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From the title story's fantastical inter-dimensional assassins to the steampunk dystopia of "Grey Rabbit, Crimson Mare, Coal Leopard" burrowing through the ruins of a civilisation destroyed by a plague, from Black Mirror-esque tales of blockchain cryptography ("Byzantine Empathy") and Internet trolling ("Thoughts and Prayers") to a three-story hard-SF arc about artificial intelligence and the singularity ("The Gods Will Not Be Chained", "The Gods Will Not Be Slain" and "The Gods Have Not Died In Vain"), here are 17 interlinking visions that explore what it is to be human, and what it is like to abandon or transcend that. This collection confirms Ken Liu, author of the astonishing and multi-award winning The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, as one of speculative fiction's greatest short story writers.
Ghost Days, Maxwell's Demon,The Reborn, Thoughts and Prayers, Byzantine Empathy, The Gods Will Not Be Chained, Staying Behind, Real Artists, The Gods Will Not Be Slain, Altogether Elsewhere Vast Herds of Reindeer, The Gods Have Not Died in Vain, Memories of My Mother, Dispatches from the Cradle: The Hermit – Forty-Eight Hours in the Sea of Massachusetts, Grey Rabbit, Crimson Mare, Coal Leopard, A Chase Beyond the Storms (an excerpt from The Veiled Throne, Book 3 of the Dandelion Dynasty), The Hidden Girl, Seven Birthdays, The Message, Cutting.
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 clich . 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.