Archive | March, 2013

Campbell — not just a soup!

31 Mar

I have just emerged from a 13-hour flight into a brilliantly cold Easter Sunday morning — and the public announcement of this year’s Hugo and Campbell award nominations. So, um, I’ve been nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer! The other nominees are:

Max Gladstone
Mur Lafferty
Stina Leicht
Chuck Wendig

I am terrifically pleased and honoured to be part of this list, and to be part of a longer list of past nominees which includes (to mention only names from recent years) Naomi Novik, Aliette de Bodard, Tony Pi and Karen Lord. Among others! (Jo Walton is, of course, also a prevous winner ….)

But more than anything else I value the nomination for what it implies — i.e. that a number of people valued my work enough to put me on their ballot. I’m pretty sure I know who some of you are! Thank you for that, and thanks to everyone who recommended my stories and linked to my awards eligibility post. I feel very undeserving, but will do my best to produce good work and retrospectively justify the nomination!

I’m also gonna hazard a guess that I’m the first Malaysian to have been nominated for the Campbell (though I’d be delighted to be contradicted, haha). That’s pretty cool! TBH though it was only officially announced yesterday I have been telling friends and family since I found out a week ago, because, as I said to my BFF Max, never mind six degrees of separation, it would take like twenty degrees before anybody I knew IRL would link through to somebody who actually knew or cared what the Campbell Award was. (It is a bit difficult to explain to people whose primary association with “Campbell” is likely to be soup. I start by saying, “Do you know what the Hugos are? Well, it’s not a Hugo! :D”, but my loved ones seem to find this singularly unenlightening.)

***

On another pleasing note, I am informed that I should have a short story in the April “Brilliant Malaysians” issue of Esquire Malaysia! If I sound uncertain about this point, it is because I am: I do not even know what Esquire ended up calling the story (I offered a couple of different titles, since the original — “The Many Deaths of Hang Jebat” — was too long).

It is basically a “Four Ways Hang Jebat Died, And One Way He Didn’t” story (see this Fanlore entry about Five Things for background regarding the format). Except I had to cut one of the ways Jebat died because, again, it was too long! So it’s more of a Four Things story.

Anyway, Hang Tuah fanfic is the best. You should buy Esquire Malaysia and let me know if the story IS in the magazine, and if so whether I should have included the “Tuah and the Hangs are a time-travelling boyband” scenario. (I suspect the answer to the second question is yes. You can never go wrong with a story that posits Tuah as the floppy-haired caramel-voiced lead singer of a boyband.)

ETA: Confirmation! The story is in Esquire under the name JEBAT DIES: see pictorial evidence.

Links are feeling Asian

29 Mar

Although it is the wrong time of the year for it*, I like this poem by Thich Nhat Hanh, posted on the Dreamwidth Poetry community: Fall Moon Festival.

What will happen when form collides with emptiness,
and what will happen when perception enters non-perception?
Come here with me, friend.
Let’s watch together.

*I know the OP says it’s especially for people in the southern hemisphere, but isn’t the Mid-Autumn Festival still celebrated at the same time of the year in the southern hemisphere?

Not Just Vast Armies Clashing on Dark Plains at Night: An Interview With Ken Liu

I’m sure this has been much-linked, but I really loved this interview with Ken Liu. There’s a ton of good stuff in it, like –

Children can be very hard and judgmental about their parents, and disappointment is often the result of misunderstanding. So how do I pass on my culture and experiences to my children in a meaningful way? How do I give them a sense of connectedness, of purpose and context, especially in a dominant culture that often devalues what I value, that is often ignorant about things that matter to me, that is often callous and dismissive to what I care about? The questions made me think about the experiences of my grandparents and parents, and my own process of gradual understanding and empathy with them. How to make the past meaningful for the future is both a big question—it’s the task of history—and a very personal, intimate one—it’s the narrative of family.

And so as I work through these issues, as I read and learn and think and write, I’m speaking both to my children and to my ancestors.

The line-up for Readings@Seksan this Saturday. I’m gonna go if I can wangle a ride — you should let me know if you’re going too. :D

Weekly reading meme

28 Mar

Nowadays whenever I am in Malaysia I make a beeline to the local bookshops to stock up — MPH, Popular and Times are not bad for local books, though annoyingly the MPH nearest to me is in the thick of renovations right now, which means that their Malaysian Interest sections are all huru hara. (Incidentally the bookshops here put things like KL Noir: Red in the Malaysian Authors or Malaysian Interest section — you’d think they’d know better. I mean, of course it makes sense to have copies in the Malaysian Authors section, but they should also be under Crime or wherever it is the other English-language noir books go, IMO. If we insist on ghettoising ourselves how can we expect other people to avoid doing the same?)

Anyway — reading meme!

What are you reading now?

Josephine Ross’s Jane Austen: A Companion, which is what it says on the tin. Her primary source is Jane Austen’s letters, which I have just been reading, and it is very interesting to be reading along and tripping over lines I remember from the letters. I feel pretty full up on Regency research now — I have one more book on the Regency from the library (Our Tempestuous Day), but I think after I’ve finished this and JA’s letters I’m going to call it a day and move on to other things. I need to bulk up my Asian historical knowledge — sadly, but unsurprisingly, it has been harder to get ahold of Asian history titles than books telling you what a kerseymere spencer is, and what the dancers would have eaten at a Regency ball. And once I start revising Prunella I will want to be reading more primary sources, to get into the right mind-set.

What did you just finish reading?

Sybil Kathigasu’s No Dram of Mercy, her account of her experiences during the Japanese WW2 occupation of Malaya. It was INTENSE. I’m trying to be a bit strategic about getting through my haul because my bag is already gonna be very heavy, so my initial plan was to read a few of the books so I wouldn’t have to take them back to England. Once I was a few pages in I realised this was a book I needed to take with me, but I couldn’t put it down because it was so interesting. So much for my strategy!

Sybil Kathigasu was a midwife married to a doctor in Ipoh who secretly treated the anti-Japanese Communist guerrillas and was imprisoned, tortured and interrogated by the Japanese for this. She survived the occupation but died a couple of years later from complications due to the injuries she suffered. She was well-educated, English-speaking, passionately Catholic, and a loyal British subject. Her account is incredibly gripping — and it was funny reading it, having recently read Linda Colley’s book on British captives in the Empire, because Colley has a section about how the captivity narrative became a thing, and British men and women captured in Afghanistan in the 19th century started scribbling away in prison with one eye on publication. And Kathigasu is totally thinking about writing a book about her experiences perhaps the whole time she is in prison, and talks about how it sucks that there was no pen and paper.

She must have been a real character — for one thing she was obviously very brave to have treated the guerrillas and hoarded a series of radios (forbidden by the Japanese) so she could listen to the BBC. But she was also obviously super bossy! You can hardly tell what any of the other people who feature in her book are like, because her personality dominates it so strongly. I can just imagine what she was like — a genial, tough, intelligent, scary auntie, fully aware of her innate superiority. She was great at being a war heroine but might have been difficult to live with in peacetime. (Amusingly Richard Winstedt’s preface to the narrative notes that she was “proud and dominant”, though he hastily adds that she was also humble, loving and devout.)

One interesting dystopian feature of the Japanese occupation, mentioned in passing — Eurasians were made to wear numbered armbands, as the Japanese wanted to be able to distinguish them from Westerners (Eurasians being allowed to mingle with the locals and go about their lives, but not the Europeans, Australians, Canadians, etc.).

What do you expect to read next?

I’m on Tales of Ogonshoto, an English translation of Anwar Ridhwan’s Naratif Ogonshoto. This is a series of short stories about the fictional Pacific state of Ogonshoto, so far largely preoccupied with corrupt politicians. Literary rather than popular fiction. Let us hope I shall have finished it before I fly off on Saturday!

What I read this week

21 Mar

What are you reading now?

Edge of Empire: Conquest and Collecting in the East, 1750-1850. Another applegnat rec! It’s all right. I mean, it’s interesting and well-written, and should be super useful (weird to be reading it right after Linda Colley’s Captives and being like, oh hey, I know all this stuff about Seringapatam/Srirangapatna already). But Jasanoff wants to talk about cultural intermixings and the lesser-known aspects of Empire and whatnot; she does not want to focus on what jerks all these European collectors are. Whereas the fact that they are huge jerks keeps irresistibly intruding itself upon my attention!

What did you just finish reading?

A Short History of Malaysia by Virginia Matheson Hooker. There’s a bit in the beginning where she discusses how Malaysians are taught their history and how the history is constructed and why, which is quite interesting for somebody who went through that education. Our Sejarah textbooks suck in a lot of ways but one of the ways I am quite indignant about is that they almost completely fail to convey the romance of the history of maritime Southeast Asia. It’s been a site of cultural convergence and intermixing since pretty much forever, and historical maritime SEAsia has everything. (To plagiarise myself, enthusing in an email to colorblue — ) Pirates! Pilgrims! Princesses! Court intrigue! People who live on boats and are ~expert navigators~, and people who live uncompromisingly independent lives in the forest and the highlands, and people who live in palaces trying to figure out how to backstab their brothers.

I also finished Jonathan Spence’s The Death of Woman Wang, which I was really pretty unimpressed by. It’s supposedly a reconstruction of what life was like in 17th century/Ming/Qing dynasty rural China, but it’s just kind of a bunch of anecdotes by some Chinese people translated and strung together loosely. I don’t even know what Pu Songling is doing in there given he doesn’t even live in Tancheng (the area Spence is focusing on). I mean — they are interesting, illuminating anecdotes! I was just expecting something a bit more cohesive, and with more of an overall narrative.

What do you expect to read next?

After Edge of Empire I will finish the book of Jane Austen’s letters I got out of the library. And then some of my other library books, I guess? It depends on whether I decide to take them back to Malaysia with me, or whether I decide to just renew them and read them when I get back.

Books I read this week

7 Mar

I’m so terrible at keeping up with this meme!

What are you reading now?

I just finished Linda Colley’s Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837, recommended by applegnat, today. Very interesting! It does feel like the sort of book I should’ve read before now. /o\ Colley’s basic thesis is that Britain built its identity on distinguishing itself from various Others — most of all Catholic France. Reading this shed a lot of light on e.g. why Lucy Snowe is such a jerk about Catholics in Villette.

What did you just finish reading?

High Society by Venetia Murray. It’s basically a book about the kind of historical detail you’d want to know if you were writing a Regency romance. Most interesting for its mention of the book from which Georgette Heyer most probably drew all her bizarre Regency slang, contemporary bestseller Real Life in London by Pierce Egan.

What do you expect to read next?

I’ve got five more library books to work my way through, so I’ll probably read one of them. Probably Captives by Linda Colley, because I enjoyed Britons so much.

The long dark tea-time of the soul of the Asian SFF writer, or, Highlander syndrome

3 Mar

I wrote this little intro to my list of Malaysian SFF writers in English, but decided to cut it out of the post itself so as not to distract from the list. I’m throwing it up ‘cos I really think this is a thing!

I’ve noticed before that what I might call Highlander syndrome is pervasive among Malaysian English-language genre writers (and to an extent, English-language genre writers from other Asian countries as well). I’ve only noticed this syndrome among writers in English, presumably because if you are writing in English you would’ve been brought up on books by Westerners — local writers in other languages appear to be more aware of their contexts and communities. (Also, I’m personally most familiar with the English-language writing scene. Once in a while I buy a Malay book and spend about six months getting through it. This is not the sort of experience which would qualify me to speak to the concerns of Malay-language writers.)

I call it Highlander syndrome because “there can be only one”. It’s this sense of being singular in writing science fiction and fantasy, accompanied by a sense that nobody is interested in your work because it is genre, that local publishers will ignore you for that reason, and the only stuff people will read in the region is self-help books or literary fiction (now that’s a blockbuster genre in the making – literary self-help. I suppose that’s what Alain Botton writes!).

My personal belief is that the reason one feels that way is not because there is no one else writing SFF in the local scene, or because there really is such enormous resistance to SFF from the reading public. Admittedly my friends and acquaintances are a self-selecting sample, but I don’t know a single Malaysian who would refuse to read a book on the grounds that it was genre. Everyone I knew at school liked the Hong Kong TVB adaptation of Journey to the West, and if monkey gods born out of rock who travel by cloud and visit the underworld as easily as the supermarket don’t count as fantasy to you, then you must be very hard to satisfy!

The reasons for Highlander syndrome are probably various, but IMO include:

  • the issue I noted above about reading books by Westerners mostly (since that’s what’s available in English);
  • the common geek experience of being the only person one knew growing up who got more excited over hobbits and spaceships than boybands. This is often ameliorated in the West when one grows up and finds out about cons and that sort of thing, but it’s slightly more difficult in Malaysia just because the community is smaller;
  • the fact that the Asian writers best-known in the West are writers of literary fiction (and the best-known writers of Asian SFF are Westerners!); and
  • perhaps most of all — the fact that often when you are a writer it is easy to feel that your whole life is one long sad story of no1curr. That’s a feeling every writer has, and isn’t particular to Asian genre writers.

I’m not denying that there’s a line of thinking that SFF doesn’t quite measure up to literary fiction in terms of literary value, mind you. I’m just not convinced that this mind-set is so much more ingrained in Malaysia than it is elsewhere. Admittedly there aren’t any dedicated venues for English-language SFF in Malaysia, but there aren’t that many venues for English-language fiction in Malaysia full-stop. English-language writing in Malaysia is still developing, and I’m personally very optimistic about it.

Malaysian science fiction and fantasy in English

1 Mar

Following a Twitter exchange I drew up a list of all the Malaysian SFF writers in English I knew of. Rochita Loenen-Ruiz and Joyce Ch’ng asked me to post it, so here it is. It is by no means comprehensive, and I welcome suggestions for additions.

Also, super a lot of links, so give me a shout if any of them are broken ya.

Please get in touch if you would like to be included on the list, or if you have any names to suggest, or if you would like to correct any errors.

Authors

Angeline Woon has a short SF story in Futura (see Projects below for details): The Domed City. Further details about her work are available on her website.

A. M. Muffaz has a long list of publications including short stories at Fantasy Magazine in 2008 and 2009: A Foreigner’s View of the River and Into the Monsoon.

Eeleen Lee‘s writing straddles a number of different genres – literary, SFF, horror, crime and erotica. You can find links to some of her short stories at her website. She also has a story at Futura (see Projects below for details).

Eeleen also wrote a couple of overviews of local genre fiction in English for SFF Portal: The Rough Guide to Modern Malaysian Science Fiction and Fantasy and The Magical Roots of Malaysian Horror Fiction in English.

Fadzlishah Johanabas writes SFF short stories, and I think also writes slice of life. Examples: Kuda Kepang; Act of Faith. Also has a story in the Fixi Novo KL Noir: Red anthology, an anthology of noir short stories set in KL (many of which are SFnal).

Golda Mowe is a Sarawakian writer of Iban and Melanau heritage. A commenter alerted me to her YA fantasy novel Iban Dream, which draws on Iban mythology, and is available as an ebook and in print — click on the title to go to the Monsoon Books website, which has links to retailers.

Ika Koeck used to go by Ika Vanderkoeck and had a short story called Crossing The Waters in DAW anthology Ages of Wonder. I understand she’s been working on novels, and has self-published a short story: To Kill A King.

Jaymee Goh does a lot of non-fiction writing about steampunk and race, which includes blog posts for Tor.com. She’s also published a few steampunk short stories, e.g. Lunar Year’s End.

KS Augustin writes science fiction, fantasy and contemporary romance. Her stuff’s been published by Carina Press, among others: In Enemy Hands.

Nin Harris created and co-edits Demeter’s Spicebox, a Cabinet des Fees spin-off fairytale/folktale retellings zine. She’s had speculative poetry published in Goblin FruitThe Domestic Sundial — and I liked her essay in Stone Telling on Malay poetry, Visions of Courtly Life Translated into Contemporary Meditations: Muhammad Haji Salleh’s Sajak-Sajak Sejarah Melayu.

Shivani Sivagurunathan had a poem published in Abyss and Apex a while ago. Unfortunately you can’t access it without a subscription, but presumably it was speculative! I enjoyed her short story The Bat Whisperer despite the weird formatting – it’s not quite SFF, but probably counts as slipstream. Shivani also has a short story at Futura (see Projects below for details).

Stephanie Lai is an Australian-Malaysian writer of steampunk: The Last Rickshaw.

I’m not sure if Ted Mahsun has been otherwise published, but he’s self-published a couple of SFF short stories as ebooks. One of them is the entertainingly titled Zombies Ate My Muslim.

Tessa Kum is a writer and editor who’s done a bunch of things, including editing Weird Tales and collaborating with Jeff VanderMeer on a number of Halo tie-in stories. She’s also had short fiction published — see her bibliography on GoodReads.

Tunku Halim has been writing horror for a while – I remember reading his short stories in secondary school. They were memorably horrible! Most of his writing seems to be in dead-tree form and only available in Malaysia, but you can check out his ebooks. He also had a short story, Biggest Baddest Bomoh, in The Apex Book of World SF.

Fixi Novo has released a collection of Tunku Halim’s stories which is available on Amazon: Horror Stories.

Yangsze Choo‘s historical fantasy novel The Ghost Bride is a literary ghost story set in 1890s colonial Malaya and the Chinese world of the dead, about a woman who “must uncover her dead suitor’s secrets before she is forced to become his spirit bride”.

Zed Adam Idris wrote a lesbian robot story I liked called Batu Belah in ZI Publications anthology Malaysian Tales: Retold and Remixed. His story The Hunter and the Tigress in Clutch, Brake, Sellerator And Other Stories was also fantasy.

Projects

A collaboration between indie pulp press Fixi Novo, online mag Poskod.my, and arts festival #Word: The Cooler Lumpur Festival, Futura brings together six writers and illustrators to imagine Kuala Lumpur 50 years in the future. Click on the link to read the short stories and admire the art!

Publishers & other languages

There’s also a thriving Malay-language SFF/horror scene, which I am not remotely qualified to go into – I mean, if you’re both able to read it and interested in reading it, you probably already know more about it than me lor. But e.g. a quick review of local indie pulp press Fixi‘s catalogue will turn up a number of SFF novels (zombies in Putrajaya! Aliens invade KL! Weretigers! I think there’s one about robots in the Golden Age of Melaka???). They’ve also got a new imprint for English-language pulp novels and anthologies, Fixi Novo – no SFF so far, but it’s only a matter of time.

ETA: Jaymee has pointed out that publisher PTS has an extensive Malay-language fantasy catalogue.