The Hidden Girl and Other Stories Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
“I know this is going to sound hyperbolic, but when I’m reading Ken Liu’s stories, I feel like I’m reading a once-in-a-generation talent. I’m in awe.” (Jamie Ford, New York Times best-selling author)
“Extraordinary.” (The Washington Post)
“Brilliant.” (The Chicago Tribune)
With the release of The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, Ken Liu’s short fiction has resonated with a generation of listeners.
From stories about time-traveling assassins, to Black Mirror-esque tales of cryptocurrency and internet trolling, to heartbreaking narratives of parent-child relationships, The Hidden Girl and Other Stories is a far-reaching work that explores topical themes from the present and a visionary look at humanity’s future.
This collection includes a selection of Liu’s speculative-fiction stories over the past five years - 17 of his best - plus a new novelette. In addition, it also features an excerpt from The Veiled Throne, the third book in Liu’s epic fantasy series The Dandelion Dynasty.
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|Listening Length||14 hours and 51 minutes|
|Narrator||Ramón de Ocampo, Cindy Kay, Michael Kramer, Nancy Wu, Emily Woo Zeller|
|Whispersync for Voice||Ready|
|Audible.com Release Date||February 25, 2020|
|Publisher||Simon & Schuster Audio|
|Best Sellers Rank||
#8,349 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals)
#17 in Fantasy Anthologies & Short Stories (Audible Books & Originals)
#21 in Science Fiction Anthologies & Short Stories
#40 in Fiction Short Stories
Top reviews from the United States
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Reading these stories made me think of the TV show Love, Death + Robots. Not only does it share many of the same themes, it also shares the ability to really bum you the heck out. Even though I'm a fast reader, I couldn't really make it through more than three or four of these stories in a sitting, as they were almost all depressing and many of them had truly tragic or even wretched endings. Do not read this book if you are easily upset and are looking for something uplifting, as I left THE HIDDEN GIRL feeling pretty bummed and in need of a hug.
Depressing content aside, most of these stories are excellent. I'm definitely interested in reading more of Liu's work, and liked the focus that he put on having strong and intelligent women in these stories, many of them being of Asian (and more specifically, Chinese) descent. It's hard to rate a short story collection as a whole, which is why I tend to break them down story by story, but this is a pretty solid effort, and I was, on the whole, impressed with what I read, bar a few exceptions that were mediocre/confusing at worst.
Mild spoilers ahead!
Ghost Days: ☆☆☆½
This is a poignant story about an alien colonist who ends up taking solace in the multi-generational saga of a Chinese family's dealings with xenophobic white people as well as their struggle with dual cultural identities. The title is a play on the Chinese term (often offensive, so I won't write here) for white foreigners, which also refers, additionally, to spirits. Both meanings play a role in this story.
Maxwell's Demon: ☆☆☆☆
This is a story set during WWII about a woman of Okinawan descent who is taken from an internment camp and forced to renounce her citizenship so she can be deported back to Japan as a spy for the Americans. Working in a physics lab, she ends up being the assistant and lover to a scientist developing a weapon that runs on a type of magic, forcing Takako to make a choice about what it easy versus what is right, and which country she should choose to be loyal to when both are wrong.
The Reborn: ☆☆☆☆
This is a chilling story that occurs in the aftermath of first contact. After a brutal colonization, the invading aliens feel remorse and have turned the other cheek to instill compassion and peace in the very society they destroyed. But their compassion has a dark edge, and the body modifications required of the humans they interact with have a sinister purpose.
Thoughts and Prayers: ☆☆☆☆
This is a multi-POV story exploring how a mass shooting affects the members of the victim's family, including the POV of a troll who is determined to see that the family suffers.
Byzantine Empathy: ☆☆½
Confusing story about cryptocurrency, virtual reality, and the dispassion with which we view global conflict when looking through the removed and sanitized lens of social media.
The Gods Will Not Be Chained: ☆☆☆☆☆
This is honestly my favorite story in the collection. It's heartbreaking, but ends on a note of hope. A girl being bullied ends up gaining the mysterious protection of someone who only speaks in emoji, but, through further attempts at contact, starts to seem kind of familiar...
Staying Behind: ☆☆☆☆
This is a haunting story about what happens when we get the ability to upload consciousness without a physical body to anchor it. What kind of temptation would a digital existence pose to a venal one, and what would this mean for those who choose to remain behind? This one reminded me of a Twilight Zone episode, or maybe a kinder retelling of The Matrix.
Real Artists: ☆☆☆☆☆
Another stand-out story in the collection, Real Artists is a rather disillusioning look behind the curtain at the sterile future of creativity, in this case, via the medium of film. I liked it.
The Gods Will Not Be Slain: ☆☆☆☆½
I loved the opening to this one, and had it continued in that vein, this probably would have been a solid five-- but no, it had to be depressing. This is a sequel to The Gods Will Not Be Chained, and explores the dangers of AI and the painful sacrifices we must make to do good.
Altogether Elsewhere, Vast Herds of Reindeer: ☆☆
Meh. Another story about AI and the evanescent nature of all things. This one wasn't really a favorite, I think because it was too similar in topic to several stronger stories that came right before it.
The Gods Have Not Died in Vain: ☆☆☆☆
The conclusion to the three-part miniseries revolving around AI. I really loved this little miniseries, even though it broke my heart. AI is like the Promethean fire, with advancement meaning tragedy for both the creator and the receivers. It definitely feels like a cautionary tale, like Icarus flying too high.
Memories of My Mother: ☆☆½
A sad story about a woman dying of terminal disease who decides to cheat time by going into stasis and visiting her daughter once every seven years to cheat her 2 year prognosis. Interesting concept and heart-tugging idea, but the story was too short to pack much of an emotional wallop.
Dispatches from the Cradle: The Hermit-- Forty-Eight Hours in the Sea of Massachusetts: ☆☆☆☆
Really more of a three and a half, but I rounded up for the beautiful writing and interesting premise. In this story, earth has flooded in the wake of massive climate change, and humans have moved on to colonize other planets. Here, two are deep-sea diving in the remains of Massachusetts, looking at coral and pondering the end.
Grey Rabbit, Crimson Mare, Coal Leopard: ☆
Really confusing. I didn't understand what was happening in this one at all.
A Chase Beyond the Storms: NO RATING
This is an excerpt from the upcoming third book in one of the author's series. I don't really like this, as it kind of feels like an advertisement masquerading as content.Ads belong in the back.
The Hidden Girl: ☆☆☆½
The titular story. I always have high hopes for the titular story; I feel like if you're going to name your collection after a story, it should be your strongest work or the most representative of the themes. Neither is the case for The Hidden Girl, which is more fantasy than science-fiction and also very strange. It's about a girl who becomes apprentice to a Buddhist nun with powers, but ends up leaving her order after being asked to kill a man, despite this meaning cutting all ties to the people she considers family.
Seven Birthdays: ☆☆½
Another really strange story. I didn't get this one either, even though it was nicely written.
The Message: ☆☆☆½
This is a very sad story about an ancient civilization hiding a secret, the meaning of lost symbols, and a father and daughter who have bonded too late. Easily one of the most depressing stories in the collection, and what makes this even more infuriating is that it feels like it was handled carelessly.
A poem, and don't worry-- cutting, here, refers to cuttings of paper and not the more upsetting kind. I know, I had the same concern, given the content in this book. After a series of major downers, it was nice to end on a somewhat lighter note.
So there you have it, THE HIDDEN GIRL with all its ups and downs (mostly downs). It's a great work of science-fiction and I do recommend it for fans of Love, Death + Robots, but don't read it when you're having a bad day, as it will likely make you feel worse.
And now, to read something happy! :)
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!
3.5 out of 5 stars
Do yourself a favor. If you plan on reading both of Ken's short story collections start with The Hidden Girl and then Paper Menagerie. You'll thank me later.
Separate from the individual stories there is also a triptych of stories spread through the collection - The Gods Will Not Be Chained, The Gods Will Not Be Slain, and The Gods Have Not Died In Vain. This trio really could have been released as a novella, but they also have wonderful interplay with the themes of other stories, so it makes sense how they are broken up. The story follows a young girl who discovers there are ghosts in the machine, and they speak to her via emoji. There is a brilliant storytelling approach mixing standard narrative, emoji conversations, and news briefings (bulleted lists of headlines) that make for something unique.
Ghost days - Snippets of different lives. Genetically engineered plant-human children learn dead computer languages to honor the human past they are completely cut off from. A young Chinese man who came to America with parents as refugees around Tiananmen Square, has an honest conversation with his date's father. A forger of items in nearer modern times.
Maxwell’s Demon - A prisoner in Japanese-American internment camp is coerced to renounce her citizenship in order to serve her country. A very powerful depiction of identity and home.
The Reborn - Reverse alien abduction, partial memory wipes, and anti-alien terrorist plot. We are each composed of many men.
Thoughts and Prayers - The perspectives of family members of a girl who is a victim in a mass shooting. They all feel digital memories of her aren't enough for them, but they might be able to make a difference if shared. A chilling look at social media and online culture. (If this isn’t made into an episode of Love Death an Robots they have made a serious mistake.)
Byzantine Empathy - A cryptocurrency/blockchain powered direct charitable donation program is launched (seems similar to Kiva, but crypto), VR experiences of project applicants submitted are causing ethical disagreements from two women, former college roommates, who are now on opposing sides in prominent positions. Leads with the tech, then builds into a philosophical argument of extreme rationality versus extreme empathy.
Staying Behind - The world is breaking down into a chaotic dystopia, people are escaping it by uploading their consciousness. Told in fragments of family life as they try to retain some normalcy that eventually turns into historical re-enactment and stagnation in absence of a world where progress is possible.
Real Artists - A woman has dreamed of working at Semaphore her whole life, then she finally gets a look behind the curtain.
Altogether Elsewhere Vast Herds of Reindeer, Memories of My Mother & Seven Birthdays - Explorations of parenthood in distorted time.
Dispatches from the Cradle: the Hermit - Forty Eight Hours in the Sea of Massachusetts: A tech giant quits her job to settle as a hermit and poet floating above the drowned Boston area.
Grey Rabbit, Crimson Mare, Coal Leopard - In a society where shapeshifters hold the power, the least expected are most prepared to stand up to corruption.
The Hidden Girl - A girl is raised as a thief and assassin by a mysterious nun.
The Message - A parent and his child show up alone to research and understand an abandoned alien city before it is destroyed.
Cutting - An erasure poem of monks cutting away their holy book.
Top reviews from other countries
Loved the format this was told through. Basically follows an object, a fake spade-shaped coin from the Zhou Dynasty. Starting in a far off future, on a different planet with genetically modified humans and then traces the origin of the coin back through time to the early 1900s. An impressive amount of time and backstory to fit into a short work, which throughout this collection seems to be a talent of Liu's.
This story starts out in a Japanese internment camp (Tule Lake War Relocation Center) in California and transitions to Okinawa, Japan. (view spoiler) The story falls beautifully into the spaces between science and tradition. Takawa's family is Okinawan and Takawa herself speaks uchinaaguchi, she's also a yuta, someone who sees and speaks with spirits. The way Liu very simply describes the history, religious and spiritual beliefs, and oppression of the Okinawan people through the struggles of Takawa as she makes hard choices about weaponising the beliefs of her people...I thought it was so well done, so layered, so beautiful.
The Hidden Girl
Not as historical as the last two stories, but maybe more of a folk tale. Felt like watching a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon style movie.
And a shout out for my favourite short story title ever, "All Together Elsewhere, Vast Herds of Reindeer."
It's hard to even pick favourites. Almost every story in this collection really did it for me. Right up to the final story, which reads more like a poem. The concept of cutting away pieces of "the Book", a stand-in for any religious, bible-like work, in an attempt to forget instead of remember, until all you're left with is a beautiful little poem.