Book Review: The Principal Girl

Principal Girl cover (18Feb2019)

THE PRINCIPAL GIRL: FEMINIST TALES FROM ASIA

Edited by Sharifah Aisha Osman and Tutu Dutta

Publisher: Gerakbudaya

Having curated and edited two collections of Malaysian short stories, I am aware that it’s not an easy task to produce a book in which the stories are of a consistent quality. Unfortunately, we do not (as yet) have a large enough pool of experienced and talented writers to produce enough well-written stories (especially in English) to fill an anthology. Still, this shouldn’t deter anyone from planning to collect and publish short stories by local writers. However, it should be stressed that such endeavours take time and patience to complete, and may leave those in the editing/publishing roles with their sanity in shreds. Nevertheless, I learnt a lot from editing the anthologies Malaysian Tales: Retold & Remixed and Remang and both experiences were ultimately rewarding and enriching. I hope this was also the case for Sharifah Aisha Osman and Tuty Dutta, the editors of The Principal Girl.Read More »

Book Review: What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi

what is not yours 2First published on 30th May, 2016 in The Star

WHAT IS NOT YOURS IS NOT YOURS

AUTHOR: Helen Oyeyemi

PUBLISHER: Picador, 22 pages

 

HELEN Oyeyemi’s stories never fail to surprise me. Just as some might expect certain kinds of characters, plots and themes from Asian authors, I have to admit that I tend to anticipate the shape and form of tales by African writers. A relatively new reader of Asian and African fiction, I still struggle with various preconceptions: Asian stories are inevitably and miserably tragic; African writing must reflect or be rooted in African life and culture. Complete nonsense, of course.Read More »

Book Review: The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

paper menagerieFirst published in The Star on 27th March, 2016

Review by DAPHNE LEE

THE PAPER MENAGERIE AND OTHER STORIES

Author: Ken Liu

Publisher: Saga Press, 464 pages

THE Grace of Kings was my introduction to Ken Liu. It’s the author’s first novel, published in 2015, and the first in a planned “silkpunk” (a variation of steampunk) fantasy series called The Dandelion Dynasty. Kings is a spectacular piece of entertainment – ambitious, original and memorable, the world-building impressive, the characters convincing and sympathetic, and the fantasy elements fresh and surprising.

The problem with discovering an author at the first-novel stage of their career is you usually are in an agony of anticipation, waiting for the next book to come out. Fortunately, in Liu’s case, there is a prodigious body of prior work in the shape of short stories, novellas and novelettes. On top of that Liu is the translator of Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem trilogy (the final book is out this September), the first volume of which was the first translated novel to win the Hugo Award (2015).

And then there’s this collection, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. Comprising 15 stories of varying lengths, styles and genres (within the speculative fiction spectrum), it aims to showcase Liu’s development and achievements as a writer of short fiction, but must have been a b**** to compile considering the fact that he has published over 100 stories since 2002.

The inclusion of the titular tale would have, of course, been a no-brainer. In 2012 it won all three of the most prestigious of sci-fi/fantasy prizes: the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards), and it is easily one of my favourites in this compilation.

Read More »

Book Review: Faultlines, edited by Raman Krishnan

doc6osgaqwdq1hvp58gcph

First published in The Star on 13th March, 2016

 

Review by DAPHNE LEE

FAULTLINES

AUTHOR: Chin Ai-May, Jenny Ng, Shazwani Abdul Kabur, Shazra Aishath, Tan Yet Mee, Teja Salehuddin Tan

PUBLISHER: Silverfish Books

ISBN: 978-9833221516

TWENTY-FIFTEEN was a quiet year for Silverfish’s publishing arm. In January of that year, it produced Rumaizah Abu Bakar’s A Call to Travel. Bunga Emas, originally published in 1964, was re-issued  mid-year, and in December, Faultlines, a collection of all-new short stories by six new writers, appeared. Of course, in the 10 months between the publication of the two Silverfish originals, the bookstore moved from Jalan Telawi to the Bangsar Village II shopping mall. No doubt that transition meant an adjustment period for all concerned, and an understandable slowing down in its publishing schedule.

In any case, Silverfish Books has never been the kind of publishing house that spits out books on a monthly basis, and to hell with whether what’s published is fit for print or not. With Silverfish, books are, at very least, edited and proofread – that’s what I’ve always believed in anyway.

That’s why I was very taken aback by Faultlines. This collection, comprising 24 stories, four from each of six writers (all alumni of Silverfish’s popular writing programme), is choc-a-bloc with grammatical errors, typos, inconsistent tenses, wrongly-used words, and other mistakes. Were these stories published in a hurry? They don’t seem to have been proofread, and I must say that most of them read like they’ve not been edited at all.

Read More »

Book Review: Cyberpunk Malaysia

cyberpunk

First published on 24th July, 2015 in The Star

CYBERPUNK MALAYSIA

Edited by Zen Cho

Publisher: Fixi NOVO

CYBERPUNK? What’s that?” That’s the question that usually follows once customers at the bookstore I work at stops oohing and ahhing over this collection’s silver foil cover. Not many Malaysians I know can define “cyberpunk”. Of those who can, a number probably have stories in this collection.

Cyberpunk, in case you’re wondering, is a subgenre of science fiction. With science fiction one tends to think “Robots! Spaceships! Star Trek!” – you get the idea. But cyberpunk?Read More »

Book Review: Doubt & Bitter by Bissme

doubtbitter

First published on 24th April in The Star.

Review by Daphne Lee

Publisher: Merpati Jingga

BETRAYAL and revenge are the main themes explored in two short story collections by long-time journalist Bissme (who goes by one name).

These relentlessly miserable, casually violent tales of mean-spirited, ill-fated characters hell-bent on destruction of one kind or other are obviously meant to shock, but the outrageous details and denouements lose most of their kick from being repeated like clockwork.

Halfway through Doubt (published in 2013), the gristly, gory details, the small-minded petty axe-grinding ceases to make you gasp. You simply end up groaning, ‘No, not again!’Read More »

Book Review: KL Noir Blue

kl noir blueAn edited version of this review first appeared in The Star on 8th July, 2014

KL NOIR BLUE: NO ARRESTS FOR THE WICKED

Editor: Ee Leen Lee

Publisher: FIXI NOVO, 291 words

FIXI NOVO’sKL NOIR series continues with Blue, a collection that focuses on the shady world of crime.

No Arrests for the Wicked is the book’s cheesy subtitle, but this doesn’t mean that bad deeds go unpunished. Indeed, there are no happy endings for anyone, but the price of crime is never anything as conventional as the rope or 60 years with no hope for parole. Retribution is invariably more creative, poetic even, and much more gruesome than one would suffer if left in the hands of the legal system, as grubby as their paws might be. Hey, it’s noir so there can be no mercy, no silver lining.Read More »

Book Review: Pigeon Post by Gwen Smith

pigeon-postFirst published on 16th February, 2014 in The Star

PIGEON POST

Author: Gwen Smith

Publisher: Oyez!, 112 pages

WHEN I was about five, I received my first boxed set of books from my Godmother Evelyne. I still own three of the five books that were part of that set and still read them from time to time.

One of the books is Another Lucky Dip by Ruth Ainsworth, a collection of stories about the everyday lives of ordinary children. There are no mysteries, no amateur sleuthing. Some of the characters are young enough for a wander round the garden to be an awfully big adventure. One of them, Charles, features in several of the stories. Charles has a Useful Bag from which he produces wonderful objects, like notebooks and envelopes, jars and crayons, and sticky tape. He likes to be told stories about when he was ‘small as a pin’.

Then there is the story of a young boy and his precious matryoshka doll. Unlike other dolls of this type, she doesn’t have smaller dolls nested in her body, just a small, wooden red ball. I’ve loved matryoshka dolls since I first read this story, but I have yet to find one that hides a wooden red ball – I have not given up looking.

My favourite story is about three children who spend a day making surprises for their mother. Like the other stories, it’s a quiet tale, not obviously thrilling, although I remember being excited and inspired by the ingenuity of the children and the descriptions of the beautiful, simple, imperfectly perfect things they create for their mother.

The stories in Another Lucky Dip are about the mouth-watering delight of getting thoroughly lost in play that is driven and shaped solely by imagination. Not a lot happens in them, but the lives described are, nevertheless, full and rich, filled with the surprises and adventures ordinary life coughs up in the course of an ordinary day; the characters busy at the difficult, absorbing job of being children.Read More »

Book Review: Tropical Madness by Marc de Faoite

tropical madnessFirst published on 2nd february, 2014 in The Star

TROPICAL MADNESS

Author: Marc de Faoite

Publisher: Fixi Novo

I OFTEN tell the Malaysians who come to my creative writing classes to write about Malaysians and to give their stories a Malaysian setting. To me, not writing about ourselves is a wasted opportunity. There is not much Malaysian literature in English and I feel that fiction about Malaysians and Malaysia should, by and large, be written by us. We can’t expect others not to tell our stories but we must do so as well.

When a foreigner writes a Malaysian story, the focus shifts.  And I feel the same about Malaysian stories published by international publishing houses. In the latter case, the books are being written with a foreign audience in mind. The authors (and publishers) might feel compelled to over-explain some things, play up others. In the former case, foreigners naturally don’t think and feel the same as Malaysians. They don’t have the same insight or concerns or baggage so it’s not possible for them to create convincing Malaysian characters. When I read a Malaysian story written by a non-Malaysian (be it Frank Swettenham or W. Somerset Maugham, Anthony Burgess or Paul Callan) I feel that they are telling their version of things and it makes me wish that there were more Malaysian versions to redress the balance. As Chinua Achebe said, ‘Although the work of redressing which needs to be done may appear too daunting, I believe it is not one day too soon to begin.’Read More »

Book Review: Rags & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales

rag and boneFirst published on 26th January, 2014 in The Star

RAGS & BONES: NEW TWISTS ON TIMELESS TALES

Author: Various

Editors: Melissa Marr & Tim Pratt

Publisher: Little, Brown

I DO love a good re-telling of an old tale, and I like collections of reinterpreted stories because it’s interesting to see how different writers tackle the task of re-presenting classic stories. In fact, I would like to read a collection in which the focus is just one story. For instance, the legend of Mahsuri told by the 12 different authors. How unique would each version be? What aspects of the tale would each author choose to highlight? From whose point of view would each account be told? Would readers recognise the source of these reinterpretations? Would the stories be repetitive and boring? I think not, so long as the authors are chosen for their distinct styles and perhaps even according to the genre they specialised in. Just imagine, the versions might include a sex-and-shopping Mahsuri by Jackie Collins; a murder mystery by Michael Connelly; and maybe something with vampires from Anne Rice. How about it, Little, Brown? Random House? Fixi Noir?

Read More »