Folded Up Inside Ken Liu's "Paper Menagerie"


That's me, right now.

Lacking words.

I just read Ken Liu's "Paper Menagerie," a short story that swept the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards, and I'm trying to figure out the right way to share it; to talk about it. I guess I'll just let it flow. See where the words take me.

I'm spellbound by the story. By the execution. By the simplicity of the thing.

Intimidated by it, even.

It breathes like Pixar and dances like jazz, and it's painful like acupuncture. Little scratches that linger. Sometimes big scratches that make you wince. And linger, too. Damn, I hate acupuncture.

I feel emotionally attached to a scrap of paper, only it's not even a scrap of paper, it's the idea of a scrap of paper. Someone else's idea. Someone else's paper. No, not even someone else's paper. It's someone else's idea of a scrap of paper for someone else.


I know these characters. They're fragments of me, of you, of all of us. Mother, father, child. They all contain our folds; the folds of the world. It doesn't get much simpler than that. And yet there's something unique here, too, something that makes me want to shake the damn boy and tell him how special his life is. A profundity that he can't see. That only his mother can see, his mother and Laohu.

But he's just paper. Not even paper, he's pixels on a screen.

And when I close the story, he'll be gone.

He and his paper menagerie.

Thanks to io9 for publishing Ken Liu's "Paper Menagerie," which you can and should read right here: PAPER MENAGERIE.

The Coolest Book Cover Ever

Anybody who tells you you can't judge a book by it's cover is a fucking liar.

You can, and should, judge a book by its cover, because the cover is as much a representation of the author's vision as the words inside. Of course, that's if the author came up with it, or had oversight, or had any input at all. Sometimes (I'm guessing most often?) that isn't the case. The author writes the book, and some asshole with a view designs the cover after reading a one paragraph synopsis. You can't blame the author for that sort of thing. But even having a cover is a monumental success. So what the hell do I know?

Regardless, I'm obsessed with book covers. I love to go to Barnes and Noble or Half Price Books and just wander through the shelves, picking out books by the snarliest, toothiest covers that snap at me like angry dogs. And, more often than not, the cover that says something, that has a point of view, a vision, has exactly what I'm looking for on the inside, too.

No cover in the history of hyperbole grabbed my attention more than Chuck Palahniuk's "Haunted." A strange, grotesque horror story about a terrifying writer's retreat, the cover art for "Haunted" has a suddenness to it that makes you stop and investigate. What I found inside matched the trauma of the outside, but I kept going back to that damn cover, entranced by the eyes, the open mouth, the palette.

At first glance, the colors seem a bit off, slightly muted with wispy blues and off-whites peppered across the page. The illustrated portrait, up close and personal, looks like a film negative; something surreal: An obvious drawing, but one with such emotion attached to it that it takes on even more humanity than a photograph.

I bought the book and was immediately warned by the bookseller to leave it somewhere I can't see it at night. I laughed and jokingly said thanks, got in my car, and drove home. A silly warning to heighten the horror, surely.

But curiosity is a rapier I wield comfortably, and once home, I took the book into the bathroom (for science) and turned out the lights. Let's see what you're up to, bookseller.

Imagine putting this book on your nightstand before you go to bed, or maybe standing up on the dresser at the foot of your bed. It's been soaking in incandescence for hours, each pore on the cover holding a dirty secret, and then you stash it, cover up and facing you, before turning over and flicking out the lights. Hours later, you have to pee, and you wake up in a fog to see The Face of Terror staring back at you in the darkness.

Now, that's how you fucking cover a book!

Well done, Chuck Palahniuk, and well done to the designers: Rodrigo Corral, Jeff Middleton, and Leanne Shapton. Book covers matter, they tell stories all their own, and I've yet to find one that says more than "Haunted."