Good news, everyone!
LONTAR has just published its latest issue and contained therein is my short story, “What is Being Erased.” LONTAR mainly deals in speculative fiction and poetry (i.e. fiction and poetry with fantastical elements) set in Southeast Asia. When I first found out about it, I was very excited for the same reason my friend Carl Olsen mentions in his thoughtful critique of the issue: namely, that LONTAR provides space for speculative fiction about a part of the world that such works aren’t usually written about. (Carl notes especially the exciting possibilities this opens up for fantasy and reviews Eliza Chan‘s “The Floating Market” as an example of this.)
The inspiration for the story came from one of those periods of despair that have punctuated my career as an academic thus far – a career that I’m now almost completely sure I’m going to transition out of. (I sound wishy-washy because I’m trying to heed the advice of my more cautious half. “Don’t burn bridges,” my spouse always warns me, knowing that reaching for the gasoline can and lighter is always my first impulse.) I wrote the story fueled by despair about the growing corporatization of universities, the conditions under which some of the best and brightest and kindest people I know have had to labor in order to stay in the industry, and the increasing sense that these conditions simply aren’t worth the sacrifices that are demanded of us. In this sense, Singapore (where I spent 8 years of my childhood, and where much of my family still resides) served as an ideal setting for thinking about how all these developments might play out when carried to their logical, efficient, authoritarian end.
Here’s an excerpt from the story’s opening:
The day I received my Scholar’s tweeds was the proudest day of my life. Even after all these years, the event has remained as fresh and crisp in my mind as a spring day. Or so I infer from what I’ve read about spring days in books.
Our tweeding ceremony was held at 11am on a Saturday morning in the auditorium of the Ivory Tower. We six initiates were only allowed to invite two people each, so our audience was small: twelve friends and family members, extant Scholars, the Tower Authorities, and two Government officials. After making a brief speech, the reigning Head of Tower awarded us our blazers one by one. And at a nod from him, we slipped them on. We did so eagerly. The chilly air in the auditorium confirmed the Tower’s reputation for having the most powerful air-conditioning on the island, and the goosebumps on my arms were on the verge of taking wing to seek warmer climes. As I pulled the sleeves over my arms, adjusted the collar, and watched my peers do the same, it suddenly struck me that these were the garments we would wear every day for the rest of our lives. They were beautiful: made of the finest quality Harris tweed, close-woven, moss brown in color, and heavy—made even heavier with the weight of responsibility and honor that had just been bestowed upon us.
You can purchase an electronic copy of the entire issue from Weightless Books here for only $2.99. Carl has reviewed the piece in-depth here, but be warned: he has been wonderfully biased and the review is entirely reflective of his superhuman warmth and generosity.