The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories is a wonderful collection of short stories written by American author Ken Liu. Each story explores unique ideas about human nature, culture, and our place in an ever-changing world. Although there are many science-fiction elements, they are rarely the focus. This is definitely a collection worth reading if you want your mind blown.
Here is a list of my five favourite stories from Ken Liu’s The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories.
1. The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary
In The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary, two scientists invent a technology that allows people to observe the past. When they use it to observe war crimes committed during World War II by the Japanese military in China, they are met with social backlash and escalating political conflict. This story, written as the transcription of a fictional documentary, pieces together the lives of these scientists and the impact they have on the world.
This is the last entry in The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, but it is an excellent example of the detail and research that Ken Liu puts into his stories. Don’t expect a lengthy explanation of the science behind the technology. If you are interested in how history shapes our future, and how the world shapes individuals, this will give you plenty to think about.
P.S. The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary is available online to read, for free, on Ken Liu’s website: http://kenliu.name/binary/liu_the_man_who_ended_history.pdf
2. The Regular
The Regular is a murder-mystery tale with a slight science-fiction flavour. Told from the perspective of a private detective, this story explores human nature amidst advancing technology. It shows how people use technology to take charge of their own lives, while at the same time shows the problems and struggles that people face as a consequence. Set in a future that feels all-too-real, The Regular raises important questions about our own future, and it’s also lots of fun to read.
In Simulacrum, a man invents a technology that captures the state of a human mind, enabling computers to create a living hologram of the person for a brief period of time – like a snapshot of a life. In public, his invention is praised. In private, his family is torn apart. Simulacrum reveals how people perceive and judge each other based on single moments. This is one of the shortest stories in this collection, but it is extraordinarily potent for such a short read.
4. All the Flavors
All the Flavors tells of Idaho in the 1860s, when a wave of Chinese immigrants arrived in America. Despite being set almost 150 years before being written, All the Flavors is relevant in the present day. Relationships between migrants and locals is a timeless issue, and one which this story handles well. The legacy of immigrants in America (and in any country with a lasting migrant population) remains to this day.
This is the only entry on this list that isn’t science-fiction, so if you’re interested in a story based on historical events, this is the one for you.
5. The Perfect Match
In The Perfect Match, the everyday lives of all people are managed and optimised by an artificial intelligence, using social media data that knows everything from tastes in music and good to habits in socialising and spending. Through the eyes of those who are unwilling to relinquish control of their happiness, The Perfect Match explores whether or not this world is any better than our own.