Book review: Red Dust, White Snow struggles to balance philosophy and accessibility

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Red Dust, White Snow

By Pan HuitingScience fiction/Fairlight Books/Paperback/190 pages/$18.80/Amazon SG ( stars

Red Dust, White Snow features a lightly sci-fi setting of Singapore at an undisclosed point in the future. Its philosophical musings and writing style can both attract or repel readers.

Singaporean author Pan Huiting questions the meaning of dreams and reality in her debut novel, a different venture from her usual artistic medium of paintings. Her work has been exhibited in Singapore and London.

The narrative follows an unnamed female character who seems to be more an empty vessel for ideas than a fully fledged person.

Her monotonous routine is disrupted when a mysterious device appears and transports her to an alternate universe while she sleeps. The more time she spends there, the more the narrator has to decide what reality means to her.

She muses in very meta fashion: “If she were to write a novel about her life, it would be a novel with no side characters. The fleeting thoughts and feelings constituting a character’s stream of consciousness would instead be occupied by a steady stream of digital stimulation.”

The critiques about technological overdependence are timely and encourage personal reflection. Hiding behind the all-encompassing app Empi, the narrator lives a life more virtual than physical while lamenting her loneliness.

Her lack of real-life relationships leaves room for speculation whether this is the product of choice or circumstance.

The narrator’s turning down of invites from colleagues for meals and TV show watch parties in favour of spending time in front of a screen alone makes it almost too easy to judge her for not trying.

Simultaneously, it begs the question of how many people do that now.

The narrator says: “Nothing beats Empi at being a time killer. With Empi, one is never truly alone, except when asleep.”

This world feels like something out of an episode of British sci-fi show Black Mirror (2011 to present), albeit less dramatic ...

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