Ten Things My Father Never Taught Me, by Cyril Wong
[Image courtesy of Epigram Books]
Another book of short stories! And a local one too.
Cyril Wong’s books have always caught my attention with their curious titles, but I have never gotten round to any of them. Until now, that is. The bookstore in town had a members’ sale and feeling particularly lavish (and very starved for good books), I grabbed any book that caught my eye while I was there. This happened to be one of them. I rationalized to myself that this was one of those books that had been in my mental TBR list anyway, and the recent read-local campaign was still fresh in my mind.
Ironically, the title story wasn’t one of my favourite ones in the book. It could even be one of my least favourite, despite it reading like the author’s autobiography, maybe even a creative one. Perhaps it’s got to do with the somewhat melancholic tone I detected. I was kind of disturbed at the end of the story. Well, some people might think that’s good, but I sure didn’t like it.
The story that managed to draw me in was the one about a boy who could see spirits. It actually managed to send a chill down my spine. It not only took me a while to shake off the eerie feeling, but also brought to mind how lonely and desperate for companionship we city dwellers sometimes are.
What I got from the stories are probably derived from my own experiences, emotional baggage and perspectives, and may not be what Wong had tried to paint. But I suppose that is the magic of literature.
VERDICT: You will either hate this collection, or love it. But other than a few references to local places, attitudes and slang, you might not even realize the stories came from a Singaporean writer.
Perfect State, by Brandon Sanderson
[Image courtesy of kobo.com]
Another novella, and it’s far from perfect.
After two hellish weeks swarmed by work and a sick kid, I was in desperate need of a good read and was confident a Brandon Sanderson would do the trick. I’ve read most of his epic series, and decided to give this short story a shot.
I was disappointed.
The story had an interesting premise, but cramming the ideas into a thin novella hardly did it justice. I would have loved to read something with the ideas (and characters) more developed. For one, the reason that the protagonist’s nemesis became a nemesis simply because the former walked away from a fight seemed rather weak. And I couldn’t feel enough from the conversation between the protagonist Kai and his date to believe that the meeting would change Kai’s perspectives and mindset so drastically.
But then I’m not a fan of novellas, so I come with my own biases.
Arghhh….. I need a really good book! NOW!
VERDICT: This novella is definitely not for folks who like their fantasy stories in the good old epic format.
Ministry of Moral Panic, by Amanda Lee Koe
[Image courtesy of Epigram Books]
This must be a year of short stories for me, because I’ve never read so many short story collections in one year before, and surprisingly, I liked most of what I read. Yup, and I like this collection too.
I started reading this without knowing that all the stories had one single theme – love. The author managed to explore this theme in a number of ways, sometimes in an expected manner, but most times not, which made it a refreshing read. In fact, this has to be one of the few local literature that I’ve come across so far that is so bold in expressing the different facades that one would not commonly associate with Singapore. I say this because Singapore has often been criticized for its conservative approach in the arts, and our lack of freedom of speech. This collection will probably show one how far we’ve come where literature is concerned. Of course, I’m not saying we’ve “arrived”, and the nation definitely has a long long way to go in this area, but I think this is an example of what’s possible.
I’m really glad this collection got published, and even won a couple of prizes.
VERDICT: I wouldn’t say this collection of stories will allow you to understand Singapore more, but the stories might just surprise you with their unexpected twists and emotional depth.
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, by Ken Liu
[Image courtesy of Goodreads]
I read the title story some time back and loved it. Since then, I had been meaning to get my hands on this book and never got round to it until a few days ago. I’m glad I finally did, because I like the way Ken Liu writes, and especially after two books (not his) that were kind of disappointing in the last few weeks (see my last two book reviews).
As with most collections of short stories, there are some in this book that I really like, and some that I can do without. But I think the former outnumbers the latter, despite the fact that a number of the stories are tinged with sadness and melancholy.
I like the way the writer tends to blend history and culture with science fiction so seamlessly in many of his stories. I’m most impressed by the way he has managed to present the different perspectives of East Asia and the West, and how he’s able to draw me into the stories. Perhaps it’s because I have some understanding of both cultures, being a Singaporean with Chinese roots and all, but even if you don’t, I’m pretty sure you’ll find something in there that calls to your heart.
Interestingly, Ken Liu appeared in my reading radar after his translation of The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin was published. I was planning to read the original version of the book in Chinese, because I didn’t want my experience of the book to be influenced by a translator. But now that I’ve read Ken Liu’s own writings, I’m keen to try the translated version.
Ken Liu has also created the Dandelion Dynasty trilogy. The first two books have been published and he’s working on the third. My hands are itching to buy the first two books, but rational me is telling me to wait for the third book, because I like my series to be complete before starting on them. It’s due to be published in 2017. Let’s see if I can hold out till then.
VERDICT: This is a must-read for anyone who likes history, culture and science fiction all in one book.