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Ken Liu reads and writes about fantastic worlds

Ken LiuHandout

Ken Liu is an award-winning speculative fiction writer as well as a leading translator of Chinese science fiction. Last month he published his new collection, “The Hidden Girl and Other Stories,” and next month his English translation of “Vagabonds” by Hao Jingfang, the first Chinese author to win a Hugo Award, comes out. Liu, who lives with his family in Stoughton, also translated the international bestseller “The Three-Body Problem” by Cixin Liu. A former software engineer and corporate lawyer, Liu lived in China until he was 11 and then moved to the United States. He’s currently at work on the last installment of his Dandelion Dynasty series, an epic that draws on Western mythology and ancient Chinese history.


BOOKS: What was the last book that knocked you out?

LIU: “Riot Baby” by Tochi Onyebuchi. It’s a superhero story about racial injustice in America. It’s powerful and brilliant.

BOOKS: Who are the science fiction writers you recommend the most?

LIU: Peter Tieryas is an amazing author. He wrote “United States of Japan,” which is spiritual sequel to Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle.” It’s an alternative history in which the Axis powers have won World War II. Sarah Pinsker is another one to watch out for. She’s a musician who is also a speculative fiction writer. Her novel “A Song for a New Day” is a post-apocalyptic story in which music becomes a campfire of hope for people trying to rebuild their lives after a plague devastates the world. Someone else is S. L. Huang, who graduated from MIT and who wrote “Zero Sum Game.” Her superhero’s superpower is mathematics.

BOOKS: When did you start reading science fiction?

LIU: It depends on what you mean by science fiction. I have a broad definition of it. I think Milton’s “Paradise Lost” is science fiction, especially when you think of the scene with Adam asking the archangel if there are people living on the stars. He’s speculating about extraterrestrial life. Do you count the novelization of “Star Wars” as science fiction? If so that was a foundational science fiction text for me. If not, then Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” which I read when I was in elementary school in China.


BOOKS: Where did you come across that book at that age?

LIU: It was just in my grandparents’ house. They had a huge collection. I came across that probably the same way my children will discover random books because I have a huge collection of random books. I love that when children are free to read what they want they create their own intellectual trails.

BOOKS: What is your all-time favorite literary classic?

LIU: I loved “Moby-Dick.” I love the way it breaks all the rules. It’s digressive, comic, tragic, serious one page and then absurd the next. It shouldn’t work but it does. I also love the works of the American Transcendentalists — Emerson and Thoreau, and their modern descendants like Annie Dillard. They represent the best American contributions to philosophy.

BOOKS: How would you describe yourself as a reader?

LIU: I read all sorts of things. I don’t have a genre preference. Stories and storytelling are so important to me because they become the basis of our identity. All of us craft narratives to explain who we are. It’s the reason we enjoy reading novels because it makes self-narration explicit. Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” is so beautifully done in terms of two people, who happen to be terrible people, who are trying to make sense of their lives through storytelling. Someone else I like a lot is Candace Bushnell. A lot of her books are really interesting studies of human nature. “Trading Up” is to me a modern incarnation of something like “The Great Gatsby” in its millennial incarnation.


BOOKS: What would be your ideal reading experience?

LIU: This will be a weird answer. I think we are on the verge of a revolution in reading, which we’re not embracing. Modern eBooks pretend they are paper books. The Kindle even advertises how much it is like a paper book. For me, the ideal reading experience would be to have an electronic text that isn’t just telling traditional stories, but is creating entirely new kinds of stories.

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobeBiblio. Amy Sutherland is the author, most recently, of “Rescuing Penny Jane’’ and she can be reached at amysutherland@mac.com