During Phase II, one story in four will be modern (post-2000). I am curious if modern stories appeal to my readers more than the classic ones have.
First up is Xia Jia’s A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight.
Xia Jia is a popular Chinese SF author. Her work has recently begunto be translated into English, in large part due to the efforts of Ken Liu. A teacher and a writer, she describes her idiosyncratic mix of hard and soft science fiction “porridge SF”. I’ve been very impressed by the work of hers that I have been lucky enough to read. Will my young readers be similarly impressed?
A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight can be read here.
This one was pretty macabre. Putting the ‘souls’ of poor people into machines for amusement and then forgetting about them before perfunctorily destroying them is pretty grim. I feel like it’s a statement about society. Even if they’re ‘just machines’ with implanted memories for extra realism, I feel like they deserve better than a terrifying death by robot spider. That probably doesn’t figure into the ledgers and account books that control the whole process.
This was a slow, calm read. It kept the same feeling throughout. Even the climax with the spiders wasn’t edge of the seat stuff. Just deliberate, slow storytelling. Which wasn’t a bad thing, just pleasantly different. More a story about a place and a feeling than about an event. I can’t help comparing to Westworld which I just finished rewatching. Two very different examinations of the ‘realness’ of robots within theme parks.
Enjoyed it, would read more.
Overall, I enjoyed this story. It reminded me strongly of Hayao Miyazaki films. (That’s a good thing: I have fond memories of watching Miyazaki films with my brother when I was younger, and I still enjoy them now.) In particular, the main street was like the beginning of Spirited Away with the street full of delicious food that the parents eat. And the bitter ending feels very familiar.
Unlike previous stories, I think this one would really appeal to children. When I was about 8 or so, I watched A. I. and enjoyed it even if I didn’t fully understand it. Similarly, I think I would have enjoyed this story as a kid, even if it would have been on the edge of my tolerance for graphic and frightening content. (Frightening images stick in my mind for a long time.) It’s probably equivalent to or less disturbing than Coraline by Neil Gaiman.
I’m biased because this story is recent — and by default it’s a bit easier for the story to be original. Some of the older stories reviewed for this website unfortunately suffer from being retroactively trite or cliche because of the copycat stories that followed. This story doesn’t have that problem, and I found it refreshing to read about artificial beings so far advanced that they function like individualistic, flawed human beings.
Another element that makes this story interesting from my perspective is that the author grew up in Chinese culture, which is almost totally unknown to me. Some of my cousins have married into families with Chinese or Hong Kong culture, but my own background is far removed from these cultures. (1890s immigrants from China to Canada; plus Trinidadian-Hakka Chinese). Xia Jia is probably using tropes common to Chinese literature, but they’re fresh and new to me.
I really liked this story.
I liked that this was a story focused on characters. That we see everything through the point of view of a child, and that the primary focus is the relationships he has with the people around him, and his status as belonging in the Ghost Street but not quite fitting in. I was startled by how it ended, but it didn’t wreck my enjoyment of the story.
I appreciated how the story gave us little glimpses into the ghosts’ history, without overwhelming it with details. Even for the characters where they gave few details, the characters still felt real.
I also loved the worldbuilding in this story. Even though we don’t get much of a sense of the world outside the Ghost Street, there is the sense that it is there. I like how little details of the world are scattered throughout the story. If there are more stories written in this setting, I’m interested in reading them. The idea of a society that makes people into sentient ghosts for tourism is fascinating, in a horrible kind of way. I would like to know more about how this world works, and the people who live in it.
I liked that the story didn’t try to justify the technology that makes it all work. I feel like doing so would have detracted from the story, and strained my suspension of disbelief. Since the story didn’t try to explain how people can sell their souls to become ghosts, I was free to accept it and move on.
This was not the first story I’ve read by Xia Jia. I’ve previously read (and enjoyed) “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler.” Based on these two stories, I’m going to have to go read the rest of her fiction that has been translated into English.
A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight is a translated piece which gives snapshots of the life of an entity being raised by creatures known as ‘ghosts’ which are human souls which occupy robotic bodies. While at the beginning of the piece readers are led to believe that the narrator, Ning, is the only living creature on the street which is the setting for the entire story, it is later revealed that they are simply a more advanced version of a ghost. The story does not have a single cohesive plot, but instead provides three brief glimpses into the life of Ning. The narrative leaves many questions unanswered and does not fully flesh out any of the characters, which lessons the impact of the conclusion. Overall this story has potential, but in its current form isn’t anything extraordinary.