This book by Maggie Tiojakin begins with the meaning of absurd, literally, more or less as it is explained in the dictionary. The intention is obvious: to forewarn readers of the unpleasant absurdity her stories would definitely present. Selama Kita Tersesat di Luar Angkasa consists of solely absurd short stories of which narratives expand beyond the reader’s comprehension. They might not be stories readers will go for if they want something easy, despite the simple plots, but the stunningly crafted tales offer us something more than just an introduction-problem-conclusion pattern.
Selama Kita Tersesat di Luar Angkasa has nineteen short stories with different spans of lengths, some of them are short and some are quite long. But however long it takes the reader to finish all of them, and no matter how many scenes each of them is comprised of, they are created and meant to faithfully give the reader one “single effect” that, as far as I know, is what a short story is all about. The feelings come and go as the stories pass by, yet the satisfaction of reading them stays longer. Tiojakin doesn’t intend her stories to answer any question derived from any premise expressed subtly in their narratives, instead, she slips questions into them for us to ponder what the answers are. All of them are beyond our reason, but not totally unfathomable. Somehow, at some point, the reader may find themselves understanding some of the ideas, especially of those less frown-worthy. Stories like Tak Ada Badai di Taman Eden, Lompat Indah, Labirin yang Melingkar-lingkar di dalam Sangkar, Suatu Saat Kita Ingat Hari Ini, Selama Kita Tersesat di Luar Angkasa, A Business Trip, and Sunday Mass are those which will force the reader to think hard, think twice, before they even get the faintest idea of what each is about. And while the depths of Fatima, Kota Abu-Abu, Ro-Kok, and Violet are not quite difficult to reach, the rest of the contents such as Kristallnacht, Panduan Umum Bagi Pendaki Hutan Liar, dies irae, dies illa, Saksi Mata, Dia, Pemberani, Jam Kerja, An Evolutionary History, and The Long March are very much easy to devour.
Among so many short stories included in the book, there are particularly three which caught my very attention. The first number that starts the book, Tak Ada Badai di Taman Eden, has truly had my head reeling even after the full stop passed by. It’s about a married couple who doesn’t seem to be happy, or at least the wife doesn’t. Looking at the narrative, you’d think that she doesn’t in any way love her husband, and really wishes her husband, Barney, to just go away and never come back. But, as we all can see throughout the plot, Barney seems to be loving and protective. When rain comes and brings along with it storm on to their house, he hugs her and comforts her, no matter how she behaves and what attitude she shows him. There certainly is a problem between them, a problem that the writer refuses to reveal even at the end of the story. So, how will they survive in the midst of the storm upon them? The second magnetic tale to capture my attention was Ro-Kok. A man is given an ultimatum by his girlfriend to stop smoking, or else she will end their relationship. By the look of the premise, this is a very common case in my society, but Tiojakin executes it in a way that no one would imagine before. The couple indeed go separate ways, but it is not, bewilderingly, because the smoker keeps smoking. And, among my top picks, Saksi Mata is the best one. Imagine total negligence spreads among human beings and sips through their thick blood, subtly yet dreadfully. When a young woman living in a complex of apartments is being attacked brutally by an unknown person, no one in that complex seems to care. They hear those faint voices, those hushed screams, those mumbled arguments, but they don’t get into action even to find out what’s actually happening. They either don’t care, or are just too tired to care.
All the characters in Selama Kita Tersesat di Luar Angkasa have bizarre, unusual names, even for a foreign cultural background. They are no heroes, nor villains. They are, to my favor, ordinary human beings with human characteristics, behaviors, attitudes, familial backgrounds, and ways of thinking. As absurd as the stories they are in might be, they are not in the slightest depicted as something extraordinary, or something equally strange. This might strike the reader as odd, looking at the beyond-comprehension narratives, but I didn’t feel anything but comfortable with it. Moreover, the smooth plots, both linear and flashback, help the reader immensely in wading through all those tales. Don’t get them wrong, the narratives are not as hard to swallow as you might think. In fact, they are pretty simple. Bu it’s their basic ideas and how Tiojakin develops each of them that are guaranteed to get the reader frowning deep. They are not plotted in a usual introduction-problem-conclusion pattern, but only stop at the problem without any answer whatsoever. The style of writing with which those stories are being delivered to readers is also simple, with no embellishment, no trying to go slang nor pretentiously literary. Every diction chosen feels right, and the grammar is just how I expected it to be, though I did still feel a little sense of “Westernness” in Tiojakin’s writing. It might probably be because of her creative writing education abroad, or the reading materials she, I assume, mostly consumes. Whatever it is, I don’t really mind as long as it still sounds genuinely Indonesian, not like translated English. The only flaw I found during reading all the nineteen stories is the little awkwardness in some of the sentences and dialogues.
Overall, Selama Kita Tersesat di Luar Angkasa is a riveting short story collection. From this book, I learned that fiction does not always have to be reasonable or logical. The important thing is that we enjoy them, and the meaning/basic idea will reveal itself.