Excluding translation works, this anthology is my first experience reading Ken Liu’s original stories. Right after reading Remembrance of Earth’s Past by Cixin Liu, I knew right from that moment that I must read more of Ken Liu’s original work for the fantastic job he did on translating The Three-Body Problem and Death’s End. Ken Liu truly has a way with words, he weaved these short stories to become something that’s impactful by implementing Asian element and important topics in them.
One of the main topics that are featured heavily in this collection is the struggle of adapting and coping with Eastern and Western culture; can be cultural, language, or just racial prejudice. Full disclosure here: English is my third language, I’m a Chinese, born and lived in Indonesia, and grew up learning Chinese, Indonesian and Western culture because of my environment and education. These are why some of the short stories here resonated more with me more because I understand how hard it was to learn and adapt to different cultures and languages; I’m still learning up to this day. I think it’s safe to say that most of my friends and followers on Goodreads are not Asian, but even if you’re not, this collection is a must read if you’re looking to understand more about Asian history, our way of life, superstition, struggle or just want some beautiful and great fictions in general.
“Our lives are ruled by these small, seemingly ordinary moments that turn out to have improbably large effects.”
I’m generally not a fan of short stories and novellas, most of the time they’re too short to have an impact on me. However, this anthology features plenty of wonderfully written stories that are powerful, philosophical, and even features one of the most emotional stories I’ve ever read. Whether it’s Sci-Fi, magical realism, low fantasy, noir thriller, historical fiction, this anthology has everything. I highly think that some of these stories will definitely be a hit for speculative fiction readers like it did for me. I won’t be doing any short reviews on the 15 stories included in this anthology, except for two of my favorite at the end.
Here are my ratings on them:
The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species: 3 stars
State Change: 3.5 Stars
The Perfect Match: 4.5 Stars
Good Hunting: 4 Stars
The Literomancer: 4.5 Stars.
Simulacrum: 4 Stars
The Regular: 3 Stars
The Paper Menagerie: 5 Stars (Favorites)
An Advance Readers’ Picture Book of Comparative Cognition: 2.5 Stars
The Waves: 3.5 Stars
Mono No Aware: 4 Stars
All the Flavors (A Tale of Guan Yu, the Chinese God of War, in America): 4 stars
A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel = 2 Stars
The Litigation Master and the Monkey King = 4 stars
The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary = 5 Stars (Favorites)
As you can see, most of the stories here were great to amazing for me. However, like all anthology, some or few of the stories will eventually fell short. Before I close this review, I’m going to give a short review on two of my favorite stories out of this collection.
The Paper Menagerie:
For those of you who don’t know, The Paper Menagerie is the only work of fiction to ever win all Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards in a single year. There are many great reasons why this anthology is titled ‘The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories’, this is truly a work of art. Just within 15 pages, Ken Liu has created something emotional, important, and powerful. As an Asian, this one speaks tons of volume to me. Acceptance of your own race, empathy, motherly love, it’s an imaginative, poignant, and magnificent short story that almost made me cry. Hands down, one of the best short stories I’ve ever read.
The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary
Another super powerful topic on Unit 731, a lethal human experimentation that’s responsible for some of the vilest and notorious crimes done by the Japanese during World War II. It’s dark, violent, depressing, and made every grimdark novels looks like Winnie the Pooh. The crazy part, however, this Unit incident 731 is real, it happened. The world definitely knows about Nazi and Auschwitz concentration camp, but I doubt a lot of non-Asian in our current society knows about this vile incident. I’m not here to say anyone who doesn’t know is ignorant, absolutely not. I’m here to say, please if you don’t know about it, take a few minutes and look it up. It will remind you once again to always be grateful. Ken Liu has written something brilliant and impactful here within this short story. One of the most powerful short story I’ve ever read and truly the best way to close this anthology.
“And yet, whatever has been lost in translation in the long journey of my thoughts through the maze of civilization to your mind, I think you do understand me, and you think you do understand me. Our minds managed to touch, if but briefly and imperfectly.
Does that thought not make the universe seem just a bit kinder, a bit brighter, a bit warmer and more human?”
I’ve said all I needed to say. By the end of this anthology, I will definitely read more of Ken Liu’s works, especially his Dandelion Dynasty trilogy. Although a few short stories fell short, it doesn’t change the fact that The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories is definitely one of the best anthologies I’ve ever read and I highly recommend it to anyone who’s looking for some diversity, brilliant and eye-opener topics in the stories they read.