Short Fiction at High Altitudes

January 23, 2018 § Leave a comment

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“Is Wi-Fi the existential threat that will finally kill the inflight magazine?” That’s the question Mark Tjhung asked this past July in Forbes. His answer is No, in part because his answer has to be No: He’s editor of Silkroad, the inflight magazine for the Hong Kong airline Cathay Dragon. But he also explains that he believes in the future of inflight magazines, if they “keep up and raise their standards.” And he writes, “Ironically, rather than being the death knell of the inflight magazine brand, the online revolution in the media landscape may present its greatest opportunity.”

Part of Silkroad‘s raising of its standards, as Tjhung points out in the article, is the inclusion of a “Short Story Anthology.” Last summer, they invited authors to send them short pieces of fiction, with the result being a collection of four stories, each set in a different Asian country, written specifically for Silkroad readers. The anthology includes works from David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas; Lijia Zhang, a Chinese author who writes in English for international publications; Nuri Vittachi, author of The Feng Shui Detective; and Manu Joseph, author of Serious Men. Each story is accompanied by an author interview.

A Forgettable Story,” by Mitchell, is something of a Japan-based combination of Groundhog Day and an inside-out 50 First Dates, told by an airline passenger to his seatmate. In describing himself, he says,

Where am I from? Tricky question. ‘From my mother’? I had a peripatetic childhood, so I’ve got more passports than Jason Bourne. All legal, I hasten to add. Even the matter of where I live now gets a bit . . . complicated. You know those wandering poet-monks in feudal China and Japan who used to say the road was their home, and the grass was their pillow? You could say I’m a contemporary reboot of them. ‘My spiritual home is the transit lounge.’ I should get that printed on a T-shirt. Don’t think I’m romanticising this way of life: I’m not. I envy what I guess you have. Friends, a partner maybe, a job, or at least a role, a family to be a part of – even if they drive you crazy now and then. Belongingness is underrated, especially by the young.

Zhang’s “Permission” tells the story of Lin, a young man who has moved from rural China to study in one of the country’s most-prestigious universities. There he is faced with the conflict between Chinese and Western values, as well as his own conflicting emotions concerning a nurse who shows him attention.

In “Geek Girl and the Digital Planet,” Vittachi writes about an expat in Hong Kong who infiltrates the world around her by hacking into the scores of wi-fi and bluetooth signals available in her apartment. On fiction’s ability to inspire travel, Vittachi says, “The best way to visit somewhere is to read a novel about it – and then buy an airline ticket.”

And “The Fight,” by Joseph, is about a family vacation in India. But rather than focusing on the beauty of Goa, the husband and wife are preoccupied with arguments and frustration. “‘Everybody fights,” the father tells his seven-year-old daughter. “They go to beautiful places to fight.” About the inspiration for his story, Joseph writes,

I like the joy of vacations, especially time spent with the children, but the most interesting thing is the pressure on the adults to pretend they are having a good time. I am sure most people do have fun but many other things go on during family vacations—tension between adults that’s often continuation of old feuds.

Kudos to Silkroad for broadening its repertoire to include fiction. What a great way to introduce readers to the subtle nuances and intricacies of travel and destinations. As Vittachi says in his interview, “I think inflight magazines are a great place for fiction. Fiction transports you in a delightful manner—exactly like a good plane journey!”

If you’d like to read more from international inflight magazines—without getting on a plane—go to my recently updated list of over 100 offered online.

(Mark Tjhung, “No, the Inflight Magazine Isn’t Dead,” Forbes, July 20, 2017; “The Silkroad Short Story Anthology,” Discovery, July 3, 2017)

[photo: “DSC01783,” by Anthony Pujol, used under a Creative Commons license]

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