Monday, July 25, 2011

Fiction Rave: Ken Liu, a Menagerie

I usually try to recommend a single story on my Monday fiction raves, but this week you get a trifecta, all themed around the same author. I initially encountered Ken Liu's stories in F&SF with his story "Literomancer" (it's available free through Suvudu). But the story I planned to rave about is Ken Liu's "The Paper Menagerie", which I listened to on PodCastle. The reason I enjoyed both of these stories is similar. They create a fantastic sense of art, Chinese culture, and fit in one of the genres I enjoy, magical realism.

"The Paper Menagerie" is set in the United States, but melds cultures when the protagonist's father marries a Chinese woman who he sees in a mail order bride catalog. The story captures the clash of cultures and mixes into this a sense of wonder where she creates origami creatures that can live and breathe.

The story captures both the clash of cultures, but also is a great window into aspects of Chinese culture (similar to the Literomancer which has the daughter of a Westerner stationed in China as the protagonist). Menagerie captures life through origami and blends this into ancestor worship and more deeply the difficulties of growing up in children finding distance from their parents.

This is a sad story, and it doesn't spoil the story since they tell you that at the beginning of the podcast. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and recommend it.

As a bonus, as I was finding the links for this entry, I discovered that another one of the PodCastle episodes I'd recently heard was by Ken Liu. "State Change" doesn't touch on Chinese culture, but it has a deft touch with magical realism. People's souls in this world inhabit everyday objects, the protagonist has to nurse hers in an ice cube. I loved how the protagonist learns about life and taking risks.

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