Introduction

10 May

Hi! I’m a Malaysian living in London. Sometimes I write stories!

You can find out more about me at About, or read, download and purchase my stories via Stories. Feel free to comment or otherwise contact me if you’ve got any questions.

Ghost words, ghost worlds

26 Mar

I’ve been meaning to post about Where Ghost Words Dwell, a collage project by a group of SFF writers. It’s a website “dedicated to discarded text, forgotten words and the memory of dead manuscripts” — collecting the words that got cut out of stories in a series of anonymous posts.

Taking inspiration from the surrealist game, The Exquisite Corpse, Where Ghost Words Dwell can be read as blog entries. Are these entries part of a time traveler’s log, scraps found by alien archeologists or intermittent transmissions from places invisible to the human eye?

You decide.

The entries carry no author names and are extracts from works that have been published or are on their way to being published. They could also be alternate versions that ended up on the editing floor. To find out who the author is or what work the extracts are from, click on the highlighted links. Who knows, you may find a new favorite writer or a work you haven’t yet read.

The website is currently on a twice-weekly posting schedule, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can check out a snippet sliced out of Aliette de Bodard‘s upcoming novel THE HOUSE OF SHATTERED WINGS, a deliciously creepy desert scene, and a beautiful fragment of indigenous SFF. More to come!

Malaysian SFF writers and projects: a directory

25 Mar

I’ve been conscious for a while that I’m no longer able to keep up the list of Malaysian SFF writers in English that I put up awhile ago — because I’m busy, but also because there are more of us than ever! I think it is helpful to have a directory for interested readers and people who want to connect with other local writers, but it needs to be updated regularly if it’s to be of use.

So I have now set up a Google doc which people can update themselves to add their own details and projects:

Malaysian Science Fiction and Fantasy: A Directory

There are two worksheets — one for authors and one for projects. Guidelines for contributions are at the top of each worksheet. People should feel free to add writers or projects they’re aware of as well as the things they’ve done. Also, this directory differs from the original post, as people working in languages other than English should feel welcome to add their stuff to it. I only limited the original post to English because that’s the main language I read in.

The original post will stay up, but once the directory has been populated a bit more I will change the link in my sidebar so that it goes to the Google doc rather than the blog post, and the post will no longer be updated. I will be monitoring the directory and editing from time to time for formatting, etc., as well as deleting anything that seems inappropriate. Please comment on this post or email me if you have any questions or suggestions.

Pinteresting, my dear Watson

20 Mar

I’ve set up a Pinterest board for Sorcerer to the Crown! I don’t think of myself as a visual thinker, so never thought I’d have much use for a Pinterest board (except for keeping track of food — I admit I have a secret Pinterest account, the password for which I have forgotten, which is 70% green tea baking recipes and 30% black sesame baking recipes).

But all the cool kids seemed to be doing inspiration boards for their books, so I started one up too. And I have to say, it doesn’t come naturally to me, but I was surprised to remember all the visual sources I’d drawn upon for the book!

Follow Zen Cho’s board Sorcerer to the Crown on Pinterest.

As I pinned stuff I started putting together resources for the next book, and stuff I’d like to know for future projects, and books I’d like to read at some point. So if you’re interested in Regency fashion …

Follow Zen Cho’s board Regency dress and details on Pinterest.

or early 19th century India via the medium of Company paintings …

Follow Zen Cho’s board India in the early 19th century on Pinterest.

or Malaysian fiction …

Follow Zen Cho’s board Malaysian books I’d like to read on Pinterest.

Follow me on Pinterest for more!

Sofia Samatar, Stephanie Feldman and me!

19 Mar

crawford-covers

Sofia Samatar interviewed me and Crawford Award co-winner Stephanie Feldman about fantasy, family, history and diaspora over at Electric Lit. We did the interview in a Google Doc, and it was really interesting to me how Stephanie’s answers and mine reflected each other, often unintentionally. Here’s an extract!

Samatar: Spirits Abroad and The Angel of Losses are such different books: Spirits is a short story collection, Angel a novel; Spirits uses quite a bit of humor, while Angel is written in a more melancholy mode. Yet they share an interest in fantasy and diaspora. What’s going on there? How does the fantastic relate to diasporic experiences?

Cho: As with many Malaysian writers in English, it actually took me a while to figure out how to populate the sort of fantasy stories I liked with the sort of people I knew in life. So there wasn’t an immediate connection between culture and fantasy, for me.

But I think there is something there. Diaspora involves such a huge disruption, an interruption in continuity. Fantasy or mythology or folk stories, the stories of the improbable that everyone tells, are one means of maintaining continuity, and also of reinforcing connection. As a Chinese person, what claim can I lay to being Malaysian except that I was born there, I absorbed the stories of the local hantu, the English I speak is a Malaysian English? As a Malaysian, what claim do I have to being Chinese, except that I grew up on stories of monkey gods and magpie bridges and rabbits on the moon?

So maybe magic — the fantastic — is the thing that survives all that travel from the original point, that loosening of ties to land and people and languages. …

Feldman: Fantasy was my way of talking about one aspect of diaspora: displacement, whether it results from immigration, war, or even one generation unable (or unwilling) to communicate with the next. In each of these cases, there’s a gap, something missing. In my case—personally, and in The Angel of Losses—what’s missing is Jewish Eastern Europe.

The novel uses fairy tales to recreate that world and its legacy. It never occurred to me to use strict realism. Magical realism comes easily to me, and here it gave me the freedom to follow emotional truth, instead of adhering entirely to research. It also reminds the reader that my Europe is an invention; it’s a huge responsibility, after all, to tell another person’s story, and I want the reader to be mindful of where my voice begins and ends.

But most important: Fantasy let me explore how the stories we choose to tell are as much about us—our questions, our needs—as they are about our subjects.

Read the rest here: Fantasies that Bind: a conversation with Zen Cho & Stephanie Feldman.

Aliette de Bodard’s HOUSE OF SHATTERED WINGS cover reveal

18 Mar

Ahhh, I am so excited about this book! Aliette de Bodard unveiled the US cover for her post-war Paris urban fantasy THE HOUSE OF SHATTERED WINGS today:

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard - US cover

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard – US cover

 

It’s so pretty *_____*

THE HOUSE OF SHATTERED WINGS is a murder mystery set in a Paris reeling from the impact of a war in Heaven, featuring (in the author’s words) Fallen angels, Vietnamese dragons and entirely too many dead bodies.

The cover is just how I imagine the book, and the book looks amazing. It’s out in August — you can find out more about it at Aliette’s website: The House of Shattered Wings. Can’t wait!

Remembering Terry Pratchett

13 Mar

We knew it was coming, but it was still a shock to read that Terry Pratchett died yesterday.

Pratchett’s work had a huge impact on me, as it did for a lot of people. My Twitter feed has been full of writers, editors and readers attesting to that fact. I was thinking about this, and as I thought about PTerry, the characters he created and imbued with such extraordinary life came to mind as well – it felt like I was remembering a group of friends, of people I had once known in real life. Vimes, Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Magrat, Agnes/Perdita, Carrot, Angua, Cheery, Om, Brutha, Johnny, Yo-less, Kirsty, DEATH, Susan, the Amazing Maurice, and and and …

His books shaped my moral sense and my understanding of the world. Discworld has something that, to me, represents the very best of speculative fiction – this particular secular, inquisitive, compassionate, humorous, humanist worldview that I find in so many of the friends I have met in SFF. Pratchett used Discworld as a vehicle to express a lasting fascination with our world; a conviction that this life, our life right now, is as incredible and interesting as anything we could invent. His world felt real because he was all too aware of what assholes people can be. But he believed in us as well.

I first came to his books as a young teenager – when I was 13 my parents started taking me to the British Council library, because I’d pretty much exhausted the delights of Perpustakaan Kanak-Kanak KL. I started with The Last Continent (a Rincewind romp in Discworld’s version of Australia, nearly incomprehensible to someone unfamiliar with Discworld, and a terrible one to start with!). But I persisted through that and Maskerade (not, I have to say, one of my favourites), and got to Guards! Guards! That, and the rest of the Watch books, sealed the deal. Vimes’s boots blew my tiny mind!

The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.

— Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms

A lot of people seem to have come to Pratchett at a similar age, and been influenced by him in a similar way. I was thinking about why this was, and I think it’s because his style and his books are so fun and accessible, but they also take the reader seriously — they respect the reader, and they’re not afraid to tackle big ideas.

When I started reading Pratchett I’d already found Jerome K. Jerome and P. G. Wodehouse. I was delighted to find that books were allowed to be as fun as Jerome and Wodehouse’s books were – you could quote Keats and make it funny! You could have entire scenes featuring someone throwing flowerpots at a window, or an entire book about losers having hijinks in a boat! But I wanted something more as well. I didn’t know what it was I was looking for, until I found Discworld.

I stopped reading Pratchett’s new novels a couple of years ago. I think, honestly, he went a bit too easy on his characters towards the end – Vimes is a signal example – and that made them less interesting. But I would not write or think the way that I do now if not for Pratchett. His books were – and will continue be – a source of joy and comfort and enlightenment for me. He taught me about economic injustice, and he made Death a friend.

Thank you, Terry. I hope you receive the judgment you deserve, at the end of the desert.

Early praise for SORCERER TO THE CROWN

6 Mar

I have been quietly bashing out a (very first draftish) first draft of the second book in the SORCERER ROYAL trilogy, but have put it aside briefly to work on copy-edits to SORCERER TO THE CROWN, which came in last week. It’s early days yet, but the book feels realer and realer!

We’re starting to get a couple of sightings in the wild. Earlier this week SORCERER TO THE CROWN showed up on the Barnes & Noble SFF Blog in a list of 5 Awesome Alternate Earth Stories Coming in 2015. And blurbs have been coming in for the book — check out these awesome things awesome people have said about SORCERER TO THE CROWN!

“An enchanting cross between Georgette Heyer and Susannah Clarke, full of delights and surprises. Zen Cho unpins the edges of the canvas and throws them wide.”

–Naomi Novik, New York Times bestselling author of the Temeraire novels

“A warm, funny debut novel by a brilliant new talent.”

–Charles Stross

“Fabulous! If you like Austen or Patrick O’Brian, or magic and humor like Susanna Clarke, or simply a very fun read, you will really, really, enjoy this!”

–Ann Leckie, Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke Award winning author of Ancillary Justice

“Zen Cho’s SORCERER TO THE CROWN is inventive, dangerous, brilliant, unsettling, and adorable, all at the same time.

It shatters as many rules as its characters do. Historical Britain will never be the same again, and I can’t wait for the next book.”

–Courtney Milan, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author

“A deliciously true tale of politics and power in a charming, cruel world — it demands and deserves to be read again and again. Cho has humor and flair to match Pratchett and Heyer plus her own marvelous style.”

–Karen Lord, author of The Best of All Possible Worlds

“A delightful and enchanting novel that uses sly wit and assured style to subvert expectations while it always, unfailingly, entertains. I loved it!”

–Kate Elliott, author of the Spiritwalker series

Also the fabulous Aliette de Bodard (whose book THE HOUSE OF SHATTERED WINGS is coming out with the same US publisher, at practically the same time! we are publishing buddies!) has left the first substantive review of the book on GoodReads. (Not, you know, that I object to GIF reviews. More GIFs for everyone, I say. With a soft g!) Aliette says it’s:

Magic, manners and dragons in Regency England–this alone would be awesome, but Zen Cho adds a veneer of comment on English colonial politics …. Like a mix of Jane Austen, PG Wodehouse, and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, and all its own thing. Glorious.

\o/

Cho and Feldman win Crawford Award

28 Jan

z-amazoncover-updatedIMG_20140613_084549

I’ve stolen the headline of the Locus piece for this post because it makes me feel so weird and official. I am the Cho that has won the Crawford Award! It’s for Spirits Abroad, tied with Stephanie Feldman for her novel The Angel of Losses. (Which sounds super cool, and I can think of several people on my friends list who might be interested in it. If they haven’t already read it!)

I’m unbelievably chuffed to be in a list of winners including Karen Lord, Sofia Samatar and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. And Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels trilogy! Imagine Spirits Abroad being on the same list as the Black Jewels books. What more is there to say!