Malaysia – Cyberpunk: Malaysia
There are a lot of things I didn’t know about Malaysia. I didn’t know, for example, that it’s a country of three ethnicities striving to live in harmony: Malay, Chinese and Indian. That it is currently experiencing a serious non-Covid related political upheaval (link is from October, but problems haven’t been resolved). That tudungs are extremely fashionable, but also not mandatory. Also it sucks to be a foreign worker there, but the last one didn’t really surprise me. The list of countries where it sucks to be a foreign worker is long. Also it has a pretty thriving geek community and in 2015 they produced an anthology called Cyberpunk: Malaysia.
The title says it all: 14 short cyberpunk stories set in Malaysia and written by Malaysian authors. As far as cyberpunk goes, you’ve got a Muslim cyborg, living spambots, andromaids, cybernetic art that kills the artist, and also hacker teens seeking to evade AI law enforcement. As far as Malaysia goes, expect immersion because there’s lots of it. Most of the stories are set in Kuala Lumpur and contain native characters who offer native perspectives on a wide variety of social issues, such as the status of women, children, the lower classes, foreign workers and LGBTQ. It was a lot to take in, and also a bit of a challenging read.
The book is unapologetically native, which means that if you’re Malaysian, you’ll easily understand the Manglish (Malaysian English), and enjoy the frequent cultural and religious references. If you’re a Western reader with a European perspective (like me), expect to encounter the unfamiliar, and not receive an explanation.
Here are some sample quotes from the first story: “Underneath Her Tudung” by Angeline Woon.
- “What lah. I need help.”
- He thanked me again before running away like hantu were at his heels.
- “Or maybe he thought I was a late-model pennangal?
These made the reading experience very foreign to me even as I was forced to acknowledge that in this particular instance, I was the one who was the foreigner. At the same time though, there was a lot I could empathize with despite the culture gap, such as women who experienced objectification (and bad hair days), teenagers seeking to test limits, and spam.
Spambots, Islam, Murderous Art and The Future
As far as the individual stories go, most are okay, but there are a few special gems that deserve special mention:
- “Attack of the Spambots” by Terence Toh. A husband seeks to rescue his wife who was turned into a literal spambot using the aid of an anti-spam underground army.
- “One hundred years: Machine” by Rafil Elyas. A chilling university paper reviewing how the population was reprogrammed to adhere to Islam.
- “The White Mask” by Zedeck Siew. A trans artist is murdered by his subversive art.
- “Extracts From DMZine #13 by Foo Sek Han. Glimpses into a futuristic Malaysia through passages from a magazine.
The Omer today is kingship in kindness. Kingship is seen in the various governments and leaderships envisioned by the authors of these stories. Sadly though kindness is lacking on that level. Kindness is an attribute shared occasionally by the too few individuals who seek to help one-another in a pretty unforgiving world. I’d like to say this is a dystopian future, but to me it looks too much like a dystopian present. Good thing the present is ever changing, and the future is yet to be set.
About the Editor
Zen Cho was born and raised in Selangor, and lives in London. She is the author of Crawford Award-winning short story collection Spirits Abroad, published by Fixi Novo. Her debut novel is Sorcerer to the Crown, the first of a historical fantasy trilogy published by Ace/Roc Books (US) and Pan Macmillan (UK). Find out more about her work at http://zencho.org