I enjoy giving talks to universities, high schools, libraries, conferences, companies, academic camps, literary festivals, and other public and private functions. If you’d like to have me give a talk on one of the following topics or another topic in which I have expertise, please contact me (ken [AT] kenliu.name) to discuss rates and details. I give talks both in person and over the Internet.
For my upcoming confirmed appearances, look under “Events”.
“Not every writer is a good speaker. Truth be told, very few writers are good speakers, because we tend to be introverted, no matter how hard we fight to hide it. It’s exceptionally rare to find a great writer who is also a great speaker, and Ken Liu is one of these rarities.”
–Elizabeth White-Olsen, Executive Director, Writespace in Houston, Texas
The following are some talks and presentations I’ve given in the past:
Readings from Ken Liu’s Fiction and Translations, with Background and Discussion
Description: I read selections from my collection (The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories), novels (The Grace of Kings and sequels), translations (The Three-Body Problem and sequels, The Waste Tide, etc.) and the latest piece I’m working on (often pre-publication). I contextualize and/or enliven each reading selection with background material on history, technology, law, culture.
Notes: The selections I read from will be adjusted to suit the audience and what I’m working on at the moment. This is a chance to hear about the composition process behind the stories and to get a sneak peak at stories that may not see print for a few months to a year. I’ve done numerous readings at genre cons, literary festivals, libraries, and universities, and audiences have enjoyed the talk-and-read format.
Betrayal With Integrity: Conformance and Estrangement in Translating Chinese SF
Description: A one-hour talk in which I discuss the origin of Chinese science fiction through translation of Western works, and then my own translation of the Hugo-winning novel, The Three-Body Problem, by Liu Cixin and its reception by readers in the West. I give some background on translation theory and the modern conception of translation as a performance in cultural negotiation, and apply these academic concepts to genre literature in particular.
I conclude the talk by extending the theoretical framework of “translation” to my debut novel, The Grace of Kings, which melds Western and Chinese epic traditions by transposing a foundational narrative from one culture into another.
Notes: I’ve given this talk to academic audiences (Duke University, Clark University, Penn State, UT Dallas), genre readers (Readercon, ArmadilloCon, MidAmeriCon II, Comicpalooza), and the general public (Library of Congress). It has enough academic material to satisfy the more scholarly attendees but is also sufficiently pop-cultural and accessible to be engaging to anyone with an interest in SF.
There is an extended version of this talk that lasts one-and-a-half hours in which I get into more details of particular interest to academic audiences.
I’ll need a projector so that I can play PowerPoint slides from a MacBook.
How I Wrote The Grace of Kings
Description: A Tweet-sized description of The Grace of Kings might be: “War & Peace with silk-and-bamboo airships; Iliad with living books and sentient narwhals; Romance of the Three Kingdoms with U-boats.”
This talk expands on that description by delving deeper into the sources, inspirations, and goals I had in mind as I wrote the novel. Topics covered include the historical legends surrounding the rise of the Han Dynasty, pingshu storytelling, East Asian traditions in engineering, W. Brian Arthur’s theories of technology, epic traditions in East Asia and Europe, wuxia fantasies, “silkpunk” as an aesthetic, and others.
Notes: I’ll need a projector to play some slides and (optionally) some speakers to play audio clips.
The Robot Revolution: Do We Really Need to Worry?
Description: Do we really have anything to fear from advances in robotics and automation? This talk surveys some of the latest advances in civilian and military robots, as well as the implications of growing AI use in the financial, legal, medical, and other skilled service industries. Are we doomed to be John Henry, who ultimately lost to the steam drill? The audience is asked to think through the consequences of ever more powerful AI on our economy, on social stability, on our lives and in our lifetimes.
Notes: I’ll need a projector so that I can play some presentation slides.
Manipulable Geometry: The Mathematics of Paper-Folding
Description: Paper-folding (or origami) represents an exciting branch of contemporary mathematics with diverse applications in space engineering, metamaterials, and even biology. I discuss the history of the mathematical exploration of origami and then show some unexpected applications of the knowledge we’ve gleaned from folding paper. References for those interested in exploring the topic further will be provided.
I wrote a blog post for Tor.com that includes some of the material from my talk.
Notes: I’ll need a projector so that I can show photographs of origami artworks as well as short video clips.
View a list of references for the talk.
I’m happy to work with you to develop a lecture,keynote, workshop, discussion, or other presentation that is suitable for your audience and venue. Some sample topics I can present on include: creative writing, history of technology, East Asian history, the business of publishing, books as artifacts, copyright law.