Talks

I enjoy giving keynotes, lectures, talks, and readings. I’ve spoken at universities, high schools, libraries, academic conferences, fan conventions, corporate functions, academic camps, literary festivals, and other public and private venues. If you’d like to have me deliver a prepared talk or present on a topic, 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”.

Testimonials

“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

“Ken Liu’s works contemplate questions about our time and our future. It’s a real art disentangling and sharing ideas as a public speaker, and Ken Liu does it in a way that engages everyone in the room, not to come up with answers necessarily, but to really think and consider the issues at hand. The audiences loved him – he’s as great a speaker as he is a writer.”

–Jacqueline Leung, Assistant Manager, Hong Kong International Literary Festival

“Ken Liu is a brilliant speaker who has both charisma and smarts to win over audiences, big and small. To top it all, his easy demeanour and considered wit make him not just an ideal presenter by himself, but also the perfect member in any panel. His sold-out lecture and packed panel discussions at Singapore Writers Festival 2017 are testament to his growing reputation, as someone well versed in various fields including speculative fiction and translation.”

— Yeow Kai Chai, Director, Singapore Writers Festival

“Ken Liu is as brilliant a speaker as he is a storyteller. Like his fiction, his talks ask the audience to consider issues that are important to them individually and culturally. He doesn’t merely lecture. He invites them to become a part of the discussion, no matter their age or background.”

— Dean Karpowicz, Professor, University of Wisconsin-Parkside


Prepared Talks

The following are some talks and presentations I’ve given in the past:

Futurism

The Future of Work
    the future of work

    Description: What will work be like in the age of automation? Are careers in fields like finance, law, medicine, and the arts under threat as much as those in manufacturing? Is it possible, or even desirable, to try to “save jobs”? Or do we need a new definition of work that accounts for the values we actually hold dear? This talk will give the audience the facts about automation and invite them to think deeper about the consequences of current technological advancement.

    Notes: I need a projector with HDMI input.

The Value of Stories, the Stories of Values
    the value of stories, the stories of values

    Description: Humans are a storytelling species, and from ancient epics to family lore, from the Aeneid to the identity of Satashi Nakamoto, we have always defined and passed on our values in the form of stories.

    But storytelling itself is a technological practice. When the technologies for storytelling change, the kind of stories that can be told also change. How will the emerging narrative technologies of virtual reality, hypersocial media, machine-assisted originality, and fiction indistinguishable from reality change the values that we hold dear?

The Principle of Deflection: Threat and Response
    the principle of deflection

    Description: In the tightly-coupled, fragile, increasingly technology-mediated future, individual bad actors will have many opportunities to take advantage of sources of strength over which they have no direct control, but which they can manipulate or deflect at little cost to wreak havoc: social media trolling, bio-hacking, 3D-printed weapons, adversarial examples for machine learning …

    How do we make societies more robust against such bottom-up threats? How do we deflect them without destroying our freedom?

    Notes: I need a projector with HDMI input.

Fiction Becoming Fact? Science Fiction and the Fate of Humanity
    When Fiction Becomes Fact

    Description: Climate change resulting in coastal devastation; artificial intelligence taking jobs away; drones zipping through the air; giant rockets rekindling dreams of the Moon and Mars; augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality available on your phone — are we living in an age where science fiction is merging with reality? In such a “transrealist” world, what can science fiction teach us?

    Notes: I need a projector with HDMI input.

My Fiction

Readings from Ken Liu’s Fiction, with Background and Discussion
    book covers

    Description: Award-winning and bestselling author Ken Liu reads selections from his collection (The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, The Hidden Girl and Other Stories), novels (The Grace of Kings and sequels) and the latest piece he’s working on (often pre-publication). He contextualizes and enliven each reading selection with background material drawn from history, science, technology, law, culture, and other fields.

    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.

“Silkpunk”: A Primer
    Grace of Kings

    Description: “Silkpunk” is a term Ken invented to describe his epic fantasy series, in which the heroes are poets who change the world through the magic of engineering.

    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 Ken had in mind as he 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, among others.

    Notes: I need a projector with HDMI input to play some slides and (optionally) some speakers to play audio clips.

Journey to The Legends of Luke Skywalker
    Legends of Luke Skywalker

    Description: What does it mean to tell a set of “Canterbury Tales”-like legends about everybody’s favorite Jedi Knight? And how did Ken Liu, a lifelong Star Wars fan, come to be tapped to write such a book? This talk will examine some of the ways in which fan experience of the Star Wars universe resembles the spread of classic myths and legends, focusing in particular on Ken’s journey as both a fan and a writer. If desired, Ken will also read from his Star Wars tie-in fiction.

    Notes: This is a good talk both for Star Wars fans and for those interested in what it’s like to be a tie-in writer. I need a projector with HDMI input to play some slides.

General Interest

The Bookmaking Species

    bookmaking species

    Description: A presentation on the history of books as artifacts and how the kinds of stories we tell are influenced by the media through which they’re transmitted. If desired, Ken will also deliver a topical reading from his fiction, followed by Q&A.

    Notes: I’ve given this combination presentation/reading at numerous libraries, bookstores, universities, and conventions. Audiences love it and tell me it’s thought-provoking and fun. If a projector with HDMI input is available, I can play some Keynote slides from an iPad or MacBook to enhance the talk (but the visual aids are not required).

Manipulable Geometry: The Mathematics of Paper-Folding
    origami samples

    Description: Paper-folding (or origami) represents an exciting branch of contemporary mathematics with diverse applications in space engineering, metamaterials, and even biology. Ken discusses the history of the mathematical exploration of origami and then shows some unexpected applications of the knowledge 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 need a projector with HDMI input.

    View a list of references for the talk.

Writing and the Creative Life

Ten Tips for Building a More Compelling World

    compelling worldbuilding

    Description: Award-winning and bestselling author Ken Liu presents practical advice and inspirational perspectives on how to build more compelling SFF worlds. Useful for both novelists and short story writers.

    Notes: I need a projector with HDMI input.

Three Times My Career Almost Ended: How To Fail Smarter As A Writer

    three times my career almost ended

    Description: Join award-winning and bestselling author Ken Liu as he recounts three times when his writing career almost ended and what lessons he took away from them.

    Notes: This is a good keynote for writers conferences and helpful for creative writing classes. A projector with HDMI input is optional for some slides.

Translation As An Art

Betrayal With Integrity: Conformance and Estrangement in Translating Chinese SF
    to translate is to betray

    Description: A one-hour talk in which award-winning author and translator discusses the origin of Chinese science fiction through translation of Western works, and then his own translation of the Hugo-winning novel, The Three-Body Problem, by Liu Cixin and its reception by readers in the West. Ken prepares the audience with some background on translation theory and the modern conception of translation as a performance in cultural negotiation, and applies these academic concepts to genre literature in particular.

    He concludes the talk by extending the theoretical framework of “translation” to his 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, book festivals …). Despite the technical subject, it is accessible and 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 need a projector with HDMI input.


Custom Talks

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: cultivating and maintaining reativity, SF & fantasy writing, futurism, envisioning the future for leaders (business, miliary, government), intercultural exchanges, how to work with translators, the publishing industry, the business of writing, history of technology, East Asian history, books as artifacts, copyright law, patent law, trade secret law, computer science eductation, etc.