The Hidden Girl and Other Stories
Written by: Ken Liu
Reviewed by: Rob Leicht
Genre: Science-Fiction / Fantasy
Ken Liu is one of the premier and most prolific short story writers currently active in genre fiction. The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, his first collection, contains tremendous award winning short fiction. Unlike the stories in that collection, which lean toward fantasy and incorporate themes from Chinese mythology, history, culture, and society, the ones found in The Hidden Girl are predominantly pure science fiction. Artificial intelligence, consciousness, the singularity, and the future of humanity are at the core of the stories in this volume. While the majority of the stories contained within are not as emotionally powerful as those within its predecessor, they are nonetheless purposefully arranged to take the reader on a roller coaster ride. I am at times hopeful for the future of our species and at others terrified.
It is strange to call some of the stories in The Hidden Girl science-fiction. The future described could be just around the corner. True artificial intelligence is coming. It may exist already, caged on the server of a government or multinational corporation. This is what makes a lot of these stories so poignant. The problems described are ones that we, as a society, should be debating the solutions to right now. The standouts here are “Seven Birthdays” and a trio of connected stories starting with “The Gods Will Not Be Chained”. Possibly the best story in the whole collection, “Seven Birthdays” takes a very long term view of what humanity may look like once every person exists only as a digital consciousness and how the vision of what that should look like changes based on generational and cultural views and ideals.
Another standout, “Grey Rabbit, Crimson Mare, Coal Leopard”, is one of the few stories that is explicitly ‘not sci-fi’, and features a unique and interesting take on animal transmutation. One of the other ‘not sci-fi’ stories, “A Chase Beyond the Storms” (an excerpt from the third Dandelion Dynasty novel, The Veiled Throne), I admittedly did not read. The release date for the novel is not until next summer. I refuse to read an excerpt only to have to wait another 9 months to get my fix. While I do not think any of the entries in The Hidden Girl and Other Stories completely bombed, there were a couple that were notably weaker. For me they were the longer ones of the collection.
One thing is perfectly clear throughout, Ken Liu has a natural story telling ability, complete with interesting plots and compelling characters. I recommend this collection for everyone, but particularly those with an interest in artificial intelligence and digital consciousness.