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Monday, October 24, 2016

GUEST POST: Lingering In The World — The Appeal Of Writing Epic Fantasy by Ken Liu


I had written and published fantasy stories before The Grace of Kings, but they were mostly magic realist or allegorical tales. Epic fantasy was not a genre that anyone familiar with my short fiction would have associated with me.

So why did I pick epic fantasy for my first novel series?

There’s both a serious answer and a not-so-serious answer.

The serious answer is that I’m interested in foundational narratives and the process of myth-making. Every culture has its own set of foundational narratives, stories that a people tell themselves to define who they are, how they came to be, what values they treasure and want to pass on to the next generation, and what their place in the world is in relation to other peoples and the divine. We Americans have our own foundational myths, and you can see these on display when you take a stroll down the Mall in Washington, D.C., and so do the French, the British, the Chinese, and every other nation. Such myths are, of course, not limited to nation-states. Silicon Valley has its foundational myths, as do lawyers and management consultants. Even families have their individual core stories that are contested and refined and rewritten down the generations. All my short fiction can be read as explorations into the idea of myth-making, of our very human relationship with the intersecting foundational myths in our lives.

Epic fantasy just seemed like the best way to explore this idea. Of all the modes of literature, it is the one where an author can engage in myth-making and interrogate the process of the evolution of these foundational myths without the work falling apart under its own weight. Genres are not terribly meaningful except insofar as they influence the interpretive framework readers bring to books, and readers of epic fantasy are ready to play the game of myth-making with the author and the text.


The not-so-serious answer, on the other hand, is simply that I wanted to spend more time with my characters and my world. With short fiction, just as I come to know a character and the world she lives in, I have to say good-bye. I might have devised all sorts of interesting cultural practices and written pseudo-academic papers on the fauna and flora of a some new planet, but none of that can make its way into 5000 words. A short story is a glimpse, a holiday, a mere taste of a world. And after having done it hundreds of times for my short fiction, I wanted to linger in one of these worlds for longer, to explore its nooks and crannies, and to follow the histories of the characters and their children and grandchildren down the ages.

Epic fantasy gives me the room and time to do that.

In The Grace of Kings, readers are introduced to the world of Dara, a silkpunk archipelago where sentient whales prophesy the future and silk-and-bamboo airships patrol the skies and warriors hefted aloft on giant kites duel for the fate of the islands with massive swords. The story there was focused on men and women who were already, in some sense, larger-than-life. But in The Wall of Storms, the attention shifts to the next generation, when the aftermath of a revolution is fought over by scholars and engineers who must craft a new philosophy of peace from the pieces of an older order shattered by war — while new threats loom on the horizon.

I’m glad I got to spend more time with the world of Dara and the characters who inhabit these islands: cerebral Luan Zya, proud Gin Mazoti, grand-spirited Kuni Garu, farseeing Jia. And I’m even more glad I got to see them grow older and bring up the next generation of heroes and troublemakers. It is exactly what I wanted to do when I started my novel series.

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Official Author Website
Order The Wall Of Storms HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Grace Of Kings
Read A Silkpunk Epic: The Grace of Kings and a New Aesthetic
Read Silkpunk: Redefining Technology for The Grace of Kings
Read Silkpunk: playing engineer in an imaginary world

GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: Ken Liu is one of the most lauded authors in the field of American literature. A winner of the Nebula, Hugo, World Fantasy, Sidewise, and Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Awards, he has also been nominated for the Sturgeon and Locus Awards for his short fiction. His short story, “The Paper Menagerie,” is the first work of fiction to simultaneously win the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards. He also translated the 2015 Hugo Award-winning novel The Three-Body Problem, written by Cixin Liu, which is the first novel to ever win the Hugo award in translation.

Ken’s debut novel, The Grace of Kings, is the first volume in a silkpunk epic fantasy series set in a universe he and his wife, artist Lisa Tang Liu, created together. It was a finalist for the 2015 Nebula Award, and was awarded the Locus Award for Best First Novel. He lives with his family near Boston.

NOTE: Author picture courtesy of Lisa Tang Liu. 

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