Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Orphanage, directed by J. A. Bayona

Spain (Spanish), 2007
105 min, drama, thriller, horror
Directed by J. A. Bayona
Starring Belén Rueda, Fernando Cayo, and Roger Príncep

For Halloween, I thought I would review one of the most terrifying movies I've ever seen

Laura returns to the now-abandoned orphanage where she spent her childhood, planning to open a home for disabled children with her doctor husband, Carlos. They bring along their son, Simón who doesn't yet know that he is HIV positive and adopted. 

Soon after arriving in their new home, Simón begins acting strangely. He suddenly has new, invisible friends, who reveal the secret of his adoption and his illness to him. After a fight with his mother during their business's opening party, Simón disappears. Laura will stop at nothing to find her son, and in the process discovers the secrets hiding behind her childhood in this house.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

From Empty Harbour to White Ocean by Robin Llywelyn, translated by the author

From Empty Harbour to White Ocean
Robin Llywelyn
Translated by the author (from Welsh)
Originally published 1994, I read 1996 translation
157 pages, fantasy, myth

Many thanks to Parthian Books for providing a review copy of this novel.

Gregor arrives in a new country as a refugee, sneaking over the fence from the harbor when the soldiers aren’t looking. He has left his girlfriend Alice behind, to seek his fortune in this new land. But times here aren’t as good as he was expecting. After spending the first night on the street with a hobo and buying an expensive, badly forged identity card, he finds a small room to stay in until he finds work.

With the reluctant help of his landlord's son, Gregor finally manages to get a job at the Library working for the Du Traheus, the grumpy old man charge of the Mythology Department. It is very unclear what Gregor’s actual job is, but he soon volunteers to go to the North Country to retrieve Du Traheus’s adder stone. Thus begins his actual adventure, into the "backward" rural heartland of his new country where stories still have power.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction Issue 5

Founding Editor: Jason Erik Lundberg

Many thanks to LONTAR for providing a review copy of this issue.

LONTAR is a biannual literary journal focusing on speculative writing from Southeast Asia. This is the first time I have reviewed an issue of a literary journal, but it won't be the last. I have separated my review into genre-based sections, listing the pieces with the author's name and country. 


“The Woman in the Coffee Shop” and “The New World” by Christina Sng (Singapore)
“Moulding” by Sokunthary Svay (Cambodia/USA)
“Tooth” by Daryl WJ Lim (Singapore)
“Apocalypse” by Tania De Rozario (Singapore)
“The Interview” by Lee Jing-Jing (Singapore/Netherlands)
“A Marriage of Hybrids” and “Lambana” by Joel Donato Jacob (Philippines)

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of most of the poems in this volume. I’m not really a fan of poetry in general, and the amount of speculative poetry I have read is minuscule (mostly confined to Edgar Allen Poe, unfortunately!), so I’m not the best person to judge these pieces. That being said, my favorites were the last two poems by Joel Donato Jacob, which are written on themes taken from Filipino mythology: the Tikbalang, a creature that abducts and forcibly marries young women; and the Lambana, the Filipino equivalent of Will o’ the Wisps. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Kickstart This: Spanish Women of Wonder

Help translate an anthology of Spanish science fiction stories written by female authors!

I was browsing Kickstarter and happened upon this fantastic project. It will be open for pledging until November 6th, with about 50% funded as of this writing. 

The anthology, called Alucinadas in the original Spanish, is a result of a competition for Spanish-language science fiction short stories open to women from any country. From a pool of 205 submissions from 12 countries, the editors chose 11 stories - including one written by a publishing newcomer! 

It will be translated by Sue Burke, a writer and translator specializing in genre fiction. (Read an interview with her here.) Burke has written a small introduction to Spanish-language sci-fi writing by women on the anthology's Kickstarter page. Spanish-language women writers "get published and recognized even less than women in the English­-speaking world. Add to that a general disregard among the literary establishment for science fiction, and until the 1980s, almost no Spanish­-speaking women seemed to see much point in writing science fiction." Luckily this has changed, and this anthology will provide a way for the English-speaking world to access this literature! 

Visit the Spanish Women of Wonder Kickstarter page to see more details and give support to this wonderful project! 

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Black Box by Alek Popov, translated by Daniella and Charles Edward Gill de Mayol de Lupe

Alek Popov
Translated by Daniella and Charles Edward Gill de Mayol de Lupe (from Bulgarian)
First published in Bulgarian 2007, I read 2015 English translation
254 pages, satire, dark comedy, snark

Many thanks to PeterOwen Publishers for providing a review copy of this book.

Fifteen years after receiving their father’s ashes in a black box, the Bulgarian brothers Nedko (now known as Ned) and Angel still can't believe that he is really dead. In the meantime Ned has become a successful, high-paid consultant working with a major firm in New York City. After failing to start a publishing company in Bulgaria, Angel miraculously wins the green-card lottery and moves into Ned’s apartment overlooking Central Park. He plans to stay there until he finds a job. 

After a professional fiasco, Ned is sent back to Bulgaria to track down Kurtz, a high-ranking member of the firm who has gone missing while negotiating a deal. Meanwhile, Angel scrambles to find work, finally finding a job with a dog walking agency. They must each figure out how to negotiate the increasingly ridiculous political situation that they find themselves in: Ned with Kurtz’s bizarre factory worker’s cult and Angel with the dog walker’s union known as the Dogsters.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart
Chinua Achebe
Originally published 1959, I read Anchor Books 1994
209 pages, historical fiction, cultural encounter, colonialism, family
Found: been on my TBR stack for forever

I never had to read Things Fall Apart in school. Instead, we read the incredibly racist Heart of Darkness (that book should be permanently retired from high school curricula) and the lovely Cry, The Beloved Country (note that both books were about Africa but written by white men. Sigh.). So this was the first time I read Chinua Achebe's novel which is generally considered to be a classic of African literature, whatever that means. This is the second novel by a Nigerian author that I have read, the other being this recent, pulpy book translated from Hausa.

Things Fall Apart tells the story of Okonkwo, a respected young man belonging to the pre-colonial Igbo community in present-day Nigeria. He is wealthy, with three wives, large stores of food, and a place as one of the mediums in the tribe’s spiritual council. Hotheaded and obsessed with protecting his dignity, he tries his hardest to be the manliest man in the tribe. But when missionaries come and colonialism starts to change the social fabric of the area, Okonkwo finds himself at a loss: how should he and the rest of his tribe respond to these incursions? Will he be left behind by the changing times?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet and Other Stories by Vandana Singh

The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet And Other Stories
Vandana Singh
Originally 2008, I read 2013
206 pages, speculative, short stories, satire, social commentary
Found: Kolkata Book Fair 2015

The first Zubaan book I picked up, this collection of short stories is a brilliant addition to the Indian speculative fiction genre. The stories in this collection fall everywhere in the speculative fiction spectrum, including magical realism, hard science fiction, and anthropology-based science fiction, as well as a few that don't seem to have much to do with speculative fiction at all!

The Stories

  • "Hunger"

A housewife who would rather be reading science-fiction novels is stuck preparing for a fancy dinner party (ostensibly her daughter's birthday party but actually a networking event with the higher-ups in her husband's company). Meanwhile, she worries about the next-door neighbor's ill and neglected father-in-law.

  • "Delhi"

Aseem has the strange gift of being able to see through time: as he walks around Delhi, he catches glimpses of the people and buildings from the past and from the future.  One day he is contacted by an organization purporting to tell him the meaning of his life, which apparently has something to do with a picture of an unknown girl.

  • "The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet"

Ramnath Mishra's retirement is rudely interrupted when his wife suddenly announces one morning, "I know at last what I am. I am a planet."

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Till Kingdom Come by Andrej Nikolaidis, translated by Will Firth

Till Kingdom Come
Andrej Nikolaidis
Translated by Will Firth (from Montenegrin)
2015, I read ARC ebook
125 pages, black humor, satire, mystery

Many thanks to Istros Books for providing a review copy of this book. 

Strange things are happening to our narrator, a local newspaper reporter living in the seaside town of Ulcinj, Montenegro – an ancient seaport notorious for being the pirate capital of the Adriatic Sea for centuries. First, after a long drinking session with his friends (including his love interest Maria), he wakes up as a teenage boy in Sarajevo, where he as never been before, walking drunk through the city in the middle of the night; this “episode” continues until the following morning, when he suddenly realizes that he is standing on the balcony of his house in Ulcinj.

Then, when his life is already falling apart because of these “episodes” (which take him into a different place or person every time), he is summoned to the capital by a high-ranking government official, who wants him to quit his job writing conspiracy theories for the newspaper and work for him.

Then, a man appears in his house claiming to be his great-uncle – but, at the same time, stating that the narrator’s grandmother, who raised him, wasn’t actually a blood relative. After the demise of this claimed relative, the narrator begins to search for the truth of his own origins. Or would, if the “episodes” and his own innate apathy didn’t get in the way.

Read the rest of my review in Issue 7 of Shiny New Books

Till Kingdom Come is available in the US from Amazon, and in the UK from Hive and Amazon.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Crowdfund this: The SEA is Ours: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia

The Sea is Ours: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia
Edited by Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng

If you have visited my blog before, you probably know that I'm a big fan of non-Western speculative fiction. So I wanted to let my readers know about a new anthology that is forthcoming from Rosarium Publishing: The SEA is Ours: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia!

Currently crowdfunding through indiegogo (until October 23rd), this anthology is getting tons of great reviews from advance readers, including a starred review from Publishers Weekly!

According to the indiegogo page, the anthology will include the following stories:

"On The Consequence of Sound" - Timothy Dimacali
"Chasing Volcanoes" - Marilag Angway
"Ordained" - L. L. Hill
"The Last Aswang" - Alessa Hinlo
"Life Under Glass" - Nghi Vo
"Between Severed Souls" - Paolo Chikiamco
"The Unmaking of the Cuadro Amoroso" - Kate Osias
"Working Woman" - Olivia Ho
"Spider Here" - Robert Liow
"The Chamber of Souls" - zm quỳnh
"Petrified" - Ivanna Mendels
"The Insects and Women Sing Together" - Pear Nuallak

There are a bunch of interesting rewards, too.

Help publish this great anthology by contributing to the campaign, or look for the book after its release on November 1st.

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Monday, October 5, 2015

The Circle of Karma by Kunzang Choden

Kunzang Choden
2005, published by Zubaan
316 pages, woman's life story
Found: Kolkata Book Fair 2015

This book tells the life story of Tsomo, an illiterate woman from rural Bhutan. Tsomo’s life takes her to places she never expected – India, Nepal, Bodh Gaya – and through experiences that are unusual, to say the least. Although she was never able to learn how to read or write, she is a devout Buddhist. Illiteracy and illness cannot stop her from going on pilgrimages, or from becoming a devotee of Rinpoche, a refugee monk from Tibet. Or from finally becoming a nun toward the end of her life, focusing her energies on worship at the National Memorial chorten in Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. Her life is one of suffering, friendships, travels, sickness, and joy – but that is just because of her karma.

Muddling through 

For personal reasons, Tsomo runs away from her family home when she is in her early 20s. When she arrives in Thimphu, she has no money, so she takes a job on a road-building crew, breaking rocks into gravel for long hours every day. As an illiterate, uneducated rural woman with few profitable skills and nowhere to call home, this job is the best she can hope for. But she doesn’t mind it, and because she is a friendly and garrulous person she manages to make friends that help her endure the hardship. Not wanting to stay on the road crew, she saves money and keeps moving, first arriving in Kalimpong, a Himalayan city near Darjeeling in India, and later going on pilgrimages farther to the west. While she moves frequently, she never really consciously decides to move: she is invited to travel with friends, or to stay with friends, or she likes a place and decides to stay. Because she is poor and homeless, there is no reason for her not to move to another place. In this unconscious way, she becomes relatively free of material attachments even before she becomes a nun.