Last issue of speculative fiction a fitting swansong




Edited by Jason Erik Lundberg Epigram Books/ Paperback/280 pages/ $20.22/ Books Kinokuniya

3.5 stars

Like a sampler platter designed to appeal to all taste buds, this latest and last issue of Lontar contains something for everyone.

In its pages, readers will find short stories, poetry and even a gorgeous full-colour comic illustrated by Eisner-nominated artist Drewscape.

The bumper issue is a fitting swansong for Lontar, the world's only biannual journal of South-east Asian speculative fiction, which was founded in 2012.

Its contributors - who include names familiar to readers of Singlit such as Cyril Wong and Kevin Martens Wong - have always sought to answer the same basic question: What if?

But as the reader will find in this anthology of 25 works, each author's take on that question is wildly different.

Some, such as Manish Melwani in his spin on the Sang Nila Utama myth, delve into South-east Asian history, superstition and folk religion.

Others explore the ramifications of a dystopian future, when humanity is living in bunkers underground or the wreckage of skyscrapers.

There are also stories that infuse prosaic reality with a touch of the magical, such as Topaz Winters' Flight, in which the hands of a gifted young woman bring origami paper cranes to life.

Another stand-out: The delightfully tongue-in-cheek Toader by Marylyn Tan and Graeme Ford, about a Tinder spin-off for Lovecraftian horrors from an alternate dimension.

"After a long bout of cryptic messages and slight, feverish flirtations in the Toader chat, you met up, carapaces excitably crawling with parasites," reads the start of one vignette.

There are also some fresh ideas to be found. Patricia Karunungan's Agatha - about how the terminally ill are being used as repositories for memories - is particularly intriguing.

Unfortunately, this anthology is not entirely free of tired fictional tropes, which detract from the charm of certain stories. Some authors also come across as somewhat heavy-handed in trying to get their point across.

Even so, it is rare to find such a diverse array of speculative fiction with a South-east Asian twist. Lontar will be missed.

If you like this, read: BooksActually's Gold Standard 2016 edited by Julie Koh (Math Paper Press, 2016, $22, BooksActually). The anthology of short stories brings together the work of writers from across East and South-east Asia.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 21, 2018, with the headline Last issue of speculative fiction a fitting swansong. Subscribe