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"Science Fiction" means—to us—everything found in the science fiction section of a bookstore, or at a science fiction convention, or amongst the winners of the Hugo awards given by the World Science Fiction Society. This includes the genres of science fiction (or sci-fi), fantasy, slipstream, alternative history, and even stories with lighter speculative elements. We hope you enjoy the broad range that SF has to offer.


Ken Liu (kenliu.name) is an author and translator of speculative fiction, as well as a lawyer and programmer. A winner of the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards, he has been published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimovís, Analog, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and Strange Horizons, among other places. He lives with his family near Boston, Massachusetts.

Ken's debut novel, The Grace of Kings, the first in a silkpunk epic fantasy series, was published by Saga Press in April 2015. Saga will also publish a collection of his short stories, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, in November 2015.

Every year, I get two letters from Nainai, my grandmother: one for my birthday, one for Christmas.
A disk-shaped crystal sits on my desk: about an inch in diameter, a quarter of an inch thick, heavier than it looks. In the four o'clock sun on this New England winter afternoon, it scatters the light in rainbow-hued bands to the ceiling and dark corners of the room.
Nainai gave it to me as a farewell gift when I left her to live with my mother.
The night before my departure, I trembled in the bed that Nainai and I shared, the darkness outside the window as frightening and unknown as the country across the ocean.
"Why would a boy be afraid to see his own mother?" she whispered to me.
But of course I was afraid. I didn't remember my mother. She had left me behind with Nainai to go to America and start a new life when I was a baby, back in 1980. I knew her as black-and-white photographs and a voice on the old Bakelite phone twice a year: Chinese New Year's and my birthday. I thought of her as a ghost who lived in the earpiece, and I never knew what to say to her.
Nainai held me tight so that I could hear and feel her heartbeat. She stroked my back again and again until I fell asleep.
In the morning, she made me drink a bowl of hot, sweet soymilk and eat two whole youtiao, still warm from the vendor's fryer. Then she handed me the crystal.
"What is it?" I asked.
"When you miss me," she said, "just squeeze it in your palm, and you'll feel my hand squeezing back."
I was skeptical. The crystal looked very ordinary, not magical at all. But I nodded all the same, trying to be brave, and then it was time for us to go to the airport.
Alone on the plane, I held the crystal in my hand while the Pacific Ocean passed under me. Nainai was right. The cold crystal warmed to my skin and I could feel it pulse in sync with my heartbeat. I yawned and yawned, like Nainai had taught me, so that my ears would clear.
Boston smelled strange, and I sneezed. The sunlight was too bright, and I met my mother for the first time in the airport. I did not recognize her from her pictures--because the photos were black and white, somehow I thought she would be, too. Her expressions and movements were exaggerated, and I thought she looked like the foreigners around us.
That night, as I lay in the bed that my mother explained was my own, I cried. I squeezed the crystal until I could feel it pulse against my palm, until I fell asleep.
I wanted to write to Nainai.
"You should be practicing your English instead," my mother said.
After a few days, the telephone rang. My mother picked it up and carried it into her room.
I wanted to know if it was Nainai, so I tiptoed over and placed my ear against the door.
"No, he needs to learn to make his home here," I heard my mother say. "How can I make him bond with me if you keep on trying to talk to him? No. No!"
Both of us pretended that the phone call never happened.
Every morning, I ate a bowl of cereal with cold milk while I practiced English with a cassette player. I went to school, and, after a while, I learned to pick out words from the noises my classmates made. Boston no longer smelled strange, and at nights I didn't need to sleep holding the crystal.
I stopped asking to write. Nainai became a ghost who appeared twice a year in dense characters on thin sheets of paper. "I'll tell her you're doing well," my mother said.
This year, there was no letter for my birthday. Today is Christmas, but the mailbox is still empty. I'm old enough to mail a letter on my own, so I pick up the pen, but then I realize that I no longer know how to form the simplest characters.
I hold the crystal in my hand and squeeze it very tight, until the sharp edges cut into my palm. It stays cold.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, October 15th, 2015

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- Ken Liu
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