Authors from Asian-Pacific nations are writing off the American science fiction and fantasy tropes that depict primarily white, straight male protagonists in favor of more diverse casts and plotlines. The tropes of Western science fiction and fantasy have been so relentlessly overexerted that the genres are often predictable, cliched and formulaic. “Amok: An Anthology of Asia-Pacific Speculative Fiction,” featuring a story by third-year UC Berkeley student Josephine Wu, brings together 24 authors from 10 countries depicting stories set in 14 nations to offer an assortment of short fiction from underrepresented perspectives in the realms of fantasy and science fiction.
The anthology offers an impressive range of stories with empowering protagonists from non-Western, LGBT, disabled and female cultural backgrounds. The first story in the ensemble, “The Donor,” depicts disabled protagonists within the backdrop of science fiction, recounting the story of a blind boy, a deaf boy and a boy who lacks the ability to physically feel. The author, Brett Adams, employs techniques of psychological realism to effectively flesh out his protagonist’s thoughts and then weaves in an element of science fiction through the concept of sensory transplants.
We then jump to Josephine Wu’s Chinese fable with a science-fiction twist — featuring a dragon, robots, an emperor, Chinese moon goddess Chang’e and her female companion animal, the Moon Rabbit, the latter of whom functions as the tale’s protagonist. In direct comparison, the spiritual mystique surrounding “The Moon Rabbit” starkly contrasts the realist techniques employed by “The Donor.” Instead of conveying the depth of human emotions, “The Moon Rabbit” cultivates interest in Eastern mythology and its interaction in the story with a futuristic human species on Earth.
Unfortunately, “The Moon Rabbit” does not offer enough context for those unversed in Eastern mythology. This lack of information leads to confusion, because the historical context and time period is unclear. For example, the emperor in the tale calls white people “White Demons” in a manner that is racist and offensive. Because the other characters accept the emperor’s remarks, it seems the story as a whole regards all white people as evil and promotes an acceptance of such thought. “Moon Rabbit,” however, was not intended to have been written to disparage any readers. In an email correspondence with The Daily Californian, Wu admitted that “White Demons” is “a derogatory term directed at Caucasians” and apologizes for any personal offense -— she incorporated the term because of its use in Eastern history as a slur against Western cultures. Ironically, the “Moon Rabbit” demonizes a single race in an anthology supposedly dedicated to promoting acceptance of all cultures.
The short story “Target: Heart” conveys a Filipino protagonist, Damian, who is also an aspiring Cupid of sorts. His choice of weapon is a slingshot, and the author proves through action-packed scenes just how lethal pebbles and a piece of wood can be. The protagonist is initially portrayed like a character out of a superhero comic book as Damian turns his pebbles in flaming balls of fire. While this detail certainly adds pizazz to the story, the way in which this power is technically written into the narrative makes the superpower seem at times awkward and contrived.
“Amok” is unafraid to abruptly switch tone, genre, time and place drastically from story to story. While this is an understandable side effect of such a varied picking of stories, it takes a few pages to settle in at the beginning of each piece. Once the immersion happens, however, each story takes flight.
Kate Irwin covers literature. Contact her at [email protected].