All posts by Ken

Capclave 2017

I just had the most amazing weekend at Capclave with fellow GOH Neil Clarke: caught up with old friends (one I haven’t seen in person in 20 years) and made new ones; talked about books and writing and worldbuilding with brilliant fellow panelists and fans; read my Star Wars story from A Certain Point of View (“The Sith of Datawork”); cheered on winners and finalists at the WSFA Small Press Award ceremony; even ran off to enjoy the legendary Peruvian restaurant La Canela (twice! thanks to Lawrence Schoen and Alex Shvartsman).

And look at what they did with the program book. How cool is that???

The Dodo Dynasty

Many thanks to Steve Stiles for this amazing image, Alex Shvartsman for a super kind appreciation write-up, Cathy Green and the whole con committee for putting on such a great show, Kathi Overton for saving me from technology, and to Bill Lawhorn and Sarah Mitchell for taking care of me all weekend.

The Washington Science Fiction Association did an amazing job at putting on a con that felt at once inclusive, comprehensive, and intimate. If you haven’t been to Capclave, I highly highly recommend it.

LeVar Burton Reads “The Paper Menagerie”

LeVar Burton (Roots, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Reading Rainbow) is a hero of mine. TNG is my favorite Trek, and Geordi was the greatest engineer in the galaxy. (Remember, my silkpunk epic fantasy series is all about engineers as magicians and poets.)

LeVar Burton Reads podcast

He has a new podcast, “LeVar Burton Reads” (alternate iTunes link), in which he narrates pieces of short fiction.

He’s already performed works by Neil Gaiman, Haruki Murakami, Daisy Johnson, among others. And this week’s selection is “The Paper Menagerie”. Go ahead and give it a listen. It’s an amazing performance.

Sometimes my life is unbelievable.

More on The Legends of Luke Skywalker

Want to know more about the Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi books by Delilah S. Dawson, Claudia Gray, and me? EW has you covered:

“For kids coming out of that movie, for casual fans coming out of that movie, you hear about Luke Skywalker for that whole film, but you only see him for two seconds at the end. He doesn’t even say anything,” Siglain says. “This book is a book that goes into some of those stories that were told, some of those legends of Luke Skywalker. Are they true? Well, maybe. Maybe not.”

Did Luke Skywalker actually take down 20 AT-ATs in the Battle of Hoth? Was he just a charlatan who made up the story of his Death Star run? Is it possible he was at the Battle of Jakku chronicled in Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath novels?

“What are those stories that Rey has been hearing, that the rest of the galaxy has been hearing, and what has Luke been doing since then?” Siglain says. “The framing device for this is there are a bunch of kids on a cargo ship that’s traveling to the casino world of Canto Bight. Someone says something about Luke Skywalker, and they say, ‘Oh, he was just a myth. That’s just a legend.’ And others say, ‘No, no, no. I know a story about him.’”

 Click here for the whole story.

I’m Writing a Star Wars Book

So, the news is out: I’m writing a Star Wars book as part of the Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi project. Working with the team at Lucasfilm Publishing has been such a pleasure — they’re the best.

I can’t tell you much about the book yet, except that it’s called The Legends of Luke Skywalker, it’s going to go on sale on 10/31/2017, it’s got illustrations by J. G. Jones, and it’s going to be awesome.

(Cover image below not final)

Permit me to indulge in a bit of geeky self-reflection. Star Wars, especially Star Wars books, holds a special place in my heart. When I was a kid in China (maybe third-grade?), the novelization of The Empire Strikes Back by Donald F. Glut (in Chinese translation) was the very first SF book I ever read.

It was during a free-reading period, when the teacher brought out a box of books for us to each pick one. I had a choice between a biography of Confucius and Empire, and I picked the latter because the cover looked amazing.

My teacher grumbled, disappointed that I was apparently more attracted to laser swords and pew pew pew than the wisdom of the Great Sage.

Mind you, I had never seen any of the Star Wars films at that point, nor had I read any full-length SF novels (I had read Chinese translations of an abridged version of PKD’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and Lester del Rey’s “Helen O’Loy”). Empire literally blew my mind. I had never seen a world like this: where magic and technology were both vital; where ancient archetypes, some of which I recognized from Chinese myths and legends, pulsed with a futuristic sheen; where hope was not easy, but was always the right choice.

The Star Wars universe was where I wanted to live. It was home.

Louis Menand wrote: “Texts are always packed, by the reader’s prior knowledge and expectations, before they are unpacked.” I love that quote. And it guides me when I write.

I think a writer’s job is to build a strong, welcoming house. Readers then move in and fill the rooms with their individual experience and understanding of the world. And only then, after they’ve settled in and begun to explore, do they discover its little nooks and crannies, its hidden passages and secret staircases, and following these, they find breathtaking vistas of other planets, rogues who prize friendship more than treasure, mystical sages full of wisdom, princesses leading grand armies, and farm boys dreaming of walking among the stars …

The Star Wars universe is grand and beautiful, and it is ever expanding. To be able to build a house in this universe after my fashion, to welcome fellow fans and readers into this house, and to see them get comfortable and discover its secrets … I don’t have the words for my joy.

I’m home; I’m where I belong.

I can’t wait until you come in.

Bad VR PSAs

Cherlynn Low, writing for Engadget in “Johnnie Walker’s drunk-driving VR experience lacks subtlety”

The heavy-handedness of the video gets especially extreme at the end of the clip. As you look on at the victims of the crash, you start floating in the air, as if you were the spirit of someone who had just died. I know it’s supposed to be poignant, this moment where you’re thinking about the people who were just killed. But it was ultimately distracting and cheesy.

The idea of using VR to give the interactor a visceral experience of the consequences of drunk driving is potentially a good use of VR, a kind of story that only VR can tell. This implementation falls short, but it’s worth analyzing why.

Bridging Infinity

Update: You can enter a drawing for a free copy of the anthology on Tor.com.

Jonathan Strahan has been editing the Infinity Project series of anthologies for some time now, which focus on hard scifi tales by a variety of voices in genre fiction.

The latest entry is Bridging Infinity, described thus:

Sense of wonder is the lifeblood of science fiction. When we encounter something on a truly staggering scale – metal spheres wrapped around stars, planets rebuilt and repurposed, landscapes transformed, starships bigger than worlds – we react viscerally. Fear, reverence, admiration – how else are we to react to something so grand?

The anthology features stories from Alastair Reynolds, Pat Cadigan, Stephen Baxter, Charlie Jane Anders, Tobias S. Buckell & Karen Lord, Karin Lowachee, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Gregory Benford & Larry Niven, Robert Reed, Pamela Sargent, Allen M. Steele, Pat Murphy & Paul Doherty, An Owomoyela, Thoraiya Dyer, and yours truly.

My story, “Seven Birthdays,” has been reprinted at Tor.com so that you can get a sense of what the anthology is like. Personally, I think it’s the best story I wrote this year. And if you like it, do check out the anthology, please.

Bridging Infinity cover

Invisible Planets Launch

Today is launch day for Invisible Planets, an anthology of contemporary Chinese SF edited and translated by me. (“Contemporary” in this context means written in this century.) I’ll be gathering reviews and other publicity material here so you can judge if the book is of interest.

If you’ve read the book, please leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads, B&N, or wherever else you like to review books. Reviews help readers discover books they want to read and are the lifeblood of authors. Thank you!

Invisible Planets covers

Essays and Interviews

Reviews

  • Publishers Weekly gives a starred review: “This stellar anthology of 13 stories selected and translated by Liu (the Dandelion Dynasty series) brings the best of Chinese science fiction to anglophones.
  • Adam for Edge of Infinity: “…a one-stop resource for quality speculative fiction and provides plenty of insight into Chinese sci-fi. With moving stories and powerfully written prose, this anthology is outstanding. 5/5”
  • Amy Brady for the Village Voice: “… a vital collection for readers of both sci-fi and literature-in-translation.”
  • “The invaluable Invisible Planets introduces the world of Chinese sci-fi”: Ignatiy Vishnevetsky reviews for the A.V. Club. “It tackles its problem with intelligence, and in its diverse and often inspired selections, it makes the implicit point that the rapid growth of Chinese sci-fi in recent decades have made it both difficult to define and a microcosm of the various things that speculative fiction can be.”
  • Amy Brady includes Invisible Planets in a Lit Hub roundup of “16 Books You Should Read This November”: “…each story brimming with imaginative landscapes and thought-provoking futures that pull from both Western and Chinese literary canons.”
  • Starred review by Kirkus Reviews: “A phenomenal anthology of short speculative fiction.”
  • Marissa Lingen’s review: “An anthology where I didn’t skim half the stories! What a treat.”
  • Jonathan Crowe’s review: “There’s a there there — and it’s worth paying attention to.”
  • Charlie Hopkins for Fantasy Faction: “There is plenty of impressive science fiction and fantasy but so many other genres are also touched upon that readers are bound to be swept away and will assuredly find a new author to follow.” (10 out of 10 stars)
  • Ardi Alspach reviews for the Barnes & Noble SFF blog: “… a well-balanced, thoughtfully assembled collection, essential for any reader who wants to expand their understanding of the genre on a global scale.”
  • Taryn at The Overly Attached Reader: “Expertly curated anthology of short speculative fiction by Chinese writers.”
  • Isha Karki for Mithila Review: “a journey across time and space, traversing multiple imaginations and worlds. The stories bring you face to face with your own limitations and fears. They challenge, move and inspire.”
  • Stephanie Chan at Strange Horizons: “by attempting to set aside our expectations and preconceptions—or at the very least, picking them up from time to time and examining them closely—the experience of reading Invisible Planets can offer a rich glimpse of a worldview that is only slightly asymptotic to our own.”
  • Rachel Cordasco at Tor.com: “So what exactly makes these stories remarkable? I hear you asking. It’s their originality, their striking landscapes and unexpected plot twists, their lyricism and pathos.”

Inventing the Medium

Janet Murray (Inventing the Medium):

  1. There is a tension between film and games as the model for VR.
  2. Since the interactor’s experience of agency is always the most important design value for digital environments, games are a more productive starting point.
  3. Hand controllers are key to success because they give us a presence in the virtual role, functioning as “threshold objects” when they mimic two-handed operations we can see.
  4. Virtual vehicles are a promising approach to constraining and empowering interaction.
  5. Documentary film approaches may work, shaping interaction as a visit (as I describe in Chapter 4 Immersion in Hamlet on the Holodeck). To be successful, designers need to invent:
    1. interaction conventions for navigating the space,
    2. cues to entice us to navigate,
    3. dramatic composition of the experience to rewards us for being in one place rather than another,
    4. a fourth wall equivalent to make clear what we can and cannot do.

If you’re at all interested in the narratology of VR, you need to read everything Janet Murray has written.