Love, hate, or indifference

Buddhist temple, Kek Lok Si (credit Daphne Lee)

Black Water Sister by Zen Cho.
Macmillan, 2021.

“She wasn’t Malaysian or American. Just as she wasn’t straight but she definitely wasn’t gay, if anyone was asking. She wasn’t her family’s Min, but she wasn’t the Jess who’d had a life under that name, before her dad had gotten sick. […] She was a walking nothing—a hole in the universe, perfect for letting the dead through.”

Chapter 17

Jessamyn Teoh accompanies her parents from the US back to Penang in Malaysia, a country she barely remembers. So it’s a shock for her to hear a very opinionated voice in her head claiming to be the ghost of Ah Ma, her maternal grandmother.

First shock over, Jess discovers Ah Ma had fallen out with Jess’s mother, and it’s something to do with Ah Ma having been a medium for a powerful local deity called Black Water Sister, named from a neighbouring locale. The third shock comes when she realises that Ah Ma, now a spirit herself, wants Jess to stop Black Water Sister’s shrine being developed by a powerful gang boss.

Jess – or Min, to use her Malaysian Chinese name – is therefore placed in a very difficult position, having to balance demands from all fronts – her parents, her secret girlfriend Sharanya, her relatives, her grandmother’s ghost, the boss, his gangsters, the boss’s son, construction workers, assorted gods and ghosts including, of course, the enraged Black Water Sister herself. What’s a girl to do?

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#WitchWeek2022 wrap-up, plus …

#WitchWeek2022

Well, that’s it for 2022, our Witch Week exploration of fantasy offerings from around the world! As promised we travelled from the New World to the Old, from East to West, and across six of the inhabited continents in our quest to celebrate polychromancy. We hope you enjoyed the ride!

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#WitchWeek2022 Day 6: Around the World

© C A Lovegrove

Around the World of Fantasy in 8.0 Books, by Lizzie Ross

Chris and I had an empty slot in this year’s Witch Week roster, so the two of us arm-wrestled virtually, best two-out-of-three, for the privilege of writing ANOTHER post.

I won, to Chris’s relief, as he’s been busy with all kinds of musical performances (come to think of it, I didn’t even break a sweat during our contest – I think I’ve been had).

Anyway, I now give you a mini fantasy-world-tour, via my bookshelves. It’ll be a quick trip, along the lines of “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium”, so just sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

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#WitchWeek2022 Day 5: Persian fantasy in Hindi literature

Chandrakanta: Bringing Persian Fantasy into Hindi Literature by Mallika Ramachamdran

A beautiful princess, a brave prince, scheming villains, battles, masters (and mistresses) of disguise and of every ruse and stratagem, enchanted mazes, and magic—this is the world that Devaki Nandan Khatri’s Chandrakanta wafts us off to.

Published in 1888, Chandrakanta was a milestone of sorts in Hindi literature, for while its author Devaki Nandan Khatri was fluent in various languages including Hindi, Persian, and Urdu besides Sanskrit and English, he chose to write the book in everyday, colloquial Hindi, making it accessible to a wider readership.

But more than just language, the novel, based on the Persian–Arabic dastan (story telling/ornate oral history) tradition but Indianizing and naturalizing it, is credited with introducing such Persian literary elements as aiyaars and tilisms to Hindi literature.

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#WitchWeek2022 Day 4: The World of ‘Black Water Sister’

Ace Books edition 2021

Lizzie: Hi everyone! Welcome to our Read-along Discussion of Zen Cho’s 2021 fantasy novel, Black Water Sister. Chris and I were thrilled to have so many participants this year, and we hope you’ll join with some comments of your own after you’ve read this. This has been edited down, for length and clarity, but if you’re interested in reading the full discussion (with illustrations that Daphne provided), you can find that document here.

Participants were Chris, Lizzie (Lizzie Ross, writer), Lory Hess (Entering the Enchanted Castle), Jean Leek (Howling Frog Books), Mallika Ramachandran (Literary Potpourri), and Daphne Lee (Daphne Lee). To help you keep track of who’s “speaking”, each participant has been given a different color: Lizzie (black) – Jean (green) – Lory (blue) – Chris (red) – Daphne (orange) – Mallika (purple).

Note: In the WordPress Reader contributions may appear in monochrome.)

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#WitchWeek2022 Day 3: Indigenous Futurism

Bunny Pierce Huffman design deposited in a Santa Fe, New Mexico museum.

by Lizzie Ross

Rebecca Roanhorse, quoted in a 2020 New York Times article, said, “We’ve already survived an apocalypse.” The “we” here refers to the Native American, First Nation and indigenous civilizations of North, Central, and South America, who were nearly wiped out as a result of European colonization.

For Roanhorse, it’s no surprise that authors from indigenous backgrounds would find a comfortable home in fantasy and science fiction genres, creating worlds newly invaded by monsters from native mythologies—monsters brought to life as a consequence of ecological, economic, and/or geopolitical disasters caused by white people.

These authors, tired of stories that wallow in past defeats, show us native communities that are strong, thriving entities, working to maintain their languages and cultures despite efforts to erase them completely.

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#WitchWeek2022 Day 1: The Mambabarang

Locusta migratoria manilensis, the migratory locust (Wikipedia commons)

by Daphne Lee

I’ve chosen to write about two books by a Filipino author, Joel Donato Ching Jacob, which I edited for Scholastic Asia. They are the first two in a trilogy set in what is now known as the Philippines. The era is pre-colonial (before 1521, which was the year Ferdinand Magellan came to the islands in 1521 and claimed it as a colony for the Spanish Empire) and, as such, pre-Christian/Roman Catholic, steeped in indigenous mysticism and animist lore. It is an imagined world, based on fact, the society feudal and ruled by the Maginoo class.

The first book, Wing of the Locust, introduces Tuan, a young man of the slave class, who is chosen to be apprentice to the barangay (akin to a borough or district) mambabarang, a healer, diplomat, spy, and assassin.

Because he has always been treated as an outcast, Tuan initially embraces his new role as an opportunity to improve his social standing and gain power over those who shunned him when he was a weak, awkward youth. Nevertheless, he soon finds himself wrestling with his conscience over the dubious morality of a mambabarang’s duties, while reeling in horror at the extent of the personal sacrifices that must be made to master the craft.

But it is only when Tuan reconnects with his childhood playmates, Liksi and Gilas, that he is forced to seriously consider the implications of his newfound status and power. And when his friends’ lives are threatened, Tuan must quickly decide if saving those he loves is worth the loss of his humanity.

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#WitchWeek2022 begins: Polychromancy

#WitchWeek2022

Welcome to this year’s Witch Week event! The brainchild of Lory, of Entering the Enchanted Castle, it runs from Halloween on 31st October to Bonfire Night, 5th November. Co-host Lizzie Ross, writer and I aim to celebrate fantasy books and authors during the week designated by Diana Wynne Jones – in her fantasy called, of course, Witch Week – as “a time when anything can happen.”

This year’s theme is Polychromancy, a word concocted via Greek from polychromos (‘many-colours’) and manteia (‘divination’) to suggest a focus on fantasy/sci-fi by authors from diverse backgrounds. The idea is to explore the work of SFF authors who identify as or celebrate Black, Asian, Indigenous, or people of specific ethnicities such as Roma – or indeed who claim a multiethnic ancestry.

The schedule, below, includes a readalong that complements our theme: Black Water Sister by Zen Cho, a Malaysian author based in the UK. A number of bloggers have already conducted an online discussion of this, but please feel free to comment on the conversation we had.

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Looking ahead a bit

#WitchWeek2022

The days are getting shorter and the nights … well, longer, and my thoughts are heading towards considering what to read as the dark gathers outside the window. Of course there is Annabel’s readalong of The Dark is Rising sequence which is due to take us up to midwinter, but what else beckons?

So, there’s Witch Week 2022, an annual meme run by Lizzie Ross and myself, focused on fantasy themes that suit the period between Halloween and Bonfire Night. This year highlights Polychromancy, a theme looking at fiction related to diverse cultures and stories, and runs till 6th November after the schedule of posts is revealed on 30th October. The featured book is Black Water Sister by Zen Cho.

#NovNov22 746books.com bookishbeck.wordpress.com

1st November also sees the start of Novellas in November run by Cathy at 746books.com and Rebecca at BookishBeck.wordpress.com. They’re basing their weekly schedules on four headings – short classics, novellas in translation, short nonfiction, and contemporary novellas – and I’m considering possible titles to read and review through the month, all chosen from books I already have on my shelves. Of course I reserve the right to change my mind at the last minute!

Short Classics:
Good Morning Midnight (Jean Rhys) OR
Orlando (Virginia Woolf)

Novellas in Translation:
Strait is the Gate (André Gide)
OR By Night in Chile (Roberto Bolaño)
OR Chronicle of a Death Foretold (Gabriel García Márquez).

Short Non-Fiction:
We the People (Timothy Garton Ash)
OR The Viceroy of Ouidah (Bruce Chatwin).

Contemporary Novellas:
The Lost Daughter (Elena Ferrante)
OR Ghost Wall (Sarah Moss).

@SciFiMonth

November is also when SciFiMonth (curated by Imyril at https://onemore.org and a couple of other bloggers) reaches its tenth anniversary. I’m generally on the periphery of bloggers marking the annual event but I shall attempt to read one or two titles at some stage during the month.


So that’s me. Are you planning to join any of these events? Have you read any of the novellas mentioned? Pray tell!

Everyday supernatural

Illustration by Daphne Lee

Orang Minyak; and Pontianak,
by Daphne Lee.
One-story zines privately published by the author, nd.

‘[He] could leap high. And he floated, like a shadow, on walls and on ceilings. And then when it was safe he would float down softly and he would creep, silently, like a black cat, and no one would know.’

Orang Minyak

Sex and death: the only certainties where life is concerned. When the two are bound up in our imaginations with thoughts of the supernatural they can give rise to all-pervading obsessions – such as incubi and succubi, and vampires corporeal and psychic. How powerfully such obsessions are able to magnify both our fascination and our fears!

That’s where these two short stories score. Both were first published as one-story zines and later revised, appearing in the author’s collection entitled Bright Landscapes (Laras99, 2019 and Langsuyar Press, 2021). Related in a very matter-of-fact fashion and including ordinary conversations, both nevertheless hint at things beyond the everyday.

When whispers of old beliefs impinge on modern life can they really be accounted as beyond the bounds of possibility when they’re allied with persuasive rumours, odd coincidences and personal experiences? Do they then suggest that the supernatural too is somehow also an everyday thing?

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Polychromancy #WitchWeek2022

#WitchWeek2022. Design after artwork by Bunny Pierce Huffman

In much of the inhabited world (90% of the global population lives in the northern hemisphere) the start of September marks the beginning of meteorological autumn, the season when our thoughts may turn to shorter days, colder temperatures and things sempiternally supernatural.

In just a few fortnights’ time Lizzie Ross and I will be celebrating another Witch Week, an event inaugurated by Lory Hess and inspired by fantasy writer Diana Wynne Jones’s novel of the same name.

This year’s theme is Polychromancy, a word concocted via Greek polychromos (‘many-colours’) and manteia (‘divination’) to suggest a focus on fantasy/sci-fi by authors from diverse backgrounds. The idea is to explore the work of SFF authors who identify as Black, Asian, Indigenous, or other colours and ethnicities such as Roma – or indeed who claim a multiethnic ancestry.

Continue reading “Polychromancy #WitchWeek2022”