Stories have many different functions or roles in our lives - lessons, marketing, escapism. For S. Mickey Lin, Uncanny Valley is the fictional culmination of his observations, experiences, and insights to the intriguing, different, and possibly disturbing aspects of Singapore or people in general… with an urban, fantastical twist.
Finally having a chance to go through this collection, I was easily captivated (and at times, humbled) by the relatable, yet quirky stories coming to life on the pages. If anything, Uncanny Valley reminds us that Art is meant to provoke, to disturb, and after all the “weird feelings” subside, inspire reflection and education.
The Apex opens the anthology strong with a man who can speak to the wind. Seeing Singapore from his vantage point, construction worker Jian Guo is the personification of the helpless wise - the ones who know better but are ignored over the flashy confidence of the powerful. The Mentor speaks of a thought most do not even consider voicing in fear of looking petty or being disregarded. When youth and talent outshine the experienced, even the most patient can lose their cool.
However, my favourite story had to be Moral Clarity in Small Numbers. Never have I been so shaken with at how a story can reflect a personal experience of mine so clearly. The change in tone from the story’s “antagonist” when the protagonist expresses a view against an unwritten “straight and narrow” is so sharp, be careful of the phantom stabs to the heart while you flip the pages.
Before we go though, Sharks of Singapore gets a quick bonus mention - mostly because it was in Pulp Toast #2 too. Hehe. - Imagine yourself trying to do the right thing, stopping a con man from cheating the elderly of their retirement funds. Now imagine yourself as the con man - what made you do it?
Definitely not for fun and giggles, Uncanny Valley will keep you entertained and thinking. Hopefully, we will be able to take that step to and look at others complexly. Perhaps then, we might have a chance to understand our humanity better.
Uncanny Valley is written by S. Mickey Lin and published by Marshall Cavendish. For more information on the collection or to get a copy yourself, click here.
When I first got into the indie publishing / storytelling scene in Singapore, I was bombarded with many new comic titles - Roleplayers (by Derek Chua), Dimsum Warriors (by Colin Goh and Woo YenYen), Charsiew Space series (by Benjamin Chee), just to name a few.
This title, however, got me when I was helping out at one of the first few sales tables during a 24-Hour Comics Day session at LASALLE.
What drew me to this comic was the notion that there was no dialogue throughout the entire book. Good comics often balanced the use of images, colours, characters, settings, and dialogue to tell the full story, so I was intrigued.
The first aspect I noticed was how immersive the comic felt - the details, the clean art, and the panelling all played a part in giving you a glimpse of how the setting was like. After all, the artist had no choice but to show, you can’t “tell the story” with words this time.
With that said, S!LENCE lets you dive into the world Tanky has created - a science fiction, survivalist landscape - with the cover’s character as your guide. A simple story that sets you up with a twist or two, what the artist has done in this case was to keep you flipping to the next page, while letting your imagination fill in the gaps that would otherwise be indicated through text.
Tanky’s S!LENCE is just one of his many works in this particular world, do give this a read if you ever have the chance to purchase any of his works.
Note: S!LENCE is read manga style - the front cover flips right instead of left.
Based in Singapore, Tanky is an illustrator and comic artist. Check out more of his works here.
A few years back, I gave myself a mission to introduce my youngest maternal cousin (who didn’t like reading at all) to local authors and fun stories. I started with Sherlock Sam, then DimSum Warriors. And as she takes her PSLE this year, I was scouring the market for something she could enjoy, and relate to as a person who is about to go on a few changes in her life.
Enter Mount E.M.I.L.Y.
Set at Mount Emily Girls’ School, the series zooms in on best friends Patsy and Elena. In a spot of adventure, the girls find themselves transported almost three decades into the past, and trapped in the bodies of their mothers. Do they find their way home? Or do they end up losing their identities and friendship?
The book presents a fast-paced adventure, egging you to turn each page to satiate your desire to know what happens to these two girls next. As a story reader (a.k.a. A person who reads for the story rather than the language), this appeases me. At the same time, I know my cousin can go through this without getting bored with overly descriptive exposition.
At the same time, it tugs at the heartstrings, with Patsy’s inner struggles in the face of her longtime best friend. Issues like the questioning of keeping their friendship with two separate and often-clashing personalities - with Elena being the popular one, often expecting Patsy to be available and committed 24/7, but often ignoring Patsy for her other friends once the former presents herself to be less than enthusiastic. These are common issues teenagers face and it was comforting to know that the characters were not all just smiles and giggles.
But before I leave you, there has to be a shoutout to the various references Low managed to slip into the story - pay phones, the old Bras Basah Complex, and of course (and most importantly), A&W. I’d go back in time just to have my Coney Dog and Curly Fries at the A&W Ang Mo Kio branch, so I’d understand why at least one of them would want to stay in 1987 for a while.
The entire series spans Patsy and Elena’s lives in Mount Emily Girls’ School - with each book for each year that they were in Secondary School. Will Patsy and Elena stay best friends and graduate together? Start with Mount E.M.I.L.Y. and find out!
The Mount EMILY series is written by Low Ying Ping and published by Epigram Books. You can find out more about the series here.
When I sit down with a book by Wena, I’m sure that I’ll end up with a bunch of laughs.
My first encounter with “The Adventures of Snow Fox & Sword Girl” was during a performance reading by the author, Wena Poon, herself. Intrigued, I bought the book (together with her other novels out by that time), excited by the prospect of a story rich with adventures and swordfighting.
I was not disappointed.
If there’s one thing I love about Wena’s writing, it’s that it’s bound to entertain.
The first novel of her Hoshimaruhon series (loosely translated to “The Book of the Star Ball”), Snow Fox & Sword Girl introduces us to the Jing and Noh Empires, where the masked Emperor Taliesin of Jing tries to bring the constant war between Jing and Noh to an end with the help of his bodyguard and childhood friend, Sei Shonagon - the best but also the most mysterious swordswoman in all of Jing.
It’s not difficult to like Wena’s storytelling, especially if you’re in to know what happens next. Set up like the liberetto of an opera, each Episode represents a Chapter happening in the midst of the story’s chaotic worlds (physical or spiritual). Wena combines contemporary language with mythical tales to paint a vivid landscape that serves as the background to the hilarious banter between our two main characters.
Be prepared to see the sounds of swords clashing, bells sounding, and waves crashing throughout the voyage. Laugh at (or with) the antics of the young Emperor and his reactions to his dear Sei-kun, with dialogue that wouldn’t feel out of place in an Adults-only Disney Animation Party.
That being said, I’m grateful for my retained fundamental Simple Mandarin reading skills in this book. If anything, the Episode titles and their umm… “Mandarin translation” will set you up for a journey filled with laughs, smiles, tears, and most definitely, adventure.
So now, if you’d excuse me, 我正在修生, 别烦我. (Or translated on Wena’s terms: Self-Cultivation).
For more information on Wena or the Hoshimaruhon, click here.
Note: Before I start, this is an improved version of a repost, so if you find this review familiar, it’s because I had more things to say since the last review after this reread.
Author: Wayne Ree & Anna AB
According to Wayne, this collection of stories was put together while he and Anna were travelling and got inspired by the many prompts they encountered. And with each prompt, both authors present their own interpretations.
To be honest, I took a look at the prompts and immediately asked (at least in my head) – Where did you guys travel to?! But exclamations aside, both writers had stories written according to prompts, Graffiti, Time Travel, Frustration, Day Off, Smoke, Sacrifice, and Last Days.
And while each story was constructed according to its theme, aspects of the Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Thriller genres permeated through their words. Each story was a fine balance between reality we can relate to and the what ifs of life should our parallels be different.
The writing in both authors was impeccable. Words flowed, conveying sincere stories that provoke thought, reflect society, and above all, entertain. While I did get lost in some of the shorts, being distracted by the details in exposition and losing the story halfway, the straightforward execution had me back on track.
My favourites from the both of them include Where I End and You Begin by Anna and Admin by Wayne.
Admin sets a twisted idea in a scene we all know too well. Marrying bureaucracy and the lure of the dark, this story had me laughing from the start, especially when the idea of sections and forms came into play in the middle of a summoning. With the familiar faces and voices of office drones, it is difficult not to laugh at how this could be if we lived in a world of Lovecraft instead.
Where I End and You Begin was one of those stories which had me increase the width of my smile as I read along, only to have me go, “YES!!!” with a fist pump by the end. The idea is not new, but it gives me a whole lot of relief when a story about time travel speaks about its paradox and leaves no loopholes. The writing here is emotional, tight, and enjoyable, and I hope you will have your mind blown at the end too.
BONUS NOTE: Mr Memphis, one of Wayne’s stories in the book, has been turned into a comic (stay tuned to this blog to find out more about it!), thanks to the greatness of Benjamin Chee. A twist on a western, you’ll be twisting again once you flip through the pages of this 30+ page doujin.
Now, it has been about two years since Wayne and Anna released Prompt to the world. As they only printed about 55 copies, the book’s now sold out, but you can get more information here.
If you told me a decade and a half ago that there’s hardly any speculative or urban fiction in Singapore or in Southeast Asia, I would’ve believed you. If you told me the same thing today, I’d say you’re either uninformed or just picky.
In an effort to read more and introduce as many of you to the many speculative, urban, and adventure stories from this part of the world, I’ll be embarking on a quest to read 100 speculative / urban / adventure fiction books set in, and by authors who are based in Southeast Asia.
The criteria was simple:
Not a very long list, but here are some of the books I’ll be picking up (among many others):
And that’s only scraping the top of the list. I’ll be posting what I’ll be reading for the over the year on my Instagram (@joelynalexandra), but you can also join in and check out the other books I’ll be reading with the hashtag #100SEASFF.
Happy reading and see you! (Hopefully with your nose in a book)
"Like what? My entire life has been decided for me. And if you know what’s good for you, stay away. I see to bring bad luck to everyone around me.”
Unable to deal with the restrictions of palace life, Prince Roastpork “Porky” Bao often sneaks out of the palace for fun. Meeting Xiajiao and Shaomai, peddling orphans working in the market, he thinks they are nothing more than poor kids being forced to work early, until he finds them in the palace, as disciples of the long-dormant Steamed Kung Academy. This funny wuxia story talks about Roastpork and his journey with the Dim Sum Warriors to fight against evil and protect Dim Sum Nation for the corrupt powers within.
Roastpork Bao / Char Siew Bao, the People’s Prince
Very much like many stories involving royal heroes, Roastpork Bao is not interested in a life in the palace, citing it to be restrictive, and that his life had already been decided for him already anyway. At the same time, he faces the same kind of dilemma – his royal background shows, resulting in him being seen as a privileged person, who cannot be trusted to understand the ways of the common people in the first place.
Despite his constant rebellion against his father, Roastpork seems to be the personification of many loving sons we can relate to – he is attached to his mother. Taking time to learn a trick to entertain his mother during her birthday celebration, bothering to come back to the palace for the party, and even trying to call her after he ran away – these show his great love for his mother as well.
Corruption and Power
This graphic novel shows how greed and power can lead to a new can of problems and corruption.
The Fried Kung Academy, together with Quickynoodle, a powerful businessman of great, commercial influence, show how skewed the population can be in terms of personal values and priorities when grey areas like beauty and the price that comes with it no longer seems to be as grey as it was anymore.
Just by the desire of societally-accepted physical perfection and seemingly-endless riches, the royal guards and martial artist bodyguards turn their backs to the royal house, instead listening to a tycoon who is bent on getting entire nations addicted to his health drink (which contains drastic consequences and side effects).
Friendship and Loyalty
The practice of martial arts is built on concentration, discipline, sincerity, and loyalty. Together with a great appreciation of the master, martial arts practitioners do not only engage in physical, but also mental and value training. Friendship and Loyalty is seen through the juxtaposition of the Boiled, Baked, and Steamed Kung Academies, as compared to the capitalistic, supposedly-corrupted Fried Kung clan.
Despite being royalty, with a father who probably did not know better in his power, Roastpork goes against his protective parents to save Steamed Kung’s disciples, even going along with them despite his father’s constant objections because he sees kindred spirits in them and is grateful for their friendship.
Style & Structure
The story is structured and drawn in such a way that you can imagine watching it as an animation. As such, the sequence of events resembled a Chinese drama serial, full of action, events, endless wit, and comedy in order to keep the audience entertained while maintaining the message.
Dim Sum Warriors is by Colin Goh and Woo Yen Yen, and can be found online in both English and Mandarin as well. For more information, click here.
SG52 nears and I’ve just returned from PopCon Asia 2017. That being said, I thought it’ll still be great to review some works we’ve gotten from both the Comic Arts Festival Kuala Lumpur (29th to 30th Jul) and PopCon Asia (4th to 6th Aug).
Noodling Around (by Yongumi & Stephani Soejono)
WORD OF WARNING – don’t read this before you go to sleep. The Tiger did that and we went to bed hungry. A collection born out of the love for convenient food and MSG, Yongumi partners with fellow comicker, Stephani, and put their slice-of-life prowess to paper. From instant noodle reviews to a story about how instant noodles got mistaken as contraband, this collection will definitely invoke some laughs. If not hunger pangs.
Nevermore Oddities (by Daryl Toh)
Daryl’s work is known to cross the boundaries of reality, mixed with the macabre. Taking a milder turn with this book, it balances image stimulation and story tension to have you looking over your shoulder but not have too much trouble falling asleep. Fans of Gravity Fall may be glad to know that some of us call this the IRL version of the journals, or possibly the closest they may be.
POPCON ASIA 2017
Protect Yourself (by Azisa Noor)
Azisa caught my attention with her portable, colourful zines, especially “Happy Endings”. So when I saw her at PopCon Asia 2017, I was curious to see what was new. Protect Yourself is a zine of a few words, but the powerful combination of white space, a central drawing, and a short statement calls out today’s issues faced by populations many barely think of beyond the superficial.
So now that I’m done with PopCon Asia and CAFKL, I’m running around in preparation of the Illustration Arts Festival 2017 with the Rolling Ronins. Regardless, I hope you’ve enjoyed my short reviews and I’ll see all of you there!
“You’re only half alone.”
As CAFKL4 nears, I've been looking at previous comics I've gotten in the previous festivals. This was one of them.
Sometimes, the pictures we see of other people’s lives seem to be rosier as compared to our own. This collection of comics takes a glimpse into certain windows – windows of different people, together with the joys, the worries, the fears, and the surprises of their own lives – and how things behind those windows happen. So, before going into the details of this book, how was your day?
More often than not, the simple joys in life either make our entire conversations, or fail to appear at all. Kuzu’s “A Dessert Diary” is a funny, light-hearted diary comic of a personal project, portraying the importance of her close-knit friends and the supportive environment she appreciates and derives encouragement from. And Sapphire’s “An Unexpected Visitor” shows the simple joy of letting be, especially after an action-packed round of getting through with life.
Self-Pity and Realisation
The line between self-pity and self-realisation are both fine and blurred. At the same time, it requires the balance of focussing on and appreciating a single tree in a forest, but not missing the forest for the trees – something gathered after reading Wrat’s “On Drawing”. Fenix’s “Of Sparrows” reflects a common issue faced by many creators – and talks about the importance of realising yourself, being comfortable with yourself, and the appreciation of peers in a similar setting. Lastly, Max’s “The Ballad of Self Pity” speaks of the almost unnoticeable difference between self-pity and realisation – the journey of crossing the darkest hour before the glimmer of a sunrise.
Individual vs. the World
Finally, individual significance and the want to be significant in the grand scheme of things are issues put down in a few of the stories as well. Reimena’s “Rat Race” acts as a mirror to humanity, personified as a character who is fighting to maintain her identity and authenticity in a world that does its best to drown it out. Choo’s “Nine Thirty A.M.” presents a similarly reflective piece through the eyes of an observer of happenings in a monotonous setting.
However, all hope is not lost in Hwei’s “Only Half Alone”, which shows that even the people who perceive themselves as the most solitary people in the world, are needed or wanted sincerely, somewhere.
Style & Structure
This collection of comics had a good mix of emotions and insights, the stories lined up similar to a full-course meal – starting with a short, but intriguing piece, then flowing into a few light-hearted tales before the full-bodied courses arrive, and ending with something simple, but substantial enough to tie up the entire mood. Almost representative of a full conversation, the anthology’s structure helped in easing the reader into the minds of the storyteller.
“How Was Your Day” is a collection of comics by eight different artists, you can find out more about them here:
To find out more about the collection itself, click here.
This is one game which took the Tiger by storm, through a whirlwind, and into the eye of the storm of obsession. And by effect, both he and I have been playing this game for a while – since he got his starter set all the way to the Big Geeky Box.
Inside the Box
In the starter set, there are eight (8) base decks and their accompanying bases. The box is straightforward, including:
Since we first started playing, there have been at least another 2 more expansions - both of which the Tiger acquired almost immediately.
Setup for each player is simple, you rotate clockwise, then anti-clockwise, each choosing two different factions and smashing them together to form your player’s deck. Then, lay out as many bases as there are players, and add one more.
During their turn, players can only play one minion and one action unless otherwise stated on the cards. If the cards and the rulebook are in conflict, the cards override everything.
Use your minions and actions to destroy as many bases as you can, score victory points, and the first player to reach 15 Victory Points wins!
The Game We Played
The Tiger and myself have played countless rounds of Smash Up, not counting the ones we have played with friends and family. Instead, I shall give a few pointers on some of the classes we have played with and the advantages they have.
For the tankers and the heavy-hitters (a.k.a. high on offense and attack), decks like the Dinosaur and Fighter Ape will suit your style. The dinosaurs have cards with high power points (their highest point for attack is 7, as compared to the average 5), which deadly combos. The apes accumulate attack points with complimenting actions which will allow players to add attack points to each minion.
People who are fans of zerging will appreciate decks like Zombies, Robots, Innsmouth Residents, and Killer Plants. Their cards provide the environment to do constant swarm, play extra minions, or respawn within one turn. Their attack may not be as high, but their numbers in one game can potentially accumulate.
Point vultures, or in a more fundamental term, the kill stealers, will probably like decks like the Ninja and the Spy. Apart from having cards which can be played out of turn to gain last minute points at a scoring base, these decks have action cards which will allow you to make use of another player’s minions as their own.
This category is possibly my favourite – the movers. In Smash Up, destroyed bases also means destroyed minions. So you have to either spread your arsenal around, or find minions who can move around (themselves or other minions) with ease. Great decks under this category include Pirates, Bear Cavalry, and Steampunk.
Gameplay Winners: The Tiger won, usually. LOL.
The great thing about Smash Up is how you can technically start playing with any one of their expansion packs (You need four decks for a two player game), with any smash up of any available factions. This gives great replayability, as players can explore the strengths and combinations of different classes.
Alderac’s constant churning of Smash Up expansions means that you will never get bored of the game for the foreseeable future. Find out more about the game here.
My adventures with in urban speculative fiction.