The Best Asian Speculative Fiction
Stephanie looked up at the corner of the kitchen. The dome was blinking again, but this time with a green light.

“No harm done.”

“I see you started cooking.”

Was that a hint of disapproval in her voice?

“Well yeah, I mean, I had no choice, you were taking longer than expected, and I just had to start first or else I would have no time before—”

“Stephanie, if you had waited, we could have saved eighteen minutes of preparation and cooking time. Furthermore, the spice level in your ayam buah keluak is too high for Sylvia Chan, and the amount of garlic too low for Siti Anissa.”

“How can it be too little garlic? I followed Mama’s recipe to the letter, the only thing I changed was to add sambal.”

“I tailor the recipe accordingly, depending on who you are cooking for. The taste preferences are shared with me by the Dianas of your guests.”

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Ghost stories have always captured our attention… now we find them wander into the speculative genre. We find these stories in literature from giants like Rabindranath Tagore  with his haunted palace in The Hungry Stones to modern online writers like  Xu Yunfeng, Taiwanese writer Ho Ching-yao and Singapore’s own Russell Lee. 

Recently in Taiwan, an attempt is being made to popularise this genre and assimilate it into pop culture.  An exhibition on ‘Taiwanese Paranormal Literature and Contemporary Art’ is afoot in Taipei City till September 15 th. The curators tell us the aim of the exhibition: “We hope to help restore the paranormal to its former position of importance in Taiwanese culture.”

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

Little Fen’s funeral took place three days later. I walked woodenly among three dozen fellow villagers in a procession led by Widow Liu, accompanied by the sad tune of trumpet and suona horns. It was a cold spring day. The sun was shining without giving away much warmth.

It pained me to look at the mother of my deceased friend. A piece of white cloth tied around her head, like a bandage on a head injury. She was being supported on each side by a friend. Her grief had whitened her hair and aged her twenty years. And her thin form resembled that of a dried shrimp.

The funeral procession came to the village’s graveyard, which lay on a gentle slope of a mountain some twenty minutes’ walk from the village. Little Fen’s body was put to rest on the edge of it, next to a large plot with castor-oil plants. When the wind blew, millions of tiny castor seeds made disturbing noises. Black crows squawked, their cries echoing in the trees, like whimpers from those no longer able to speak.

Did you know the first science fiction with aliens and outer space was written in Greek in the second century, almost two thousand years ago? 

The novel, A True Story, was written by Lucian of Samosata, an author of Assyrian descent. He wrote of aliens and outer space and battles between the residents of the sun and moon and also a battle inside the stomach of a whale. It seems like a highly amusing plot from the current day perspective. 

British critic, academic and novelist Kinglsey Amis wrote about A True Story  in New Maps of Hell: A Survey of Science Fiction  (1960): “I will merely remark that the sprightliness and sophistication of True History make it read like a joke at the expense of nearly all early-modern science fiction, that written between, say, 1910 and 1940.”

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

It had been forty-two days since the incident. Pulling money out of his body became a daily routine. He had no choice. When he ignored the piece of paper sticking out, the side of his body ached, he became nauseated, forcing him to vomit. And so, every morning, he would lock himself inside the bathroom, turn on the shower, and pull out money from his body.

The first few days were challenging. He told his parents that he had a particularly bad case of the flu. He forced himself to cough hoarsely. When someone entered his bedroom, he hid under the covers, shivering, trying his best to impersonate someone who had the chills. He had hoped that his condition would pass after several days, much like the disease he pretended to have. He went online and searched for anything about humans that made money using their bodies. He found stories and interviews about prostitution. He found porno videos of Asian hookers who specialised in fetishes, from BDSM to peeing on the face of their customers. He found articles and posts about modern day slavery. He found Reddit threads filled with people who desperately hope that they could shit money, fish it out of the toilet, and purchase everything they have ever wanted. However, there was nothing about any medical condition that made a person biologically manufacture actual money. It was unnatural. He was officially a mutant, an aberration, a freak of nature. On his third “sick day,” he decided to just ignore it, like what many teenagers had done once they find something growing on their body.

By Tan Kaiyi

Spooky bus stop

“You change to 165 from here. It’ll take you down the road and then to Holland Village. You can’t miss it,” he said.

“Ok, thank you. It’s so late at night now and my phone battery is flat. Thanks for your help,” she said.

“No problem.”

“And it’s awfully dark.”

“The lights down the road are spoilt. It’s usually better lit.”

“And we’re under a highway.”

“Yeah. It’s not the most accessible bus stop in Singapore.”

She laughed.

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

Our ascent to the mountain peak was predictably long and tortuous. I was sweating and blaspheming in my mind, trying to maintain my balance and resisting my inner urge to give up the climb. My snowboard grew heavy on my shoulders and it was painfully bumping against my spine. When we had left careless shrieks of the skiing crowd far behind, it suddenly started snowing. Fluffy snowflakes were melting on my face and infiltrating unpleasantly under my collar. I could hardly see Clara, purposefully making her way through the thick lace of the snowfall curtain enveloping the earth all around us. That is why, when she suddenly stopped, I bumped into her nearly causing us both to fall into the abyss below. She stood there immobile, her hand raised in a warning sign.

“I think I saw her,” she said in a low voice. “Who?”

“The Mountain Maid.”

 

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

For some time, I tried to find my way towards the centre of the station. I encountered dead-ends and paths blocked by fire, metal, and machines. I had to backtrack several times and wondered if I would be killed by a whirring gear out of nowhere, or impaled on an inopportune girder. After the longest hour of my life, I saw my destination: a massive metal ball in the middle of the station, supported by several pylons. With the propulsion rig, I roved over the ball’s surface to find a hatchway into the control centre. Steadying myself against the wall near a hatch, I keyed opened the door and pulled myself into the structure.

The inside of the control centre had a similar appearance to the command centre in the habitat section: a wide, 360-degree view of the whole interior of the station, two chairs instead of one, and a wide array of consoles and banks of monitors. Though it was dark inside the chamber, the viewing glass allowed the industrial lights around the centre to paint the whole chamber a stark white.

 

By Rajat Chaudhuri 

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“Anything conceivable I believe is possible.”

Black to the Future, Walter Mosley (Dark Matter)

A sorcerer-librarian in ancient Korea who transforms people into books locking them up in his shelves for ever, a far-future civilisation on the planet Ruo, remembering their ancestors in the drowned world of BlueGemm — finished off by greed and climate change, a time travelling ghost in Hong Kong disconcerted by the rules of afterlife.

These are just a few of the characters and situations that we present before you dear reader in this book of amazing tales — stories from Asia, a continent blessed with mindboggling creativity and chutzpah, zen and brio, or what they sometimes call the Asiatic imagination, which is born of course out of its chequered fabric, the diversity of its peoples, the textures of our histories. Asia, a multitudinous hundred-headed medley of contemplativeness and chaos, a mélange of landforms, a kedgeree of ideas, a crucible of cultures, and you get it all here in this book, served fresh, sizzling, wok-fried and ready to tease your taste buds.

Reviewed by Shikhandin

Clone

Title: Clone
Author: Priya Sarukkai Chabria
Publisher – Zubaan Books
Pages: Hard cover 285
Price: INR Rs 595 / $25 / £19

In 1897, the French artist Paul Gaugin, who had relocated to Tahiti some years earlier, painted his masterpiece – a wall sized fresco-like oil painting, in which flowed the summation of his ideas through the medium of sensuous Tahitian figures against lush Tahitian backdrop and motifs. He titled it in French, the English translation of which reads: ‘Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?’ These are existential questions, asked by humans down the centuries. Poets have asked through poetry, story tellers or minstrels have sung of those who cried out to the wheeling universe. Philosophers have pondered and mathematicians have tried to solve them through equations. Priya Sarukkai Chabria, in her richly textured novel, has written about one who seeks answers to similar questions. Her quester though, is a clone.

The subject of clones with heightened sensitivity has been treated in literature before, and also rendered into cinema.  Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, made into a movie of the same name later, is one of the most thought provoking and based on Earth. An earlier novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick in the late 1960s, renamed Blade Runner, was made into a movie by Ridley Scott in 1982. Other novels and movies too have dealt with clones, mostly in far off space colonies and space ships.

Sarukkai Chabria’s novel evokes luscious images, even as the narrative throws up unsettling theories of the future of humans. She comes across as a demanding writer, one who expects her readers to be informed and attentive. Her prose urges closer scrutiny, heavily embossed as it is with imageries culled from myths, legends and history. The reader has to know the sources, or at least be curious enough to find out, or else be left bereft of the contexts of her narrative. The extensive use of esotericism in her novel is both its strength and a weakness – the former as it adds layers and dimensions to the story; the latter, because the profusion of references and allusions, imageries and motifs, draws the reader in too deep into specific portions, slowing down the pace, and yet one must read on for the tale hasn’t ended, making the book exhausting at times. It is a relief therefore to know that the plot of Clone is fairly straightforward.