Posted in Short Stories

Ken Liu: Good Hunting

Ken Liu’s “Good Hunting” morphs a traditional fairy tale into a modern machine age tale and in doing so brings up the notion that magic happens in anytime period:

I imagined her running along the tracks of the funicular railway, a tireless engine racing up, and up, toward the top of Victoria Peak, towards a future as full of magic as the past.

The young boy in the story develops a relationship with a hulijang – a kind of female ghost who bewitches men. It doesn’t seem she is able to bewitch the young boy but she manages to keep him as a friend long into the future. The young boy grows up and little by little becomes part of the industrial age. Though the hulijang might feel outdated, the grown up boy manages to keep her from becoming obsolete. As opposed to a bewitching on either part, both find the other mutually beneficial.

Posted in Short Stories

Ken Liu: The Perfect Match

I won’t mention any names but think of the names of the voices for any of the major virtual assistants and you know who Tilly is in Ken Liu’s short story “The Perfect Match”. Sai doesn’t mind that Tilly watches his apartment and knows his every move before he does but his neighbor Jenny does mind. In a way, Tilly ultimately brings them together. Does she know that this is really what Sai and Jenny want or does it just happen? That’s at least one of the questions the story asks.

Just like the house in Gish Jen’s novel The Resisters, Tilly has a slightly more intimate relationship with those she is “assisting” than the virtual assistants in our world – “slightly” being the key word here. Though on the surface, Tilly is trying to please Sai by understanding his interests and motives, could this turn into a form of oppression? That’s another question the story asks:

“Good night, Tilly. Please turn yourself off.”

The camera whirred, followed Sai to bed, and shut off.

But a red light continued to blink, slowly, in the darkness.


Posted in Short Stories

Ken Liu: State Change

I have no candle to burn at both ends. I won’t measure my life with coffee spoons. I have no spring water to quiet desire, because I have left behind my frozen bit of almost-death. What I have is my life.

More magical realism in Ken Liu’s “State Change” although I might go a little further and call it metaphorical realism if there is such a thing. I’ve also heard that all fiction is metaphor. I can go with that, too. This is a great story, so just go read it and decide for yourself!

Rina’s soul is an ice cube. She reads things like T. S. Eliot. Eliot’s soul is coffee and he measures it out with coffee spoons or at least he does in a poem Rina’s reading.

Rina makes some discoveries about what it means to lose your soul and what it means to save your soul and the paradox involved in these activities.

This story? Brilliant even if it didn’t have the “Prufrock” reference but all the better for including it.

Posted in Short Stories

Ken Liu: The Bookmarking Habits of Select Species

“The Bookmarking Habits of Select Species” is the initial story in Ken Liu’s collection The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories and it perhaps serves as an introductory story. I can’t be sure as I haven’t yet read all of the stories, but I like the way it promises something great even if it’s not as plot driven as one might expect.

The story consists of various fictional beings, cultures, societies and how they collect information, store information and remember information. All of it in great imaginary detail with a conclusion that I don’t think I’m spoiling by revealing:

Everyone makes books.

Posted in Short Stories

Ken Liu: The Paper Menagerie

Folding the creases, I refolded the paper back into Laohu. I cradled him in the crook of my arm, and as he purred, we began the walk home.

I’ve heard quite a lot about Ken Liu’s short story “The Paper Menagerie”. I plan on reading all of the short stories in Liu’s collection The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories but to start, I went right to the title story and I wasn’t disappointed.

This is one of the best uses of magical realism I’ve read. The magical part gives it a gentle feeling that perfectly tempers the harsh realism. Jack, the protagonist, suffers the harsh regret of realizing how much he hurt his mother while growing up. He also comes to the gentle realization of how much his mother loved him in spite of this. This realization might come too late but if one is discovering the truth, maybe it doesn’t matter when it’s discovered. Maybe that’s what is magical.

This one’s a favorite.

I plan to post about the rest of the stories in this collection as I read them, but I highly recommend at least finding this one and reading it.