lunes, 29 de febrero de 2016

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, by Ken Liu

(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.)

Review Soundtrack: I suggest reading this review while listening to the first movement of Antonio Vivaldi's violin concerto in C minor, Il Sospetto (Spotify, YouTube). 

There is no doubt that Ken Liu is one the most important short fiction writers of the 21st Century. He's published well about hundred stories and has won virtually every award in the field. But, oddly enough, his short work hadn't been collected in a book until now. Even his (amazing) first novel, The Grace of Kings, came out before The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, a volume that finally will pay justice to the author's impressive talent for short stories.    

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories is a perfect showcase for Liu's wide variety of styles and topics. From pure science fiction as in "The Perfect Match" to historical fantasy, as in "All the Flavors"; from magical realism ("The Paper Menagerie") to alternative history ("A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel"); from weird fiction ("State Change") to cyberpunk ("The Regular"); from generation starships ("The Waves") to mythology ("Good Hunting"). Also, together with more traditional storytelling, there is place for stories with a more experimental form, such as "The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species" or "The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary".

Throughout all these stories, Liu uses tropes from fantasy and science fiction to explore, in a profound, intelligent and, many times, deeply emotional way, lots of different and important topics that, ultimately, seek to shed light to the big question of what it means to be human. Thus, Liu interrogates for instance, our relationship with technology and how it affects our identity ("The Waves", "Good Hunting") and our right to privacy ("The Regular", "The Perfect Match"), the role of family in an ever changing world ("The Paper Menagerie", "Simulacrum"), the magic of language ("The Literomancer", "The Litigation Master and the Monkey King", "The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species") and the many ways in which History can be written and interpreted ("A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel", "The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary"), to name but a few.     

But even more important that this amazing variety is the overall quality of the stories. In this collection you will find Liu's most celebrated stories ("The Paper Menagerie", "Mono no aware", "The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary", "The Regular"...) but also others that may be not so well-known but are, nonetheless, excellent as, for instance, "State Change" or "Good Hunting". There is even a wonderful surprise for those of us who are already huge fans of Liu's work: "An Advanced Reader's Picture Book of Comparative Cognition" is a previously unpublished story and a fantastic one at that, with a captivating exploration of memory and many echoes of Ted Chiang and Liu Cixin. 

My only concern with this collection is that, given Liu's vast production, most of his stories had to be left out the book. Some of my personal favorites are included ("The Waves", "The Regular", "Good Hunting", "The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary", "The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species"...) but I miss many others: "The Algorithms for Love", "Staying Behind", "Tying Knots", "None Owns the Air", "The Plantimal" (written in collaboration with Mike Resnick), "The Call of the Pancake Factory", "Cuttin'", "Maxwell's Demon", "Single-Bit Error"... With them, you could easily fill another volume as good as this one. And now that I think of it... that would be a wonderful idea, wouldn't it? So, editors at Saga Press, please make it real, will you?

This was a very easy review to write for you cannot possibly go wrong with this wonderful book. Either if you're already familiar with Ken Liu's short fiction or if you are new to it and have been wanting to try it, you know you need this book. It is an impressive collection of excellent stories and you should not miss it. 

(You can also read this review in Spanish/También puedes leer esta reseña en español)      

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