TITLE: Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction & Fantasy
AUTHOR: Edited by Lucas K. Law and Derwin Mak
RELEASED: October 2017; Laksa Media Groups
GENRE: Science Fiction & Fantasy
KEY INFO: Anthology, #ownvoices, speculative fiction, alternative histories, cultural tradition, folklore
REPRESENTATION: MC’s of colour, disabled characters
CONTENT NOTICES: Immigration, poverty, sexual abuse, child abuse, slavery, discrimination, ableism, death, violence, racism, child neglect.
Laksa Media Groups is back with another stunningly brilliant anthology and I was thrilled for them to immediately approve my request to read Where the Stars Rise after I read and reviewed their previous anthology – The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound. Science-fiction is one of my absolute favourite genres but it is so often dominated by white men whose main characters are bland white men with savior complexes. So when I saw Where the Stars Rise up for request on NetGalley I jumped at the opportunity last year. Sadly, I didn’t make time for it when I should have but I am delighted to have read it for Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month!
Where the Stars Rise starts with one request – “more diversity in our art, please” – and that’s exactly what the anthology delivers. With 23 stories contained with its pages, many of which are #ownvoices, Where the Stars Rise stands proudly above the whitewashed sea of SFF and offers something unique, thought-provoking and packed full of stories that stay with you long after you’ve read them. Together the short stories band together to challenge Asian stereotypes, cliche’s and tropes while exploring themes such as cultural tradition, complicated histories and uncertain futures, belonging and difference, and prejudice alongside a diverse array of characters from different cultures, sexualities, ages, disabilities, and citizenship status’.
As it offers so much, it would be difficult to talk about every single story in a way that does them any justice so I’ve chosen a varied selection from throughout the anthology to review individually.
→ The dataSultan of Streets and Stars by Jeremy Szal – ★★★★★ ←
Possibly one of my favourite stories in the anthology, Szal’s dataSultan is set in a futuristic Middle Eastern setting where fantastical creatures like the powerful djinn have become manufactured commodities to serve human interests. Confronting intriguing concepts such as AI intelligence, prejudice, and folklore, dataSultan is full of rich culture, intriguing mysteries, and enchanting writing.
→ Weaving Silk by Amanda Sun – ★★★★★ ←
How different the world is when the illusion of civilization has shattered with the windows of the trains. How quickly history can unravel, taking us back to the beginning, when we walked the strange new world alone and armed with spears.
Weaving Silk is another lovely contribution to WTSR and it really held its ground amongst so many other well-written stories. Following two young Japanese girls who were recently orphaned after a huge natural disaster, Weaving Silk explores the difficulties and dangers of two young girls trying to survive in an apocalyptic world is struggling to remain hopeful. Sun’s story really stuck with me long after I had finished reading it and is one that I will definitely return to reread.
→ Vanilla Rice by Angela Yuriko Smith – ★★☆☆☆ ←
This is one story that I felt very conflicted over and wasn’t sure how to feel about it. Living in a world where the physical genetics of unborn babies can be manipulated by parents to achieve a particular look, single mother Meiko makes the decision to change her daughter’s genetics to those of a golden haired, blue eyed, white child prior to her birth. Despite serious warnings from medical professionals over the dangers of such alterations, Meiko hates being Asian and covets having white skin so much that she decides it is the right decision for her a child. Definitely an interesting story, Vanilla Rice takes a deep look at racism/internalized racism, reproductive/genetics ethics and belonging/difference.
→ Looking Up by S.B Divya – ★★★★☆ ←
As she climbs back into the car, Ayla realizes that at last, she can let go of the past. She can start fresh, not because she can leave her past behind, but because it will anchor her as she ventures onward and outward.
A lovely, empowering story about a disabled South Asian woman who makes a series of decisions to take back control of her life, confront a difficult family history, make reparations, and embark upon an exciting new future in space! A nice little story about love and forgiveness.
→ A Star is Born by Miki Dare – ★★★☆☆ ←
An engaging, humorous addition to the anthology. A Star is Born is about a time-traveling elderly woman with dementia who emigrated to Canada from Japan. I really adore SFF stories about elderly people as they are definitely an underrepresented group yet always have some of the best stories to tell. Told through alternating diary entries, we are able to piece together parts of Hitomi’s difficult life as a Japanese immigrant during WWII and her enduring love for her family.
→ DNR by Gabriela Lee – ★★★★☆ ←
DNR was not at all what I was expecting it to and I found myself becoming quickly wrapped up in the world that Lee has created in this short story. Working as a night-shift coroner on an off-world Hospice that processes bodies, recycles their body parts, and prepares the deads memories for their loved ones, Filipino MC Melissa lives in a world that is safe, sterile and very ordered. That is until she stumbles upon the memories of a very unexpected relic of her past life. A wonderful story about tragedy, memory, and natural disaster DNR was such a fantastic read. The topic is one that I really love reading about and Lee’s writing was very enjoyable.
→ Rose’s Arm by Calvin D. Jim – ★★★☆☆ ←
Trapped in a life of poverty and struggle, Rose wants nothing more than to help her father make good Tofu after her mother’s death but when Rose’s father can bear to look at her all he can see is someone who is disabled. But when she meets an enigmatic doctor who offers her the opportunity to sell her eyes in exchange for a mechanical arm, Rose jumps at the chance much to her father’s horror. In a world where the poor literally sell their body parts to get by, Rose’s Arm is an interesting look at the intersections of poverty, race, and disability.
→ Back to Myan by Regina Kanyu Wang. Translated by Shaoyan Hu – ★★★★★ ←
If you didn’t already know, I always there for Science Fiction stories about interesting alien worlds which are thick with richly detailed histories, cultures, and individuals so I was thrilled when I started reading Back to Myan. After being evacuated from her planet, Kaya’s fishtail was surgically modified into feet and she was plunged into an oceanless world in the Union. Raised a refugee in the colony, Kaya works for a time as an engineer but something is calling her back to Myan. A beautiful story about rediscovering your roots and sticking it to colonialism, Back to Myan is definitely one of the best stories in WTSR.
→ Joseon Fringe by Pamela Q. Fernandes – ★★★☆☆←
I love the story that Fernandes decided to tell in WTSR as Joseon Fringe takes a unique look at the relationship between North and South Korea through the eyes of Sejong the Great in this alternative history. I am always up for alternative histories and Joseon Fringe did not disappoint. It’s a wonderfully quick read that really offered something fresh at the halfway point of the anthology.
Overall, I absolutely loved Where the Stars Rise. Like any anthology, there are always additions which I didn’t like as much as the others or didn’t feel that they fit well within the anthology as a whole but there wasn’t a story that I would rate below 2 stars. On average most stories are definitely in the 3-5 star category, many of which I would love to revisit at a later date to read again. My favourites from the anthology include Szal’s dataSultans, Back to Myan by Regina Kanyu Wang, Weaving Silk by Amanda Sun, and Old Souls by Fonda Lee.
Once again the biggest thank you ever to Laksa Media Groups for allowing me to read Where the Stars Rise in exchange for an honest review. I am a huge fan of their anthologies and can’t wait to get my hands on their next one ❤