The One with the Uploaded Humanity

Ken Liu, The Hidden Girl and other stories (2020)

I can’t say I’m a big SF/Fantasy reader. I do sometimes read SF/Fantasy but it’s the exception rather than the norm for me. I can’t really do spacecraft stuff, and I rarely manage to immerse myself in a fantasy world. I can’t deal with post-apocalyptic novels (even before Covid) for reasons that 2020 made me unnecessary to explain, and the future of humanity is something I don’t really enjoy pondering in my free time.

But I can do hard things and I can go into literary unfamiliar territory, especially when a- it’s in short format b- Ken Liu writes it. I had discovered Ken Liu with his award-winning, heart-wrenching Paper Menagerie story (I haven’t read the whole collection, but I probably should) and I recently read The Man who Ended History, an interesting time-travel slash reflection on war crimes and memory. Ken Liu writes beautifully, and he also has a wicked imagination for some far-fetched concepts he would like us to explore. I was game for both.

Still, of course, my favorite stories were the fantasy ones. “Hidden Girl” (the eponymous story) made me think of those old Taiwanese dagger and kungfu puppet shows from my youth (don’t even ask), and I wished there were many more like that. (is there?) I also enjoyed “Grey Rabbit, Crimson Mare, Coal Leopard” set in a world where a disadvantage girl uncovers a hidden force under the unlikely form of a humble rabbit. For fans of Ken Liu’s Dandelion dynasty series there’s also a fantasy novelette included but I didn’t get it at all (I suppose you need to have read the series to understand).

How to keep memories alive is a big theme in the collection and it gave a melancholy tone to the book, in my opinion. Humans are doomed in most (all?) of those stories, what’s left to imagine is what will be remembered of them (us). Some humans try to emigrate to a distant planet, some others turn their back on technology and live ever smaller lives in American survivalist backwater (“Staying Behind”), others solve the finite resources of earth by uploading their minds on servers, thus saving the planet but renouncing anything physical reality. There are a lot of stories about inter-generational transmission, some successful and some not so much. There are several stories with parents and children and how they misunderstand each other. In a stunning image, Ken Liu presents us with a world mostly made of oceans, where tourists from the future plunge into a submerged Harvard library, taking selfies, imagining fall foliage and totally misunderstanding what used to be there.

There’s also a lot of current concepts and catchwords in those stories: AI, bitcoins, VR, social media, trolling, climate change, … I didn’t really enjoy when the author explored some far-fetched hypothesis by writing long explanations about how these worlds work in details. But again, I’m not a SF fan at all. Where he got me every time is feelings and emotions, although I felt kind of depressed at the end of many of those stories.

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley. I received a free copy of this book for review consideration.

3 thoughts on “The One with the Uploaded Humanity

  1. Pingback: Hao Jingfang, Folding Beijing (2014) | Smithereens

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