The Paper Menagerie


If you recall, this was one of the books I really wanted to read this year. And finally, I did. And I’m glad I did. This is a wonderful collection of short stories. It is filled to the brim with creativity. The stories range from sci-fi to historical fiction to a mix of the two. These stories approach many deep topics and some of the stories absolutely ripped my heart out. The best part is that his stories center around Chinese, Japanese, and other east and south Asian cultures. (I especially loved all his mentions of Hong Kong.) He somehow blends politics, mythology, history, and the future of humanity together. I really cannot recommend this book more.

Ken Liu is an amazing writer. He is able to invent new worlds and societies with considerable depth in just a few pages. He very successfully writes about topics that are tough to tackles in a 500+ page novel. In “The Waves,” humans are given a chance at immortality. They do not age after the procedure, but are biologically the same. Some take the chance while others choose to pass on. Later, humans are given the choice for a different kind of immortality if they upload their consciousness into a hive mind. They sacrifice their human bodies for limitless knowledge and the option of having a machine body if they want to walk around. Liu asks us to consider the meaning of humanity and how it would feel to watch loved ones make these choices for themselves. In the title story, “The Paper Menagerie,” Liu writes about an interracial family and how the son of the family deals with his mixed heritage. That’s all I will say about that story. Just know that it was my favorite and made me cry my eyes out.

So, I’m a Ken Liu fan now. I have the first book of his fantasy series, The Dandelion Dynasty, and I am eager to read it. Liu is a voice we need in literature. He is extremely creative and talented in his own right, but the Eastern influence and historical/mythological nods in his writing are desperately needed in the Western world.

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