I had the amazing opportunity to chat with author Ken Liu about writing, fandom, and of course Star Wars. He is the author of two pieces of Star Wars fiction in the last year, the novel The Legends of Luke Skywalker (2017) as well as the short story “The Sith of Datawork” from the Star Wars anthology From a Certain Point of View (2017), which celebrates the 40th Anniversary of A New Hope.
Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get into writing? When did you know you wanted to be an author?
I think I’ve always been writing — I remember writing an SF story back in first grade that I forced my family to read with the threat of a tantrum. (I do not recommend that method of getting readers.)
I got serious about writing for publication in college, and have been publishing fiction off and on for close to two decades now.
When did you first become a Star Wars fan? What’s your earliest Star Wars memory?
When I was a kid in China, the Star Wars films weren’t released in the country. But I got to read a translation of the novelization of The Empire Strikes Back and fell in love with the galaxy far far away immediately. Been a fan since.
How is it different writing your own novels and short stories from writing for an IP like Star Wars?
It’s largely a matter of your sources of allusions and references. The Star Wars universe has a self-contained history, geography, cultures, politics, and so on, and so the challenge is to build on what has already been done by other fantastic creators while retaining the flavor of your own unique vision.
There’s a lot more freedom when doing my own original work, but I also can’t quite count on the audience being able to understand all the references.
How did you become a part of From a Certain Point of View?
I was invited to contribute by editor Elizabeth Schaefer, who was just fantastic to work with. The idea of telling a story that expanded a minor moment from the film was just up my alley. I think I said yes in less than 12 parsecs.
“The Sith of Datawork” was one of my favorite short stories in From a Certain Point of View. How did you select that particular moment from the film to write about?
I’ve always loved that moment from the film. The very idea that Imperial gunners would conserve energy ammunition and not go “pew pew pew” on the escape pod struck me as funny and absurd from the get go. I had to come up with some explanation that made sense, and decades after I first had that thought, I finally got the chance.
We know that the Story Group can keep a tight grip on the stories that are part of canon now, but your book, The Legends of Luke Skywalker, is ambiguous about how much of the stories involved are real. What was the interaction with the group like in planning the novel? How did the novel come to you?
I can’t say much about the details due to the NDA, but I can say that Lucasfilm Publishing was extremely supportive. They gave me all sorts of resources and I could bounce ideas off of them while writing the book.
You probably can’t tell me whether any of the stories in The Legends of Luke Skywalker are actually canonical, but if you had to choose one of them that you’d most like to believe was true, do you have one in mind?
The idea behind The Legends of Luke Skywalker is to play with the notion of “canon” a bit. All the stories are in fact in-universe legends, and so they have the same truth value as legends in our universe. The legends reflect the meaning of Luke to different people in the galaxy, and they are true only insofar as they inspire people to positive action. That is exactly how it should be.
My favorite of the stories in The Legends of Luke Skywalker is “Fishing in the Deluge.” What was your inspiration about the different conceptions of the Force that the characters in that story express?
I went back to the same sources as Lucas himself in coming up with the idea of the Force. Various religious and philosophical traditions in our world together formed the foundation of the Force, and that is a rich mine that can never be exhausted.
Speaking of “Fishing in the Deluge,” we see Luke Skywalker use a long fishing spear in The Last Jedi. What do you think of that coincidence?
Ha, it’s not a coincidence 🙂
In your Star Wars work you’ve gotten to both work with the most legendary of characters, Luke Skywalker, as well as create some new ones of your own. How is it different when you get to play with your own characters versus being trusted with someone else’s?
Luke is one of my favorite characters from the Star Wars universe. He has come to mean so many different things to fans around the globe, and I wanted to honor the power of that multiplicity. For that reason, the book had to be told from many different points of view, and the one thing you have to do, when you want to make a POV compelling, is to create a compelling character.
If you could write any character in the Star Wars universe for a future project, who would it be?
Too many to count. But personally, I’d like to tell a story outside the Skywalker family saga. It’s a vast galaxy out there, full of interesting stories.
For readers who are discovering your work through Star Wars, what would you want them to know about your other work?
If readers enjoyed the way I use SF tropes to tell a story that is at heart a mythical fantasy, they might enjoy my silkpunk epic fantasy series, The Dandelion Dynasty (The Grace of Kings, The Wall of Storms, and a forthcoming third volume). These books are epic fantasy based on historical legends from China, but they feature engineers as heroes, and there is real math in the books.
What upcoming projects can you tell us about?
I have several short fiction projects this year, and in May, MIT Press will be publishing Twelve Tomorrows, an SF anthology featuring authors like SL Huang, Elizabeth Bear, Malka Older, and me. If readers want to keep up with my latest, they can follow me on Twitter (@kyliu99), go to my web site (http://kenliu.name), or sign up for my mailing list (see link on my web site).
Thank you very much!
About Ken Liu
Ken Liu (http://kenliu.name) is an author of speculative fiction, as well as a translator, lawyer, and programmer. A winner of the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy awards, he is the author of The Dandelion Dynasty, a silkpunk epic fantasy series (The Grace of Kings(2015), The Wall of Storms (2016), and a forthcoming third volume) and The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories (2016), a collection. He also wrote the Star Wars novel, The Legends of Luke Skywalker (2017).
In addition to his original fiction, Ken also translated numerous works from Chinese to English, including The Three-Body Problem (2014), by Liu Cixin, and “Folding Beijing,” by Hao Jingfang, both Hugo winners.