Monday, December 05, 2016

"An Advanced Readers' Picture Book of Comparative Cognition" by Ken Liu :: Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week

My Story Recommendation of the Week goes to "An Advanced Readers' Picture Book of Comparative Cognition" by Ken Liu, from Liu's Saga Press collection The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories (cover art by Quentin Trollip).

Science fiction and fantasy readers out there don't much need me to tell them that Ken Liu can write a decent short story. But you may not be aware that his new collection The Paper Menagerie has one new story in it (among all the reprints of award nominees and winners), and it's one you want to check out.

"An Advanced Readers' Picture Book of Comparative Cognition" alternates between brief passages explaining the systems of memory and cognition observed in various alien species and a scientist's love letter about his estranged wife, written to their daughter.

Every one of the descriptions of alien species is interesting and original enough to support its own story, but apparently Ken Liu comes up with good story ideas so routinely he can afford to toss off a half-dozen of them all at once. Show off!

The most telling of the alien passages describes a dying alien race that saved a few of their children by putting them on a near-lightspeed starship with no means of decelerating, thus ensuring that the children would live until the end of the universe—which they would experience in just a few short years. The passage concludes, "All parents make choices for their children. Almost always they think it's for the best."

In the main narrative, a husband and wife, both nerdy scientists, would each make a different choice for the future of their daughter. The parent who prevails has at least as many regrets as the parent who does not.

This is a well-constructed, emotionally charged story, right up to the sad and lovely closing line: "There are many ways to say I love you in this cold, dark, silent universe, as many as the twinkling stars."

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