Tom Sykes, Imagining Manila: Literature, Empire and Orientalism (Bloomsbury/IB Tauris, 2021)


The city of Manila is uniquely significant to Philippine, Southeast Asian and world history. It played a key role in the rise of Western colonial mercantilism in Asia, the extinction of the Spanish Empire and the ascendancy of the USA to global imperial hegemony, amongst other events. This book examines British and American writing on the city, situating these representations within scholarship on empire, orientalism and US, Asian and European political history. Through analysis of novels, memoirs, travelogues and journalism written about Manila by Westerners since the early eighteenth century, Tom Sykes builds a picture of Western attitudes towards the city and the wider Philippines, and the mechanics by which these came to dominate the discourse.

This study uncovers to what extent Western literary tropes and representational models have informed understandings of the Philippines, in the West and elsewhere, and the types of counter-narrative which have emerged in the Philippines in response to them.

Tom Sykes, The Realm of the Punisher (Oxford: Signal Books, 2018)


In June 2016, Rodrigo Duterte won the Philippine presidential election by a landslide. Infamous for his bombastic temper and un-PC wisecracks, he is waging a brutal drug war that has killed more than 12,000 people so far. Over the last nine years, British writer Tom Sykes has travelled extensively in the Philippines in order to understand the Duterte phenomenon, interviewing friends and enemies of ‘The Punisher’ — as he is known — in politics, the media, the arts and civil society. Sykes witnesses anti-government demonstrations in the capital Manila and visits the provincial city of Davao, where Duterte began his crusade against crime using police and vigilante death squads. By delving into Duterte’s troubled childhood of violent rebellion, Sykes discovers what motivates the man today in his pursuit of a merciless ‘war on the poor’ — as Amnesty has described it — that has no end in sight. The Realm of the Punisher also examines oppressed and marginalized groups in the modern Philippines through encounters with a transgender rights campaigner, an 86-year-old former sex slave to the Japanese in the Second World War, a public artist who must work while under attack from Maoist rebels, and slum-dwellers resisting violent eviction by a real estate company. The past is never far away from these present-day problems and Sykes’ travels to festivals, cemeteries, war memorials and a tomb housing an embalmed corpse reveal the ways in which key figures in Philippine history — from José Rizal to Ferdinand Marcos — have influenced current affairs. Funny, tragic, enlightening and uncompromising — and infused with the author’s strong sense of social justice — The Realm of the Punisher is the first major travel book by a Westerner to explore Duterte’s Philippines.

Tom Sykes, ‘Fantastic metabolisms: a materialist approach to modern eco-speculative fiction’, in A Global History of Literature and the Environment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).


This chapter combines the epistemological methods Terry Eagleton proposes in Criticism and Ideology with the insights of radical ecologists such as John Bellamy Foster in order to analyse a long-standing trajectory of speculative fiction that, throughout history, has addressed the environmental violence done by particular sets of socio-political conditions. Although such texts date back to The Epic of Gilgamesh, the earliest known written narrative in human civilisation, this essay focuses on the most dramatic phase of the trajectory, when a good number of writers from John Brunner to Michael Moorcock, Kim Stanley Robinson to Brian Aldiss were compelled to engage with the severe ecological ruptures of the industrial and post-industrial periods. In the nineteenth century, the adverse effects of rapid industrialisation upon both the natural world and on human society informed a new social-ecological, material awareness (out of which concepts such as the metabolic rift were born). In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, such awareness became more pronounced and more urgent, as rampant capitalist productivism began to put the planet at risk of total annihilation.

Tom Sykes, (2016) The Bradt Guide to Ivory Coast. Chalfont St Peter: Bradt. (ISBN: 1784770043)


Having regained stability over the last few years, Ivory Coast has well and truly re-opened to the world. Visitors are drawn to its remarkable tribal arts and crafts (particularly Korhogo weavings and Baoulé masks) and its vibrant reggae, Afrobeat and traditional folk music scenes, which are the envy of the continent. Ivorian food is a delicious blend of French haute cuisine and traditional African ingredients and techniques. Ivory Coast’s nature is as alluring as its culture, whether you want to sunbathe off the cream-hued beaches of Assinie, trek through the crimson savannahs of the north or scale the sublime Mount Tonkoui for panoramic views of Liberia and Guinea. In the Comoé, Tai and Marahoué national parks, it’s possible to glimpse leopards, lions, chimpanzees, aardvarks, antelopes and 500 bird species.

Sykes, T. and Lee, T. M. (Eds) (2011) Sini Sana: Malaysian Travel Stories. Kuala Lumpur: MPH Publishing Group. (ISBN 9-7896752228-2-5).


“Hujan emas di negeri orang, hujan batu di negeri sendiri …” Thus begins a Malay version of the proverb, “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.” Humble, perhaps, but never humdrum. Sini Sana: Travels in Malaysia features the very Malaysian journeys of a dozen writers who have managed to uncover hidden gems that may not all glitter like gold, but are still rare and precious finds.

Sykes, T. and Sykes, S. (Eds) (2010) Fog in Channel: Exploring Britain’s Relationship with Europe. London: Shoehorn Books. (ISBN: 1-9071490-6-6).


“Fog in channel – continent cut off” was a regular weather forecast in Britain in the 1930s. Is there fog between Britain and mainland Europe now? Metaphorically yes. This book seeks to clear it away through a series of fascinating views and essays. Is the continent cut off from Britain? Read the lively debates contained in this unique anthology to decide for yourself.

Contributors come from a diverse range of backgrounds, including politicians from Charles Kennedy to John Redwood, Tony Benn to Michael Howard, as well as noted people from the worlds of education, business, journalism, science and the arts, including Simon Woodroffe, Judge Jules, Bill Deedes, Gerry Robinson, Zoe Readhead, Chas Hodges and many more.

Sykes, T. and Sykes, S. (Eds) (2009) The Hitchers of Oz. Sydney: Interactive Publications, Australia. (ASIN B001YQGGAM)


World famous actor Sam Neill and rap legend Chuck D rub shoulders with writers like JP Donleavy and Carmel Bird. Physicists, business leaders, publishers, political activists, soldiers, poets, athletes and comic book creators are brought together by their common experience of hitching a ride sometime in the past.

Since the ’60s and ’70s – the heyday of hitching – people have thumbed rides worldwide. Money never changes hands, but all manner of social transactions take place. These tales will open your eyes and take you back – of forward. Just when you think you’ve heard it all, turn the page. You’ll discover you haven’t!

Sykes, T. and Sykes, S. (Eds) (2008) No Such Thing as a Free Ride? North American Edition. Fredericton: Goose Lane Editions (ISBN 0-8649250-5-0


In this entertaining volume, filmmakers, politicians, stand-up comedians, poets, and journalists all come together through the shared experience of hitching a ride. You’ll find Governor General Award-winner Margaret Avison and American sci-fi novelist Piers Anthony rubbing shoulders with Blag Dahlia and Ben Bachelder. You’ll read of Jello Biafra’s encounter with shoe-eating cows, Alan Dean Foster’s ride on a whale shark, and Kage Baker’s hilarious account of actors broken down on Interstate 5.

Sykes, T. and Sykes, S. (Eds) (2005) No Such Thing as a Free Ride? A Collection of Hitchers’ Tales. London: Cassell Illustrated. (ISBN 1-8440338-2-1).


A literary road movie to take you on a trip of a lifetime, featuring a collection of hitch-hiking tales from around the world by over 90 contributors, including pieces from Alastair Campbell, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Max Hastings, George Monbiot, Lembit Opik, Jeremy Vine, Jenny Jones and Mike Leigh.

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