The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu
Genre: Speculative Fiction/Short Fiction
Age category: Adult
Release Date: February 25th, 2020
Happy 2020! We’re starting the new year with our first (but definitely not last) review of a short story collection.
Although I’m quite familiar with Ken Liu’s name, this book was my first time reading a collection of his short fiction. Two things stuck out to me as I read: the incredibly imaginative worlds and concepts each story explores and Mr. Liu’s amazing ability to grab the reader’s attention and pull them in within a sentence or two. I felt more attached to some of these characters within a paragraph than I’ve felt with protagonists in a few novels even after several chapters. The opening of “Byzantine Empathy” stood out in particular with its use of second person. I’ve read plenty of short fiction in second person before, but it rarely clicks with me or lets me get fully immersed. Often it has the effect of making some part of my brain stand up in defiance and say, “No, I am not the person you are describing. No, I’m not in that situation. No, that is the complete opposite what I would do even if the last two things were true.” But in this case, there’s a sense of disorientation that allows for the reader to step into the character being described, as if the narrative is saying, “I know this isn’t you. But how would you feel if it suddenly were?”
Speculative fiction is so open in its possibilities of what characters could be or how they could live, and these stories explore that to its fullest. From a race of nearly immortal aliens that habitually forgets their own past to a fascinating take of combining the supernatural with the historical events of World War II, so many of the unique ideas and settings in this collection would feel right at home serving as backdrops for a full-length novel. I certainly wouldn’t complain if they were some day.
The only caveat I would add with this book is that there are scenes of extreme violence involving very young children–to the extent that I had to mentally yank myself away from the story’s world, put the book down, and take a break from reading for a while. It is not to say that these scenes were unearned or gratuitous or a cheap attempt to get a quick emotional reaction from the audience. The fact that they were grounded in worlds that felt so real is what made me have to step away at times. (And for whatever it is worth, I had to step away after select scenes in George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” for similar reasons, even though I would also count that series as very well written.) The extent to which any one person is able to tolerate this is of course a personal thing, but it seems worth noting nonetheless.
Overall, this collection is well worth a read.
Rating: 4 out of 5
You can find The Hidden Girl and Other Stories on Goodreads
You can also order the book on Amazon (affiliate link): The Hidden Girl and Other Stories