SINGAPORE - With the Hungry Ghost Festival underway, check out some local horror fiction, in which ghosts have grassroots committees of their own. In this monthly feature, The Straits Times lines up six hot-off-the-press home-grown books for readers to dive into
FEAR OF THE GUEST
By Yihan Sim
Marshall Cavendish/ Paperback/ 192 pages/ $19.99/ Available here
Lifelong learning does not stop in the afterlife.
The ghosts of Sim's debut novel Fear Of The Guest are also struggling with disruption as younger generations of Singaporeans lose their fear of them. Some have taken to haunting SkillsFuture courses to figure out how to stay relevant.
When their grassroots committee meeting is invaded by a malevolent spectre who calls himself the Guest, they realise they have to contend with a whole new brand of fear - one that might wipe out the Singapore they have haunted for so long.
Sim, 29, an administrative executive at a local university, confesses she is a "scaredy cat". She watches horror movies between the cracks of her fingers and showers with one eye open for weeks afterwards.
So it may come as a surprise that her first book is of a supernatural bent.
She says, however: "It was time for me to reverse the gaze, to look at humans through (the ghosts') eyes. And perhaps this fantasy was also a balm; it diminished the power that fear had on me."
Fear Of The Guest ranges across the supernatural spectrum, from the Chinese jiangshi (vampire) to the singing female ghost who spooks recruits on Pulau Tekong.
For Sim, the most terrifying ghost in South-east Asian folklore is the pontianak.
"I am both fascinated and mortified by how she is the epitome of the 'monstrous feminine', a concept explored in the academic publications of Associate Professor Valerie Wee from the National University of Singapore," she says.
"The pontianak story captures deep-rooted cultural fears of the vengeful female, of unjust deaths, of human greed and its consequences."
In Sim's novel, the pontianak chairs the Grassroots Committee of Ghosts and Monsters. In her downtime, when she is not out haunting, she takes on the elegant appearance of a retired air stewardess.
The horror genre, says Sim, is essentially the history of human fear and is reflective of xenophobia - a term which draws on the ancient Greek word "xenos", which can be translated as "stranger", "foreigner" or "guest".
"Xenophobia is not unique to Singapore and can be found in every country in the world," she says. "It does, however, have local flavours, just like ghost stories."
By Cyril Wong, illustrated by Speak Cryptic
Math Paper Press/ Paperback/ 72 pages/ $10 before GST/ Available at BooksActually
In this chapbook, Wong questions, confronts and subverts Aesop's fables, positing that the histories and myths so familiar to society leave much to be desired in a world that seems to lack meaning or grand design.
VOYAGEURS, EXPLORATEURS ET SCIENTIFIQUES
Edited by Martyn E. Y. Low, Kate Pocklington and Wan F. A. Jusoh
Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum/ E-book/ 398 pages/ Free/ Available here
When Sir Stamford Raffles arrived in Singapore in 1819, two French naturalists, Alfred Duvaucel and Pierre Medard Diard, disembarked with him.
Thus began France's two centuries of involvement in Singapore's natural history, documented in this book, a combined effort between the Lee Kong Chian and the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris.
A HISTORY OF MODERN SINGAPORE, 1819-2005
By C. M. Turnbull/ NUS Press/ Paperback/ 761 pages/ $25.68/ Available here
This new edition of Turnbull's seminal one-volume history, first published in 1977 and last revised in 2009, is presented in a more affordable format for students and teachers. It traces Singapore's colonial experience from the arrival of the British in 1819 to the new millennium.
BLACK WATERS, PINK SANDS
By Ng Yi-Sheng
Math Paper Press/ Paperback/ 250 pages/ $15 before GST/ Available at BooksActually
In this volume are the annotated scripts of two lecture-performances by Ng that explore alternative histories of Singapore.
Ayer Hitam: A Black History Of Singapore, created with Sharon Frese and Irfan Kasban for the 2019 last year's M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, sheds light on the ignored history of the African diaspora in Singapore.
Desert Blooms: The Dawn Of Queer Singapore Theatre traces the early canon of queer theatre in Singapore from 1985 to 1995.
Performed last year at Centre 42, it interviews pioneer theatre-makers and analyses works such as Russell Heng's Lest The Demons Get To Me, Eleanor Wong's Mergers And Accusations, and G. Selvanathan's Akka against the historical background of the HIV/Aids crisis, club raids and early activism in that decade.
By Russell Molina, illustrated by Ian Sta Maria
Epigram Books/ Paperback/ 144 pages/ $20.22/ Available here
In the latest of Epigram's new editions of South-east Asian graphic novels, Filipino author Molina tells the tale of sundry store owner, Mr Tino, 66, who discovers he has superhuman strength when he saves his dementia-stricken wife from being hit by a truck.
As he comes to terms with his new powers, he gets involved in investigating the mysterious disappearances of children in his neighbourhood.