the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Ken Liu’ Category

2014 has been a pretty good year for me.  Personally, I’m damn impressed with how many of these books were actually published in 2014. As a bonus, there’s even a few novellas and short stories in here. In no particular order, here are my favorite reads of 2014!

Favorite Novels:


City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett (2014) – that this book is on my list should surprise no one. And if you haven’t read it yet, seriously, get with the program. This is one of those amazing books that defies genre categorization, it just *is*.  To give you a big picture without spoiling anything, it’s about watching your worldview dissolve before your eyes, and understanding that games can be played with many sets of rules. Also? it’s simply fucking amazing.


Gemsigns by Stephanie Saulter (2014) – This is probably the most important book I read in 2014. Remember when Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother took high school government classes by storm? I wish the same for this book.  Gemsigns touches on enforced marginalization, building (and breaking down) cultures of racism and classism and fear, and religiously and politically promoted hatred, and handles it in a blunt and emotional way. Also? fucking awesome. And for what it’s worth, I cried at the end.

vandermeer annihilation

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer  (2014) –  I’ve been a Vandermeer fan for a long, long time (yet somehow I can still eat mushrooms). Annihilation was strange, surreal, and seemed to be magnetically attuned to me. The words in the tunnel rang for me like a tuning fork. And there was just something about characters who don’t have names. I am a jerk, however, because I own but haven’t yet read the third book in the series.

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I first discovered the fiction of Ken Liu in 2012 in Lightspeed Magazine, with his “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” (I highly recommend the audio too!), and soon after I found myself deliberately seeking out his work.  Some of my favorites of his include “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King”, “Knotting Grass, Holding Ring”, “The Plantimal” (co-written with Mike Resnick) and “Tying Knots”, and of course the multiple award winning “The Paper Menagerie” and Hugo Award winning “Mono no aware”, just to name a few. (by the way, the links in this paragraph and elsewhere in this blog post go to where you can read his fiction online)


Writing much faster than I can keep up with, his fiction can be found in Apex Magazine, Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, Daily Science Fiction, and recently in the anthologies Kaleidoscope, The End is Now, Upgraded, Long Hidden, and Dead Man’s Hand, among others. He puts out more high quality fiction in one year than most authors put out in ten. Highly prolific and brilliantly talented, he’s got the awards and nominations to prove it. One of my favorite short fiction authors, Ken is also friendly and humble.


the three body problem

Also very active in translating Chinese science fiction, he has translated short stories and novels by the award winning Chinese authors Chen Qiufan (a.k.a Stanley Chan) and most famously,  The Three Body Problem, by Liu Cixin, which comes out today. [edited to add: An in depth article on The Three Body Problem was posted in the New York Times this morning. click here to read]

With all that, I’m sure you can understand how excited the science fiction world was earlier this year when Liu announced that his first novel, The Grace of Kings, would hit bookstore shelves in Spring of 2015. I do not envy the code monkeys of Netgalley the day that e-Arc goes up, that’s for sure! Even better news is that The Grace of Kings is but the first book in a trilogy.

Have I whet your appetite? Ready to learn more about Ken Liu? Read on!




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kaleidoscope anthoKaleidoscope, edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios

published in August 2014

where I got it: received review copy from the editors (Thanks Alisa and Julia!)












The tagline for Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios’s new anthology Kaleidoscope is “Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy stories”, but what’s in this collection goes much deeper than that.  I really wasn’t sure what to expect, and I very much appreciated the depth of variety of the stories, everything from contemporary fantasy, to parallel universe, to futuristic schools for shapeshifters, to ancient Chinese mythology, to accidental humor,  to a superhero story, and to one so ambiguous it could take place anywhere or anytime. As promised, the characters are diverse, (mostly female, some are queer, some with disabilities or disorders, many are ethnic minorities), and while some of them have already found acceptance, others have a tougher road to travel. A number of the stories deal with being an ethnic and/or racial minority, and being torn between doing whatever it takes to be accepted by your peers, and keeping to the traditions of your parents. Even as horrible things are sometimes happening and characters are in dark places, these are incredibly hopeful, optimistic stories.


I think many readers will agree that the two finest  stories in the collection are “The Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon” by Ken Liu and “Walkdog” by Sofia Samatar.  Multiple award winning Ken Liu is with good reason famous for his short fiction, and Sofia Samatar is a rising star, and in fact just won the Campbell Award.  In Liu’s “The Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon”, Yuan and Jing are struggling with saying goodbye as Jing’s family prepares to move away. The two young women “fall” into the Chinese story of Zhinu and Niulang, who fell in love and were then forced to live apart (their stars are on the opposite side of the Milky Way). The story of the ancient lovers is beautiful in a way only Ken Liu can do, and if you’ve never read him, this is a wonderful introduction to the magic he does with words.  “The Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon” is a story of first love, and how to accept that your first love isn’t forever.


When I stop to think about it, Sofia Samatar’s “Walkdog” is also a story of first love, or at least about realizing you care deeply for another human being.  Yolanda is writing a paper for school, and you’re going to get a smile on your face reading this, because it looks like every research paper everything 9th grader has every had to write, complete with introduction, thesis statement, discussion of research and conclusion. Samatar has left in all of Yolanda’s spelling errors, unnecessary footnotes, and other errata, which just adds to the fun. So you’re smiling, and maybe laughing, and you wonder why Yolanda keeps going on this tangent about her classmate Andy, when her paper is supposed to be about the urban legend creature the Walkdog, which steals kids. This is not a very long story, and Yolanda realizes what’s happening as she’s writing the research paper, and she’s practically begging her teacher to help her, asking why someone didn’t do something earlier so the horrible thing didn’t have to happen. How can something that starts off so goofy turn so tragic so quickly? A testament to Samatar’s prowess, “Walkdog” will be on my Hugo nominations next year.

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long hidden anthology

Welcome to the third and final part of my review of Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older. With over two dozen pieces of fiction, I would have been cheating everyone if I tried to talk about all of my favorite stories in just one post. If you like what you read here, check out part one, and part two.


To unpack the subtitle of the anthology just a little bit, what are “the margins of history”?  Among other things, it’s the edges, the background, the stories that haven’t been told, the viewpoints that were pushed aside. We’ve all heard the phrase “history is written by the winners”, and those “winners” often only tell their side of the story, their interpretation. The margins are what the writers of the history books left out, most often women and minorities. the writers of the history books may call themselves the winners, but look at what they’ve lost! By pushing people and cultures and religions and stories into the margins, we get such a narrow view of the world. And isn’t this exactly what speculative fiction is supposed to be about? Widening our horizons, seeing everything that’s out there?


While you are chewing on that I’ll give you some thoughts on some of my favorite stories that were in the final third of the anthology:

(Knotting Grass, Holding Ring), by Ken Liu – Easily one of my favorites in the collection, as I am a huge Ken Liu fan. in the mid 1600s, in Yangzhou China, two women are on the way to their client. Half porter, half assistant, Sparrow’s job includes carrying instruments and parcels, and making sure the client pays up. Green Siskin on the other hand, is the beautiful entertainer, carried through the city on a palanquin, as walking with bound feet is very difficult. Green Siskin offers the military men she has been hired to entertain a Tanci story, one of a prince who decided to save his father’s favorite concubine. Sparrow burns with jealousy, but even she’s got to admin that Green Siskin knows a thing or two about how to flatter men, how to get them to do exactly what she wants. The men flatter her back, but they see her as a lowly whore. The Manchus are on the march, and soon the city is under siege. With the subtle elgance of a tanci song, Green Siskin quietly saves all the women she is able. She knows what she’s capable of, she knows how to get men to do what she wants.  As always, Liu’s prose is as gorgeous as blossoms falling from a tree on a perfect day.  Green Siskin knows exactly what people think when they look at her. She knows the women in the prison courtyard want her to feel ashamed of herself, to be disgusted by what she does. She never complains, never brags, never asks for pity, never even asks to be seen as anything more than a whore with bound feet.  She just saves as many people as she can from death and violence.

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hugo_smSo. I’m eligible to nominate and vote in the Hugo Awards this year. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, the Hugos are basically the Oscars of the Scifi/fantasy community. it is a very. big. deal.

The nominating process was really fun. But now it’s time to look at everything in the voting packet and read as much of it as I possibly can. And it’s. . . intimidating. I’m slowly making my way through the “big” categories, short story, novelette, novella, novel, even Campbell award. I count myself very lucky that I’ve already read a few of the novels, two of the Campbell award nominees, and a two of the novellas. VERY LUCKY. Even with a head start, will I be able to get through everything I’d like to read by the end of July?

Let’s find out.

my voting plans will stay a secret, but as I get through categories, I’ll publish my thoughts, link to earlier reviews, and we can generally discuss.

There’s two really good reasons I’m doing short stories first. Actually, three really good reasons:

they’re all available online for you to read for free
they’re all pretty short
there’s only three of them

And the nominees are:

Immersion, by Aliette de Bodard
Mantis Wives, by Kij Johnson
Mono no Aware, Ken Liu
and here’s what I thought of them:

clarksworld deBodard

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I’ve been doing a lot of traveling for work lately, so MP3 player and free short story downloads to the rescue!  Here are a few that proved very enjoyable, maybe you will like them too. These are all less than an hour, so perfect for your commutes, holiday travels, or if you are stuck waiting somewhere, or would just like to listen to something nice.

These are from Lightspeed Magazine and Podcastle. do you listen to them? which other short story podcasts do you listen to?

The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species, by Ken Liu, from the August issue Lightspeed magazine (click here to download)
read by Stefan Rudnicki

I don’t know what I was expecting with this story, but I never thought so much imagination could be put into something that on the surface, sounds so very simple. This story is about what the title implies: book making habits. Of  aliens. All creatures record events and thoughts, perhaps the desire to make recordings is a sign of civilization.  With softly sure descriptions, Liu talks about a handful of alien civilizations, both organic and inorganic, creatures who record entire streams of consciencness, creatures whose records are slowing destroyed through use, and all sorts of other amazing, imaginative methods in which beings who are completely different from humans, but delight in the same things we do – storytelling.

This story had a surprisingly large impact on me.  We communicate more than we can possibly know through storytelling, and the methods of that storytelling is a communication unto itself. I couldn’t get this story out of my head. As a lover of books, stories, and the methods we use to record our stories for future generations (and the speed at which those methods are changing), this story struck me in a very personal way.

A Hole to China, by Catherynne Valente, from the May Issue of Lightspeed Magazine (click here to download)
read by Stefan Rudnicki

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.