This reading group guide for The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book. Introduction
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Bestselling author Ken Liu selects his multiple award-winning stories for a groundbreaking collection—including a brand-new piece exclusive to this volume.
After his debut novel, The Grace of Kings, took the literary world by storm, Ken Liu now shares his finest short fiction in The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories
. This mesmerizing collection features many of Ken’s award-winning and award-finalist short fiction, including: “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” (Finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards), “Mono no aware” (Hugo Award winner), “The Waves” (Nebula Award finalist), “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” (Nebula and Sturgeon Awards finalist), “All the Flavors” (Nebula Award finalist), “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King” (Nebula Award finalist), and the most awarded story in the genre’s history, “The Paper Menagerie” (The only story to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards).
Insightful and stunning stories that plumb the struggle against history and betrayal of relationships in pivotal moments, this collection showcases one of our greatest and most original voices. Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. In the preface, on page vii, Liu writes “Every act of communication is a miracle of translation.” Is this true for two people speaking the same language or does it mean that no one is ever speaking the same language? Discuss how this idea relates to the collection as a whole.
2. In making this collection, Liu carefully selected these works from more than seventy pieces of his own short fiction. Why do you think Liu chose these stories in this order? The stories cover a variety of topics, genres, and themes and contain distinct structures and characters—is there one story, arc, or idea they come together to illuminate? Are there any works you would rearrange?
3. Discuss the significance of the Allatian method in “The Bookmaking Habit of Select Species.” Why do you think the rest of the story is structured as reference-like sections? Talk about storytelling as a universal constant throughout this piece and this collection as a whole.
4. Talk about how Liu handles historical events in “All the Flavors: A Tale of Guan Yu, the Chinese God of War, in America,” “A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel,” and “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary.” How does he as the author, and you as the reader, distinguish fact from fiction?
5. Within the collection, we see people—and aliens—communicate through a variety of ways: scratches on a surface, oral histories, paper figures, life experiences, written words. Is there a time when something appears to be mistranslated? How well does each method work to communicate straightforward ideas and hidden meanings?
6. “The Paper Menagerie” made history as the first work of fiction to win a Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award—why do you think it has resonated across so many audiences? Why was this chosen to be the collection’s titular story?
7. In “Good Hunting” Liang and Yan adapt to a world that has completely changed their way of life. In “The Paper Menagerie,” Jack separates himself from his cultural identity in order to fit in. Though they share some themes, the stories are tonally disparate. Discuss why. What are the differences between Liang, Yan, and Jack’s modes of integration? Talk about the distinctions between adaptation, assimilation, and cultural abandonment.
8. When does convenience outweigh independence? “The Perfect Match” shows a future in which people allow their “smart” devices to make their decisions. Discuss your image of the future. How do you think technology will change the human mentality?
9. “Mono no aware” flips the trope of a future “monoculture” to show a character infused with Japanese ideals. Discuss the significance and meaning of the phrase “mono no aware” and how it influences Hiroto’s fate.
10. On a surface level, “The Regular” is one of the stories that is most dissimilar to others within the collection. Amid stories of storytelling and translation, memory and identity, how does the sci-fi noir fit into the collection?
11. “Wildflowers can bloom anywhere” is one of Mr. Kan’s messages to Lily. Talk about how his statement relates to the collection. Discuss the structure of Chinese characters as ideograms. Think about the moments Liu chose to use Chinese characters: Why those moments in the text? What does it add to that moment and to the larger narrative?
12. “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” shows a future in which history can only be experienced once by one person. What does that say about who history belongs to? History and heritage are themes throughout the collection, so what does it mean that the final story is about “ending history”?
13. Talk about the structure and style of “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary.” Why did Liu decide to include editing notes and directions? How did it affect your experience as a reader?
14. The collection ends with “We must bear witness and speak for those who cannot speak. We have only one chance to get it right.” Discuss what you think Liu means. Why did he decide to end the collection with these words? What do you think this means to Liu?
15. The stories of The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories cross genre lines. Within the collection are works of science fiction, alternate history, magical realism, fantasy, and noir. Discuss how these stories affect the boundary between science and history with fantasy and spirituality.
Page Break Enhance Your Book Club
1. Rina’s soul in “State Change” manifests as ice. Before meeting, ask all members to write three random objects on slips of paper. Combine all of the papers and have each member draw from a hat. Each person’s random object is the physical representation of their soul. Discuss how your objectified soul would change your everyday life. How does this speak to privilege and the circumstances of birth?
2. Immigration is one of the most significant issues of the 21st century and a recurring theme in the collection. Discuss some current events as they relate to the immigrant experience shown within this novel.
3. Before meeting, think of some of your own cultural or familial traditions. Which of those have faded away and which have stayed constant? Why do you think some last longer than others?