One of the first things I thought when I was reading this collection was, whether or not you enjoy it would depend on your expectations – which I guess would be true of many things, but especially so with Cyberpunk: Malaysia. That’s because it’s published by Buku Fixi, which mostly deals with pulp fiction and horror (with the occasional fantasy, and rarer SF) and also the fact that Malaysian authors (and readers!) may not be that familiar with the cyberpunk genre. I’ve read enough of Fixi’s anthologies to know not to be literal – not every story in the KL NOIR collections were actually noir, for example. So I began this book expecting some of the story to be not-really-cyberpunk, and perhaps not-really-“Science Fiction”. (This is because I know a lot of local readers that only consider hard-SF as SF.)
That said, I also had high expectations in the enjoyability of the book, because it is edited by Zen Cho, author of the collection Spirits Abroad (also published by Buku Fixi), and the novel Sorcerer to the Crown. I’m definitely a fan of hers, and I think she totally delivers here, because I liked the flow of this collection – it’s a book that I can read from cover to cover in one go, which isn’t something I would say about most fiction anthologies.
My favourite stories would be “Underneath Her Tudung”, about a cyborg woman that many others assume to be an android; “Personal”, which poses an interesting question about a world where our entire existence could be summarised by a tab or a phone; and “The Twins”, which has robots possessed by Penunggu spirits. I also enjoyed “Attack of the Spambots” which is just pure fun, and “Codes” which makes for an excellent discussion on all the current restrictions set on Malay/Muslims in the country.
As a Malaysian SF fan I’m always looking out for speculative fiction with a Malaysian bent, and this anthology certainly satisfies me on that front. I even like the use of Manglish in a few of the stories, which I know annoyed some readers – the way I think of it, I can use English or Malay (or Japanese) completely, but most of the time it feels weird and like I’m trying too hard when I’m not mixing it all up, especially when talking to another Malaysian. Hence, I’ll never speak perfect English, or Malay, or any other language – some things are just better expressed in other languages, and I think in Malaysia, that’s exactly what we always do, mix it all up.
While there are one or two stories I could have done without, and I’m not as in love with this anthology as I was with Spirits Abroad (my favourite work of Malaysian fiction so far!), I do think it is a perfectly enjoyable collection of Malaysian SF, and among the better offerings of local fiction in English in the market.