The Paper Menagerie and Other Short Stories
By: Ken Liu
Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book to review. As is my policy with books that I receive for review, if I don’t like it, I don’t review it.
The Paper Menagerie is only the second release by Ken Liu. His first, The Grace of Kings was a novel that I read and reviewed previously. In my review of Grace, I mentioned that if I had only given the novel 100 pages, I would have surely set it down and never returned. I felt that the book just took way too long to really get into the meat of the story. However, I did continue on past the first 100 pages, and eventually found that the book was a very pleasant surprise.
One of the differences between a novel length work, such as Grace, and a short story is that you don’t get 100 pages to set the story for the reader. In a short story, the story must immediately jump right up and grab the reader and then drag them on into the story. In the short story medium, Liu clearly has a bit more experience and really shines.
I initially read the title story, The Paper Menagerie, as a teaser, before having the book sent my way. There’s a reason that it’s been chosen as the title story. It’s incredibly powerful. The loss of culture and connection to history is one of Liu’s favorite themes, and it stands out poignantly in the title story. Liu closes the collection out with another story that deeply explores that theme, The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary. It’s an interesting story that is written to read like the transcripts of a documentary movie.
While I found a couple of stories to be somewhat abstract and that really just seemed like character or idea studies rather than fully fleshed out stories, the majority of the stories in this collection are highly readable. There are also a few stars of the show. The Paper Menagerie, The Literomancer, Good Hunting, and A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel stood out as the better stories in the collection. At least they were my favorites.
As I mentioned in my review of Grace, Liu has a masterful grasp of language and how to warp and weave it into an excellent story. The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories is an excellent sampling of that mastery and really should be on readings lists for literature classes at colleges around the country. You can pick it up at Amazon.