Fashioned in the Flesh and Bone

Where The Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction & Fantasy — Lucas K. Law & Derwin Mak

Where The Stars Rise

2017’s Where The Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction & Fantasy is an anthology edited by Lucas K. Law and Derwin Mak1.


Foreword by Lucas K. Law

Law, Canadian by choice, makes a call for kindness and mutual support.

Introduction by Elsie Chapman

Chapman asks for more diversity in fiction; not only that, but it should be informed diversity.

Comment

Which is to say, just dropping a handful of faceless ninjas into your story doesn’t make it diverse. This anthology offers one path to informed diversity.

“Spirit of Wine” by Tony Pi

A moment of foolish self-indulgence leaves two hapless would-be scholars possessed by Yǒu Shén, a fun-loving ghost little concerned about the ruin the ghost will make of the scholars’ lives.

Comment

The easy answer is to introduce Yǒu Shén to the ghosts of Marion and George Kirby … but since the Kirbys won’t be born (let alone die) for another eight centuries, the scholars are forced to come up with another solution.

“The dataSultan of Streets and Stars” by Jeremy Szal

A lamentable misunderstanding involving cutting edge AI research and a surprising number of dead bodies inspired programmer Bodhi to relocate to space, far from the irate, well-connected and heavily armed relatives of the victims. Blackmail sends him back to Earth, to contend with killers and unexpected allies.

Comments

AIs are called “djinn” in this but I am 70% sure they are not actual djinn bound into robot bodies. That would kind of a cool idea for a science fantasy story of the sort that ends when the angry djinn free themselves.

These particular djinn are not three laws compliant, but the carnage turns out not to be their fault. Pity that the investigation that followed the unpleasantness wasn’t diligent enough.

“Weaving Silk” by Amanda Sun

In a Japan so reduced by calamity that it cannot tell whether or not the outside world survived its own problems, two sisters do their best to stay alive. Prosperity is out of the question and so too is long term survival.

Comment

This combines the optimism of Japan Sinks with the upbeat air of Grave of the Fireflies.

“Vanilla Rice” by Angela Yuriko Smith

A young woman rejects her mother’s attempts to shape her into an alter ego, a beautiful version that will share her mother’s obsessions and prejudices.

Comment

One of SF’s common tricks is turning the metaphoric into the literal. In this case, it’s turning the daughter into blue-eyed blonde because that’s the mom’s idea of beauty.

Looking Up” by S. B. Divya

Imminent immigration to Mars provides a young woman the chance to come to terms with her tragic past.

“A Star is Born” by Miki Dare

Access to multiple timelines allows a woman to see all the lives she might have had. None of them were pleasant, because she was born Japanese-Canadian in 1928.

Comments

I wonder how many Canadians are aware that we interned Japanese-Canadians during WWII?

“My Left Hand” by Ruhan Zhao

A fortune-teller’s alarmed prediction that a researcher’s bold experiment would end his life gave an alarming edge to what should have been a triumphant day. Well, the experiment did appear to fail … but that’s not a death sentence. Or at least it does not seem to be. There are some unexpected after-effects.

Comments

Spoilers. (rot13) Gur erfrnepure jnf syvccrq yrsg sbe evtug. Gur bcgvzvfgvp gnxr vf gung orvat syvccrq vf gur rirag gung gur sbeghar-gryyre vagrecergrq nf qrngu. Gur yrff bcgvzvfgvp gnxr vf gung gur erfrnepure pna ab ybatre qvtrfg gur fgnaqneq fgrerbvfbzref va sbbq naq jvyy fgneir gb qrngu. Gur ernyyl crffvzvfgvp gnxr vf gung gur arkg nggrzcg jvyy fvzcyl syvc gur fpvragvfg ba n zber shaqnzragny yriry naq ghea uvz, irel oevrsyl, vagb nagvznggre.

DNR” by Gabriela Lee

Melissa’s job gives her an unexpected opportunity. She will meet an old face from her half-forgotten, tragic past. If only her job weren’t dismembering the recently dead for salvage.

Comments

It’s not all breaking people down for parts. Her job also involves facilitating other people’s grieving process. In this specific case, she does a subpar job thanks to factors beyond her control.

“A Visitation For The Spirit Festival” by Diana Xin

Mrs. Liu returns to a China she has not seen in decades. Her mission: rescue her daughter. But Miss Liu has no particular need nor desire to be saved. The unseen ghost tagging along with Mrs, Liu might require rescue, as might Mrs. Liu herself.

Comments

Does it seem as if this collection contains a plethora of stories about people coming to terms with their tragic pasts? Are there perhaps just a few too many “parents inflict unrequested, unwanted, and in some cases unhelpful assistance on their kids” stories?

“Rose’s Arm” by Calvin D. Jim

Rose is convinced that a prosthesis will turn her into a productive member of her damaged family. In order to afford one, the young girl considers a devil’s bargain.

Comments

See previous comments.

This is one of the few steampunk stories that won’t allow modern readers to focus on the goggles and darling little hats, while ignoring some of the nastier aspects of the past.

“Back to Myan” (translated by Shaoyan Hu) by Regina Kanyu Wang

Retrieved from her dying planet as an infant, an adoptee takes full advantage of an opportunity to express how she feels about the use to which her world has been put.

Comments

The galactics have found an application of Dyson Spheres that manages to be as dickish as Orbitsville. Not out of malice, as far as I can tell. It’s just that the builders could not be bothered to exert the tiny additional effort it would take to avoid constructing a Dyson Sphere that shadows a living planet.

“Meridian” by Karin Lowachee

The young man accepted his wandering life of space piracy (or as near to it as makes no difference) because he believed he was the last of his people. He had no kin to disappoint, no society to please. What is he to do when he discovers that he is wrong?

Comments

Tragic pasts. They’re tragic. They result in a great many tragic presents.

“Joseon Fringe” by Pamela Q. Fernandes

Guided by an enigmatic figure from the future, King Sejong struggles to secure Korea’s future (with well-timed innovations) before his foes remove him from power.

Comment

Sejong is also known as “Sejong The Great”. More details here.

“Wintry Hearts of Those Who Rise” by Minsoo Kang

What hope have the merely meritorious in the face of those with social position?

Comments

What hope have the merely powerful in the face of weaponized paperwork?

There’s every chance that the protagonist (a functionary) will become a much greater monster than the person who offended him. However, the story is mostly told from his perspective, so it’s the status-conscious former mistress who plays the antagonist in this drama.

“Udātta Śloka” by Deepak Bharathan

The great city has stone walls that are able to turn any mundane weapon. It has armies that can defeat all enemies and raze cities. How could it be threatened by a young foreign woman consecrated to a living god?

Comment

On the upside, the people of Mohenjo-Daro did get to star in one of history’s great mysteries. Their moment of casual spite towards their neighbours was not without benefit, at least to archaeologists.

Crash” by Melissa Yuan-Innes

A crash landing forces an unwanted ethical dilemma on lunar colonists.

Comments

I wasn’t crazy about the story’s execution (it feels like the first chapter in a novel, not a standalone) but the fact there’s any debate about how to handle the problem puts it one up on stories like “The Cold Equations.”

“Memoriam” by Priya Sridhar

Unable to deal with his father’s death, Anish decides to build a robot replica of his father. A robot unaware that it is a replica.

Comment

Because that can only end well.

The Observer Effect” by E. C. Myers

America has dozens of superhumans. How is it, therefore, that none of them are Asian? One empowered Asian-American is going to find out.

Comment

It’s the same wilful blindness that caused this man


to be played by this man


in the movie World Trade Centre. It’s not that white people in this fictional universe are committing ethnic cleansing. At least so far as we know. But it does seem that they cannot bear to be reminded that other ethnicities exist.

Decision” by Joyce Chng

An ambitious young … female finally gets the chance to build a life of her own.

Comment

Not recommended for arachnophobes.

“Moon Halves” by Anne Carly Abad

Hoping to protect his village from forest demons, Soliran embraces an innovative solution.

“The Bridge of Dangerous Longings” by Rati Mehrotra

Sumadru Bridge links the mainland to the unknown. As far as officials are concerned, it means death to those who cross. Some are willing to face death if it means escape.

“Old Souls” by Fonda Lee

Claire can recall all seven of her lives. What her memories cannot do is show her any way to escape the violent deaths that have ended each of her previous lives.

Ageless Pearl cannot recall past lives, because she’s only ever had the one — but she is sure she has much to teach Claire.

Comments

This is probably the strongest story in the collection.

“The Orphans of Nilaveli” by Naru Dames Sundar

The officials in charge of the orphans have attempted to erase the orphans’ past. Any reminder would upset the placid, happy lives of the other citizen. The orphans cannot forget. They invent gestures, perhaps futile, of remembrance.

Comments

Trying to transform minority children into emulations of the majority is as human activity as pearl-clutching about the reproductive habits of the poor. So is doing one’s best to erase the occasional lamentable atrocity from public memory. Odd that while oppressive reproduction policies are a common motif in SF, the othe two don’t turn up in SF very often.

Afterword by Derwin Mak

Self explanatory.

Acknowledgements, About The Contributors, About The Editors, and Appendix: Mental Health Resources & Anti-discrimination Resources

Self explanatory

General Comments:

At some point I should observe that Asia is huge and most humans either live there or have roots that lead back to Asia. It’s pretty weird western SF has traditionally either ignored Asia, consigned it to stagnant irrelevance or a source of faceless, malevolent hordes. Well, less weird and more unacceptable.

An interesting discovery I made if I read something while recovering from two back to back blood sugar crashes: my impression of the text will lean negative while if I compose a review having just consumed chocolate, suddenly positive elements I had previously overlooked are revealed to me. On an unrelated note, while the site rules forbid monetary compensation from authors to me, there is no policy regarding large boxes of high-quality chocolate.

This is a solid anthology. Since some themes reappear so often it may be best read a little at a time, rather than all at once. The Lee was my favourite but my list of authors to keep an eye out for definitely got longer while I was reading this.

Where The Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction & Fantasy is available here (Amazon) and here (Chapters-Indigo).

1: Chapters-Indigo inexplicably thinks Fonda Lee edited Where The Stars Rise.


Comments

  • Jeremy Szal

    Hi James,

    Thanks for reading and reviewing the anthology, and your thoughtful comments about my story. FWIW, you're correct in assuming that the djinn aren't actual Arabian spirits bottled in robot bodies. They're mechanical and artificial as any other, but presented as djinn because they're built by Middle-Eastern programmers who've drawn from their history to create these AIs, inbuing their culture in their product just like Western programmers would. It'd be a funky idea for actual djinn to be inside them, though!

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