The Book Breakdown: The Future | Culture & Leisure
Aliens on a distant planet discover human civilization. A young scientist tries to implement the ideas behind Maxwell’s demon to build a devastating weapon. An engineer has his conscience uploaded to a computer program and can only communicate with emojis.
These ideas and many more make up Ken Liu’s “The Hidden Girl and Other Stories” collection of short stories. The stories stand alone, and most of them have been published in speculative fiction magazines before, but there are overarching themes in the collection: identity issues caught between two worlds, what it means to remember and forget, the relationship between parents and children.
At first glance, the sci-fi genre almost forbids the short story. The colossal task of building worlds and inventing technologies calls for epics of awe-inspiring proportions. And yet the short story has a long and venerable science fiction tradition. From classics written by HG Wells to Philip K. Dick’s New Wave fiction, to anthology TV series like “The Twilight Zone” and “Black Mirror,” writers have always taken on the arduous task of creating worlds. aliens and scary and condense them into a short form.
It is because of its brevity that sci-fi short stories are generally tragic and pessimistic, since a problem usually requires less exposure than a solution. “The Hidden Girl” is no exception to this rule. One such example is the story of “The Reborn” in this collection. Aliens are invading and conquering Earth. Their brains are organically and naturally renewed every few years, much like a snake loses its skin. The result is that aliens don’t remember what they did to humans because they have new brains and new memories. Humans do remember though, and aliens make them a bit like themselves, transferring good memories onto clones and erasing any negative feelings towards aliens. The effect is that both humans and aliens, victims and aggressors, live in blissful ignorance of the wrongs of the past.
“The Reborn” and other stories in this collection challenge us to examine the weight and purpose of memories, the stories we choose to tell ourselves and how they make up who we are and where we are in the world. Perhaps sci-fi sets are too fantastic for some readers, but in “The Hidden Girl,” Liu creates a terrifying future to illuminate our bewildering present.