The Hidden Girl and Other Stories

By Ken Liu

Rating: 3 stars

This is the hardest kind of book to review, because while I really appreciated it, I mostly didn’t enjoy it. Honestly, these stories are great speculative fiction. The science fiction stories often take that platonic ideal of extrapolating a single idea and asking, “what if…?”. Unfortunately, Liu often takes that extrapolation into directions that I really struggle with. The strongest iteration of this is in Thoughts and Prayers about how the memory of a young woman who died in gun violence can be weaponised, and how the defences to that can be as bad as the assault. Haunting, powerful and I wanted to take a shower after it.

A number of the stories are pretty grim and, to my mind, unnecessarily depressing. I loved the idea of The Message where a xenoarchaeologist and his newfound daughter explore alien ruins against a deadline, trying to figure out the meaning of a monument before it’s destroyed by terraformers. It was a neat tale with a clever idea and a strong emotional thread, that had a sting in the tail that soured the whole thing for me.

There’s a specific trilogy here, in The Gods Will Not Be Chained, The Gods Will Not Be Slain and The Gods Have Not Died in Vain, which were written for a apocalypse-themed trilogy of anthologies. But others in the collection touch on similar themes and some could be read to be set in the same universe, telling a grander future-history of the Singularity, the people who choose to remain behind and the directions post-humanity chooses to go after it.

The weakest story, to my mind, was probably A Chase Beyond the Storms, mostly because this was an excerpt from a novel, and not even the first novel, but the third in a trilogy, which meant that it was mostly incomprehensible for someone who hasn’t already read the first two books. My favourite story, on the other hand, is probably Seven Birthdays that follows a single life, starting before the Singularity and following it, post-upload into the far future.

There’s no doubting that Ken Liu is a powerful voice in science fiction in this period, both through his translations of other people’s work into English, and as this collection shows, in his own right. But having read the nineteen stories in this book, and having had a good selection of his work, I don’t think he’s a writer that I’ll be actively searching for. He’s good, but I didn’t enjoy most of what I read.

Book details

ISBN: 9781838932060
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Year of publication: 2021

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