John Ling, a Malaysian writer, has just released his anthology of short stories (Fourteen Bullets). For a pretty young author (he's just twenty), it's not his first time either, he has been blogged about here and here and here - so he's pretty accomplished in the Malaysian literary community :)
Fourteen Bullets runs in the same genre as his other works - action-thriller with plenty of gore, but, as he mentions in his foreword, delves "into themes of friendship, love, loss, and redemption." He gives a different perspective on people that we normally associate as cold-hearted assassins / murderers, by creating characters with rich personal histories and reasons for doing what they do. As the title hints, there are fourteen short stories - short enough that it intrigues people with short attention spans, but long enough to be savoured.
I particularly liked "Ascension", which tells of a pastor who refuses betray another man's secrets, despite being tortured. This short story has a fast-slow-fast-slow rhythm as it flips between contrasting scenes - a pretty interesting cinematic technique.
"Roulette" is a story about negotitions between a police negotiator and a hostage taker - but with a surprising twist to the plot. In this story, we sympathize with the hostage-takers as John portrays them as merely people who are trapped by circumstances:
"Are we really so different?"
The negotiator paused to consider the question. He struck upon the perfect answer.
"We do what we have to do. Just that our circumstances are different."
The amount of detail and research that went into the stories is really impressive. In most of his stories (Broken, Day of Days, Rain, Havoc), John sets the stage with a carefully-prepared background of war and terrorism. Ranging from the Siege of Sarajevo to the Second World War to the 1974 Turkish incurison of Cyprus, John connects the different background s with common themes of friendship and love. Not only that, he dramatizes true events - "Redrum" gives us another look at the My Lai event which happened during the Vietnam War.