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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Lontar #4, Spring 2015

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Lontar #4, Spring 2015
The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction

Fade” by Eliza Victoria

A Century of Loneliness” by Andrew Cheah
The Tango” by Kate Osias
No Other City” by Ng Yi-Sheng
Yellow Card Man” by Paolo Bacigalupi (reprint, not reviewed)

Reviewed by Nicky Magas

Rebecca’s life is falling to pieces one memory at a time in “Fade,” by Eliza Victoria. Her dreams are a fractured mix of reality and portent, while her waking life seems to be fading into an ever more nebulous fantasy of false memories and disquieting omissions. What is real and what isn’t splits further when the people in her dreams come to life during the course of one oddly deja-vu-like day. Unexpected visitors promise to bring clarity to the whole mess, but already suspecting she can’t trust her own mind and memory, how can she be expected to trust the words of two seemingly random strangers?

There are a few layers of this plot to flip through before any real meaning is understood. Rebecca’s relationships—most importantly with her father and brother—are only very slowly uncovered, and only as much as to give readers some clues with which to build the story themselves. “Fade” starts slowly, but when it picks up the pace it’s a rollercoaster plunge to the finish, zipping past expository details to a vague ending that brings the reader back to the beginning again, understanding only slightly more than what we started out with.

Andrew Cheah’s story “A Century of Loneliness” begins with the protagonist and his boyfriend, Jun Long, stranded in the rain while on vacation in Taiping, Malaysia. From there it drifts between the past and the present, painting a picture of an apathetic relationship from the point of view of a cynical protagonist. When their lackluster vacation takes them at last to the Lake Gardens portion of their itinerary, they are met by the uncanny doppelganger of Faye Wong, a pop singer with whom Jun Long is obsessed. Taken along for the ride, the protagonist follows Jun Long into bed with the supernatural and winds up losing more than most travelers expect to while abroad.

A Century of Loneliness” leaves something to be desired. While the prose takes pains to establish the setting, and perhaps by its lack of emotion describes the nature of the relationship between the protagonist and Jun Long, the supernatural elements of the story and therefore what makes it more than a fictional account of a failed vacation and a failing relationship, is given no lead-up or explanation. Like the rain, the encounter with the duplicating Faye Wongs comes and goes without any outward expression of anything out of the ordinary from the protagonist, who shows much more emotion toward real world disappointments earlier in the story. What the Faye Wongs actually are is not speculated on at the moment of its happening, and is relegated to a complete mystery at the end, with the removal of the protagonist’s memory, leaving the reader to suspect that the entire story is a commentary on the nature of the protagonist’s love life.

Kate Osias creates a bittersweet version of the future in “The Tango.” Roj and Lai live a humble life together, buying their memories with their meager disposable income, as they don’t have enough to experience leisure activities themselves. This humble life is satisfactory to both of them until Lai is unexpectedly, temporarily promoted to clean the penthouse suites at the Limang Bituin building. There she encounters works of real art for the first time. One painting in particular of a corpulent couple free under the stars, jars her from her comfortable life. Now, Lai can think of nothing but owning the painting, much to the confusion and frustration of her husband, and will go so far as to steal it if she must, to make it her own.

This very short story sets itself up from beginning to end with a comfortable pace and theme. While the prose at times lacks diversity, the story itself is nonetheless a pleasant mix of science fiction and human emotion. The ending leaves it left up to the reader to decide if Lai regains the satisfaction of her simple life, or if her husband’s earnest efforts only make her all the more painfully aware of what her life lacks. It’s a little bit optimistic and a little bit dystopian, but nonetheless is touching in its sentiment.

Singapore—and all its people, places and things—has vanished, gone from the face of the Earth in Ng Yi-Sheng’s “No other City.” Lucky for you, you’re not on the island when it happens. You’re one of the few survivors. That gratefulness of still being alive is short lived, however. The world is forgetting all about Singapore, passing it off as a mere legend, a second Atlantis. While you try to pick up the pieces, time marches on, deserting you temporally just as your home country has deserted you spatially.

Told wonderfully in second person, future tense, Yi-Sheng’s story of supernatural displacement is sure to touch a nerve with expats. Heavy with loneliness and isolation, the protagonist struggles to cope with a sudden loss of identity, conflicted both by the world’s indifference and a need to find a new place within it. This story highlights the realities of living abroad, of reconciling one’s origins with one’s future, the difficulties of dealing with homesickness, and realizing that one never knows what one had until it is gone.

Lontar is a bi-annual speculative fiction journal publishing Southeast Asian authors’ fiction and poetry. A relatively new publication, Lontar nonetheless publishes high quality works of less than 10,000 words by award winning authors. Diverse and underrepresented characters and settings are a mainstay of Lontar’s fiction, opening the genre to fresh themes and voices, and introducing readers to the rich culture and atmosphere of Southeast Asia.