cover image The Hidden Girl and Other Stories

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories

Ken Liu. Saga, $26 (432p) ISBN 978-1-98213-403-7

Cycles of violence, unquiet ghosts, and troubled parent-child relationships pervade Hugo Award–winner Liu’s inconsistent second collection. Though Liu’s dexterous prose is on display throughout, static story structures and sketchy characters plague these 19 idea-driven tales. At their best, these stories inject high-minded scientific concepts with deeper themes: “Maxwell’s Demon” uses Maxwell’s equations to explore cycles of violence and the loyalty oaths forced on Japanese Americans during WWII, “The Gods Will Not Be Chained” transcends the ghost-in-the-machine subgenre with its familial tenderness, and the title story resonates with a stubborn, determined protagonist. Weaker offerings violate Liu’s assertion in the preface that “a good story cannot function like a legal brief,” forgoing narrative momentum in favor of overexplaining their conceits. The worst offenders are “Byzantine Empathy” and “Real Artists,” which read as infomercials for fictional technologies. Readers will also be disappointed in how the female protagonists frequently descend into cliché. Though some readers will struggle to find a way in to these emotionally flat stories, Liu’s strong sentences and intelligent what-ifs will appeal to fans of Asimov-ian science fiction. Agent: Russel Galen, Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary. (Feb.)