Wednesday, 19 July 2017

#bookreview: The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories | Ken Liu

The Paper Menagerie and Other StoriesThe Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you've already been following Liu's career as a short story writer from 2004 - 2014, you don't actually need to buy this book. The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories is a collection of Liu's science fiction and fantasy shorts, as follows:
- The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species (Lightspeed, 2012)
- State Change (Polyphony 4, 2004)
- The Perfect Match (Lightspeed, 2012)
- Good Hunting (Strange Horizons, 2012)
- The Literomancer (Fantasy & Science Fiction, 2010)
- Simulacrum (Lightspeed, 2011)
- The Regular (Upgraded, 2014)
- The Paper Menagerie (Fantasy & Science Fiction, 2011)
- An Advanced Readers' Picture Book of Comparative Cognition
- The Waves (Asimov's Science Fiction, 2012)
- Mono No Aware (The Future is Japanese, 2012)
- All The Flavors (GigaNotoSaurus, 2012)
- A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel (Fantasy & Science Fiction, 2012)
- The Litigation Master and the Monkey King (Lightspeed, 2013)
- The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary (Panverse 3, 2011)
(There only seems to be one new/unpublished story.)

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I find that I don't enjoy Liu's straight science fiction as much probably because his sci-fi veers towards a dryer, hard-science style and I don't really have much a feel for his aliens. The more spec-fic mash ups are pretty good, but it's his Asian fantasy that really comes alive.

At the top of the list is, obviously, The Paper Menagerie -- it's hauntingly beautiful; the poignancy of a boy torn between his Chinese roots and his American reality and a man finally coming to terms with being both. Similarly, in All the Flavors, Liu seems to be creating a new mythology for the Chinese-American, combining Chinese-type myths with the story of Chinese migration to America in the 1800s. The Literomancer, in turn, brings you to Taiwan where Mr Kan extends a magical world and an odd sense of belonging to Lilly Dyer, a Texan transplant.

I suppose it's this sense of transience that Liu manages so well -- his characters are in-betweens, never quite fitting in, never quite finding who they are, always searching and yearning. Even in Good Hunting and The Waves there's an unsettling sense of change -- whether it's because the magic is leaving the land, or that science is changing humanity.

There's also a sense of guilt and the need for redemption -- Liu bases some of his stories (The Litigation Master and the Monkey King, The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary) on injustices long hidden in history, as if he is apologising for them.

The stories in this collection are mostly hard-hitting. They're not light, bubbly type reads; but shorts with depth, often reaching into the dark sides of humanity. It's about balance and how humans can't, won't. It's past and future, hope and fear. And that muddly thing between that makes humanity what it is.

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Monday, 17 July 2017

#musicmonday: The Coffee or Tea playlist | PLUS a Summer Fantasy Giveaway!

Submissions for NutMag 2: Coffee or Tea? has closed and the MYWriters Penang team has voted and I'm getting round to making the final decisions, so here's the playlist of coffee and tea songs I rounded up as inspiration.



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Whilst you wait for results, Andrew Q Gordon's Summer Fantasy Giveaway starts today!
If you're looking to grab a copy of Coexist (plus a lot of other fun fantasy books) head over HERE.

Friday, 14 July 2017

#fridayflash: Soggy


The mail was soggy from the unrelenting rain. Which was perfectly fine because it was mainly junk. The mushy birthday card that emerged from a drenched white envelope garnered a soft gasp. It was hers, of course, except she was no longer here. An hour later, the card was still on the counter, waiting to be read. Reluctantly, he flipped it open, wondering which cruel person—he refused to call them a friend—would inflict him so.

Dear Ned, it read. He looked at it for a long while, then checked the torn envelope. This month’s postmark, no salutation. Just his address. Which was why he’d opened it in the first place. If it had been addressed to her, he would have ignored it, like he’d ignored all the others. If it had been addressed to him… why was it addressed to him? His birthday wasn’t for months yet. He gathered his courage and started again.

Dear Ned, if you’re reading this, I’m gone. He stumbled to a chair, almost knocking it over as he sat down. He checked the clock, his watch, stared at the ceiling, trying to look anywhere but at the card in his hands. His hands were trembling. Why were they trembling? He leant back and closed his dry, hot eyes. He should have known. Should have recognised her long, loopy scrawls.

Dear Ned, if you’re reading this, I’m gone. It’s alright to cry. Death came quickly and gently, sneaking up on me like a shadow when the sun reaches its peak. There was nothing I could do and nothing you could do. No, there had been nothing he could do as she lay in Mt Miriam receiving treatment. Nothing but hold her hand and pray that she lived another day. And then the days had run out and he’d left that cold, white hospital alone.

Dear Ned, if you’re reading this, I’m gone. It’s alright to cry. Death came quickly and gently, sneaking up on me like a shadow when the sun reaches its peak. There was nothing I could do and nothing you could do. If you loved me, and I know you did, celebrate this day for me. Celebrate my birth, not my death. Celebrate the sun, not the shadow. Don’t let it eat at you like the cancer ate me whole. Happy birthday, Esther. Say it with me. 

“Happy Birthday, Esther.” The words sounded empty in his mouth, as hollow as the rain tapping on the roof overhead. There were marbles in his mouth and cotton in his ears; his eyes were raw, burning flame.

“Happy birthday,” he whispered as he dropped the card into the trash. It tumbled lazily, missing the edge of the bin, ending up face down beside the bin, presenting her last message to him.

Dear Ned, I love you. 

The mail was soggy, drowned in the salt of Ned’s grief.

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Wrote this for a prompt like a million years ago or something.
Pulled up for filler purposes. 
And also because I'm unlikely to use it anywhere else. 

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

#bookreview: B: | Hanno Frank

BB by Hanno Frank
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

B is a collection of conversations between B and random people, all of whom want her to provide some kind of service.
It's cute, quirky, and amusing. Most times you end up nodding in agreement- you've met people like that in real life before.
As Hanno says, "We have all been on both sides of the table at some point."

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Super short review while I catch up on life and stuff.

Monday, 10 July 2017

#musicmonday: Welcome to the Black Parade | My Chemical Romance + A Bengal Tiger review



He said, "Son when you grow up,
Would you be the savior of the broken,
The beaten and the damned?"
He said "Will you defeat them,
Your demons, and all the non-believers,
The plans that they have made?"
"Because one day I'll leave you,
A phantom to lead you in the summer,
To join The Black Parade."

Brought to you by Chris Preslar's unwitting ability to trigger nostalgia (or in other words, the closing song for Bengal Tiger).

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with the cast of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo
L - R: Iz Sulaini (Tom), Phraveen Arikiah (Musa), Christopher Preslar (Tiger), Putrina Mohamed Rafie (Iraqi Woman/Leper), Kabilan Murali Dharan (Iraqi Man/Uday), me, Farah Jasani (Iraqi teenager/Hadia)
Missing: Christopher Culver (Kev)
If I had to describe this show in one word, it would be intense.

Rajiv Joseph's Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo sounds ridiculous at the start. Taking place during the 2003 Iraq Invasion, two soldiers guard a Bengal tiger at the Baghdad Zoo. When the tiger (Christopher Preslar) bites off Tom's (Iz Sulaini) hand, Kev (Christopher Culver) shoots it, pushing all three into a downward spiral. By the end of the show, Baghdad is filled with ghosts, all connected by a strange web of death to Musa (Phraveen Arikiah) and a golden gun.

The characters are brilliantly cast, filling their roles exceptionally well. Culver is believable as the dumb redneck Kev: the boy's itching for action - either a fight or sex, he doesn't care which. In later scenes, he manages the intense nature of his role with aplomb. As Tom, Iz comes across smarter, or at least more experienced, but is handicapped by his utter lack of empathy for and understanding of anyone not White American (doesn't this sound so familiar?) as well as his extreme anger (which may have been a tad overdone - he was angry all the time and it was grating). Kabilan does a brilliant mad/evil (evilly mad? madly evil?) Uday and Preslar is stellar, as usual, as the atheist Tiger (all tigers are atheist, apparently) stuck in an existential hell trying to figure out why he's a ghost on earth. But it was Phraveen who caught and held my attention: Musa, the poor, tormented gardener employed as a translator for the Americans, caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. You see him happy, almost care-free. You see him afraid. You see his soul wounded and tortured. You see him stumbling through life, almost zombie-like, frozen because he doesn't not know who he is anymore.

Copious swearing aside, the play asks hard-hitting questions. The Tiger flits in and out of the scenes, asking questions no one wants to voice: who is God, where is He, and what is the point of this life? He taunts, he teases, he rages; but he is insubstantial. Meaningless. A ghost. Musa's quandary is more physical; practical - why should he continue working with the Americans now he's found out they're not the good people he once thought they were? Also, what's going to happen to him once they're gone?

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo leaves you with a heavily full heart. There is evil, and killing, sure. It's an extremely dark show. But there is also a man finding himself, finally coming to terms with who he has been and deciding for himself who he will be.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Friday, 7 July 2017

#fridayflash: Absolution - an excerpt (WIP)

The rooms are nothing more than small monk’s cells in the priests’ quarters. There’s a single mattress with white sheets and a folded blanket. Tomas shows us the shared bathroom and the dining hall and that’s it for the grand tour.

I end up sitting in the dining hall nursing a cup of herbal tea because I’m too wired up to sleep. Adam joins me after a while.

“I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“Messing up your plans. I know how much the sacrifice means to you… and I—”

I silence him with the wave of my hand. “It’s not important.”

“But it is to you.”

“Magda never believed I’d find it anyway.” Thinking about Magda makes me remember Tunku Nawal and the others waiting in the inn. “We need to tell the others—”

“The priests have sent someone.”

“That’s… efficient.”

“You get used to it.”

We sit silently, ignoring the unspoken words between us. I want to ask him how he’s feeling, but judging by the turmoil that I feel, I don’t think it’s something he’ll talk about. Finally, I can’t stand it anymore and excuse myself. I head back to my room and lie down, even if I can’t fall asleep.
It’s about two hours later when Adam and I are summoned into Holy Father Farouk’s office again. He leads us into the great hall, where we stop in front of the stained glass panels I had been inspecting yesterday.

My surprise must have shown on my face, because the high priest chuckles a little and says, “Yes, this is indeed a depiction of the six rituals.”

“Is there no depiction of the Berith Melach itself then?” I ask.

He gestures at the stained glass window that overshadows everything in this hall. “The Berith Melach is the Blood Sacrifice. It is one and the same.”

I imagine Adam on the altar in place of the bull and I shudder.

“One step at a time, child. One step.”

He names each step. The first three are the Purifications. Body, mind, soul. Cleansing, Chanting, Confessing. The next three are the Devotions. They’re meant to test the actions of the Sacrifice, to see if he’s pure, if he’s ready. Prepared. The Maze, the Puzzle, the Task. And then the Sacrifice.

“How do I fit?” I ask. “How am I allowed to help?”

“The Purifications will be performed separately for each of you. You may sit out the Purifications, if you wish, but it is recommended that you go through them as well to prepare yourself for the Devotions. I cannot tell you the details of the Devotions at this moment, but you may decide how you wish to tackle them. You may decide to work together on them, or you may decide that each will take a task simultaneously. If you will allow me a suggestion, I would merely say that a shared weight is easier to bear.”

Together then. We’ll do this together.

“Tomorrow we will commence at seven in the morning. I have spoken to your friends. You are allowed to join them for dinner at the Heaven’s Gates Inn tonight. However, do return early to prepare yourselves. It will be a long, hard day tomorrow and the week to follow.”

Dinner at the inn, although delicious, is somewhat subdued. Tunku Nawal whines half-heartedly about Suci and how boring it is. Hawa keeps asking if I’m sure I want to do this, as if the more she asks the higher chance there is that I’ll change my mind. Fikri wanders off early, mumbling some excuse about seeing to the camels. Abdullah is staunchly silent. It feels like a funeral meal. I don’t know why they bothered, but the gesture is kind all the same.

When I say goodbye that night, I feel as if I too may not survive this week alive.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

#bookreview: Ghosts by @scifrey

Ghosts (The Accidental Turn, #0.5)Ghosts by J.M. Frey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I feel like I'm shortchanging this story by giving it only 3-stars. Yet at the same time, I wasn't terribly excited about it as I read it.

This is mostly because I read it out of sequence. It probably shouldn't matter since this prequel novella (stated as #0.5) was obviously only releasedafter #1 The Untold Tale (duh) and #2 The Forgotten Tale. BUTTTT I read it after reading #2.5 Arrivals which really was the culmination of everything that happens in Ghosts.

At any rate, it feels a little waffly overall. Because poor Bevel is so tortured in this one and he can't do anything about it because Kin is that oblivious. (Whether it really is that waffly or whether it's because I know how the whole thing turns out is another matter altogether. I don't know and I'm not inclined to try and tease it out.)

Still, as an origins story, it's not bad. We find out a bit more about Mandikin, the ghost that features in one of the stories (#1, I think? I forget) though that's not really the plot at all. Actually, I don't know if there is a plot other than Bevel pining. And maybe that's part of my disgruntlement.

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Monday, 3 July 2017