Interview: Ken Liu (IN SITU)

Name: Ken Liu

Age: 35

Author of: “You’ll Always Have the Burden With You”

Current Geographic Location: Boston, Massachusetts

Original Hometown: Lanzhou, China

Twitter: @kyliu99


Recent publications: “The Paper Menagerie” in F&SF, “Tying Knots” in Clarkesworld, “Simulacrum” in Lightspeed, “The Countable” in Asimov’s.  For more, please go to

Do you think alien life exists in the Universe? Yes, though my worry is that we won’t recognize it when we see it (or they us).  It seems possible that other forms of life may unfold at a much faster or slower time scale than ours.

If you could travel off Earth, would you? What if it meant you could never come back? I would, though I’d have to convince my family to come with me.  Not being able to come back is not as frightening as it seems.  All of us eventually go to a place from where there is no return.

What inspired your story? I’m a tax lawyer, and I’ve wanted to write a speculative fiction story about the tax code for a long time.  Like many subjects, the tax code seems boring until you dig into it.  IN SITU finally gave me a prompt that clicked for me.

What music or movies helped you to write this story? None.  I can’t write when I listen to music.  But I did read the Internal Revenue Code a lot (which I have to do anyway for my job).  I ended up discovering tidbits that I hadn’t known about before.  For example, “qualified automobile demonstration use” by a car salesman is considered a nontaxable “working condition fringe benefit.”  I wonder what sort of politics led to that perk being explicitly codified.

How many rewrites did you do before submitting? 3.

What is your favorite bit? I really enjoyed constructing the “translations” in the story, but I’ll leave those to the reader to discover.  The following image got me started on the story and stayed with me long after:

“The Great Tower, a helix spiraling a thousand meters into the sky, loomed high to the left of the tiny shuttle and cast two long shadows pointing away from the twin suns of Lura.  The shadows seemed to Jane the hands of a giant clock, counting down to the heat death of the universe.“

Editor’s note: It is this image that inspired the cover. It stuck with me, too.

Buy IN SITU now!

EPUB for nook and other readers, $3.99: Click here to buy DRM FREE

MOBI for nook and other readers, $3.99: Click here to buy DRM FREE

Trade paperback, 5″x8″, 248 pages, via Amazon, $9.99: Click here to buy ISBN-10: 0983137323

KINDLE edition via Amazon, $3.99: Click here to buy ASIN: B008J4ZBLW

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  1. Thanks, Ken. Read your story as part of the collection yesterday…

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