View Full Version : Ken Liu's The Paper Menagerie

03-31-2016, 09:39 PM
I recently have been reading Ken Liuís collection of short stories The Paper Menagerie. As Iím sure many of you are aware the critical reviews have been nothing short of coronations. The story itself won the Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Awards.

I wanted to talk about the story, The Paper Menagerie, specifically. I thought it was well conceived, very well written, short and sad. I didnít personally find it to be earth-shaking, or amazing.

So, help me out - what am I missing? Am I just tone deaf to this story?

If anyone would like to read it, it is freely available here: http://io9.gizmodo.com/5958919/read-ken-lius-amazing-story-that-swept-the-hugo-nebula-and-world-fantasy-awards

03-31-2016, 11:49 PM
I agree, and am also disturbed/amused there's another Kevin from Orange County on this sight.

Yeah, I agree, nothing special but still good, fave stories were Mono No Aware and the one about the books aliens read. Very good Borges/Lem-style story there, and I'd read a whole novel about that.

Grace of Kings was, despite annoyances, amazing though.

EDIT- Excuse me, I didn't talk about the story itself. Never finished reading it, actually, the paper folding thing just didn't amaze me and, I dunno, maybe reading about the real world just bores me sometimes. If you want to talk about the Chinese identity angle, well, I can't say much for that except it's an element I appreciate in all his fiction and I think it informs his work with a sense of wistfulness and a questioning of identity. So, I'm totally with you on this, didn't love the story itself but it occurs to me Ken is an awesome guy and anything to keep him writing fat fantasy epics I'm down with!

04-02-2016, 03:34 AM
I thought it was a beautiful short story. I read it quickly, at work, from the link provided above, and I still felt a little tingling in my eye at the end, when I was reading through the note his mother had left him with the paper cut-outs in the attic.

I think it deserved to at least be shortlisted for one of the major prizes, and maybe win depending on the field. These kind of immigrant / cross-cultural stories always do very well in the eyes of the judges at major literary awards, so it already had a bit of a leg up on the competition.

I think it was interesting he didn't translate the pinyin. Were any readers lost when the Chinese crept in? Or was it obvious what he was writing? Like the narrator I can read pinyin (though not hanzi) and I was wondering if that jarred anyone or just made it seem more exotic and magical.

For me, his Grace of Kings didn't work as an epic fantasy and I gave up about 2/3 the way through. But this short story re-affirms for me that he really is amazingly talented. I'll have to pick up the collection. Oh, and he's a great translator - I loved his work on Liu's Three Body Problem.

04-03-2016, 07:25 AM
I don't read many short stories, but I read this one because I loved Grace of Kings. I thought it was great and that's the only judgment I have. Any story that sweeps all three awards is going to be opened up to greater scrutiny, and no, it probably won't strike most people as being a story worthy of all three. But the judges didn't get together and decide "Yup, this story is so amazing it has to win everything," they just separately determined it was the most worthy of the contenders in front of them.

04-03-2016, 10:59 AM
May I ask what was so appealing about Grace of Kings? I'm curious - I really couldn't find much there, personally.

04-03-2016, 10:04 PM
In my case, I love Chinese history and it was basically the Chu-Han Contention with the names changed, so that made it very thrilling for me. :) Pretty much the only thing of its kind in English-language literature. Also most of what I read is YA, and it was very much not YA (though I'd love to see a YA book go in that direction), so kind of a breath of fresh air... loads of characters, shameless info-dumping, digressions and biographies... I just loved it. Maybe I should read more adult epic fantasy, lol. But again, it was really the Chinese history/literature angle that sold it for me.

04-04-2016, 04:37 AM
Good reasons. Yes, I also found the Chinese history angle interesting (I live in Shanghai and share your interest) The massive amounts of info-dumping actually detracted from the story for me (and I also love info-dumps), and the style it was written in kept me very removed from the characters. It was like reading a history book a lot of the time - if I wanted to read Chinese history I'd re-read God's Chinese Son since the Taiping rebellion is like a real-life epic fantasy.

Give Guy Gavriel Kay's Under Heaven a try. It's a fictionalized retelling of the An Lushan rebellion (the revolt that essentially gutted the Tang Dynasty), but the characters and writing really pops.

04-04-2016, 06:11 AM
Let's all remember that the SFF room is for discussing the *writing* of SFF, not book reviews. If you want to discuss books you're reading, there's the "What We're Reading" thread. (If you want to deconstruct from a writing perspective why a book worked/didn't work for you, remember to keep it respectful.)

04-08-2016, 04:12 AM
I did notice with this collection, there were some very emotional reviews. I felt a bit awkward, given mine wasn't (and it probably contributed to why that's one of my less popular reviews, as it faded into the background compared to the others). But I think it's more a reviewer writing style thing than anything else. An author who has won lots of awards will be widely reviewed, so there's a higher chance of getting a bunch of "Best thing ever!" reviews. Some reviewers just tend to go that way with their style.

The whole point of writing a review is it's about personal reactions. It's not a consensus situation, so you don't have to love something as much as other reviewers. It doesn't mean anything's wrong with you. Only that you have different tastes.

If you're more looking at it from how to write a story that wins all the awards, I don't think it's that easy to deconstruct. You can never really know what story will take the interest of judges/voters in a year, or what the competition will be like. Stories that make people cry do seem to do better, but that's a reflection of the market as a whole. Sad short stories tend to sell better than happy ones, so there will be more sad ones eligible for the awards. Also, awards don't tend to go to things that are too experimental. A fairly easy to follow narrative in a style that isn't too different is much more likely to make it. People have to understand it to vote for it.

As far as Ken Liu is concerned, one thing in his favour is that he wrote and sold a lot of stories. You can't predict the awards, but you have more chance of hitting it right if you've published ten stories over one story. This also contributes to building up enough of a fanbase to get a lot of reviews, because people start to remember names of authors who're being published regularly. It's a lot harder to get anywhere with a single popular story, as it (and the author) will soon be forgotten. I know one of my biggest issues is I can't write fast enough to get this sort of momentum. But if you can, go for it. You don't have to win an award for it to be helpful for your career.

04-14-2016, 03:01 PM
I loved the story, it made me cry, which is no easy feat, and I think it deserved all the praise.

Why? Well, I think because it is very uncommon to find such fiercely personal stories in the SF&F world. Even with stories that are heartfelt or emotional, like, for example, Ted Chiang's Story of your Life, there tends to be a detached aspect when it comes to the science/speculative part of it, whereas the Paper Menagerie was pure, raw emotion.

Of course, the downside to this sort of stories is that, if you don't feel, you don't feel it, and there's not much else in them.