SFF in ASEAN Writing
Who am I?
I write science fiction (mostly) and YA. And things in between.
What draws me to science fiction and YA?
I like the genre. Science fiction is a genre. YA is the target audience, not a genre. I like science fiction because you can imagine worlds. You can write about werewolves in space and fantastic space battles. It’s basically what-ifs and futures and what kind of futures you want to see. Science fiction is visionary; it opens eyes and broadens horizons. It makes you think. It makes you travel through space and time. It has enormous potential for change.
YA? I teach and I like teaching. My students happen to fall within this category. It talks about an interesting and not-so-easy time: the teenage years.
The state of sff and YA in Southeast Asia
I believe more could be done to promote not only Singaporean sff and YA, but also the rest of the region. The problem is that we are all writing in English. I want to see more translation work, more people taking an active interest in local sff and YA.
In Singapore, I believe it is still very nascent. We are taking baby steps. But are the publishers willing? Listening? Even actively acquiring? Are publishers here imposing their own standards (of what sff should and should not be) on authors? Likewise, I would like Singaporeans to step up and become editors. If you want to publish Singaporean writers, make it a specific point to acquire them. Look for them. Talk to them. Sign them up.
My thoughts as a Singaporean writer (or writer from Singapore)
SG lit is slowly taking off, though attention is still focused on foreign (re: US/UK) lit. Science fiction itself is already a niche genre. So the traction within Singapore might not be as quick or even acceptable, as readers tend to go for big-name writers and comic artists (who have made it big overseas) or they stick to familiar (white) writers who are with big (overseas) publishing houses. This is very odd because Singapore geeks are so big on science fiction and fantasy gaming and popular culture, but only when it is produced outside Singapore.
I tend to pitch my writing overseas (unfortunately or fortunately), because there are people who want to read us. The only problem is that we might be viewed as ‘exotic’.
I have science fiction stories in US, UK, Canadian and Australian sff anthologies. My urban/contemporary fantasy series are published under an independent UK sff publisher and a Malaysian publisher (only the first book, at the moment). Singapore, however, seems unfriendly towards Singaporean science fiction and allocates it to small little shelves in bookstores under — you guessed it — Local/Singapore Writing. It’s telling us: we just can’t compete with the big boys and girls. As a Singaporean science fiction writer (or writer, period), it is very sobering and disappointing to have people subtly and not-so-subtly tell you that your work does not matter enough for attention. Your work does not matter. Your voice does not matter. Your writing does not matter. More so if you are not an award or prize winner or anything. Not agented? You are not a real writer. Don’t have a big publisher? You are not a real writer. Didn’t attend prestigious writing workshops and MFAs? You are not a real writer. Even if you have been published in small and independent press, you experience awful impostor syndrome as the people around you seem more qualified, more published. You just feel like a fraud. An enormous fraud.
(Note: I am aware there are some notable exceptions to this rule, but the vast majority seems unhighlighted. Obscurity kills)
It is good that we have ASEAN lit and more better that some of us write in our own native languages.
Now the trick is to market ourselves. Are literary agents going to accept and acquire us? Are these big publishing houses going to accept and acquire us? Are there hidden (or obvious) obstacles we have to be aware of (or that we are already aware of)? How are we going to sell our books?
The Internet and social media are such powerful mediums and platforms where ASEAN writers could use to share or promote their works to a global audience. However, there are the issues of accessibility and obscurity as many writers are not tech-savvy nor comfortable with the idea of self-promotion.
What’s the future of ASEAN lit? What’s the future of SG sff? I don’t know. As long as there are people still writing and still reading, there’s hope.