Hope for Malaysian Genre Fiction

In my quest to talk to more Malaysian writers, especially those who write genre, I found that I was not alone!

I came across the very friendly Ika Koeck, whom I started corresponding with on Facebook. Ika writes fantasy too, and in fact is in the midst of revising her manuscript (she’s already written the drafts of two books!). She’s also looking for an agent to represent her, like myself. She even told me of another friend who writes science fiction, so this is all very exciting.

Even more intriguing is what I learnt on support for genre fiction back home. According to various sources, it seems there is significant local encouragement from fellow writers and readers of those who write genre fiction. Brian Gomez, for instance, wrote a thriller ‘Devil’s Place‘ which was very well-received, and John Ling who is apparently based in New Zealand has been writing kick-arse thrillers.

The bulk of local creative support, however, is naturally focused in Kuala Lumpur. Led especially by the very prolific Sharon Bakar (her blog is amazing, with posts I have referred to in my course essays) who organises monthly readings of local writers, poets and other performers. It’s nice to know that when I go back to Malaysia, there will be a group of peers and veterans I can hang out with.

Questions, Questions

Why all this focus on genre, one might ask?

Because frankly I have been operating under the view that more attention (respect?) was being given to Malaysia’s ‘literary’ fiction, comprising the many, many short story anthologies, plays and the novels produced by Tash Aw, Rani Manicka, Khoo Kheng-Hor and many more authors I know I’ve left out. Am I wrong? Perhaps it is unfair to single out Malaysia, because frankly genre fiction has also been getting the cold shoulder worldwide from the literary establishment.

How many fantasy and science fiction books have been written by Malaysians? There has to be some out there! Pardon me, let me clarify that, how many of these books that are written in English? Because I do know there is a wealth of these works in Malay, which sadly I cannot comment on as I’ve not read any of them. But what about the English ones? Where are they?

Is it because writers think they won’t find a market in Malaysia? Or because they believe Malaysian fantasy and science fiction fans will always go for oversea titles, perceiving them superior to local titles? I hate to think people are turning up their noses at fantasy / scifi just because they think it is “childish”. What about Ursula K LeGuin? David Gemmell? Michael Moorcock? William Gibson?

Back to the Beginning

I think part of this is simply because finishing a novel takes a mammoth amount of work, not to mention finding someone to publish your book. A friend of mine, for instance, has  a post-apocalyptic series long brewing in her head. She’s told me of characters and hints of the plot, which I think is simply brilliant, and I would love to read them if ever the books come out.

But back to the topic of local creative support. I’ve heard stories also of Malaysian genre writers, when all is said and done, getting the most encouragement from other writers overseas, from people who know the business and are more aware of how to make it. Perhaps I need a mentor, someone who can prod me gently and show me the path. It can be a bit intimidating, being on your own.

Or perhaps I just need to keep plodding along this fascinating, murky tunnel, step by step, with a friend zooming past on butterfly wings every now and then to cheer me on, as I search for that light in the distance.



Filed under Fantasy, Malaysia, Photography, Publisher, Science Fiction, State of Mind, Writing

13 responses to “Hope for Malaysian Genre Fiction

  1. Really interesting post. I wouldn’t know much about any of this, but you have certainly encouraged me to find out more. I definitely agree with you on the point relating to snobbishness on fantasy/sci-fi: people certainly underestimate the power and patience needed to create a brand new world and sustain it for the length of a book (or even longer, those books are usually the longest).

    Anyway, you’ve probably already read this but someone else wrote their opinion on Malaysian sf/f: http://www.jeffvandermeer.com/2010/07/25/a-brief-introduction-to-msian-sff/

    Sorry that I don’t know enough speciality behind this, but I do hope you all of the best. Hang in there!

  2. Thank you so much for commenting and for your encouragement!

    And yes, I have stumbled across it a year ago, but it was lovely to get the link again, much thanks 🙂

  3. I’d say the advent of sci-fi and YA genre fiction is relatively new even within the English-speaking world where it is now very big. Used to be, you had children’s books–kid stories, picture books, etc–and then you had adult books that adolescents enjoyed too–the classics like Dumas and Vernes. It’s still the case in a lot of places. In Russia, for example, a “Fantasy” genre has only been around for about a decade and only now are we seeing Russian fantasy and sci-fi writers appearing on the outskirts. Most books on those shelves in stores are either translations or direct derivatives. Science fiction used to be dissidence literature or satire, not entertainment (though I’m probably being unfair to writers like Belyayev who wrote great adventure books I grew up on).

    But I think what i’m saying is that I agree with you–there needs to be that shift in social perception of what role sci-fi has in literature. Perhaps it’s happening right now.

    • Indeed! I think the lines are blurring. Do you think books like Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go or China Mieville’s works are helping to change those perceptions?

      I really need to read their work more 😀

      As for foreign fantasy, off the top of my head I’m aware of Sergei Lukyanenko’s The Night Watch, and Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher – mostly because I unashamedly played the video game based on the latter’s novels.

  4. It’s interesting that you bring up the ‘difference’ between genre fiction and literary fiction. The difference, so far as I can tell, is artificial.

    You see, a number of years ago, a professor from the University of Iowa wrote a novel about a Vietnam War veteran being mistreated in a small country town. It was, at the time, one of the first novels to address the issue of post-traumatic stress disorder, and it was hailed as a literary achievement. It was studied in classrooms throughout the United States and beyond. The university was so proud of this fact that it even put up a plaque honouring the author’s achievement.

    Then an action movie was made, introducing the novel’s character to the unwashed masses: Rambo.

    The literary establishment were appalled and the University of Iowa promptly took down the plaque. People stopped calling author David Morrell a literary author. He was unceremoniously demoted to a genre author.

    It’s an interesting episode because it highlights the false and often condescending dichotomy between genre fiction and literary fiction. Because, at the end of the day, everything does fall within a genre: the dysfunctional family genre, the rags-to-riches genre, the exotic Oriental genre, et cetera.

    I say worry less about what genre your work falls into. Just focus on being as forceful and persuasive as you can be in your work. =)

    • Hello there! Thank you for the comments 🙂

      I like your redefinition of the genres! That is an awesome if sad story about David Morrell, and indeed I do have his book in my library. Yes, I’ve mentioned the blurring lines between literary and genre fiction before, although personally I think there exists many, many works I count as ‘literary genre’. It’s just annoying how there exists that perception from those who think they can’t be one and the same. Last April, for instance, there was a backlash when BBC apparently ignored genre fiction during its ‘Culture Show’ special on ‘The Books We Really Read’, according to the Bookseller.

      I have to admit, I used to be very self conscious when telling people I wrote fantasy. Took me years to break me of that mode. Now I’m out and proud 🙂

  5. bibliobibuli

    Very nice piece and thanks for the credit, though my part in helping writers is no more than providing a platform for them to read.

    Brian’s book is called “Devil’s Place”!

    Another genre writer you might have mentioned is award-winning Glenda Larke – an Australian who has lived here for decades.

  6. You are too modest 🙂

    And oops, you are right about the book title, my bad! I took the name direct from an article, but that’s no excuse – I was staring right at the book cover! It’s changed now.

    I do indeed know about Glenda Larke, I was hoping to feature her in a post one day, thanks for reminding me 🙂 I can’t seem to access her website for some reason however.

  7. What’s high culture and what’s low culture is a constantly shifting goalpost. Dickens himself was considered vulgar and populist by literary critics at the time he published his stories, but today, he’s held in God-like regard.

    So, really, there are no inferior forms of fiction. Only inferior practitioners of fiction.

  8. I should add that the comic versus graphic novel is a good example of shifting goalposts as well. 😉

    • I adore graphic novels / comics / manga, then again I’m such a geek.

      My collection alone runs in the hundreds, which translates to a bloodcurdling amount of money!

  9. And many writers and artists are grateful for your support. You’ve given their often-maligned medium an air of respectability. =)

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