The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories.The title story, “The Paper Menagerie,” is the tale of a boy who becomes estranged from his Chinese mother (a mail-order bride) in his quest to assimilate into American culture. She creates magical origami figures that move around like the living animals they resemble.
After her death, the adult protagonist comes across the paper animals in a box and is able to come to an understanding of his mother’s love.
- “The Perfect Match” explores the implications of search engine algorithms as they might relate to dating. What do we sacrifice when we let technology make our lives easier?
- “The Waves” asks what would happen if people could upload their consciousness to the web. What if your spouse or child chose to stay behind--or upload without you?
- “Mono No Aware” explores life in a generation ship heading out into the stars and the heroic choices people make when something goes horribly wrong.
- “A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel” is an alternate history where the Great Depression is resolved by building a pneumatic tunnel between Shanghai, Tokyo, and Seattle. Good news: Hitler was never elected in this timeline.
- My favorite story in this book was “The Regular,” about a broken cop trying to solve a murder case. The futuristic tech was believable and fascinating, and the main character someone you can’t help rooting for.
The Hidden Girl and Other Stories.
The writing in this collection was more mature and the stories more compelling overall, with no "weak" entires.
Both story collections are worth a read, but of the two, I preferred The Hidden Girl.
- “The Reborn” is a fascinating tale of a human bonded to an alien. After committing a crime, his consciousness was rebooted, but there seems to be a glitch . . .
- “Thoughts and Prayers” explores familial grief in the wake of a young child’s death during a mass shooting. The dead girl's persona is recreated via artificial intelligence to publicize her senseless death, with tragic results.
- A similar theme underlies “Byzantine Empathy,” which asks if we would be motivated to take action if we could directly experience the suffering of others.
- “The Gods Will Not Be Chained” is another tale of uploading consciousness to a computer, but told from a fresh angle with an endearing young protagonist.
- One of the most impactful stories was “Memories of My Mother.” In this tale, a mother with a terminal illness volunteers for space travel so she can prolong her presence in her daughter’s life. A unique take on the paradox of faster-than-light space travel.
- “Dispatches from the Cradle” follows the exploits of a retired financier living as a hermit on Massachusetts Bay in the far future. It questions our impact and responsibility (as humans) to address our wrongs against nature--or not.
- “Grey Rabbit, Crimson Mare, Coal Leopard” is a delightful myth/fairy tale of magical people who can transform into animals and three would-be heroes throwing themselves against an unethical regime to save loved ones.
- Another mythic fantasy, “The Hidden Girl” is a story of a young girl learning a magical martial art--and choosing between duty and honor.
- “The Message” is a heartbreaking tale of an archeologist father and his young daughter trying to decipher pictograms left by aliens on a planet scheduled for demolition.