Reviewed by Chuck Rothman
I always like to review science fiction and fantasy from different cultures, to see new ways of looking at the genre. Lontar highlights authors and settings from southeast Asia, with some very interesting takes on storytelling.
The issue starts out with “No Man Is” by Ng Yi-Sheng. It’s the story of an unnamed man who decides one day to become an island. He launches himself into the sea and floats away, meeting some fascinating characters along the way—a pirate queen, a community of other islands, and many more. The story is very episodic and flirts with a type of magic realism. It’s very hard to describe, other than the fact I found it utterly charming, with a nice sense of humor, sometimes absurd, and always fascinating. A definite gem.
Kawika Guillermo‘s “The Bear” is set in a dystopian world, where schoolchildren are taught to accept and not think too much. The unnamed eunuch/teacher protagonist sees one of her children, Rama, escape from the school, looking for the bear they have read about. It’s a serious issue, since this sort of failure is not tolerated. The story is a bit murky for me; the society is not clear and I think it’s pretty much an exercise in futility. Sad, but not tragic.
“Blackbirds Emerging From the Sun” is a flash fiction piece where the unnamed protagonist invites a newly wedded couple to what seems to be a traditional supper for newlyweds on the day after they’re married. They give a gift of The Book of Ten Thousand Names, and the protagonist is awed by it, and by events afterward. Erica Verrillo really just shows one small incident which seems to have meaning, but it is extremely unclear as to what was going on.
Amanda Lee Koe provides a fascinating look into mythology, based upon the merlion—a symbol of Singapore. “Siren 68” is about Marl, a strange little boy who is the target of bullying. Years later, the unnamed protagonist—one of the bullies, though one who at least showed a little mercy—finds Marl again. Marl is a transsexual hooker, but she recognizes the protagonist and takes him home. There were rumors that there was something not quite right about Marl, especially his genitals, and the story slowly reveals the secret. It’s an interesting take on a very different sexuality, along with a tale of a sailor and his mermaid love. I found it enthralling.
The issue’s final fiction entry is Gord Sellar‘s “The Spurned Bride’s Tears, Centuries Old, in the Rain,” telling the story of Rizal, a street urchin in Jakarta, who meets with a rich woman named Sandra, who takes him to her home. But this isn’t just a chance meeting. Rizal realizes that he and Sandra are ancient gods, and that Rizal in all his forms was continually murdering Sandra. The story creates some good tension in wondering whether this drama will happen one more time.
The stories here are all of high literary quality, and the different perspectives make the magazine stand out from the usual fare.