I Found Several Gems Hidden in The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu

Ghost Days: ☆☆☆

What would be the most important thing to a dying civilization? Whether alien or not, we all want to think we won’t be erased completely by history. A group of humans are trying to colonize an inhospitable planet. Their solution: hold onto Earth’s memories and traditions and imbue them on a hybrid generation. But would the new generation value them as much as the humans do?
I liked how a rebellious hybrid teen came to realize the importance of being remembered. The opening reminded me of how the book, The Girl with All the Gifts, started. I loved that one too.

Maxwell’s Demon: ☆☆☆☆

The aftermath of the event that led to US participating in WWII serves as the backdrop of this story. An American woman of Okinawan descent — just one of the many living in internment camps — becomes the “No-No Girl” when she fails to answer a complicated question about her allegiance with a “yes” or “no”. She is forced to return to Japan and spy for her country. A heartbreaking story that couldn’t have ended in a positive way.
One of my favorites!

The Reborn: ☆☆

With an Altered Carbon flavor, this story describes a world where the aliens subjugating humans can literally become other “better” or reborn versions of themselves. But can humanity forgive what was done to them?
It isn’t that I didn’t like the story. I just found it too familiar, so it didn’t surprise me.

Thoughts and Prayers: ☆☆☆

A mass shooting claims the life of a young girl. The story follows what happens when her mother takes her grief online and public. Thus, it shows how the effects of trolling and cyber-bullying can seep into real life.
Well-written. At first, I thought the parts about the release of porn featuring the girl were unrealistic. But then the deepfake technology came to mind. We’ve just gotten it and there’s plenty of time to misuse or weaponize it!

Byzantine Empathy: ☆☆

A cryptocurrency based on empathy to help people in war-torn countries arrives on the scene. The trouble is its presence undercuts the role of charities with global reach. The story follows two friends with opposing POVs.
I loved the idea and wanted to steal it — relax, I didn’t. But what detracted me from fully enjoying it was the author’s diplomatic way of presenting both sides of the argument. I know, it isn’t easy to decide who’s right, especially where people’s lives are at stake. But I’d still leave the decision in the hands of those doing the dying!

The Gods Will Not Be Chained: ☆☆☆

This story is part of a series placed within this anthology. All of the stories in that series examine the state of the world after human intelligence is uploaded onto a digital interface. Each bit helps us see more of the big picture after that event.

In this one, a girl who’s being bullied begins chatting with someone who converses only in emojis.
I liked this one because of how the author describes the father-daughter relationship. Guessing the identity of the emoji-user was a minor turn-off, though.

Staying Behind: ☆☆

Another post-singularity breadcrumb like the story before this one. It takes us to the stage where, except for a few pockets of people, most of the world has agreed to escape death by uploading themselves.
Interesting to think that almost every religion is based on the ephemeral nature of life and eternity of death. If we can change that, what happens to the concept of doing good, so you’d end up in the good place? And will there even be a need for good or bad in a world that exists only digitally?
And, while this is still fiction, here’s another interesting book that follows the progress of transhumanism.

Real Artists: ☆☆☆

This one looks at what art could come to mean in the future. Should “real” art be something that sells or something that dares to challenge perceptions? The story follows an aspiring filmmaker disillusioned when she discovers that reality.
I liked this short because of how easily it can become a reality. After all, networks have been known to cancel amazing shows like Brooklyn 99 because of the small size of viewership. Makes no sense to me but it is what it is!

The Gods Will Not Be Slain: ☆☆

Maybe the series of shorts based in this world should have been grouped together in the anthology? Anyway, this one shows cyber-intelligence giants — or gods — fighting each other. Some of them are mad at how they were created and they’re taking it out on the world.
I liked the cute beginning that showed us more of that father-daughter time. But then things got dark. The cliffhanger didn’t make sense at all.

Altogether Elsewhere, Vast Herds of Reindeer: ☆☆

It was at this point that I tired of reading about the same thing from different angles. Something about however wonderful AI is, it can’t be as great as the real world.
While the title of the story doesn’t indicate that it is part of the singularity series, I took it to be so. My justification: humans being able to reproduce in silico were the themes common between this story and the one before it.

The Gods Have Not Died in Vain: ☆☆

The mini-series came to an end with this story even though we find similar themes underlying other stories in this anthology. A girl who lost her father when he was uploaded to a digital interface and chose to give his life to keep intelligences like himself from ruining the world. Her posthuman sibling born in silico who has experienced everything and yet nothing. This story asks whether such a divide would bring people together or not.
Like I said, I started to tire of this concept. So, the story didn’t seem as exciting to me as it could have.

Memories of My Mother: ☆☆☆

Imagine if patients with terminal diseases had the option to stay in stasis, just so they can watch their kids grow up or how their family members fare in the future. Would the relative in question resent their never-growing-old presence or feel blessed for these brief moments?
I loved the lyrical way in which this story was written. It was also heartbreaking to read about all this from the daughter’s POV who couldn’t decide if she loved her mother breezing in at different times in her life or hated it!

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

Earth floods over. Most people leave off to colonize other planets. Those who remain, adapt. A hermit visits those settlements all around the world and writes about her experiences.
A beautifully written story with breathtaking descriptions of such a post-apocalyptic world.
Since corals play an important role in this story and mine, I’d like to shamelessly plug in an alternate view here.
A sideline: the hermit continuously refers to them as settlements or colonies. The people of those “colonies” don’t like the description. Brings to mind all the displaced and refugees who cannot shake off similar descriptions even after several generations of theirs have called another country home.

Grey Rabbit, Crimson Mare, Coal Leopard: ☆☆☆☆

Another post-apocalyptic world. The survivors adapt by evolving another bestial form. If that form is big and strong — and if they can pay their way– they may join the ranks of nobles. The rest of them live on the fringes. We follow a trio of women who fall in the latter group.
I loved this one for several reasons. One, its plot deviated from all the AI and alien stuff. Two, it had the right quantity of scifi and UF. Three, the women didn’t choose to fight each other but came together to kick ass. Win-win!

A Chase Beyond the Storms: ☆☆

An excerpt from the third book in The Dandelion Dynasty Series. We meet a ship full of people who are trying to outrace their enemies and don’t have the resources to mount a direct full-scale attack.
It lacked the smooth flow that the short stories are told in — one big reason why I fell in love with them. But since I haven’t yet the series, I can’t say more.

The Hidden Girl: ☆☆☆☆

The titular short about an old woman who steals girls and trains them to become assassins. The said assassins can move between dimensions and do all sorts of cool ninja stuff. But the last girl balks at murdering a target who seems like an honorable man to her.
Very Raʾs al-Ghūl type of thinking from the old woman who has the girls kill just to add to the chaos of an already chaotic world — there’s the matter of money too, sure. But I loved the Kill Bill-esque descriptions and the poetic language.

Seven Birthdays: ☆☆

A mother who is often too busy, trying to save the world. A daughter who feels neglected as a child but understands her mother better when she grows up.
Found the story confusing to follow, especially the events at the end.

The Message: ☆☆☆

Ancient civilizations leave behind messages. A man tries to preserve them before all evidences of it are erased to make way for a new colony/civilization. His daughter — whom he finds out about too late — joins him on one of these trips. Together, they decipher a cryptic message unable to overcome their curiosity.
I liked it but found the ending depressing.

Cutting: ☆☆☆

A poem about a brotherhood of monks who cut parts out of a holy book to preserve it.
I liked how the cutting was both a religious ritual and yet potentially completely changed the message of a sacred text. After all, that is what many of us do: follow the teachings that are in our favor and ignore the ones that aren’t. We may not physically cut them out but that is what our selectivity is doing. However, I’d have loved the poem more if I knew which book it was from.

This is my first book from Netgalley and Ken Liu, and I’m so glad I requested it.

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