Comics · Malaysiana

My Giant Geek Boyfriend by Fishball

Yet another comic for the #AsianLitBingo! And another Malaysian one – this time featuring a Chinese Malaysian author/main character.

This book is a compilation of comics by Fishball, who (mostly) chronicles the ups and downs of being in a relationship with a man who is 30cm taller than her – which makes him way, way taller than the average Malaysian. The comics are all bilingual with Chinese and English text, and are freaking hilarious. According to the comic, Fishball is of average Malaysian height, which makes her a little taller than me, but I relate to all the bits about being inconvenienced by one’s (lack of) height. Continue reading “My Giant Geek Boyfriend by Fishball”

Comics · Malaysiana

Paradigma Guru 2 by Pokcik Fingernailz

TW: mention of suicide
Note: this title is published in Malay

Syasya is a high school teacher who doesn’t really love, or even particularly like, her job. Like many Malaysians I’ve met, she finished high school with no particular passion or goal in life, so when her father suggested teaching, she agreed, as it wasn’t as if there was anything she’d rather do. When faced with the reality of teaching, however, Syasya began to think twice.

High school students, after all, could be terrible. And faced with them day in and day out, forced to make them care about their classes when she never cared herself, Syasya wondered if it was too late to change her mind. “I never wanted to be a teacher anyway,” she thought to herself. The teenagers in her class might as well be aliens, they were so hard to understand… until she wakes up one day with the ability to read their thoughts. Continue reading “Paradigma Guru 2 by Pokcik Fingernailz”


Mother & Child | Yusof Gajah (2009)

Mother & Child
Yusof Gajah (artist/illustrator)
Integra Majujaya (previously Oyez! Books), 2009
52 pages

back copy:

Mother & Child represents a selection of a series of water colours done by Yusof Gajah, in celebration of motherhood and the family. The images show how the mother tenderly teaches and cares for her child.

Also included in this delightful book are Yusof’s sketches, mostly done during his travels. They present a rare insight into the artist’s mind and give us a glimpse of the ideas that would later form his paintings.

A truly beautiful and inspirational book…

My thoughts:

I received this book along as part of a large stack from Daphne (because she’s moving, and is giving away some of her old books). At first glance, I thought it was a picture book, but when I flipped through I realised that it was just Yusof Gajah’s paintings, and some quotes to go along with it. I’m kind of a fan of his paintings, so this didn’t bother me, although I did wonder if it’s meant to be a children’s book, or if it’s only designated as such because Integra/Oyez is mainly known for publishing kidlit.

a low-res IG post of some of the book’s pages
Fantasy · Malaysiana

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho (#Diversiverse)

sorcerer_front mech.inddNormally if you say “Regency Fantasy” to me I wouldn’t be very interested, despite having liked quite a few regency fantasies before. And if you said Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell or Georgette Heyer to me, I probably would have avoided the book. (Not because I didn’t think either are good, but because I usually don’t have any patience for the language, or the slowness) So Sorcerer to the Crown wasn’t quite up my alley, but I was very much looking forward to it because (1) Zen Cho wrote it, and (2) I seem to recall an early review on GoodReads that mentioned “Malaysian vampires”. THAT I must read!

And I’m very glad that I did read it, because it turned out to be one of my favourite fantasies this year.

First of all, the book does awesome work at handling race and gender issues – two things that are often concerns in historical fiction/films/etc. The main character, Zacharias Wythe, is a freed slave and the first and only black sorcerer in England. He also happens to be the Royal Sorcerer, even if many of his fellow sorcerers refuse to acknowledge him as such. The other main character is Prunella Gentleman, a half-Indian woman who reminded me somewhat of Sophie Hatter, except that she’s MUCH more ruthless. And – and! – the other main character (sort of) is an old Malay woman named Mak Genggang, and a bomoh (magic user, something like a shaman) to boot.

Upon becoming the new Sorcerer Royal, Zacharias not only face opposition from his colleagues, but also finds that he has to solve the problem of England’s dwindling magical source. As if that wasn’t enough, he’s summoned by the Government to aid Sultan Ahmad of Janda Baik fight a war against the witches and vampires of his country. Zacharias refused, not wanting to start a magical war. When he meets Prunella, however, and visits Fairyland, the source of England’s magic, he learns that everything might be connected after all. Continue reading “Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho (#Diversiverse)”

Malaysiana · Science Fiction · Short Story

Cyberpunk: Malaysia, edited by Zen Cho (#Diversiverse)

cyberpunkmalaysiaOne 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.


Contemporary · Malaysiana

The Sum of Our Follies by Shih-Li Kow

sumofourfolliesI had been hesitant to write about this book, which I had read for our Malaysian Fiction book club, because it pretty much left me with a “meh” feeling. And usually I wouldn’t bother writing about books I didn’t feel strongly about either way, but I also wanted to write about my attempts in reading more local fiction.

I think my biggest complaint about this book is the characters. They didn’t feel real, and their feelings didn’t feel real, which made it very difficult to engage with the book, because I am very much a “characterisation first” sort of reader. I don’t have to like or love a character, but I definitely do have to get a feel of who they are as a person, and I didn’t get that with any of the characters in this book. The narrators kept getting switched around and they all sounded the same to me, and I couldn’t tell them apart, which wasn’t a good thing considering that one of them was a young girl, another was a middle-aged (I think) woman, and the third was an old man. Each of these characters came from very different backgrounds, with different levels of education… and they all sounded the same.

What I did like about this book was the setting. Lubok Sayong, the fictitious town the story was set in, was described vividly enough, and the best parts of the story was when it took on a magical realist feel, like with the big fish that kept turning up in different parts of the book. The prose was pretty in some parts, and it made me wonder if I would enjoy Shih-Li Kow’s short stories more, as I am more apt to overlook lack of character development in that format. Since I’ve been told that her Ripples collection is better than this novel, I may give it a try one day. Overall, I found this novel readable, if much like Lubok Sayong’s nasi lemak bungkus – “lukewarm and thinly garnished, in portion that fall short of satisfying the appetite and the imagination.”

5 by 5 · Malaysiana

5×5: Zen Cho

I’ve always been interested in what local publisher Buku Fixi have been releasing, but most of their books weren’t the sort that I normally read, until Zen Cho’s Spirits Abroad.

Spirits Abroad is really a collection of (mostly) previously published SFF short fiction. I loved that a lot of the stories were exactly the sort of thing I liked, perfectly blending the real world with folklore. And as a  MAJOR plus point, this time the folklore were the ones I’ve grown up with, because Zen Cho is also Malaysian. I really ought to write about the book in a different post, because I want to flail about all the stories. Earlier this year Buku Fixi released another anthology full of the sort of things I like in my SF, Cyberpunk: Malaysia, edited by Zen. This, too, I will write more about in a future post.

This month Zen released a novel, Sorcerer to the Crown, which I had included in my “2015 books I’m anticipating” lists here and on GR. I’m expecting it to be as awesome as – if very different from – Spirits Abroad. My copy just arrived yesterday, and I can’t wait to start reading!

Anyway, here are Zen’s top fives (and top 1 for one of the questions):

whiteboots1 uprooted AKitS Cover amanliesdreaming gokusen

Top 5 favourite childhood books

  • First Term at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton
  • White Boots by Noel Streatfeild
  • The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
  • Villette by Charlotte Bronte

Top 5 fictional characters you’d love to meet

  • Death from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld
  • Temeraire from Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series
  • Stephen Maturin from Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series
  • Yankumi from the manga Gokusen by Morimoto Kozueko
  • Anne Shirley from L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series

Top 5 fandoms you’re currently into

  • Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (the Susanna Clarke novel and the BBC series)

Zen’s note: I can’t truthfully say I’m currently into any other fandoms! I’m a serial monogamist when it comes to fandoms.

Top 5 SFF books you read recently

  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik
  • Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
  • A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar
  • Cyberpunk: Malaysia by various authors
  • A Killing in the Sun by Dilman Dila

Top 5 creatures/spirits from myth/folklore

  • Dragon
  • Pontianak
  • Qilin
  • Manananggal
  • The Monkey King, Sun Wukong (though a bit disrespectful to call him a creature)

Thank you very much, Zen, for answering these!