When I first started publishing in 2012, I felt I’d come into an already established community, one thriving with international writers. It’s an environment that I’ve always found welcoming, and doubly so once I started discovering and meeting (online) other writers from my region, wherever in the world they are based. So I’d like to give an overview of what I’ve been seeing in this regard — any excuse would do to talk about these wonderful writers! — and talk a little about my publishing experiences these last couple years, though only a little; it’s not too charming to harp on about myself! I’m covering Southeast Asian and South Asian writers, though (as everyone who follows the state of short genre fiction would be) I closely follow mainland Chinese ones as well, most of whom we’re now seeing in Lightspeed and Clarkesworld through the diligent translations by Ken Liu. Some of the most recent are the lyrical Invisible Planets by Hao Jingfang and the fairy tale-like Grave of the Fireflies by Cheng Jingbo.
To start on familiar grounds, Lavie Tidhar has done exemplary work in bringing international writers together in his Apex Book of World SF series, including a good number of SEA writers; the first volume includes S.P. Somtow, Tunku Halim, Kristin Mandigma and Aliette de Bodard, while the second showcases Csilla Kleinheincz and Rochita Loenen-Ruiz. The third, due out this year, will have at least four Southeast Asians — so that’s all very exciting! I’ve been honored to be part of anthologies like Jonathan Oliver’s The End of the Road, too, which has quite a few of us — Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Zen Cho, myself, as well as Anil Menon and Vandana Singh.
On the online zine front, I think Clarkesworld has brought attention to an incredible number of international writers. There’s the witty ‘Excerpt from a Letter by a Social-realist Aswang’ by Kristin Mandigma, the emotional ‘Alternate Adventures and Memory’ by Rochita, the poignant ‘Pockets Full of Stones’ by Vajra Chandrasekera, the incomparable Aliette de Bodard, Vandana Singh, Indrapamit Das, and Rahul Kanakia. That’s just keeping to my theme — authors of many more nationalities and backgrounds are well represented there, an aspect of the magazine that to judge by their latest reader poll results is considered a definite plus by their readership. I find Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Strange Horizons lovely venues for this, too; the most recent coming to mind is Rahul Kanakia’s ‘The Day When Papa Takes Me to War’, Naim Kabir’s ‘On the Origin of Song’ (reprinted in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2014) and Sathya Stone’s ‘Jinki and the Paradox’ (on Locus Recommended Reading 2013).
The company is incandescently good, powerfully alive. It’s more enchanting still to find stories that draw from the traditions you know. Zen Cho remarked in a recent interview on the commonality of the Monkey King and the moon goddess Chang’e in Chinese speculative fiction (the latter I am guilty of, though I’m not Chinese), and I would add my voice to that as to the frequency with which The Ramayana (or The Ramakian) turns up in fiction speculative and literary among South and Southeast Asian writers — there’s an entire anthology of it, Breaking the Bow: Speculative Fiction Inspired by the Ramayana. And Empress Cixi! She is everywhere in literary and historical fiction, but I’ve also spotted her in some steampunk like Leow Hui Min’s short story ‘Ascension’ (reprinted in Steampunk III: Steampunk Revolution) and this piece of art by James Ng. Zen’s ‘The House of Aunts’ and Lao-American poet Bryan Thao draw from some of the same folkloric monsters. This isn’t to say there’s a pan-Asian culture or even a common folklore shared between all of Southeast and South Asia. There honestly isn’t, and I would never say any one characteristic (or fifty, or five hundred…) is essential or peculiar to either region; there isn’t any there, either! Each writer is unique to themselves. Sometimes, though, a few bits here and there of the same folklore show up in different works, and it’s fun to share in them, just like anyone else might find it fun to read and write different takes on Red Riding Hood or Thumbelina.
If you’re looking for a more comprehensive look, Victor O. Campo put together a ‘perpetually under construction’ list (and which I agree would, by nature, have to be that way!) of SEA writers, and Carrie Cuinn’s has kept a list of speculative Asian writers. I’m not familiar with all listed, but I’d like to close this overview with some of my favorites.
- Nghi Vo’s ‘Dinner at Majak’s’ in Innsmouth Free Press.
- Rochita Loenen-Ruiz’s BSFA-shortlisted ‘Song of the Body Cartographer in Philippines Genre.
- Aliette de Bodard’s ‘The Breath of War’ in Beneath Ceaseless Skies.
- Priya Sharma’s ‘Rag and Bone’ at Tor.com.
Benjanun Sriduangkaew enjoys writing love letters to cities real and speculative, and lots of space opera when she can get away with it. Her works can be found in Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, The Dark, The Mammoth Book of Steampunk Adventures, and Solaris Rising 3. They are also reprinted in The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Vol. 8 and The Year’s Best Science and Fantasy 2014. Her novella Scale-Bright is forthcoming from Immersion Press.