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Brian J. W. Lee is a writer. When he's not writing, he's plotting to plunge the world in a deep chasm of terror, darkness and screams. Sorry, did I get carried away?

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

An Introduction to Pulau Purba, Chapter 5: To The Island

EDIT: Well darn, my pinkie promise was thrown out the window. Oh wait- Nope, I'm fine. Pinkie's still there. Anyway, I'll try to post something else later today as well. Things just got crazy-busy yesterday.

EDIT 2: Added something about subverting expectations with setting.

So, now that we got the history of The Keeper of Pulau Purba out of the way, let's talk about the story itself. Here's a little blurb I thought up on the spot:

Alex Kee is a writer struggling with his magnum opus when he is forced to serve out his military reservist obligations. Worse still, he has been transferred to a new base on an island far south of Singapore, Pulau Purba.

He could never feel at home in the Singapore Marine Corps, but at least he gets to retain his old army friends. Closest among them is Aidah, his junior and protege back in his young National Service days, and now former professional soldier, his superior.

Personal issues aside, strange things are happening. The soldiers of Pulau Purba are tense and meaningless violence is commonplace. Alex is hunted in his sleep by an enigmatic creature, and it seems to be hunting others. It all points to something big looming in the horizon... Something that will threaten everything Alex holds dear, and the whole of South-East Asia.

Yep, so there you go. I've deliberately chosen Pulau Purba as the setting, then in the writing phase an unknown island near the Singapore-Indonesian border. Now, an island named Pulau Purba, which translates to Ancient Island or Island of the Ancients. It is a Malay name, which I deliberately chose to cast some mystery on what the island is. Pretty much 6.8 billion people on Earth don't speak the language, so I'd like to think I've succeeded somewhat.

The reason why I think an island setting works is due in part to the isolation it provides. Had it been on 'mainland' Singapore (which itself is a large island), it would have been easy for the government to send like a hundred thousand troops to aid the protagonist. It wouldn't help much, but it would make for messy, all-over-the-place writing. An island cuts away all of the world's civilisation, except for maybe just over a thousand, two thousand people.

Isolation is a staple of horror. I would be foolish not to use it. Where other horror pieces of all media (that aren't all bad) struggle to make isolation plausible and believable, such as by killing any help sent the way of the characters or making them late, I believe I've done well enough with an island:

The geography of Singapore, a tiny nation, is composed of over two hundred islands, Southeast Asia even more. Small, undeveloped islands are accessible only by slow-moving ferries. And did I mention most of them are undeveloped? Even inhabited Indonesian islands? Help would take time to be organised and arrive, and Singapore has a limited navy and coast guard, surprisingly. Not that geography alone would stop them (Let's just say the Keeper has something to say about trespassing).

There is a very good rationale (I believe) on why a new base would be set up there. In-universe, the government is setting up a whole new branch of the military, the Singapore Marine Corps, that is supposed to solve its limited navy and coast guard problem. They needed their own base that is somewhere accessible to both large and small ships, and allows them to patrol the waters of Singapore.

At the same time, I was hoping to play against expectations, in some ways. I mean, in a military camp, you're surrounded by soldiers and guns, and in Pulau Purba, we even have amphibious transports, a corvette or frigate (I didn't quite nail that bit down - It's not important), let's see... APCs, light strike vehicles, 5-tonner military transports... Hmm, should I have put a few tanks in there? Anyhoo, you're meant to feel safe in such a place, but oh nooooo, I'm not gonna let you breathe easily. Hyuck hyuck...

But at its most basic level, there's something to be said about being trapped on an island, no? And not just that, you're stuck there, and you're forced to partake in duties in the army that you hate. And then, some supernatural shit decides to go down.

I'm basically trying to create multiple layers or levels of fear, that I hope will enthral most people. If being trapped on a small, forested island doesn't do it for you, then maybe getting press-ganged into the military might (hell, I was scared to hell when it was my turn), and finally, the supernatural, cosmic horrors and bio-horrors at the bottom layer, forming the biggest part of the horror fruitcake.

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