Rojak: Stories from the Singapore Writers’ Group
by Alice Clark-Platts & Others
Having recently arrived in Singapore and looking to read some of the best local writing, I was rewarded when I read this gem of a short story anthology. The Malay word for “mixture,” Rojak is an apt title for this collection of short, easy-to-read stories that take the reader around the world and leaves them with exotic tastes to savor and provoking thoughts to ponder. It is indeed the “perfect mix of short stories for the adventurous and the armchair traveler” with tales from Singapore to Mexico, England, South Africa, and elsewhere. There’s something for everyone in this book.
The anthology is well written and edited. Some stories are concise with clear endings while others end leaving the reader craving more. All pack a strong punch, filled with emotion and depth in mere pages. Many could serve as the basis of full-length novels. Although written by 19 authors with diverse writing styles and interests, the book features a coherent narrative and themes guided by the deft hand of Singapore Writers’ Group founder Alice Clark-Platts, who brought an eclectic “mixture” of members together to write this anthology.
I’m looking forward to reading more short stories from the Singapore Writers’ Group and follow-on works by the book’s contributors. Read this book for a taste of what this talented group has to offer, and if you are in Singapore, get to know the SWG. It has a bright future on the Singapore literary scene.
I give Rojak five (5) stars and recommend it to anyone interested in Singapore, travel stories, or well-written short stories.
Rojak: Stories from the Singapore Writers’ Group is now available at:
Sand Omnibus by Hugh Howey
After the runaway success of his “Silo Saga” series, Hugh Howey must have been under pressure of sand-dune proportions to come up with a worthy follow-up to his blockbuster. That his new, five-story “Sand” omnibus comes on the heels of the last “Silo Saga” installment was a stroke of marketing genius by Howey. He put the proverbial glassblower in the oven while it’s hot by releasing another series sure to bask in the glow of the “Silo Saga.”
Therein lies the weakness in the new “Sand” series – it feels rushed and reads like a vague retelling of the author’s other works. The “Sand Omnibus” comes off as an above-surface version of the silo world introduced in Wool. Although the “Sand” series has some notable distinctions from the “Silo Saga,” the similarities are too obvious to ignore. Both are set in post-apocalyptic versions of what was once the United States, featuring a changed environment created long ago by self-destructive ancestors. Ageless technology from a bygone era keeps survivors alive in hostile landscapes. Both series feature several protagonists’ points of view that jump from character to character as the storyline progresses. The reality of both worlds shatters when two worlds collide. What was new and refreshing in the “Silo Saga” leaves the reader with a “Sand” aftertaste like grit in one’s teeth.
The omnibus does break some new ground for Howey. His imaginative, “Max Max”-style take on how people adapt to living on the surface and sand diving in a desert world is fuel for the imagination. He delves deeper into human relationships as told through a dysfunctional family almost torn apart by the sands of time. The author’s portrayal of love, loyalty, and camaraderie among family and friends is uneven but a gripping story. His depictions of humans using vibrating dive suits to move through sand like water seems unique in literature, as are other adaptive technologies harnessed by post-apocalyptic humanity.
Although the “Sand Omnibus” is well written, its storyline and pace suggests that the author should have slowed down and spent more time tightening the plot to avoid questionable coincidences and tidy conclusions. Had the series not been published in the aftermath of the ground-breaking “Silo Saga,” it might have elicited a better response. I give the book four stars and recommend it to anyone who enjoys dystopian science fiction.
Sand Omnibus is now available at:
Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
I read “Fifty Shades of Grey” to figure out why this work of fan fiction inspired by Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series had become such an overnight sensation. After all, thousands, if not millions of fans have written pieces inspired by their favorite stories. Why did E.L. James’ trilogy that kicks off with this book become so popular that it’s sold millions of copies and soon will be made into a major motion picture?
I have to conclude that it’s not because of the writing. As many reviewers, professional and personal, have pointed out, it’s not because James produced a literary classic. Au contraire, most who give the books high marks are apologists that sidestep the issue of her writing – the obvious similarities to “Twilight” characters, hackneyed clichés invoked ad nauseum, Britishisms in Seattle, even typos (I found two). By the end of the book, one more bite of Ana’s lip or Victorian gasp could turn any reader into Christian Grey with a riding crop ready to teach some grammar lessons.
So if it’s not the writing, why are readers buying millions of copies of this mediocre book? I have a few theories. One, “Fifty Shades” have become a proxy for the fifth book in the “Twilight” series that Meyers may never write until she’s enticed by a publisher to write a sequel to “Breaking Dawn.” Until then, fans can channel their post-Bella and Edward letdown into Ana and Christian mania and turn “Team Edward” and “Team Jacob” into “Team Ana” and “Team Christian.”
Two, “Fifty Shades” ups the ante with a subject, Bondage/Domination/Sadomasochism (BDSM), that surpasses paranormal romance in its scintillating attraction as a forbidden fruit one secretly enjoys as a guilty indulgence. What was once aplomb with buzz, paranormal romance, is now the new normal, and James has pushed the boundaries of the mainstream by taking extreme romance to a whole new level. It’s easy to imagine that the post-“Fifty Shades” world lies in the hand of a Christian Grey fan who, as I type, is writing the next book sensation continuing the saga of Bella and Edward, Ana and Christian in a sort of rebirth that would make the Wachowski siblings of “Cloud Atlas” twinge with jealousy. Perhaps an alien romance taking humans to farther extremes awaits us in the near future after this series runs its course.
The brouhaha around “Fifty Shades of Grey” is certainly not because of the writing. I give it two stars and a caution to anyone who doesn’t read paranormal or BDSM romance but wants to check out what all the hype is about. Just leave it be.
Fifty Shades of Grey is now available at: