My Stories

Sequel to “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again”

Towards the end of last year I wrote a short story as a coda to my novelette about a failboat imugi striving to be a dragon, which was sent out to subscribers to my new release mailing list. I’ve now posted it to my website and you can read it here!

Head of a Snake, Tail of a Dragon by Zen Cho

Also I hear Hugo awards nominations are now open for 2018 publications! If you enjoyed If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again, I’d be thrilled if you’d consider nominating it in the Best Novelette category. (My dream is to have a Hugo nomination in a year I’m actually likely to make it to Worldcon, so I have an excuse to bring a fancy outfit plus get to attend the Hugo Losers Party. But of course you must nominate as your heart directs, unswayed by my dreams of frivolity!)

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My Stories, SFF, Sorcerer to the Crown, The True Queen

Site update: THE TRUE QUEEN and a new novelette!

I’ve let this website go to pot somewhat while I was busy finishing my book, but I’ve now updated it!

The follow-up to Sorcerer to the Crown is in the bag and will be published in March 2019. The True Queen is a standalone novel set two years after Sorcerer, about a young woman from the Malayan isle of Janda Baik who goes on a quest to break a curse and save her sister — and becomes enmeshed in intrigue in England and Fairyland along the way. It’s about sisterhood and magic and growing into yourself, and also Hijinks with Dragons (my brand). It follows new characters and explores the world beyond England, but readers of Sorcerer will recognise a number of familiar faces. You can find out more — and preorder a copy! — here:

The True Queen.

Speaking of Hijinks with Dragons, I’ve got a new novelette up at the B&N Sci-fi & Fantasy Blog, called If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again:

A hapless imugi is determined to attain the form of a full-fledged dragon and gain entry to the gates of heaven. For a long time, things don’t go well. Then, it meets a girl.

It’s about dragons and failure and what happens when life doesn’t go to plan. It’s also my only awards eligible publication this year because I write and publish at the approximate pace of a distractible snail _(┐「ε:)_ Read it here!

And I’ve been finding it hard to make the time for blogging, but whenever I do manage a ramble, it goes out to my Cakap Angin newsletter. You can check out past newsletters here: Cakap Angin archive. For alerts about new fiction, though — including the occasional free short story sent right to your inbox — you’ll want to stick to my new release mailing list.

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My Stories

Fiction: Head of a Snake, Tail of a Dragon

A sequel to If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again, published on The B&N Sci-fi & Fantasy Blog on 29 November 2018 and included in The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume 13, ed. Jonathan Strahan.

Head of a Snake, Tail of a Dragon
by Zen Cho

There was a dragon outside Jin-dae’s cave.
 
Fortunately Jin-dae saw it before it saw her. She slithered hastily into a copse to hide herself.
 
“Why’ve you stopped?” said the human in her mouth.
 
“Shurrup!” said Jin-dae.
 
She was starting to regret picking up the human. But it wasn’t like she had any other option. In the days of her youth – the fat days – Jin-dae had feasted on elks, bison and the occasional grizzly bear. As the forests shrank and pickings grew slim, she’d adapted to a diet of birds and squirrels.
 
These days even birds and squirrels were hard to obtain in the quantities needed to sustain a mid-sized imugi. Jin-dae had had to resort to eating anything she could find, even including snakes – and she hated eating snakes. It wasn’t like one had lots of peers as an imugi. In fact, Jin-dae didn’t have any friends. She was used to it, but it made the loneliness worse to prey on small versions of herself.
 
Humans were infinitely preferable to snakes as dinner, but the disadvantage of eating humans was how personally they took it. You couldn’t eat many before they came after you with guns. And then you had to move again …
 
Frankly, it was tiresome.
 
But beggars couldn’t be choosers. Jin-dae had fasted as long as she could, but finally hunger had overcome her. She’d popped by the nearest human settlement to grab a bite.
 
It was just her luck that she should have grabbed an amateur herpetologist.
 
“Do you live in that cave? Is that where you brumate when it gets cold? Are you eating me so you can tank up for the winter?” said the human, twisting around in her mouth. “Oh my God, is that a dragon? Sick!”

“Shhh!” said Jin-dae. “And sh’op ‘aking notesh!”
 
It was too late. Dragons have extremely sharp hearing. The dragon raised its head and looked directly at her.
 
“Les – ” It coughed. “There you are!”
 
It looked delighted to see her. Jin-dae did not reciprocate the sentiment.
 
“Do I know you?” Jin-dae said suspiciously.
 
“Oh no, no, no,” said the dragon. “No, we have no prior acquaintance in this life or any other. Ha ha, what a ridiculous idea! My name is Aspire to Heaven and I am a complete stranger. I was flying above your cave when I noticed you and was struck by the nobility of your bearing. I have come to be your mentor and instruct you in the Way, so that you may ascend to the glorious status of dragonhoo – wait, is that a human in your mouth?”
 
“No,” said Jin-dae through her mouthful of human.
 
“Everyone’s gonna freak when they see my Instagram holo-story,” said her dinner.
 
“He’s a teenager?” said the dragon. “You can’t eat a teenager! That’ll delay your ascension by centuries! It’s bad enough eating adult humans, but teenagers haven’t even had the chance to grow out of being obnoxious.”
 
“Hey, who asked you?” said Jin-dae’s dinner.
 
“‘ankyu ‘or your adwice,” said Jin-dae with dignity. She edged past the dragon into her cave, dumping her dinner on the ground. She cleared her throat. “But I don’t want to become a dragon, so you can return to heaven.”
 
“What do you mean, you don’t want to become a dragon?” said Aspire to Heaven.
 
“Yeah, you can’t not want to be a dragon,” the human piped up. “It’s part of the imugi life cycle. Look, I can show you the Wikipedia article.”
 
“Shut up!” said Jin-dae. To the dragon she said, “I mean what I said. I like being an imugi.”
 
“But,” sputtered Aspire to Heaven, “you can’t like being an imugi. Nobody likes being an imugi.”
 
Jin-dae was starting to get annoyed. Besides, she was starving.
 
“Can’t I?” she said. “Watch me!”
 
She reared up over the human and opened her jaws wide.


 When Jin-dae woke up, the dragon was outside her cave again.
 
“What the hell?” said Jin-dae. “Have you been outside the entire time I’ve been sleeping?”
 
Aspire to Heaven gave Jin-dae a strange look, as though she was the one acting weirdly. “No. You napped for three years.”
 
“Really?” It felt like just yesterday that she’d had her altercation with the dragon. She’d gone to sleep afterwards, worn out by the exertion.”That was a good nap,” said Jin-dae, pleased.
 
But then she remembered she was mad.
 
“You have some nerve coming here after what you did,” she said.”What happened to my dinner anyway?”
 
“You mean Tyrone?” said Aspire to Heaven. “He’s doing very well. He got into UPenn, he’s planning to major in physics.” It gave Jin-dae a hopeful look. “Aren’t you glad I stopped you from eating him?”
 
Jin-dae’s stomach grumbled.
 
“No,” she said sadly. She glided past the dragon.
 
“Wait!” cried Aspire to Heaven. “Where are you going?”
 
“To get a snack. Stop following me!”
 
“But I brought you texts,” said Aspire to Heaven.
 
Glancing back at the dragon, Jin-dae noticed for the first time that it was laden with scrolls.
 
“It’s the latest research on galaxies,” said Aspire to Heaven. “I got some celestial fairies to copy it off JSTOR, since you haven’t got Internet.”
 
“What?” said Jin-dae. “What did you bring me texts for?”
 
Aspire to Heaven blinked. “So you can study them and become a dragon.”
 
“I told you,” said Jin-dae, raising her voice. “I don’t want to study or become a dragon!”
 
The dragon drew its head back, like a frightened tortoise. It said in a small voice:

“I don’t understand. You’re the one who taught me not to give up on my dreams. Why are you being like this?”
 
“Why are you being like this?” Jin-dae began. Then the significance of the dragon’s words dawned upon her. “Hold on. Did you know me in a past life?”
 
“No!” said Aspire to Heaven. “No, no, what makes you think that?I didn’t know you in a past life. Personally, I’ve only been born once. And I’d never knowingly approach anyone whom I’d known in their past life. That would be a breach of the laws of heaven, and a true dragon would never do that.”
 
Jin-dae had only suspected it before, but now she was certain.
 
“You did know me in a past life,” she said. “That’s why you talk like a human and make bizarro assumptions!”
 
“I don’t – what assumptions?”
 
Jin-dae opened her mouth to hector Aspire to Heaven some more, before she recalled who she was talking to. It would be unwise to antagonise a dragon.Besides, Aspire to Heaven looked so distressed Jin-dae was starting to feel sorry for it.
 
“Look,” she said, as gently as she could, “whatever past me was like, present me is happy with where she is. I appreciate your – er – interest in my career, but I don’t need the help. I’m already doing what I want to do.”
 
The dragon looked crestfallen. After a moment it said, “I understand.”
 
“Good.”
 
“Take the texts,” said Aspire to Heaven, before Jin-dae could move off. “You can read them in the evenings when you get bored.”
 
Jin-dae looked at the small mountain of scrolls. She couldn’t imagine anything less interesting.

“It’s OK,” she said politely. “You can take your texts back to this Jae Store.”
 
Aspire to Heaven looked bewildered and hurt. “But you love texts.”
 
Jin-dae’s patience snapped.
 
“No, I don’t!” she said. “Maybe whoever you knew back then loved texts. But I like naps and good meals and drifting on the river of life like a twig borne along by the current. And you are interfering with all of those things!”
 
The dragon wilted under her glare.
 
“OK,” faltered Aspire to Heaven. “I guess … I guess I’d better go?”
 
Jin-dae ignored the piteous look the dragon gave her. “What do you think?”
 
“OK,” said Aspire to Heaven. “OK.” It shot a last sorrowful glance out of the corner of its eyes at Jin-dae, before lifting off.
 
If the dragon looked back as it flew up towards the skies, Jin-dae didn’t see it. She turned her face from heaven and plunged into a stream.
 
Otter, she thought. It was like a prayer. Beaver, eel, trout … She wouldn’t say no to a human angler either.


Aspire to Heaven was hanging around the cave mouth when Jin-dae returned. 

Jin-dae had a full stomach for once, having eaten a whole moose – an uncommon indulgence. But she came to an abrupt stop, her good mood fizzling out.
 
“Don’t be mad,” said the dragon. “I didn’t come to teach you.”
 
It had something in its mouth. It dropped this on the ground and nudged it towards Jin-dae.
 
It was a shining red cord. One end was tied around the smallest claw on Aspire to Heaven’s left fore-foot. Looking down, Jin-dae saw that the other end was looped around her own tail.
 
“Oh,” said Jin-dae.
 
“It’s our fate,” said Aspire to Heaven. “I asked the grandmother who arranges these matters to let me show you.
 
“I’m sorry I made bizarro assumptions,” said the dragon. “I shouldn’t have acted as though I knew you, or what you wanted. I just – I missed you. I mean, I missed who you used to be.” Aspire to Heaven bowed its head, a crystal tear running down its snout. The skies turned grey and a gentle drizzle began to fall.

After a moment Aspire to Heaven sniffed and looked up, squaring its shoulders. The skies cleared, a ray of sun illuminating the bump on the dragon’s forehead.
 
“But you’re someone new and you get to be yourself,” it said. “I should have respected that.”
 
Jin-dae stared at the red string binding them together, evidence that heaven had ordained that their destinies be entwined. “Why are you showing me this?”
 
“I wanted to make amends,” said Aspire to Heaven. “I didn’t know what I could give you – but then I thought of this. If you snap the thread, we won’t have to meet again, and I won’t bother you anymore.”
 
“You don’t – ” have to do that, Jin-dae was about to say.

She stopped herself, surprised. Why did she want to give the dragon a chance? It had been utterly obnoxious. The fact that it was cute, with its jewelled eyes and jade-green scales, was quite besides the point.
 
“Thanks,” she said stiffly. She lowered her head to gnaw through the cord, but then a thought struck her. “Won’t I get in trouble with heaven if I do this?”
 
“Oh right,” said the dragon, starting. It snatched the thread up. “It would break the laws of heaven. Sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking!”
 
“It’s fine,” said Jin-dae.
 
Oddly, she felt relieved. For a moment she gazed into Aspire to Heaven’s eyes. They were like rubies under handsome beetling brows, and their expression was totally sincere.
 
“I guess I’ll see you around then,” Jin-dae was saying, when the dragon put out a gold-tipped claw and sliced the thread in two.
 
“There!” said Aspire to Heaven. “Now you’re free, and I’ll be the one punished by heaven if they find out.”
 
“Why did you do that?” Jin-dae almost squawked, but she managed to swallow the protest. All that came out was an “Erp!”

“I beg your pardon?” said Aspire to Heaven.
 
Jin-dae coughed. “Nothing. It’s nothing. Great. Thank you.”
 
“You’re welcome,” said the dragon. It fixed Jin-dae with a long look,as though it was trying to imprint her on its memory. “Take care of yourself. I hope you’re very happy.”
 
It rose into the air, the red string dangling from its claw.
 
“Wait!” shouted Jin-dae.
 
Aspire to Heaven looked back.
 
Jin-dae hadn’t known she was going to speak until she heard herself shouting. Now that she had the dragon’s attention again, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to say.
 
“What did you call me, back then?” said Jin-dae. “When we knew each other, I mean.”
 
The dragon descended to the ground. “Do you really want to know?”
 
“No,” said Jin-dae, after a moment.
 
“I didn’t think so.” Aspire to Heaven gave Jin-dae a wistful look, but shook its head. “That’s all in the past. Don’t worry about it. Just be who you are now.” The dragon turned away.
 
Jin-dae hesitated, but if she didn’t speak now, she wouldn’t get another chance. The thread was broken. She could spend the next hundred years all by herself, as alone as she’d been for the last hundred years.

“Don’t you want to find out who that is?” she said.
 
Aspire to Heaven paused. “What?”
 
“I’m not … whoever it was you knew,” said Jin-dae. “But you could get to know me. As I am now.”
 
The dragon looked at her, then down at the red string knotted around its claw. “But you’re free. You don’t have to have anything to do with me.”
 
“I don’t have to do anything,” agreed Jin-dae. “Except what I want. That’s what’s so great about being a bad imugi.”

“You’re not a bad imugi!” said Aspire to Heaven indignantly, in direct contradiction of all available evidence. Then the dragon registered what Jin-dae meant. “You want me to get to know you?”
 
“Only if you want,” said Jin-dae. “It’s no big deal if you don’t.” The dragon probably had lots of friends in heaven. No long empty days making shadow animals on cave walls with its tail for Aspire to Heaven.
 
But Aspire to Heaven said softly, “I would like that very much.”
 
“Great,” said Jin-dae. “Great.”
 
They looked at each other until Jin-dae started to feel awkward. She hadn’t done social interaction in a while.

To be accurate, she hadn’t done it ever. Talking to humans you subsequently ate didn’t really count as socialising.

To break the silence, she said, “And I could get to know you. Right?”

“If you want,” said Aspire to Heaven cautiously.
 
Jin-dae felt reassured.

“I think that would be nice,” she said. “Why don’t you tell me about yourself?”
 
“OK,” said Aspire to Heaven. It settled itself in a tidy coil, close enough to talk comfortably, but leaving a polite distance between it and the cave mouth.
 
“Once upon a time,” said the dragon, “my name was Byam.”

Thanks to Perrin Lu for the story idea and Hana Lee for Leslie’s name in her new life as a bad imugi.

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Personal, Writing

Cakap Angin, a newsletter

In my last email to new release mailing list subscribers, I asked people to email me if they’d be interested in a chattier newsletter — like a blog post, but sent direct to their inbox. (I only send out emails about new releases to the new release mailing list and given what an enormously long time it takes me to write anything decent and get it published, it does not get a huge amount of action … )

It turns out when you ask people to email you, often they do! There was enough interest that I’ve set up a new mailing list for anyone who’d like to receive a longer newsletter, with general life, writing and other updates. I’m calling it Cakap Angin, which literally means “talk wind” and is a Malay idiom meaning “idle talk”, and the newsletter will do what it says on the tin. (I was really tempted to call it Omong Kosong, but I felt that was even more self-deprecating even though it means the same thing, and then I thought of calling it Omong Penuh but that seemed too up myself.)

I’ll still have a separate new release mailing list, so that’s the one you want if you only want updates on new fiction I’ve published. Cakap Angin is for other stuff, at irregular intervals. You might ask, “Why don’t you start updating your blog again instead of setting up this newsletter you refuse to commit to updating regularly, ZEN” but I would just look vague and refuse to answer, so you might as well reconcile yourself to the existence of the newsletter. And sign up if it sounds interesting!



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Food

Recipe: Fake posh seafood spaghetti

I usually have a pretty good idea of how tasty something I’m making will turn out to be, but this took me aback with how well it turned out. It was totally beyond expectations and also pretends to be fancy, even though it’s essentially a store cupboard recipe. It’d be a good one to serve friends at a dinner party, with a bottle of Mediterranean wine.

To give you an idea of how easy this was, I based it on a John West tinned sardines recipe.

Perhaps not beautiful, but it WAS good

Ingredients
Spaghetti
Extra virgin olive oil
Chilli flakes
3-4 cloves of garlic
1 onion (optional — we just have a lot of onions at the moment)
1 aubergine
Tinned sardines in olive oil, 120g (I guess you could use the tomatoey kind but it might confuse the flavours)
Tinned squid, ~100g (I used this which I picked up in Waitrose on a whim — they sell it in fake squid ink and olive oil)
Mozzarella pearls, ~100-200g

Method

  1. Slice aubergine cross-wise into 1/2-inch thick rounds. Brush each side with olive oil and grill for about 8 minutes, turning once. (I fried the aubergine but next time I’d try grilling — frying meant I went overboard with the oil and there’s oil in the other ingredients, so it turned out a bit aglio olio-y.)
  2. Cook spaghetti according to instructions on packet.
  3. Chop onions and garlic finely. Saute until the onions are soft and clear and the garlic doesn’t smell sharp anymore.
  4. Add sardines and squid, along with as much of the oil/sauce as you think best. I held all the oil from the sardine tin (see above re oil), but chucked in all the salsa negra from the squid tin. Heat through.
  5. Add aubergine whenever it’s ready.
  6. Stir in spaghetti, mozzarella pearls and a generous pinch of chilli flakes. Toss until mozzarella begins to melt and becomes stringy. (I don’t have the upper body strength to toss our wok so I just stir things around.)
  7. Season with salt and pepper if you like. Upon tasting I found that it didn’t need any more flavour but it’s up to you.
  8. Eat! It’s super tasty!

I suspect what makes the difference in this recipe is the quality of the tinned sardines and squid. Not that I’m any expert, but if there is a range available, I’d get the stuff that seems better. Obviously you can make the recipe just with tinned sardines if you can’t get squid or don’t like it, though I do think the squid makes it more special.

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Apparitions

What I’m up to in 2017: appearances up to July

Despite this update I’m not actually hiding in my room working on my novel for the whole of this year! Here’s a bunch of appearances I’ll be doing in the coming months:

London Book Fair (14-16 March)

I’ll be hanging around at the Fixi London booth at London Book Fair this year — konon being helpful, sebenarnya sibuk je. In particular I’m hoping to make it for the launch of LITTLE BASKET 2017: NEW MALAYSIAN WRITING on Wednesday 15 March (event is free but must register at the link).

I also really want to make the screening of various short films adapted from noir short stories published by Buku Fixi, including BREAKING POINT by my very own brother We Jun, adapted from a KL NOIR: YELLOW story: Crime Short Films Adapted from Short Stories (Tuesday 14 March).

I don’t want to spoiler you by linking to the actual films, but you can watch an interview with my brother here! As well as talking about BREAKING POINT, he discusses his film education and why he always makes shows about cops and gangsters.

As part of London Book and Screen Week I’ve been invited to do a writers in conversation event with Polish SF author Jacek Dukaj, moderated by Anna James. Really looking forward to this. Majulah World SF!

English PEN presents IMAGINING FUTURES with Jacek Dukaj and Zen Cho
Thursday 16 March, 6:30-8:00 pm
Admission fee: £6
Waterstones Gower Street

Dutch Comic Con (25-26 March)

I’ll be at Dutch Comic Con in Utrecht along with friends and fellow Pan Mac authors Vic James and Laura Lam! Details on the programme to follow.

Women in Fantasy at Waterstones Piccadilly (Wednesday, 12 April)

I’ll be on an evening panel discussing women in fantasy with fabulous authors and friends Aliette de Bodard (THE HOUSE OF BINDING THORNS, Gollancz) and Vic James (GILDED CAGE, Pan Macmillan) at Waterstones Piccadilly!

Women in Fantasy with Aliette de Bodard, Vic James and Zen Cho
Wednesday 12 April, 19:30-21:00
Venue: Waterstones Piccadilly
Admission: £8, redeemable against a copy of an author’s book (£6 for Waterstones card-holders)

Lancaster Words (6-8 July)

I’m really excited to be part of Lancaster Words, a 3-day celebration of words run by Lancaster University’s English and Creative Writing department. I’m super impressed at myself for being part of such an amazing line-up. PJ Harvey leh! :O

I’ll be doing a reading and a panel on messing with language on the Saturday, both at Waterstones on King Street. Details and links to register below.

READING
British Fantasy Award and Crawford Award winner Zen Cho will be reading from her historical fantasy novel, Sorcerer to the Crown.
Saturday 8 July, 13:00-14:00
Venue: Waterstones, 2-8 King Street, Lancaster, LA1 1JN

PANEL: Breaking the language: shameless multilingual authors
A group of authors will discuss the (ab)use they inflect upon language. Sometimes, grammatical rules cannot accommodate the variety and richness of our multicultural world, and that is why these authors are shamelessly mixing up vocabularies and structures to show complex and unique characters to their readers. They will share their experience of living surrounded by different languages and how this has affected their creative process. They will also discuss how their original use of language challenges many of the cultural stereotypes associated with genre.
Panelists: Zen Cho, Oscar Delgado, Ines Gregori Labarta, and Qen Mai
Saturday 8 July, 12:00-13:00
Venue: Waterstones, 2-8 King Street, Lancaster, LA1 1JN

Book free tickets now!

Edge Lit 6 (15 July)

I haven’t been able to make it to Derby’s well-known SFFH event Edge Lit before, but delighted to say I’ll be there this year! You can book tickets now for £30 (which covers admission to all events and a goody bag). Details of programming to follow.

After this … still got leh! But I’ll post about those events closer to the time.

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Personal, SFF

Being an itemised list of disagreements

This is a post inspired by Likhain‘s Letter to Apex Editors Re: The Intersectional SFF Roundtable.1

CONTENTS
Introduction: Why I am making this post
The facts as I saw them: An account of various encounters, direct and indirect, with RH/BS and her associates
Commentary: Speaking of opinions …
Conclusion
Footnotes

INTRODUCTION: Why I am making this post

I have asked myself why I am making this post, given that the actions of Requires Hate/Benjanun Sriduangkaew have been extensively recorded.2 I don’t mean to kick the Apex editors when they’re down. I don’t even think it’s right to kick RH/BS when she’s down. It’s always seemed to me that the best contribution I could make was by supporting the people RH/BS targeted. Saying anything seemed like it would be kepoh lagi boliao.

So who and what is this post for?

I am writing this for two sets of people. One set is the people who were targeted by RH/BS and friends or were otherwise made to feel that fandom was a hostile place because of her conduct and that of her friends and supporters.

The second set is the people of colour/non-white people who continue to interact with RH/BS. Those who participate in roundtables with her, include her stories in their anthologies, and boost her work and opinions as though she is a totally normal, OK person who has never indulged in public, worryingly detailed fantasies of violence against other human beings in her life.

To this second audience: you can talk to and work with anyone you want. We need to talk to people we disagree with, and hanging out with a person online doesn’t of itself mean you condone their behaviour. However, I want you to make sure you have thought carefully about what you are doing, for two reasons:

(1) The main reason RH/BS was able to bully people with impunity for such a long time was because it looked, from the outside, as though the SFF community condoned her behaviour. You’d see a Known Cool Person chatting with her on Twitter as though it was OK for RH to chase people around on the Internet having a go at them, and you’d think, gosh, maybe it IS OK. Maybe that IS how to support the cause of diversity in genre fiction!

I believe this made things more difficult for the people RH/BS targeted. They didn’t feel they could speak up because not only would RH/BS harass them if they did, they thought everyone would be on RH/BS’s side.

(2) I knew what sort of person RH was before Benjanun Sriduangkaew had ever published a story. When BS started befriending people in my social circles, I thought, well, live and let live. Everyone has the right to have that one jerk friend. And everyone deserves a second chance. I didn’t say anything.

It subsequently became apparent that I should’ve said something. So I’m telling you now. Be careful.

But you’ll have heard this before. What can I add to what’s already been said?

It might make a difference who I am. I’m a writer of Chinese extraction from Southeast Asia. I do what I can to serve the community and I believe in diversity. I only watched Racefail ’09 from afar, so I feel no need to re-fight that battle. And I have no personal reason for resenting RH/BS, since until she figured out I thought she was a troll, she was always friendly to me, and as far as I know, to the extent she ever reviewed my work, she was positive about it.

In an ideal world this post would be concise, accurate and comprehensive; unfortunately, in our workaday world, you can’t do all three. It is neither comprehensive nor concise. I have tried to avoid reciting things that have already been posted about in detail, but it’s still bloody long. It is as accurate as I have been able to make it, given that the events span a long period and many comments have been deleted or are contained in ancient chat logs or emails. Among other things, I’ve tried to use the right pronouns for everyone I talk about, but please let me know if I have got any of them wrong.

I name names, because there are probably enough vagueposts in SFF. Some of the named people have reviewed this post and confirmed that they have no objection to its being published.

THE FACTS AS I SAW THEM: An account of various encounters, direct and indirect, with RH/BS and her associates

Winterfox

When you’re around in a community for a while, you get a sense of the people in it, and you become aware of certain people it’s wisest to avoid. I had been in media and anime/manga fanfic fandom since I was a teenager, and after Racefail ’09 I got to know lots of people, especially fans of colour, who had overlapping interests in geeky shit, books and diversity.

Around this time, among these circles, I became aware of RH/BS as winterfox (her LiveJournal handle). I was not acquainted with her, but I saw comments from her that I fundamentally disagreed with. Two stick out in my mind (both appeared in the comments of LiveJournal posts):

(1) Winterfox relied on the fact that she was “Asian-Asian” to dismiss the opinion of a commenter of Asian heritage who liked Asian American YA author Cindy Pon’s writing. I saw this sort of power-grabbing, identity-policing move all the time growing up, and it has nothing to do with social justice. There is plenty of space in the world for every kind of Asian. It’s particularly cruel to throw authenticity in the face of people from the diaspora, who will often have struggled with their connection to their own culture.

(2) She challenged an Asian American commenter who disagreed with her, not by addressing any of the commenter’s arguments, but saying “are you white”. The commenter said, rightly, that this had nothing to say to anything. The thread is here, though winterfox’s comments have been deleted.

I’m not saying these were the worst things she ever said — they are not. I suppose they stuck in my head because I am “Asian-Asian” (ptui) myself and they seemed really obviously wrong to me.

This was around the time that RH/BS started harassing my friend Rachel Manija Brown, who has posted about her experiences here: Not a fun post to write. I was not aware of this and only discovered it had been going on three years later in 2014. I understand that RH is still doing what Rachel describes in her post, at least as of around six months ago — for details, see Rachel’s recent post, A More Specific Grievance.

Requires Hate

Winterfox subsequently set up a blog on which she reviewed books as Requires Hate. I did not have much, if anything, to do with her, though I was starting to get published in a small way and was aware that she’d reviewed some of my fiction favourably.

It must have been some time in 2012 that I was added by a friend to a private chat group of non-white/non-Western SFF writers. These groups are common and are often a nice source of conversation and support. Though I appreciated that friend’s intentions, however, I didn’t know most of the people in the group and one of the few people I was familiar with, RH/BS, was someone I didn’t want to have anything to do with.

Awkwardly, RH/BS seemed always to be online whenever I popped into the chat group to have a look. We ended up having a couple of exchanges, during one of which she mentioned that she was going to have a story out in Giganotosaurus. She was wary of sharing the pseudonym under which it would be published, however — in the group we knew her only as RH. (If you’re wondering if it’s awkward chatting to someone called Requires Hate, yes, it is. I didn’t stick around long enough to find out if people started shortening her handle to “Hatey” or something.)

I logged out of that particular chat early, because I didn’t feel like shooting the breeze with a known troll. Our mutual friend subsequently emailed me to say that RH was very anxious that her fiction-writing pseudonym should not be linked to her RH persona, because of trolls (!!), and would I please be sure not to reveal the connection.

I said yes. I kept my word. I left the chat group.

I think the Giganotosaurus story might have been this one: Woman of the Sun, Woman of the Moon by Benjanun Sriduangkaew. Anyway, that’s how I knew.

Benjanun Sriduangkaew

From 2012 onwards, I continued to have nothing to do with BS, though I think it’s fair to say that she was cordial to me and if I had wanted to be friends, we could’ve been. I tried to be civil but distant, though I believed (incorrectly) that the RH identity and blog was effectively defunct and that BS was engaged in nothing more objectionable than writing fiction and being nice to people she considered important.

I think I linked to a short story of hers in a guest blog post I did once. I wish I had stuck to my guns and not done that. I felt at the time like I was just being ungenerous about a rising genre star from Southeast Asia, since even people who knew BS was RH seemed to think that her behaviour was OK. People talked about her “performative rage”. It looked like standard toolery to me, but what did I know?

What happened in late 2014, when editor Nick Mamatas revealed to SFF at large that BS was RH, has been better chronicled elsewhere. I’ll stick to telling you what I experienced, just before the online blow-up happened.

Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s friends

I met writer Rochita Loenen-Ruiz at the Nine Worlds convention in 2013, when we were on a panel together.

In 2014, I attended Nine Worlds again and then WorldCon, which took place in London on two successive weekends. So did Rochita. I didn’t know Rochita well then, but I liked what I knew of her. She seemed interesting and kind.

WorldCon was stressful for me: I was on about 8 separate programme items over 3 days and this was the weekend right after Nine Worlds, where I had helped organise the first Race & Culture programming track. (This was really only a half-track: it shared a room and schedule with the LGBTQAI Fandom track.)

One evening at WorldCon, I was with Alex Dally MacFarlane and their partner Tori Truslow, writers/editors whom I’d met at Nine Worlds the previous year, and I mentioned that Rochita was doing a reading. I wasn’t sure where.

Alex said, “I can’t talk to Rochita right now.”

I must have looked taken aback. I probably said, “Oh!”

Alex continued, “I know, it’s sad. Maybe it will change in the future.”

We then went on to have drinks with a friend of Alex.

This exchange made me feel anxious and unhappy, at what was already a stressful con. It was, like nearly all WorldCons, overwhelmingly white. At this stage I had only published short fiction; Alex Dally MacFarlane was a short story editor; and their friend we had drinks with was a Tor.com editor. None of this was consciously on my mind, but I wonder whether I would’ve been more willing to go “fuck all of this shit” if it happened now, instead of hanging around for drinks, feeling miserable and uncomfortable.

The next time I was able to speak to Rochita, I asked her what was up between her and Alex. She told me the details she later recounted here: Standing Up and Speaking Truth. In summary, RH and Alex had put pressure on Rochita to publicly denounce her friend Tricia Sullivan for racism. RH didn’t want to do it herself because she didn’t want to taint the BS identity. Rochita had refused and Alex and RH had cut ties with Rochita.

Rochita was very upset; she cried telling me about it, and I bought her a baked potato. At this time I did not know either Rochita or Alex especially well, but I believed Rochita. What she told me was consistent with what Alex had told me and with the little I knew of all parties involved.

Among other things, Rochita explained that at Nine Worlds the previous weekend, she had tried to speak to Alex and Tori and they had blanked her. This had made her feel, as she has said, anxious and fearful — not unlike how I had felt when Alex told me that Rochita was persona non grata for unexplained reasons. Funny, it’s almost like random ostracism of people from underrepresented backgrounds makes fandom a hostile place for them!

I was shocked, especially because Tori ran the LGBTQAI programming track at Nine Worlds in 2013 and 2014. I valued the Queer/LGBTQAI Fandom programming at Nine Worlds very much, and Tori had been hugely helpful with the new Race & Culture half-track. In particular, she had shared the budget allocated to her track to help fund the attendance costs of certain Race & Culture guests, and she spoke to the Nine Worlds organisers with the result that they donated 10 free memberships to Con or Bust. I had even said to Tori, among others, that I wanted Rochita to be on Race & Culture programming; she had said nothing for or against the idea.

It was really upsetting to me to know that a white organiser of a con that prided itself on its inclusivity — again, a very white con in terms of attendance — should have treated a non-white guest in this way. Let me be clear: I believe that what Alex and Tori did to Rochita was bullying, and given the circumstances and their respective positions, it was racist bullying.

What was particularly painful for Rochita was the fear that RH/BS — who was by now embedded in Rochita’s online and meatspace SFF circles — would turn her friends against her. RH/BS did in fact email Rochita’s friends to demand that they denounce Rochita publicly. Rochita said she was relieved when I greeted her warmly at Nine Worlds. (Author Tade Thompson, who’d also been on the Nine Worlds 2013 panel Rochita and I were on, has confirmed that Rochita was hesitant about approaching him in 2014 and wasn’t sure if he’d talk to her either.) As I recall the story, Tori was not involved in the RH and Alex vs. Rochita disagreement online, but her behaviour when Rochita saw her at the cons seemed to bear out Rochita’s fears.

The actions of RH/BS and her friends broke trust. The conduct of those who supported her when her activities began to be revealed also damaged trust.

COMMENTARY: Speaking of opinions …

I made some friends and I lost some friends in the course of this blow-up. I know it hurt a lot of people in different ways. I’m sorry if this post adds to that hurt, or causes new and exciting kinds of hurt.

But I want to say some things.

What RH/BS and her mates did and at times continue doing to Rochita and others was and is racist bullying. It was not “punching sideways”.3 As far as I know, RH/BS is a person of Chinese ethnicity and Thai nationality who at the time lived in Hong Kong. Rochita is a Filipina who lives in the Netherlands. Chinese racism against darker-skinned people is almost cartoonish — here’s a true story about an Indian Malaysian lawyer who suffered what was likely an unnecessary death in a Hong Kong hospital. As for the position of Filipinos in Chinese-dominated Hong Kong: they are the largest ethnic minority in Hong Kong; the majority work as domestic helpers; and exploitation is rife. I do not believe you can consider RH/BS’s behaving as though she was entitled to get Rochita to do her dirty work in isolation from this context.

I know people like RH/BS in real life – well, I don’t, because nobody I know in real life has her particular combination of free time and ill intent. But I know well-off Chinese people in the diaspora. At the lower end of the high-income scale, they form a large part of my social networks. For all that anti-Asian and specifically anti-Chinese racism exists, such people are not particularly victimised on a day to day basis, and they/we can be terrible in all kinds of ways. All people of all backgrounds can be awful. Things are simultaneously complicated and very simple. Don’t just put people in the “good box” and the “bad box” based on their background/identity and turn your brain off.

It is not OK to bully people. It does not advance the cause of social justice or diversity. This is not the tone argument. There is a difference between making emphatic statements to which the privileged object because these hurt their feelings or they (consciously or unconsciously) wish to preserve the advantages of their privileged status, vs. chasing people around on the Internet having a go at them.

I believe RH/BS targeted women and specifically women of colour disproportionately. However, it’s not like I kept watch on her activities — rather the reverse — so I don’t know for sure. But it is not even OK to bully straight cis white men. I KNOW, WHAT A WILD IDEA.

That said, I noticed the white people who sought to take advantage of the blow-up to get on their hobbyhorses about SJWs or how unjustly they, a White Progressive, were treated in Racefail ’09. Not that you care for my opinion, but I’m not impressed by you either.

Finally, this really is boliao but I have to say it, tolong lah stop saying RH/BS is a master manipulator. Here are merely two things she did which were unnecessary and stupid:

(1) She disclosed her identity, unasked, to me, a person who had no reason to keep her identity secret. I did it anyway, but she lucked out if you ask me.

(2) She got people to go around saying the rumour that BS was the same person as RH was hateful, racist, etc. To this day I don’t understand what she thought she would achieve by this. It wasn’t like she was especially careful about keeping the different identities separate (see (1) above), so it was bound to come out, resulting in the people in question feeling embarrassed and betrayed.

Acting like RH/BS was some sort of mastermind excuses those who continue to support her and condone her behaviour. I don’t blame the people who didn’t cotton on straight away. RH/BS exploited people’s best instincts — their desire to be kind, to welcome creators from underrepresented backgrounds, to give others the benefit of the doubt.

But the information about her conduct is public now. And I do blame the people who, once it all came out, identified more with RH/BS than the people she targeted. I know where that feeling comes from and it’s not a feeling to be proud of. Work on yourselves and become doper people, please. And I will do the same.

CONCLUSION

I considered the risks of making this post given that (a) I haven’t attempted to shroud my identity across the different worlds I inhabit in layers of mystery, used six different pseudonyms, etc. and (b) I have connections based in Southeast Asia. I think, hopefully, the risks are relatively low. If my assessment proves to be wrong, I will take appropriate steps, including making reports to the authorities as necessary.

Please do not send or link me to any response from RH/BS or people who think her conduct is acceptable, unless they suggest a real risk of harm to me or my friends and relations, which I should be aware of. (Twitter disgruntlement does not constitute harm worthy of informing me of it, unless it includes threats or fantasies of violence directed at real people.) I am not interested. I will delete all such communications and report any that are abusive.

I am hoping that my reputation will be safe with those who know me – who have worked with me, talked with me, met me in person, chatted with me online, etc. If you are disappointed by this post, or no longer feel safe with me, I’m sorry. If I actually like you, I hope you’ll give me the chance in future to rehabilitate myself.

Since I’ve said my piece, I may not respond to any communications about this post in a timely fashion or at all.

Thanks for reading.

FOOTNOTES

1 Apex editor Jason Sizemore has taken down the roundtable and posted a response: Intersectional SFF – Response.

2 I have linked to Laura J. Mixon’s post about RH/BS’s activities: A Report on Damage Done By One Individual Under Several Names. There are valid complaints to be made of the post and particularly about some of the comments. That said, I believe it is broadly accurate and I nominated and voted for it in the Hugos. A primary complaint I’ve seen about the post is that it was made by a privileged white woman with connections in SFF fandom that shield her from negative consequences. My view is that these are the very reasons she was able to make the post, and speaking up for those who can’t speak for themselves, or won’t be believed when they do, is one of the things privilege is for.

3 The whole “punching up” metaphor was for JOKES, people. It was supposed to help comedians understand whether they’d gone too far or not, not whether it was OK to bully some groups of people because they have more privilege than you according to a checklist you found on the Internet.

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Malaysia, Personal

Never enough for both

I was thinking this morning about what it must be like to be my husband: a white English person who has never had his right to be in the country of his birth questioned. Within living memory, his family has probably never asked themselves: what happens if this country becomes no longer safe for us? How much notice will we have? How quickly could we get out? What would we do about grandma?

As a middle/upper middle class Chinese Malaysian, I have a lot of privilege. One thing I’ve never had, though, is certainty of a welcome where I am. My dad told me something about China once that really stuck in my head:

“Living in Malaysia is like renting a house,” he said. “In China you would own your house. But you get used to renting.”

His grandparents died in Malaysia; his grandchildren were born there. He’s still renting.

I can’t have a “healthy debate” about immigration. This is impossible for me. My personal history is too full of migration, flux, movement. Getting out while the going is good. Carving out a home on hostile terrain. But I know where I’m from and I know where I’m going, and I know where my loyalties lie: with the dispossessed, the roving, the eternally hopeful, their eyes fixed on a distant ever-moving point.

International
Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (MSF)
UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)
International Rescue Committee

Europe
Migrant Offshore Aid Station

UK
Safe Passage
British Red Cross Refugee Support
Women for Refugee Women
Detention Action

Malaysia
Asylum Access Malaysia
UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Malaysia
Malaysia Pro Bono Directory (lists organisations which offer legal and other support to refugees in Malaysia)

USA
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)

The title of this post is from Ijeoma Umebinyou’s Diaspora Blues.

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