Book Reviews

Genre-bending storytelling in Ken Liu’s The Hidden Girl and Other Stories

I’ve always been a big fan of books that do not conform to any one genre. Their stories are always unique and as a writer, I can see how much flexibility and room the style can offer. Having already read and loved Ken Liu’s Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, it was a given I’d jump at the opportunity to also read his new book (which releases tomorrow!). But more so than that, it was the tag “genre-bending” in the publicist’s email that caught my eye.

Disclaimer: I was supposed to receive a copy of this book in the mail but I suspect my downstairs neighbour also conveniently named Shruti has stolen my package it hasn’t arrived yet.

Coming back to genre-bending stories…

The subversive storytelling in genre-bending books push boundaries. Such books defy being classified and it’s the unique spillage from the set boundaries of a specific genre that makes me love them even more.

Says Ken Liu in the preface to this novel:

A good story cannot function like a legal brief, which attempts to persuade and lead the reader down a narrow path suspended above the abyss of unreason. Rather, it must be more like an empty house, an open garden, a deserted beach by the ocean. The reader moves in with their own burdensome baggage and long-cherished possessions, seeds of doubt and shears of understanding, maps of human nature and baskets of sustaining faith. The reader then inhabits the story, explores its nooks and crannies, rearranges the furniture to suit their taste, covers the walls with sketches of their inner life, and thereby makes the story their home.

The Hidden Girl… is primarily science fiction/fantasy but with a healthy dose of spillage from other genres too. There’s silkpunk, but there’s also old Chinese folklore and poetic short stories about retaining identity in a chaotic, dystopian world.

I’m only a few stories into the book but I’m already amazed by the connections drawn within the few short pages of each individual story. In Ghost Days, Liu deftly connects a genetically altered girl who prefers her alien side over her human roots with 20th century Chinese men who prefer Western culture over their own cultural roots despite the xenophobic nature of the former.

In Thoughts and Prayers, he shows how artificial intelligence can possibly take the place of human memories, but goes on to prove how vulnerable such a replacement is made to attacks by virtual trolls.

And then there’s Reborn, where humans who have committed crimes are given the chance to delete these from their memories–in essence, being “reborn”. I really liked this little story because of one question it asks: “Is it your actions that make you who you are as a person or your memories?”. Reborn also has an alien species in it deleting their entire history of war crimes and rebranding as a peaceful species because “it’s all gone now”. After all, you can’t own up to what you can’t remember.

In all, I’m really loving these stories so far and can’t wait to finish them once the physical copy finally arrives! (or Downstairs-Shruti owns up to stealing my package, really).

Goodreads synopsis:

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories

From award-winning author Ken Liu comes his much anticipated second volume of short stories.

Ken Liu is one of the most lauded short story writers of our time. This collection includes a selection of his science fiction and fantasy stories from the last five years — sixteen of his best — plus a new novelette.

In addition to these seventeen selections, The Hidden Girl and Other Stories also features an excerpt from book three in the Dandelion Dynasty series, The Veiled Throne.

Follow along with the rest of the tour:

~ Shruti

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