Tag Archives: malaysian science fiction

Do you have a favorite character among the ladies you’ve written?

yifu: Do you have a favorite character among the ladies you’ve written?

Yes! Wait, no, two favourites. I suppose the second is more a type of character than an actual character. Er, I should stop waffling and provide a proper answer, shouldn’t I?

Actual favourite character: At this point in time it is the main female character in the novel I am working on. Prunella, my Pru! She’s opportunistic and blunt and bossy and passionately devoted to her own self-interest. Whether anyone else will like her is another matter altogether — the one friend I’ve let read the book disliked her for most of it, I think, and my agent wants me to make her more sympathetic. She delights me, but I acknowledge she can be kind of an asshole. She’s got her reasons, though! And I think female characters should be allowed to be unlikeable assholes more often.

Favourite type of character to write: As you can probably tell from things like The House of Aunts, I love writing aunties and grandmas and stroppy unmanageable old matriarchs in general. My favourite of these so far is probably Nai Nai from The First Witch of Damansara (which appeared in Ekaterina Sedia’s anthology Bloody Fabulous), because she is the toughest and meanest of the matriarch characters I’ve written so far.

“You know why I wanted you all to call me Nai Nai?” she said before Vivian closed the coffin. “Even though Hokkien people call their grandmother Ah Ma?”

Vivian paused with her hand on the lid.

“In the movies, Nai Nai is always bad!”

Vivian woke up with her grandmother’s growly cackle in her ears.

I don’t think I will ever get sick of writing incorrigible old ladies. <3 The great thing about them is that they practically write themselves. It saves a lot of work!

Campbell — not just a soup!

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.

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.

New anthology! New subscriptions!

A reprint of my story The Four Generations of Chang E will be in Alex Dally MacFarlane’s anthology Aliens: Recent Encounters, due out in June from Prime Books. Am impressed by the august company my wayward immigrant Chang E will be keeping! I know Alex is actively engaged in seeking out and promoting science fictional perspectives from people other than white dudes (though there are also stories by white dudes in the anthology, just in case you were worried!). If that is something you are also interested in, do check out the anthology.

I am populating my Google Reader with blogs so I can check it when I am bored e.g. at a bus stop or something. Do YOU have a blog I can subscribe to on Google Reader? If not, do you have favourite blogs you would like to recommend? Here are things I like reading about:

  • Food
  • Stories
  • Clothes
  • Women
  • Asian … stuff

The tone I like best in blogging is one that is friendly, personal, funny and not always to the point.

Pls have at it!

Awards eligibility

Aliette de Bodard’s kind inclusion of me in her awards eligibility post reminded me that I should probably make one myself. It will not be as generous as Aliette’s because I’m not very good at keeping up with new stuff in sff — for the past two weeks I have been sailing along blissfully in the lovely Surprise, troubled only by Stephen’s laudanum habit — but I do recommend having a look at her post because she has lots of interesting recommendations.

Published short stories this year were:

The First Witch of Damansara in Bloody Fabulous, ed. Ekaterina Sedia, Prime Books (October 2012). 6,100 words.

The Earth Spirit’s Favourite Anecdote in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #54 (Table of Contents and link to purchase — you’ve got to scroll a fair way down) (May 2012). 5,500 words.

I’m also in my second year of eligibility for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, as Aliette observes.

I’m happy to provide copies of these stories for anyone who’d like to read them for awards-related purposes — just comment with your email address, or drop me a line via the contact form.

A cornucopia of fabulousness

King of All Cosmos bolster held up by me

We have a new roomie here in the House of Cho & Co! He is a gift from my spouse, who is a gentil parfait knight if there ever was one (mmm, parfait). He would be good for cosplaying with, only there are no eye holes. ONLY DREADFUL LASER EYES OF DOOM.

King of All Cosmos bolster chillin' on the sofa

This picture gives you a better idea of His Majesty’s vivid manly colouring. He talks when you hit his nose! Also when you hug him (he is very huggable), or accidentally sit on him. He doesn’t currently show up on Penguinotic Designs, but that is where we got him from, and I agree with that one reviewer who said: “They said money doesn’t buy you happiness. They were wrong.”

*

Here is an Economist article about population trends in Britain:

Those who define themselves as “white British” now make up just 81% of the population, down from 88% in 2001, when the last census was conducted. … In 2001 fully 45% of the minority population of England and Wales lived in London. Now, they are more spread out.

(Admittedly that is not the sexiest quote I could have chosen, but I found it interesting.)

*

Stupefying Stories is seeking material by 2013 Campbell-qualifying authors for inclusion in an awards pre-reading anthology. Check out the call for submissions for details. They’re only seeking reprints, and are not paying. The anthology will be available as a free download from 1 February through the end of April 2013.

Even if you don’t want to supply fiction for inclusion in the anthology, it’s probably worth getting in touch if you qualify, as they plan to include a full list of known, eligible candidates and details of their eligibility in the finished volume. If you think you might be eligible but aren’t sure, check out the Writertopia Campbell Award page and the Eligibility FAQ in particular (it’s slightly out of date but I assume is accurate if you move all the dates one year up).

*

Amir Muhammad’s pulp press Fixi is launching an English-language line, Fixi Novo: see manifesto and call for submissions. They’re seeking pulp novels (“crime, horror, sci-fi and so on”) and are interested in the “urban reality of Malaysia”. (Not as serious as it sounds — well, you can tell from their manifesto, but also Fixi’s Malay-language catalogue includes the novel Zombijaya. Rough translation of the back cover blurb: “Welcome to Malaysia. A country rich with Eastern tradition. But what happens when its people are suddenly surrounded by zombies?“)

Fixi Novo is also seeking short stories between 2,000 and 5,000 words on the theme “KL Noir” for an anthology. Details on their Facebook page. (All Malaysian presses seem to operate primarily out of Facebook — don’t ask me why!)