scope of the collection, it also has the ability to invoke an array of emotions. These tales reminded me of why I love short stories so much. It fills me with wonder that entire worlds and so much feeling can be infused in just a few short pages. The titular story, “The Paper Menagerie” looks at a half-Chinese boy’s relationship with his mother – it speaks of the pain of belonging, of motherly love, of treasuring the people who adore you, and totally made me bawl. “The Literomancer” is at first a charming story about a girl who learns about Chinese characters and their history through her neighbour, but has an ending which packs a punch. “Mono no Aware” explores the Japanese concept of impermanence through the challenges on a spaceship.

There are also stories which hover in the immediate future, filled with intrigue and mystery. “The Regular” offers a futuristic twist on your usual detective mystery. “Simulacrum” and “The Perfect Match” questions the advances of technology, and how they begin to replace human interactions and independent thoughts respectively. Then there’s “State Change”, a curious story about a society where each person’s soul has a physical form. In Rina’s case, her soul is held in a couple of ice cubes. The premise plays on the concept of insecurities vs risk taking beautifully.

As you can probably tell, I absolutely adored this collection and cannot wait to see what Ken Liu does next. I am quite keen to pick up his Dandelion Dynasty series again, despite finding it difficult to read the first time around. He combines myths and history with the unknowable future in such fascinating, fresh ways.


Do you read short story collections? I have started reading them again in the past couple of months and absolutely loving them (the good ones, at least). I especially love it when the stories are connected, either through characters or through themes.

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Aentee

Aentee

I'm Aentee, a 20-something lover of books and shiny things. By day, I attempt to prescribe books to all the patients in my optometry clinic. By night, I read books, watch TV, and spend way too much time on twitter.

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  1. says

    I’m so glad you enjoyed this one! I actually met the author at ALAMW and got a signed copy. I think I need to bump this higher on my to-read list! Lovely review <3