Saturday, December 1, 2012

Thoughts: 'Paper Menagerie' by Ken Liu

First of all, NaNoWriMo is coming to an end! I reached my goals. Did you? That's great if you did, and better luck next time if you didn't. What happens next though? I think Chuck Wendig answers that question rather... colourfully... over at his blog in the post about wasting your efforts.

But on another note, today I wanted to talk about a short story that has won all three of Science-Fiction's major awards: the Hugo, the Nebula, and the World Fantasy Award. I just so happen to be talking about Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu. I'll thank Nathan Bransford for the link to the story he left on his blog, where I read it just minutes ago.

First of all, let me just say that I have a soft-spot for sad stories. The themes presented somewhat reminded me of the stories in Haruki Murakami's after the quake, which you've heard me gushing over plenty of times before. However, at the same time, it was a completely different experience. I really loved the story overall. My only issue was the (SPOILER ALERT) long letter at the end from Jack's mother, giving her life story. It seemed like an info-dump to me, but placing it at the very end of the story resolved some unanswered questions and tied things up nicely. Paper Menagerie is well written, heavily sentimental and presents real issues faced by some children from interracial families, whilst weaving the scenes with a touch of Chinese magic.

After reading the story, I continued to read the comments left by other readers. I was SHOCKED to see so many negative reviews slamming it! Initially, it really pissed me off and I sat there thinking what a bunch of thoughtless, narrow-minded pigs. And while I still hold some of that resentment, I've taken a step back to consider why those people reacted that way. Yes, it was a very sentimental and melodramatic story. That's part of why I enjoyed it, but I guess other people have different preferences to me.

Although I really did love this story, admittedly, I am among those who are surprised that it won all three of those awards. I didn't feel it represented the genre of science-fiction as well as the winner of those awards should have. Science-fiction isn't really my genre though (yet fantasy is? Is that weird?), so I probably ought not be the judge of it.

So there's two things we can all discuss in the comments: How did your NaNoWriMo go and what is your take on Paper Menageries

- Bonnee.


  1. Congrats on your NaNo goals. I NaNoRevised, with some success. Since it was query/synopsis related, we'll see how successful I was over the next few weeks.

    As for the story - I must be a thoughtless, narrow-minded pig. Actually, not, I *liked* the story, but I didn't love it. It was good, but not great, in my opinion. What I DO like about it (aside from paper animals running around; very cool) is the way it works sci-fi/alternate reality (or whatever you call it) in without hitting you over the head with it. Aside from the animated paper animals, there are little elements sprinkled around (the concept of getting 'bought' by corporations) that make you feel like this is not quite our world. It reminds me a bit of Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go" in that regard.

    It's not the sentiment that bothered me; there was just something in it that didn't click with me. And I agree, the letter was a little too long, and it didn't read right to me. So, good, but not great.

    So, if you haven't decided to ban me from your blog or stop reading mine, I will tell you that I have tagged you in a meme, in case you haven't seen it. Have a great weekend!

    1. Hopefully you'll have a good run-in with success over the next few weeks!

      The thoughtless narrow-minded pig thing was just the initial thought! Haha like I said, it's just the sort of story that appeals to me, and I know that many others won't feel the same. You'll have to try a little harder if you want to get in my bad books ;) Now that you mention it, I agree; there is something that didn't quite click. Maybe it was BECAUSE of the letter at the end... anyway, it won the awards, what are we gonna do about it? Good luck to him and a congrats I said, whether anyone liked it or not. I'll have to put Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go" on my to-read list.

      I shall check out your blog! Being tagged in stuff is fun :)

    2. "Never Let Me Go" is rather sad, so you might like it. I have no problem with sad stories, either. Sometimes, it's just what you need.

      I should add that I did like the handling of the young boy's turning away from his mother as he grew up and sought acceptance from his peers. I definitely recall a period in my teens when I had a sort of sneering attitude toward my parents. I wasn't nasty to them (I don't think), but I was certainly not charitable to them in my mind. I'm glad I outgrew it and had time to have a quality, adult relationship with them both, unlike the story's narrator.

    3. I'll definitely have to give it a read some time :)

      I think the handling of the young boy's turning away from his mother etc was what really got to me. It's such a real-life experience that so many teenagers face, and I'm somewhere around that area now with my own mother, so I can easily relate. You don't even have to be from an interracial family to experience something like that; that little fact just heightened the severity.

    4. I think that's one of those 'universal experiences' you hear about. A good example of 'using a lie to tell the truth.'

  2. The Paper Menagerie is interesting, especially the paper animals, and congrats for Ken Liu for winning. For me, his story was too long and the mother's letter had too many details non relevant for the story line. Cutting the story in half will make it better for me as a reader. Best wishes submitting today your story to the novella contest.

    1. There were a lot of very short scenes which I thought could have been taken away, but the only real bother to me was the length of the letter. Thanks Giora :)

  3. Once again, Congrats !! :D

  4. Congrats for reaching your goals for NaNo, Bonnee. I was unfortunately so snowed under (not literally, lol) for November I couldn't do NaNo this year.

    1. Thank you Lynda :) Sorry to hear you were snowed under, but just remember that it doesn't have to be November for you to write. I'm sure you already know that though. Better luck next year if you want to participate!


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