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Hantu! (2017)

Hantu! (2017) is quite different from the rest of the A Thousand Thousand Islands series. It does not depict a fantasy region for roleplaying adventures. Rather, it muses on many currents of real world Malaysia — social, political, spiritual, folkloric — that underpin the fantasy setting, primarily filtered through an examination of the titular hantu (they’re ghosts, sort of, but not always undead — like the Japanese yokai, it is a term that doesn’t fit neatly into Western folklore taxonomies).

There are essays and memoirs and some short pieces of fiction. It all seems a bit scattered at first, but by the end it draws closed and you suddenly have…I hesitate to say “understanding.” Feel, perhaps. A better feel for the often mercurial supernaturalism present in the RPG zines. There is also a real sense of struggle, or unease, about place — about Malaysia’s cultural place in the the larger South East Asia, about SEA within Asia as a whole, with the “East” in the world of Western RPGs. The essay on the D&D penanggalan, filtered through Western vampire tropes, about jiangshi as a subset of vampires, of “Eastern” dragons as a subset of dragons, with the Western version always the default from which others derive, is particularly incisive.

Hantu! offers much to think about. It is perhaps my favorite collection of Siew’s writing thus far.

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