This reading group guide for The Hidden Girl 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.
From the award-winning author of The Paper Menagerie, Ken Liu, comes his next collection of speculative fiction. There are stories with time-traveling assassins, otherworldly beings, unbelievably vicious internet trolls, and tyrannical digital gods. He covers everything from the complexities of parent-child relationships to what it means to be a human, and he offers a glimpse into the possible futures for humanity.
The Hidden Girl and Other Stories is a far-reaching work that explores topics of today, while considering the past and looking forward at what is to come.
Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. While all of the stories have their own themes, arcs, environments, and characters, talk about the overarching narrative of the collection as a whole. Would there be a different order that you would choose? What story do you think Liu is trying to tell through this particular order?
2. One of the recurring motifs is the definition of humanity—what truly makes us human. This is especially prominent in the stories that feature the idea of Singularity. Discuss the idea of uploading one’s consciousness into the cloud. As a human, what is there to gain and what is there to lose? Do you think Liu tries to represent both sides?
3. Why do you think Liu chose to end the collection with “Cutting” and have the last words be “remember to forget”? Do you think it’s in reference to all of the previous stories or just to “The Message” (a story in which a man’s inability to forget civilizations that came before him leads to his death and the near death of his daughter)?
4. The idea of heritage and belonging is touched on in “Ghost Days.” Talk about how Liu uses the words alien, ghost, and foreigner to create the feeling of being an outcast, and how it’s passed through generations.
5. In “The Reborn” the prisoner tells Josh Rennon, “‘I don’t want to be free of these ghosts. Did you ever consider that? I don’t want to forget’” (p. 55). Would you rather forget something horrible that happened to you or do you believe that even the painful memories and harmful mistakes are what make a human whole? Do you think it’s possible to fully forgive awful deeds if you can’t remember them?
6. Talk about the themes touched on in “The Reborn.” Are there certain acts that are completely unforgivable? Josh truly loved Kai before he remembered that Kai was responsible for the murder of Josh’s parents. Do you think Josh made the right decision in the end? Talk about some of the ways that Liu made Kai sympathetic.
7. “Thought and Prayers” focuses on the dark underbelly of the social media world and “internet trolls.” Do you agree with Heartless that “everyone is a troll now”? Is it almost impossible to have any sort of true authenticity in an online presence? Talk about some of the problems that online trolls have caused in real life. Do you think this story could be where we are headed?
8. Maddie is the only recurring character and yet her stories are not consecutive. What are some of the pros for the fact that there are stories in between Maddie’s episodes—although they do seem to be linked and occur in the same world? What are some of the cons?
9. “‘But why do you think we are a problem that needs solving?’. . . ‘We don’t call ourselves refugees; you do. This is our home. We live here’”(p. 258). This is what one of the boys still living on Earth says to Asa --π when she is bartering with him. While, of course, people living on Earth are either forever at sea or underground, there also seems to be a thriving tourist population. Humans appear to have adapted and some don’t know any other kind of life. So, why do you think many still look at them as refugees? What are some examples of the language that Liu uses to make underwater-Harvard actually seem appealing and beautiful?
10. “The Hidden Girl” has a tone that is somewhat different from the majority of the stories. There’s very little technology, and it seems to lean much more toward spiritual and mystical ideas. Why do you think Liu chose this particular story to be the title that represents the whole collection?
11. All of the stories touch on deep philosophical questions about the human experience—what it means to be a parent, a child, part of a family unit, an outcast. What is the story that you feel captured it accurately? What were some of the ways that Liu summed up our existence successfully?
12. This collection focuses a lot on where the Earth is headed and what our future might look like. Would you say that Liu’s vision is somewhat hopeful? While many die, there are people who adapt and carry on the species. Or would you say that his idea of the future is pessimistic? If so, why?
13. Talk about which of the postapocalyptic or alien worlds you would prefer to inhabit and why.
14. In almost every one of the stories a loved one has either already passed away or dies in the story. How does Liu explore the idea of loss and its impact on different members of the family?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Many of the technologies mentioned throughout don’t seem entirely too futuristic. Singularity, and the quest for immortality by uploading your consciousness, is something that has been in the news over the past couple of years. Before book club, do a little research on the subject and come prepared to distinguish the fact from the fiction.
2. Before book club, think about what you might be if you drank the Revelation wine. Then have members discuss each person and see how your view of yourself compares with others’ views of you. For an extra element, have a specialty-themed beverage for that night that everyone has to drink.
3. Think about which of the stories you wish would be developed into a full-length book. Come up with a plot of what that book would be. Would you have it pick up after the end of the short story and flesh it out from there? Or would you use the story as an outline and fill in other plot points within the current structure?