Sunday, April 3, 2016

Balin, by Chen Qiufan

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(Slipstream) As a boy, Peng receives a paoxiao, a mythical humanoid creature with a great ability for mimicry. As a man, Peng tries to do research on the creature. (10,955 words; Time: 36m)

Rating: ★★★★☆ Recommended

"," by (translated by Ken Liu, edited by Neil Clarke), appeared in issue 115, published on .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: I called this "slipstream" because no one seems to bat an eye that Peng is doing his doctoral research on a mythological creature. Or when he and Mr. Lu rush Balin to the hospital.

The story arc is rather subtle; it tells how Peng became a human being--or at least learned to have the sort of empathy and feelings that he should have.

The early part of the story tells us all about how cruel Peng was to Balin, but we can excuse some of that to the heartlessness and selfishness of childhood. He's cruel when he leaves home for school, but we can excuse that to a degree owing to how his father had treated him.

But it's harder to forgive him for dropping all contact with his dad--especially after the man had confessed that he didn't want to be left all alone. And it's painful when he walks out on him in the hospital. It's not just that we know his father really loved him; we know that Peng knows his father loved him, but he turns his back on him anyway.

We have lots of clues that Balin will be his bridge to humanity. His father hugs Balin, not Peng, but it's clear the man feeling nothing for Balin. And when Peng finds Balin chained and mistreated, he goes mad with rage--even though he's never show much feeling for Balin either.

In the final VR scene, Balin essentially imitates the whole universe, and somehow in the process, Peng makes his own breakthrough. We can see that when he asks "will this joke of an experiment turn into a tragedy?" He could only conceive of it as a tragedy if he had begun to think of Balin as a person, not a thing.

When Balin imitates the 13-year-old Peng, Peng laughs--something his father didn't do. With this show of love/affection, Peng's transformation is complete.

Con: Peng may have learned love, but we haven't really learned to love him. He remains rather unlikable right to the end. He hasn't reconciled with his father, for example. And his transformation feels just a little bit too good to be true.

Other Reviews: Search Web, Browse Review Sites (Issue 115)
Chen Qiufan Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB

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