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Look Who's Morphing

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First published to acclaim in Australia, Look Who's Morphing by Asian Australian writer Tom Cho is a funny, fantastical, often outlandish collection of stories firmly grounded in popular culture. Often with his family, the book's central character undergoes a series of startling physical transformations, shape-shifting through figures drawn from film and television, music and books, porn flicks and comics. He is Godzilla, a Muppet, a gay white male stud, and Whitney Houston's bodyguard; the Fonz, a robot, the von Trapp family's caretaker, a Ford Bronco 4x4—and in the book's lavish climax, a one-hundred-foot-tall guitar-wielding rock star performing for an adoring troupe of fans in Tokyo. Throughout the stories, there is a pervasive questioning of the nature of identity, whether cultural, racial, sexual, gender, or all of the above, and the way it is constructed in a world filled with the white noise of pop culture. Look Who's Morphing is a stylish, highly entertaining literary debut in which nothing—not even one's body—can be taken for granted. Tom Cho is a trans writer who began writing fiction in his mid teens in Australia, where he was influenced by the YA series Sweet Valley High. His stories have appeared in publications in Australia and elsewhere, and he has performed at events and festivals around the world, including in the award-winning show Hello Kitty , which combines literature with power ballads. Look Who's Morphing is his first book.

127 pages, Paperback

First published May 1, 2009

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About the author

Tom Cho

11 books36 followers
My current project is a novel that answers some of life’s “Big Questions”. This novel-in-progress is an extravagant artistic and intellectual mash-up—a mix of fiction, philosophy of religion, and much more besides. The text explores perplexing questions such as “Does God exist?“, “How can we reconcile the existence of suffering with the premise of a good and almighty God?”, and "Can only one religion be true?"

My full-length debut was Look Who’s Morphing, a collection of fictions originally published in Australia and later released in North America and continental Europe. Brought to fruition as part of my PhD in Professional Writing from Deakin University, the collection was shortlisted for multiple awards.

I also have over 80 publications of fiction pieces in magazines and anthologies—among them, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, The Best Australian Stories series, Asia Literary Review, PRISM international, Review of Australian Fiction, The Best of The Lifted Brow, The New Quarterly, and many others.

Originally from Naarm (“Melbourne, Australia”), I’m now based in Tkarón:to (“Toronto, Canada”).

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 63 reviews
Profile Image for Bogi Takács.
Author 53 books565 followers
October 10, 2017
This is a speculative/surrealist/subversive short story collection with most stories flash length (under 1000 words). Tom Cho takes media tropes and totally goes to town with them, from Godzilla to the Sound of Music.

Read my full review here: http://www.bogireadstheworld.com/two-...
Profile Image for David.
659 reviews317 followers
July 12, 2021
Short collection of pop culture mash-ups roving from Sweet Valley High to David Hasselhof, Dirty Dancing to Dr Phil.

Sometimes it's gleefully off kilter like the corporate business consultant hired by Jim Henson to "maintain financial viability in balance with artistic integrity" who wakes up having been turned into The Electric Mayhem's id-fuelled drummer, Animal. Or the 180 foot tall cock rock god rampaging downtown Tokyo while whaling out hits from KISS, Warrant and AC/DC.

Perhaps no one explains it better than the author's possessed Auntie Wei who, while buttering her muffin with a crucifix screams "my work on the this collection demonstrates that I am capable of: 1) producing a body of short works that are thematically linked, and 2) working productively with the assistance of arts funding support."

Yeah, it's a lot. Maybe it's the hyper-sensitivity of the migrant experience where it feels like all the clues to fitting in are there in the culture around you — or maybe it's just that when you gaze into the muppet's eyes for too long you find you've become the muppet.
Profile Image for Andrew.
Author 23 books51 followers
April 16, 2014
I make one more transformation: I transform myself back into a human. More precisely, I transform back to my former self—although I make myself just a few inches taller and with bigger biceps. I look at my watch and see that it is almost four o’clock in the afternoon. I decide that I will find a place to sleep for the night so that, tomorrow, I can try to make my way back home. However, as I begin walking down the street, a gold 1977 Holden Sunbird hatchback pulls up beside me. I stop and wait as my mother transforms from her car-self into her robot-self. Once she has made her transformation, she and I look at each other. I do not say anything; I wait to hear what she will say to me. After a moment, my mother tells me that she knows about my actions at the United Nations Headquarters. I immediately think that she is going to lecture me for the destruction that I have caused. However, to my surprise, she does not do this. She simply shrugs and tells me, “You always had to do things differently from everyone else.” I have heard her say this to me before. However, when I hear it this time, it does not seem like an insult—more a statement of fact. She even looks impressed when I subsequently boast that, in defeating the United Nations peacekeeping force, I defeated an army representing the entire world. She reminds me that she had always raised me to stand up for myself. I nod in agreement. She smiles at me and then she transforms back into a Holden Sunbird. She opens up her front passenger door and she encourages me to get in. She says that she will help me to make my way back home. Feeling tired, I step into the car and relax into the warm vinyl seat. She begins playing a cassette of her favourite classic rock hits and this makes me smile. Then she closes her door, starts up her engine and drives us away.


Asian-Australian writer Tom Cho’s first book, Look Who’s Morphing, is a collection of eighteen micro narratives that can best be described as ruminations on identity and assimilation as seen through a kaleidoscope of twentieth century pop culture run amok. Using the concept of “morphing”—transforming into different shapes and beings, such as celebrities, Godzilla-like giants, and gold-plated, anxiety-ridden protocol droids bearing a startling resemblance to characters from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away—Cho paints a series of snapshot portraits detailing the difficulties of discovering/accepting oneself amidst a fractured image of family and heritage.

In “Dirty Dancing,” bacteria and enzymes teach compatibility while algae and fungus represent complacency in a tale of love for unity versus love for convenience, where “coming out” is a dance-numbered step into adulthood. “Suitmation” explores a tabloid culture and our obsession therein through the wearing of suits like in the Godzilla films of old, except in place of monsters people are dressing in the sleeves of their favourite celebrities.

The loose triptych of stories, “Dinner with My Brother,” “Dinner with My Grandmother,” and “Dinner with Auntie Ling and Uncle Wang,” cover in broad strokes different perceived levels of connection: the weight of familial expectations on the young (re: Chinese nomenclature), the barriers between generations (more than just language—experiences as well), and being forced to hide one’s true self beneath a thin fantasy veneer.

Gradually the tone turns further inward and embraces the increasing absurdity of the pop culture metaphors. “The Sound of Music” targets fantasies within fantasies, using the Fonz and Captain von Trapp to ask just how much one’s sexual desires determines their worth. “Learning English” tackles the daunting task of assimilation into a new culture via the (sometimes blind) adoption of said new culture’s popular consumer content, where individuals learn how to act and speak through what mass market media is readily absorbed. And “Today on Dr. Phil” uses the titular program as a means of critiquing our unhealthy need to publicly overshare our innermost selves for a few minutes of screen time. Also, I approve of any story in which the Texas blowhard gets the stuffing knocked out of him.

While there are no “weak” stories in this collection, there are certainly a couple that stand above the rest. “I, Robot” is a wickedly sharp piece about desiring respect from your parents and wanting to succeed in the world despite knowing deep down that you’re simply too different to ever fit into any one box, and hoping in the end you’ll be accepted for who you really are—told through Transformers, a carbon copy of C-3PO, and an all-out assault on the United Nations. “Pinocchio,” meanwhile, works with even more layers of metaphor, imagining the cast of The Muppet Show as consisting of former humans in positions of power and/or authority who’ve been forced to embrace a simpler, vaudevillian life as puppets, the fantasy of having lived alongside such creatures, and the lies we tell our lovers—and ourselves—to convince them we’re more interesting than we really are.

Cho’s collection, which reads more like a singular vision than it does a series of individual tales, relies on the velocity and breadth of its metaphors of metamorphosis in place of depth, literary or otherwise. The pop culture riffs are, for the most part, surface-level slices, each one sheering off a different layer of psychological tissue. In this sense, it works much the same way as Andrew Kaufman’s All My Friends Are Superheroes—while the latter was a proper novella and not a collection of stories, the thin coating of metaphor was similarly just enough to subvert expectations without overwhelming the writing or the characters.

Look Who’s Morphing is at once cutting and light-hearted in its message. Cho gets a lot of distance out of his pop culture ephemera, successfully commenting on the sometimes-overwhelming shadow of familial expectations and cultural diaspora—the twin unifying threads throughout this collection. The book is gleefully absurd, opening a window into Cho’s pop culture card catalogue of a brain capable of bridging the gap between Elvis and the atom bomb and the von Trapps and Whitney Houston with equal degrees of ease.
Profile Image for Tom O’Connell.
Author 3 books18 followers
May 18, 2013
'Look Who's Morphing' is the debut collection by Melbourne writer, Tom Cho. In it, Cho employs humour and a bevy of pop culture references to deconstruct the concept of identity.

His prose style is simple, unadorned and has an almost childlike quality to it. In many of the stories, Cho analyses just how saturated with popular culture our Western lives have become. At various points, the identities of the protagonist/s become almost interchangeable with those of iconic pop culture characters (The Fonz, Godzilla, The Muppets, etc). Tom Cho and his family regularly appear in the stories, though the surreal turns the narrative takes suggest this is anything but non-fiction. I suppose you could classify it as metafiction.

I preferred the first half of this, with major props going to 'Dirty Dancing' and 'The Exorcist'. This is perplexing because the latter half is probably stronger (the standouts being 'Pinocchio' and 'Cock Rock'). I inclined towards stories where I was familiar with the source material. Which brings me to an interesting point: intertextuality demands the reader be familiar with whatever’s being referenced; familiarity is a necessary factor if the reader wants to be in on the joke. Fortunately, the movies and television shows Cho references are staples of pop culture and are therefore highly accessible. There is, however, a noticeable emphasis on eighties franchises, so be prepared.

Though he's adept at the short form, I would say Cho's writing is at its strongest when he gives himself room to explore his themes. It’s no surprise, then, that the longest stories were the most interesting, while the shorter ones (the two–three page ‘Dinner with …’ series) tended to be a little disposable.

My main issue with this collection was that I grew fatigued with Cho's devices. Lumped together, these strange stories are cohesive but repetitive. While reading, I kept hoping the next story would be the one to come along and dazzle me with some emotional depth. Instead, the stories remained sparsely written, theme-driven (as opposed to character-driven), and almost flippant in tone. Although Cho's voice is unique and interesting, predictability really let his narratives down. By this I mean that by the time I had reached the latter stories, the 'formula' had become apparent, which was a problem because absurdity really only impacts when it's unexpected. Maybe this is a personal reading prejudice. I suppose I'm predisposed to like collections with variety, collections that touch on different styles and genres. Lighter stories are a nice break when sandwiched between more substantial offers. Include too many light pieces, though, and the whole thing feels frivolous. To me, 'Look Who's Morphing' straddles this line of frivolity.

Having said all this, the humour was really second to none, and if I’m using my level of enjoyment as a gauge then I would say this was a worthy investment of my time. Cho is a writer to watch and I’m interested to see what he comes up with in the future.
Profile Image for Benjamin Solah.
Author 10 books32 followers
September 13, 2009
Look Who’s Morphing is a humorous collection that breaks rules and gets away with it.

Look Who’s Morphing is described as a “collection of fictions” by Melbourne writer Tom Cho and draws heavily from pop culture to create a collection of work that comments on identity and changing identity in a light and humorous way.

In a lot of the pieces, the narrator is referred to as ‘Tom Cho’ and due to the extravagance of some of the stories; the pieces can come across as Tom living out some his fantasies. He described this in his talk at the Melbourne Writers Festival as the character being a ‘Mary Sue,’ and in the fiction world we’re meant to avoid this as a rule, but I think this worked in this case and the stories were entertaining.

Also, I liked how Tom referred to certain relatives and friends multiple times, giving a kind of connection and synergy between the stories even though they could stand alone individually.

As I’m working on a short story collection myself, I paid close attention to the format and the structure of the collection to see how he did it, how his collection compared to others. I liked that he seemed to break the mould of a lot of collections and include very short pieces, like flash fiction. Flash fiction is becoming more accepted.

The weaker story in the collection, in my opinion, was the final story, ‘Cock Rock,’ which was another fantasy in which Tom is a 55-metre tall Cock Rock God who plays to the adoring fans in Tokyo before having sex with some of the fans. I felt the story went on for a little too long and pushed the boundaries of that ‘Mary Sue’ rule, which seemed much more allowable in the other pieces.

But the main thing was that the gender politics of the final piece were quite questionable, and I was uncomfortable with the way the character acted. The problem being that when a character is presented as the author it can lead to readers attributing the character’s behaviour to the author as well – but I’m not so sure that that’s a fair statement to make.

The overall writing style of the collection was much more ‘tell’ than ’show’ which is another broken rule within writing that seemed to work really well. The sparse style, mixed with elements of repetition gave it a feel as if the narrator was talking and made the book quite an easy read.

Which brings me to my final point; as a slow reader, I was surprised by how quickly I read this book. This was because I was enjoying reading it but also the length and style of the fiction made it easy to read. I liked that, but it makes me wonder if it’s harder for shorter pieces to resonate with a reader because they spend so little time with the characters.

It’s a question that’s been posed by short story writers before; I guess I’ll have to wait and see if I remember these stories down the track.

Profile Image for Andrew.
125 reviews8 followers
January 14, 2010
My favourite read from 2009 - deliciously quirky and indulgent, yet surreptitiously subversive and profound. A bizarre exploration of our relationships with pop culture and how it forges our identities. I'm not doing it much justice with this review - just read it. :)
Profile Image for Georga Hackworth.
63 reviews6 followers
May 25, 2020
This is one of my creative writing professors favourite books. She had us read one of the short stories from this book while we were studying different styles. The style can only be described as "bad fan fiction" but that is what is okay. It's what makes it so great, that someone with a PhD in writing chose to write this way. After reading the selection that my professor had us read, I had to read rest of the book.

Bad fan fiction aside, this book delves into answering the questions "who am I?" and "where do I fit in?" He takes a look at who he would be in various pop culture scenarios like Dirty Dancing and the Sound of Music. how he and his aunt would be if they were on Dr Phil. I personally like how he writes about his family.

This is really the sort of book that I would give all my friends as a gift for their birthday or some other major holiday.
Profile Image for Paul Mclaughlan.
209 reviews22 followers
June 5, 2012
Really enjoyed the read, particularly the literal relationship chemistry between Johnny and Bruce, and all the familial scenes--interrupted via orc raiders or not.
Some lovely moments, and Tom's voice comes through very clearly.
Unlike one of the reviews noted in the blurb, however, I wouldn't have been able to read this, all so greedily, in one go--the voice is too strong. Even with great divergence in the subject, it still sounds the same. I wouldn't characterise this as a problem, however, instead I would liken this to Gaiman's ever-present tone: overpowering in some ways, but also very likable, intimate. Very much a performance, in storyteller style.
Profile Image for Majel.
374 reviews2 followers
October 8, 2014
Definitely interesting and weird. It made me laugh out loud at times. It certainly transcends all genre labels. The weirdest short story: "Cock Rock." The funniest short story: "The Sound of Music." The short story with the most thought-provoking message and prose: "Chinese Whispers." But I think that the stories lacked critical-thinking messages/points; most of the time his thesis was something like, "culture trends are weird, they oppress some people and empower others, and we are struggle to form identities under the weight of many influences (parents, teachers, peers, cultural trends, etc.)." A pretty banal and derivative message, I think.
Profile Image for Linda.
803 reviews1 follower
September 16, 2010
If you're 15-25 you'll likely love it - for the pop-culture identity crisis on every page. Bit past that in my 40's so I found it tough to get into and tough to keep going with. Persisted tho', and so it's scored 2-stars not 1, because I did giggle at the 'Chinese Names' and the 'suits' were a terrific idea too. Which I think is where Tom & I will meet on - terrific ideas, but not transported to my 40-something reality. I'll time-warp back to uni and read it again shall I ...?
Profile Image for Jin Chong.
4 reviews
June 30, 2011
This is a 'who am I??!!’ self-reflective collection of short stories exploring gender, racial and cultural identity with a lot of pop culture references. i believe this book is post-post-postmodern if there's such thing?!
Profile Image for Noura.
396 reviews80 followers
Shelved as 'never-going-to-finish'
October 1, 2019
Every time I try and pick this up I find myself losing interest a few sentences in and even if I continue it I find myself forgetting the past few words before reading the next.

Imaginative as it may be it still isn't enough.
Profile Image for Vanessa (V.C.).
Author 5 books37 followers
September 17, 2021
Look Who's Morphing is part-autobiography, part-poetry, part-essay, part-short-story collection where, like the morphing that consistently takes place in this stream-of-consciousness-like collection, Tom looks into himself and reveals the many layers, depth, and eccentricities of his heart, mind, soul, upbringing, gender, race, and self-identity, that's essentially all strung together by American pop culture references that we all know and love, from the Fonz, Sounds of Music, Godzilla, Suzi Quatro, The Muppets, Sweet Valley High, and so much more. While a lot of the chapters were quirky and funny, there's just something about this that feels like it could have been deeper, that should have went beyond the surface level of these pop culture references. It was a little too pop-culture heavy. Not that the pop culture references were obscure, actually, not a single one of them were, they were all familiar pop culture references, but it was so heavy-handed that it felt borderline gimmicky, and even stifling. As much as I've been raised on, adore, and am also inspired by these references myself, I really wasn't all that interested in that being the bulk of these stories. While it certainly does showcase Tom Cho's imagination, it also revealed the limitations of relying a little too much on pop culture to tell a story. I wanted to know more about Tom Cho, not the endless pop culture references that inspired him. In moderation, the references would have packed a huge punch, but with so much of it, it loses its impact and, inadvertently, makes this work not as interesting as it should have been, and somehow, even making it too predictable. I wanted to LOVE this, but I thought it was just okay. Tom Cho, however, is a brilliant and talented Asian-Australian trans author that more people should know about and read more often. Considering that this was his debut full-length fiction, Look Who's Morphing? is a start. A mixed-bag, but still, a great one.
789 reviews127 followers
May 18, 2018
This is a short book. Quirky and clever. And bizarre and unexpected.

I read this as a part of May 2018's #AsianLitBingo and would not have picked this book otherwise. But I'm glad to have read it and to know about this author.

My favorite piece or chapter was "Chinese whispers." Many pieces felt like a mix of personal journal entries and writing exercises (stream of consciousness or creative strains).

I definitely could relate to the time period this book sets most of its stories. But I thought the over-reliance on popular culture, TV/movies and music in the US of the 1980's, was stifling and gimmicky after a while.

A quote:

"...I kiss Mother Superior's hand again and thank her for her advice. However, I also explain to her that is simplistic just to say that I am impressionable: in a sense, aren't we all composites of the influences of various entities in our lives--family members, friends, lovers, certain people we watch on TV, characters we read in books, etc., etc.? And surely some of these things are influential because they do appeal to our fantasies? And yet, while our fantasies allows us the pleasure of imagining who we might be, cant they also make us painfully conscious of who we currently are?..."
Profile Image for Madeline.
515 reviews19 followers
July 10, 2018
What a quirky way to tell stories!

I loved the pieces that played on more serious facets of popculture - such as the Sound of Music, and Dirty Dancing.

Additionally, I loved how each small story revealed more about the dynamics of Tom, the character. Between family relationships and understanding identity, this book as it covered.

Only losing a star because of the last story, which I found to be very boring and repetitive. Reading something like soft porn it didn't mesh well with the other pieces.
Profile Image for Jendi.
Author 15 books21 followers
August 25, 2021
A unique book of humorous, surreal vignettes about shaping one's identity based on 1980s American pop culture. Cho has multiple levels of self-refashioning to explore, as a trans man from a family of Chinese immigrants to Australia. These more serious themes are handled with a light touch, as backdrop to the absurd fantasy premises, so the occasional moments when they're directly addressed have a greater impact.
Profile Image for Vivienne DiFiore.
25 reviews43 followers
November 8, 2018
So funny. Forget what they taught you in school. Telling can be just as good as "showing" with narration like this. So good. The book clearly pulls from lived experience in a way that adds a lot to the affect. It also is funny while remaining troubling. Should "I" be laughing at this? and so on. Good read.
Profile Image for Venerdi Handoyo.
Author 2 books34 followers
October 27, 2019
A unique voice from Australia, Tom Cho skillfully plays with identity issues by interweaving fantasy and real human connection. His stories trigger conversations around mixed cultures, generational gap, gender and sexuality themes. Fun, witty, daring, wild, and contemplative, ‘Look Who’s Morphing’ is a one of a kind one-sitting read.
Profile Image for Crystal Odelle.
Author 2 books45 followers
November 28, 2021
Pretty fucking genius. Funny, deep, emotional—(autofiction?) stories of intersectional identity in an authentic way sure to authentically upset white supremacist sensibilities. “Dirty Dancing” forever, and when possessed Auntie Wei began quoting the grant application in Cho’s voice in “The Exorcist” I died from secondhand irreverent brilliance.
Profile Image for Tayne.
131 reviews2 followers
January 29, 2018
The title story was sick, and the next one with the suits, but the novelty kind of wore off after that. It's a fun collection with some whacky ideas from a young writer and I'd be curious to see what he comes out with next.
Profile Image for Amelia Burton.
36 reviews1 follower
August 7, 2019
Not my thing. Kind of seemed like a mix between badly written fanfiction into which he inserted himself, and nonsensical stories written by a preteen? Maybe I just don’t see the “art” in these stories, or whatever, but I just don’t see the appeal.
Profile Image for Alaina Cyr.
126 reviews
January 23, 2018
I, uh... I don't know what I just read. It feels like this is a collection of the most entertaining entries from Cho's dream journal, and I'm not sure if that's a compliment or an insult or both?
Profile Image for Rita (Clazzi).
428 reviews8 followers
April 18, 2018
Quirky stories which almost always lost me towards the end. Just not for me I guess.
Profile Image for Sian.
Author 0 books3 followers
October 19, 2018
I mean this was absolutely ridiculous and I understand literally nothing but I kinda did enjoy it???? To a point????
Profile Image for Kiara.
Author 1 book5 followers
September 29, 2019
I read a chapter called 'AIYO!!! An evil group of Nina's is entering and destroying a call centre!!!'. It wasn't a sophisticated piece of writing but it made me smile.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 63 reviews

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