Lightspeed: Edited by John Joseph Adams




Book Review: Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century, by Kim Fu

Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century
Kim Fu
Paperback / Ebook
ISBN: 9781951142995
Tin House, February 2022, 220 pgs

Kim Fu is a new-to-me writer who appears to have hit the literary scene a number of years ago. Debut literary novel For Today I Am A Boy (January 2014, HMH) received a slew of accolades, including landing a Lambda Literary Award finalist spot for Transgender Fiction, and winning both an Edmund White award and a PEN/Hemingway Award. 2019 literary novel The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore (Mariner) was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award and the OLA Evergreen Award. In other words, it’s clear that a large number of people who get paid to have opinions see Kim Fu as an excellent writer. Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century is her debut collection of mostly original stories, and most of them are speculative. Having taken a look, I have to agree: Kim Fu is an awesome writer, one I hope more folks in the speculative community will get to read and enjoy. I’ll discuss a handful of the stories on offer in this book.

“Pre-Simulation Consultation XF007867” opens the collection. Told entirely in dialogue, it starts out like a classic science fiction thought experiment: vague characters in a speculative frame essentially putting forward an interesting idea—but infused with more heart than usual: a client wants to experience a simulation of their now-dead mother, only to be told that it’s against the rules. The narrative transitions subtly from moment to moment, filling in the main character while simultaneously shifting the meaning and purpose of the story, continuously keeping the reader surprised. Finally, somewhere along the way, the story catches you off guard, sweeping you up in emotion, delivering a complex but very satisfying mix of satire, social commentary, and depth. Skillfully told, in a way which is both engrossing and intellectually engaging.

“Liddy, First to Fly” is one of the few reprints, originally published in Room magazine in 2018. Liddy is a young girl who, one day, begins to develop wings on her ankles. Fu’s treatment of the idea is absolutely captivating. Rather than becoming a superhero story, a type of portal story (where having wings transports a character into a different kind of world/life entirely), or a story about a “freak,” Fu’s approach is the gentle insertion of the strange into the everyday. This enables her to ground the characters and the plot, in order to develop a narrative which builds in intensity and metaphoric potentiality. That is to say, Fu brilliantly captures the vibe of growing, inquisitive kids, while also taking the story to places which are less predictable or trite, but which still feels right. The journey is smart and layered, and everything leads to something more curious than epiphany.

In “Time Cubes,” Alice lives in an unspecified near-ish future. She watches a sales demonstration of a toy, a device which can essentially fast forward or rewind the time progression of an object or small creature. As with most time travel stories, the science doesn’t necessarily hold up to close scrutiny, but the science isn’t really the point. The application of the idea is actually pretty fresh, and it allows Fu to explore fairly morbid aspects of human nature. The narrative engages intellectually at first, then slides into a deeply personal introspection on depression and culture. This piece is startling, dark, and in its realness, courageous; not to mention fairly brilliant.

“#ClimbingNation” is a weird story about getting swept up in the odd—it’s about an outsider who kind of gets absorbed into a social circle in the course of attending a memorial gathering for a recently deceased social media star. It’s not speculative (as far as I could tell), but it feels speculative nonetheless; it definitely captures the essence or mood of encountering the strange. Part of this is the evocative style, but part of it is the way the people in the story relate to each other, plus the constant feeling of April as an alien of sorts in their world. It’s a striking narrative which is more than worth your time.

“Sandman” steps back into the fantastic, albeit potentially (arguably) more obviously utilizing the fantastic as metaphor. It’s a surreal journey through insomnia and fugue, rendered engaging by Fu’s style and perspective. In the course of this journey, Kelly develops a physical and emotional relationship with the titular embodiment of sleep. As their relationship evolves, the repercussions of their engagements reverberate through Kelly’s so-called waking life. It’s a setup which, in the hands of many writers, might elicit groans, but in Fu’s capable hands becomes elegant, surprising, and rich in meaning.

Fu is a master of the unexpected, and she shows off her abilities in these stories. She takes her plots in directions which readers are not likely to predict, yet which still make sense. She delivers delightful sentences and phrases which defy the ordinary, yet never feel overworked or strained. Her narratives are a wealth of interesting, often unexpected observations. Importantly, while doing all of this, her stories are about people, about being human, and all the weirdness that this can mean. In other words, folks, this is storytelling at its finest.

Arley Sorg

Arley Sorg

Arley Sorg is co-Editor-in-Chief at Fantasy Magazine and a 2022 recipient of SFWA’s Kate Wilhelm Solstice Award. He is also a 2021 and a 2022 World Fantasy Award Finalist, a 2022 Locus Award Finalist, and a finalist for two 2022 Ignyte Awards: for his work as a critic as well as for his creative nonfiction. Arley is a senior editor at Locus Magazine, associate editor at both Lightspeed & Nightmare, and a columnist for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He takes on multiple roles, including slush reader, movie reviewer, and book reviewer, and conducts interviews for multiple venues, including Clarkesworld Magazine and his own site: He has taught classes, run workshops, and been a guest for Clarion West, the Odyssey Writing Workshop, Cascade Writers, Augur Magazine, and more. Arley grew up in England, Hawaii, and Colorado, and studied Asian Religions at Pitzer College. He lives in the SF Bay Area and writes in local coffee shops when he can. Find him on Twitter @arleysorg. Arley is a 2014 Odyssey Writing Workshop graduate.