Cover Image: The Hidden Girl and Other Stories

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories

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Member Reviews

Ken Liu has a very accomplished writing style and I found myself enjoying stories about AI and computer code that I normally find quite boring.

The first few stories are for the most part barely fiction, set in the present time or the very near future illustrating the most appalling and repellant uses of what is now every-day technology. Stories designed to provoke discussion.

Then there is a group of stories concerned with uploading human consciousness and the consequences it will have on the human psyche and perception. Although I found these easier to read than most stories involving AI I did feel a certain distance from the characters.

In between these scifi stories were a couple of Chinese folktale-style fantasy stories which I enjoyed though I experienced a certain whiplash switching from far-future techo-scifi to historically based fantasy and back again.


This is a curious collection of fantasy and scifi, both near and far future and I enjoyed the stories individually. However I felt that the composition of this collection did not necessarily display Mr Liu’s skills to their best advantage. The underlying theme was of family relationships particularly between separated parents and their children – who curiously all seemed to be only children - but this wasn’t enough to meld the collection into a cohesive whole.

Despite these reservations Ken Liu’s story-telling talent was not obscured and deserves at least 4 stars.
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I enjoyed reading several aspects of this book! The pacing was wonderful, characters were well drawn, and the reading experience on the whole was delightful.
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Requested from Netgalley and I received a free ebook copy in exchange for review. I like to read short stories of authors rather unknown to me, you never know what you'll get in a collection and most of the time I am pleasantly surprised. I have seen Ken Liu's name around for some time, but I wish I had paid better attention when this was stated to be a second collection of stories as it's assumed that some prior experience is had by the reader. I haven't had the pleasure before, so I am left with the lingering question of if this was a follow up with "sequels" to previous short stories in The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. Perhaps, or perhaps not.

- Ghost Days, Ona is a student of Ms Coron and a child changed to survive on a hostile planet and learning the computer language of a people who are a part of her history, she has a old spade coin she has to represent the history of. Fred Ho is a part of that history, as is William/Jzu-zungd the dead alien people who she look snore like than humans.

- Maxwell's Demon, Takako Yamashiro was born in America but 1943 finds her cast into the role of spy but she is more, speaking Uchinaaguchi and of a yuta family. Spirits and science finds it's way home in the end.

- The Reborn, Joshua Rennon has been Reborn by the alien Tawnin, he lives with Kai who he can't hide his mind from, but clues remain of what was cut away from him and he can't hide from judgement - theirs or his own.

- Thoughts and Prayers, The Forts remember their lost loved one -and so does the world through a algorithm that becomes a memory, a martyr and finally a mockery used by trolls.

- Byzantine Empathy, Tang Jianwen has created a immersion into empathy VR in Empathium a charity that user funds can be voted into. Sophia Ellis tries to turn it into metaphor with Refugees Without Borders but suffering can not become but a program's game for the victims.

- The Gods Will Not Be Chained, Maddie's bullies cease to be as important as the mysterious emojis her mother Ellen Wynn traces to her father David, who died working for Logorhythms and who's brain was scanned into a AI but he is not the only one...

- Staying Behind, the year of the Singularity marked the difference between the Uploaded man like Adam Ever of Everlasting, Inc, dead and digital, and the living and left behind especially in families.

- Real Artists, Sophia learns the secret to the success of film making in Semaphore, a great story isn't from a human artist, that like John Henry and the steam power engines she faces Big Semi...

- The Gods Will Not Be Slain, another story for Maddie (how I wish these were a novel or not scattered throughout the collection); playing a computer game with her father reveals a deeper way of war.

- Altogether Elsewhere, Vast Herds of Reindeer, Renée Tae-O Fayette is a child of the Data Center of Logorhythms and her Mom (Sophia) is going away off planet to the stars and won't be coming back... and her Dad (Hugo) allows her a real day with her - but the time that passes digitally is forty five years.

- The Gods Have Not Died in Vain, Maddie finds she has a Cloud-born sister, "Mist" and faces choices in what's real and not real to her future.

- Memories of My Mother, Amy's mother, dying, finds a way to spend her last two years living to visit on Amy's birthdays at 10, 17, 38 and 80.

- Dispatches from the Cradle: The Hermit - Forty-Eight Hours in the Sea of Massachusetts, Asa is a former rich managing director of Venus, now a hermit on Earth traveling it's seas and ruins in a habitat.

- Grey Rabbit, Crimson Mare, Coal Leopard - one of my favorites Ava Cide, who's Revelation revealed her to be a rabbit, with Pinion Gates and Fey Swell go looking for her brother and instead find sisterhood with each other.

- A Chase Beyond the Storms: An excerpt from "The Veiled Throne", Book 3 of the Dandelion Dynasty, I haven't yet read The Grace of Kings let alone the third book but I did enjoy the trick between garinafins and paper tusked tigers.

- The Hidden Girl, another favorite, the Teacher of Hidden Girl/Yinniang has two assassin students Jinger and Konger, but Hidden Girl is a thief among the thieves of lives and get peace for the people.

- Seven Birthdays, Mia's mother is busy saving the world, like mother, like daughter, as Mia saves humanity through AI and recalls her birthdays at 7, 49, 343, 2,401 - 16,807- 117,649 - 823,543 and what comes after?

- The Message, James Bell finds himself with his daughter Maggie for the first time in thirteen years as together they discover the message from a lost alien civilization that costs dearly.

- Cutting, what if we cut away words in remembering a holy book like we do in remembering faces? Would we be left with the truth or merely a riddle?

On the whole I enjoyed this short story collection, some stories were sad and had a lost feel, memory and the theme of what we've lost and gained and hidden about ourselves in going digital now and further in the future weighed heavily on things written within.
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A good collection of stories by a master short story writer who has become, perhaps unjustifiably so, better known as a translator of Cixin Li. Some of these stories are really haunting and memorable. "Ghost Days" and "Maxwell's Demon" were favorites.
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Gallery / Saga Press and NetGalley provided me with an electronic copy of The Hidden Girl and Other Stories. I voluntarily chose to read this short story collection and my opinion is freely given.

Short story collections can be hit or miss for me, often with interesting viewpoints and thought provoking statements. The Hidden Girl and Other Stories is science fiction/fantasy with a clear theme running throughout the book. Three of the selections are the continuation of the same characters and plot thread, which I found interesting. Stories like Maxwell's Demon, a historical fiction piece involving a Japanese American with an impossible choice, were good but just did not go far enough. Thoughts and Prayers is a unique idea involving the power that internet trolls have in a technology based world. The rest of the stories were neither here nor there for me, as I found them to have interesting thought processes but not much by way of substance.

I kept putting the book down and never really felt compelled to keep reading. There are really no huge revelations here, just quick thoughts that are seemingly over in a minute. Overall, readers who like science fiction/fantasy in a short story format may find some of the offerings in The Hidden Girl and Other Stories to their liking.
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The Hidden Girl and Other Short Stories by Ken Liu was given to me thru Netgalley for a honest review.  This is the first time reading anything from Ken Liu. Sometimes it good to pull away from novels and short stories or even novellas. The Hidden Girl and Other Short Stories is a truly wonderful work of art. This collection by Ken Liu are wonderful, unique, full-filled me as if I was reading a full length novel.  I cannot pick a favorite short story, out of thiscollection.  Quite a few stories tugged at my heart, and some left me wanting more stories by Ken Liu. Thank you Ken Liu for sharing your gift with us, and I cannot wait for more of creative works to come out.
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Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with a review copy even though I'm months late on reviewing it. 

I ended up listening to the audiobook and constantly found myself getting lost but I don't think that was due to the book but rather the fact I tried to listen to a short story collection in audio form. I should have just bucked up and squeezed it in as a physical read because I would have enjoyed it much more, I'm sure. 

I loved the sci-fi aspects within the stories I did manage to follow and since I haven't read his bigger books yet, I skipped the preview of book 3 in that series. But this is a book I'd definitely check out and read again at some point in the future.
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Reviewed by my co-blogger, Petrik, on Novel Notions
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I’ve been waiting for The Dandelion Dynasty to be completed for years now so I can binge read the epic fantasy series. During my waiting time, I have read The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories and also some books Liu has translated: The Three-Body Problem and Death’s End by Cixin Liu. I loved them all; The Paper Menagerie, in particular, is one of the two best short stories I’ve ever read so far. The Hidden Girl and Other Stories is the second collection of short stories published by Ken Liu, and as expected, it’s another wonderful collection of stories. I think of this as something wondrous because I’m not even a fan of short stories; I avoid this format more than I avoid novellas. However, this is Ken Liu, and this collection goes to show how good he is at writing short stories. Just try reading the beautifully written two-page long preface; I highly doubt you’ll be able to resist reading this collection after reading this.

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories is a clever and thought-provoking collection of short stories by Ken Liu. Diving deep into the possible benefits and destruction caused by technological advancement and digital immortality, Liu conveyed the meaning of life, tragedy, ambition, and so much more in his SFF/contemporary settings. I do think that the personality of the stories listed here lean more towards sci-fi than fantasy, and there’s a good chance that if you love watching The Black Mirror as I did, you’re going to love this one as well. So which Ken Liu’s books I’ll be reading next? Fingers crossed it will be The Dandelion Dynasty series. I already own the first two books in The Dandelion Dynasty for a while now, once there’s an official release date—which I hope will be soon—for The Veiled Throne, I will plan my reading accordingly.
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There is something ultimately approachable about an anthology of short stories. You can jump in when time poor, or binge your way through it. I found this to be a fascinating collection by Ken Liu. Themes of resource scarcity, post humanism, the singularity, and more are woven throughout.

However, something I had not often encountered before, was the way some stories would be touched on again from a new viewpoint, or their themes reconsidered by another view. This was a complex piece of hard sci fi, and I would recommend it to anyone wanting to get into their heads for a while.
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Quite a satisfying collection of stories.  I am typically a fan of sprawling space operas with a lot of character development and the fate of human existence at stake.  But my early love of Borges and his portrayal of mystifying ideas in a small package has primed my readiness to pursue the best of sci fi short stories.  Liu is in the running for that with tales replete with elements used by classic masters of the form: ironic twists, poignant contrasts, potent microcosms, ambiguous endings that point beyond the frame and engage you to complete with your own imagination.  

Recently, I was awed by the imagination and skills of Ted Chiang and Greg Egan in this form.  While they spend a lot of effort instilling the reader with the plausibility of the physics behind their tales, Liu excels in inspiring a bit more empathy by incorporating more of the human elements.  For example, they each often explore the implications of the coming so-called Singularity, the point where computer-based intelligence or personality emulations achieve consciousness and autonomy.   Whereas Chiang and Egan tend to dwell on the technology, the details behind such a development, and the big-picture drama of the outcome, Liu’s four stories on this theme focus more on the impact upon the resilience of a family responding to such a technical evolution.   

Once story features a girl, Maggie,  whose father was uploaded into digital existence,   She discovers how to secretly communicate with him in emojis and explores his alternate mode of being.   I appreciated Liu’s highlighting the potential of this kind of posthuman existence to retain feelings about their mortal family members and to experience nostalgia for life in the real world.  She is challenged to bridge the gap their lives, but finds meaning in teaming up with him in trying to keep another digital personality with a grudge against being exploited by a corporation from wreaking havoc on the network infrastructure of the world.  

Another linked story, follows up on the family after this rogue AI facilitates a nuclear war in Asia, leaving the U.S. to struggle with a much degraded economy and a flood of refugees.  Though the girl’s father was effectively wiped out in a cyberattack, along with other AIs, a new virtual persona, Mist, created by him initiates contact with Maggie, and a touching friendship with this “sister” emerges.  With no reserve of memory of an embodied existence,  Mist has no nostalgia about life in the real world and effectively lives as a god.  As a gift, Maggie creates a robot with sensory tech to allow Mist to experience and act in the physical world, which disappointingly does not impress Mist.   

Another story explores a further iteration of the upload concept from a family perspective, one in which the world is getting progressively depleted from most people choosing to get uploaded.   Liu effectively engages in the tradeoff of giving up ones bodily life through the destructive scanning of their synaptic architecture in favor of immortality and freedom from the pain and struggle of our mortal life.  Though the environment recovers dramatically and people adopt a healthy, rural agrarian life, the loss of historical and cultural progression is depressing.   Liu homes us in on that experience with an example of a teenaged boy and girl feeling the artificiality and hollowness of trying to emulate the tradition of prom night at their tiny school.     

The other stories are on diverse topics and scenarios, include an excerpt from a book of fantasy.  Two take flight across long swaths of time, one highlighting the potential of human evolution and the other the persistence of admirable human traits.  A third plays with time as a seeming counterpoint to Haldeman’s story of alienation by space warriors who return after a few years of near-light speed travel to face an Earth that has advanced hundreds of years; in this case a dying women travels so that in her short remaining live she can experience the span of her daughter’s life at 7-year intervals.  The title story, about a girl being trained as an assassin in 9th century China, was a bit disappointing, feeling like a cross between the movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and the mathematical fantasy about life in different dimension, “Flatland”.       

My favorite story in the collection covers the life of a powerful, successful woman who became a hermit.  Asa at 400 years in the future has given up her position managing the massive enterprise of terraforming Mars and an Earth now seriously degraded by pollution and rising seas from global warming.   She disperses her wealth and leaves behind her large family of husbands and wives to travel Earth in a floating habitat, taking up long periods of residence amid the floating cities of stateless refugees above the sunken islands of Singapore and Malaysia.  We get a samples of her lyrical, philosophical journal that she devotes her time writing in old-fashioned script.  A journalist joins her on the habitat in the waters above the former Massachusetts to cover her story and viewpoint, which harks back to Naturalism and the writings of Thoreau and Dickinson.  I loved the coverage of life on the translucent habitat, which can travel as a submersible in the case of storms.  Having lived in the Boston area for 11 years, I especially appreciated the tour of the underwater city, now amid a reef of colorful coral, which has recovered from near extinction and moved north.  It was cool that tourists are drawn to making dives to explore Harvard’s Widener Library.  They pick up an aristocratic tourist who got lost on the library dive, who looks forward to the recovery of Earth.  Asa imagines the wars of competition and greed over the re-emerged land and the death of new coral reef, proclaiming:

"Who are we to warm a planet for a dream and to cool it for nostalgia?"

The journalist concludes:
"We do not know who we are.  But we dare not stop striving to find out."

In sum, Egan and Chiang wow me more in their coverage of similar themes, but the human element in these tales makes Liu’s stories a bit more engaging in the emotional sphere.
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Short story collections are a favorite of mine, particularly in science fiction and fantasy, and I have read and enjoyed previous works from Ken Liu. I was not surprised then to also enjoy this collection. I wasn't aware that so many of these would take place in the same universe, and I wasn't keen on how they were separated and ordered in the book, but that's a small quibble with a strong collection.
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I made it soo far into this, but unfortunately had to put it down. I found some of the stories really compelling but found they didn't outweigh the ones I didn't enjoy. At around the halfway mark, this morphed into a lot of interconnected stories that I was kind of struggling with, so it seemed best not to finish.

The stories I read, and the ratings I gave them:

Ghost Days, 2 stars
Maxwell's Demon, 3.5 stars
The Reborn, 4 stars
Thoughts and Prayers, 4 stars
Byzantine Empathy, 4.5 stars
The Gods Will Not Be Chained, 2 stars
Staying Behind, 2.5 stars
Real Artists, 3 stars
The Gods Will Not Be Slain, 2 stars
Altogether Elsewhere, Vast Herds of Reindeer, 2 stars

Average: 2.95 stars

I think there are a lot of people who will really like these! They just weren't for me. So if this seems like something that's up your alley, I definitely recommend giving it a shot.
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Reviewed by my coblogger, Petrik, on Novel Notions:

I’ve been waiting for The Dandelion Dynasty to be completed for years now so I can binge read the epic fantasy series. During my waiting time, I have read The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories and also some books Liu has translated: The Three-Body Problem and Death’s End by Cixin Liu. I loved them all; The Paper Menagerie, in particular, is one of the two best short stories I’ve ever read so far. The Hidden Girl and Other Stories is the second collection of short stories published by Ken Liu, and as expected, it’s another wonderful collection of stories. I think of this as something wondrous because I’m not even a fan of short stories; I avoid this format more than I avoid novellas. However, this is Ken Liu, and this collection goes to show how good he is at writing short stories. Just try reading the beautifully written two-page long preface; I highly doubt you’ll be able to resist reading this collection after reading this.

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories is a clever and thought-provoking collection of short stories by Ken Liu. Diving deep into the possible benefits and destruction caused by technological advancement and digital immortality, Liu conveyed the meaning of life, tragedy, ambition, and so much more in his SFF/contemporary settings. I do think that the personality of the stories listed here lean more towards sci-fi than fantasy, and there’s a good chance that if you love watching The Black Mirror as I did, you’re going to love this one as well. So which Ken Liu’s books I’ll be reading next? Fingers crossed it will be The Dandelion Dynasty series. I already own the first two books in The Dandelion Dynasty for a while now, once there’s an official release date—which I hope will be soon—for The Veiled Throne, I will plan my reading accordingly.
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I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of short stories. Fascinating, eerie, I loved how they all fit together. I have enjoyed reading his translations, his original work is well worth a read. A must read for science fiction lovers.
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Really loved the writing style and the pacing of each short story. Found myself completely captivated in Most of the stories.
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Ken Liu always writes incredible short stories and this collection is no different.  You'll laugh, cry, and roll your eyes.  A perfectly blended book of stories.
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For those readers with a love for speculative fiction stories, this collection may not be entirely what you expected...and thank goodness for that! 
Ken Liu begins this collection with a brief introduction on the relationship between reader and author, and ultimately creating a space for us to call home; perhaps even himself.

Each story can in one form or another be seen alternately as cautionary tales, where from longing comes progress with a price.
My personal favorite was “Staying Behind”, where the narrator introduces us to a time in the future where technology has advanced to the point where a human’s given the choice of abandoning their corporeal form in exchange for being Uploaded into a machine. 
That there is a divide between those who support this new kind of afterlife, and those who deny it is to be expected, with the narrator’s ill mother representing the latter group. 
Time jumps forward thru generations, and as we see the narrator fighting against “the dead,” he calls those who “Upload” themselves, he’s faced with fighting to hold onto his humanity through the preservation of his children’s. 

Another favorite, “Thoughts and Prayers” is a story with sub chapters written in the perspective of each member of the Fort family as if they’re being interviewed post historic event. 
The sudden death of a young college student in a public shooting, paired with a new memory-capturing device, leads to a worldwide trolling of the dead (err digital representations made from images and memories, data). 

When I finished reading this collection, I came back to the very beginning, skimming the contents pages, matching titles with content. I did so because these stories are more than a collection of stories that any fan of “Black Mirror” would likely enjoy. There is so much sorrow and longing that comes in a a variety of forms on these pages, that it was overwhelming to absorb all at once in the first read through. 

When I wrote that these were like cautionary tales - I mean that there will be themes we all aspire to - healthy families who want the best for one another, yet can never get enough. High achievers who strive to succeed, only to be disappointed by what they find at the top.
Ideas and people so many can relate to, placed in a future reality that is full of possibilities, and consequences. Liu wants us to get comfortable in them, which is why I read each story twice - I enjoyed the feeling of being in the stories too much to leave them behind so quickly.

A wonderful collection - my first time reading Ken Liu’s work! 

Thank you to NetGalley and Saga Press for the review copy!
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I was hesitant at first to try this book because it is a collection of short stories, set in the fantasy/science fiction genre and inspired by a culture different from my own. Was I surprised when I found the writing to be terrific and the stories captivating. Some were entertaining and others were inspiring. I think my favorites were The Hidden Girl, The Message and Thoughts and Prayers. Each brought something unique to the collection but with a unifying theme that brought the collection together for the reader. I have found that some of my all time favorite authors and works incorporate an Asian background with a magical realism or fantasy genre.
Well done and thank you for the early copy for review.
#Netgalley #TheHiddenGirlandOtherStories #SagaPress
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While I am a picky science fiction fan, I find that I have never found a science fiction short story that I do not love.  The brevity of the story means I can read the whole story in a typical reading session so can follow the ebb and flow of the story while maintaining the focus needed to "get" what the author is trying to tell me.  Ken Liu has taken thoughts that come in a moment and turned them into a pattern of thoughts that reveal the triggers and the results of following them to solution.  His stories will provoke different responses in every reader but then that's what a truly good book is supposed to do.
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“Stories enact the values we care about as human beings,” said Ken Liu, the Nebula, Hugo and World Fantasy Award-winning author. Most people can’t process concepts like generosity, honesty, and patriotism in an abstract way, he said, so we embed those values in the heroic figures of our culture, an example being George Washington and the cherry tree as an embodiment of integrity.

The reason Liu wanted to become a writer was so he could craft stories that turn values upside down and inside out to gain new perspectives. His most recent short story collection “The Hidden Girl and Other Stories” (out Feb. 25 from Saga Press) explores ideas such as the intersection of tradition and progress, the fallibility of memory and the essence of what it means to be human.

“Life is fundamentally random, and that’s hard to accept,” said Liu, who attributes the most important decisions of his life to chance. Because he was bored by a sequencing game, he taught himself to write code to solve the puzzles faster and ended up becoming a computer programmer. Because he worked in the tech industry, he met the woman he would marry. Because he was an engineer and a lawyer in addition to being a writer, the content of his books is inevitably different than if he hadn’t also pursued those career paths. Liu said humans tend to “retroactively attribute causes and effects and create narratives for our own lives” to make sense of the randomness.

Tech, law and publishing might seem like three unrelated careers, but Liu said all three jobs required symbolic systems to construct “machines” that achieved specific results. As a computer programmer, it was a literal virtual machine; as a lawyer, he drafted contracts and briefs to create winning scenarios for his clients; and as fiction writer, he constructs narratives that take readers on an emotional journey. Readers follow rules of interpretation and storytelling conventions built up over millennia.

Tribes, cities, states and nations define themselves by “creating self, crafting meaning, making stories, and we call them ‘epics.’ They establish how they’re different from everybody else.” Liu said these foundational mythologies are a living form that reshape every generation. “Hamilton” is an apt example of scrutinizing American mythology. What is the American story and whose voices get included in the epic journey? Who has been excluded? “We speak about [traditions] as if it’s always been this way, but that’s not true. Real living tradition represents progress,” Liu said.

This argument of tradition vs. progress is illustrated in his story “Staying Behind.” The protagonist shares a memory of an indigenous woman crafting a clay pot using the same techniques passed down for generations. The protagonist’s mom believes it’s important to keep tradition alive, and his dad argues that the artist is a fossilized performer for the entertainment of tourists. This argument is magnified when humanity starts uploading their brains to the digital cloud: his mom wants her life and death to be “real,” and his dad thinks the singularity is the next logical step of human evolution. Liu doesn’t try to offer concrete answers of what’s right or wrong, he merely offers different frameworks to think about each side.

The singularity theory exists outside of science fiction: some people believe it’s possible for humans to transfer our consciousness from the neurons in our flesh bodies to silicon processors in a computer. By doing so, our existence wouldn’t be constrained by illness, aging or even our three-dimensional plane. Consequently, we would drain fewer resources from nature by ceasing our consumption. Liu argues in favor and against the singularity in his novelette, published as a series of interconnected short stories with titles that start with “The Gods.”

But Liu thought the idea that the mind is superior to, and separable from the body is a limited understanding of our consciousness. “Our bodies regulate our mood. We feel, sense and think with our entire bodies,” he said. The more engineers create robots and artificial intelligence, the more they realize so much of what humans do is because of our embodied consciousness.

A tragic example of embodied consciousness at odds with technology is the story “Thoughts and Prayers,” where one character believes strongly in taking photographs to better preserve her memories. She says, “Our brains are so flawed, leaky sieves of time. Without pictures, so many things we want to remember would be forgotten.” But when her daughter dies in an active shooter tragedy, the pictures of her daughter she clings to so desperately are transfigured by internet trolls into something dark and twisted that overpower the “real” memories of her daughter.

Liu’s works are often labeled as science fiction or fantasy, but he does not write with genre labels in mind. His preferred writing prompt is to literalize a metaphor, and if that categorizes it as speculative fiction, so be it. “The less I cared how the stories were received, the more commercially viable they became,” Liu said. “I was extremely lucky that the stories I wanted to tell were stories people wanted to read.”

His story “The Paper Menagerie” won the Nebula Award, Hugo Award and World Fantasy Award, the first work to ever win all three. Now he has written over 100 short stories. His first attempt at writing a full-length novel turned into the epic “Dandelion Dynasty” trilogy. (An excerpt from the next in the series is included in “The Hidden Girl” collection.)

“The Reborn” short story, also part of the new collection, is an example of Liu trying to literalize something spoken about metaphorically. In this case: the idea of separating the art from the artist. In the story, the Tawnin alien species offer humans who have committed crimes the chance to be “reborn” by removing the “bad” part from their brains and erasing memories of their actions. Liu raises the question, “Are you what you do, or are you what you remember?” He also extends that metaphor to the societal level. The Tawnin slaughtered countless humans in their conquest of Earth, but they do not feel remorse because they shed their bloodthirsty personalities as if it were someone else who committed those atrocities. The Tawnin are another nation constructing their own mythology by scrubbing their war crimes from history.

Liu has a deep appreciation for the living layers of history and tradition. “Modern day is deeply connected with paths layered on top of older infrastructures.” For example, internet cables run along the same lines as old railroads, which in turn were laid along former wagon trails. He explores the idea of layers literally and figuratively across the collection, and sometimes both ways at once.

In the short story “The Hidden Girl,” the protagonist Yinniang adopts Buddhist thinking when she transcends to a new plane and sees “a million billion layers to everything at once, like an ant who has always seen a line before him suddenly lifted off the page to realize the perfection of a circle.” The theme of layers also appears in “The Gods” novelette when the protagonist’s mom talks about layers of technology, and the final story of the collection, “Cutting,” where monks cut away layers of a sacred book to reveal the true story behind their faith.

“Layers allow you to appreciate so much more,” Liu said. “The wisdom of our forbearers who did things differently are holding us up as we move forward… It’s beautiful to think of what humans have accomplished, despite all the terrible things we have done to each other. Fundamentally, the direction seems to be pretty good.”
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