Short story: “The Paper Menagerie”

by look i have opinions

“The Paper Menagerie,” by Ken Liu

Originally appeared in the March/April 2011 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (Suvudu PDF link here); read on the July 12, 2011 episode of Podcastle (listen here) and the May 17, 2012 episode of Escape Pod (listen and read online here); nominated for a Nebula Award in 2011 and a Hugo Award in 2012

4,924 words

Okay, yes, I got choked up too.

Things that bother me:

  • What was the point of the speculative/fantasy/magic realism element? If it’s a metaphor for how much the main character took his mom and her heritage for granted, it’s kind of gilding the lily. I kind of wish the story had just stuck with origami.
  • Why don’t literary publications publish this kind of thing? And by “this kind of thing” I mean frankly emotional stories—heartstring-tuggers. The likely answer is that literary fiction is supposed to do something more than just make you feel sad (or romantic, or scared, or swashbuckling); it’s supposed to make you think, or make you feel something more complex than heartstring-tuggings, or make you appreciate some subtle form of beauty you might otherwise have missed. Or it’s not supposed to make you do anything, since making readers do things is genre fiction territory. It’s supposed to be inspiring yet unmanipulative, lovely yet nonobvious—a hard balancing act to pull off. Sometimes I think literary-type editors lean too far towards the subtle end of things, publishing fiction that is intelligent, polished, subtle, and without heart.
  • Which isn’t to say the author of this piece added the magic in order to make it publishable as fantasy fiction, but I can’t help wondering who would have published it otherwise. Surely there’s a market for it. Maybe I’m reading the wrong literary journals.