By Megat Ishak, fantasy (2011)
STORM, RM20.00, ISBN 983-44039-0-8
"Deliciously twisted" stories of gore, weird creatures, weirder plots, and more, all set in Malaysia? Oh yes, please. Cannibal Vs. Ah Long And Other Bloody Stories is a slim volume and, therefore, quite expensive for its cover price, but I guess some allowances could be made for indie publishers. Too bad the stories here don't feel like they are worth the money paid.
Cannibal Vs Ah Long is a tale of a cannibal who preys on independent, often illegal, moneylenders called Ah Longs. Like a bad horror movie, body parts are ripped apart and bones are snapped like they are all made from cardboard. Still, there is nothing like a pointlessly gory tale to start off things.
Dawn Cafe has our hero stumbling upon a mamak shop in the middle of a shabby neighborhood. The environment is far from good, but he becomes infatuated with the waitress. Thing is, this mamak shop may not be what it seems to be. I could see the twist coming from far away, and it doesn't help that the twist is actually a commonly used plot device in urban ghost stories.
Skies At Night is the first story that makes me go, "Okay, so maybe things can be interesting after all!" Our hero's friend tells of an unusual sighting that he made while flying in a plane. Despite his initial skepticism, our hero soon realizes that things are... weird out there in the skies when one is in a plane. This story is genuinely different for a change, and it's creepy too, especially since I'm claustrophobic and plane flights worry me sometimes.
A Head Story is a pretty cool story involving murderous disembodied heads and all the gore one can eat, but the author is so far ahead of himself here that I am left scratching my head at the "twist" moment. He knows the punchline, but I am left trying to catch up.
Alice has a cool concept - the hero discovers a strange number in his contact list while transferring numbers from his old mobile phone to his new one, and can't resist making a call. What happens next is pretty predictable, but still outlandish enough to fit the theme of "anything cray cray goes" in this compilation. Only, the logistics make this story far-fetched and hard to believe. Sure, I can believe that these people do what they do, I just find it hard to believe that they can do it in the way the author describes.
Corridors At Night is a dark, disjointed yet easy to follow tale best described as a "mindfuck", only the hero is the one at the receiving end as he ends up in a hospital run by crazy people who would conduct gruesome experiments on their patients. This one is pretty alright, although it still has that "I've come across this before" vibe that I can't shake off.
Ghostgirl isn't very ghostly at all. Rather, it's an amusingly set up tale of a typical male fantasy: getting back at the man that stole his wife while getting several other women vying for his affections at the same time. Only, the whole story ends up being too tortuous for its own good. Too many twists are introduced for the sake of being clever, and it feels pointlessly long to get to its denouement.
Number 7 pits an assassin who wants out against his superiors. Nothing new here.
The Contract With Mr Cadeer is a ghoulish tale of an unfortunate sod who goes to the house of a client that hungers for something more than the poor sod can provide in terms of services. This one isn't bad, but the hero becomes unconscious one time too many and I can't help wondering whether there is a punchline in there.
The Lake could have been a beautiful tale of a man searching for his wife, who went missing while taking a swim at a lake, if I hadn't watched a certain movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo before. While these two stories are not identical, the twists are similar and, therefore, I saw the one in this story coming from a mile away.
Finally, Utero Indigo has a zombie movie fan getting more than he bargained for when a zombie flick he introduces his friends convinces them that the movie is real and eating humans confers some kind of enlightenment. They are not amused when he does not share their zeal. This story ends abruptly - it doesn't have a climax so the pay-off is nonexistent after the admittedly solid build up. Also, there are some editorial problems - a female character turns into a "he" and "him" midway through a scene, and conversations by different people can sometimes be lumped together in a single paragraph. Confusion ensues.
At the end of the day, it's nice to see a fellow Malaysian trying his hands at writing urban horror and fantasy stories. Unfortunately, this collection lacks a distinctive voice or style or even a sense of macabre that make the stories distinctly the author's. Instead, this one feels like the effort of someone who is trying to be like everyone else.
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