How does a person walk on the moon? If that seems like the natural question to ask, do note that this anthology by Ethos Books isn’t exactly a how-to guide for space lovers and astronomy geeks alike.
It will, however, push the way you exercise your imagination, and that’s really the lesson (for the lack of a better word) to be imparted here.
The pairing of abstract and unconventional is the name of the game with this compilation of 25 short stories by Singapore-based writers. Editors Wen Pu Wong, Samuel Caleb Wee and Patricia Karunungan were clearly not interested in curating works that “played it safe”.
As a matter of fact, the refreshing brand of anti-realist fiction illustrated here brings to mind Amanda Lee Koe’s Ministry of Moral Panic. It pushes the envelope and forces you to reimagine life in the Lion City, which serves as the setting for most of the stories that made the cut.
The Singapore narrative, reimagined
There are plenty of standouts here to dive into. In 面子, Charlotte Hand explores the dark side of pan-Asianism in a society where girls of mixed parentage are often exoticised. One can’t help but wonder if the writer was in any way inspired by 1955’s Lolita.
In Weapons of Mass Destruction, S. Mickey Lin tells the story of Henry Lourd, a powerful banker who potentially ends the world when he accidentally keys in the wrong information during a night of debauchery with a high-end social escort in Southeast Asia.
Images of a post-apocalyptic Singapore come to mind in Private People in Public Spaces, where Sihan Tan writes about Firdaus, a “professional comforteer” who deliberately makes his clients weep during role play to help them cope with the 2020 National Day attacks.
The Singapore airport even becomes an intergalactic hub for the most terrifying mythical beings in A Day in Terminal Aleph. According to writer Ng Yi-Sheng, these fantastical deities bless the country with economic success for assuring them safe passage.
Like a box of chocolates
As this is an anthology featuring the works of many different literary talents, there is a notable inconsistency where the reading experience is concerned. As the cliché goes, you never know what you’re going to get with a box of chocolates.
Amazing stories are in great abundance here, but there will be a handful that won’t appeal to your taste (which is – in all fairness – subjective anyways). If there are instances where you feel impatient because you’ve completely lost the plot, you’re not alone.
On the flip side of that coin, the very fact that these stories might be “difficult” to digest is what makes this book a winner. What the writers and editors have done is challenge the status quo on how your everyday Singapore stories are told, and that alone makes this bold effort worth your time and money.
Yes, the worlds explored in this book might seem foreign, but if you dig deep enough, they might become familiar because they’re worlds that you’re already inhabiting. To borrow a line from the book, “humanity is destined to make up stories to understand itself, if not the whole of the universe.”
Grab your copy from Ethos Books here!
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