Ken Liu – from short stories to an epic fantasy quartet!
Back to Continuum Convention – which happened a month ago – can you believe it? Ken Liu was the second guest of honour and his journey is an interesting one as he started out writing short stories but is now finishing an epic fantasy that has become a quartet, rather than a trilogy. The Dandelion Dynasty was over in ten years in the making and has been hailed as one of the first examples of silkpunk.
Liu is both a lawyer and a computer programmer, as well as a writer, so it’s no surprise that he brings preoccupations associated with both these professions to his writing. So, for example, he 3-D printed some of the machines he used in order to see if they – and by extension, his military strategies – could work. He has also written psdeudo-scientific papers on the world he has created – an advanced form of procrastination! The story also explores ideas about self-governance (this is particularly evident in the second book) and the idea of ‘narrative’ in war/invasion – what is the story that propels people to die for their country or their belief?
I was intrigued by the fact that he doesn’t outline his plot – even for such a large work! Instead he keeps in mind the important character arcs which he likened to small islands in the fog.
The other element about writing the Dandelion Dynasty books that I found really interesting was that Liu deliberately wrote each book in a different style. The first book, The Grace of Kings, is written as pre-modern narrative – think The Iliad. The second, The Wall of Storms, focuses on modernist techniques such as interiority. And the third book (which may actually be two books) is stylistically post-modern. I’m reading The Grace of Kings – but my reading has been scattered over a number of books of late, so I’ll have to get back to it but I did think there was a lot of narrative and exposition in what I’d read of The Grace of Kings. This certainly fits in with it being a told story – is this a good thing? I’m holding my judgement on this until I finish the books. You can read a review of The Grace of Kings here.
Liu also had some revision tips. The first was to give oneself permission to make mistakes. In this instagrammable world I think it’s easy to forget that mistakes are important. We learn from them. They drive us to improve. It’s not all instagram-perfect and that’s fine. Liu makes several revision ‘passes’ – the first to check continuity, the second to focus on consistency of voice and the final one is micro editing and looks at the quality of the language itself. I like the idea of calling these ‘revision passes’ – it implies that you’re sweeping through the manuscript.