Ghost Days, by Ken Liu
Read it here in about 75 minutes.
Thinking about ideas and structure…
I wouldn’t normally read sci-fi, but I’ve been broadening my horizons recently. In this short story, Liu combines aliens and computer programming with ideas about identity – these are common themes, from what I’ve read of his work, and this story is a lot less technical than some of his others, which feature AI and uploaded consciousness.
This story comprises three threads, which are linked by an artefact. On an alien planet in 2313, Ona struggles with being taught old languages and customs, when she is in fact an alien hybrid with no culture or history of her own (a metaphor for those who grow up in cultures different to their parents’, surely?); in the US in the late 80s, Fred struggles with being the only Chinese face in town, faced with stereotypes and casual racism; and in 1900s Hong Kong, William struggles with the old ways of Hong Kong, the new ways he’s learned at school in England, his father’s expectations, and his own ambitions.
The story moves back in time through the three threads: Ona, then Fred, then William; then we move forward in time, returning to William, then Ona. The structure allows us to see where the artefact came from, and some of the similar struggles the characters had in the glimpses we see of their lifetimes. Ultimately, Ona has an epiphany, realising ‘The past, ever recurring, made up the future like layers of patina.’ She understands that we need to look to the past in order to understand the future, and she accepts who she is: a person of many parts, of many histories, with her own future to build.
I like the positivity here; the subtle way that immigrant experience is brought into the story; the mix of western and Chinese ideas.
What are your sci-fi recommendations?