Incredibly, Ken Liu has written over 100 stories, and somehow found the time to debut his own silkpunk fantasy novel, The Grace Of Kings, and the English translation of the much-lauded The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu (the first translated novel to win a Hugo) in the last two years also.
The Paper Menagerie And Other Stories contains 15 stunning tales. Ranging from mythology retold into digestible fantasy (‘Good Hunting’) to cyberpunk crime thrillers (‘The Regular’) and courageous tales of humanity’s space exploration (‘Mono No Aware’), there is no end to Liu’s genius in working with a wealth of sci-fi subgenres and Chinese themes.
So it’s no surprise that the setting and timeline for each story differs vastly from the next too, such as the warring Three Kingdoms of Ancient China acting as a parallel to San Francisco in the 19th century (‘All The Flavours’). Liu’s imagery never ceases to impress; he combines interesting backdrops to accentuate a whole host of intricate reactions, making him a true master of emotion and authenticity.
It is also the context of the settings that makes them the real bastions of the collection. Liu thoughtfully tackles racism, history, identity and culture throughout. While his characters are brave in the face of adversity, their flaws and sacrifices better the immersion – they truly resonate with readers regardless of if they are Chinese gods or the leftover humans of a dystopian Earth.
And if the awards aren’t evidence enough, then The Paper Menagerie And Other Stories will cement Liu as a once-in-a-lifetime author. Certainly, his work is both stimulating and intoxicating and is the catalyst that sees contemporary Chinese fiction propelled to the forefront of sci-fi.