All posts by Ken

Beautiful Dreamer

Back in 2012, I wrote a flash story called “Memories of My Mother,” which was published by Daily Science Fiction. It’s a tale about a mother who makes a pretty unusual decision to be able to spend more time with her child. It’s very short and won’t take you more than five minutes to read.

The director David Gaddie then approached me about turning it into a short film. I said, sure, not really sure what to expect.

Well, I’ve now seen the film, and it is AMAZING. The best film adaptations strip away most of the source material and keeps only the kernel, re-presenting it in a new visual language that fully takes advantage of the medium. That’s what David has done here. There are so many things he’s added that I just love, and the effects, acting, sound, and cinematography are all top notch. You can see the first teaser trailer below.

David is going to show the film on the festival circuit before distributing it online. (So if you go to film festivals, keep an eye out for it.) Meanwhile, you can follow the film’s progress on its Facebook page.

Beautiful Dreamer Trailer from AfterPartyVFX on Vimeo.

“The Arab of the Future”

Just bought Riad Sattouf’s new book (it’s just been released in English). I’m looking forward to it.

There’s an interesting profile on Sattouf by Adam Shatz in The New Yorker:

Sattouf himself seemed to want people to read as little into his work as possible and insisted that his project was to write about his childhood in a remote village, not about Syria, much less about the Arab world. “If I had written a book about a village in southern Italy or Norway, would I be asked about my vision of the European world?” he said. “This idea of the Arab world is a mirage, really.” Perhaps it is. Yet that mirage, which Sattouf’s father mistook for the future, is the subject of the memoir. And Sattouf didn’t call the book “The Boy from Ter Maaleh”; he called it “The Arab of the Future.”

The excerpt from the book in the article sold me on it.

The Right to Move

Nicholas Schmidle writing for The New Yorker:

Once his wife arrived, they would have children and he would raise them as Swedes. He didn’t care if his kids spoke Arabic. He added, in broken English, “I worship Sweden.”

‘In Syria, there’s a hundred-per-cent chance that you’re going to die. If the chance of making it to Europe is even one per cent, then that means there is a one-per-cent chance of your leading an actual life.’

The right to free movement through borders and to live wherever one wished is a fundamental human right.

Steve Jobs, the Movie

From The Hollywood Reporter:

“Since the very beginning, Laurene Jobs has been trying to kill this movie, OK?” (Laurene’s character does not figure in the film, while Jobs’ daughter, Lisa Brennan-Jobs, from another relationship, plays a prominent part.) “Laurene Jobs called Leo DiCaprio and said, ‘Don’t do it.’ Laurene Jobs called Christian Bale and said, ‘Don’t [do it].’ “

Reps for Bale and DiCaprio were unable to verify that, and Laurene Jobs did not return calls. A Sony executive confirms, however, that: “She reached out; she had a strong desire not to have the movie made. But we said, ‘We’re going to move forward.’ My understanding is, she did call one or two of the actors.” Another source says that Laurene lobbied each major studio in an attempt to kill the project.

I haven’t seen the film, but many who knew Jobs have said that it fails to capture what was most interesting about the man, and it’s understandable that Laurene Jobs would be pained by a project that seems to trade off her late husband’s fame while rejecting the principles that bind a biographer. It’s no secret that Sorkin has said that “Art is not about what happened”. This is a sentiment that I’m generally somewhat sympathetic to, though with deep reservations in this case.

While it is true that most of us approach most art with an understanding that the rhetorical mode on offer is not about “facts” but “Truth” — emotional or metaphorical — a film like Steve Jobs is different. The reason many (if not most) viewers are going to see this film is because they’re fascinated by the real Steve Jobs, and it seems odd to claim that the art on offer has no responsibility at all toward the facts.

Writers wrestle with this problem all the time — especially those of us who write fictionalized accounts of historical events. When I wrote “The Man Who Ended History,” I felt the heavy weight of responsibility to the victims of the mass atrocities. In that case, the art was definitely about what happened because it was the reason why I was interested in writing about it in the first place.

I don’t have a good answer for how much fictionalization is “too much.” Like most questions of this sort, the “right” answer(s) vary by subject, by the subject’s distance (temporal and physical) from the audience, by the politics of the real world, and so on. Personally, I hew to the principle that I should try to minimize suffering — I don’t always succeed, but I try.

Who Should Take Credit for The Martian?

Lisa and I got to see The Martian last week, and I did enjoy it (as have 93% of the critics on Rotten Tomatoes), though not as much as I had hoped. Among many other problems, the most egregious issues with the adaptation are these:

  1. Almost every single interesting episode in the book has been either eliminated or drastically simplified, which made them less engaging and dramatic. For instance, contrast the “rover hacking” and “blown airlock” episodes from the book with the film versions.

  2. The adaptation failed to give a sense of the long delays required for communications between Mars and Earth — an important contributor to the threat facing Mark. (NASA and Watney couldn’t just IM each other, as the film seemed to imply.)

But rather than going on and on about how the film came up short, I want to talk about something else: most critics are treating this film as though the writer, Andy Weir, was irrelevant to its success.

Take this bit from Christopher Orr of the Atlantic:

In this, the collaborators who put together the film—Scott, Goddard, the cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, the entire cast, and on down the list—resemble the NASA folks and Hermes crewmembers of the movie itself: They are all pulling together toward the same goal, and doing so with extraordinary skill and tenacity.

Conspicuously absent in this list is the author whose novel was the foundation of the film. Is it really right for his name to be left off here, placed below “and on down the list”? (To be fair, Weir is mentioned once in the beginning of the review: “Drew Goddard’s screenplay is a sharp, nimble adaptation of the novel by Andrew Weir” — but the very phrasing here minimizes the value of Weir’s book.)

Even more curious is the fact that almost everything Orr liked about the film was sourced directly from the book:

There are no tedious backstories, no leaps of rampant illogic, no poorly cast performances, no tacked-on romantic subplots, no extended narrative lulls.

These praises are far more accurate when applied to the book than the film.

The Martian has a degree of humor uncharacteristic of a Scott film, including a running gag about the awfulness of the disco tracks that were left behind with Watney … But perhaps the movie’s best joke involves the love for J.R.R. Tolkien that is apparently encoded into the DNA of every living male nerd.

These clever bits are all from … you guessed it, Weir’s book.

I have long been puzzled by our obsession with assigning credit for collective endeavors to a single individual (e.g., scientists who get Nobel prizes are rarely single-handedly responsible for those discoveries). In film criticism, we worship the director as though they’re single-handedly responsible for all good ideas in the result, but in the case of The Martian, this is just wrong. If we enjoy the film, it’s because Weir wrote a great story that could be simplified into a film without too much loss.

Award Slates

I’m going to keep this simple and short. My position on slates is perfectly captured by Elizabeth Bear and Aliette de Bodard in their respective blog posts.


First of all, I’m going to state up front that I will never willingly participate in a slate. If I learn that I have been included on a slate, I will ask to be removed, and I will bring as much force to bear on that issue as I legally can.

Additionally, I’m going to rely on the discretion of readers and fans of goodwill, who I think are pretty smart people. If you see my name on a slate, please assume that it’s being done by ruiners to punish me, and that whoever put it there has ignored my requests to remove it. I have nothing but contempt for that kind of behavior, and I’m frankly not going to do anything to please them at all.

My colleagues, of course, are free to deal with the situation as they see fit, up to and including refusing nominations. As for me, well—while I reserve the right to turn down an award nomination at my discretion, I’m not about to be forced into it by the action of trolls and reavers. I expect my readers to be able to make up their own minds about my work, and decide for themselves if it’s worthy of an award or not, and vote accordingly in a fair and sportsfanlike fashion.


Sasquan and Hugos

I had an amazing time at Sasquan.

I got to catch up with old friends — some of them had come all the way from China; others I had only known online. I got to make new friends — and match faces to names I had long admired.

I got to do all this under a sky turned red from smoke and ash due to the nearby forest fires. It was … science fictional.

And I received three gold stars (see them in the picture down there?) from Kate Elliott — for, ahem, breaking the 200K word count barrier with my novels. This is an accomplishment I will crow about for a long time to come.

(Kate and I also had a great time doing a worldbuilding panel — it’s my belief that you get good panels at cons when you have panelists who just enjoy chatting with each other.)

gold stars

And now, the big news:

The Three-Body Problem won the Hugo for Best Novel!

The author, Liu Cixin, is ecstatic, as are Chinese fans. I celebrate Liu Cixin’s win with them.

Best of all, I can now claim to be a Hugo-winning translator, and I have one of the rarest rockets in fandom! Only two translated works in history, as I understand it, have ever won a Hugo, and both of those happened as Sasquan (“The Day the World Turned Upside Down”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt translator, and The Three-Body Problem). (Happy to be corrected if I’ve been misinformed.)

Since translators get their own rockets, my rocket is a pretty rare species. Hopefully, as more translated works make their way to the US/UK market, my Hugo will become less special over time. Nothing would make me happier smile emoticon

I loved hanging out with the nominees at the reception — everyone was so gracious. The ceremony itself was also a lot of fun. I think the hosts, Tananarive Due and David Gerrold, did an amazing job. I even got to receive my rocket from an astronaut, Dr. Kjell N. Lindgren, on the ISS.

Wes Chu and Ken Liu at the Hugo Losers Party

(Wes and I being mocked at GRRM’s party. Credit for picture: Marko Kloos)

Afterwards, I got to go to GRRM’s Hugo Losers Party, where Wesley Chu, winner of the Campbell, me, and other winners were appropriately mocked according to tradition (this explains the picture above…) — people were super nice though, and Kevin J. Anderson, who once taught me at a workshop, took it easy on me.

At the party, I got to witness the first (and perhaps only) Alfies — named after Alfred Bester and fashioned from old car ornaments, as the first Hugos were — being handed out to those who received the most nominations after discounting the effects of slate voting in No Award categories. It was lovely to celebrate the wins of Liz Gorinsky and John Joseph Adams, among others. Annie Bellet and Marko Kloos, in particular, were such deserving winners!

I got to witness a part of fandom lore being made in front of me (thank you, George!). As someone interested in myth making, it was a really special experience.

The Sequel

For the last month or so, I’ve been doing nothing except working on the sequel to The Grace of Kings. (No title to announce yet, because I want to get publisher sign-off first.)

And in the early hours of last Monday morning, I wrote THE END.

I have a first draft.

Some random thoughts:

I love this book; I can’t say I love it more than The Grace of Kings, even though it probably is better in many ways—but your first book is special.

Writing this book was a completely different experience from The Grace of Kings. For TGOK, I had years and years; for the sequel, I had only one year. The first draft of TGOK was pretty much finished in a single month; the sequel was composed in tiny chunks on the commuter rail over many months—ah, the edits that I had to go through. TGOK’s plot was determined early on; the sequel asked me to explore and write and explore—and then, just when I thought I was close to being done, the book lurched in a different direction. And I wrote about 100,000 words in four weeks.

A completely unexpected direction, but wow, so much better.

The revisions will come next, as well as copyedits for The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, translations and short fiction commissions, and many other looming deadlines I’ve been neglecting.

But for now, I’m going to enjoy the feeling of a finished draft.