Taiwan-based writer pens debut sci-fi novel

ntshona cover -- artwork by Naimei

I came across some information about a new sci-fi novel via a post on Facebook by Naimei Iemian who created the cover art for the book. I was intrigued by the the synopsis of this novel set in a futuristic mega-city called Ntshona. Curious to find out more I got in touch with the author Matthew Robinson and asked him a few questions.

Matthew first came to Taiwan in 2011 planning a three month stopover on the way to Japan. “Soon after arriving, I realised Taiwan was more than I had imagined, so I extended my stay to six months, then went to Japan for three, then returned to Taiwan for another three,” Matthew said. He returned to England for a while before coming back to Taiwan a few months ago.

Matthew said he had not followed a conventional path to becoming a writer. “As a kid, most of my family watched programmes like Star Trek and Star Gate, we enjoyed films like Star Wars… pretty much anything with the word ‘star’ in the title,” Matthew said. He also cited video games and Japanese anime as influences. “My dad was big on education, and would watch documentaries every night, usually about something scientific or history related. It all clearly had an impact on the types of things I enjoy as an adult, and people usually write what they enjoy.”

Matthew’s novel is set in the futuristic city of Ntshona which is described as the troubled capital of an economically powerful, yet highly introvert state, where disparity, avarice, lies, and political oppression poison social values.” This bears some similarities to Taiwan so I asked Matthew how the time he has spent in Taiwan influenced his writing.

“I used to live in South Africa, a country which has a turbulent and bloody history, in many ways similar to that of Taiwan, especially when you think of Dutch colonisation. During my time in South Africa I found it impossible not to be swept up by politics, something which affects the way in which I think and live my life now, especially in Taiwan, a country that has so many issues with identity,” Matthew explained.

Although Ntshona draws on Matthew’s experience in modern South Africa the novel still contains some elements related to Taiwan. “There is still prominent evidence of my connection to Taiwan within the story, the most apparent being that Eve, one of the lead characters, is from a Taiwanese family. There’s even a dispute in the novel between her and a self-professed Chinese character over the identity of Taiwanese people,” Matthew said. Matthew also pointed out that he used rapidly developing cities like Taipei and Taichung as a basis for how a metropolis might look two hundred or so years from now.

Matthew’s novel is now available as an ebook for Kindle on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.

A reporter's snapshots capture democracy in Taiwan


Taiwan Snapshots of Democracy cover

Taiwan: Snapshots of Democracy in Action (我鏡頭下的民主時刻) is a photo book by Taiwan-based German journalist Klaus Bardenhagen (aka taiwanreporter). As well as being packed with photos it is fully bilingual with text in English and Chinese.

The book covers the period from 2008 to 2012 which was Ma Ying-jeou’s first term as president. Events are neatly bracketed by coverage of the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.

The collection of photos capture some of the diversity and vibrancy of Taiwanese democracy. The book shows how the place named Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall by the Chen Shui-bian administration reverted to Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall under Ma Ying-jeou. This site of contest reflects the wider contest between green and blue in Taiwan politics. It also shows some of the purple through images of Falun Dafa (法輪大法), the annual LGBT Pride parade, anti-nuclear protests and the battle between the economy and the environment.

Two major events that seem to be missing from the book are the protests that erupted during the first visit of Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin in December 2008 and Typhoon Morakot in August 2009. In many ways these events and their aftermath set the tone for the first term of Ma’s presidency.

Overall the book is a little short but it serves as a very useful introduction to Taiwan for the uninitiated. It highlights the diverse and colourful nature of Taiwan’s civil society as well as its polarisation. For me it is a nice souvenir as it covers much of the period I lived in Taiwan and I observed many of the events pictured in the book.

*For details about how to order the book see taiwanreporter’s website. It is available in ebook format for Apple devices or hard copy.

New book: Taiwan Since Martial Law

Taiwan Since Martial Law book cover

A few days ago I received a long awaited package from Taiwan in the mail. It contained copies of a new book, Taiwan Since Martial Law: Society, Culture, Politics, Economy.

I was eagerly anticipating the arrival of the book because it contains a chapter I wrote titled, “Nation vs. Tradition: Indigenous Rights and Smangus.” The chapter is based on the research I did for my thesis in the Masters of Taiwan Studies program at National Chengchi University (NCCU).

While it is great to finally hold the book in my hands it is important to acknowledge the great amount of work that went into its production. Thanks must go to David Blundell for his tireless work as the editor. Many others were also involved in the project. The quality of the final product shines through in the beautiful artwork and design on the cover. Continue reading “New book: Taiwan Since Martial Law”

Book review: Why China Will Never Rule the World

In the introduction to Why China Will Never Rule the World author Troy Parfitt sets out his motivation for writing the book. Neither academic nor journalist, he simply wants to see things for himself. However, Parfitt does not arrive in China as a naive foreigner. Instead he has already spent more than a decade living on the periphery of China in Taiwan and South Korea. This experience, combined with the author’s Mandarin speaking ability, gives the book a refreshing perspective that differentiates it from other travel books about China.

Parfitt’s journey begins in Hong Kong, another place that is on the periphery of China. It is both part of China, yet distinctly different. The opening chapters about Hong Kong and Macau provide a good counterpoint when the author’s exploration of China proper begins. Continue reading “Book review: Why China Will Never Rule the World”

Writers and bloggers to speak at Book Fest

The Taiwan Book Fest will take place at Alleycat’s Pizza Restaurant at the Huashan Creative Park in Taipei City this weekend. The event is “a celebration of English-language fiction and non-fiction, with a focus on books about Taiwan.” It includes talks and discussions with Taiwan-based writers and a book exchange. There will also be new and second-hand books for sale.

Some well known Taiwan bloggers including Scott Sommers, Steven Crook, Jerome Keating, Craig Ferguson and Carrie Kellenberger will be speaking at the event. I am running a discussion on “Blogging and Citizen Journalism” at 4pm on Saturday 23 April. I welcome anyone who is interested to join the discussion and share their ideas.

When: 1:00-6:00pm Saturday & Sunday 23-24 April 2011
Where: Alleycat’s Pizza Restaurant, Huashan Creative Park (華山創意文化園區), No.1 Bade Road, Section 1, Taipei City (台北市八德路一段一號)
Website: http://taiwanbookfest.com
Entry: free!!

Books and e-readers at the Taipei Book Exhibition

The Taipei International Book Exhibition opened yesterday. I visited the exhibition today at the Taipei World Trade Centre to see what was new this year. This year’s special guest exhibitor is France. Francophones will be sure to enjoy the large range of French literature on display. There is also a selection of French films screening every day.

One of the new things on display this year is e-readers. I was curious to have a look at them and get some idea of how they look and operate. The one pictured above is the BenQ nReader K60 which was on sale for NT$8,990. It is operated via buttons and also a touchscreen. Books can be downloaded via wi-fi. Several other e-readers were on display including Greenbook, the Amazon Kindle and iRex. Continue reading “Books and e-readers at the Taipei Book Exhibition”

Books and films a window into Atayal culture

I saw the short film Msgamil: Once Upon a Time (泰雅千年) while visiting Smangus in August last year. I then saw Through Thousands Years* (走過千年) at the Ethnographic Film Festival. Msgamil is a short film produced by Chen Wen-bin (陳文彬) about the historical migration of the Atayal. Through Thousands Years, by the Atayal director Pilin Yabu, documents the process of the making of Msgamil.

Illustration from Words from Yaba

I recently visited Taichung to talk with Dr Lin Yih-ren (林益仁) at Providence University (靜宜大學). Dr Lin very kindly gave me DVDs of both films and also two books about the production of the films. The books, titled Words from Yaba (Chinese: Yaba的訪; Atayal: Kay na yaba), are both bi-lingual with one edition in Chinese and Atayal and the other in English and Atayal. The text is beautifully illustrated by Wang Yong-cheng (王永成) and also includes photos from the making of the films. Continue reading “Books and films a window into Atayal culture”

Austronesian Taiwan 2.0


Austronesian Taiwan: Linguistics, History, Ethnology, Prehistory was first published in 2000 and has been out of print for past few years. A new edition of the book was published to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Shung Ye Museum and the exhibition of artifacts from Japan’s National Museum of Ethnology.

The new edition was edited by Dr David Blundell, my thesis advisor at NCCU, with assistance from Chris Anderson and the people at SMC Books. I also played a small role in the editing process.

Austronesian Taiwan is a wonderful collection of papers on the Austronesian speaking peoples of Formosa. It is a great reference for anyone who would like to learn more about the rich culture and history of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples. The book gives many insights into the value of Austronesian languages and their associated cultures as  living heritage and as a cultural resource for Taiwan and the world. Continue reading “Austronesian Taiwan 2.0”