Talks

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 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


Prepared Talks

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

Fiction or 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.

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 time permits, Ken will also deliver a topical reading from his fiction, followed by Q&A.

    Notes: I’ve given this presentation 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).

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). 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 need a projector with HDMI input.

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.

How I Wrote The Grace of Kings
    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 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.

The Robot Revolution: Do We Really Need to Worry?
    robot revolution

    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 need a projector with HDMI input.

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.

Readings from Ken Liu’s Fiction and Translations, 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), novels (The Grace of Kings and sequels), translations (The Three-Body Problem and sequel, The Waste Tide, etc.) 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.


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: creative writing, history of technology, East Asian history, the business of publishing, books as artifacts, copyright law.