Review: Invisible Planets edited by Ken Liu

invisibleplanetskenBy-line: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation
Published by: Tor
ISBN: 0765384191
ISBN 13: 9780765384195
Published: November 2016
Pages: 383
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five

This is a anthology of thirteen speculative short fiction stories and three essays by seven contemporary Chinese authors, translated into English by Ken Liu. Ranging from 2005 to 2015 we have 11 years of what China has to offer, and they are grouped by author, so you really start to get a feel for their style. In his introduction, Liu says he does not consider himself an expert on Chinese science fiction. He knows enough to know that he doesn’t know much – and I love that statement.

The stories within range from cyberpunk, ‘porridge SF’ (which is a midpoint between hard and soft SF), fabulism and dystopian, surrealism and hard SF (thankfully quite far away from the porridge to give them each harder walls to contain themselves in). It’s safe to say that the selection is as varied as science fiction allows, and that Liu has done well to give us a sample of everything – some award winners, and some he chose simply because he likes them best. The result feels like a dedicated librarian has put painstaking hours into the selection and translation, more for the genre and the world rather than a specific audience, and it works well. He tells us to not try to explain the stories in any way that links in with what we assume of China from the media and the blackout nature we hear of – it would only do a disservice to the short story itself. So try not to know or assume too much and jump in – you won’t be disappointed.

This is an outstanding anthology. I won’t review each short within as I’d certainly do a disservice to them. Each story is lyrical and delivers a punch, for sure. Some are a little worrying in relation to how female characters are perceived, but I hope that’s me as a reader failing to understand something within. What I really love is the easy inclusion of essays at the end and something I hope to see more of in general, as having essays appearing mostly on blogs seems to be a disservice to the often important topic – we need to be able to discuss these anxieties more, and more often.

We’ve seen one or two of these shorts already, either from the Hugos or from Clarkesworld, etc. This collection gives you the opportunity to really experience so much more, yet we remain at the entry point, and still want a dozen more instantly. If Ken Liu was able to give us a magazine throughout the year collecting short stories like these, I expect the kickstarter to fund it would hit some sort of record in the ‘zine’ section, and quite rightly. We’re lucky to have him, and we need to do more to knock out the barriers that separate each country from the other so that really wonderful pieces of work get worldwide appreciation.

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