Southeast Asian Fiction Hots Up

One side benefit to publishing such cool authors = being able to shout about all the equally cool projects they're involved with. This week we've got an excerpt from the introduction to "Heat", one of a trio of anthologies of brand new fiction from across Southeast Asia, published by Fixi Novo and co-edited by our own Khairani Barokka - they'll be launching at Daunt Books Cheapside on 11th April. Sounds HOT.  

If we had to pick one sensation that defined Southeast Asia, we’d almost certainly go with heat. Pretty much everyone here endures and/or enjoys a year-round tropical summer, divided only into seasons of thunderstorms and drought; the kind of sweltering thirty-degree climate that fills our lands with mangroves, mangoes and mosquitoes.

Nor is it only our weather that’s heated. You’ll find heat in the spiciness of our food, the frenzied capitalism of our cities, and the spooks of our feverish imaginations. You’ll find heat in the volcanic violence of our passions, and in the comforting warmth of our family ties. Even as we sifted through the submissions for this anthology, we saw heat invading our headlines and our lungs, as a tragic blaze swept through the rainforests of Indonesia, filling the air with clouds of haze.

Thus, you’ll find plenty of heat in this collection of stories, gathered from six different Southeast Asian nations: Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Singapore. As part of our selection process, we’ve tried to select the more unexpected, thoughtful and risk-taking from the available pool of writing, forging from them a compendium of twisted, tender visions of our region. 

Each author interprets the theme of “heat” in her or his own subjective way. Sometimes the fire is obvious, leaping up rapidly in tall flames; sometimes it’s subtle and slower burning, but no less effective. Together, their voices speak of what foments unrest inside and around us, of what sparks, bubbles, and boils over into reckonings large and small. They speak of memories and projections of the future; they hurl us into encounters with love, sex, patriarchy, feeding and hunger, the monstrous and uncanny, violence and healing, technology, gods, grit, crime, and the seemingly-ceaseless, engulfing drive of greed and urbanisation that is transforming the Southeast Asian landscape.

Buku Fixi’s trio of anthologies – “Trash”, “Flesh”, and this very volume, “Heat”, which you bear in your hands – is testament to a new wave of internationally available texts by the citizens, denizens and committed allies of Southeast Asia. These are stories told from our perspectives, unconstrained by tired tropes or cartoonish renderings of the complex worlds we inhabit. These are stories that do not have to be set in worlds immediately comprehensible by a mythical “universal reader”; stories that will draw you into what may well be your unknown, and make you perceive and feel as the writer does. 

Southeast Asia here is no mere backdrop. It is fuel for the flame, the heat that rises and commingles with sweat and effects motion, the brand that has seared all of us who hail from it and/or have deep ties with it. It infuses our lives with particular absurdities, catastrophes and joys, tiny habits and affectations, variations on English and on our hundreds of other languages, ecstatic fantasies and terrors that can come from nowhere else. 

Ours is a diversity born of innumerable heated interactions and negotiations of varying cultures, psyches, and worldviews. An endlessly shape-shifting bonfire, giving rise to the tales we so proudly present in this book.

- Khairani Barokka, London, and Ng Yi-Sheng, Wonju, 2015