The question of what exactly constitutes modern Malaysian science fiction and fantasy cannot be answered without first addressing the integral question; “Does science fiction and fantasy writing exist in Malaysia?” This post is not aimed at being a definitive guide to particular literary forms but it will endeavour to sketch out a map to show that the writing exists in unexpected guises and places.
At first glance, a fertile potential exists; in Malaysia the past and the future are integrated. Kuala Lumpur International Airport and The Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the tallest twin buildings in the world, are coruscating, iconic and futuristic. Travel away from Kuala Lumpur and experience the old and rural; the historical city of Malacca, the island of Penang, the villages and beaches in the north, the archipelago of Langkawi and the rainforests in East Malaysia. The demographic mix of Malaysia is a cosmopolitan melange, made up primarily of Malays, Chinese and Indians, with indigenous groups and an array of foreign residents and expatriates.
This mosaic of landscapes, cultures, and languages, ensures that while looking to the future, there is a strong sense of history. The stimulus for literary culture has occurred, albeit with respect to Malaysia’s colonial past. Notable writers such as W. Somerset Maugham, Joseph Conrad, and Leslie Charteris, the creator of The Saint, have lived in Malaya (as Malaysia was known before gaining independence in 1957) and a few have found inspiration, such as Anthony Burgess whose dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange uses the Malay word, “orang” (man) as a possible titular pun, as part of Nadsat, the novel’s fictional teenage slang*. Most recently, the shopping mall beneath the Petronas Twin Towers is mentioned as a virtual reality projection in Geoff Ryman’s 2009 short story, “Blocked”.
If Malaysian science fiction writing by Malaysian writers have been scarce, signs of promise have manifested in recent years. The shortlist for the 2009 MPH Alliance Bank National Short Story Writing Competition featured the story, “Pilling Time” written by Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award nominee Shih-Li Kow; “Pilling Time” is about the price paid by an isolated community for prolonging human life-spans. Speculative fiction written in Malay is burgeoning, as shown by the review website Sai-Fai, and a science-fiction novel writing competition held by UTM (Universiti Teknologi Malaysia) in 2009.
However, more fantasy short fiction written in English is published overseas such as, “Biggest Baddest Bomoh” by Tunku Halim in The Apex Book of World SF (edited by Lavie Tidhar, Apex Publications 2009) and “Crossing the Waters”by Ika Vanderkoeck in Ages of Wonder (editors Julie E. Czerneda and Rob St. Martin, DAW 2009). Short fantasy fiction by Malaysians is also featured online such as “Into the Monsoon” by A.M Muffaz at Fantasy Magazine (November 2009) and “The Guest” by Zen Cho at Expanded Horizons (November 2010). KS Augustin has blended romance with science fiction and fantasy. It is hoped that more widespread publication will bring more attention to Malaysian fantasy.
If science fiction and fantasy has been a little late or slow to take hold in the print medium, a diversity of voices are present in the local comics scene. Popular Malaysian comics publisher Gempak Starz specialises in graphic novels and comics written and drawn by local artistes that include science fiction and fantasy in three languages: Malay, Mandarin Chinese, and English. Comic artist Benny Wong came third in the 2007 International Manga Awards held in Japan for his manga Le Gardenie and “Puppet Eyes” by Kathryn Chong won second prize in the 2007 Morning International Manga Competition.
Regardless of the current nascent status of Malaysian science fiction and fantasy writing, it is indeed evident from the international distribution and acclaim that science fiction and fantasy hold great potential for expansion and publication. The popular local slogan, ‘Malaysia Boleh!’ which translates as, ‘Malaysia Can Do It!’, best expresses future aspirations for writing in both genres.
*’The attempt to impose upon man a creature of growth and capable of sweetness, to ooze juicily . . . laws and conditions appropriate to a mechanical creation’ (A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, W.W Norton 1986, p 21-22)