Friday, September 28, 2007

Ben Templesmith Appearances

From Fully Booked

Here's the details to Ben Templesmith's appearances:
October 30
Meet and Greet Ben Templesmith, 6PM at the Forum, 4/F Fully Booked Bonifacio High Street

November 3
Artists' Den Forum with Ben Templesmith and Art Jam, 2-5PM at the Forum, 4/F Fully Booked Bonifacio High Street

Book signing, 5-7PM at Fully Booked Bonifacio High Street

November 4
Limited Portfolio Review (Limited slots available. Deadline of registration is October25, 2007)
11AM -12 noon
2 - 4 PM
5 - 7 PM
at the Forum, 4/F Fully Booked Bonifacio High Street

November 5
From Concept to Film: An Exclusive Artist Workshop with Ben Templesmith, 2-5 PM at
De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde
School of Design and Arts Campus
950 P. Ocampo St., Malate Manila
(Open to all and free of charge. Limited slots available, deadline of registration is October 19, 2007)

To register, please call Fully Booked Customer Service at 858-7000 or email

Text Messaging Fiction

The Guardian Unlimited and Telegraph UK has an article on the phenomenon of keitai shosetsu (portable phone novel). Makes me wonder if this thing will catch on in the Philippines, even if it's romance novels and soaps. Shall we call them, (bad) pun-intended, text books?
For them using the 160-character screen of a mobile phone to read a novel, often presented like an old serial in cliff-hanging chunks, is second nature. And it is paying off. Of Japan's top 10 bestselling fiction works in the first half of this year, five began life as keitai shosetsu; moved from pixel to page, their average sale is 400,000.

Neil Gaiman Says Writers are Otters

Guardian Unlimited has a feature Neil Gaiman where he talks about his writing craft, his popularity, and his childhood:
"Five years ago I was exactly the right level of fame," he muses. "If you weren't a fan of mine you probably hadn't heard of me but I could always get my calls returned if I needed to. Now I'm at a point where I will be recognised in public which is really weird as an author because authors don't get recognised and suddenly I find myself bouncing from a completely private individual to having somebody saying 'I'm a big fan of yours' and it throws me. I don't expect it and I don't imagine it."

More Dictionary Myths

Erin McKean has more Dictionary Myths over at The Volokh Conspiracy.

The Myth of the Online Dictionary:

Everything in the dictionary-online is still seen through the lens of print, and what print needs. The web is an afterthought. Even the wiki-style dictionaries (which I am all in favor of, and I'm on the advisory board of the Wikimedia Foundation) are largely based on print ideals of organization and inclusion. (Even Wiktionary wants words to be at least a year old before they are included in the project.)

A true Online Dictionary would be created with the web in mind. And it might not look the way we think a dictionary "should" look at all!

That's Not a Word!:

The ruler most people use to measure a word's word-ness is The Dictionary. Not any specific dictionary -- for most people, if a word is in any standard-looking dictionary, that's good enough. (The Dictionary is a stand in for "Any Dictionary I Happen To Have.")

But as a lexicographer, as someone who has seen how the word sausage is made, I think that assessing a word's fitness for use by whether or not it is in The Dictionary is much too limiting. We've already seen that lexicographers can't possibly register, much less describe, all the words that are used in English; how then, knowing that, can you still cleave to the idea that the words that are in The Dictionary are good to use, and the ones that aren't, aren't?

Authors Who Blog: JM McDermott

Just got an email from JM McDermott whose first book will be published next year and is one of the authors in the Wizards of the Coast Discoveries. You can visit his blog at and add him to the SF&F authors who blog and in this case, particular interesting because his book isn't published yet and isn't yet a fiction author that has legions of fans (you know, to the point that you can comment but you won't necessarily get a reply because there's too much fan mail to respond to).

I guess I better start Googling Rob Rogers and Richard Dansky too.

Lit Critters Last September 22, 2007

This would have come sooner but work kept me preoccupied. Anyway, here's last weekend's recording of the Lit Critters session in A Different Bookstore, Serendra. We were pressed for time so we only tackled Bienvenido Santos's The Day the Dancers Came but there was a side trek into how every author's work is political (not in the government sense but rather that everyone has an agenda they're promoting). I also tweaked the audio so that you could hear Andrew and Kristel better, who were both far from the mic.

Interview with Michael Co

Anansi Girl will be having her latest podcast uploaded by next week and she'll be having an interview with Michael Co, winner of the Greg Brillantes award. If you want to ask some questions, email her at anansigirl[at]literature-ph[dot]com before noon on Saturday.

Stories in Sports

My sister taped last night's Ateneo vs La Salle basketball game and perhaps one of the reasons such clashes are highly anticipated is because there's a story behind all of it. Rivalries don't suddenly pop up out of nowhere, each side has its own perspective. Each school has jokes about the other and that only compounds to the university myth. It's either that or we love to put competitions into a context, even if that means establishing this or that faction is the enemy.

Top 10 Best-Sellers as of 2007/09/23

From USA Today's best-seller list (you can find out their basis here):

  1. The Age of Turbulence by Alan Greenspan
  2. You've Been Warned by James Patterson and Howard Roughan
  3. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
  4. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
  5. If I Did It: Confessions of a Killer by The Goldman Family
  6. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
  7. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
  8. The Collectors by David Baldacci
  9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling
  10. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Pop SF by Scale

From SF Signal

Ever wondered how Yoda would stand up to E.T.? Or how taller the Predator is compared to a Klingon? Jeff Russell has a size comparison by the meter.

Everyone's a Designer

I was listening to the latest Sons of Kryos podcast and they were interviewing someone from the Ashcan Front (sorry, I forgot who). Anyone, the guy mentioned that everyone is a game designer and that statement reminded me of Matthew May's manifesto Elegant Solutions: Breakthrough Thinking the Toyota Way wherein he mentions that everyone is an innovator. Designers (not just game designers) and innovators both share one thing in common: they solve problems and attempt to make things better. And it's true, everyone is a designer or innovator in one way or another. In gaming for example, if you ever thought or implemented a house rule, that's game design! If you revamped or created a character sheet, that's also design. In the PC gaming community, the same goes for modders or even those who program 'bots. When you use (or invent) a variant rule for a board game, the same is true. Just tweaking your website and choosing what features to include and what not to include is a form of design. Professional designers are important but don't downplay your own contribution.

Comics and Design

UIE Brain Sparks has an interview with Kevin Cheng, co-creator of OK/Cancel. The interview talks about how comics can help you conceptualize your designs:
In the interview, we discuss the use of comics to express user experience ideas early in the brainstorming stage of a project. Comics show the team how a user will experience the design. This lightweight approach helps you iterate quickly without making major time and resource investments. You don’t need to be an artist to effectively employ comics in your UX processes. Kevin also discussed his presentation for the upcoming UI12 conference in November and gave a sneak-peak at what attendees can expect.

Publisher and Author Pages

Seth Godin's latest blog entry is promoting one of his projects, Squidoo, but he does make a good point: not all authors have blogs or personal websites and typically, publishers create web pages for them:

Authors hate to promote themselves. And lots of authors don't like the web so much, at least when it comes to promotion. It's not like traveling to an independent bookstore and having tea with the owner while you sign books, or being interviewed for the book section of the Times. Your favorite author probably doesn't have a blog, probably doesn't spend all her time online.

So, instead of a significant web presence that's author-driven, we end up with publishers building their own promo sites (this one has just 40 (!) authors and cost a fortune to build) or we get publishers insisting that all their authors build MySpace pages (just last week, in fact).

Podcasts for 2007/09/27

Maybe it's because I was won over by Monte Cook's humor, maybe it's because Paul Tevis is funny, or maybe it's some combination of both but a podcast I really enjoyed last week was Have Games, Will Travel's interview with Monte Cook.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Filipino Scrabble

For something more light-hearted, all this talk about language got me thinking: has anyone designed a Filipino word game? I mean I'm familiar with Scrabble although Dean and Nikki favor Upwords more. How about a local version of the game? I don't mean by any means that it should be based on alibata (God I remember Ambeth Ocampo giving us a history quiz in alibata) but obviously the existing rules for Scrabble and Upwords simply won't work with Filipino. I mean a simple word such as pangangailangan ("need") would easily fill up the entire board, and honestly Filipino needs a lot of vowels. One could even forego vowel tiles entirely and assume the players have them. We'd also have tiles like "ng" in the game. Something would-be game designers to ponder on.

Blogging Schedule

Looks like I've managed to come up with an actual blogging schedule! At least until October where I'll run out of ideas for Filipino Slang. But in the meantime, barring losing my Internet connection, here's my blogging schedule. Various news, of course, will be posted whenever I hear about them.
  • Monday - Library-related Essay
  • Tuesday - Filipino Slang (where I explain various Filipino slangs)
  • Wednesday - Essay (about whatever; books, pop culture, gaming, etc.)
  • Thursday - Compilation of Podcasts on Fiction/Writing and Gaming
  • Friday - Top 10 Best-Selling Books

Judging and Celebrity Authors

Right now there are two blog entries from Guardian Unlimited that piqued my interest.

The first is from Segun Afolabi and he talks about being a book judge:
You can get around the traditional ruse of placing the best stories at the front by fast-forwarding to the middle or end section, or starting anywhere you wish, discovering whether the collection works as a whole or falters after one or two vignettes. A brilliant individual story or couple of stories does not a collection make and more often than I would have liked, collections that showed early promise ran out of puff way before the halfway stage. In the end the judges - Nuala Ní Chonchúir, Rick Moody and I (as well as Patrick Cotter when selecting the winner) - picked books that contained consistently well-written stories, ladled with variety, spark and originality.
The second is from Hadley Freeman and she makes an observation on the phenomenon of celebrity authors:
Although these novels may answer some questions, one they do not resolve is that of authorship. It is generally assumed that celebrity autobiographies are written with assistance, but when it comes to the novels, the line that they are self-penned is, almost without exception, strictly maintained. Having someone write a novel for you smacks of getting someone to do your English GCSE coursework, a plot device that has sadly yet to feature in any of these novels. But then, inhaling ketamine (as showcased in Richie's novel) or winning a reality TV show (Price) probably do offer superior literary fodder.

Bye Bye British Library

Guardian Unlimited reports that the British Library might soon face budget cuts. Unfortunately, if that proves true, some books can't be maintained or at the very least its access will be restricted. And as for the discarded books, well, they can't exactly be bought back even if the library manages to raise funds in the future. (Interestingly enough, the article touched on some points that I'll be tackling in the next two weeks--the blog entries have been written I'm just waiting for Monday to publish them.) Even more disconcerting is that while Britain is worried about its libraries not being able to keep up with modern technology, how much more so the Philippines?
Brindley fears that, while the rest of the world moves into a digital environment on the internet, the British Library 'would be marooned in the analogue era'. The library has calculated that for £3.48 - the price of a cup of coffee and a muffin - everyone in the country has use of a repository that contains treasures as diverse as the original Magna Carta, the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Golden Haggadah, Sultan Baybar's Koran and the jottings of Leonardo da Vinci, not to mention those of Lennon and McCartney - and all free at the point of entry.

The Lexicographer

Erin McKean, The Dictionary Evangelist, is guest blogging at The Volokh Conspiracy. Her latest contribution is Dictionary Myths Part 1: The Myth of the Lexicographer-Judge:

A little bit more on the pernicious side is the belief that lexicographers -- the folks who edit the dictionary -- are somehow on a higher plane of word usage than the common person, and that they make decisions as to what does and does not enter the hallowed ranks of dictionary-words based on some exquisite aesthetic sense, some finely-tuned Sprachgefühl, a kind of lexical perfect pitch.

This, I hasten to assure you, is flatly not true.

Lexicographers are not the word-judging equivalents of the literary critic or the music reviewer; they're not the curators of the word museum. The lexicographer is, or should be, a scientist-journalist combo. They should research what words are actually being used, how, where, when, and by whom, and then report these facts of usage to the public in a clear, timely, straightforward manner.

You can also read about Why Inartful Isn't In.

On Authors/Editors/Publishers Blogging

Communication I think is an underrated value: I don't hear people saying "let's facilitate communication better" when providing a particular service yet communication is the hallmark of the 21st century: mobile phones, wireless networks, and the Internet. Just the other day, I had a fight with my dad and perhaps the fight would not have ensued if there were better communication lines (albeit this isn't a problem that can be solved by technology... unless it enables us to read minds). Between email and blogging, we have the tools to bring people and networks closer, especially between creators and fans. I remember Elbert back in college kept in touch with various comic personalities from abroad such as Scott McCloud. It's about the same exhilaration as seeing your letter printed in the letters section of comics (alas, my age betrays me as not a lot of comics still has that: the fan letter section) except you get bonus points since creators are personally communicating with you!

Print for the most part has been a one way street. The author gets published and he sends his message to (hopefully) thousands of readers. Feedback is of course possible but there's a huge delay (and there are some authors who don't read reviews of their own books) or fan mail never reaches the author. The Internet has facilitated feedback as email is almost instantaneous. (Perhaps one of the best assets of email is that you retain your anonymity; you betray your actual location with snail mail but so far, the biggest disadvantage of email is spam.) Blogging, on the other hand, has changed the playing field, especially when readers can comment. The discussion isn't now limited to just one reader and the author but rather the author and an entire community. Fans can comment on other comments or they can expand on something the previous poster said. Sure, there'll still be J.D. Salingers and writers who want to keep their lives absolutely private but for those who go online (even as simple as providing a website and an email address), it's a real treat for the fans.

That's not to say it always works. Sometimes, an author gets too popular that it's actually detrimental to author-reader communication. I mean the likes of Neil Gaiman and George R. R. Martin can make a single post and it's flooded with hundreds (and even thousands) of comments. Sure, the authors might get to read all of them but replying to each one of them consumes too much time that they won't actually get to do their day jobs (and that means no books for us to read!). Author popularity I think has a "sweet spot" wherein you just have enough people commenting to start a lively dialog but not too much that it becomes overwhelming. (Of course this also assumes that the author in question is relatively friendly to fans; bitchy, cat-fighting authors are equally as inaccessible and probably will only attract trolls.)

But another side-effect of blogging is that we get to see other people in the book publishing industry: the publishers, the editors, the graphic designers, the bookstores, etc. The American Bookseller Association Omnibus Blog for example usually links to other book sellers. The Agony Column as of late not only interviews authors but various bookstores as well (personally I'd love to interview various local bookstore owners and write a feature article or even hold a podcast). The Self Publishing Blog talks about, duh, self publishing and the industry that surrounds it. The Digital Front explores electronically distributed gaming books. And then we also have something like Writing for Pay which tackles less-than-glamorous writers.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Borders Britain Bought

Guardian Unlimited has a news article on the acquisition of Borders Books in the UK by Luke Johnson, Channel 4 Chairman:
"Book buyers want to browse and receive a personal and intelligent service," Mr Johnson said. "As a published writer from a family of writers, I understand the cultural importance of books and have seen, through Channel 4's Richard & Judy Book Club, how people can be stimulated to buy and read books."

Anansi Podcast

Even the Philippines isn't immune to podcasting and while there's still a lot of niches to be filled, there are brave souls who are venturing into such a field. Anyway, long time blogger Anansi Girl is delving into podcasting and she tackles TV shows. So far she has two episodes up:
  • Episode 1: Flight of the Conchords, Reaper, Pushing Daisies
  • Episode 2: Greek, Chuck, Journeyman, Bionic Woman, Sarah Conner Chronicles

Filipino Slang: Salvage

The word salvage for me is interesting because in the Philippines, it's an example of an autoantonym and it's opposite is probably more well-known than its regular definition.

Normally, salvage means to rescue something or to make the most out of a bad situation. I don't profess to know the entire history of how the Filipino term came about but I expect in the beginning, the English definition of salvage was being used. Its present definition started to pop up when dead bodies where frequently found in unexpected places like rivers or garbage dumps (which are places you'd expect to salvage material and goods that one can presumably still use). Many suspect that the dead bodies were the work of either criminal elements or vigilantes. The initial reports to the public probably used the correct terminology, referring to the discovery as "dead bodies were salvaged in location XX". However, the association between dead bodies and the word salvage would slowly work its way up to the Filipino psyche that instead of stating that entire phrase, to salvage someone conveyed the entire idea (we Filipinos love shortcuts!).

Currently, to use the word to salvage someone doesn't mean to rescue someone but rather to have them killed and supposedly dispose their body in an anonymous way.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Just a Comment on the Present Discussion (and Not What is Being Discussed)

It seems the current thread on what is and what should be Filipino Speculative Fiction has taken a life of its own and more people are voicing out their opinions. Here's some observations I'd like to make (don't worry, I've had my fill of the subject matter and won't add to any of it for now):
  1. The Singular vs The Plural -- In many ways, I think the current debate revolves around this ancient philosophical idea. You can call it the objective vs the subjective, the one vs the many, but it remains a constant point of contention throughout history (and philosophy has never arrived at a final answer, always skittering between the two). I leave it up to readers to decide which best describes their belief and which opinion they think represents what side.
  2. Paradigms -- I think everyone's perceptions, myself included, is limited by their present paradigms. Paradigms, after all, are how we view the world. You can call it our bias, our limitation, our generation, but we're all reading and analyzing and interpreting other people's opinions from a particular paradigm. People might read something that's not explicitly stated, miss something that's included in the blog post, or move to a different tangent. In my opinion, paradigms both hinder us from viewing another person's perspective, but also allows us to present an entirely different (and perhaps unique) opinion.
  3. Taking a Stand -- Everyone must take a stand and perhaps the best-written ones are those that take a definite stance, even if they sound too arrogant or biased. If we skitter around too much, we dilute our message and the argument might come off as weak. And as far as criticism goes, we must be thick-skinned and be willing to hear out what the other side has to say without being personally offended. Of course #3 would not be possible without #1 and #2.

Give Me Your Slangs

Every Tuesday, I'm hoping to write about some Filipino slangs or rather English words which have been appropriated for the Filipino context and attempt to explain them. In line with this, I need some suggestions. Some examples are the words salvage and province. Hope you can contribute!

Book Buying Criteria for Libraries

Libraries and bookstores share one common dilemma: what books to stock and acquire. Of course having said that, their approach is significantly different. Bookstores for the most part are interested in profit and have a better turnover of books. What's on my shelf this month might not be the books you'll see in the store next month. Unfortunately for libraries, that's not the same scenario. Libraries I think should be focused on the long term: what are the books I want on my shelf that's not only going to be valuable this month but for years to come?

Perhaps the biggest problem faced by libraries is that it's searching for a value that's not quantitative. In a bookstore, the books you should carry can easily be measured by your sales. With libraries, that's not the situation; as much as I want to think of it in business terms and imagine that a library will stock books that frequently gets loaned, that's not how libraries are run. Normally, each library has its own agenda, its own set of values. Like the Filipiniana section of a library won't be stocking English books, even if all of its books are unpopular or only catch the interest of scholars and professors. So the first thing to identify is the library's mission and vision, or what it wants to accomplish. Without that, libraries and its staff will simply be wandering in the dark as they amass a hodgepodge of books whose inclusion will ultimately collapse into library politics.

Of course even if the agenda question is solved, the next problem is determining quality. For example, a children's library might be interested in acquiring books for children and perhaps slowly stock some young adult books or even novels that children "should" read. Libraries unfortunately have a limited budget (as do most organizations) and so they can only acquire so many books (and you know, not purchase every children's books that's published for that month). There's also shelf space to take into consideration. When you acquire a book for a library, it's supposed to stay there permanently (theoretically--book thefts and unreturned books must be accounted for after all). If you fill a library completely in the first year, acquiring more books for the next year is moot unless you somehow find the space to store the new books. There are one of two ways to accomplish this: either expand the library or get rid of old books. Some make do with an improvisation of the former, such as adding more shelves instead of expanding your real estate. Those that choose to get rid of old books to make way for the new are faced with a difficult problem of choosing which books to keep. And this is where quality comes in.

Unfortunately, at the end of the day, judging a book's quality is entirely subjective. One can occasionally find guidance through book lists, a school's curriculum, or the Newberry Medal but that can only account for so many books (not to mention that "classics" and books that have won awards are usually contended by other parties whether to censor them or deemed inappropriate). There is no real objective method to determine what books to dispose of and what books to keep unless you want to go into the numbers game (i.e. what books were frequently loaned, what books can't be restored, etc.). And honestly, there is a real value for library to keep "unpopular" books because if a library doesn't keep stock of out-of-print and seldom-used books, who will?

Even if a librarian manages estimate a book's subjective worth, there's the uphill battle of convincing his or her superiors to agree with that judgment. Well and good if the librarian's tastes is similar to their superior's. Or if the superior completely trusts the judgment of the library staff. But in the case of school and university libraries (which unfortunately is the oft-used libraries here in the country), there's probably red tape to go through, a complex administrative screening process involved. And I'm not saying that's wrong, it's the school that's funding the library after all. But it's a situation where the values of a librarian is entirely different from the values of the school administration board and that influences what books are actually shelved and what aren't.

When you see a book in a library shelf, one can't help but wonder what rigors and battles this particular book had to experience to be where it is now. Was it literary novel or a popular book for its time? Did the administration want the book or was it the librarian's choice? What book did it replace or what books were declined to retain it? Every book in the library has a story to tell although it's a story most of us take for granted.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

More Thoughts on "Filipino" Speculative Fiction

More ideas seem to be thrown at the table and what's interesting about all of this is that there's discourse. Unfortunately, the questions too are ever-expanding and I think have strayed a bit from the original topic (or at least loosely based on them) so it's best we formulate them into question and address them (feel free to clarify):

1) The Criteria for Filipino Speculative Fiction

This question I think is easily what Bhex and Kenneth are asking. The former gives us a clear-cut definition while the latter not so much. If I may, I'll use Cecille's (see previous comments) questions to attempt to answer this question. Should Filipino fiction be about the Philippines? Well, not necessarily. Most of our stories might take place in the Philippines but isn't that kind of limited in scope. Aren't there other Filipino experience that go beyond our borders, such as OFWs, expatriates, or perhaps a Filipino who's lost somewhere? Should the stories be written in Filipino? Well, when use the language Filipino, we automatically make it our own. But as I pointed out earlier, the country has had a long history of different national languages and what about all the stories that's not written in Filipino, especially the quintessential Filipino novel Noli me Tangere? Must it be written by a Filipino? I think some local writers who aren't natural-born citizens that have managed to capture the Filipino spirit (albeit not necessarily in fiction) such as Fr. James Reuter, S.J. And then comes the bigger question I think: that a story not contain all of these elements or lack one of these elements, as long as at least one of these elements is present in the work. That's honestly a tough question. But at the end of the day, we're talking about speculative fiction here and not realist fiction. The strength of the former is that it goes beyond boundaries. I think by placing such boundaries, in this case an undeniable Filipino element, we are limiting the kind of stories we tell. That's not to say Filipino Speculative Fiction should not contain a Filipino element. I think one can be included even if it's an abstract one. For example, of the strengths of fantasy and science fiction is that it distances readers from reality and uses something else as a metaphor for our current experience. The aliens might represent another ethnicity. Other planets other countries. le Guin writes in Left Hand of Darkness writes about a culture so totally alien yet familiar if you continue on. Could we not write about aliens traveling to far off galaxies and working there, never to return home despite the technology being readily available? Can that not be a metaphor for the OFW experience even if OFW is not spelled outright?

2) The Agenda in Filipino Spec Fic

Tin's more recent post I think best describes this argument. That Filipino Spec Fic should have a thrust, a more social agenda. Now I'm not saying it shouldn't. But isn't that what the realist writers are doing right now? Writing stories that theoretically have an impact on society? Of course I'm not saying that spec fic should or should not be socially relevant. I dread the world of two extremes, one where all the fiction in the world is socially relevant, and the other where all fiction is merely fluff. I was talking to Dean the other day and he makes a point of nurturing both aspects. He talks about how the beginning literature of a civilization starts off with the relevant and later moves on to material with less gravity. Arguably we're still in the former stage but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be writing material belonging to the latter. Does ethics and politics and social responsibility have a place in speculative fiction? Definitely. But I also want to read stories that don't attempt to be as lofty. Ultimately though, what story isn't political, what story doesn't set out to teach a lesson of some sort? Even the most simplistic of mores have something to reach readers, albeit it's not necessarily the ones we want to read about.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Does One Need to Use Filipino to Write Filipino Fiction?

Kenneth of Philippine Genre Stories seems to have re-ignited a debate that won't be ending soon. His more recent entry is The Continuing Conumdrum which talks about what defines Philippine Speculative Fiction (or Philipine Fiction for that matter). Bhex, on the other hand, seems to have taken an extreme (but insightful) position on the matter: that Filipino Speculative Fiction should be written in Filipino and must incorporate Filipino elements and culture.

As I said before, my views on most matters usually tend to avoid extremes but somewhere in the middle or a form of reconciliation between the various extremes. In countering Bhex's argument, there's this experience I want to clarify. I feel that a lot of Filipino writers, when someone criticizes them for not writing in Filipino, there is typically one of two reactions: either they become too defensive or they feel guilt. Personally, there is still a small sense of guilt within me whenever I write in English although whether it is justified or not is another matter. The concept of a single national language for the Philippines I think is flawed, not because it works and doesn't work for other countries, but because one has to take into account Philippine history.

Before the Spanish came and conquered this archipelago, some historians would argue that there was no Philippines as a nation back then. Instead, we were composed of several islands and tribes, each with its unique culture and dialects. Whether you agree with that theory is up to you but two things are undeniable: the archipelago was home to several languages and what truly united us was the invasion and subjugation by Spain. For three centuries, the "national language was Spanish", even as various groups retained their native tongue (but most likely somehow "evolved" into its present form although there are still tribes who retain their "uncorrupted" language). And then in the 20th century, the Americans came and initiated their own language policy (and perhaps gave birth to the Filipino national artists who write in English such as Nick Joaquin). Ironically, it wasn't until the Japanese occupation that a sense of native nationalism was instilled by the present government albeit tainted with Japanese agendas. And then the nation was finally liberated and English became the national language once again until the Marcos dictatorship was overthrown and Filipino was declared the national language. Also one must take current events into account. Presently there is Executive Order No. 210 which promotes English as a second language (The Manila Times has their own opinions on the matter). Of course I also want to clarify that a variant of Filipino (Tagalog) was already being practiced ever since the Spanish occupation, although its practice was perhaps limited in geographic scope (i.e. not everyone in the archipelago used it).

So why did I bring up that short history lesson? To show that the country's language development is unique and not to be limited in scope. We have Jose Rizal who wrote in Spanish because that was the de facto lingua franca at the time. Nick Joaquin wrote in English likewise. Francisco Balagtas wasn't writing in the national language of his era but it makes his work no less Filipino. I think it's fair to say that those who received an education prior to 1987 considers English as their national language, even as post-EDSA Revolution babies consider Filipino to be the national language, a reflection of the political and education policy of their childhood. I akin ourselves not to America but to a country like France, where there is one national language but many are in practice, or to a certain extent like Canada, in which two languages have official status. National language is not an intrinsic cultural heritage but more of a political ideology we inherit.

Back to the argument, must THE Filipino Speculative Fiction be written in Filipino? It could possibly be. But at the same time, I am not discounting the possibility that the great Filipino Speculative Fiction novel be written in English. Or Ilocano or some other dialect for that matter. History has shown, our very culture has shown, that the Philippines is culturally diverse and to pick merely one means of narrating is quite limiting. Of course Bhex's argument isn't that you can't tell a Filipino story in English or some other tongue, but rather it is less Filipino compared to one that is written in Filipino. But again, I don't think that's the case. Being Filipino isn't limited to one factor but to a lot of elements; it's not just about language but our mindset, our religion, our paradigm of the world. I definitely think the best Filipino Speculative Fiction can be told in English. But there is one thing I need to qualify: utilize the language that best suits the story.

During our last Lit Crit session, Dean mentioned that there are four ways to tackle Filipino dialogue in English text: 1) narrate it in English instead of spelling out the dialogue, 2) use actual Filipino, non-Filipino speakers be damned, 3) translate Filipino dialogue into English and 4) use broken English/transliteration. Now each of these techniques are valid depending on the story and how it is used. It's seldom a good idea to utilize #4 but Nick Joaquin is an example of someone who manages to translate beautifully Filipino words into English (albeit there's a certain disjoint between reading "pandesal" and "bread of salt"). Dialogue, on the other hand, depends on the subject matter and era. Two maids discussing soap operas for example will most likely use Filipino (or even a dialect) as a mode for communicating. Them speaking in English might be jarring to the reader. But two politicians conversing in English during the American regime is perfectly valid if not believable. I think the question of which language to use is addressed by the story and technique rather than a question of sheer nationalism.

And then there's the question of Philippine elements in the story: Filipino characters, Filipino myths, Filipino settings. Does a Filipino Speculative Fiction story need one or all of these elements to be truly Filipino? Well, the way I see it, if the question was phrased "does a Filipino Literary story need to contain Filipino elements?" If that was the question, I'd say perhaps (but for the most part, still a definite no). But Filipino Speculative Fiction? Not necessarily, especially since this is speculative fiction we are talking about. Speculative for me has been about breaking boundaries, testing the limits. It's about telling stories that go out of your comfort zone, and that might mean not using settings, characters, tropes, or even language that is familiar to you. I think via our nature, we'll subconsciously including something Filipino about it whether it's a mentality, a practice, or a world view. But one can easily write about a post-apocalyptic Neptune in a parallel past with Wendigo's and Yuki-Onna's and dancing sentient penguins yet still be Filipino. Perhaps not distinctively Filipino but Filipino nonetheless.

A more practical consideration albeit perhaps less artistic reason is translation. Do Filipinos have a Jay Rubin who will translate flawless Filipino into inspiring English? Which is to say even if the great Filipino novel is written in Filipino, there is no guarantee that the world stage will see it. That doesn't mean I'm espousing Filipino writers write in English. Rather that if you're comfortable in English, then go ahead and write in English. If you're more fluent with Filipino, keep at it. Better to master the writing style of the language you're familiar than butcher another (and is perhaps why English Filipino writers as much as possible avoid writing in Filipino). If there is a hesitation among English Filipino writers not writing in Filipino, it's because we're all too aware of the richness of the language and afraid that we won't be able to do it justice.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Top 10 Best-Sellers as of 2007/09/16

From USA Today's best-seller list (you can find out their basis here):
  1. You've Been Warned by James Patterson and Howard Roughan
  2. Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World by Bill Clinton
  3. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
  4. The Collectors by David Baldacci
  5. 74 Seaside Avenue by Debbie Macomber
  6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling
  7. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
  8. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
  9. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
  10. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Weird Google Result

Some just searched for Jack Vance Porn. Never mind the fact that they landed on my site but Jack Vance and Porn aren't exactly two terms I'd combine by any stretch of the word. Unless he also pioneered a new genre, SF&F Porn.

Long List of Literary Events for September

Tin from Read or Die has posted a calendar of literary events for the rest of the month. Do check them out if you're in the area.

Distinguishing Fantasy from Science Fiction

When I was met with Zarah last weekend, she was surfing the 'net and found out that one of her students was reading Neil Gaiman's Stardust. It was a welcome surprise although she clarified to her student that Stardust was not science fiction but fantasy (maybe the star in the title confused him?). Now defining science fiction vs fantasy has been an age old debate in the genre. Personally, I'll just use the term speculative fiction so that it encapsulates both (although using SF as an acronym can be confusing... SF for me used to stand for science fiction but the same acronym is also being used to refer to speculative fiction). The question I want to ask however is whether we should be rigid in defining what is science fiction and what is fantasy. Take Ted Chiang's The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate. Now Chiang has been known to be a writer of SF (science fiction) yet his latest work reads like a story out of Arabian Nights. But as Dean pointed out, to some SF fans, just because Chiang hints of a worm hole in the story automatically makes it SF. And then there's the likes of China Mieville's Perdido Street Station or Jeff Vandermeer's Veniss Underground which seamlessly blends magic with science fiction elements (or is it vice versa?). Whenever I talk about Frank Herbert's Dune, I usually tell people that for me it reads more like a fantasy epic rather than a science fiction novel in much the same way Star Wars is more mythic rather than hardcore SF. And as a D&D player, I must mention Jack Vance whose magic system later was referred to as "Vancian magic" (damn you Vance and your spell memorization!). But the interesting concept about Vancian magic is that it's really pseudo-science at work rather than actual mysticism (I'm curious though what George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois will do with the Jack Vance anthology coming up in 2009). Even until today, I'm still surprised when people talk about Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 or Lois Lowry's The Giver as SF because for me it feels more like a what-if fantasy tale. Is it that important to distinguish one from the other? Could we not live with the new term speculative fiction instead? I mean we're already lumping science fiction with fantasy either way with terms like SF&F. In most of the bookstores I visit, both genres are located in the same shelf. And just this week, a co-worker asked what I did in my spare time. I told him that I read fantasy and he replied by asking if I read science fiction.

One good reason to distinguish the two is due to the tropes. Fantasy and SF might have a lot of elements common between them but there are also characteristics that is known for in one genre but not in the other. At the very least, it helps set expectations for the reader. A lot of fiction (and not just genre fiction) usually incorporates some form of happenstance, Act of God, or surrealist event yet we don't call them fantasy per se. And as much as political fantasy has been done before (the likes of Terry Goodkind is more blatant about it but I appreciate Terry Pratchett's take as he liberally douses it with satire), politics and social commentary feels more "natural" in the realm of science fiction. To the casual reader, the fact that both science fiction and fantasy are deemed "impossible" might be a worthy excuse to lump the two genres together but to fans who can distinguish in minutiae and talk about the various sub-genres in detail, it's for their sakes that we distinguish science fiction from fantasy.

What I'm more impressed with however are those who go beyond genres and challenge the medium. At the end of the day, whether you're science fiction or fantasy, you're interested in telling a great story and as a writer, you'll use whatever tools you deem necessary. There are a lot of writers out there who mix fantasy with literary fiction (although the public doesn't necessarily see them as so) for example and I love them: Jeffrey Ford, Kelly Link, Aimee Bender. Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials is at the same time young adult, religious, fantastical and even contains sci-fi elements. I really enjoyed Neil Gaiman and Michael Reeve's Interworld which is similarly a fusion of various genres. While I think genres are good "boundaries", it's also a pleasant surprise when a piece of fiction goes beyond what is expected. Isn't that a SF&F author's calling too? To ask the question of what if? Not just in terms of story but in terms of technique and style.

Psychohistory is Here

It was back in college that I started reading Asimov thanks to an Inquest Gamer (back when they were still Inquest) article of the 100 books you were supposed to read (the cover had a werewolf in front). It wasn't I, Robot that I read but rather Foundation and I was blown away. The central science fiction of the series is Psychohistory, a predictive science that the protagonist, Hari Seldon, develops. Psychohistory can be summed up like this: the future actions of a collective (as opposed to an individual) can be predicted. It is by this theory that Seldon steers the fate of humanity for the next few centuries.

Now predicting the future using mathematics appear to be quite fictional. The first Foundation short story was published in 1951 and it's been more than half a century since then. Perhaps just as Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea served as inspiration for the world's first submarine, could Foundation lay the groundwork for a real-world science? Now I know it's not the duty of science fiction to predict the future but rather talk about modern day concerns (just look at 1984). Asimov himself admits that The History of the Fall and Decline of the Roman Empire served as inspiration for his series. Yet it's not uncommon for people to draw inspiration from science fiction and make them a reality.

I've recently been listening to Courtney Brown's lectures on Science Fiction and Politics and one of the first novels he tackles is the Foundation series. He brings up two good points. One, that Foundation's science is that of social science. Typically, when I think of science fiction, I usually think in terms of physics or biology or chemistry. While I've certainly read science fiction that's classified as political or social, I never thought to view them from the perspective of the social sciences. The second point he brings up is that facets of Psychohistory is here. By no means do we have Second Foundation-level psychics (i.e. actual psionics) but we do have a mathematical formula that predicts human behavior to a certain extent. For example, we have Social Theory that tries to explain human behavior on a large scale and identifying telltale signs when a government or regime will fall (for the most part, Foundation is the story of the fall of empires).

The elements Asimov brings into play isn't new. Government, religion, economics--these are forces we're all familiar with and suspect others as using for their gain. For example, when Spain attempted to conquer the Philippines, many Filipino scholars do not think it was coincidental that it was followed by numerous missionary expeditions. The Catholic church wielded great power centuries ago and to a certain extent, it still does now, affecting the decisions of how the citizenship will vote, what laws to veto, or even how to live their sex life. Right now in most countries, economics is the name of the game and trade is used as a tool to subjugate other nations albeit less directly. Perhaps we'll ultimately know if there's a fall-out when countries start cashing in on their debts.

I've been thinking of the political climate in this country and it's interesting to note where rallies and coups tend to converge. The first and most obvious is Mendiola due to its proximity to the seat of government, Malacanang Palace. That's as no-brainer. The second and perhaps most prominent is EDSA Shrine in Ortigas, the site of all three EDSA Revolutions. Granted there was no religious significance attached to the place prior to the first EDSA Revolution (there wasn't a shrine back then), but it did become a focal point for politics and religion afterwards (or rather it's no surprise why the site was converted to a mini-church). The third is Makati, easily the hub of Philippine commerce. And when I talk of Makati, I'm really talking about a small portion of it, where business is most centralized. It's been the site of a bombing, a coup, and to this day when there's a bombing rumor, Makati is frequently cited (and is followed by another business hub, Ortigas).

In many ways, I think my perspective is limited, mainly because I close myself from most of the world: I don't listen to the news, I don't read the newspaper, I don't go out much, and I don't travel. I can just imagine that a political science student might draw much more from Asimov and perhaps even generate new and original theories. But the thing is, when I think of political scientists, science fiction isn't the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to their reading material (although I'm sure there are those that do read and appreciate SF). Then again, the same can be said for me. Why don't I become more politically active, more politically aware?

No Time to Read

I originally wrote this a few days ago and last night seemed to pack a lot, including getting sick and getting into a fight with family.

It's deadline season and because of it, I'm keeping irregular hours. Walking home at 3 am is less frightening than most people think although I still find it annoying that vehicles are still just as noisy at such an ungodly hour. I'm also stretching my multitasking capabilities as I edit and listen to podcasts at the same time. Anyway, what little free time I have is spent on writing these blog entries, which I come up days before and then in the coming days either edit them or trash them entirely. There's still an essay from last week which I don't quite know what to do. Unfortunately all of this means there's no time for me to read, even if I just managed to snag a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows from a friend.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Kare-Kare Komiks Redux

From Andrew Drilon

I remember when Andrew was still back in high school, making his own indie comics, dropping by the photocopier to reproduce his hand-drawn comics and sell them personally to comic shops. Anyway, aside from catching his strips at the broadsheets, check out his latest work:
The Chemistry Set is a destination for webcomics in a variety of styles from a variety of up & coming and established talent. Founded in 2006, The Chemistry Set boasts three Xeric Award winners and a combined bibliography including work for Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Random House, Image Comics, SLG Publishing and many others. Visit The Chemistry Set at

30 Days of Night Contest

From Babbling Point

Apparently Ben Templesmith, the artist of the comic 30 Days of Night, will becoming here in December. Fully Booked and Inquirer are tying up to give away a free copy of the graphic novel (full details here and here). Meanwhile the Meet and Greet is on Oct. 30 while November 3 is the artist workshop and November 4 the Comicon Creation Conference and book signing.
The artist behind the successful horror series, Ben Templesmith, is coming to Manila! Ben’s artistic style brought a whole new dimension to modern horror and vampire looks in comics. Templesmith will be flying in from his hometown of Perth, Australia, to give a series of art workshops and book signings in schools and at Fully Booked this coming October.

NOW for the best news yet. Send your original vampire artwork to with the subject “30 Days Vampire Art Contest” and the best one will win a free graphic novel of “30 Days of Night” from Fully Booked. The selected artwork will appear in the upcoming October issues of Super with proper cred of course!

Appreciating Editors

They say that behind every successful man is a woman (and behind her is his wife--a joke by Groucho Marx). Some writers have a similar relationship with their editors (and there are several talented female editors you know; Ellen Datlow comes to mind but locally, Nikki Alfar is perhaps even a better editor than her husband, Dean Alfar, although perhaps not as actively marketing herself to the public). While writing is a solitary act, the act of publishing isn't. Publishing is a complex process that involves a lot of people that can, at times, are unrecognized (by the public) for their contributions. It's usually the author who gets the limelight or at times, the publisher. Where's the editor love?

Of course if you've read a lot of books, you'll notice that in the dedication page, more than a few authors thank their editors. The magic of the editors is that they're like your guardian angel (or an efficient intelligence service): readers don't notice them if they're doing something right. Editors are only noticed when there's a screw-up (readers might criticize the editor for the one mistake they didn't catch but don't thank them for the 10 errors they did catch... and you'll never know the latter; that's the secret between author and editor) or when someone is suing the broadsheet for libel. Yet editors fulfill a very important role. Gary Kamiya has an article in Salon entitled Let Us Now Praise the Editors and talks about the hocus pocus an editor does for his writers (and sadly I've been there during high school, rewriting entire news articles that the original author doesn't recognize it as their own).

The exception for me is when it comes to anthologies. More than the big name authors featured in an anthology, I'm interested in who's the editor of a collection. For me, editors are like book reviewers: it's not so much important that they get it right more than that their tastes align with yours. If you're a fan of -insert genre or sub-genre-, you'll most likely prefer an editor who's made a name for himself or herself in that genre/sub-genre. For me, when I grab a hold of a short story collection, the editor's name is the most important thing. I don't care if there are big name authors or no-name authors: what I want are stories that I enjoy. If there's a famous author in the anthology, well and good. If there's a writer I've never read before, then it's a great discovery. But the credit doesn't go to me, it goes to the editor who screens and edits the work of authors and ultimately gives a recommendation to readers.

More than a few editors have made a reputation for themselves. The first one that easily comes to mind are Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling (now Gavin Grant and Kelly Link) for The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror. There's also Gardner Dozois or David G. Hartwell for science fiction although I do prefer Rich Horton as of late. McSweeneys was virtually Dave Eggers's baby. And in the Philippines, Dean and Nikki Alfar are behind the now-annual Philippine Speculative Fiction (not to mention the various local fiction publications whose editors hold sway whether a story will be rejected or not).

What many might fail to recognize is how big an impact an editor has. There are, I think, a lot of aspiring writers but I don't often hear people wishing that they'd be the next great editor. It seems that at times, a writer involuntarily gets handed the editor position and then work their way up from there. Yet the reality is, many modern writers wouldn't have been known or recognized if it weren't for the talents of a good editor, either including them in a publication or giving helpful advice to transform the text into an even better reading experience. The late Lester del Rey is easily one of the most recognizable champions of the genre: not only was he a great writer, he was perhaps an even greater editor. (As a writer, it's a tempting mentality to think "if only I had a good editor".)

Podcasts for 2007/09/20

Rather than ramble on senselessly, I'll be using this space to talk about the podcasts that I found interesting last week. The honor goes to Astronomy Cast's discussion of astronomy in science fiction shows as they cover science in Battlestar Galactica, Eureka, Star Trek, and Babylon 5 (and the one movie that Sean Connery sucked).

Also what caught me off guard was Wandering Geek as I expected talking heads but instead I got catchy, geek-related songs from their Friday Night Live special episode.



Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Jack Vance Anthology

Old news by Internet standards (it was last week) and perhaps the reason I didn't originally post it before was because all I had was a few lines from George R. R. Martin's blog (that and I'm not really a big fan of Jack Vance). Anyway, the anthology seems to have an interesting line-up of writers and I'm interested in seeing Glen Cook and Jeff Vandermeer's take. Here's what's mentioned on George R. R. Martin's website:
We've assembled an all-star lineup of contributors for the book, we think. Songs of the Dying Earth will feature original stories from Dan Simmons, Robert Silverberg, Michael Moorcock, Tanith Lee, Elizabeth Hand, John C. Wright, Glen Cook, Jeff Vandermeer, Neil Gaiman, Paula Volsky, Tad Williams, Howard Waldrop, Michael Shea, Mike Resnick, and a host of other terrific writers and hardcore Jack Vance junkies, some of whom offered us their firstborn children for the chance to be a part of this project. And yes, I plan on doing a story for the book myself (after I finish A Dance With Dragons). Jack Vance and his representatives have been so kind as to give us permission to use Jack's characters as well, so longtime fans can expect to appearances from Cugel the Clever, Chun the Unavoidable, T'sain and T'sais, and other favorites.

Wizards of the Coast Discoveries Open Call

I think I missed this piece of info (or if it was lost in my constant plugging of Wizards of the Coast's various submission guidelines) but Wizards of the Coast has a new imprint called Wizards of the Coast Discoveries and features various original novels.

Moreover, it's open season for submissions (see the full guidelines here):

Submissions are accepted annually between the dates of September 1st and February 1st. Any submissions received outside of that timeframe will not be read.

This is not a contest! It is a call for proposals from professional authors and aspiring professional authors.

Please read these guidelines very carefully before submitting. We have made some changes not only to the sort of subject matter we’re interested in, but the nature of the proposals as well. Submissions that do not conform to the guidelines will not be accepted.

Our annual open call is for a speculative fiction imprint that publishes novels with science fiction, fantasy, and/or horror elements for an adult audience. What we’re most interested in are books that are set in a contemporary or historical setting but with the addition of some SF, fantasy, and/or horror elements. Because we continue to enjoy great success with our shared world fantasy lines, we’re not looking for more of that sort of thing for this imprint. Likewise we’re not too keen right now on “straight” science fiction (far future settings, extreme high tech, etc.). We’re always open to supernatural horror. We are not interested in pornography, romance, or nonfiction of any kind.

We are looking for novels for an adult audience only, so please do not send short stories, short story collections, poetry, etc., or books for young readers.

Right now there are four writers who are going to see print come 2008, and one of the more interesting blurbs is Last Dragon by J.M. McDermott. Here's what it says:
A tale of revenge that grows into something more, Last Dragon is a literary fantasy novel in the tradition of Gene Wolfe and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Anyway, game designer and author Ari Marmell mentioned in his blog that his novel got picked up as well, and we can expect Shades of Grey one year from now.