Like many other Malaysian Science Fiction fans, I was excited by the very thought of this anthology, which is the first--to my knowledge--Malaysian English Science Fiction anthology.
I love the cover: plain foil that doubles as a murky mirror. Perhaps it's a nod to Mirrorshades, a Cyberpunk anthology published in 1986. The digital edition covers are pretty, too.
Sadly, that's about the only positive thing I can say about this anthology, other than a few amazing stories that I'll mention in a bit. Most of the stories aren't even Science Fiction, much less Cyberpunk. They're merely General Fiction with robots and plasma guns thrown in so that they can pass off as SF. As a genre writer, this pisses me off. How can we expect Malaysian SF to be taken seriously?
Well, on with my review of each story in the anthology.
Underneath Her Tudung
At its essence, this is a story about a young woman who is accepting her new existence as a cyborg. However, the storytelling is an absolute mess. It’s a Manglish fest, but the mangled English felt…forced, as if used for its effect. The story meanders and doesn’t have any focus at all. I’m not sure if using this story as the opening piece is a good idea. It definitely sets the book as Malaysian, though, both for its terrible Manglish, and for its unfocused storytelling.
It’s a story about a girl using a fake identity to bypass the restrictions set on Muslims. That ends in something completely off tangent and didactic. Another typical Malaysian storytelling, and forgettable.
I’m frustrated with this one. The writing is good and engaging, but the story doesn’t go anywhere. It’s about a woman’s fear of Personal Device theft—in other words, one’s entire digital signature is stolen. While the story goes on and on about that fear, as well as world building, it feels as though the real story is in the rushed and summarized ending scene.
Attack of the Spambots
A case of abused exclamation marks and misplaced colons. But. I can definitely see this one as an over-acted B-grade movie in SyFy, and it's a good thing. Sort of. The ending could have been expanded more, but overall, it’s a fun read—provided one doesn’t overanalyze things.
One Hundred Years: Machine
The first piece in this anthology that actually reads like Science Fiction. The way it’s told, written as a dissertation abstract, is also interesting and well-chosen. While most Cyberpunk stories are told from an underdog’s perspective, this one is told from the Man’s view. I like this one.
What the Andromaid Reads at Night
This story is told in a detached third person narration in line with the tradition of fables and folktales. It’s an example of plot-driven stories where characterization is secondary. It’s good that the writer doesn’t employ the Pinocchio trope. The andromaid doesn’t pretend to be human; it’s a robot discovering the wonders of Islam in a radically secular nation. It is, however, reminiscent of Chappie, especially with the identity/memory transfer.
Take an Indonesian maid’s dilemma in newspapers and dramas, and you’ll get exactly the same story. This is nowhere near Science Fiction, much less Cyberpunk. I don’t know what this story is doing in this anthology.
The Wall that wasn’t a Wall
No robots or wearable/personalized technology in this piece, which is a breath of fresh air. Set in a dystopian future where some people are no better off than animals, it’s a decent read. However, the world building falls flat.
THIS SHOULD HAVE BEEEN THE OPENING PIECE! Robots possessed by spirits? Yes! Tasteful garnishing of Manglish? Yes! Amazing storytelling? Yes! I love this story. If there is only one story I can recommend out of this anthology, “The Twins” is it. I look forward to reading more from the author.
I got bored reading this. The story is incomplete; it feels as though there should be a continuation after the reveal at the end of the story for it to have a complete arc.
Undercover in Tanah Firdaus
Almost two pages of backstory, which sets the world to something like Final Fantasy VII with its platform-city where the privileged enjoy luxuries and sunlight, while the undercity (slums) is in perpetual shadow. The story starts off slow, with plenty of acronyms and expositions and clunky world building, but it picks up when Inspector Moktar submits his holographic reports. I love this different format of storytelling, and how instead of the usual slum-is-bad-and-the-upper-society-needs-to-be-overtaken trope (think Elysium and In Time), this story shows the opposite. Despite the exposition at the beginning, this is a good and solid piece, one that doesn’t deserve to be buried in the middle of the anthology.
Finally, a story in this anthology that reads like actual Science Fiction with a hard SF bent! I enjoyed the story…until the final scene, with its forced Manglish, because that’s how Malays talk, apparently, as opposed to the Caucasian protagonist. Ruined my reading experience. Gah!
The White Mask
The author has delivered another brilliant story. Take smart paint and graffiti artists who are anti-establishment, and we get an awesome Cyberpunk story right here. No robots are needed. I love how the story is told in fragmented streams of consciousness. Another solid piece.
Extracts From DMZine #13 (January 2115)
I feel like this “story” is smarter than I am. Interesting choice of formatting, but the articles appear disjointed & so unrelated that I think I’m missing something here. Worth a reread later.
What I do notice in this anthology is that...I didn't detect any glaring typos. It is, however, severely underwhelming, and a disappointing read for an SFF fan. It's especially disappointing when Manglish is used for effect instead of effective communication, and good stories are buried in the middle of the anthology, in danger of not being read should people stop reading after the first few stories. Then again, these are my personal thoughts, and I do hope that others will love the entire book.
After all, I do fervently hope that this will be the first Malaysian-English SF anthology, and not the only one.