Sunday, March 17, 2013

All the Flavors, by Ken Liu

I make a point of reading as much of the award nominated fiction cited on Free SF Online as possible.  The Nebula award nominees have been announced, and Ken Liu's story All the Flavors is my first read in the novella category.  And what a fine story it is.

This one is not particularly speculative--unless you count reader speculation about the identity of the lead character, in which case it is speculative enough.  Really, it's a writer's story.  The protagonist is a little girl living in Idaho City, Idaho in 1865.  A gold rush is under way, and some Chinese miners have come to cash in.  They also bring along a large helping of their culture.  The hero is Li Guan, or Logan, a large man from Northern China, who befriends the little girl.  They deal with cruelty and prejudice in the local population, even unto murder.  If it stopped there it would be formulaic.  But the story weaves this into a growing acceptance of the Chinese by the locals, particularly through the ambassadorship of Li Guan.  Some of the customs are hard to swallow.  While Liu clearly favors openness, the disruption the foreigners cause is dealt with forthrightly.  The historical references really sold me--the interactions are based in truth, on how the influx of Chinese influenced local culture in Idaho.  Really good stuff, I enjoyed it quite a lot.  4 stars from me.

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