Tag Archives: malaysia

Malaysian SFF writers and projects: a directory

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.

Weekly reading meme

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!

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

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

Edited to add: From March 2015, this list will no longer be updated. Please check out the Malaysian SFF Directory instead for up-to-date details of the Malaysian SFF scene.

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.

Cassandra Khaw has a short story in Issue 5 of Lackington’s Magazine. She’s also Media Reviews Editor for SFF zine Strange Horizons.

Eeleen Lee‘s writing straddles a number of different genres – literary, SFF, horror, crime and erotica. Fixi Novo has published a collection of her short stories, 13 Moons. 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.

Julya Oui is a horror writer who has published a couple of short story collections: Bedtime Stories: From The Dead of Night and Here Be Nightmares. She has also collaborated on a horror comic: Nefarious Nights, Dreadful Days.

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

Megat Ishak has a short story collection featuring zombies and other horrors, Dark Highways.

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, as well as a novel, Last Breath.

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”.

Yen Ooi has published a science fiction novel called Sun: Queens of Earth. Read a teaser here!

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.

Bloody Fabulous and a title poll

Rather belated, but urban fantasy anthology about fashion Bloody Fabulous, ed. Ekaterina Sedia, was out in October. My story is in it! You can get a copy from Amazon or Book Depository, and there’s an ebook version as well. My story THE FIRST WITCH OF DAMANSARA is about annoying family members and pretty dresses.

Vivian’s late grandmother was a witch–which is just a way of saying she was a woman of unusual insight. Vivian, in contrast, had a mind like a hi-tech blender. She was sharp and purposeful, but she did not understand magic.

This used to be a problem. Magic ran in the family. Even her mother’s second cousin who was adopted did small spells on the side. She sold these from a stall in Kota Bharu. Her main wares were various types of fruit fried in batter, but if you bought five pisang or cempedak goreng, she threw in a jampi for free.

Vivian is an accountant. I’ve realised I use accountants too often in my stories, as a sort of symbol of order and rationality. I must diversify. Why should accountants take on all the fictive burden of championing order? Why not plumbers, transfer pricing specialists, fish feed salespeople, corporate communications executives?

***

I am trying to decide what I would call a collection of short stories by me. Awesome Title of Awesomeness is the current working title, but it probably won’t do. What proposed title do you like best?

1) Here, There and Elsewhere (I think this is a bit boring, but Cephas likes it. It’s because the collection would be organised according to setting, with stories set in Malaysia, overseas, and in other places (e.g. the Moon) grouped accordingly.)

2) Between Worlds

3) The House of Aunts

4) One-Day Travelcard for Fairyland

5) First National Forum on the Position of Minorities in Malaysia

They are none of them too good, are they? I would like something quite hip, but not offensively so. I am open to suggestions! My stories are mostly about sensible girls or women dealing with a puzzling world. Maybe I should call it The Book of Accountants.

Outpost trailer

My brother and his collaborator Mahen Bala’s short film Outpost will be airing on Astro this September. He’s posted a trailer on Vimeo. It looks good!

Lance Corporal Yazzid is assigned to an isolated pillbox located along the Kuantan coast at the eve of the Japanese invasion and occupation of Malaya. Airing soon in September 2012 on Astro Channel 318, as part of the My Hometown series.