The problem with a quantum universe

Every second the Universe divides into possibilities and most of these possibilities never happen. It is not a uni-verse — there is more than one reading. The story won’t stop, can’t stop, it goes on telling itself, waiting for an intervention that changes what will happen next…The problem with a quantum universe, neither random nor determined, is that we who are the intervention don’t know what we are doing.

JEANETTE WINTERSON, The Stone Gods

More Reviews for Waiting with Mortals

Many thanks to Tammy Sparks for picking my story “Waiting with Mortals” as one of her top five from The Apex Book of World SF 3, and for thinking that all of the stories “have not only an other-worldliness about them, but at the heart of each one, you’ll recognize the ups and downs of simply being human.”

Waiting with Mortals by Crystal Koo.

The neon in Hong Kong is like the past: an image of blurred points of light, and haste and shallow focus where the only certainty is a vivid experience eventually misremembered.

Koo’s writing is so beautiful, and this strange ghost story tells the tale of a group of ghosts who have not yet “crossed over,” but instead spend their days inhabiting the bodies of the living. Ben is a ghost who still pines for his friend J.G., a girl who is slowly losing herself by letting ghosts take over her body. A powerful and emotional story.

Also to David Marshall, who sees the book as something that can work against literary parochialism and the stories well-written and thoughtfully provocative: “What’s particularly fascinating is the degree to which the stories written in English show significant differences in vocabulary choices, syntax and attitude from North American norms. That’s as it should be.”

“Waiting with Mortals” by Crystal Koo takes us into the world of ghosts who have yet to cross over. Some ride the mortals as passengers, displacing the living whether by force or consent — there are different deals available. In each case, it’s for the ghost to work out what holds him or her on the mortal side of the equation.

Jazz World Live Series, Hong Kong

That time of the year again, when HK’s Jazz World presents its Live Series and I go raid the coffers.

kotaro

october

In other news, the Los Romeros Guitar Quartet will be holding a concert in October, and the Sundance Film Festival is expanding in Hong Kong.

In Search of a Complete Unified Theory

Now, if you believe that the universe is not arbitrary, but governed by definite laws, you ultimately have to combine the partial theories into a complete unified theory that will describe everything in the universe. But there is a fundamental paradox in the search for such a complete unified theory. The ideas about scientific theories outlined above assume we are rational beings who are free to observe the universe as we want and to draw logical deductions from what we see. In such a scheme it is reasonable to suppose that we might progress ever closer toward the laws that govern the universe. Yet if there really is a complete unified theory, it would also presumably determine our actions. And so the theory itself would determine the outcome of our search for it! And why should it determine that we come to the right conclusions from the evidence? Might it not equally well determine that we draw the wrong conclusion? Or no conclusion at all?

STEPHEN HAWKING, A Briefer History of Time

Spaces for Speculative Fiction in Hong Kong

eyebarToday I’m guestblogging at SF Signal to talk about Hong Kong and what makes it conducive to science fiction and magic realism. My article is now live: Spaces for Speculative Fiction in Hong Kong. Thanks so much to Lavie Tidhar for suggesting it and helping me to a spot at SF Signal (thank you, John DeNardo!) as part of the launch of The Apex Book of World SF 3.

Here’s an excerpt:

It’s not just because of the neon. Hong Kong transformed itself from a cluster of tiny, unassuming fishing villages on a barren rock into an international financial powerhouse in roughly just a hundred and fifty years. That piece of history is already the heart of science fiction: anything is possible, especially transformation. China Miéville wrote about “possibility mining” in The Scar, where a dimensional fracture in the surface of Bas-Lag called the Scar leaked existential possibilities which could then be harvested and made real by possibility machines. The same dynamism exists in Hong Kong, propped up by infrastructure and automation, a booming economy, and a bottomless well of ambition. Go to the computer centers in Wan Chai or Sham Shui Po: piracy’s been in decline (or has been redefined) for the last few years and shops have gone legit but the same atmosphere remains – if they can’t find whatever it is you want to get, they’ll find someone who can. Entrepreneur spaces and networking events swarm along Victoria Harbor and go deep into the heartland of Kowloon. Seemingly abandoned industrial warehouse rooms in Kwai Chung or Fotan light up at night because someone is rehearsing their play, putting together an art installation, or burning the midnight oil for their startup. Money moves like light and you have to keep in step.

Whether you can keep in step, though, or even if it’s worth it, is an entirely different story. This is the other core (if not the more important) aspect of sci-fi: the ramifications of change and multiplicity.

Read the rest here.

Triumph

hill

Seven years ago, when I was doing my MA and living with undergrads, I’d fall asleep at 1AM with my readings on my belly and the promise to myself that I’d wake up early the next day to write before the halls got busy. The only result, without fail, was my waking up at 11AM.

Today is not that day.

Of realizing every dream, but also every nightmare

If we look through the aperture which we have opened up onto the absolute, what we see there is a rather menacing power–something insensible, and capable of destroying both things and worlds, of bringing forth monstrous absurdities, yet also of never doing anything, of realizing every dream, but also every nightmare, of engendering random and frenetic transformations, or conversely, of producing a universe that remains motionless down to its ultimate recesses, like a cloud bearing the fiercest storms, then the eeriest bright spells, if only for an interval of disquieting calm. We see an omnipotence equal to that of the Cartesian God, and capable of anything, even the inconceivable; but an omnipotence that has become autonomous, without norms, blind, devoid of the other divine perfections, a power with neither goodness nor wisdom, ill-disposed to reassure thought about the veracity of its distinct ideas. We see something akin to Time, but a Time that is inconceivable for physics, since it is capable of destroying without cause or reason, every physical law, just as it is inconceivable for metaphysics, since it is capable of destroying every determinate entity, even a god, even God. This is not a Heraclitean time, since it is not the eternal law of becoming, but rather the eternal and lawless possible becoming of every law. It is a Time capable of destroying even becoming itself by bringing forth, perhaps forever, fixity, stasis, and death.

QUENTIN MEILLASSOUX: After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency

Brit Mandelo reviews my story (and other reviews!)

So a day after getting back home to Manila from KL, I find out that Brit Mandelo – THE Brit Mandelo! –  has reviewed my story “Waiting with Mortals.”

Something definitely got into my eye and made things a little blurry after this discovery. 🙂 Very honored. The review is part of her Short Fiction Spotlight series with Niall Alexander up at Tor.com, focusing on The Apex Book of World SF 3, where my story is reprinted.

Brit Mandelo’s full article can be found here and her review of my story below:

The first, “Waiting with Mortals” by Crystal Koo, struck me as an unfamiliar rendition of a familiar set of tropes—something I tend to appreciate. The grit and grimness of much contemporary urban fantasy is here, and the story itself takes place in a world where ghosts are a part of life—in particular the city life of Hong Kong. The protagonist himself is a ghost; his relationship with his also-ghostly father is still as much of a mess as it was in life, and so is his relationship with the girl he loves but who seems to have mostly been using him throughout his life/death.

It’s a dark little piece, unforgiving in the way that many stories like it are: the characters have trouble interacting with each other, there’s jealousy and greed and broken people interacting with other broken people. In the end, however, what won me over most was the shift in relationships that allows the protagonist to move on: his father’s willingness to sacrifice for him and try to make him happy, the girl’s unwillingness to see him or care about him enough to change her patterns of behavior. The realizations that he cannot change her into someone different and also that maybe he hasn’t been seeing his father through true eyes for a long time compound to make for a solid ending, one that’s satisfying in the confines of the world-building.

As for that world-building, while the story is a little hard to find one’s feet in at first—it took me a bit to sort out the mechanics of the host/ghost conversions, and that the father was also a ghost—once it gets the ball rolling, it’s solid. Koo’s city feels alive, drenched in neon and fog and fluttering with humans alive and otherwise; her use of detail is sparse enough to not overwhelm while also rich enough to give a good sense of place, time, and person. I generally found it to be a compelling piece about love and loss and connection—one that stuck with me for a bit after finishing.

There have been other reviews as well, largely positive. 🙂 (Most of them are available in the Amazon page but I’m linking to the reviewer’s original sites as much as possible). One from The Little Red Reviewer:

“Waiting With Mortals” by Crystal Koo will lure you in in the few first paragraphs, and then oh so gently it’ll break your heart. It’s easy for ghosts to inhabit a mortal’s body, but it’s polite to get the mortal’s consent first.  Ghosts don’t eat, can’t taste anything, can’t feel another person, can’t get their earthly  business conducted, but once they inhabit a mortal, they can do all those things and more.  Ben met J.G. before he died, and he’s still trying to get up the nerve to tell her how he feels about her. It’s a little more difficult now, he’s got to climb into someone else’s body, and talk with their voice to even get her attention. But she always knows it’s him, even as her newest occupation is slowly killing her.  I loved the tender interactions between Ben and his dad and Ben and J.G. How do relationships change once you’re dead? Of course this is a sad story, as populated by ghosts as it is, but it’s a heartwarming love story too.  Everyone here is searching for acceptance, for love, for release.

From Ricky E. Betts:

Waiting with Mortals – Ghosts come to be when a mortal dies unfulfilled. It’s an old legend: to remove a ghost, you have to bring its soul to rest. You have to right the wrong done to it or help it finish a task that it never got to complete while alive. Only then will the ghost “cross over” into the next world, life, whatever. Another tale, lest often told, is that ghosts can possess mortals. These two legends blend together to make the premise of “Waiting with Mortals,” the story of a boy who died at 16 and has been around ever since. It’s a story about accepting your flaws and about realizing that you can’t let others control your life (or afterlife). I’m giving it 4/5 for presenting a rather unique look into the world of ghosts and for the lesson that it tells, if you care to listen.

From Rob Weber:

Two stories in this collection deal with ghosts. Waiting with Mortals by Philippine author Crystal Koo is the one that had the most impact on me. Like many ghost stories it revolves around unfinished business and the deceased not being able to fully experience mortal life. In this story the dead have the means to influence the living however. It is invasive and profoundly unethical but obsession drives some ghosts to do it anyway. The psychological pressure on the  main character builds to the point where he has to face his situation and his own motivations head on. The tension in the story is very well built up although some readers may find the resolution a bit predictable.

From Michelle R. Wood:

“Waiting with Mortals” (The World SF Blog) was hauntingly beautiful in its description of how ghosts might long for real life. Both the mundane and the sublime needs of living were explored, anchored by the narrator’s opposing personal connections. The story neatly turned the concept of “crossing over” on its head, subverting the opening act with a great conclusion.