New Lit Mag Showcases Speculative Fiction From Southeast Asia
The editor of LONTAR feels that Southeast Asian speculative fiction is currently under-represented and aim to change that with this quarterly print journal as their response. Their inaugural issue is bound to catch the attention of speculative fiction readers due to its dancing title and human-headed laser-eyed spider on the front cover. On the back cover readers will find a blurb that gives teasing strap lines of what to expect within.
Inside, LONTAR is stylish and clean. Like a decent paperback anthology, LONTAR is easy to navigate, presents only one piece per author, and provides brief paragraphs on the contributors at the start of their works’. The journal opens with an introductory editorial from the founding editor, Jason Erik Lundberg (author of Red Dot Irreal and literary fiction editor of Epigram Books) and contains four fiction pieces, three speculative poems, and one piece of non-fiction written [in English] by a diverse mix of writers from and living in Southeast Asia.
All the writing is surprising and fascinating. As a reader, some knowledge of the region helps, but is not necessary. The great thing about Lontar is the broad range of speculative fiction showcased here with a guaranteed burst of Southeast Asian culture.
In “Departures”, the first fiction, by Kate Osais, we see a futuristic Philippines starting with a post-catastrophic Manila, leading to ultra-modern trains and walking, talking holograms. At the same time, we see a glimpse of Filipino culture and learn that in the Philippines, there is no mango in fruit salad.
It is difficult not to get pulled into “The Yellow River” by Elka Ray Nguyen, a dark fantasy story set on the Vietnam/Laos border. “Love in the Time of Utopia” by Zen Cho, is a gentle romance that gives us Malaysian culture when affability is no longer an ideal practice but strictly a law. On the other hand, “The Gambler”, a reprinted novelette by Paolo Bacigalupi, set in Laos and America is a futuristic story that follows the dilemmas and burdens of a young Laotian journalist.
Paolo Chikimaco’s non-fiction exploration of Filipino magic is both unsettling and eye opening. Described as if available as college courses at “Abang Duranuum College of Magic”, I couldn’t help feeling fictional guilt for browsing this extremely direct catalogue.
The speculative poetry in LONTAR ranges from short and sweet (“The Immortal Pharmacist” by Ang Si Min), short and melancholy (“Stainless Steel Nak” by Bryan Thao Worra) to historical, long and epic (“Jayawarman 9th Remembers the Dragon Archipelago” by Chris Mooney-Singh). What all three poems have in common is insight and fantasy.
LONTAR has produced quality, intricate and original work that entertains and distils a yearning in the reader for more…preferably in the form of LONTAR issue 2. LONTAR also accepts sequential artwork which hopefully will feature in future issues.
LONTAR is published by Maths Paper Press, the in-house publisher of Books Actually, where the journal is available for purchase internationally.