ARC Review: The Hidden Girl and Other Stories

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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.

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After really enjoying Ken Liu’s previous short story anthology a lot, there was no way I was letting this ARC go and I jumped at the opportunity to be able to review it. This is another collection of fascinating stories by the author, most of them sci-fi/dystopian but a couple of them are fantasy as well. There are also multiple stories which are interconnected but told in no particular order, so it was fun trying to find the connections between them.

One theme that I found very dominant in this collection is that of climate change, how we are at a precipice and have to do something substantial from right now if we want to save our planet; but also that as the situation gets worse, all the problems we currently have with wealth inequality and refugees and developed countries exploiting resources disproportionately will only get more exacerbated. This also means that many of the stories in this collection are tragic and depressing, so I would definitely recommend reading them when you are in the right mood and also maybe not binge read the whole thing at once. I would definitely recommend it though, because the concepts are very interesting and the writing for the most part is excellent.

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Ghost Days

Spanning multiple planets and timelines, this was a nice story about memories and heritage, and how we all carry the legacy of our previous generations within us and why it’s important to preserve their knowledge.

⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

Maxwell’s Demon

Told through a POV of a Japanese American young woman who is sent to Japan as a spy during WWII, this one has a bit of supernatural elements but mostly it’s about the futility of war and how it twists everyone’s morality.

⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

The Reborn

I really don’t think I have much to say about this story. It was interesting to read and a bit tragic too, but don’t think I can explain it.

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Thoughts and Prayers

CW: mass shooting, online trolling and harassment

As soon as I saw the title of this story, I could guess what it’s about. It’s about the effects of grief on family members of victims, how each person tries to cope in their own ways and how that might drive them apart. There is also some interesting discussion on activism, politicizing grief and the incessant trolling that comes along with it – I’m still not sure if I agree with all the points made but it’s a lot to think about.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Byzantine Empathy

Against a backdrop of a technologically advanced (but current) world with heavy emphasis on VR and cryptocurrencies, this story is all about empathy vs rationality, how do we decide who needs help, and how even being immersed in the pain of others might invoke cynicism in people instead of empathy because we have lost our trust in geopolitics. I can’t really explain the elaborate discussions that happen in this story but it’s very thought provoking and I think everyone should give it a read.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Gods Will Not Be Chained

With the concept of digital immortality, this story tries to explore what would happen if corporations tried to digitize the brains of their dead genius employees for profit and these highly technological brains decided to takeover. A very terrifying tale but definitely thought provoking.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Staying Behind

This is almost like a continuation of the previous one, but years later when the technically dead/digitally conscious have taken over (an event called Singularity) and the rest of the living world is just scraping for survival. This was way too depressing and scary to read.

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Real Artists

Another tale of high technological advancement, this time in the making of movies. I really don’t want to spoil this one at all because I thought the concept was amazing, thought provoking and almost felt like it’s a possible future for us and wouldn’t that be too sad.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Gods Will Not Be Slain

This is a direct continuation of the story “The gods will not be chained” and it’s such a scary and plausible story, what can happen if digital sentiences decide that they want to burn down humanity and plunge it into war, how fragile geopolitics is and how everyone is literally on the brink of war while sitting on a mass pile of nuclear weapons. Really brings some of what’s happening in our current world into perspective.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Altogether Elsewhere, Vast Herds of Reindeer

Years after Singularity where only digital beings seem to be existent on our planet, this is the story of how relationships develop even among them, and also how different a three dimensional earth might seem like to a digital being who has never been a human before. Fascinating story.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Gods Have Not Died in Vain

This story, a sequel of “The gods will not be slain” is more about how the idea of singularity came to be, how the incessant wars and scarcity of resources may have led people to decide that giving up the body to live digitally might be the only way to survive. There are a lot of interesting points made in the story that leave us with more questions about life.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

Memories of My Mother

This was a very very short story about a mother’s love for her child and to what lengths she will go to get the little time to spend with her daughter. It could have been more emotional but I wasn’t feeling it.

⭐️⭐️.5

Dispatches from the Cradle: The Hermit—Forty-Eight Hours in the Sea of Massachusetts

In a world centuries after climate change has destroyed most of it, where successful countries have managed to migrate to other planets but the poorer people try to survive in ever harsh environments on the ravaged earth – this story is almost like a scary mirror of what our future might be if we don’t start taking decisive action from now on.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Grey Rabbit, Crimson Mare, Coal Leopard

Set in a dystopian fantasy world, this was a tale about how power and greed corrupts, leading to the protectors becoming predators themselves – which in turn means that those who are poor or considered prey must rise up in arms and protect themselves. This was a fascinating read and one that I felt could make a bigger story.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

A Chase Beyond the Storms – An excerpt from The Veiled Throne, The Dandelion Dynasty, book three

Not reviewing this excerpt because I haven’t read this series yet.

The Hidden Girl

Set in a fantasy world inspired by 8th century China, this is a story of a young female assassin who’s been trained to kill but starts questioning if her loyalty to her Teacher must supersede her own morality. A lovely read but what made it special were the action sequences which reminded me a lot of the movie Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Seven Birthdays

Another story interconnected to the previous ones related to Singularity, this is about one woman’s mission to find a solution to humanity’s problems, but ultimately just be able to spend more time with her mother. I can’t say I understood much of the story in the second half.

⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Message

A story about legacy, how even dead civilizations leave messages for anyone who might come eons later; also a tale of a father finally getting to know his daughter – this story was beautiful and emotional but also tragic.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Cutting

I’m not sure I can explain exactly what this story was about – but it was something about looking through the unnecessary stuff and finding the truth underneath.

⭐️⭐️.5

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PS: Thank you to Saga Press and Netgalley for providing me with this advance copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.

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