I must be the only person in the world immune to the charms of The Paper Menagerie
by Ken Liu. The podcasters at Galactic Suburbia
loved it, for example. He's written a bunch of stories I love and deserves every bit of success coming to him and then some. This story, though, doesn't do it for me.
Lots of people find the story heart-breaking. I do too, but I feel manipulated. Yes, all stories manipulate but they also effect the illusion of portraying things just as they happened. The illusion didn't work for me here.
It starts off wonderfully. The main character and the relationship with his mother is spot on, especially once he goes to school and the rest of society intrudes on the world they'd created. I really enjoyed that section. How the main character turns on his mother is devastating. From there though, the story stretches out in time and loses me bit by bit. For me, the mother ceases to be a character and becomes a prop calculated to invoke pathos. A real missed opportunity.
I have to confess: I didn't listen to the entire podcast, although I read the story in F&SF. (Actually, I read it several times hoping that I'd change my mind and start liking it from beginning to end.) I stopped listening to the podcast at the tone-deaf rendition of the Mandarin dialogue. Sorry, folks. This is a pet peeve of mine. It's probably derived from memories of people making incoherent noises and calling it "Chinese."
Obviously, Podcastle didn't do anything like that. Still, why is it ok to mispronounce some words, but not others? (Yes, the mispronunciations are not intentional. They just didn't think about it. That's my point.)
Anyway, I wanted to like the story much more than I actually did. Most people, I suspect, will like the story more than me. So absolutely go listen to it and have a great time.