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Retrospective 2015.

Ever since I started this blog, I've had a somewhat loose tradition of writing an annual retrospective of the year that's passed.

Some years I did not do it because those years were too depressing. Indeed, the period between 2009 to 2013, I consider some of my darkest years of my life. No permanent job, a very low paying job and sometimes no jobs at all, I was scrounging for money, on top of having a wife and baby to feed. (Don't worry, things slowly got better and I'm not fishing for sympathy. Just saying.)

During those years, I barely wrote any of my own fiction, and the ones I did I wrote purely out of spite (See: Zombies Ate My Muslim. What was I angry at? The world.)

2014 was the year that everything turned around for me. I finally found a job where my employer truly appreciated my skills and so money was flowing in at a good rate again. In the meantime, to make some extra bucks, I had ghostwritten a screenplay (and half a novel based on said screenplay) and real…

On Kedai Fixi's Bestsellers List.

That strange moment when not only are two books with my stories in them are on a bestsellers list, they are on it together with a book by Haruki Murakami!
10 Bestseller sepanjang minggu ini! Terima kasih! @Irvan_Affan@hadimnor@AriffAdlyyy@fahmimustaffa@zenaldehydepic.twitter.com/VUEp6gDd2x — Kedai Fixi (@KedaiFixi) October 25, 2015 CRAZY.

It's not much compared to other people's success, I know, but this is at least one of the few things that can make me smile when it comes to the painful writing journey I've had this past nine years.

After all the painful rejections I've had, after all the horrible things people have said about my writing, I now know at least there are some people out there who can appreciate it.

Thank you to those who've been there along the way, always encouraging and supporting me, (John Ling, Shark, Sharon Bakar, Elizabeth Tai) even the worst moments when I almost quit writing for good. Thank you to the editors (Zen Cho for Cyberpunk: Malaysia

Hungry In Ipoh: A Water Tower Story

If you're a long time reader of this blog (all three of you), you'll remember I wrote a story about two boys and a water tower. Okay, actually you won't remember, because it was nine years ago. That was my first seriously written short story, one I had intended on submitting for publication.

It was also my first rejection.

No hard feelings though. It was truly a badly written story. I was overconfident of my writing abilities (or lack thereof) and the story truly didn't deserve to be published.

But the story of climbing a water tower continued to linger in the back of my mind. I knew I wanted to write a story which featured one. I had grown up in suburb of Ipoh called Pekan Razaki, and I lived on a road that led up to an imposingly tall water tower. I'm sure you'll understand that this would spark the imagination of a teenaged boy.

To give you an idea what it was like, I messed around a bit with Google Maps Streetview. Here's the view:



Moving on a little, …

#BookReview: The Fifth Dimension by Martin Vopenka

Martin Vopenka's novel, though given the label of science fiction, reads more like a magical realist escapade through philosophy, sprinkled with liberal doses of space-time theories. The result is a novel that reads more like Milan Kundera rather than something more traditionally placed in the realm of science fiction.

The Fifth Dimension starts out promisingly. A Czech man, Jakub, who built a successful career in construction after the fall of Communism suddenly finds himself broke after his business prospects vanish one by one.

Desperate, he answers a mysterious ad from an equally mysterious organization that promises him US$200,000 if he takes part in an experiment that involves spending a year in solitude out in the mountains of Argentina. He takes with him only one book, Black Holes & Time Warps by Kip Thorne, and so spends his time lost not only in loneliness and paranoia but also in multidimensional physics theories.

Unfortunately, the plot takes too long to build a…

#BookReview: Windswept by Adam Rakunas

It's very rare for a book to grab my attention on the first page, then proceeds to drag me through a fast-paced, action packed SF romp. Adam Rakunas's Windswept sweeps you through a plot involving labor unions, edge-of-space boondocks, space elevators, and sugarcane byproducts, which of course, includes rum. Lots of rum.

Padma Mehta is a union recruiter grappling on the edge of sanity who only wants to fulfill her recruitment quota so she can retire and buy her own rum distillery. When an opportunity presents itself so that Padma can finally fill her quota, she takes it despite her better judgment.

But instead of the forty people she expected to quit their labor contracts, only five of them come tumbling down the space elevator and one of them happens to be dead. What happens next is a series of increasingly insurmountable problems for Padma to overcome.

Besides the breakneck speed of the prose, I found the witty banter and the often hilarious situations entertaining, making …

#BookReview: The SEA Is Ours edited by Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng

Southeast Asia is a region rich with legends and myths which hasn't been explored enough by writers, even those residing here. But this is probably partly because we don't have that many venues in which to share these stories.

It goes without saying then that The SEA Is Ours, a steampunk anthology featuring writers from all over Southeast Asia, is a timely anthology that fills the need to showcase stories from authors we don't normally hear from.

The two editors, Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng, have made great choices in selecting the stories that went into this anthology. There were only a couple of stories that didn't really grab my attention, but that's par for the course for any collection of stories. It's rare that I find myself liking all the stories in an anthology.

The ones that did really stood out for me were Timothy Dimacali's On The Consequence of Sound, which, rightly, is the opening story and features humongous giant whale catfish sweeping through…

Short Story Progress Report (August 2015).

Earlier this year I blogged about feeling inspired to write again, how I gained my writing mojo back after several years of writing drought.

(Perhaps one day, I'll write about that period of time but suffice to say I was in a bit of a depression and didn't think highly of my own writing. But that time has passed and it is time to focus on the now, and more importantly, on the future.)

As I said it that blog post, I intended 2015 to be the year I took writing seriously again, and so far, I've stuck to my word. I didn't mention it back then (perhaps because I was afraid of jinxing it) but I renewed an old contract, an old resolution I used to make every end of the year, and that was promising myself I'd write a short story a month, or twelve stories a year.

I've never been able to keep that promise and at the end of the year, I'd self-flagellate for not being able to live up to that promise.

But this year felt different. There was certainly something in the a…

#BookReview: Wind/Pinball by Haruki Murakami

My review of Haruki Murakami's Wind/Pinball was published in the Sunday Star on 16 August 2015 and appeared on the Star2.com website on 18 August 2015.



Author: Haruki Murakami
Translator (Japanese-English): Ted Goossen
Publisher: Alfred A Knopf

Finally, famed Japanese author Haruki Murakami has deemed it fit for English-speakers to read the two novellas he wrote in the late 1970s that launched his career.

Wind/Pinball is a collection of two novellas: Hear The Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973. Murakami is on record for saying that he’s embarrassed by these novellas because, by his reckoning, they were his early books and are not that good. He’s even mentioned in interviews that he had had no plans for them to be released outside of Japan.

English translations did exist, though. Published by Kodansha and translated by Alfred Birnbaum, the rarities were only ever intended to be used in English language classes in Japan. Print runs were limited and English-reading Murakami fans curious about t…

#BookReview: City by Clifford D. Simak (2015 Edition)

It's always wonderful when you discover a wonderful new author. But this author I've found is hardly new and he is hardly obscure, having won three Hugo awards as well as a Nebula. In 1977 he became the third Grand Master of the SFWA. No, far from obscure, Clifford D. Simak is one of the masters of science fiction who wrote and published his stories during the hallowed Golden Era of SF. And the book that I've discovered by him is the fantastic, far-reaching and truly epic novel, City.

Like many SF novels of that period, City is a novel that is patched together with previously published unconnected short stories, very similar to what Bradbury did with The Martian Chronicles and what Asimov did with I, Robot. What makes City unique--I'd go so far as to say fascinating--are the interstitial "notes" that tie the stories together into one continuous narrative. And these notes are often equally as intriguing as the stories they introduce.

But I'm getting ahead…

Journey of a Nine-Year-Old Short Story.

Yesterday, the New Asia Now edition of the Griffith Review went on sale:
Griffith Review 49: New Asia Now showcases outstanding young writers from the countries at the centre of Asia's ongoing transformation. They write about the people and places they know with passion, flair and insight.

All born after 1970, our contributors are cultural agenda setters at home who explore issues of identity and belonging in the new world that is unfolding.

Griffith Review 49: New Asia Now, co-edited by Julianne Schultz and Jane Camens, takes a journey through the region’s diversity, featuring a new generation of literary stars who will shape the way we understand the complexities of culture, politics and modernisation.
The editors received so many good entries they wanted to include that they decided to publish this edition in two volumes -- a print edition and a supplementary e-book entitled, "New Asia Now: Volume 2".

Now, why am I telling you this? Because not only is New Asia Now a gr…

#BookReview: Starfire by Paul Preuss

A solar flare causes an accident on a routine mission around the Earth's orbit. This causes astronaut Travis Hill to take extreme measures by leaping out of the craft and into an escape pod, effectively becoming the first astronaut ever to jettison to safety from space and make a reentry back to Earth.

This amazing starting sequence in the novel, Starfire by Paul Preuss, hooked me straight in and kept me turning the pages, wanting to know what would happen the thrilling moment next. Unfortunately, as action-packed as the opening was, the rest of Starfire left me wanting.

Several years after Travis Hill's amazing escape from the solar flare accident and his daring descent back to Earth, he has been deemed unfit to go back to space. But when he hears about an asteroid that makes a near pass to Earth and is heading towards the Sun, he spies an opportunity to get back to space. With NASA launching the brand new spaceship, the titular Starfire, very soon, plans are made to readjus…

Cyberpunk: Malaysia featured at The Book Smugglers.

The Book Smugglers feature Cyberpunk: Malaysia in their monthly SFF in Conversation article. They speak with Zen Cho, the editor, as well as the authors featured within the anthology. And yes, I'm one of 'em, thank you very much.

An excerpt:
We received 100 submissions – a lot for a local English-language anthology – and filtering them down to the final 14 short stories was not an easy process. But I’m proud of the resulting book: it’s a fascinating snapshot of contemporary urban Malaysia, an exploration of what cyberpunk might be in a Malaysian context, and a glimpse of what we can hope for from the continuing growth of world SF. There's also a giveaway, so if you hurry, you might be able to win a copy.

Rape Scenes Are Lazy Writing and Why You Shouldn't Write Them.

This article in Wired has made me rethink my fiction quite a bit lately:
Half the time, people can’t even seem to figure out how to define rape, let alone portray it in responsible ways. Indeed, one of the most baffling things about so many rape scenes in popular culture is that the people who scripted them felt qualified to do so, despite seemingly knowing nothing about rape except that it exists and it is bad. In short, anyone can write a rape scene—but should they? Chances are, the answer is no. It's a well-written piece about the use of rape as a plot device and why it's most often unnecessary and makes for lazy writing.

I agree with this and I, for one, don't enjoy rape scenes, no matter how crucial it is to the plot in a story.

Yet, with that in mind, I must say the article comes at a crucial time for me as I was drafting out an outline for a future short story which happened to include a rape scene. The scene would have involved a woman raping an android and how…

My SF Story in Cyberpunk: Malaysia.

Yesterday was a landmark day for me because Cyberpunk: Malaysia was finally launched at the Cooler Lumpur festival. Cyberpunk: Malaysia includes in it my first SF short story published by somebody other than myself. That story is entitled "What the Andromaid Reads at Night" and is what I feel is the best short story I've written so far. It's a pretty big deal for me, in many ways.

But what really makes it primarily a big deal is that this was the first acceptance for me this year (out of three so far, and I'll talk about the other accepted short stories in a future blog post) and was the desperate affirmation that I sorely needed to prove I could indeed write something that somebody else actually likes. (Like most writers I am insecure.)


This somebody happened to be the all-round awesome Zen Cho, co-winner of the William L. Crawford Fantasy Award, and author of the fantastic anthology of short stories Spirits Abroad (some of the stories in there make me go, damm…

I just finished writing a novel!

I just finished writing a novel (the one I mentioned in my previous post), and boy is this feeling exhilarating! Also, there is this overwhelming sense of relief. Word count: 55,827 words. Warning: Anybody who says it is too short to be considered a novel, will be shot. In the genitals.

To say I'm excited is a little bit of an understatement. I've written novels before of course, and they've been monsters that have reached almost 100,000 words, but they've all been stinkers and worse, they've all been unfinished. Unfinished in the sense that I managed to get to the first draft stage, then decided it wasn't worth it to plow on with them. A polished turd is still a turd. This novel, I can say with some confidence, has the potential of being not a stinking turd.

It's just a first draft of course and there's still a lot of work to be done to get it shiny and polished well enough for publication. There are names to be changed, MacGuffins to be inserted an…

The Marathon Writer: Writing 20,000 Words in 4 Days.

I wrote 20,000 words quite recently. And I did it within 4 days. Why did I do it? And how? That's what this blog is all about, friends!

Some time in the middle of January, I got an idea that I felt would make an interesting writing project. Something light and easy for me to start my writing year with. The elevator pitch I came up with was something that went along the lines of: "First Blood, Part II, but with robots. Or Predator, without aliens."

I started writing a synopsis of what the novella would be. Spoiler warning: it's First Blood, Part II, but with robots. I planned out a beginning, a middle and an end, all plot points blatantly and shamelessly stolen from the awesome movie that is First Blood, Part II. I figured the beginning would be 5000 words, the middle would be 10,000 words, and the end would be 5000 words. Then I realised something, HEY! That's 20,000 words. Just nice for a novella.

Then I started thinking how much time it would take for me to ac…

The Dangers of Having a Really Long Title for a Short Story.

So now my latest short story e-book is out for the consumption of the masses! Don't everybody rush to the bookstores at once! There's enough for everyone! Because they're e-books dammit!

Here's a summary of what you're in for:
When Sayyid opted to become an organic Volkswagen farmer, he did not expect the Volkswagens to misbehave and break out of his backyard. Now those crazy air-cooled vehicles are running loose in the neighborhood and only Sayyid can stop them. But the situation gets even more out of hand when they invade the home of cranky old Mrs. Winters and take her hostage. In this action-packed and absurd short story, all bets are off as to whether humans or air-cooled Volkswagens survive to see another day. The Dangers of Growing Air-cooled Volkswagens in Your Backyard can currently be found at the following outlets:
AmazonGoogle PlaySmashwordsiTunesBarnes & NobleKobo  and Barbra Streisand knows where else.

Every time I push out an e-book I inadvertentl…

Four Years to Completion.

It only took four years but I've finally finished writing a short story that I never thought I would finish. As I mentioned in the previous post, on the very last page of Zombies Ate My Muslim, I had promised that the next story would be The Dangers of Growing Volkswagens in Your Backyard. I didn't think anybody would be interested in reading it due to its ridiculously silly title, and so I never was motivated to finish writing it.

Yet here I am, basking in the glow of a freshly completed short story. By complete, I mean first draft complete and not rewritten-umpteen-million-times-and-edited-to-hell complete. That process would probably take several more weeks and after that I'll self-publish it on all the major e-book outlets. That's still an achievement though.

I shan't be bothered submitting this one to any pubs; it's way too silly for the likes of them. Like Zombies Ate My Muslim, it doesn't take itself seriously and it doesn't even want to try. Unl…

A New Year and a New Reaffirmation.

You know, I'm feeling inspired again. Inspired again to write.

I'll be the first to admit I've been a little slack in my writing. Writing only a short story per year, for the past five or six years. Most of them aren't even complete. I kept abandoning what I started because I kept second guessing myself. Is this good? Ugh. No, it isn't. I never want to see this piece of crap again. And so I wrote at a glacial pace and only when I felt like it. Until 2014...

2014 was a bit of a strange year for me. Mainly because in a year full of horrible tragedies, so many good things happened to me. Career-wise I was hitting it off. Kids too had finally grown old enough that they stopped trying to commit acts of random suicide every few minutes.

And, in terms of my writing, I had finally gotten round to putting up Zombies Ate My Muslim on Smashwords and Google Play. It was no longer an Amazon exclusive! (Pat on back, Ted.)

Putting it up on Smashwords is a big deal for me because …

The Kindle Touch: Two Years Later

You may remember (well, okay, you may not) that I bought a Kindle Touch almost two years ago. I was absolutely smitten with it. I loved the the e-ink screen, the touch capabilities, the ability to buy a book and immediately start reading it without ever having to leave the device. It was heaven for a book lover.

But now it's time for me to say goodbye to my beloved Kindle Touch. It was a trusty companion these past couple of years and kept me company for many long work commutes. The e-ink screen was, and still is, a marvelous piece of tech.

But time brings new advancements and now that I own an iPhone 6 Plus, I don't see the point of using a Kindle Touch to read books anymore. You see, paired with the Kindle app the iPhone 6 Plus is the perfect device for reading e-books (well, at least from Amazon).

When I first bought a the Kindle Touch, people claimed that e-ink screens caused less strain for the eyes while reading when compared to LCD screens. While that may be true back …