I had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of the upcoming anthology, Amok: An Anthology of Asia-Pacific Speculative Fiction, and I must say that I am impressed. Amok presented with a great lineup of strange stories, all of which push the limits of the imagination (as all good speculative fiction should.) Also, many of the tales incorporated native folkloric and mythological elements into them—a detail I particularly enjoyed.
Amok consists of 24 short stories, all set in Asia and the Pacific Islands, and all are in the speculative fiction genre. The editor, Dominica Malcolm, says in the introduction that she sought to have a diverse cast of characters in the anthology, and she has delivered. Each of the stories is unique and distinct from one another.
I noticed that many of the stories feature an impending natural disaster. Perhaps this is because of the nature of island life or coastal areas where tsunamis are a real threat. I imagine that the 2004 tsunami that devastated Indonesia is not forgotten and continues to lurk in the back of the mind of authors in the region.
The last four stories of the anthology are, in my opinion, the best of the collection.
Agnes Ong’s “The Seventh Month” takes the reader into the gritty world of a Malaysian gangster. The story takes place during the “Ghost Festival” that falls during the seventh month of the lunar calendar, a time when spirits are believed to wander the streets at night.
In Rebecca Freeman’s “And Then It Rained” a young woman must survive as well as care for her little brother in a post-apocalyptic Australia reminiscent of Mad Max. It is most certainly not a knock off, though, as Freeman’s world feels much more realistic, and the characters have a much greater depth than those in the movies. I would love to see this one turned into a full length novel.
NJ Magas’ “Where the Fireflies Go” is a superb tale of ancient Japanese mythological beings battling to survive in the modern world. The ceramic creatures that appear only as outdated statues akin to garden gnomes are in actuality guardian spirits dedicated to protect the home of whoever owns them. After the old man who cared for them dies, his estate is scheduled to be bulldozed, but worse than that, a “bone demon” is making its way from the cemetery to eat the body of their dead master. This is easily one of the best stories in the anthology.
Tom Barlow’s “The King of Flotsamland” takes place on a garbage island in the Pacific Ocean. A lone man has been stationed on it to protect the trash from a corporation that plans to harvest the entire island for profit. A faceoff ensues and the protagonist slowly realizes that this trash heap is the only place he has ever really called home.
A few of the other stories are definitely deserving of individual mention as well. These are some of my other favorites:
Jax Goss’ “Love and Statues” is a great, albeit very short, story that captures some of the romanticism of poet Robert Burns, whose statue plays an important role in the tale. A young man sits in a garden at night to see for himself if the statues come to life at night, like the exchange student he had a crush on told him.
Terence Toh’s “Bright Student” is another of my favorites from the collection. A student makes a deal with a mystical shop-owner in order to get an elixir that will make her excel at school, and all he wants in return is her shadow.
In KZ Morano’s “Kitsune”, a small town boy makes the mistake of moving to the big city with his were-fox/vampiric girlfriend. Unfortunately, she doesn’t take to the change of scenery well.
Fadzlishah Johanabas’ “In Memoriam” is the saddest story in the book. In the near future a mother wants to forget the car accident that took her son away. But in order to do so she will have to forget more than just the accident, much more.
All in all, Amok was an interesting read that I would recommend. It should be hitting the shelves by April 30, 2014, so keep an eye out for it.
For the complete table of contents and current status, you can check out the publisher’s webpage at Solarwyrm Press.