Joelyn's Book Bites

Book Bites: Comparing Notes – Jeffrey Lim, Ken Liu, JY Yang

Book BitseI attended a science fiction panel at the National Library (Victoria Road), one of the few NLB organized with American writer Ken Liu’s visit to the Singapore. This session featured Liu and local science fiction writers Jeffrey Lim and JY Yang, moderated by locally-based author Jason Lundberg.

In the middle of Q & A (From left: moderator Jason Lundberg, Jeffrey Lim, Ken Liu, & JY Yang)
In the middle of Q & A (From left: moderator Jason Lundberg, Jeffrey Lim, Ken Liu, & JY Yang)

However, instead of talking about the motivations and recommended authors and tips from these writers, I thought I would zoom in on the underlying topic brought up rather consistently through the entire panel – The Rise of the Genre.

The constant struggles a writer faces (especially non-Anglo Saxon speculative fiction writers) came up rather subtly – internal struggles of self-identity, how stories are exoticised purely based on the writer’s origin, critic’s doubts on the content, or even audience accusation on whether the specific story is authentic in tackling the issues it was presented to tackle in the first place.

Throughout the entire panel, an idea which stuck from Liu was that readers will always perceive and expect writers and their works to appear in a certain way, despite any attempts not to. Although you may have a certain message, writers, at times, had the responsibility to know that their readers had expectations (e.g. expecting literary fiction instead of science fiction if you’ve been writing literary fiction all the while.)

Another issue pointed out was the situation of how comfortable writers were in our existing environment. Coming from personal experience, I would say it took me a long time to accept that Singapore was a good place to set my creation. Therefore, it was somewhat comforting to know that Yang and Lim had the same process going on – initial discomfort in writing about our locality, possibly due to influences from colonial and/or western literature.

What I liked about the panel was how it was honest without being one-sided. It was refreshing with views from different perspectives – there was no one “right” way of going about and doing things. However, though there was no outright call for immediate action, the ponder over the current state of things and how we were developing as writers and creators remained a strong motivation and theme through the panel.

It was also encouraging to note the potential wave of genre fiction writers coming into the scene in the next few generations. If writers continued with their genres, Singapore probably will be seeing more genre fiction soon and genre fiction, as we know it, will be seen in a very different light.

Overall, the main lesson I got from the panel – Sometimes, it is not just about content, but how readers (the main driving force in the market) view writers, their work, and what they stand for.

In the beginning and the end of the event, the library was giving out copies of “Reading Series (in support of Read! Singapore 2013) Volume 1”, which has the English and Chinese version of Liu’s The Paper Menagerie. Let’s see how rusty my Chinese has been all these years!

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One thought on “Book Bites: Comparing Notes – Jeffrey Lim, Ken Liu, JY Yang

  1. Quote:

    “Another issue pointed out was the situation of how comfortable writers were in our existing environment. Coming from personal experience, I would say it took me a long time to accept that Singapore was a good place to set my creation. Therefore, it was somewhat comforting to know that Yang and Lim had the same process going on – initial discomfort in writing about our locality, possibly due to influences from colonial and/or western literature.”

    I think Australian’s have had to battle something similar to this in regards to film and to a lesser extent the specfic genre. With film its taken probably 30 odd years for us to feel comfortable with ourselves on camera in a market that is dominated by America (this despite the fact that we had a very good film industry in the early 1900’s).

    Prior to Sara Douglas making it big in the 90’s it was very hard for Aussie specfic authors to be taken seriously by the American market and indeed the local one.

    It seemed to me that there was a perception that only “real” authors and “real”movies came from the States/UK. A perception reinforced by blockbuster movies and books.

    I can only imagine its worse in former non-Anglo colonies.

    Interestingly enough Henry Lawson complained about this in the 1890’s ie not being accepted until one had received positive reception in mother England. So maybe it goes further back.

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