Cyberpunk: Malaysia

cyberpunk malaysiaFor the final instalment of my transhumanist theme, I’ve picked selections from a Malaysian anthology. Cyberpunk: Malaysia is edited by Zen Cho (whose debut novel, Sorcerer to the Crown, I read last year and really loved) and features fourteen futuristic narratives.

This book also has inside the front cover my all-time favourite publisher’s note, a thoughtful comment on the practice of italicizing for loanwords:

We will not use italics for non-American/non-English terms […] Nasi lemak and kongkek are some of the pleasures of Malaysian life that should be celebrated without apology; italics are a form of apology.

I’d never thought of italics as being particularly apologetic, before, yet I absolutely see their point. By highlighting certain words, you mark them out from the rest of the sentence, offering the reader an excuse to skip over the perhaps-unfamiliar spelling or assume that they don’t need to understand what’s being referred to.

To return to the point, then: this is a great anthology with a wide range of stories, most of which have a strongly dystopian flavour, taking social inequalities and magnifying them through the lens of technological enhancements. More than a few of the stories consider the intersection of humanity and technology, giving rise to some fascinating juxtapositions; here are three examples by female authors.

Codes by Anna Tan

“Aren’t you going to try one?” Sheila gestured at the remaining can.
Nadia stared at the can for a while then shook her head. “The biotrackers would show–”
“Nothing. The feed can be hacked. Everything can be hacked. No one will ever know.”
“But what if Mack checks and notices discrepancies–”
“She won’t have a clue once I”m done with your records. God, I should have been the one with the implant, not you. You don’t even know what to do with it.”

Nadia is a young Muslim woman with an implant designed to monitor and control her access to everything from online information to the purchase of restricted items like alcohol. At least, that’s the idea, but with help from her cousin Sheila, Nadia learns that technical controls can be bypassed with a few well-chosen keystrokes. But with her own father serving in the police force, and the police AI taking an interest in Nadia’s disappearances from the online world, it’s only a matter of time until the net closes in…

October 11 by Chin Ai-May

“His credit chips have been cut out of him,” someone gasped. Shen felt a flurry of movement and then heard the sound of someone running away.
“Hello. You’re in a load of trouble, aren’t you?” The voice to the right of him sighed. “To have your credit chips cut from your body you must be a Siber Tadbir exile.”
Siber Tadbir. Exile. The vice around Shen’s head seemed to tighten.

Shen wakes to find he’s been stripped of his chips and much of his memory deliberately impaired. All he can remember is a single critical date: October 11th. With the help of the Memory Restorer, a rogue cybernetics expert, he starts to piece the fragments of his mind back together, and conceives a desperate plan to save his wife and child from a brutal massacre.

Undercover in Tanah Firdaus by Tina Isaacs

From the picture, CP Badrul could see that Insp. Moktar was a serious man, with broad shoulders and, like most policemen who worked undercover, a face that could easily blend into any background. “So, I assume the premise of this meeting is because he’s having trouble? Did he blow his cover or something?”
SAC Ho, ACP Gomez and a few of the others shared a nervous glance. “Not exactly, sir. Moktar went undercover using a captured KRN member’s body, and appears exactly–”
“What do you mean ‘body’?” CP Badrul interrupted.

Undercover in Tandah Firdaus imagines a divided city, the population separated by wealth and status, and the story of a police officer sent undercover in the body of a captured rebel. Their minds wired together, Inspector Moktar is given control of the younger man’s physical form, which at first he finds an enjoyable and diverting experience. But as the grim realities of life in the lower city begin to sink in, Moktar’s priorities start to change.

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