Initial Reviews for NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS

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Reviews for NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS are rolling in, and reader reception has been highly positive. Here are a few samples from Amazon:

Ray, May 5, 2017

Great book, that took a surprising twist on the usual mixing of Urban Fantasy and Military cloak and dagger genre, plus a bit of alternate history. I’ll need to re-read it because there is a lot under the surface of this hard to put down well written book…
The action is fast paced and it reminded me of Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter series that is just a fun read, but with a much more sophisticated, serious world view… The mythology makes sense and is not the usual urban fantasy drek. The attention
to detail reminds me of the Laundry Series by Charlie Stross. I look forward to reading the next book in the series.

James Nealon, May 6, 2017

The book is damnably technical, or is it technically damning? Mr. Cheah wrote a very good military spy/thriller, of the type that pulls you into intense action… The book is very well written, with very good characterization of heroes and villains… I can’t wait for more in the series. Great action hook for the book, and a great hook for the series.

Koba, May 11, 2017

This is an action-packed story of “counter-terrorism with a twist”…The alternate Earth is extremely well-realized and convincing. It is just “different enough” that it is not too predictable… The system of magic and the “theology” of the book are also well thought-out and coherent… I would compare this favorably with Larry Correia’s “Monster Hunter” series – action oriented, lots of weapons, but with supernatural elements. If you liked his books, you will like this book. I am definitely looking forward to the sequels from this exciting new author!

NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS can be can found on Amazon and the Castalia House ebook store. If you have already bought a copy, do consider leaving a review on Amazon or your blog if you have one. That would help others find and enjoy this novel too.

Thanks for your support, and please look forward to the sequel, HAMMER OF THE WITCHES.

How to Write Someone Else’s Martial Arts

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Fight scenes are fun. Fight scenes featuring believable techniques are even more fun. If you already know martial arts, incorporating them should be easier. But what if you don’t? Or if the story calls for characters to use other martial arts you haven’t studied?

It’s a question I faced when writing recent stories. My latest novel, NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS, required a character to be proficient in historical European martial arts, specifically the German school of longsword fencing. Another novella I wrote last year placed Chinese martial arts in the limelight. Unfortunately, I do not have any training in those styles, and there was no way to justify having the characters use the style I have trained in.

The best answer to the question is to simply train in that new style, or at least ask someone who has trained in that art to look over the fight scenes. But this may not always be available to you. Teachers in the styles I have selected aren’t readily available here. Here’s what I did to make fight scenes realistic and research less headache-inducing.

Down the Rabbit Hole

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A martial art is a paradigm. It is a method of moving your body to solve specific problems in a specific environment. These problems can be as simple as breaking a fall or as complex as handling multiple armed attackers hell-bent on killing you. The signature of a martial art lies in its approach to problem-solving based on its operating assumptions.

Brazilian jiu-jitsu aims to solve the problem of how to force a single opponent into a submission without necessarily causing permanent damage. Classical karate provides practitioners a means of unarmed self-defense against ruffians. Kali tackles the problem of confronting attackers armed with weapons. Some branches of HEMA attempt to replicate the battlefield techniques used by soldiers against enemies with and without armour in European battlefields.

Different martial arts are suited for different purposes in different environments. Once you understand how your chosen martial art is supposed to function, match it against the problem your character is going to run into. A kali practitioner with a baton may be able to fend off a single knife-welding opponent in a duel. A man who only knows BJJ and finds himself surrounded by raging gangsters on the street is in deep trouble. Depending on your writing goal, this may or may not necessarily be a bad thing. The trick is to know what kind of scene you want before writing it, and to explore the consequences of success or failure following the action scene.

The Way You Move

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In the age of YouTube, Facebook and Vimeo, it’s easy to simply watch a selection of fight techniques online and replicate them in writing. However, every trained martial artist knows that techniques do not exist in a vacuum. Throwing random techniques does not a fight scene make; to write action scenes at a higher level, you must understand why a character will choose to move in a certain way in a given situation.

Different martial arts have different ways of moving to solve problems in different environments. The key to breaking down an art into its essentials is to understand the way its practitioners move. In particular, look at footwork, power generation and weapons. These are the three pillars that define an art.

Filipino martial arts is defined by its choice of weapons: the stick, the sword and the knife. As a weapon-based art, its practitioners assume that the opponent has a weapon. If you block a weapon with empty hands you will lose your arm; if you block with your weapon you might chip the edge and lose an opportunity for an immediate counterattack. FMA answers this problem through triangular footwork and timing. Instead of meeting force with force, the ideal is to get off the line of attack, evading the attack altogether, and disable the opponent’s arm and/or finish him off.

FMA relies heavily on hip rotation to generate power. Every strike ends in a chamber position, allowing the practitioner to seamlessly chain together a string of attacks without having to reposition his hands or feet. This combination of swinging hips and attack chaining is the basis of the FMA concept of flow: transitioning seamlessly from one technique to another to overwhelm the enemy with a blitz of strikes.

Sword-based Historical European Martial Arts appears to have some superficial similarities with FMA. However, FMA was developed in a jungle archipelago; the local climate makes wearing heavy armour impractical for most conditions. Europe’s climate allowed knights and wealthy soldiers to wear armour for extended periods. Plate armour mitigates or outright defeats the FMA tactic of stepping off-line and slashing the arm or thrusting to the body. In addition, unlike many traditional Filipino swords, European battlefield swords tend to have pronounced crossguards. Later swords incorporated knuckle-bows, basket hilts and cup hilts. These guards rendered decisive strikes to the hand more difficult.

The combination of armour and weapon characteristics lend themselves to different tactics. A HEMA longsword practitioner can bind the enemy’s sword, using his crossguard to trap the blade and protect himself, and thrust his own sword through gaps in the enemy’s armour. The historical fencer may also hold his sword by the blade instead of the handle, using the crossguard to hook, trap and trip his enemy–and the crossguard and pommel can be used to deliver the infamous murder stroke, using concussive force to defeat helmets. Further, HEMA training also emphasises preventing double-kills and guarding against afterblows from a dying opponent, an element not usually found in FMA, since FMA footwork ideally places the practitioner outside of the enemy’s reach.

In marked contrast, the signature weapon of the Chinese art of Bajiquan is the spear. Specifically, the daqiang, a long and heavy spear. The length and weight of the weapon makes it much harder for a practitioner to simply evade an incoming attack and counterattack in the same beat the way an FMArtist can with a light single-handed sword. Bajiquan spear techniques instead focus on controlling the enemy’s weapon with your own, either by small circles or swats, and immediately thrusting into unguarded space.

Empty hand Bajiquan carries echoes of the spear, emphasising explosive, linear movements like those needed to drive a spear home. Bajiquan delivers power through falling steps and abrupt movements, synergising with the footwork. Bajiquan footwork carry the practitioner deep into the enemy’s space to control his centreline, enabling the practitioner to destroy him with close-in body weapons: headbutts, elbows, hooks, low kicks, body slams and grappling.

While these are generalities, we can see how footwork, power generation and weapon characteristics make up the signature of an art. Tactics and techniques are derived from how the art trains its practitioners to move and the weapons the practitioners study. Once you know how a martial artist is likely to move based on his training, you can create a more believable actions scene.

The Fighter’s Heart

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You know what art your fighter studies, how he will move, and why he will move. Now it’s time to introduce the human element.

My approach to writing action scenes is similar to Chinese martial arts film. Every fight scene is fundamentally a clash between humans, and martial arts is a medium to express their unique personalities and achieve their goals. There are as many ways to express a martial art as there are practitioners. Different fighters have different personalities, skill levels, assumptions and conditioning, and their techniques will reflect that.

A large, strong, aggressive fighter is likely to charge straight into the fray, bashing aside all obstacles in his way. A defensive fighter will stay at long range and hang back until the time for a counterattack. A crafty martial artist will use feints and deception to create windows of opportunity to attack.

A martial art is like a toolbox. A fighter’s personality tells you which tools he will prefer to use. These are the techniques you need to pay extra attention to in your research and the ones your fighter unleashes in battle. It also means you don’t need to spend so much time looking for stuff you probably won’t use in your own work.

Taking Things to the Next Level

A fight scene is a clash of wills expressed in motion. When writing an unfamiliar martial art, you don’t necessarily have to have complete knowledge of the art to properly portray it. But to do justice to the art, you need to know the pillars of the art, its footwork, tactics and weapons, and know how your character will express the art. Armed with this knowledge, you can elevate your fight scenes to the next level.

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And if you want to see how well I did writing a bunch of foreign martial arts, you can find NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS on Amazon and the Castalia House bookstore.

Movie Review: A Silent Voice

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The anime Koe no Katachi (A Silent Voice) is an excellent movie marred by flawed execution. At its heart, Koe no Katachi is a story about redemption, friendship and overcoming social anxiety, covering childhood bullying, suicide and the psychic scars of isolation and ostracism. The anime makes excellent use of its heavy subject matter, creating a realistic and entertaining character study.

But only of the protagonist.

The Sole Driver

The story focuses on Ishida Shoya, a former delinquent trying to do good. When he was in elementary school, Nishimiya Shoko transferred into his class. Nishimiya is deaf, relying on hearing aids and communicating mainly through written notes on her notebook or through sign language. While she can speak, she is unable to properly articulate her words. Her mannerisms lead Ishida to pick on her, causing the rest of the class to join in.

Until one day, he goes too far.

In an instant, the entire class turns on him. Nishimiya transfers out. Nishimiya’s deeds haunt him through the rest of his days in elementary school. Guilt and regret set in, festering into crippling social anxiety. In high school, Ishida is unable to even look at most people, picturing a ‘X’ in place of their faces.

With no plans and no hope for the future, Ishida contemplates suicide. But one day, he meets Nishimiya again, discovering that she attends the same high school. Ishida reaches out to her, and begins his long journey to acceptance, recovery and redemption.

The anime’s critical weakness lies in having too many characters. Nearly named character from the manga appears in the anime. This leaves very little screen time for all of them. While a manga has the capacity to fully explore the minds and actions of supporting characters in depth, the two-hour anime adaptation can only do so much. The anime elects to focus on Ishida’s struggles to face his past, understand the meaning of ‘friendship’, and fight through the mental block that isolates him from everyone else. While it was masterfully done, it came at the cost of character development for everyone else.

Every supporting character is defined by their deeds and personalities, and remain static for much of the film. Aside from Ishida, only Nishimiya Shoko and Yuzuru enjoy character growth — the former by being more willing to interact with others, the latter by growing friendlier and less sullen.

While everybody has believable personas and act entirely in line with their core beliefs and attitudes, the secondary characters exist mainly as a means to reflect Ishida’s progress in becoming more sociable. Indeed, characters like Mashiba Satoshi and Nishimiya Ito barely have spoken lines and almost no influence on the plot. Further, at times in the anime I found it difficult to understand why some characters did the things they do; only in the manga are these motivations revealed, such as why Ueno Naoka began bullying Nishimiya, why Yuzuru takes so many photographs, or why Mashiba joins in Ishida’s social group.

It is inevitable for lengthy manga to suffer major cuts when adapted to the big screen, but at least in Koe no Katachi, the core ideas and story remain intact. It is a testimony to the studio that they managed to deliver a powerful anime in spite of eliminating major story arcs and being forced to work with many shallow characters.

Almost-Amazing Cinematography

The major flaw of the anime is its cinematography. To be sure, Koe no Katachi has excellent visuals. Every scene is stylishly depicted, combining traditional anime iconography with beautiful background scenery and fluid motions. The art direction and soundtrack shifts at key moments, driving home Ishida’s mental and emotional state.

However, those key moments are also interrupted by flashbacks and surreal sequences. This is especially jarring in the opening segments of the anime, covering Ishida’s elementary school and early high school days. These shots distract from the main event instead of adding to it, making it more difficult to keep track of events and characters and muting the overall emotional impact of these scenes. The flashbacks could be cut from the anime without loss to the story — and should have been, to retain its overall coherence.

Final Thoughts

Koe no Katachi is a beautiful coming-of-age tale of friendship and redemption — but poor cinematographic techniques undo the key scenes. It stars realistically-portrayed characters suffering from deep psychic stories and personal failings — though the secondary characters are all static. Koe no Katachi is a few steps short of being a genuine masterpiece, but it is nonetheless an amazing story in its own right.

Photo credits:

Anime poster from Wikipedia

Why Singapore Literature Turns Me Off

Once again, the arts community is promoting Singapore literature through social media and the mainstream media. The latest initiative is #BuySingLit, billed as “an industry-led movement to celebrate stories from Singapore”.

Once again, the news turns me off SingLit.

A History of Disappointment

As a child I was a voracious reader. I read every book I got my hands on, no matter the subject. I inhaled encyclopedias, fairy tales, the Norse epics, Greek and Roman mythology, world folklore, comics, and so many more stories. In the mornings I would read about hobgoblins and dragons, in the afternoons I studied atomic theory and photography, in the evenings I followed the exploits of supersoldiers and scientists.

At the age of 12 I grew conscious of Singapore literature and the classics, and began to seek them out. Catherine Lim, Gopal Baratham, Goh Poh Seng, Russell Lee, Wena Poon, Joanne Hon and other less-famous writers. Always I compared them to the other stories I’ve read, and found them wanting.

My synesthesia won’t allow me to read books. Instead, I experience them.

Ernest Hemingway’s prose is lean and taut and muscular, demanding a hundred percent of your attention. Michael Connelly’s stories are as black as a murderer’s heart and as slick as ice. Tom Clancy alternates ponderous white slabs with blazing crimson streaks. J. K. Rowling began as smooth caramel, but her later works transformed into dark coffee shot through with green and gold. J. R. R. Tolkien seminal work, The Lord of the Rings, stretches out into lush green vistas and soaring grey mountains. John C. Wright ignites fireworks with his words, blending them together into gold and bronze and violet and emerald on every page.

Compared to all that, every Singaporean writer produces thin mist of pale shades. Some are white, some are yellow, some are brown. Occasionally the mist parts to reveal black-on-white shapes as shallow as the ink that produce them. Other writers make the mist so thick and sticky and dry it feels like wading through a hail of glue drops frozen in the air. These stories are plain, staid, prosaic, illogical, shallow, boring, unreadable — and nearly interchangeable.

Singaporean genre fiction consistently ranks the lowest among the books I have read. Star Sapphire by Joan Hon is a romance story thinly veiled as science fiction, and not a particularly memorable one at that. The Singapore Noir anthology is bleakly bland while Best of Singapore Erotica fails to titillate. Douglas Chua and Barry Chen claim to write thrillers, but I have found their stories more useful as reusable sleeping aids. Only two writers caught my eye: Johann S. Lee, whose writing is competent but unremarkable (and I don’t swing towards gay male romance stories), and Neil Humphreys (who was born in England), specifically his thrillers.

The majority of Singapore’s prose output is high-brow literature, and even that fails the test. Baratham’s A Candle or the Sun promises a spy story focusing on a radical Christian sect, but all that stands out is that the protagonist seemed very concerned over whether he (and his manager) was gay — and that the secret police seemed pointlessly sadistic and otherwise inefficient. Lions in Winter by Wena Poon has multiple scenes that possessed neither a story arc nor relatable characters, yet claimed to be stories. Little Ironies: Stories of Singapore by Catherine Lim is little more than dry sepia. Held against the starkness of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the hidden depths of Road Dahl or the dark absurdity of Jean-Paul Sartre, these stories were limp and colourless.

Even so, I tried to participate in Singapore’s literary circles. I joined writers’ groups — and left soon after. I paid to attend workshops and classes — and learned nothing. I joined writers’ events and seminars — and all I found was navel-gazing, bloviating and boredom.

Everything But Writing

The chief problem as I see it is that the Singapore writing scene is about everything but writing.

Every writers’ group I have joined were for hobbyists. They brought together like-minded people to talk about their own writing, encourage them to write and participate in writing activities. This isn’t wrong per se, but I am not a hobbyist. I aim to be a professional. Professionals delve deep into craft and examine the state of the industry. These groups did not.

Programmes at writers’ events do not build up writers. #BuySingLit‘s events have art displays, treasure hunts and book tours. Only a handful of workshops are geared towards writing — and even those workshops are foundation-level courses. The same holds true for Singapore’s premier writing event, the Singapore Writers Festival. SWF has film screenings, music, history, panel discussions — anything and everything about the writers’ craft, or, indeed, writing. Contrast this to events like Dragoncon or Thrillfest, which teach more about the art, craft and business of writing in three days than SWF does in a month. The instructors at Dragoncon and Thrillfest go into the kind of detail that is sorely lacking in Singapore. I don’t have anything against the non-writing oriented events in local writing events, but one would think that the events, being about writing, would at least focus on the core audience and try to do more than teach beginner-level writing craft.

Singaporean publishers are only interested in a specific type of literature: stories about Singapore culture set in Singapore aimed at a Singaporean audience and foreigners who enjoy reading about Singapore. Writers who do not fit the mold will not find much support from the industry. While publishers are free to pursue whatever business model they like, people like me, a Hugo Award nominated science fiction and fantasy writer who will not limit his stories to Singapore, will have to look elsewhere. Likewise, Singapore’s mainstream media tends to focus on Singaporean writers who have either published through the usual publishing houses, or who are too big and controversial to ignore.

Add them all up, and what you have is a culture that encourages newbies to write and people to feel good. Not a culture that encourages people to sustain their writing or to further hone their craft. The only goal is producing a novel, anthology, poetry collection or whatever, not about living journey about pursuing a career at writing or the art of the written word. When someone publishes a work, the usual cry of “Support local talent!” echoes in the usual circles, without anyone paying heed to the actual quality of the content. Indeed, a couple of the stories and writers I mentioned above were award winners — and the award-winners of today aren’t better.

No Country for Writers?

Sturgeon’s Law states that ninety percent of anything is crud. In Singapore’s case, there aren’t enough writers to have a statistically significant ten percent of non-crud stories.

I intend to change that.

I’ve been writing fiction since I was 12 years old. My published fiction writing career spans 4 years. Later this year, I will publish at least one novel through Castalia House and one short story through Silver Empire’s [Lyonesse] (http://lyonesse.silverempire.org/) programme. I am already working on a bunch of other stories, which will be revealed in due course. If Singapore is no country for writers like me, then I will find other avenues to publish my works.

I will also be passing on the tricks of the trade. It’s been a long time coming, and now I feel ready to give back to the wider community of writers. Expect more posts zooming in on the way of the pen.

Fundamentally, I don’t care whether stories, especially mine, can be labelled SingLit or not. I care about good writing, wherever they may come from. Since my country continues to disappoint me, I will reach out to a wider audience.

Three Essential Mindset Books for the Modern Man

There are three books every modern man must read today. These books are not for the faint of heart or weak of will. They are not soothing feel-good diatribes designed only to part your money from your wallet. These books are forges for the soul, created to scrub away your weaknesses and temper your spirit for greatness. If you desire to live a high energy life of accomplishment and greatness, these books are for you.

Gorilla Mindset

Mike Cernovich is an author and independent filmmaker. A lawyer by training, he blogs at Danger and Play, and is one of the world’s most successful mindset writers. Among his many achievements, he accurately predicted the rise of Donald Trump, produced the critically acclaimed documentary Silenced: The War on Free Speech and wrote one of the best-selling nonfiction book on Amazon. That book is Gorilla Mindset.

Gorilla Mindset is more than just a mindset book. It is a workbook chock-full of exercises for mind, body and spirit. These exercises are designed to bring out your fullest potential by developing proper posture, deep breathing, mental flexibility and more. The heart of Gorilla Mindset is to develop a mindset that allows you to take on the challenges and chaos of the world — and thrive.

While Gorilla Mindset focuses on instilling mindfulness and a positive mindset, it covers a broad range of topics: health, nutrition, emotions, fitness and more. Cernovich recognises that the mind, body and spirit are intertwined: to bring out your best, you need to improve all three aspects of your existence. The book also has interviews with subject matter experts, delving into the science behind some of the more esoteric principles discussed in the book.

Gorilla Mindset isn’t just for men. While it is targeted at men, anyone can apply the same principles to living. This is a book for everyone, accessible to anybody motivated to kick their life into high gear.

Gorilla Mindset can be purchased here.

New World Ronin

Written by Nick Kelly (aka Victor Pride) of Bold and Determined, New World Ronin is a handbook of hard-won wisdom, aimed at artists, entrepreneurs, rebels, warriors and outcasts. B&D focuses on building up men to become masters of their destiny. Both blog and novel are unapologetic about their core audience: men who desire to escape the humdrum of 9-to-5 life and become online entrepreneurs.

New World Ronin is a lean, mean book of principles. Delivered in a direct, no-nonsense style, it delivers hard-hitting advice on a plethora of subjects: the right mindset to be a winner, works of genius versus work that maintains business, how to be a professional creator in the modern world, and so on. Every line is crisp and brusque, filled with just enough information to spur the wise reader to read between the lines and live his advice.

More focused than Gorilla Mindset, this is a book that drives readers to cultivate a mindset of success. While there are many practical tips in here, there is only one major exercise in the book. Most of the work here is mental, demanding the reader to view the world through a specific mental paradigm and act to achieve his goals.

As Kelly says, do not overthink it. The genius behind New World Ronin can only be fully experienced when acted upon. It is not a book for deep meditation; it is a book that demands you to act, to seek out what he saw, and become the kind of man to seize the reigns of destiny.

New World Ronin can be purchased here.

The Nine Laws

The Nine Laws is a book that will be remembered through the ages. But it is not for everyone.

The author, Ivan Throne, is a man of action and achievement. He is a martial artist with over three decades’ of training in ninjutsu. He is a business manager and a veteran of the financial industry. He is a public speaker and writer nonpareil. He is also the writer behind Dark Triad Man, a blog that teaches men how to apply the dark triad of Machiavellianism, psychopathy and narcissism to achieve success. In The Nine Laws, he describes the nine laws that govern existence, and discusses how a man can utilise the traits of the dark triad to leverage these laws and achieve success in a brutal, uncaring world.

The Nine Laws is not a book to be skimmed over. Every paragraph, every line, every word, must be studied and mined to the depths of meaning. Throne writer in a highly baroque style. Combining powerful rhetoric and impactful vocabulary, the book demands you to use both the logical thinking of your left brain and the intuitive leaps of your right. Seldom does Throne go into explicit detail; either you grasp the meaning of his words immediately or you do not. While I found his writing understandable, I should add that when I was younger I read Friedrich Nietzsche for fun — his style might not be for you.

The Nine Laws is a book of transformation, but it is not merely a mindset book. Read deeper and you will see how it combines Christian doctrine with Taoism, Ninpo and Buddhism. It coldly and unflinchingly describes the state of the world and the fallen nature of Man, and how you can live in accordance with the Will of Heaven. Karma is an everyday reality, to be understood and utilised for one’s ends. To live in such a world, you must have a strong spirit, and to have a strong spirit, you must train your body and master your mind. The Nine Laws will show you how. Filled with mental exercises, it demands the reader to hold up a mirror to his life, identify his weaknesses and strip them bare. Then, naked before the world, he must forge mind, body and spirit into the apex of mastery.

The Nine Laws is a masterwork of philosophy and personal transcendence. It is not for everyone. But it is a book the world needs at this stage in history.

The Nine Laws can be purchased here.

Uniting the Trinity

View these books as steps on a spiralling staircase, taking you from mundane life to an elevated state of existence. They are not books to be read, but advice to be acted on. Once you have exhausted one, move on to the next, and when you have completed the last, go back to the beginning and plumb it again for more insight.

Start with Gorilla Mindset. Its combination of practical advice, coverage of the mind-body-spirit unity, and accessible language makes it ideal as the foundation for a dedicated self-improvement plan. If there is only one book you can read, read this one. It is broad base upon which you can build a platform to explore other aspects of life.

New World Ronin is next. While targeted at a very specific group, it shows you the mindset of winners and creators. You may not have any desire to be an Internet entrepreneur, but his approach of taking life by the horns is critical to achieving the apex of success wherever you go.

Last of all is The Nine Laws. it is the equivalent of a graduate text. It offers no workable advice for mundane matters like gym, dieting and martial arts. It will not tell you how to shape your life like an entrepreneur, if indeed you want to be one. Its attention is on more rarefied subjects, delving into the nature of man and existence. The exercises here are all psychological and spiritual, and require you to think hard and deep.

Taken together, these books form a trinity of transcendence for the modern man. If you are not content with where you are now, if you strive to achieve greatness and immortality, if you seek to emulate magnates and join the ranks of the Caesars of the world, you owe it to yourself to study these books.

To 2017: Write Less to Write More

If you’re a writer, nobody cares about how many stories you’ve written. Only about the stories you’ve published.

Ideas and stories are meaningless if they are locked away in a hard drive or scrapbook. They only hold value when they are shared with the world. You’re not an author if you don’t publish your works.

In 2016, I wrote the most number of stories I ever had. In 2016, I also published the fewest number of stories since I became a published writer.

How did that happen?

Half of the answer is that a couple of stories I submitted this year would, with any luck, be published next year. WE BURY FOR OWN, for instance, will be published when Lyonesse goes online in 2017. The other half is that I wrote too much stuff that had to be thrown out. On the order of 500,000 words.

Five. Hundred. Thousand. More than enough for a trilogy and then some.

Those words comprise of a novel, its sequel, and assorted deleted scenes. The deleted parts overwhelmed both stories combined. Worse, I cannot in good conscience publish either story at this time. Despite the months I’ve thrown into them, the hundreds of thousands of words committed to the page, they’re not good enough.

The reason for this is simple: my old writing style just isn’t good enough.

I used to write like a classic pantser: little if any pre-planning, just open the story and pound away at the keys. It worked, mostly, allowing me to create scenes that organically built upon events in previous chapters.

The problem with that approach is at the meta level: there was little time and space dedicated to worldbuilding, setting and character planning. Exactly the wrong thing to do for the stories I was working on.

The stories are hard science fiction. Diamond hard science fiction. Every piece of technology inside the story would be entirely within the realm of modern understanding science. Everything would be an extension of what is known and possible today. That kind of undertaking required copious amounts of research — and ensuring that everything remained consistent.

More than that, the story was a space opera driven by a romance. A completely new genre of writing. One that demanded in-depth knowledge of the human heart, and how every human and faction within the story would believe, feel, think and act.

Pantsing, I’ve discovered, isn’t adequate to the task. I found myself revising scenes over and over and over again, and at the end of it all, feedback from my writers’ group indicated that it still wasn’t good enough.

In 2016, I found that my old style of writing wouldn’t work anymore. Not for the standard I aspire to.

For 2017, I have to do things differently. Writing less to write more.

I went into pantsing because I wanted to write as much and as quickly as I could. That approach won’t work. I intend to spend less time writing and more time planning. More time on worldbuilding, researching concepts and technologies, understanding characters, planning events.

In other words: I plan to spend more time building the foundations and getting things right before I commit to paper.

That should lead to less time spent on revisions and edits down the road. Which means more time working on the next story, and the next, and the next. In the end, what matters isn’t so much the act of writing as writing excellent work, publishing it, and maintaining the drive.

The same approach applies to blogging. For the past month, I’ve been planning my posts, researching them, focusing them on a single topic. My new posts are between 50 to 75 percent shorter than my old ones. The time and energy savings allow me to post more often, leading to more pageviews.

I’ve already experimented with the new approach for a certain story I wrote this month. Initial feedback has been positive, and next year I hope I can share it with you. I also have other writing plans for 2017. More will be revealed as I execute them.

2016 was a year for learning the hard way.

2017 will be the year the writing bears fruit.

Only Goodthink Allowed in SFF

The cult of social justice strikes again. Social Justice Warriors have launched a whisper campaign to purge the works of John C. Wright, Larry Correia, Brad R Torgersen and Michael Z Williamson from science fiction and fantasy bookstores in Toronto.

All of them have been accused of making homophobic comments. Only Wright has made remarks that could be argued as such; he called homosexuality an ‘aberration’. The others have not.

Their true crime was being associated with the Sad and Rapid Puppies campaigns, designed to encourage greater participation and transparency in the Hugo Awards. In doing so, they challenged the SJWs who insisted on turning the Hugo awards into a parochial contest to determine who can most blatantly signal their adherence to the principles of social justice in fiction, culminating in a self-congratulatory ritual that refuses to recognise the groundbreaking authors who have broadened the field of SFF.

The objective of the campaign is clear: to purge authors for thoughtcrime, leaving room only for goodthink. This is naked authoritarianism, and authoritarianism is authoritarianism no matter which side of the political spectrum approves it. Coming from a country that bans politically embarrassing books, such as Once a Jolly HangmanI cannot stand back and watch others attack the livelihoods of authors solely because they disagree with their politics.

There will come a time in the not too distant future when the SJWs will no longer resort to whisper campaigns. They will openly leverage the arms of the state to have thoughtcrime removed from bookshelves — and governments will acquiesce. Authors the world over need to be ready for this possibility.

The short-term solution is redundancy. Print and mortar bookshops are a dying trade. The modern author needs to explore alternative means of getting books out. Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing is the world standard in publishing and distributing books. Other options include Smashwords, Lulu and Lightning Source. Authors can also attempt to sell and distribute books, print and digital, from online shopfronts, like Chuck Wendig and Joanna Penn. Multiple redundant distribution streams will prevent a sudden loss of income should SJWs succeed in cutting one down.

But the long-term answer is antifragility. An SJW censorship attack should be treated as an opportunity, not a crisis. Hit back on every media channel you own and get your side of the story out. Ride the waves of controversy to generate greater attention for your books. Expose the SJWs for who and what they are, and ally yourself with the people who would stand against them. And let all and sundry know where else they can find your books.

There is no such thing as bad publicity, only opportunities to leverage other platforms. There is no censorship, only opportunities to drive customers to other distribution channels. There is no permanent victory for SJWs and their ilk: through the power of truth and new media, they shall be overcome.

No safe space for predators

Castalia House recently concluded a series of posts on paedophiles in science fiction. (Part 1 here.) Drawing on testimonials, newspaper reports and oral statements, the expose accuses a number of high-profile writers as sex predators or defenders of sex predators.

The series makes for morbid reading. It includes descriptions of outrageous sexual violence, exploitation of children, and celebrations of the same. It also includes testimonies to a slightly lesser evil, of people sweeping accusations under the carpet and protecting known predators. I am disappointed to see so many of well-known authors on the blacklist, especially a few of my childhood favourites.

I can understand why so many celebrities and fans chose to defend these people. It is human nature for people to circle the wagons against outsiders, critics and accusers. But it doesn’t make things right. It does not, and cannot, excuse such depredations. The right thing to do would be to report these accusations and allegations to the police and determine the truth of the matter.

Science fiction is the literature of the future. Fantasy is the literature of values. Children are the future of civilisation, and civilisation is founded upon what we value. There can be no safe space for people who prey upon children and the bedrock of civilisation.

To SFF writers and readers who care about society, I urge you to speak up. Do not tolerate naked evil. Do not sacrifice the future for expediency and poisonous friends. Call the enablers and the silent to account, especially those who should know better. The monsters in the midst must be identified, isolated and dealt with.

There must be no safe spaces for predators. Not in the world, not in society, not in SFF.

 

Directions for 2016

In 2015, I broke in to the SFF market with War Crimes and Flashpoint: Titan. The response to these stories, and the anthologies they’ve been associated with, have been very encouraging. Come 2016, I aim to build up the Cheah Kai Wai brand — and that means writing.

Last year, I submitted a novel titled No Gods, Only Daimons to Castalia House. In the coming weeks and months, I will be working on bringing it to life.

No Gods, Only Daimons is a science fantasy thriller, the first in a long-running series. It follows the exploits of an atheist black ops agent who, during a mission, comes face-to-face with the physical manifestation of an archangel. Granted supernatural powers, he must prove his worth and fire the opening shots of a secret war. There will be high-intensity martial arts sequences, physics-based superpowers, elaborate mythology and counterfactual history. I’d like to think that this novel is what happens if you cross Brad Taylor with Roger Zelazny, throw in two divine elements, and with a dash of post-cyberpunk.

In addition to editing the story, I’m working on what can only be described as a magnum opus. Light Between the Stars is a hard military science fiction / space opera story, in the tradition of early 20th century sci fi — and with extensively researched physics. The story follows an interstellar war, and the love story at its heart. Think Hoshi no Koe, but with far, far harder science — and, alas, no mecha. With a target length of 400,000 words, it is also the longest manuscript I have ever worked on — though it would likely be split into two or four separate novels.

I don’t like to talk about works in progress; they have an annoying tendency to change themselves before completion. I can say that it will feature ultra-high-powered lasers, fusion-powered starships, hypervelocity and relativistic munitions, space Marines, light speed lag, and a romance that spans light-years and star systems.

Flashpoint: Titan is set in the same universe, twelve years before Light Between the Stars begins. Flashpoint: Titan tells the story of an event that will come to influence the politics, strategies and mindsets that drive characters and nations in Light Between the Stars — and, if I say so myself, is a perfectly serviceable story of space combat in its own right.

Novels aside, I don’t have any plans to write shorter works. Simply put, novellas and short stories do not sell as well as series novels in the current market. I also need to focus my creative energies on one work at a time. However, if I’m invited to write for an anthology or magazine, or if a publishing call catches my eye and sparks my imagination, I might be willing to make an exception.

In 2015, I established a toehold in the market. In 2016, I will break out. Here’s to a productive year, and to many more to come.

'Light Touch' or Rule by Bureaucrat?

Controversial blog The Real Singapore was shut down yesterday following a demand by the Media Development Authority. Its owners have been arrested for sedition, and if they had not shut down TRS they would have to face heavier charges. Media experts say that this is still in line with the government’s ‘light touch’ approach, calling TRS an ‘extreme case‘.

On the one hand, TRS represented the worst the Singaporean blogosphere had to offer. Tales of foreigner-bashing, plagiarisation and outright fiction regularly populated its pages. I’m not sorry to see it go. On the other hand, the fact the government shut down TRS spells out a troubling future ahead.

The heart of the problem is the state’s definition of ‘light touch’. It is a term as nebulous as ‘Out of Bounds markers’. The latter term represents the government’s approach to freedom of speech: you are free to say anything you like, until you cross the OB markers, at which point you will face the full weight of the law. To date there are no proper definitions of OB markers, only that to date I cannot recall anyone affiliated with the government or the People’s Action Party running afoul of these guidelines, only political activists.

‘Light touch’ is not a standard determined by Parliament or the judiciary. The standards have not been debated, the consequences never explicitly spelt out. Without transparent guidelines people can point to for comparison, these two innocent-sounding words can be used to justify anything.

It was used to get sociopolitical websites gazetted as political organisations, requiring them to take on extra burdens to meet red tape. It was used to force websites with monthly views of over 50 thousand readers to obtain special broadcasting licenses — which, coincidentally, cover sociopolitical issues. Now it has been used to shut down an ‘extreme’ website.

The case of TRS also brings to light the terms of Amos Yee’s bail. After being arrested for posting an allegedly seditious video on YouTube that insulted Lee Kwan Yew and Christianity, the teenager was granted bail on the condition that he would not post any online content. He also had to take down the video. Yee broke the terms of the bail and was subsequently re-arrested. Such a bail condition is virtually unprecedented in Singapore, but I suspect that if left unchallenged and uncommented upon it will quickly become the norm for people arrested for sedition in the future.

Looking at TRS and Amos Yee, I think Singaporeans, especially those involved in sociopolitical affairs and are not affiliated with the PAP, can no longer take the words ‘light touch’ at face value. Without explicit standards these words can mean anything the bureaucrats want them to mean: in effect, where online media is concerned, the government prefers to rule by bureaucrat, who are unaccountable to anyone but their paymasters — who coincidentally also work for the government. What the people want to think of as a ‘light touch’ is not how the bureaucrats will interpret it, in the same way the ‘Media Development Authority’ highest-profile means of developing Singapore’s media scene is to censor it.

To survive in this new atmosphere, Singaporean bloggers have to learn the rules of the game. It seems that anything that can be interpreted as sedition will lead to criminal charges, followed by content censorship. If something can be interpreted as racist, prejudiced, or otherwise able to stir up hatred against people of certain races and religious, it will lead to criminal charges and censorship. If something can be interpreted as a threat or as defamation against a member of Parliament, the government or the state — and not necessarily everybody else — it will lead to criminal charges and censorship. If a piece of online content is so controversial that it leads to petitions, police complaints, media attention and general public outcry, it will lead to a police investigation with the possibility of criminal charges and/or censorship.

In short: if something stirs up doubleplusungood feelings, it will be regulated.

The government has promised a ‘light touch’ when regulating online media, and it has delivered on its promise. A government as legalistic and bureaucratic as Singapore’s would likely have internal procedures, standards, benchmarks and other protocols to determine whether a piece of online content needs to be censored. The only trouble is that the government has yet to share with the people what, exactly, constitutes a ‘light touch’ and what standards it uses.

If the government thinks it can shut down TRS on the basis of sedition, then it should shut down every other website that does the same. So here is a litmus test:

The Global Islamic Media Front is a keystone in the international terrorist network. It produces and distributes terrorist propaganda, acting as al-Qarda’s de facto media arm. It also distributes cryptographic tools that enable terrorists and sympathisers to communicate securely. GIMF encourages terrorism by praising terrorists who have completed operations, disseminating the sayings of terrorist leaders, and celebrating dead terrorists as ‘martyrs’.

GIMF is also hosted in Singapore.

If the Media Development Authority will shut down TRS, which merely stirs up ill feelings, will it then shut down GIMF, which actively incites violence towards nonbelievers?

PS: I can think of several reasons not to shut down GIMF, all of which have to do with national and international security. The thrust of this hypothetical question is to point out the lack of open standards, how it erodes trust in the government, and why the MDA needs to define ‘light touch’ beyond pretty press statements.