Friday, 20 July 2007

Malaysians in Space.

I'm in my science fiction phase right now and currently my reading time is consumed by nothing but sf. If I'm not reading sf (right now: J.G. Ballard's short stories) then I'm reading about it. I've been spending most of my online browsing on sf-related forums like The Chronicles Network, sf-related blogs like David Louis Edelman's blog, and have even been dropping by the local SF watering hole.

I like sf because it's speculative; it's a vision into the future, predicting what could be, what should be, what shouldn't be. The stories might take place in a totally different place and era, but the themes are universal. On the surface, Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein is a story about a spacewar against evil insect aliens, but underneath the pyrotechnics it's also a right-wing tract about the responsibility of going to war (it was written when the US was in Vietnam). William Gibson's Neuromancer and Neil Stephenson's Snow Crash are arguably responsible for predicting cyberspace and virtual reality worlds like Second Life. George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four warned us about a future where we could lose our basic human rights and freedom. Good sf doesn't just predict, but speculates and contemplates decisions of the present. In short, good sf are stories that really reflect about our condition now.

So I've been thinking: What would Malaysian sf be like? Now that we have our own National Space Agency, our own Angkasawans, our own Islamic Guidelines for Praying in Space, surely now is the perfect time to cultivate our very own science fiction? Obviously, we don't have much of a sf scene in Malaysia at the moment. My knowledge of Malaysian sf is sadly limited to some short stories in Dewan Kosmik (the local science magazine published by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka), the two dismal XX Ray movies (one a retelling of The Invisible Man, the other a time travel adventure set in the glory days of the Malacca Sultanate), and lastly, an anthology called Epidemik. Not much to go on, and the examples I've provided are immature efforts at best. (I'm also aware of Faisal Tehrani's effort, 1511H: Kombat, but I haven't read that yet.)

What we really need is something that can truly rock the boat. Something really--forgive the pun--out there. It not only has to be outstanding when compared to other local literature-- literary or mainstream--it also must be able to stand up when compared to the Western heavyweights. (A bit of science-fictional speculation and some long-shot wishing here, but bear with me please.)

What can Malaysian writers contribute to the sf world? Well, for starters, we've got a lot of interesting local issues that crop up from time to time. I've already mentioned the praying in space thing. Did you know that Malaysia has a space policy? Did you know that even though we do have a policy, those lazy scientists (or most likely, the politicians) in the Space Agency haven't really drafted it out yet, even though they have a basic idea of what might be in it? The shrewd Malaysian sf writer would know that he doesn't need to wait for those sloths, he can just draft one up himself, and use that as a springboard for his stories. After all, what is sf if it doesn't fill in the holes?

Here's another cool idea. Now that we *cough cough* know we're *cough cough* an Islamic State *cough cough*, what would Malaysia be like 30 years from now if it really becomes a true Islamic State? A Utopia or a Dystopia? Religion as political means to hang on to power? That's just for starters. What if this "Islamic State" Malaysia (utopian or dystopian, you, the writer, decide) already had an advanced space programme that could send Angkasawans to the moon? What if some Malaysian ulamas wanted acknowledgement of the ultimate proof of the authenticity of the Qur'an by proving that Muhammad (pbuh) really did split the moon and ordered these lunar-based Angkasawans to conduct geographic tests on the moon? What would be the truth? Would the truth matter?

Another thing to ponder upon: does anyone realise our neighbour down south might one-up us in the very near future in the space stakes? Singapore is building a spaceport complete with facilities for sub-orbital space flights, parabolic flights, a space camp for children, a full-day astronaut experience for adults, and an authentic VIP astronaut training facility. What if they succeed? What if they don't and we do? What if some future Malaysian Prime Minister got on a kiasu streak, and decided that he would convert KLIA into a spaceport?

There are a lot of things going on in Malaysia that has so much science-fictional potential. I just feel it's such a waste no one seems to be taking this chance to write The Great Malaysian SF Novel. I would write it, but I'm busy writing The Great Malaysian Fantasy Novel(s). Perhaps I'll write my thoughts on the potential of the Malaysian Fantasy scene some other time.

5 comments:

  1. Whoa, i always interested in speculative sciene.

    I already finished one sciene fiction novel and submitted it to one of the Malay Publisher.

    Will let you know when it's already in the market.

    In fact there are few writers that i know on their way to finish their own SF stuff.

    :P

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  2. That's great news! Thanks for telling me! I will surely buy a copy when it's out. Tell me, is the publisher PTS?

    Do update me on other Malay(sian) sf writers/writing, as I know I am quite in the dark about this! Thanks!

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  3. go with it Ted! this is something i'd really love to read, and who better than you to write it?

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  4. Yes, it is PTS. Although i felt a little bit sketism (on how my works will be edited or turned to be after the printing process), but then, they are the one who only serious Malay player that push the SF title for the moment.

    I do hope more an more Malay publisher will opt for alternative Malay SF (and fantasy).

    And i had few issue with DBP.

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  5. Sharon: I'd love to write it! But I won't mind if someone else gets to it first!

    Nazri: DBP? Hah! Close-minded dinosaurs. If anything, PTS might be the publisher to take Malay Literature, popular and literary, to a much higher level. But they seem to have a very parochial mindset that I find deeply disturbing, but I guess that's normal in this day and age.

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