I’m thrilled to introduce Singapore-based fantasy and science fiction author Joyce Chng to you. She’s been kind to let me interview her about her latest YA science fiction trilogy The Rider Trilogy, her writing, and diversity in science fiction literature.
I’ve talked with Joyce on Twitter for a long time and have thought about asking her to guest my blog for a while. When she launched the first books in The Rider Trilogy a few weeks ago, I just had to. The gorgeous covers got my attention first. But then I realized that this trilogy also seems to be the kind of science fiction I love to escape into: The struggles of descendants of Earth colonists on a far away planet and their interaction with alien inhabitants, but written by a woman and with other perspectives than what I’m used to read within these genres.
What is The Rider Trilogy about?
The Rider Trilogy is a YA (young adult) science fiction about a desert planet and its colonists’ relationship with it through the eyes of Lifang, who has her own story as well. She wants to be like her sister who is an accomplished Guide-Rider, paired with a Watcher, one of the planet’s pterosaur-alien inhabitants. Instead, Lifang becomes an Agri-seer, in charge of agriculture and flora on the planet. However, as stories go, things are not simple. In between she befriends a young Hunter, a member of yet another group of pterosaur aliens deemed too wild by their cultured Watcher cousins.
What inspired you to write the books?
My fascination with deserts, canyons and desert planets? My desire for a story that I can resonate with? Far too many books are dominated with white people and their perspectives.
What is your relationship to the speculative genres, especially science fiction?
My relationship to the speculative genres, especially science fiction, can be described as eager but hesitant, wary but enthusiastic, because I love science fiction too. I’ve read science fiction and fantasy since I was a child, started writing stories about ten… only to find out much later that science fiction (or the science fiction/genre I came in contact with) is white-prevalent and that perspectives of other voices, minorities are ignored. Literally white-washed. I ended up wondering if I would see an Asian character written by an Asian author.
It is ironic, because I grew up with mythologies and legends that are central to my identity, and rich with history and – yes – color. I grew up with wuxia, also written by Asian folk. So, when I tried to reconcile the white science fiction genre with this, there was a cultural shock and clash.
Likewise, Lifang in The Rider Trilogy is queer, an identity I too resonate with. I don’t see a lot of that in genre fiction (though things are changing).
In short, I want to see real diversity in genre fiction. Not lip service, not just getting a pass to be deemed legit.
Could you tell a little about your writing and other books?
When I started writing (for real) in the early 2000s, I was heavily influenced by stories of transformation and transmutation, especially tales of lycanthropy. I still like to write stories about transformation. I tend to explore themes like flight and change.
For my urban fantasy novels under my pseudonym J. Damask, I write about Chinese werewolves in Singapore, my country. My urban fantasy novels are not merely urban fantasy, but also an exploration of the multitude of identities and relationships in a modern state that was once colonized by the British. It’s both fantastical and mundane, magical and banal. I also tend to focus on relationships between siblings, between parent and child, between friends and even, between enemies. I would say at the end of the story, everything is grey.
My other YA novel also deal with such issues and motifs. I have written Oysters, Pearls and Magic (and its sequel The Path of Kindness) where I envision a people, again descendants of Earth colonists, with their own languages, their own unique patois. I tried weaving in Malay words and Chinese words as they were the languages of the Earth colonists who crash-landed there. You will also see Mandarin Chinese and dialect words in the Rider Trilogy as well.
I write English, most of the time, as English is my working language and my first language. But I think there are expectations that I should write in Mandarin Chinese, since I am ethnic Chinese. Yet… I would like to emphasis the fact that Chinese is not a monolithic race, and that the ‘dialects’ in Singapore are actually languages in their own right. I don’t write in Mandarin Chinese, but I do think in Chinese, at times. I am fairly conversant in Cantonese, but my knowledge of Hokkien is restricted to the basics like eating, drinking or sleeping. I regret not talking more to my grandma who passed away this year.
Tell a little about yourself
I am Singaporean. I write. I read. I also cook, apparently. I have two girls who are ten and four respectively. Uhm. I blog at A Wolf’s Tale. Oh yeah, I masquerade as J. Damask too.
Thank you so much, Joyce! Best wishes for future writing. Hope more readers will find the way to your writing!
If you want to find out more about Joyce and her writing, check out her blog: A Wolf’s Tale or follow her at Twitter where she’s @jolantru