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Ken Liu

Ken Liu has won the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards and been a finalist for the Sturgeon and the Locus Awards. His debut fantasy novel, THE GRACE OF KINGS, was published by Simon & Schuster’s Saga Press imprint in 2015. Saga will also release a collection of his short fiction. A programmer as well as a lawyer, Ken has published stories in F&SF, Asimov’s, Analog, Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, and Lightspeed, among other places. Besides writing original fiction, he also translates fiction from Chinese into English. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife and daughters.
Click here for more stories by Ken Liu.

The Dandelion Dynasty

The Dandelion Dynasty — (2015-2016) Publisher: Two men rebel together against tyranny—and then become rivals—in this first sweeping book of an epic fantasy series from Ken Liu, recipient of Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards. Hailed as one of the best books of 2015 by NPR. Wily, charming Kuni Garu, a bandit, and stern, fearless Mata Zyndu, the son of a deposed duke, seem like polar opposites. Yet, in the uprising against the emperor, the two quickly become the best of friends after a series of adventures fighting against vast conscripted armies, silk-draped airships, and shapeshifting gods. Once the emperor has been overthrown, however, they each find themselves the leader of separate factions—two sides with very different ideas about how the world should be run and the meaning of justice. Fans of intrigue, intimate plots, and action will find a new series to embrace in the Dandelion Dynasty.

The Grace of Kings: A rich reward for the patient reader

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The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

The Grace of Kings
, by Ken Liu, is a book that took a good deal warming up to for me, so much so that I considered giving it up multiple times through the first few hundred pages. Seriously considered giving it up. The episodic structure, which I’m generally not a fan of just as a matter of personal taste, was off-putting and distant, while both the characters and the plot felt more than a little flat. So the idea of continuing on for another 500 and then 400 pages in the same vein was not all that enticing.

But there was something about it that kept me from just shutting it all down. Partially it was the sense that while the structure was off-putting, it also had a sense of deliberateness to it that left me more open to seeing where the author was going. Another reason was if at times the narrative felt like link... Read More

The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Vol 2: More disturbing than Vol 1

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The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Volume 2 edited by Gordon Van Gelder

I read the first volume (The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology, published 2009) before I tackled this one, published in 2014. It's only been five years, but I detected a darkening of the tone. Maybe I'm imagining it, maybe it's just me, but it seemed to me that the earlier volume contained stories that set out to go to strange places and, as a consequence, were sometimes disturbing, while this one contained stories that set out to be disturbing.

Consequently, given that "dark and disturbing" isn't my preference, I very nearly gave this one three stars instead of four — reflecting my reduced enjoyment, not reduced quality. These are still... Read More

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories: Presents all the flavors of life

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Reposting to include Bill's new review:

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

Ken Liu is a writer of many talents, all of which are on full display in his first short story collection, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. Each of the fifteen pieces presented here is well-executed; many don’t have happy endings (as much as I would like them to), though Liu makes the best choices possible for the tales he’s telling, and I will admit that the end results frequently left me crying or stunned. He brings characters to life and makes you care about their situations, whether his fiction is based in historical fact or speculation upon a potential future. Despite the fact that these are all short works, dialogue is well-written, plots arc nicely, and character ... Read More

Magazine Monday: The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction May/June 2011

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The May/June issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction is bookended with stories about music by two stalwarts of the field, Chet Williamson and Kate Wilhelm. Both demonstrate that they still wield a strong pen; both tales are excellent.

Chet Williamson’s “The Final Verse” is about two men who set out to find the final verses to a folk song called “Mother Come Quickly.” It’s supposed to be one of the best-known songs in popular music, performed by just about everyone of note, but it has its origins in Appalachia, and those origins are foggy. The structure of the song indicates that something’s missing; the last verse has only four lines, while all the other verses have eight. Pete Waitkus, the grandson of the man... Read More

Magazine Monday: 2012 Nebula Award Nominees for Best Short Story

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For the second year in a row, Adam-Troy Castro has a short story nominated for the Nebula Award which I think the best of the nominees. “Her Husband’s Hands,” originally published in Lightspeed Magazine, posits a world in which medical technology is so advanced that virtually any bit of a soldier can be retrieved from the battleground and kept alive, complete with a memory recorded at some point before the attack that “killed” him or her. In Rebecca’s case, only her husband’s hands have survived. They have been fitted with light-sensitive apertures at the fingertips, which allow her husband to see; the wrists end in thick silver bands that house his life support and his “brain.” It’s at least as creepy as it sounds, particula... Read More

Magazine Monday: 2012 Nebula-Nominated Novellas

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I do not envy the awards panel for the Nebula Awards this year. There are two excellent novellas equally deserving of the award in that category.

The first of the novellas I refer to is “The Man Who Ended History:  A Documentary” by Ken Liu.  This story concerns the Pingfang District in China and the infamous Unit 731 maintained there by the Japanese for biological and chemical weapons research before and during World War II. I had never heard of Unit 731 before reading this novella, and was shocked to learn of its existence and the role of the United States in hushing it up after the war in order to profit from the research. It sounds so innocuous to refer to “the research”: in fact, the Japanese used Chinese peasants for their research, includi... Read More

Magazine Monday: Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/August 2012

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The novella is the ideal length for a science fiction story. It’s long enough to allow a reader to become immersed in a scene and involved with the characters; and it’s short enough to allow a reader to suspend disbelief as to the more unscientific or strange aspects of a story without questioning them too closely. Kate Wilhelm’s “The Fullness of Time,” which forms the backbone of the July/August issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, is a fine illustration of the strengths of the novella form.

“The Fullness of Time” is about a documentary film maker, Cat, who hires a researcher, Mercedes, the first person narrator ... Read More

Magazine Monday: A Summer’s Worth of Apex Magazine

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Apex Magazine is an online magazine I’ve reviewed once before, stating some reservations about the change in editorial command. I’m happy to report that the summer’s issues indicate that the magazine is as strong as ever. The June, July and August issues contain something to satisfy nearly every fantasy reader.

The August issue opens with the stunning “Waiting for Beauty” by Marie Brennan. This twist on the classic fairy tale “The Beauty and the Beast” will stop your breath. The devotion of the Beast to his Beauty is transcendent and sad.

Kat Howard’s “Murdered Sleep” is equally extraordinary, though in a completely different way.  Kora has long heard rumors of an impossibly wonderful party, full of masks and decadence. One day she receives an invitation:  ... Read More

Magazine Monday: Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, January/February 2013

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The latest issue of F&SF is stuffed with good reading. I can’t pick a favorite, as I often do; many of the stories hit that sweet spot. Robert Reed’s short story, “Among Us,” is a good example: it’s about the Neighbors, creatures who look exactly like humans but are not, though they may not know that themselves. The narrator studies the Neighbors in every way possible — almost. There comes a moment when he is not willing to let research take its course, and whether that proves something to him, to the researchers, or to the Neighbors themselves (or even all three at once) is not entirely clear. Reed's story is full of wonder, which is why he remains one of the best short story writers in the field.

“The Blue Celeb” by Desmond Warzel, another fine story, tells the tale of two men who opened a barbershop together in Harlem after they returned from Vietnam. They’ve watched the nei... Read More

Magazine Monday: Asimov’s, April/May 2013

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The April/May 2013 issue of Asimov’s leads off with a difficult but exciting novella by Neal Asher entitled “The Other Gun.” It portrays a complicated universe in which humanity has found itself at war with a race called the prador, which is ruthless, merciless and completely uninterested in compromise. It has already exterminated several species when it runs into humans, and a survivor of one of those wars, a member of a hive species, has allied itself with humans. The narrator of this tale is a parasitologist and bio-synthesist who was working on a biological weapon to be used against the prador when he was reassigned to work for the Client, as he knows the survivor of another species. The Client has somehow managed to steal a prador cargo ship, and is using it to hunt down pieces of a doomsday weapon called a farcaster that had been broken up and scattered across the galaxy. The narrator no ... Read More

Magazine Monday: 2013 Nebula Award Nominations for Best Short Stories

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Helena Bell’s “Robot” is one of three nominated stories that originally appeared in Clarkesworld. It is a bitter story of a woman abandoned to the ministrations of a robot when she becomes ill. It is told in the second person as a list of commands and instructions by the woman to the robot. As much as the robot seems to be a blessing to this woman, she speaks to it as if she hates and resents it, even as she is forced to rely upon it as her disease — and the robot — eat her alive. (The robot removes diseased flesh from her body by eating it.) The worst of it, though, is that the robot seems to change to resemble her as it grows to know her. Is the robot intended to replace her? This story is more about tone and emotion than it is about plot, and Bell certa... Read More

Magazine Monday: Clarkesworld, September 2013

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Issue 84 of Clarkesworld begins with “Mar Pacifico” by Greg Mellor, which I found to be one of the two best stories in this issue. It’s hard to resist a story that starts, “A pale dawn spread across the Pacific as my dead mother emerged from the waves.” The first person narrator’s mother is formed by a bloom of algeron. Algeron developed from nanotech built by humans “to bring the carbon cycles back into balance and enhance the power of the oceans to absorb more carbon from the polluted air.” But as it evolved, it overran its safeguards and washed inland, absorbing nearly every living thing on the planet. The narrator and her daughter are the only ones left, so far as they know, and they are slowly starving to death. But the algeron seems to have achieved a sort of consciousness; it is able to assemble itself into a form the narrator recognizes as her mother. Ultimately, the narrator must decide whether to... Read More

Magazine Monday: Apex Magazine, Issues 55 and 56

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The most recent two issues of Apex Magazine give us a chance to say goodbye to one editor and hello to the next, and offer an interesting contrast between two strong voices.

Issue 55 is Lynne M. Thomas’s last issue of the 26 she has edited. It is a strong issue, with stories that are beautifully angry — at disease, at societal expectations, at clichés.

The first story, “What You’ve Been Missing” by Maria Dahvana Headley, is about the losses everyone suffers when a man is stricken with Alzheimer’s Disease. Joe has been caught eating Proust, dipping the pages into his tea and devouring them. His wife, Bette, is enraged, because when they were first married he had said he’d sooner walk into the snow shoeless than live without the full use of his brain. Now Joe not only doesn’... Read More

Magazine Monday: Uncanny Magazine, Issues One and Two

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Uncanny Magazine is a new bimonthly internet publication edited by Lynn M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas. The editors have explained their mission this way:
We chose the name Uncanny because we wanted a publication that has the feel of a contemporary magazine with a history — one that evolved from a fantastic pulp. Uncanny will bring the excitement and possibilities of the past, and the sensibilities and experimentation that the best of the present offers. . . . It’s our goal that Uncanny’s pages will be filled with gorgeous prose, exciting ideas, provocative essays, and contributors from every possible background.
Issue One opens with “If You Were a Tiger, I’d Have to Wear White” by Maria Dahvana Headley, in which the animal stars of movies ... Read More

Magazine Monday: Clarkesworld, February 2015

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The February 2015 issue of Clarkesworld Magazine opens with “The Last Surviving Gondola Widow” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. The first person narrator of the story is a woman living in Chicago who works as a Pinkerton (that is, a detective employed by the Pinkerton Agency, established in 1850 as one of the first such agencies) who was on Michigan Avenue the day the Gondolas came in from the South to rain hell down on the city. Now it appears that the widow of one of the Gondolas — for that’s how the engineers who piloted them were named, as the Gondolas would respond to the voice and touch of their own engineer like living beings — is not only still living in Illinois, but holds a position of prominence. The story is a steampunk adventure that includes a sort of engineering magic combined with a ... Read More

Magazine Monday: Forever Magazine, Issues 1-3

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Forever Magazine is a new venture by Neil Clarke, editor of the esteemed Clarkesworld. He explains in the introduction to the first issue of the magazine that it is a monthly publication focused on previously published works, mostly from this (still new) century. Clarke is the entire staff of the magazine. The Kindle subscription price is currently $1.99 per month.

The first issue opens extremely well, with a novelette by Ken Liu, “The Regular,” about a serial killer who targets high-end prostitutes. Ruth is a f... Read More

Magazine Monday Special Edition: Nebula-Nominated Novellas, 2014

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No, you have not jumped forward in time two days; it’s still Saturday. But the Nebula Awards will be handed out tonight, so this special edition of Magazine Monday discusses the nominated novellas.

The late, lamented Subterranean Magazine first published Rachel Swirsky’s “Grand Jeté.” The story is about Mara, a 12-year-old child who is dying of cancer, her father, who loves her very much, and the android Mara’s father has built that mimics Mara in every way, right down to her thoughts and feelings. It is an amazing technological accomplishment that Mara’s father sees as a gift to his daughter. Mara, however, sees it as a replacement for her, a confirmation of her fear that she ... Read More

SFM: Jingfang, Emrys, Plait, Norton

Short Fiction Monday: There is so much free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet these days. Here are a few stories we read this week that we wanted you to know about. 

"Folding Beijing" by Hao Jingfang (translated by Ken Liu) (2015, free at Uncanny Magazine)

Hao Jingfang’s novella “Folding Beijing” stayed with me long after I finished reading it. It wasn’t just the images of her fantastic city, where buildings fold down into cubes and once a day the entire city revolves like a tossed coin. It wasn’t just the descriptions of the lives of people in Third Space, Second Space and First Space. At the core of this story is an “ordinary” man, risking his freedom and maybe his life for money, and as his motives become clearer, I grew to care more and more about him.

Lao Dao works lives in Third Space and wo... Read More

SFM: Pratt, Liu, Lee, Klages, Maberry

Short Fiction Monday: These are a few of the online short works we read this week. Our themes this week are libraries and books, mixed with some poison and zombies. As long as we keep the zombies and the poison out of the libraries, it's all good.  

The Fairy Library by Tim Pratt (2013, free on Apex, Kindle magazine issue, also included in Antiquities... Read More

SFM: Jingfang, Rivera, Tolkien, Vajra

Short Fiction Monday: There is so much free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet these days. Here are a few stories we read this week that we wanted you to know about.




Folding Beijing by Hao Jingfang, translated by Ken Liu (2015, free at Uncanny Magazine, $3.99 Kindle magazine issue). Nominated for 2016 Hugo award (novelette).

Lao Dao, a humble man who works in a waste processing plant in “Third Space” Beijing, sorting recyclable trash, finds a bottle with a message offering what for Lao Dao is a fortune, to take a message from a man in Second Space to a woman he loves who lives... Read More

SFM: Liu, Bisson, Kowal, Landis

Short Fiction Monday: There is so much free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet these days. In honor of the just-ended MidAmeriCon II and the awarding of the 2016 Hugos, this week's reviews are all past Hugo award winners that are available to read free online.


“Mono No Aware” by Ken Liu (2012, originally published in The Future is Japanese anthology, reprinted 2013 and free online at Lightspeed, Read More

SFM: Baker, Chatham, Watts, Fawver, Liu

Short Fiction Monday: Sharing our finds in free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet.

“The Likely Lad” by Kage Baker (2002, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Starship Sofa podcast #23)

Kage Baker is one of my favorite authors. I love her sense of humor and sardonic voice. She’s at it again in “The Likely Lad,” a funny novelette that you can find in print in Asimov’s Volume 26(9) or free in audio format from Starship Sofa’s podcast #23 (which I listened to and recommend).

The story, which tak... Read More

SFM: Chiang, Liu, Sanderson, Kinney, Seybold

Short Fiction Monday: Our weekly exploration of free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we read this week that we wanted you to know about. 


“Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang (1998, originally anthologized in Starlight 2, reprinted in Stories of Your Life and Others). 2000 Nebula award winner (novella) and 1999 Sturgeon award winner.

Being more of a fantasy lover than a sci-fi fan, I still hadn’t read the short-story superstar Ted Chiang. Keen to see what I’ve been missing, and possibly throwing myself in at the deep end, I read “Story of Your Life.” Boy,... Read More

Brave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories

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Brave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories edited by John Joseph Adams

Even people who don’t usually read science fiction will often be familiar with a few classic titles in the “dystopian SF” sub-genre. After all, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and of course the famous Aldous Huxley novel Brave New World are some of the few SF titles that have entered the mainstream literary canon to such an extent that they’ve become assigned school reading for many students. However, novel-length dystopian SF didn’t stop with those venerable classics, and can even be said to be thriving at the moment. See, for example, the recent success of Paolo Bacigalupi’s... Read More

Oz Reimagined: You might not even find yourself in Oz

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Oz Reimagined edited by John Joseph Adams

Oz Reimagined is a collection of tales whose characters return as often, if not more often, to the "idea" of Oz as opposed to the actual Oz many of us read about as kids (or adults) and even more of us saw in the famed MGM version of the film. As its editors, John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen, say in their introduction: "You might not even find yourself in Oz, though in spirit, all these stories take place in Oz, regardless of their actual location." And actually, I personally found my favorites in here mostly to be those stories that did not hew too closely with Baum's characters or plots, but instead took the characters and skewed them, or sent them down a different path than the yellow-bricked one. Though as is often the case with anthologies, I found the collection as a whole a mixed bag, its stories evoking reactions varying from distaste to "meh" to ... Read More

The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2014: An enjoyable collection

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The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2014 edited by Rich Horton

I've been reading a lot of anthologies lately, including another of the several "Year's Best" collections (the Jonathan Strahan one). I was pleased to find that, unlike some of the others, this one matched my tastes fairly well for the most part.

I enjoy stories in which capable, likeable or sympathetic characters, confronted by challenges, confront them right back and bring the situation to some sort of meaningful conclusion. I was worried when I read the editor's introduction and saw him praising Lightspeed and Clarkesworld magazines, because they can often be the home of another kind of story, in which alienated, passive characters are... Read More

Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation

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Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation edited and translated by Ken Liu

Invisible Planets is an interesting and varied anthology of thirteen speculative short fiction stories and three essays by seven contemporary Chinese authors, translated into English by Ken Liu. As Liu mentions in the Introduction, several of these stories have won U.S. awards (most notably the 2016 Hugo Award for best novelette, given to Hao Jingfang’s Folding Beijing) and have been included in “Year’s Best” anthologies. Chinese fantasy and science fiction is richly diverse, and this collection amply proves that. While there is political commentary in some of these stories, it would be, as Liu comments, doing these works a disservice to assume that they ... Read More

Writing the Other

Terry Weyna and I attended the 2013 Nebula Awards Weekend in San Jose, California last week. The event focused mostly on the Saturday awards banquet, and programming was rather light, but I did attend a panel called “Writing the Other,” subtitled, “How do we write about what we cannot know?”

Ken Liu, moderator



“Writing the Other” looked like the staff of a think-tank. Saladin Ahmed (Throne of the Crescent Moon), Kim Stanley Robinson, (2312, which won the Nebula), Ken Liu (“Paper Menagerie”) and Aliette de Bodard (who would win for the novelette “Immersion”) made up the panel.
... Read More

Marion and Terry report on the 2013 Nebula Awards Weekend

The 48th Annual Nebula Awards weekend was held by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America at the San Jose Convention Center in northern California from May 17 through 19, 2013. Terry Weyna and I, who both live in Northern California and both are aspiring writers, decided to see what a bunch of published writers get up to when they party together.

Gene Wolfe and Teri Goulding



Marion Deeds: I think what surprised me most is how light on programming the weekend was. I thought there would be sessions about the nuts and bolts of a writing career, but I guess that SFWA members already have a pretty good idea about that. Still, I thought we’d hear about things like the new Amazon publishing arms, the Night Shade Books mess, that sort of thing.

Terry Weyn... Read More

Bill Chats with Ken Liu

Today Ken Liu stops by to answer a few questions about his newest work The Grace of Kings, the first in a series of “Silkpunk” and an ambitiously structured novel that won me over for its change-of-pace narrative construction and original setting, as well for its somewhat rare focus on social and technological change in a fantasy world. We'll be giving away a copy of The Grace of Kings to one random commenter with a U.S. address.

Bill Capossere: In my review, I mentioned how I’d had a hard time at the start with Grace of Kings, due to its narrative structure, which I described as both episodic and also very nearly a kind of linked-short-story form and which at the outset at... Read More