Earlier this week, I got a very nice surprise: John Ottinger III reviewed Red Dot Irreal for Grasping for the Wind. It’s an overwhelmingly positive review, an absolute love letter, and it truly made my day. I’ve been publishing for almost ten years now, and although I’ve tried to build up a thick skin against criticism, it’s always extremely flattering and ego-boosting to see someone enjoy your work so much. This is the first actual review of the book I’ve seen; I was actually starting to wonder if it would get reviewed, despite all the copies I sent out.
However, that said, there are a few things that need to be clarified or corrected here.
1) “Lundberg is currently a professor of English”: I wish this were the case, but it’s not. I was an adjunct professor for SMU back in 2007 (which is where I got much of the material for “Dragging the Frame,” although that story is highly fictionalized), but that was only for one semester. After that, I taught at Hwa Chong Institution (High School Section) for four years as an English teacher. Now I’m not even doing that. The only teaching I’m doing at the moment is conducting writing workshops for BooksActually, and mentoring two young prose writers for the Ceriph Mentorship Programme.
2) “All set in the exotic ‘red dot’ nation of Singapore”: I really did try very hard when constructing these stories not to “exoticize” Singapore, or to paint an unrealistically rosy picture of the country. Instead, my aim was to show life as lived by the people here, whether local or expatriate, in a believable yet fantastical milieu. I might be accused of an overt mysticism in “Kopi Luwak,” which takes place on Bali (the only story in the book not set in Singapore), but this was done for a reason as well, to show how the asshole protagonist has exoticized that tiny island in order to take what he wants from it.
3) “Married to a native of that island nation and father of a biracial child”: This quote was brought to my attention by Lavie Tidhar on Twitter, and while it’s technically true, the wording is a bit problematic. “Native” has colonial Othering connotations, and was often used by the British (and others) to justify the theft and destruction of the property, land, resources, and people they wanted to “civilize.” “Local” is a slightly more neutral word, and would have been more accurate, although Janet is also quite international; she’s traveled all over the world, and went to university for three years (iirc) in the USA. Replacing “native of that island nation” with “Singaporean artist and writer” would have been better, but eliding this fact altogether probably would have been best, as it’s a bit distracting and not really relevant to the rest of the review.
4) “A tale of pirates (known as bogeymen in the local parlance)”: Actually, that’s not quite right. The etymology of the word “bogeyman” comes directly from the Bugis, a seafaring Indonesian ethnic group who were largely fishermen and farmers for centuries. Some of them were also pirates, and they were known to be particularly fearsome throughout the seas of Southeast Asia. Not all the Bugis were pirates, and not all SEA pirates were Bugis. But it was because they were so scary and efficient that they were transformed into mythological monsters by the British sailors who survived encounters with them. Oh, and “Bogeymen” would technically be clockpunk rather than steampunk; in the mid-1800s, steam-powered devices were not yet evident in Southeast Asia, and they’re not in the story.
5) “Oriental history”: Again, some problematic language. “Orientalism” was mostly used to Other the cultures of the Middle East, but this extended to the “Far East” as well, and was almost always used as a term of derogatory contrast to Western culture; the brilliant Edward Said wrote a whole book on this subject. See “native” above.
6) “‘Lion City Daikaiju’ is a flash fiction that is a metaphor for Singapore’s search for a place in the global culture”: Sort of. It’s more of a diatribe against shallow consumerism, materialism, advertising, pandering to tourists, brainless entertainment, and the destruction of history in the relentless pursuit of progress. But mostly I just wanted to write Godzilla story set in Singapore.
Anyway, John could not have known most of this stuff, and I still greatly appreciate him reviewing the book. These are small details, but I hope I’ve clarified them better here.