Monday, March 31, 2008

Plug: Devil's Cape by Rob Rogers

I'm plugging buddy Rob Rogers and his debut novel, Devil's Cape, which will be released tomorrow, April 1.

Here's a blurb from Greg Rucka:
"There is NO WAY that this is Rob Rogers's first novel. This is a novel replete with the rewards of a lifetime of training, effort, and passion. Devil's Cape is a mesmerizing, seductive, and darkly moving piece of fiction that seamlessly, even gracefully, marries tactile reality with myth and magic to bring its own pulsating world to life. Beyond expectations, full of surprises, singing with resonance and emotion, Rogers has written a novel that first stabs the superhero genre in the back, then flips the body over and shocks it back to exhilarating life. What arises from this crime scene is a post-modern delight. Take the tour of Devil's Cape--I guarantee you¹re going to like it here!"
Here's the link to a sample chapter (|Zip| |PDF|)

Available at: Powerbooks

Daniel Abraham on Plot

I'd have plugged this sooner but...

Report on the Symposium: Plot

Brownie points if you can identify all the fantasy references.

Book Review: The Man on the Roof by Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Tem

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite sized book reviews.

I found The Man on the Roof to be bizarre, not because of its content but rather due to the form and structure in which the narrative is told. It seems to break many of the rules of fiction, especially the "fiction" part as it reads more like an essay, yet it is nonetheless compelling. The Tems confess their lives and their fears into this novel and in the process create something unique and different from what we normally see in fiction. Even the horror aspect of this book is unconventional although no less frightening (especially if you're a parent). Collaboration between the Tems are effective and seamless in The Man on the Roof as the format supports them perfectly. The writing is easy to comprehend and the Tems are often quite direct, telling rather than showing. However, those looking for a conventional story will be disappointed. Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Tem stretches not only genre conventions but literary conventions as well. If you're the type that's afraid to experiment and what constitutes a novel, this might not be the book for you.

Rating: 3/5.

Rating System:

1 - There are better ways to spend your time.
2 - Ho hum books, usually typical of its genre. Probably only recommendable to die-hard fans.
3 - A cut above the rest, usually with one or more elements that sets it apart from the norm.
4 - Highly recommended and is easily a pioneer of the genre.
5 - A classic or it will be.

Book Review: The Talisman Unsealed by David R. Ples

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite sized book reviews.

Ples is reminiscent of Christopher Paolini in the sense that he's self-publishing his own fantasy novel and wrote it before he was even legal (the book claims that it was written when he was thirteen). So how does The Talisman Unsealed really fare? Ples's writing is more or less clean, although the book could have been helped by some minor copy editing (a few grammatical errors, error in formatting, etc.). The real weakness of the book is its overall approach. For one thing, the protagonists travel around the world and through time but these travels are superficial. Most of the people they meet or the setting they're situated remains the same. The second is the abrupt cropping up of the Filipino heritage of one of the characters (and the sudden use of Tagalog) during the last fourth of the book. This could have been seeded earlier and Ples manages such a feat with two other characters in the book so it's not really a question of the author's capability to do so. Third is the choice to portray the main villain as a silly and comedic overlord and shows few examples as to why he is evil, or what the consequences are for failing to stop him. Fourth, Ples also needs to work on his use of adjectives as the words "evil" are utilized too much, especially when describing physical features. What Ples excels in is his kinetic use of dialogue and this is evident in the early parts of the book as several pages are dedicated to conversations between the various characters. As for whether the book is appropriate reading for you (or your children), the question you have to ask is whether you enjoy a formulaic story with stereotypical characters and a plot similar to video games like Final Fantasy. The author in my opinion shows potential (considering his age) but as for The Talisman Unsealed itself, it is sub-par fare.

Rating: 1.5/5.

Rating System:

1 - There are better ways to spend your time.
2 - Ho hum books, usually typical of its genre. Probably only recommendable to die-hard fans.
3 - A cut above the rest, usually with one or more elements that sets it apart from the norm.
4 - Highly recommended and is easily a pioneer of the genre.
5 - A classic or it will be.

Book Review: Trial of Flowers by Jay Lake

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite sized book reviews.

Despite having read two Jay Lake novels (Rocket Science and Mainspring), they didn't prepare me for Trial of Flowers. This is an entirely different animal from the other books I mentioned as right from the outset, you're hit with stylistic language, a complex tapestry of characters and plot, and most importantly, a flat-out weirdness and originality that tends to be missing from several mainstream fantasy novels. Lake juggles several characters, each with their own level of depravity, yet these are the characters you're rooting for and sympathizing with. The setting, the City Imperishable, is quite distinct with its unconventionality: factions of boxed dwarfs, crossbow-wielding clown guards, and mysterious edicts such as the so-called Trial of Flowers. Each "chapter" (the book has no chapters but rather it is divided according to point of view) is a compelling page-turner that leaves sophisticated readers wanting more. To a certain extent, Trial of Flowers can be overwhelming for new readers but personally, I do enjoy the style and the technique that Lake employs all throughout. This is easily Lake's New Weird book and if you're looking to try out something fresh, I recommend Trial of Flowers.

Rating: 4/5.

Rating System:

1 - There are better ways to spend your time.
2 - Ho hum books, usually typical of its genre. Probably only recommendable to die-hard fans.
3 - A cut above the rest, usually with one or more elements that sets it apart from the norm.
4 - Highly recommended and is easily a pioneer of the genre.
5 - A classic or it will be.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

2008 Stoker Winners

From Horroscope:

Superior Achievement in Poetry
Winners (Tied)
  • Being Full Of Light, Insubstantial by Linda Addison (Space and Time)
  • Vectors: A Week In The Death Of A Planet by Charlee Jacob & Marge Simon (Dark Regions Press)

Superior Achievement in Nonfiction
  • The Cryptopedia: A Dictionary of the Weird, Strange & Downright Bizarre by Jonathan Maberry & David F. Kramer (Citadel Press / Kensington)

Superior Achievement in a Collection
Winners (Tied)
  • Proverbs For Monsters by Michael A. Arnzen (Dark Regions Press)
  • 5 Stories by Peter Straub (Borderlands)

Superior Achievement in an Anthology
  • Five Strokes To Midnight edited by Gary Braunbeck and Hank Schwaeble (Haunted Pelican Press)

Superior Achievement in Short Fiction
  • The Gentle Brush Of Wings by David Niall Wilson (Defining Moments)

Superior Achievement in Long Fiction
  • Afterward, There Will Be A Hallway by Gary Braunbeck (Five Strokes to Midnight)

Superior Achievement in a First Novel
  • Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill (William Morrow)

Superior Achievement in a Novel
  • The Missing by Sarah Langan (Harper)

Lifetime Achievement Awards were presented to John Carpenter and Robert Weinberg.

March 2008 Bookstore Pilgrimage

I've pretty much been on a reading spree in the past three months (I've apparently read over 40 books in the past three months, a big accomplishment considering I read 55 books last year) and so I've renewed my monthly bookstore pilgrimages.

Something photo-worthy is Fully Booked's new practice of lining water bottles (occasionally filled with some strange red liquid) to cover their windows. I honestly have no idea why they have done so, or what the red liquid means (are they re-enacting the passover and afraid that somebody will claim their first born child?).

Another development is that I've started to use the book-ordering services of various bookstores. I've been using the opportunity to spy on the services they're using. Powerbooks uses Ingram for example. Fully Booked on the other hand uses a combination of Amazon and some non-browser based program. We'll see how it all pans out in the weeks to come.

Oh, and here are some books that I've read recently and highly recommend (interestingly enough, one for each genre: fantasy, science fiction, and horror):

The Shadow Year by Jeffrey Ford
Where to Buy: Powerbooks

The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction Vol. 2 edited by George Mann
Where to Buy: Fully Booked, National Bookstore

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill
Where to Buy: Fully Booked, National Bookstore, Powerbooks

Friday, March 28, 2008

Top 10 Best-Sellers as of 2008/3/23

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

  1. A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle
  2. The Final Warning: A Maximum Ride Novel by James Patterson
  3. Horton Hears a Who! by Dr. Seuss
  4. Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules by Jeff Kinney
  5. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
  6. The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
  7. Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult
  8. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
  9. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
  10. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Thursday, March 27, 2008

2008/3/27 Tabletop RPG Podcasts

Every Thursday, I post links to various podcasts that deals with tabletop RPGs.

Tabletop RPG (Mostly)

General Discussions/Reviews/Everything Else

Actual Play Sessions

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Essay: Intimacy with Blogs and Podcasts

Every Wednesday, I have an essay on any topic that catches my fancy!

If there's one technological trend that I've resisted, it's the social networking craze. Not that I'm averse to social networking, mind you, it's just that my poison of choice has been blogging as opposed to, say, Friendster or MySpace or Facebook (yes, I know those sites have blogging capabilities these days).

One of the reasons I like reading blogs is because it actually helps me to get to know the other person. Adding existing friends in other social networking sites is well and good but what happens when you want to extend your social circle? Usually, some people simply add friends of friends or mutual friends but my experience in real life is that sometimes, your friend's friends don't mesh well with you (and is one reason why you keep away some of your friends from your other friends). And quite frankly, a photo and a brief bio won't give you that information. Blogging, on the other hand, does impart that kind of knowledge. I get some insight into your thought process, your personality, your hobbies, your pet peeves--whatever you want to write in your journal as long as there's something actually written there. This is especially relevant when you're reading a complete stranger's blog. I mean sure, there's some information you can glean from the person's About Me page, their hobbies, and their links, but at the end of the day, those are superficial details that tell me nothing about the actual person. One's writing however tends to do so (unless all you're posting are press releases). And let's face it, we've read and become fans of the blogs of strangers because of their compelling writing or, failing that, personality.

Unfortunately the whole blogging process can also lead to a false sense of intimacy. I mean if I were a voyeur and followed a person's blog religiously, it feels like I've known the person for a long, long time. But until I take that first step of introducing myself and leaving a comment, the connection is simply one way. I may be aware of the blogger but the blogger certainly isn't aware of me. Or at least me as an individual rather than simply one of their hundreds or thousands of readers.

Moving on to podcasting, I find that podcasting tends to be more intimate on some levels compared to blogging. Sure, you might not get as much personal information in podcasts, but one thing podcasts deliver is an aural experience. The way I write is not necessarily the way I talk in real life. Nor does it convey my speech patterns, my subtle personality quirks, or simply my voice. Those are all elements that we deal with when talking to people in real life and is one factor that may sway us as to whether we like this particular person or not. Podcasts deliver that, especially when there are multiple hosts because they interact with each other and you listen to them in the same way you hear some of your friends chatting. It gives me the illusion that I know the person who's speaking, even if I've never met them or wrote them a letter.

Again, podcasting has that same sense of false intimacy unless one actually gives feedback to the podcasters. If I run into a friend across the street and say hello, they'll react positively. I do think that if I run into a podcaster across the street, there's a big temptation to greet him or her. Except unless I communicated with them beforehand (either writing a letter, leaving a message in their voice mail, etc.), most likely the typical reaction will be bafflement ("Do I know you?"). For me, hearing a person's voice is in certain ways more compelling than simply reading their thoughts and what will probably lead me to such an action.

Having said all that, what matters in the end is your relationship with the other person. You could meet each other all the time in real life and never speak a word online. Similarly, just because you're familiar with someone on the Internet doesn't mean you are best buddies. Blogs and podcasts can be great tools or icebreakers ("hey, are you that blogger/podcaster?") but at the end of the day, is no replacement for human initiative.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Feature: Interview with John Klima

Every Tuesday, I'll have a feature article posted.

John Klima is the editor of Electric Velocipede and Spilt Milk Press. In addition to publishing the chapbook Psychological Methods To Sell Should Be Destroyed: Stories later this year, he also edited the anthology Logorrhea: Good Words Make Good Stories.

Hi! Thanks for doing this interview. First thing's first, can you tell us how you first got involved in the SF&F industry (both as a fan and as a business)?

As a fan, I’ve always read predominantly science fiction. My older brother also read science fiction and I would steal his books and read them. He belonged to the Science Fiction Book Club, which I thought was just amazing. I never thought at the time that I’d meet both the people who wrote the novels I was reading and those who put them together.

As a business, I was taking a class in college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where we were reading Tolkein, CS Lewis, and Charles Williams. One day the professor read an announcement of someone looking for interns that had interest in working in science fiction, fantasy, and horror publishing. The internship was with James Frenkel (long-time Tor editor) who had just moved to Madison, WI with his family. This was in 1993.

Can you tell us about some of the projects you're currently working on? What can readers look forward to in the upcoming issue of Electric Velocipede?

I started publishing chapbooks (slim, single-author collections) a few years ago. This year I’ve got two slated to come out. One from Robert Freeman Wexler and the other from Lavie Tidher, both of whom I’ve published in Electric Velocipede. For Electric Velocipede, I’ve got stories coming out from Sandra McDonald, Leslie What, Patrick O’Leary, Patricia Russo, Terry Bramlett, and many more.

What in your opinion is one of the strengths of Electric Velocipede that sets it apart from other publications in the field?

I think I fit somewhere in between the traditional science fiction magazines and the off-the-wall lit zines. You might see a story about robots or space ships next to a story about a man dissecting a beetle written as a performance piece. I also think my consistency (two issue every year) helps a lot. People know the zine is coming out regularly and that if they liked a previous issue, they’ll like the next one, too.

You already touched on this in your excellent
Zine Series but can you elaborate on what made you decide to start Electric Velocipede? What were some of the biggest challenges you ran into?

I wanted to publish a magazine in 1994 after I finished college, but couldn’t get organized. It was Gavin Grant and a panel at a Readercon that gave me the inspiration to finally make a zine. I knew what I was getting into in a lot of ways, but the time and money commitment for this are huge. I don’t think anyone can safely estimate that before they start. If you don’t have disposable income (or you need to be willing to start very small) and a lot of time, you’ll get frustrated very quickly.

When did you know that you wanted to be a publisher? An editor? Given unlimited resources, would you rather focus on just one or continue to nurture both aspects of your persona? (Is there a difference?)

After I was working with James Frenkel for a few weeks, I knew I wanted to be an editor. After I went to my first World Fantasy convention in New Orleans in 1994 and met a bunch of young publishers, I knew that I wanted to do that, too. Given unlimited resources at my control? I’d have to be a publisher. With unlimited resources I wouldn’t have time for editing. Hopefully I’d be able to find time for a book or two here or there.

Do you have a particular editorial slant in looking for material to include in the magazine?

Not really. I publish the best submissions I get. I’ve never wanted to give a theme to the zine or an issue, even.

Do you foresee transforming Electric Velocipede into a bigger publication in the future or are you content with its current form?

It’s gotten as big as I can make it on my own. I’d like to see it get bigger, but I can’t do it without help. I’ve been recruiting some people to help out, so hopefully by taking some of the workload off me, the zine can get bigger. I also have a full-time and a part-time job as a librarian, which is still my main profession. I don’t have a lot of free time, which is why I’m answering this at 2 in the morning.

I loved your anthology Logorrhea. Who came up with the idea and how did the anthology come about? Was it something you pitched to Bantam or something they hired you to do?

The idea was all mine. I had been watching the Scripps Spelling Bee for a few years to see what the winning word was. One year it was ‘autocthonous’ and I was disappointed with the sample sentence they provided for the speller. So I challenged writers to take one of the words and write a story based on it for Electric Velocipede. I got some good stories, and published two (the Hal Duncan and Neil Williamson pieces). But, I always felt something more could be done with it, so I went around and asked other authors if they’d be interested in writing a story should I sell the anthology. I had a good list of people who were interested in the project. I was in New York City for a reading and found myself sitting next to Bantam Spectra editor Juliet Ulman at dinner afterwards. I started telling her about my idea and she stopped me mid-sentence. She said, “Send me a proposal tomorrow.” In a month or so, I had an offer from Bantam. It was very quick, which is unusual.

What was the process like in doing Logorrhea? What was your criteria in choosing the authors and/or the stories, aside from the theme?

For me, having worked in publishing, the process was very second nature. In some ways, it was the type of thing I had literally done hundreds of times before. We worked very quickly so that the book could be in stores when the Scripps Spelling Bee was taking place. We tried to bring some mainstream non-genre authors, but our shortened time frame meant that a lot of people couldn’t be a part of it.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

It’s constantly changing, but here’s a quick list: Jeffrey Ford, Jeff VanderMeer, Kage Baker, Kelly Link, Liz Williams, Hal Duncan, Ken MacLeod, China Mieville, and lots more. I don’t have a lot of time these days to read novels, so I’ve been reading a lot of novellas.

What do you look for in a story? Any advice you can give to aspiring writers?

I like stories with layers; characters with mysteries; places with mysteries. When you first meet someone, there is a whole lifetime of information you don’t know about that person. Characters in stories are no different. Everyone’s life is interesting, it’s all in the way you tell it.

If you want to be a writer, write every day. Treat it like a job. Treat it like a business. It’s a tough thing to balance, the creativity of writing with the business of publishing, but if you plan on sending your work out to other people, you need to do it. But write every day. Get it so that writing is like showering or eating, that your day doesn’t feel right without it. That’s how I feel about editing/publishing.

Any advice you can give to aspiring publishers? Editors?

Do your research. Understand what you’re getting into. This is a slow build business. You need to develop a five year plan and not expect to be making money or even breaking even until then. With every issue I get quotes from printers to see if I can get a better price. You can’t be content to start something one way and never change it.

Will be seeing anything along the lines of Logorrhea in the near future from you whether it be a themed or unthemed anthology?

I hope so. There’s nothing definite at this time.

Because I'm a gamer and I saw your
Gary Gygax tribute post, what was your favorite AD&D module? What made it your favorite? At any time, did you consider the possibility of being a professional game designer/writer?

S1 The Tomb of Horrors. It was the one time my brother and I played where he was the Dungeon Master. It was just so fun to play the characters for once. Plus, the whole module was like a big mystery to be solved. We played it in one sitting. It was great.

Since I grew up in WI, I applied to TSR several different times to work there, and I knew several people who worked for the company. I was never quite the right match, I guess.

Anything else you'd like to plug?

My next chapbook from Robert Freeman Wexler – Psychological Methods to Sell Must Be Destroyed will be available in late April.

Can you tell us a bit about the Robert Wexler chapbook?

Here’s the URL [] the cover is by Tim Robinson, the introduction by Zoran Živković. It features six stories, five previously published and one new to the collection. The table of contents is:
  • "Suspension" originally appeared in Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet #8, Fall 2001
  • "Tales of the Golden Legend" originally appeared in The Third Alternative #10, Spring 2002
  • "Valley of the Falling Clouds" originally appeared in Polyphony #3, Fall 2003
  • "The Green Wall" originally appeared in Polyphony #5, Fall 2005
  • "Indifference" originally appeared in Full Unit Hookup #1, Spring 2002
  • "Sidewalk Factory: A Mini Story-Suite" is previously unpublished
Robert’s style if similar to Lucius Shephard, Angela Carter, Ray Bradbury… The stories build slowly and are filled with beautiful, wild, and wonderful worlds.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Book Review: The Shadow Year by Jeffrey Ford

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free book reviews.

Jeffrey Ford is one of the best speculative fiction writers out there and The Shadow Year doesn't disappoint. Ford seemed to be channeling Ray Bradbury but the former surpasses the latter (at least in this novel) as he infuses this coming-of-age story with his own unique elements and handles it deftly through sheer skill with the craft. For example, the book never explicitly mentions the era when the story takes place but readers will immediately realize it through Ford's details and descriptions. This is writing at its best, especially the "showing not telling" part. I'm a fan of Ford so I recognize that many scenes are drawn from his novelette "Botch Town" yet The Shadow Year is not simply an expanded story of the former but a solid, separate narrative of its own and in certain ways superior to the novelette. For example, chapters in the book tend to be short and aptly titled, each giving us a snippet of the protagonist's childhood. This made the reading experience comfortable and compelling, a quality I didn't quite perceive in "Botch Town". Ford also handles the other elements quite adeptly whether it's establishing tone of voice, character, language, and plot. The Shadow Year is easily a book that I can recommend to anyone and showcases one of the best ways speculative fiction (whether they're aware of it or not) is utilized.

Rating: 4.5/5.

Rating System:

1 - There are better ways to spend your time.
2 - Ho hum books, usually typical of its genre. Probably only recommendable to die-hard fans.
3 - A cut above the rest, usually with one or more elements that sets it apart from the norm.
4 - Highly recommended and is easily a pioneer of the genre.
5 - A classic or it will be.

Book Review: Very Short Stories for Harried Readers by Vicente Garcia Groyon

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free book reviews.

I'm not really a fan of flash fiction so I didn't really expect this anthology to convince me otherwise although I was curious. Barely exceeding one hundred pages and featuring forty-one stories, the first thing that comes to mind is whether the price (P290 or $7.00) is worth it. Also included in the anthologies are some line art which honestly aren't really that great (I could have, uh, drawn them myself). Not helping the packaging is a dubious pink cover (or maybe the book cover does appeal to its target market). However, as far as the stories go, Groyon raises the bar on flash fiction as while these stories are quick reads, they are also quite sophisticated and have depth lacking in many stories, flash fiction or otherwise. You won't find stories that tell you the ending outright as some are ambiguous while others try to leave an impression on you. This is easily the thinking man's fast-food fiction anthology and features a diverse set of authors. If you're a fan of this kind of fiction, you might want to give the book a try. Otherwise, I honestly think shelling out P290 is too high a price for such material (or better yet, borrow a friend's copy).

Rating: 2.5/5.

Rating System:

1 - There are better ways to spend your time.
2 - Ho hum books, usually typical of its genre. Probably only recommendable to die-hard fans.
3 - A cut above the rest, usually with one or more elements that sets it apart from the norm.
4 - Highly recommended and is easily a pioneer of the genre.
5 - A classic or it will be.

Book Review: The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction Volume Two edited by George Mann

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free book reviews.

I was enthusiastic about this anthology because my experience with the previous volume was favorable. Thankfully for me (and hopefully for other readers), Volume Two doesn't disappoint either. Fifteen stories are in this anthology from various authors (on a side note, a Michael Moorcock story takes up a fifth of the book and Neal Asher has two stories included) and they cover much ground ranging from insightful to entertaining. Overall, I think the quality of the stories remained consistent. As usual, here are my top three stories: "Book, Theatre, and Wheel" by Karl Schroeder is easily my favorite and is one of those stories that could have passed for fantasy. It features strong characterization backed by a solid story concept as well as compelling language that's easy to get into. Besides, I'm partial to a story that features tarot cards. "Shining Armor" by Dominic Green is this fun sci-fi action/adventure story and Green handles his characters adeptly, even more so than Schroeder. There's no big idea here but it was quite an enjoyable read and woke me up when I was starting to doze off. My third favorite is "iCity" by Paul di Filippo and there's no better story to start off the anthology. Filippo showcases his ability to talk about the human condition in science fiction trappings that very much fits our modern era. There are several other great stories in this anthology and I recommend it to anyone looking for new, original science fiction stories. If the other books in the line are of this quality, then Solaris is easily BL Publishing's equivalent of Wizards of the Coast's Discovery line for delivering books that go beyond the gaming/genre fiction stereotype.

Rating: 4/5.

Rating System:

1 - There are better ways to spend your time.
2 - Ho hum books, usually typical of its genre. Probably only recommendable to die-hard fans.
3 - A cut above the rest, usually with one or more elements that sets it apart from the norm.
4 - Highly recommended and is easily a pioneer of the genre.
5 - A classic or it will be.

Back from Baguio

Just arrived from Baguio and I took a much needed bath. I'll be going to work in less than 8 hours so I'll try to finish Jeffrey Ford's The Shadow Year before I go to bed.

The Good:
  • Surreal because it's the first time I took an out-of-town trip in a BMW (friend's car).
  • My companions were crazy enough to get a kick out of ridiculous names such as a graveyard called "The Kingdom of God".
  • Witnessed various Filipinos enacting the Station of the Cross, complete with carrying an actual crucifix and crown of thorns.
  • At least three games of Starcraft: The Board Game.
  • "Convinced" the host's wife to read Jeffrey Ford's The Shadow Year.
The Bad:
  • Unhealthy food.
  • I did pack my bags and I brought extra clothes and toiletries but during the three days I was there, I didn't really bathe. Or changed clothes.
  • People got sick (a cold), myself included.
  • Lack of sleep.
  • Eight-hour trip home, two hours spent in traffic. Outside of the city.
  • No blogging/Internet! (Although I did manage to log-in for half-an-hour before I left as there was an Internet cafe going for P10.00/hour.)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Top 10 Best-Sellers as of 2008/3/16

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

  1. A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle
  2. Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult
  3. The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
  4. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
  5. Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules by Jeff Kinney
  6. Horton Hears a Who! by Dr. Seuss
  7. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
  8. The Appeal by John Grisham
  9. Eat This Not That! by David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding
  10. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne

Thursday, March 20, 2008


I'll be out of town on Friday until the weekend so don't expect any updates from me (or me responding to emails... not that I'm expecting any). I'm off to the mountains of Baguio so if don't hear from me next week, I've probably fallen off a cliff.

2008/3/20 Tabletop RPG Podcasts

Every Thursday, I post links to various podcasts that deals with tabletop RPGs.

Tabletop RPG (Mostly)

General Discussions/Reviews/Everything Else
Actual Play Sessions

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bad News, Good News

Bad News: Arthur C. Clarke is dead.

Good News: Nikki Alfar's short story "Glass" is up at Fantasy.

Essay: One Speculative Fiction Story to Rule Them All

Every Wednesday, I have an essay on any topic that catches my fancy!

One common tendency for people is to over-simplify, to boil everything down into one neat formula. That's the appeal of black-and-white morals where things are clear-cut and easily defined. Unfortunately, it is not a place that encourages deliberation, discussion, or individual opinion.

My personal experience with this stems from non-fans of any genre or medium. For example, in college, I was often found sitting on the library's entrance, reading a fantasy or science fiction novel. In one instance, a friend approached me and wanting to start some idle chatter, asked me what I was reading and what the book was about. Now I have no qualms about answering the former but for me, the latter is a dead-end question. First of all, if an entire novel can be summarized in one sentence, or even in a brief discussion, why bother reading the book at all? Second, if I knew how the book would turn out, then I wouldn't be reading it in the first place. There are some situations where after reading the prologue, you know where the book is headed. But honestly, how can one make that claim until you've actually finished the book and talk about it with certainty? So my common practice was to hand them the book I was reading and let them make their own decisions. After a few seconds of looking at the book's cover and reading the back copy, they'd ask what genre it was.

"Fantasy," I told them.

"Is that like Lord of the Rings? Or Harry Potter?" Both books were at the time the craze, especially in light of Hollywood and the money the movies were raking in.

Not that I'm against Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter as the poster boys of the genre but there's more to fantasy than those two series. Dragonlance, for example, despite the Tolkienesque elements it inherited from D&D, is not Lord of the Rings. Lemony Snickett or Chronicles of Narnia or His Dark Materials may be young adult fantasy but they are different in subject matter and voice when compared to each other or Harry Potter. Here, we see a tendency to oversimplify, to encapsulate thousands, if not millions of books, under one neat category, as if they were all clones of each other.

To be fair, I've made the same mistake in the past. Fantasy and science fiction are my personal causes because I love them but when it comes to other genres, I am as ignorant as the rest. I think every non-romance reader has this idea that romance novels are these cheesy, simple stories of love, heartbreak, and sex. But what would I know having never read Mills & Boon or Danielle Steele or whatever popular romance literature out there? I'm sure even within the confines of the romance genre, there are various styles, techniques, and narrative forms that distinguishes one book from another.

These days, in terms of local lit, a friend is in crisis as a stranger asked him what the difference was between the various local speculative fiction publications (as if they were that many). I could rant about the difference in editors, publication objective, and featured authors but I'd be ignoring the obvious: the fact that the various publications feature different stories that all qualify as speculative fiction for I do not think there is any single story that encapsulates or defines the entire genre. Even if two stories share the same author, they will be different stories and simply not be identical to each other.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Feature: Interview with Ellen Datlow

Every Tuesday, I'll have a feature article posted.

Ellen Datlow is a prolific and award-winning editor who has worked on both print and online publications such as Omni, Omni Online, Event Horizon: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, SCIFICTION, and The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror. She is also the recipient of numerous awards including The World Fantasy Award, The Bram Stoker Award, The International Horror Guild Award, The Locus Award for Best Editor, The Hugo Award for Best Editor, and The Karl Edward Wagner Award. On April 29, 2008, Del Rey will be releasing Datlow's latest anthology, The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Sixteen Original Works by Speculative Fiction's Finest Voices.

Hi! First off, thanks for doing this interview. First off, let's talk about the Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Can you tell us more about the book, what your criteria was for picking the stories, and how the book came into existence (did you approach Del Rey or did they approach you)?

You’re very welcome.

Unusually, I was approached by editor Chris Schluep and publicist Colleen Lindsay just as SCIFICTION was closing down. We talked about editing a reprint anthology of SCIFICTION stories and also about me possibly editing an original anthology of stories covering the wide range of fantastic fiction that I did in SCIFICTION. Although the reprint idea fell through and Colleen left before the deal was done, Chris bought the book for Del Rey.

I say “unusually,” because it’s the norm for me to approach publishers with proposals for anthologies. As SCIFICTION closed down, there were stories that I’d received on submission—two that I loved and wanted to buy for something were Jason Stoddard’s “The Elephant Ironclads” and Kim Newman and Paul McAuley’s novella “Prisoners of the Action.” The story “Sonny Liston Takes the Fall” by Elizabeth Bear was submitted to Terri and my Salon Fantastique anthology. Terri didn’t get it but I loved it. So I told Bear that I was about to edit an original anthology and could I buy the story for that. For the rest of the stories I contacted writers whose work I admired and asked for stories. It wasn’t until the very end of the process that Chris and I came up with the title. Until then it was the untitled non-theme mixed genre anthology.

How about your other upcoming books? Can you give us more info on them?

Twists of the Tale, my cat horror anthology is being reissued by Wildside this year and at least two more of the adult fairy tale series: Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears and Black Swan, White Raven will be out this spring (keeping fingers crossed) from Prime.

And of course The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 2008: Twenty First Annual Collection will be out in the fall. I’ve just made my final choices and am still working on the summary of the year.

I handed in my “inspired by Poe” anthology to Solaris. The title is Poe: 19 New Tales of Suspense, Dark fantasy, and Horror Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe. The book was commissioned in honor of Poe’s Bicentennial in 2009 and is scheduled for late January publication in the UK and US. The book came out longer than I’d expected and it’s almost 134,000 words. I’ve posted the TOC on my blog—it’s an interesting mix—mostly dark, although it begins with a (darkly) humorous story by Kim Newman.

Barnes & Noble Books is reissuing my two vampirism anthologies: Blood is Not Enough and A Whisper of Blood as one B I G vampire book in August. I’m excited to get the two books back into print. We don’t yet know what the overall title will be but it’ll likely be something along the lines of A Treasury of Contemporary Vampires Stories.

Also coming out in 2009 is The Cinderella Game and Other Villainous Tales, Terri Windling and my middle grade (8-12 year olds) fairy tale anthology for Viking. This is the follow up to A Wolf at the Door and Swan Sister, published by Simon & Schuster.

Prime Books reprinted Black Thorn, White Rose last year and from your website, it seems that they'll be reprinting your other anthologies with Terri Windling. What's the story behind those reprints?

All of the series is out of print except for Snow White, Blood Red, the first—which continues to sell for Avon. We’d always been interested in getting the rest of the series back into print. Prime was interested and decided to publish them as trade paperbacks with a totally different design concept than the originals, which were (except for the hard cover of Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears) created by Tom Canty.

You've made yourself a name as an editor. Did you always know you wanted to be one? How did you go about pursuing such a career?

I knew early that I either wanted to work in a bookstore or get into publishing because I loved books and reading. After I graduated from college I looked for a job in publishing. I knew nothing about what this entailed but I sent my resume, such as it was, to every book publisher and magazine in the NYC phone book whose name I recognized. Little, Brown & Co. responded and so did Seventeen Magazine. But the Seventeen job required publishing experience of which I had none. I started as assistant to the New York salesman at Little, Brown’s NY office and moved on to editorial assistant jobs, and an assistant editor job (for mainstream hardcover book publishers) and subsequently through a combination of a contacts, persistence, and luck got a job as associate editor at OMNI magazine.

Before the job at Little, Brown I knew nothing about publishing or editing. I started editing during a brief stint at Arbor House, run by a notorious monster named Donald Fine. Because he couldn’t keep employees I moved from receptionist to assistant editor in a few months—doing publicity, editing novels, and being utterly miserable.

Can you talk to us more about your editing process? Also, when I heard the word editor, my initial reaction is that one checks for spelling, grammar, etc. but that's not what you do. Can you tell us a bit about your role in the production process?

What you’re describing is copy editing, which happens after the editing process.

The first part of the editing process is the reading and selection of stories. Very few stories are so perfect that they can’t use the critical eye of an editor. Throughout my career I think I’ve seen maybe three or four that needed absolutely nothing. Many stories come in that I like a great deal but that I feel need work-- from just a light line edit to a major rewrite. I may suggest, push, and cajole but I’ll never do the actual rewrite –that’s not my job. It’s the author’s job... I will try to help the author communicate what she intends to the reader by asking questions: What do you mean by this? What happened here? Why did this happen? I tell writers that they need to know what’s going on in their story—even if this information never appears in the final text.

Anyway, the first go-through questions and tries to address the more major problems in the story (that is, of course, if I like the story enough to invest the time and energy in it in the first place). Then, I’ll see if the rewrite fixes those problems. There’s generally a back and forth with the writer in a few emails.

The final line edit –something I do in the weeks before the book is due to my publisher--is a literally line by line read-through to make sure words/phrases aren’t overused, make sure there are no inconsistencies, that numbered items (e.g. how many bullets in a gun match the number of shots fired), and minor things like that.

Then the book goes to the publisher and goes through the production process. The mss is sent out for copyediting which is mostly correcting punctuation and typos but is also meant to catch factual errors and things I’ve missed in my line edit. The copy edit comes back to me and I go over it page by page and either approve or STET (put back as it was) the copy edits and I respond to the copy editor’s queries. At this point I go back to each author to find out what he wants to do about the useful queries brought up. If you’re lucky, a good copy editor discovers things that the author and editor both missed. If you’re unlucky, you get a copy editor who is ignorant of the genre or has a tin ear for authorial voice and wants to rewrite everything. It’s always the author’s final decision as to what is changed or not. Then the book is proofread by someone else.

How did you end up collaborating with Terri Windling on your other anthologies? When did the two of you first meet?

Jim Frenkel approached us (we knew each other through the NY sf/f crowd when Terri lived in NYC) and asked if we’d be interested in co-editing a Year’s Best combining fantasy and horror modeled after Gardner Dozois’s science fiction Best of the Year (originally published by Frenkel at Bluejay Books). We said yes. Because we enjoyed working together (although we didn’t interact very much while editing YBFH) when artist Tom Canty had the idea of us co-editing an original anthology of retold fairy tales we liked the idea and decided to try to sell it.

Who are some of the writers that influenced you when you were young? Who are some of your favorites now? Is there any author whose works you regularly re-read?

I’m not sure about influencing me as I don’t write, but some of the books and stories that made a difference in my life were the mushroom planet series by Eleanor Cameron, the Nancy Drew Books, comic books of all sorts, The Man Who Was Thursday by Chesterton, Steppenwolf by Hesse, The Magus by John Fowles, the plays of Tennessee Williams (I read them during study hall in the library), Bullfinch’s Mythology, Fairy tale collections, collections by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Guy de Maupassant that my parents owned. I read Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr. in my early teens. Later, Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Marquis de Sade, Henry Miller, Doris Lessing’s mainstream novels, The Left Hand of Darkness by le Guin.

Novelists who I read today: Jack O’Connell, William Gibson, Elizabeth Hand, James Lee Burke (up until a couple of books ago, I read everything of his), Harry Crews, Janette Turner Hospital, John Burdett. Dan Simmons’ The Terror was absolutely brilliant!!!

Too many short story writers to count.

I reread no one these days. No time. I’m always trying to keep up with the current year for YBFH.

What do you look for in a story, whether it's for an anthology or for your personal reading pleasure?

As an editor, I sometimes look for different things than when I’m just reading for pleasure. As an editor I feel strongly that writing is a means of communication. The writer can choose to communicate with a tiny cult audience or with a wider audience. It’s entirely up to her. Some writers do one or the other with different stories. The stories I enjoy most –as editor and reader--are those that can be read on several levels—the obvious, “storytelling” level with a discernable plot. And the more subconscious level that really gets to a reader. Those stories are more likely to be read over and over again with increasing comprehension and pleasure. I said earlier that I don’t reread…well, I don’t reread for pleasure any more. But I of course, constantly reread while I edit a magazine or anthology. As part of the editing process that’s what I’m doing all the time.

What I look for as I work depends on what I’m reading FOR—for a theme anthology, the first thing I’m looking for (or at least am aware of in a tiny space of my brain)—is whether or not the story fits within but pushes the boundaries of that theme. But far more importantly, I’m looking for stories that “blow me away”—that have a major impact in my reading experience. I never get jaded. A great story jumps out as often now as it ever did. Writing that thrills me-- with its style, its voice, its ingenuity (especially all of that together) is an extra bonus.

When did you fall in love with cats? What about them appeals to you?

I grew up with a wonderful dog that I adored. I never had any interest in cats until my first roommate in Manhattan acquired two kittens. That’s when I fell in love. And when she moved back to Ohio, I kept one of the young cats and she took the other with her.

I don’t have to walk them and they don’t smell as bad!

What's it like working in three genres? What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses (if any) of each?

I love it. I never get bored because I usually have projects involving all three. if I get tired of reading horror I can just switch gears to the fantasy or the science fiction.

It’s not that the genres have weaknesses or strengths but that the purveyors of genres write well or badly and use the genres ambitiously or in hackneyed ways.

Science fiction does a dandy job of exploring possibilities, pointing the way towards ethical behavior should certain futures (scientific or not) come to pass. Example: cloning. There are a LOT of stories and novels about cloning. The uses clones might be put to, the rights of cloned humans, the repercussions on economics, the social fabris, and politics of cloning humans. Same with the possibility of banishing sleep (Nancy Kress has written a series of novels about this). And speculation of different future punishments for criminals. Future wars or wars with aliens. Meeting aliens. I think these are very useful exercises that enable the reader to deal with what is going on today in science and in politics.

A weakness of science fiction is that it is still ghettoized (something I mentioned earlier) both ways—by some literary mainstream critics and by some science fiction writers who want recognition only for what is considered the “party” line. But that’s a weakness in perception, not in the actual works of sf. Ideas with no characters or style or voice. Flashy style with no substance—those can be seen as weaknesses—not in the genre, though. In the writers of the genre.

Good fantasy creates new worlds and refreshingly refurbishes the real world.

Bad fantasy cannibalizes traditional myths and legends and great fantasy novels-- Strip mining Tolkien and other early fantastists without giving anything back to the terrain.

Horror at its best creates a mood and a feeling of disquiet, chills, and/or terror all while telling an absorbing story. The worst of it contains no story but just a bloodfest with a paucity of characterization, theme, or credible behavior.

So again, it’s not a weakness or strength of genre but weakness or strength (and ambition and skill) of the writers IN the various subgenres of the fantastic.

From the perspective of an editor, what advice can you give aspiring writers?

First of all, if you want to be a writer for no other reason than that it sounds like a really neat idea—forget it.

Be passionate about your writing. Write about themes and subjects that matter to you.

Be willing to hone your craft. Rewrite rewrite rewrite. To get a feeling for different “voices” in literature read aloud some of the writers whose work you love –in all fields.

Do not read exclusively in the genre you plan to write in. Read widely—you’ll learn something from everything you read—bad and good.

Always be willing to listen to writerly advice and you will learn what to accept and what to ignore.

Don’t be so in a rush to get published that you’re willing to be published anywhere. Get paid for your work, even if it’s only a few cents. Or if you choose to give something away, at least do it for a respected non-paying market

Choose your markets carefully and pay attention to the guidelines. If a publication says “no vampire stories” or “no space opera” –do not send the editor a vampire story or space opera.

I could go on and on—but I won’t.

Anything else you'd like to plug?

My website is and it’s kept pretty up to date.

My blog is and you can also find more info there

My photo page is:

I often take photos of sf/f/h events and post them there.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Book Review: Afraid: The Best Philippine Ghost Stories edited by Danton Remoto

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free book reviews.

In the introduction of this anthology, Remoto writes that one of the reasons why these stories are the best is because "these stories are told in well-written yet accessible prose." If that is your criteria, then this book pulls it off as each of the stories are quick, easy reads and is best characterized by the neatness of the prose. As to whether they're actually scary, your mileage may vary but there is undeniable competence in the writing. Another consistent factor is the brevity of the stories: long enough as to not be classified as flash fiction but you won't be finding 10,000-word epics here, which is probably just as well considering most of the stories feature plot twists and sudden shocks. Afraid is actually quite thin at under a hundred pages and printed on one of the thinnest papers available. There are only ten stories here but then again, the original price of this book was P75.00 ($2.00). My favorite story in the collection is "The Portrait" by Jose Ma. Espino and contains many strong elements that makes a good horror story, namely seeding and a steady build-up of suspense. Overall, this is really a worthwhile purchase, along the lines of reading material you'll devour in one sitting and (unfortunately) easily disposable. This anthology isn't striving for depth but then again, it's not cheap thrills variety either. Remoto in my opinion did a good job in maintaining the consistency of the writing and at the price I bought it, is easily recommendable.

Rating: 3/5.

Rating System:

1 - There are better ways to spend your time.
2 - Ho hum books, usually typical of its genre. Probably only recommendable to die-hard fans.
3 - A cut above the rest, usually with one or more elements that sets it apart from the norm.
4 - Highly recommended and is easily a pioneer of the genre.
5 - A classic or it will be.

Book Review: Black Magic Woman by Justin Gustainis

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free book reviews.

I had no idea what to expect from this book aside from a stellar recommendation from author Rachel Caine. For fans of urban fantasy, I'll have to agree with her assessment. If you're a believer in the adage "show, don't tell", then that best summarizes Gustainis talent in characterization which gripped me immediately. For example, the main protagonist, Quincy Morris, is portrayed in the first chapter as kick-ass but one quite mortal. The said scene has no bearing at all to the rest of the plot but is vital because it establishes the character. The strength of the book is easily the various personalities and Gustainis juggles several of them. For the most part, each character, whether hero or villain, carry with them their own unique tone and flavor. My only qualm is the seemingly unanimous ethics of all the characters, vigilantism on the side of the heroes, and absolute amorality on the part of the villains (so in many ways, this is one of those Good vs Evil stories). Gustainis also draws from various unconventional mythologies that fits the Western slant of the series and is executed quite competently in my opinion. As far as language goes, Gustainis is very much readable and functional without being dragging. For the most part this was a fun read that has action/adventure written all over it. If you're a fan of authors like Jim Butcher, you'll probably get along just fine with Black Magic Woman.

Rating: 3/5.

Rating System:

1 - There are better ways to spend your time.
2 - Ho hum books, usually typical of its genre. Probably only recommendable to die-hard fans.
3 - A cut above the rest, usually with one or more elements that sets it apart from the norm.
4 - Highly recommended and is easily a pioneer of the genre.
5 - A classic or it will be.

Book Review: Take No Prisoners by John Grant

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free book reviews.

Being a relatively "new" (I started reading fantasy in 1995--that still makes me young, right?) reader to the SF&F genre, I must admit that I have never heard of John Grant before and my only experience with him was through a recent story (which I quite enjoyed) in Datlow's latest horror anthology, Inferno. Take No Prisoners was more or less blind reading on my part and if I have any regrets with regards to the book, it's that I didn't discover it sooner. Grant is an excellent writer and it is evident in this collection that his greatest talent is his ability to inject character and humanity into his stories whether it's fantasy, science fiction, mystery, or anything in between. My only complaint with his writing is that at times, the ending is bombarded with information, sort of the reverse exposition. Nonetheless, they are perhaps necessary elements in conveying Grant's ideas, especially when it comes to explaining the science fiction stories. Here's my top three: "Wooden Horse" is the first story and it simply blew me away (and is a great choice when it comes to picking the first story in a collection). It starts out mundanely enough but even then, Grant already ensnares the reader with his well-crafted prose and characterization. However, as it slowly unfolds, this is undeniably a speculative fiction story and while it suffers from the previously-mentioned post-story exposition, this is nonetheless a great read. "A Lean and Hungry Look", on the other hand, showcases Grant's versatility and one gets to enjoy an unconventional murder mystery. The tone at least is very different from his other stories and shows Grant's versatility. My last choice is "Imogen", a compelling story about memory and tragedy. If you want to read well-written stories, you can't go wrong with Take No Prisoners as it tackles a wide array of subject matter and genres. And as I said before, Grant focuses on the humanity of his subjects giving each story a strong emotional resonance.

Rating: 4/5.

Rating System:

1 - There are better ways to spend your time.
2 - Ho hum books, usually typical of its genre. Probably only recommendable to die-hard fans.
3 - A cut above the rest, usually with one or more elements that sets it apart from the norm.
4 - Highly recommended and is easily a pioneer of the genre.
5 - A classic or it will be.