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Sunday, December 25, 2022

Book Review: The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

BOOK review
Started on: 4 November 2022
Finished on: 25 November 2022
Title: The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories
Author: Ken Liu
Publisher: Saga Press
Pages: 464 pages / 464 pages (e-book)
Year of Publication: 2016
Price: Rp 321,000 (

Rating: 3/5
"In the face of the inevitable, the only choice is to adapt."
Ken Liu, the author of an epic fantasy series, The Dandelion Dynasty, shares his finest short fiction in The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. This mesmerizing collection consists of 15 stories that have won him many awards, including Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards. These stories have various genres, such as sci-fi, fantasy, and even historical fiction. Even though each story is unique, some have common recurring themes that involve differences between eastern and western cultures, racial prejudice, and the impact of advanced technology on human lives. This collection of short stories displays Ken Liu's beautiful writing style that's both thought-provoking and can tug at the reader's heartstrings.

"People shape and stage the experiences of their lives for the camera, go on vacations with one eye glued to the video camera. The desire to freeze reality is about avoiding reality."
I rarely read a short story collection, but I was intrigued by this book because of all the positive reviews that I've been seeing on Goodreads and various book recommendation videos. As you can probably tell from my rating, I didn't end up loving this book as much as other people did. I think the best way to enjoy a short story is set aside some time to read through the whole story from start to finish without putting it down. Unfortunately, I was unable to do so because I was busy with many things and only managed to read a few pages at a time. Whenever I resume reading, I either don't remember what story I'm currently reading or wasn't immersed enough in the world that the author has built. Despite the disadvantageous situation that I was in, I still discovered some stories that have left a lasting impression because of how thought-provoking and emotionally moving it was. In this review, I will focus on sharing my favorite stories from this collection instead of the ones that went completely over my head 😆.
"You know what the Chinese think is the saddest feeling in the world? It's for a child to finally grow the desire to take care of his parents, only to realize that they were long gone."
The first one is a story titled The Perfect Match, which imagines a world where a personal AI assistant monitors and control every aspect of human lives, 'suggesting' what is deemed best for us according to its analysis of our preferences and personality. I find this story especially intriguing because I feel like this can possibly become our future. I can see the convenience of having a personal AI assistant that helps us make decisions, but at the same time human seems to have lost their free will because of it. The second one that I'd like to mention is probably my favorite out of all, which is The Regular. It's a thrilling story about a serial murder case that was investigated by a detective who uses Regulators—a mandatory tool for police that helps them work under pressure, be less dependent on hunches, and control their emotional impulses. What I love the most about this story is the main character's depth which allows us to relate to and understand her dependency on the Regulator due to past mistakes and regret. It was gripping right from the start and was emotionally impactful as well.

The Paper Menagerie is the most popular story among the rest and seems to be everyone's favorite as well. It tells a story about the son of an American man who got married to a Chinese woman who barely speaks English. As a young boy, Jack loves playing with origami animals that his mother makes for him which come to life when she breathes into them. However, Jack grew distant from his mother as he got older despite his mother's effort to do what he wishes. After his mother's passing, Jack discovered a message from his mother in one of the origami animals which led him to learn about her heartbreaking past. This story is so heart-wrenching; I can sympathize with Jack's regret for succumbing to the social pressure and prejudice towards his Chinese heritage. It was simple yet poignant at the same time 🥲.
"We're all just ordinary men—well, I'm an ordinary demon—faced with extraordinary choices. In those moments, sometimes heroic ideals demand that we become their avatars."
"It's easy to be civilized and display a patina of orderliness in calm times, but your true character only emerges in darkness and under great pressure: is it a diamond or merely a lump of the blackest coal?"
Another one that was memorable to me was The Litigation Master and the Monkey King, which tells the story of Tian Haoli, who has clever ways to help illiterate people win against corrupt legal courts. After discovering the truth that was widely known as a myth, Tian is determined to help a widow whose brother has a banned book in his possession that he's trying to save. This story started lightheartedly but ended in a brutal and gruesome way. I absolutely love Tian's character for his conviction and tenacity that enabled him to persevere in the face of suffering or even death. The last story that I will be mentioning in this review is The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary. It sets in a world where a scientist couple figures out a way to send people back in time to view the past. The husband then became obsessed with revealing the truth about Unit 731—a covert biological and chemical warfare research and development unit of the Japanese army that involved a massacre that killed hundreds of thousands of people. The revelation at the end made my jaw drop and I was even more shocked when I found out that Unit 731 is real—not just a fictional story. I closed this book in complete disbelief thinking how people could do something so inhuman to another human being 😱.

Overall, this short story collection was a pretty good introduction to Ken Liu's writing. Even though I failed to understand some of the stories that he wrote, the ones I mentioned in this review were impressive and beautifully written. Reading this book definitely made me want to read more of his works—especially the epic fantasy series, The Dandelion Dynasty, which a lot of people have been raving about. I'm just hoping that I will end up enjoying and loving it as much as everyone else did 😆.
"The truth is not delicate and it does not suffer from denial—the truth only dies when true stories are untold."
by.stefaniesugia♥ .

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