SEA Quest: Southeast Asian Horror Fiction

16 Dec

Southeast Asia is a hot-bed of horror. The region is saturated with dark histories and even darker mythologies. From the krasue from Thailand to hantu tetek from Malaysia and Singapore, legends and stories are rife with things that not only go bump in the night, but are more blood-thirsty than your average Northern Hemisphere ghosts. Centuries of years of trade, migration and settlement brought in more scary spirits and monsters. The Southern Chinese diaspora celebrate Hungry Ghosts Festival for an entire month. Don’t go out at night. Don’t swim in the sea. Don’t kick offerings on the floor. People often breathe a sigh of relief once the month is over. Similarly, the bloodshed and trauma of many wars have left the imprint of haunted memories and hauntings by restless spirits displaced by massacre, starvation and pain.

Southeast Asians love horror. Horror movies are extremely popular. Horror and ghost stories are consumed avidly by fans of this genre. In Singapore, a series of ghost stories is still on-going, fueled by the popularity of ghost stories and our obsession with the paranormal. The stories are ghost-written (pun intended, as claimed by the author who collects personal accounts from fans of the series) and range from poignantly sweet to downright horrific. Some remind me of the composition writing I received when I was teaching. Some are real and make me shiver at the sheer terror they evoke in me. We all grow up listening to stories about the pontianak, the penanggalan and the manananggal. The region shares similar stories about female ghosts who would detach their heads from their bodies. Their heads fly in the night, organs and entrails dangling beneath. the organs apparently glisten or shimmer. My relatives would talk about planting cactii around the house as protection. In the morning, so they say, they would find the penanggalan with her entrails snared and tangled by the cactii.

For this SEA horror special, I will focus on two Southeast Asian horror writers.

Tunku Halim

Tunku Halim (full name: Tunku Halim bin Tunku Abdullah) is a Malaysian writer and lawyer. He is known for his horror stories inspired by Malay myths and folklore. His novels include Vermillion Eye, Last Breath and A Malaysian Restaurant In London. His short story collection titled Horror Stories is extremely popular in Malaysia.

I first came across Tunku Halim’s story “Biggest Baddest Bomoh” in The Apex Book of World SF II (ed. Lavie Tidhar). The story was creepy and hilarious at the same time, in parts a comedy where a man tries to woo the beautiful girl, in parts a horror story when he enlists the help of a bomoh which is a Malay sorceror and traditional medicine practitioner. They often act as intermediary for the spirit world and deities. The Indonesian equivalent is dukun.

Eve Shi

Eve Shi is an Indonesian writer who writes primarily in Bahasa Indonesia and English. She is known for writing wuxia stories, but her focus is mostly on horror. Her novels include Aku Tahu Kama Hantu, Lost, Sparkle and Unforgiven: Hantu Rumah Hijau. She is also in Asian Monsters, an anthology published by Fox Spirit Books.

Further Reading

Tunku Halim

Eve Shi


The Intersection: The Shape of Water

14 Dec

I am a Guillermo del Toro fan. Mind you, I didn’t discover him until Pan’s Labyrinth in 2006, but I made up for it. (And if you haven’t seen The Devil’s Backbone and The Orphanage, you absolutely should.) So, when I heard he was doing a Creature From the Black Lagoon kind of film with extra-added romance, I was all in. The preview can be found here.


My expectations, based upon the trailer, were something between Creature From the Black Lagoon and Edward Scissorhands. I thought it would be creepy and sad because that’s Guillermo del Toro’s work, and he does it very, very well. However, this time I was surprised. The film is gorgeous. All his films tend to be, and it’s obvious that every visual aspect is carefully chosen. The creature makeup and design was exactly right. The costumes are impeccable. I think the film is set in 1961 or possibly 1962.[1] The cast is amazing, and I was very happy to see Octavia Spencer. She’s wonderful as Zelda Fuller, Elisa Esposito’s coworker. Interestingly enough, this film is a Feminist one—unlike the original Creature From the Black Lagoon which features a monster kidnapping a white woman so he can have his way with her and a hero who must save her from being plundered. In this case, the two roles are switched. The villain in The Shape of Water is played by Michael Shannon and is a walking, talking sack of toxic masculinity which particularly fits the era—a time when square-jawed heroes featured heavily in film and literature. It was nice to see that role as the antagonist. Even the Russians (the standard Big Bad of the ’50s and ’60s) weren’t as awful. I appreciated that. 

Things to remember: del Toro is great at keeping his stories firmly set in a specific time period. McCarthyism would have been less than a decade away. The Cuban Missile Crisiswhich began on October 16, 1962is either a year and a handful of days away (my theory) or a handful of days away.

I expected a film that focused on the men and the monster because that’s typical of Hollywood and this was a reimagined SF B-movie, after all.[2] What surprised me was that it didn’t and wasn’t. The Shape of Water is a (mostly) quiet, sensual film centered on Elisa who is, herself, quiet and sensual. It’s a gentle, lonely film about two gentle, lonely peopleone of which happens to be a monster. It is very much from the perspective of a woman who has agency. She’s never whisked away against her will. She chooses every step of the way. This isn’t the stereotypical, problematic Beauty and the Beast story designed to train young women to accept the unacceptable in romantic partners. It’s a story about a woman who lives in a world in which she doesn’t belong, and how she finds herself and her one true love. I won’t tell you whether or not she rescues him. I’ll leave that for you to discover.


[1] The villain buys a new Cadillac Coup de Ville sometime in the story. It’s a 1962 model. I don’t know about then, but now days car companies debut the next year’s models late in the year. At one point, Elisa writes on a calendar that says it’s October. So, my theory is it’s October 1961.

[2] As much as I loved Edward Scissorhands, it treated its heroine like a prize.

Paul Weimer’s Best of 2017 and Award Eligibility Post

13 Dec

The year 2017. What a year, huh?

Your humble correspondent was named the 2017 Down Under Fan Fund recipient. This means that I got to go on a subsidized trip to Lexicon, the 2017 New Zealand National SF convention, and Continuum, the 2017 Australia National SF convention. I’ve talked about it here, and on the podcast, and you can always still for a $7 donation get yourself a copy of the DUFF report. All donations go to the Fund so that in 2018, a NZ/AUS fan will come to the United States in a reciprocal trip to the one I took this year. Continue reading

Signal Boost #29: A Conversation about Exciting News!

12 Dec

On today’s Signal Boosts, Shaun and Jen share some exciting news about the Skiffy and Fanty website, our RSS feeds, the future of our funding sources, and our 2017 Reader/Listener Survey! Even though we’re pissed about what Patreon just did, our patron support has allowed us to do some really big things that will help us grow and provide you more control over what you listen to. It’s pretty gosh darn amazing. And please make sure you go take the survey so we can get even more awesome than we are now!

And then we get to our VERY IMPORTANT mini-boosts!

We hope you enjoy the episode!

Note:  If you have iTunes and like this show, please give us a review on our iTunes page, or feel free to email us with your thoughts about the show!

Here’s the episode (show notes are below): Continue reading

343. Jeannette Ng (a.k.a. Lady of the Moths) — Under the Pendulum Sun (An Interview)

11 Dec Under the Pendulum Sun Cover

Shelley, trifles, and rap, oh my! Shaun and Jen have a talk with Jeannette Ng about her debut novel, Under the Pendulum Sun! Jeannette shares what inspired her to write a Gothic romance fantasy novel about Missionaries — specifically one that tackles such heavy theological subjects such as the soul and sin — why she constructed Arcadia as a purposeful, artificial thing, and how the narrative structure hints at the biblical story it contains.

We hope you enjoy the episode!

Note:  If you have iTunes and like this show, please give us a review on our iTunes page, or feel free to email us with your thoughts about the show!

Here’s the episode (show notes are below):

Continue reading

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