In early 2012, Jason Erik Lundberg was asked to deliver a plenary talk to Singapore’s best and brightest young creative writers. He chose to speak about the extraordinary impact of speculative fiction on every facet of his life, from childhood to the birth of his daughter, and beyond. This talk was expanded, and integrated with a multi-part short story about a brave little girl who tumbles down a very different kind of rabbit hole, and must use her bravery and intelligence in order to find her way home. The result is a 14,000-word hybrid-essay of such power and poignancy that the real and the imagined become inextricably mixed.
Praise for Embracing the Strange
“Embracing the Strange succinctly parallels the love of a father for his daughter, as expressed through poignant fantasy, with the commonplace struggles of being a writer. But divisions between what is real and unreal become negligible, as the emotional urgency of parental love burns through with redemptive truth, sustaining and buoying the literary life with its flights of speculative fancy. What is deemed ‘strange’ becomes movingly conjoined with the familiar and the universal.” —Cyril Wong, award-winning author of Unmarked Treasure and The Last Lesson of Mrs de Souza
“This little, perfectly elegant essay-talk-hybrid of a book bends genres, challenges convention and dares to dream of the possibilities of prose and writing in a manner that is at once delightful and invigorating. It restores your faith in the imagination.” — Thirunalan Sasitharan, “My Book of the Year,” Singapore Poetry
From the Preface
The odd-numbered chapters of this hybrid-essay were delivered (in edited form) as a plenary lecture for the Creative Arts Seminar (May 2012) and Literature Seminar (August 2012) run by the Singapore Ministry of Education’s Gifted Education Branch. Previously, I had taught writing workshops focusing on speculative fiction at both of these seminars, and was honoured, and more than a little anxious, to be invited to deliver a talk at these wonderful events last year. I am comfortable in the classroom, and especially with student interaction, but I am not a natural lecturer.
I am, however, passionate about speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, and their associated subgenres), and have made it my mission to spread this fervour to Singapore’s reading public, first through my fiction collection, Red Dot Irreal (2011), and then with my edited anthology of original Singaporean SF, Fish Eats Lion (2012), and lastly, but not leastly, with the founding of LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction, all published by the wonderful folks at Math Paper Press. I was also tremendously inspired by Michael Chabon’s lecture titled “That’s Poe-biz,” delivered with humour and insight at the 2011 Singapore Writers Festival, which provided the “chapter” framework that I have ruthlessly appropriated for my own ends in the essay to follow, with generous apologies to Mr. Chabon.
However, it struck me as I prepared this piece for publication that the plenary address only told half of the story. Read aloud, it took around 45 minutes to complete, which allowed time for Q&A from the students in attendance, but I felt as if something were missing. I’d initially asked Ms. Lim Siew Yea, the GEB coordinator for both seminars, if I might also read a bit of my fiction as an example of what I wanted to cover in the lecture; she heartily assented, yet I was unable to fit a story into the allotted time. Since the published version of this essay would be unencumbered by such limits, I decided to incorporate the sections of a multi-part short story called “Looking Downward,” which had been serialised monthly (in slightly different form) from October 2009 to July 2010 at The Daily Cabal; also included are two postscripts in the guise of flash fiction which, it is hoped, are thematically connected to the content of the essay that precedes them.
Writing a piece of this length, hybridised as it is, was a concerted challenge. I am used to my thoughts and speculations and grievances coming through filtered largely in my fiction. Proudly an introvert, I prefer to say what I mean indirectly, but I was profoundly grateful to Siew Yea for giving me the opportunity to try something new. It is up to you, dear reader, to decide if I succeeded.