To celebrate the sixth issue of LONTAR, we have an exclusive short interview by editor Jason Erik Lundberg with Ken Liu, whose “Running Shoes” is the lead-off story. Liu is the multi-award winning author of The Grace of Kings and The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, and Hugo-winning translator of Liu Cixin’s novel The Three-Body Problem.
Jason Lundberg: Your story “Running Shoes” initially takes place at a sweatshop in rural Vietnam, and then moves to an American suburb. What relationship were you aiming to show between these two locales?
First, thank you very much for the interview, Jason! I’m honored to be part of LONTAR.
I don’t know if I had a specific aim in this story with the contrasting settings. We live on a planet that is not flat. Some of us are born through the veil of ignorance into conditions of great privilege; some of us are not. Is it moral to tolerate the world the way it is? Is it moral to seek to reshape it the way we want it to be? Is it moral to depict the world as it is? Is it moral to ignore the world the way it is? Is it moral to ask questions and have no answers?
I don’t have any answers. Only questions.
Q. The fantastical element employed here is an unusual one, that of haunting a pair of running shoes. What was the inspiration behind using this particular technique?
This story actually began as an entry in a writing contest based on a prompt. If I recall correctly, the prompt was a photograph of a pair of running shoes dangling from a wire, the sort of thing you see all over America. I looked at the photograph and wondered where the shoes had come from and how they had gotten there, and the story simply followed.
Q. Giang’s fate is heartbreaking and then uplifting. I’m currently reading your collection The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, and I’ve noticed that you’re quite adept at turning a plot in a very unexpected (and typically compassionate) direction. Is this a conscious decision when you’re crafting a short story, to subvert your readers’ expectations?
The only reader I have in mind when I write is myself. Every story I write, in some sense, is an argument with myself: about what is beautiful; what is true; what is the point of being alive and aware and thinking and moving; what is a story; what is a good story; what is a good story that makes me care and makes me weep.
I don’t think I try to subvert reader expectations. I work hard to satisfy my own expectations.
Q. Which authors either from Southeast Asia or writing about Southeast Asia do you enjoy reading? Could you give examples of particular works?
Space limitation means that I can’t list everyone I should, so I’ll just give a few examples. I’m reading through S.P. Somtow’s Dragon’s Fin Soup right now, and it’s fantastic. Colorful images and musical prose weave tales that are at once lush and stark in their beauty. I also really like the works of many Singaporean or Singapore-based writers like J.Y. Yang, Joyce Chng, Stephanie Ye, Victor Fernando R. Ocampo, and others. LONTAR is a great venue for getting a sense of the exciting work being done by Southeast Asian writers.
Q. Shameless self-promotion time: what is next on the publication horizon for Ken Liu?
The biggest project I’m working on right now is the third book in the Dandelion Dynasty series. I have lots of ideas that still need to be distilled into a manageable plot. The second book in that series (and the first sequel to The Grace of Kings), titled The Wall of Storms, will be coming out from Saga Press in October of 2016 (and it’s bigger and better in every way, with even more intrigue and silkpunk technology!).
In August, Death’s End, my translation of the third and concluding volume in Liu Cixin’s Three-Body trilogy, will be released by Tor Books. Fans of the series will then see why this is my favorite volume in the series.
Finally, in November, Tor Books will publish my collection of translated Chinese SF, Invisible Planets. This, the first English-language commercial anthology focused on contemporary short-form Chinese SF, will contain award-winning stories by such luminaries as Liu Cixin, Chen Qiufan, Xia Jia, Hao Jingfang, and others.
I also have a few stories in anthologies edited by Jonathan Strahan, Gardner Dozois, and others coming out later this year.