Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sick Sick Sick

When you wake up, you're supposed to feel refreshed and energized. Not suddenly weak and worse off before you slept.

That was pretty how much I felt yesterday. I was planning to go to the bookstore but after taking a bath and changing my clothes, my body didn't feel up to it. I went through two boxes of tissues. I was breathing through one nostril. My upper lip was numb from all the wiped-off snot. There was an imbalance in the pressure in my ears, if not actual pain. I was suffering from partial vertigo.

A simple cold did all that to me. I think many people underestimate the network that is nose-ears-throat and how the malfunction of one affects the entire body (vertigo for example can be caused by deficiency in the ears).

As a kid, such "attacks" were frequent, or at least memory tells me so. Neither Western medicine (I had weekly injections at the hospital) nor Eastern medicine (I'm supposed to drink cockroaches?) helped. It was a combination of crappy genes (every day, I hear my dad--and I'm in the other room--go to the bathroom and cough out huge amounts of phlegm), horrible bone structure of the nose (the doctor once asked if I got punched in the nose but at seven years old, I was not prone to fighting), an allergy to cold antibiotics (oh great, the only thing worse than the disease is the cure...literally), and living in one of the most polluted cities (not to drive tourists away but Metro Manila isn't the destination you want to visit for fresh air... we have the provinces and beaches for that).

Like a literary objective correlative, I started getting better when I rebelled against my parents: I moved out of my parent's room (despite the gates and the locks at the house, my parents were too over-protective that they wanted to keep me in their room), started walking home from school (it's too dangerous--it's not you we don't trust, it's everyone else), and ditched all the drugs.

Anyway, it looks like I've recovered now. Still breathing through one nostril but I think I'm healthy enough to inflict myself to the rest of the world. I expect I'll suffer the same symptoms again in two months or so (hopefully longer).

Friday, November 28, 2008

November 28, 2008 Links and Plugs

I'm under the weather today so no Podcast Focus for this week.
Since I'll be gone for the weekend (hopefully recovering), here's your book plug for December:

Shadowrealm by Paul S. Kemp

Top 10 Best-Sellers as of 2008/11/23

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

  1. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
  2. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
  3. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
  4. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
  5. Cross Country by James Patterson
  6. The Shack by William P. Young
  7. The Appeal by John Grisham
  8. The Christmas Sweater by Glenn Beck
  9. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
  10. The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

Thursday, November 27, 2008

November 27, 2008 Links and Plugs

Happy Thanksgiving! (We don't celebrate it here but you might want to read this.)
And for your book plug:

Princeps' Fury by Jim Butcher

2008/11/27 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, November 26, 2008

November 26, 2008 Links and Plugs

Lots of stuff for today:
And for your daily plug, grab the final issue of Flytrap:

Feature: The Ender's Game Series and

LinkEvery Wednesday, I'll have an essay or a feature on any topic that catches my fancy!

This is probably going to be one of those experimental hybrid posts that's one-part informative and one-part advertorial.

First off, Monday's book review of Ender in Exile has received some comments. What's fascinating about Ender's Game as a series is that it has a non-linear chronology. It's not like The Wheel of Time where you simply read books one to eleven in that order. It's probably more similar to Anne McCaffrey's Pern although it isn't as confusing as Dragonlance.

Wikipedia has a flowchart of the timeline of events:


Anyway, to the uninitiated, the flowchart can be confusing so I decided to make my own, focusing on the novels (the only one I haven't read is A War of Gifts so I leave it out of my chart):

This is my suggested method of reading the books. The main book that you should read, of course, is Ender's Game. Everything else branches off from there.

Speaker for the Dead and its ilk follows the story of an older Ender. For me, the tone of these novels is quite different, focusing more on the science fiction aspects (biology, extra-terrestials, etc.) and has a more mature tone. (Philosophy and religion is thrown in as well but that's present in all the books of the series.)

Ender's Shadow until Shadow of the Giant, on the other hand, follows the story of Ender's "sidekick" Bean. The tone of these novels is a smoother transition from Ender's Game and Shadow of the Hegemon has a more political focus.

The latest novel, Ender in Exile, returns to Ender as a narrator but it builds off the events that take place in Shadow of the Giant. While it can be seen as a prequel to Speaker for the Dead (because it follows Ender's point of view), it's more of a sequel to Shadows of the Giant as it resolves some threads there.

If you want to see how the novels relate to each other as far as chronology is concerned, I refer you to this flowchart:

As can be seen, Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow takes place more or less in the same time period. Events branch out from there, with the end of Shadow of the Giant transitioning to the middle of Ender in Exile.

Now the second part of this feature will talk about flowcharts. I could have opted not to use images to show how the Ender novels relate to each other but it wouldn't be as effective. Most people tend to think visually and flowcharts are one way of representing a thought process.

The program I used to make my flowcharts is the software aptly titled Flowchart. It's in its beta stage and currently free. What I like about it is that it's browser-based which mean whether I'm using Windows XP at Home or OS X at the office, I can access Flowchart. Because it's cross-platform, I can share my flowcharts to anyone and know that they'll be able to read it. And if all else fails, Flowchart exports to PNG (an image file) and PDF.

The program isn't as intuitive as I'd like it to be (I had difficulty finding the export function) and it's not without its flaws (the arrows tend to disappear on my screen for example even if they're still there). For the most part, however, it works and anyone playing with it for an hour or so will quickly grasp its many functions.

The first time I encountered flowcharts was in a programming class in high school (yes, they inflict programming lessons in my high school!). We were tasked to create a simple program and flowcharts are a good way of describing the various processes. I've discovered flowcharts however to be handy in other areas.

When it comes to writing, flowcharts are optimal when you're devising your Choose Your Own Adventure novel or hypertext "book". However, it's also helpful in plotting long family trees, timelines of your non-linear and/or mosaic novel, interstellar routes, relationships between factions/nobles/families, etc.

Those writing scripts, either for video games or film, might also find it a handy tool to use.

Personally, as a tabletop RPG player, flowcharts are also a good way to help design your campaign. If you don't want to railroad your players but unwilling to totally embrace the free-form nature of a sandbox game, flowcharts are a good way of devising beforehand how the story might develop. One D&D supplement wherein flowcharts were put to good use was Heroes of Battle.

Anyway, flowcharts is something that might aid you in your writing and a tool to add to your arsenal. is currently free and is a good web-based application although don't hesitate to take out a sheet of yellow pad and start scribbling your own.

Essay: Que Sera, Sera: God is Batman?

Every Wednesday, I'll have an essay or a feature on any topic that catches my fancy!

(Image Source: Wikipedia)

Religion isn't a light subject in the Philippines. Whether it's Jesus or Allah, Faith is a dominant part of our culture. A few years ago, there was a cold war of sorts between Catholicism and Islam when the latter wanted to establish a mosque in a popular shopping mall. Practitioners of the former started making protests, especially when you consider the fact that they already had their own chapel in the same vicinity. And yes, mass has become so ubiquitous that if you don't have time to attend church on Saturdays or Sundays, there's usually a service inside the mall, complete with mini-tabernacles and stackable chairs.

Despite the division of politics and religion in the Constitution (supposedly a reaction to the abuses of the Church during our Spanish colonization), the latter has an undeniable role in government. A lot of schools, both public and private, are quite Catholic as hanging above the blackboard of each classroom is a crucified Christ. When citizens gather for rallies at the Edsa shrine, the site of the original Edsa Revolution, looming over them is the giant statue of the Virgin Mary (which in itself has had at least one face lift during its nineteen-year existence--another subject of debate during its time). Even a local TV and radio station held a daily commercial that aired at 3 pm, encouraging its viewers/listeners to start the "3 o'clock habit" of praying.

In many ways, this isn't really surprising. While Catholicism isn't native to the Philippines, adapting to this "new" religion wasn't so much of a stretch. Philippine mythology isn't exactly a monotheistic religion but we do have an uber-deity along the lines of an All-Father or a Father Zeus. We call him Bathala (Bat-ha-la) and this was appropriated by Western missionaries to refer to "God". And it worked. To this day, Bathala is divorced from his native origins (which is similar to the origin stories of Norse and Greek mythology, depending on which variant you follow) and is typically associated with the Christian God.

A popular phrase is "Bahala na!" which roughly translated to "I'll leave it up to fate". Who will pay for the bills? Bahala na! Don't you have to study for the exam tomorrow? Bahala na! One can think of it as our own version of Que Sera, Sera. It is speculated that the origins of the phrase is actually Bathala na, implying a certain trust in God. A more correct usage of the phrase is attaching a pronoun at the end to designate responsibility: "Bahala na si tatay," ("Dad will take care of it") "Bahala ka na" ("I'll leave it up to you"). It's rare that one actually hears "Bahala na si Bathala" ("God will take care of it") as we often use synonyms for God such as "Bahala na ang Panginoon" ("The Lord will take care of it") or "Bahala na ang Diyos". Puns are also a part of our culture and sometimes, we use "Bahala na si Batman" ("Batman will take care of it") since the word Batman starts out with the same syllable as Bathala.

Speaking of Batman, one of the humorous tautologies that Filipinos spread around is that God is Batman. It goes something like this:

God is Jesus
Jesus is Man
Therefore God is Man

God is Love
Love is Blind
Bats are Blind

Therefore God is Batman.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Quick Updates

Just updated my About Me page. Took me about a year (to get the credentials) but right now I'm happy with what's listed there (and yay, I actually have a bibiography page--I wish there was more fiction listed but that's something to aim for next year).

On more local news, there's big shake-ups happening at the Philippines Free Press. Adam David is the new literary critic for the journal while Erwin Romulo's the new associate editor (i.e. buy this week's issue!). Looks like the youth (of course my readers and I might have different definitions of youth: I'm 26 and those two guys are older than me) are starting to take over (a few years after Sarge Lacuesta became the literary editor).

November 25, 2008 Links and Plugs

Nope, nothing witty in this corner.
For your book plug, I'm still doing the PS Publishing rounds:

Interview: Pat St-Denis of Pat's Fantasy Hotlist

Every Tuesday, I'll have an interview posted.

Pat St-Denis is the man behind
Pat's Fantasy Hotlist, one of the most popular book review blogs in the fantasy/science fiction genre.

Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview! How did you come up with the present format of the blog (book reviews, interviews, contests, etc.)? Which feature do you think is the most popular among your readers?

Anyone who's been visiting the Hotlist for a while is aware that the blog has always been somewhat of a work in progress, especially during the first two years. Book reviews were my bread and butter, of course, but gradually I was able to secure more and more interviews with SFF authors.

Then came the occasional book giveaways, which in time became more numerous. I toyed with a few ideas and some articles saw the light. I try to post all the relevant and important stuff, but I also make an effort to keep things fun and interesting with the quotes and funny images.

What it comes down to is that I'm posting the sort of material I would like to read. It's not for everyone, but I can live with that. And so can a lot of people, it seems!

As for the most popular feature, I would like to believe that my reviews are still the principal reason people are still stopping by.

What are your criteria when reviewing books?

Hmmm, do you mean what makes me decide to go for a novel in particular? If so, then it's more a question of mood than anything else. One of the perks of receiving so many books from so many different publishers is that you get your hands on stuff from every conceivable subgenre. So when I'm tired of epic fantasy, all I have to do is switch to scifi or space opera or whatever appears to be what will scratch my itch.

Understandably, there are specific books I'm eagerly awaiting, and when they finally reach my mailbox they trump whatever I'm reading at the time.

If you are asking me what I'm elaborating on when I review a particular work, it's not complicated. I always try to break down a book based on world building, characterization, rhythm, and storylines. These, in my humble opinion, are the most important facets of a novel, which is why I expound on each aspect.

Some refer to it as a «no-frills» approach, while others consider what I post to be in-depth book reviews. Whatever the case may be, things have been working quite well for me since the creation of the blog, so I just continue to do what I've been doing from the beginning and hope for the best!

How do you decide who to interview? Like are you consciously targeting authors who have a book that's going to be released, selecting between what authors/publicists/publishers offer you, anyone you feel like, or some combination?

Unless it's a high profile author, it's basically based on what I'm reading. If I like the book, chances are that I'll be interested in conducting an interview. Especially when I'm reviewing new or midlist writers, it's always nice to give them the opportunity to introduce themselves.

I always go with what I want and what I feel my readership would be interested in. Given the blog's popularity, publicists would have me interview just about everyone.

Of course, timing is key. To provide maximum exposure, an interview must be posted just prior to the pub date, or shortly thereafter. But things don't always work that way. Some authors are happy to take time off their schedule to answer interview questions, while other will only do so during a certain period around the time of the book's release. In the end, you learn to go with the flow.

You win some, you lose some...

After years of doing interviews, do you still feel nervous or go fanboy over the authors you interview?

Other than my first interview with Tad Williams, I've never been nervous when the time came to do a Q&A. And even then, it was more a question of this being only my second interview ever, and there I was interviewing a New York Times bestselling author!

You have to be professional and serious when you conduct an interview, unless you have a more personal rapport with the author. Of course, when you have dealt with a writer for a while, it's easier to keep things a bit more informal. I take certain liberties when I'm interviewing people like Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch that I would never dream of when I'm doing a Q&A with authors like Stephen R. Donaldson or Dan Simmons.

Though I'm a big fan of the genre, I do my utmost not to be a fanboy. But still, I do get that giddy feeling sometimes. I had to call George R. R. Martin last week regarding a project on which I cannot disclose any information at the moment. Emailing my favorite SFF authors is one thing, but calling them is another. When I hung up, I just shook my head and said, "Fuck man, that was GRRM at the other end!"

In the Fantasy Library Online interview with you last year, you mentioned that the goal of the site is to share your love for the genre and increase awareness. Is that still the goal? Are there other goals you want to accomplish with the site?

Yes, that's still the Hotlist's main and only mission. That and to have fun blogging.

Early on, what steps did you take to promote the site? These days, what would you say is the best way to not only gain the attention of readers but publishers and authors?

Early on, it was extremely difficult because blogs were considered virtual turds on the internet. Editors and publicists laughed in my face when I requested review copies or asked about the possibility to conduct an interview with their authors. As you can see, I got the last laugh, but it's still rankling to think about those first 18 months or so.

Hence, for me it was never about getting the attention of publishers, for I thought that my little sandbox on the web was beneath their notice. As one of the first SFF book-reviewing bloggers, it was easier to get noticed by SFF fans on various message boards. Somehow my readership grew progressively, in no small part aided by the fact that I had virtually no competition.

Today it's the opposite. There are simply too many blogs out there. I can't even keep track of what's going on in the Blogosphere, so imagine how hard it must be for those publicists! I have no idea what would be the best way to get noticed, other than to make your review as good and as fair as you possibly can.

What would you say was the biggest hurdle Fantasy Hotlist had to overcome in the beginning? What were some of the most frustrating moments?

As I just mentioned, the lack of respect due to the medium I was using. I elected to go with a blog because the program does everything for me and it's free. Way back when, you need a website to be taken seriously, as if paying hosting fees was synonymous with quality of content.

I guess I did spend a lot of energy trying to make blogs respectable in the eyes of the industry. Thanks to those efforts and those of other people like me, we now have countless blogs everywhere. Kind of makes you wonder if it was really worth it, eh!?!

Is the website currently self-sustaining? (Does it pay for itself? Are you earning money from it?)

The fact that it's a blog means that there are no hosting fees. What little money I'm earning out of the Hotlist right now is nothing to write home about. I'm hoping that the new ads will help monetize the blog a bit more.

Currently, who do you think are some of the underappreciated writers of the genre?

For my money, the most underappreciated fantasy authors are Guy Gavriel Kay and L. E. Modesitt, jr. Everyone should buy their books!

Aside from fantasy and science fiction, what are the other types of books that you read?

I like a good thriller or mystery from time to time.

Other than that, what I usually read has to do with traveling, politics, or history.

What's the current status of your own writing?

We're going to hire a professional editor to work with me on the final polish of my fantasy manuscript, THE EYE OF THE SERPENT. My agent feels that the manuscript needs this in order for us to find a taker.

I will soon by sending out query letters to UK agents regarding TIME OF YOUR LIFE, my non-fantasy manuscript following the misadventures of 4 undergrads traveling around Europe for one summer. Matt, my American agent, feels that the manuscript would work better across the pond, so I'll be testing those waters soon. Interested agents and editors, please get in touch with me!

I've also been approached by a publisher to work on something, and we are in the process of turning this into a reality as we speak. Which was why I needed to speak with GRRM the other day. Can't say anything right now, other than I'm quite pleased with the way things are progressing. Stay tuned for more. . .

If there's anything about the publishing industry that you'd change, what would it be?

It would be nice if editors and publicists and other marketing folks would return my emails in a more timely fashion. . .

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Write, keep writing, and don't give up.

Advice for aspiring book reviewers?

Be honest and fair when you review something. Remember that you're doing this for fellow readers, not publishers.

Anything else you want to plug?

Everyone should read more stuff written by Canadian authors. If you haven't already, pick up novels by Guy Gavriel Kay, Peter Watts, Steven Erikson, and R. Scott Baker. One day Canucks will take over the SFF genre!

Monday, November 24, 2008

November 24, 2008 Links and Plugs

It's the last Monday of November and I can hear the Christmas songs coming...
And to change things up, here's a magazine you might want to take a look:

Postscripts #16 edited by Peter Crowther & Nick Gevers

Book/Magazine Review: Ender in Exile by Orson Scott Card

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

Ender's Game is one of my favorite sci-fi novels and while many have been disappointed with the sequels (shades of Frank Herbert's Dune), I gladly devoured them. I think part of the problem was that Speaker for the Dead and its sequels had a different vibe from Ender's Shadow and its ilk. Between the two, Ender in Exile is a better fit for the latter, and builds upon the events established in the latest book in that series, Shadow of the Giant.

Ender in Exile
however is this weird novel as far as chronology is concerned. It's a partial ret-con of the final chapters of Ender's Game and this is definitely an Ender Wiggin story (and perhaps a prelude to Speaker for the Dead). On the other hand, those who followed Ender's Shadow until Shadow of the Giant will want to read this book as it gives closure to some of the unresolved plots in that series.

That aside, how does Card's latest novel fare? While I have some issues with it, I found myself enjoying the book for the most part. It's not as enticing or as tight as Ender's Game but that was never on my list of expectations. Instead, this zooms in on Ender's guilt and what happened after the events of the original novel. The author's strength is his dialogue as much of the tension revolves around conversations and debates. Even the climatic battle at the end can be summed up as a glorified verbal spar between the hero and the antagonist.

Dialogue is Card's playground for elucidating his philosophical musings and bouncing off various ideas. For the most part, it works as several of his protagonists are smart, intelligent, and articulate. At other times though, it feels artificial, especially when it's neither Ender nor Valentine who's participating. If you can stretch your disbelief during those moments, you'll do fine with this book. Card doesn't seem to have lost his touch as he includes playful banter at appropriate moments, adding levity to what is typically a heavy subject matter.

Card had me hooked during the entire experience and those wanting to revisit the Ender universe won't be disappointed. I'm not a big fan of revisionism yet that's perhaps a testament to how long this series has been going. My only word of warning is for new readers: if you haven't read Ender's Shadow and the books that followed after it, some of the characterization may seem to have sprung out of nowhere, such as the behavior of Ender's parents, when in truth it was seeded in the aforementioned books. And of course there's the question of how much you sympathize with the protagonist if you haven't read Ender's Game.

Overall, Ender in Exile works as a sequel. Again, it's not perfect and perhaps it's not everyone's cup of tea but those looking for an Ender fix will be satiated.

Book/Magazine Review: Fast Ships, Black Sails edited by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer

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

I was never one of those people who's a big fan of pirates (ninjas, on the other hand...) but nonetheless, the connotations of the word evokes adventure and the high seas. Fast Ships, Black Sails doesn't really stray far from that expectation and delivers eighteen stories marked with action, treachery, and a sense of wonder.

For the most part, a good chunk of the stories revolve around traditional concepts of a pirate, with only a few being the exception, such as "Boojum" by Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette which takes place in space. The rest take place on stormy waters with sea-worthy vessels manned by rascally crews. Surprisingly, many of the stories are modern in the sense that they subvert the cliche (erroneous as it may be) that women are bad luck as the stories not only feature female protagonists but female pirates (be they allies or antagonists).

The first story that caught my eye was "Castor on Troubled Waters" by Rhys Hughes. The tone is light, funny, and certainly stands out because I feel this is more of a trickster story than a pirate one (although obviously, there is room for overlap). The brevity is also a welcome change of pace.

"The Nymph's Child" by Carrie Vaughn is in a precarious situation. This is one of those open-ended stories that if not executed properly, could leave readers unsatisfied. For me, it works and ends at just the right scene. Characterization is the strength of the piece and the author manages to subvert a couple of genre tropes while making good use of those that she retains.

My third favorite piece is Naomi Novik's "Aramina, or, The Wreck of the Amphidrake". The author manages to write a compelling and interesting character as well as constantly inserting conflict and tension in the narrative making this one of the more exciting pieces in the anthology. No dragons in this story but the subtle inclusion of the fantastical is just about right.

There are several other stories that I really enjoyed in this collection as well as some that I found to be ho-hum. Overall, Fast Ships, Black Sails is about meeting expectations. If you're looking for unconventional literary stories, this isn't the place to find it. If you want pirates and adventure, go grab this anthology. The gems--there's a couple of 'em and I'm not even a huge pirate fan--in my opinion more than make up for the stories that didn't strike my fancy.

Book/Magazine Review: Fairy Tales for Writers by Lawrence Schimel

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

I'm a poetry luddite but I found Fairy Tales for Writers a very quaint book. Imagine, combining writing advice and anecdotes with fairy tales and verse! What I really loved about this book, aside from me being the perfect target audience, is that it's accessible. The language is plain and simple and the poems are, at most, two pages long. Ample images and metaphors are utilized such as "The Little Mermaid" losing her "voice" in her attempt to mimic a particular writing style.

There are thirteen poems all in all, each one named after a popular fairy tale. The tone and quality of the book is consistent as the last poem is as charming as the first. Lawrence Schimel also pays attention to the sequencing of the poems. While most of the poetry are cautionary in nature, his key placement of the optimistic ones manages to strike a balance even if the former outnumbers the latter.

Fairy Tales for Writers
is a book that's easy to pick up and gives you a lot of breathing room whether you have a degree in literature or not. Best of all, it actually gives writing advice without being too heavy-handed or too serious. Definitely a creative way of preaching to the converted.

Book/Magazine Review: The City In These Pages by John Grant

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

Nothing is ever as it seems when it comes to John Grant and The City In These Pages is no exception. This novella manages to capture the atmosphere of a police procedural, complete with its own urban city and an enigmatic crime to baffle the police. Without giving too much away, this is right up the alley of PS Publishing and those who've been following Grant all this time won't be disappointed.

While the mystery is compelling, the highlight of this book are the personalities, from the smart African-American cop who has a Texan bombshell for a wife to his looming Japanese partner who's a fan of Disney cartoons. The various characters have their own voice and unique character quirks, complementing this fast-paced story with memorable protagonists.

This is one of those books where you should just take a leap of faith and simply enjoy the prose wherever it takes you. Overall, The City In These Pages was a fun read: nothing too astounding although Grant does own up to the McBain tribute and infuses it with his own unique elements.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Plug: Firstworld Wovel

Jemiah Jefferson is writing a wovel for Underland Press. You can check out Firstworld and vote where the story should go.

Plug: Literatura

One of the older online magazines featuring Filipino literature (and not restricted by genre) is Literatura. Each issue has a theme, whether it's gay fiction, futuristic fiction, children's literature, etc., and features a guest editor. The selections are usually drawn from the winning Palanca Awards texts.

Admittedly, the site isn't perfect. There are a couple of broken links and while the layout for each issue is creative and stylish, it makes for difficult navigation at times.

Anyway, here are some (note: this is not "all" the spec fic texts featured in Literatura) select links which feature speculative fiction texts:

November 21, 2008 Links and Plugs

Yey, it's the weekend:
As for your Friday book plug, here's something for the Bradbury fans:

Podcast Focus: SFFaudio Podcast

Every Friday, I'll talk about a podcast or two that catches my fancy.

RSS Feed:
Description: Some quasi-self promotion here but if you want to hear two SF fans talk about the various podcasts and radio dramas that they listen to (and simply some geeky tomfoolery), you might want to check out the SFFaudio podcast. Best of all, it comes out consistently every Monday.

Top 10 Best-Sellers as of 2008/11/16

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

  1. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
  2. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
  3. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
  4. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
  5. The Shack by William P. Young
  6. The Christmas Sweater by Glenn Beck
  7. The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama
  8. Too Fat to Fish by Artie Lange & Anthony Bozza
  9. Just After Sunset: Stories by Stephen King
  10. Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama

Thursday, November 20, 2008

November 20, 2008 Links and Plugs

Running late so here you go:
And for you Tim Powers fans, well, he's not a Skrull.

Powers: Secret Histories by John Berlyne

2008/11/20 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, November 19, 2008

Plug: Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler (Part 2)

Anyway, I just want to take the time to plug the Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler.

I want to thank those who've been spreading the word as of late, especially BoingBoing. Nothing beats getting BoingBoing'ed (save perhaps getting plugged by Neil Gaiman). The site's also been mentioned in the likes of SF Signal, Futurismic, J.M. McDermott, Techotic, Quasar Dragon, Planet X, and the SF Commonwealth in Taiwan (in Chinese).

Those interested in the viral process can refer to this flowchart: J.M. McDermott --> SF Signal --> Futurismic --> BoingBoing --> everyone else.

On a side note, as many hits the site is getting I also hope you can take the time to read the stories (well, obviously, not NOW as the sampler is around 54,000 words and it's not really something you can read in one sitting). Khavn's "The Family That Eats Soil" is one of the shorter ones and doesn't take much time to read. The rest though you'll need to set aside some time to go through but hopefully you get around to doing so.

November 19, 2008 Links and Plugs

This week, I'm coming to the realization that I'm semi-competent in plugging other people's books but not so much my own projects (i.e. Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler).
  • There's a couple of interviews that popped up and the one I want to plug the most is the one I did with Steve Berman over at the Nebula Awards. Discover his favorite Cthulhu plush!
  • Chasing Ray has a great interview with the Summer Queen Ellen Datlow.
  • Blogging the Muse interviews Elizabeth Bear.
  • Oh, and here's an interesting series of articles on the History of Tolkien RPGs (1, 2, 3).
  • And here's an interesting article on the state of genre pulp magazines. Features commentary from personalities like Gordon van Gelder, Sheila Williams, and John Scalzi.
  • Cory Doctor's my hero. Here's an article on Why I Copyfight. "Para-Copyrights" is easily a term that applies to manga scanlators and anime fansubbers.
  • One Google to rule them all. Questions to ponder: Google Pub Quiz.
  • As for writing deadlines, I'd like to plug Interfictions II and Sybil's Garage. (You have more than one week to get at it!)
As for your book plug, John Grant fans won't want to miss this, especially after reading Leaving Fortusa:

Essay: A Quick Run-Down on Bookstores in the Philippines Part 4

Every Wednesday, I'll have an essay or a feature on any topic that catches my fancy!

Publisher-Bookstore Hybrids

This isn't an actual term but rather one I made up to refer to this model of being both a publisher and having a physical store. In actuality, this isn't such an innovative thing. International publishers, especially the small presses, sell books on their website after all. Unfortunately in the Philippines, while some publishers have started selling books online, for the most part it's still unexplored territory.

Another reason why Filipinos would go to the publisher/store rather than the local bookstore is that a lot of local books can be harder to obtain compared to international books. A bookstore will only stock a few number of local titles; only one shelf (sometimes I mean this literally but more often than not, it's a category or genre of its own) is devoted to "Filipiniana" while various other genres have their own shelves. (Occasionally, you'll find special allotments in the children's section for Filipino books.) Add that to the fact that local bookstores don't give you much rewards for buying local books (the discounts they usually give doesn't apply to consigned items--in this case local books).

University Presses

Here's one example of a publisher-bookstore hybrid. Many of our top universities (UP, Ateneo, La Salle, UST, etc.) have their own presses. For the most part, they publish critical fiction and nonfiction titles that more commercial publishers wouldn't touch. My alma matter, Ateneo, for example, has published Joy Dayrit's short story collection, The Walk, as well as Dean Francis Alfar's novel Salamanca. The University of the Philippines (UP) has published books novels such as Alfred Yuson's The Great Philippine Energy Jungle Cafe and Gina Apostol's Bibliolepsy. An anthology I highly recommend is University of Santo Tomas (UST) Publishing House's A Different Voice: the PEN Anthology of Fiction by Young Filipino Writers.

Now Alfar and Yuson have a token presence in bookstores but as for the rest, most likely you'll only obtain them in the university press's bookstore. On one hand, that can be an intimidating experience for new readers because the said bookstore is affiliated with a university and sometimes, entering university premises is not as easy as it sounds (ever tried entering La Salle without being either a faculty or a student?). On the other hand, universities with various "branches" (i.e. UP, Ateneo) around the country might be more accessible to those living in the southern provinces.

Much like many of the publishers featured here, these publisher-bookstore hybrids all converge on events like the annual Manila International Book Fair and the Academic Book Fair.


Various publishers do have physical stores which sells the books they publish or distribute. There's CentralBooks for example, a Print-on-Demand publisher. Or OMF Literature, a Christian publisher/distributor (they also currently happen to be on sale). And come book fair season, even the "bigger" publishers will be renting a booth and selling their books. So rather than just depending on the local bookstore to obtain books for you, local bibliophiles might want to pay a visit to the publishers personally. Some actual sells books on their website (which is the case with Adarna House and Anvil Publishing).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bad News/Good News

If you want to be a writer, well, you have to write and submit.

Yesterday, Dean Francis Alfar announced Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol. 4's release date will be moved from December 2008 to February 2009. Oh well, there goes my plans of sending friends copies of the book during Christmas.

Anyway, going back to the topic, I was originally scheduled to have two stories come out this year so the delay means that I only have one publishing credit in 2008. If you're the type of person who only has one published story a year, the said news can be devastating. The moral lesson? Submit, submit, submit. Why bank your "career" on one story? Churn out more! (Yes, I'm making all these mistakes so that you can learn from them.)

There were also some speculative fiction books that were supposed to come out in 2008 but didn't. It looks like 2008 is going to be slim pickings as far as Philippine spec fic is concerned. Of course the opposite side of the coin is that 2009 seems promising. The 1st quarter will open with Philippine Speculative Fiction 4 and hopefully in the months after that (or God willing, the month preceding it), the release of a Philippine dragon-themed anthology (I wrote the introduction) and a short story collection from a talented horror writer (unless the publisher manages to release both books in December). Hopefully Fully Booked can get its act together and then release the winners of the 2nd Graphic/Fiction Awards (I've read three of the four winning stories and I'd say the quality is superior compared to the winners of the previous year). Most likely this will coincide when they announce the winners of the 3rd Graphic/Fiction Awards and when they manage to snag Neil Gaiman to return to the Philippines (I think it's reasonable to hypothesize that this will happen after his The Graveyard Book tour or in the event that he tours Asia).

Hopefully, we can also increase the presence of Filipino speculative fiction in online markets (currently, the count is 6 stories for 2008, the same number as in 2007).

November 18, 2008 Links and Plugs

Hope everyone's having a great week!
As for your book plug, here's a new but familiar title:

Sword and Sorceress XXIII edited by Elisabth Waters

Interview: Stephen Hunt

Every Tuesday, I'll have an interview posted.

Stephen Hunt won the WH Smith New Talent Award in 1994 and now runs SF Crowsnest. The Court of the Air is his latest book, published under Tor in the US, while its sequel, The Kingdom Beyond the Waves, is now available in the UK.

Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview! First off, let's talk about your latest books, The Kingdom Beyond the Waves and The Court of the Air. How long have you been working on this series? What was the inspiration behind the series?

I started writing ‘The Court of the Air’ in 2005, picked up HarperCollins Voyager as publisher in 2006, and saw the novel hit the bookshops in 2007. For the novel, I really wanted to create a page-turning fantasy adventure set against the backdrop of a 18th/19th century level society that would give me more scope for using sword play, u-boats, airships and machine guns than the standard furry-pants-N-elves style fantasy books clogging the shelves.

‘The Kingdom Beyond the Waves’ is the follow-up to ‘The Court of the Air’, although both are standalone novels, albeit sharing some of the main characters. That was a very deliberate decision. I love Bernard Cornwall’s ‘Sharpe’ books, and would personally take an interlinked series like his, over a ‘you have to read the last ten books to get into volume number eleven’-type fantasy series any day.

I basically wanted to write what I’d quite fancied reading, but found depressingly little of on the bookstore shelves (although David Gemmell comes close with his ‘Jon Shannow’ series, as does Frank Herbert with his ‘Dune’ stories).

‘The Court of the Air’ follows two orphans on the run being pursued across the Kingdom of Jackals by assassins and trying to work out why in the world they’ve been targeted, before dragging in the eponymous Court of the Air of the title – a secret society based on a floating zeppelin city looking to control the development of the future by modelling the world on steam-driven computers called ‘transaction engines’.

‘The Kingdom Beyond the Waves’ features a university professor traveling deep into a dangerous jungle by u-boat to find a lost civilization that holds the secret to creating the perfect pacifist utopian society. Inevitably, she discovers that utopia comes at a terrible cost. Well, they always do, don’t they?

At this point in time, do you foresee an "end" to the series or are you more of the mindset that you'll work on the series for as long as readers and publishers will allow you to?

There’s definitely a full-blown space opera or two lurking inside me, but outside of that, I aim to keep expanding the Jackelian fantasy world of ‘The Court of the Air’ and ‘The Kingdom Beyond the Waves’ for as long as it retains my engagement and interest, I think. My role model is the excellent and criminally underrated Trigan Empire series by Don Lawrence (which fans of colourful British comic book art may dimly recall): it always seemed like there was another amazing adventure-packed vista hiding just around the corner and off the side of the map. There are a few corners of my Jackelian map yet to be pushed into, methinks, and some great fun to be had getting there.

What is it about steampunk that appeals to you?

I would argue that I’m writing fantasy with a light blend of science fiction stirred into the mix, rather than steampunk. My Jackelian society is obviously set at a late Georgian/early Victorian technological level, though, so I can see how the label gets applied. For myself, however, steampunk is the proper alternative history jobbie with walk-on parts for Sherlock Homes, Captain Nemo and Queen Victoria. I haven’t, to date, done that - Alan Moore’s ‘League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ already appears to have that territory well and truly claimed [it].

My last few novels have been far more Moorcock and Jack Vance, rather than the Wild Wild West (I always feel I should precede that now with a wicky-wicky-wicked: thanks, Will Smith), and I’m far happier following in their tail wind without all the faux-‘By Jove, Sir Anthony, tis’ that devil Moriarty I spy’ dialogue. Or, for that matter, the painstaking historical research trying to work out if the hansom cab clocks on a 1865 Lavinia-type model were made by the United Clock Corp of Brooklyn, New York or someone entirely different.

In your opinion, what are the significant changes in your writing style or skill compared to your first novel, For the Crown & The Dragon?

There’s thirteen years between those two novels, so a world of difference for myself as a person. One was written by a kid a couple of years out of college, creating this mad unique thing that was labeled ‘flintlock fantasy’ by the press, the other was written by a cynical, jaded old geezer (well, it feels like it sometimes). Your life changes, your world-view changes, your tastes in reading alter, everything changes.

How did Tor end up being your US publisher? What were the difficulties in originally finding a UK publisher for the book?

It won’t help the morale of budding authors reading this, but I oddly didn’t run into any difficulties. When I decided to do a second novel, John Jarrold – my soon-to-be agent – said he’d take me on as his first client having recently left the book trade as an editor, and he managed to kick off a bidding war on ‘The Court of the Air’ between various British publishers who were biting my arm off to take the novel on.

After HarperCollins Voyager won the UK auction, they then went on to sell the rights to publishers in Japan, Russia, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, and of course, Tor in the USA. I fully realize this isn’t the standard publishing tale, though – with the piles of rejection letters and the accompanying pain. From zero to international bestseller in ten seconds… it still feels surreal to me sometimes.

Have you written any short stories lately or are novels your current end-goal?

No short stories at all for about eight years. I’ve been approached quite a few times by editors of anthologies to write them, but I’ve regrettably had to turn them all down due to extreme time poverty. I hold down a very stressful day job and it’s a war of attrition to find enough time to devote to my novels, let alone doing shorts, which always take a disproportionate amount of time to write.

What's your writing process/routine like?

A little every day, religiously, fitted in around the day job. Weekends, evenings and holidays are my best buddies! The commute is full of adventure in the Kingdom of Jackals, not a chore.

When did you know that you wanted to be a professional writer? What steps did you take to become one?

My pre-fiction career once involved nearly a decade working at various national newspapers and magazines in the UK as editor, publisher and writer – both online and print work. I happened into that field more or less by accident, as having mastered early desktop publishing software like Quark and Illustrator, I found my technical skills highly in demand… and from that point, more or less naturally moved into a more mainstream publishing career. It was all very accidental, as my college degrees were in marketing/business studies, and later, graphic design.

How have RPGs impacted you as a writer?

Not enormously, to be honest. I used to play a little when I was at High School. At college I graduated to PBM (an early form of MMOG, pre internet), and that led to writing reviews of games for magazines like Flagship and Roleplayer Independent… my first published work. I guess it gave me the confidence that I could write and get material published, which is priceless. Start small, and then work your way up to bigger things.

Do you currently still have time to game? What are/were the games you played?

None. My wife has wisely banned all computer games from the house, too. I’d love to have the time to play something like Eve Online, which looks cracking. D&D, Traveller and the first edition of Warhammer were sadly more my era. Jet Set Willy and Manic Miner on the ZX Spectrum, for the computer gaming side of the hobby. I loved painting and assembling all the Citadel war game figures, too.

Let's move on to SF Crowsnest. What made you decide to purchase ProtoStellar?

It was going to shut down, and knowing the exiting editor/owner (who was moving back to the UAE), I thought it would be fun to take over a SFF zine to practice my then new DTP skills on. Quark 1.0, to be exact.

What made you finally settle on SF Crowsnest as the magazine's title? was established back in the early 1990s, and AltaVista was the main search engine everyone used. I thought AltaVista = high-place to get a good view: Crow’s nest = high-place to get a good view. This’ll be the AltaVista for the science fiction and fantasy world on the web! was born!

What was the turning point that made you decide to take the magazine online?

Cost. Each copy of the zine made a loss of something like £300 an issue – that was a year’s basic hosting, without the crippling hassle of distribution. If you build it, they shall come… and in those early days of the Internet, they did.

Is the site self-sustaining? If so, how does it accomplish this?

Sadly not. I usually pay about £3000 a year to keep it going out of my own pocket. Online advertising and affiliate fees are derisory and don’t even cover the cost of the basic bandwidth, let alone all the associated extra software/hardware costs.

What exactly is that you do as publisher? How different is it from the duties of its current editor Geoff Willmetts?

The split these days is that I handle the technical/coding/graphic design issues and do the news editor job (as well as being the sugar daddy paying the bills) – Geoff sits in the book review editor role and handles all the contributors and slush pile etc. We muck in wherever and however, though. We’ve been doing together now for about thirteen years online, but ironically, we’ve never actually met face-to-face, although we do e-mail each other every day.

What are the current goals of the magazine?

Lose less money...

What was the biggest challenge in running the magazine when it was in print? When it was online?

In print: just getting the damn thing out there and into the shops. Online: trying to develop a technical infrastructure capable of handling 700,000 users and 40 million hits a month without breaking the Stephen Hunt retirement fund.

In your opinion, how has the Internet changed the publishing industry?

Less than you’d think. It’s great for marketing/selling your offline products (aka free e-books to ramp your print sales), but making money out of actually being online? Very hard. Porn, gambling and vertical market information services are about the only areas that can generate cash just from putting content online – for most mainstream publishers and broadcasters, their web sites are just infinitely deep money pits. As for record companies and, increasingly, TV/movie companies, hey, the web just came and ate their lunch… leaving Steve Jobs laughing all the way to the First Bank of iPod.

For the geek question of the day, PC or Mac?

I own a few of both. I used to work for Apple, and we wore T-shirts that read IBM = ‘I should have bought Macintosh.’ That being said, there’s a lot of technical coding stuff that can still only be found on the PC. With Bootcamp, the Windows/MacOS faith wars are a little easier to navigate without getting roasted… the fastest PC in the world just became a Mac.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Write a lot. Read even more (and wider than the SFF genre too, to hone your craft).

How about advice for aspiring magazine publishers?

Take a thousand pounds/dollars that would pay for an absolutely great vacation for yourself, douse it in lighter fuel, then throw it on the bonfire and hope that you’ll find a diamond among the ashes. That’s your chances of getting your money back in the publishing game.

Advice for aspiring SF Crowsnest contributors?

Send those reviews, short stories and articles in, as we’ve got Catholic tastes, zero budget and a really frakking big readership.

Anything else you want to plug?

Well, I’ve just had the beautifully rendered cover back from HarperCollins Voyager for my third book set against the backdrop of the Jackelian milieu – ‘The Rise of the Iron Moon’, due for early 2010 publication in the UK.

The paperback of ‘The Court of the Air’ will be hitting the US later this year via Tor, as will the hardback for ‘The Kingdom Beyond the Waves’ early in 2009.

The paperback of ‘The Kingdom Beyond the Waves’ is, as we speak, also rolling out in the UK for a September 2008 launch.

It still feels like early days to me, but the fantasy books have all been selling well and the critic/fan reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, so what can I say?

Rule Jackelia, Jackelia Rules the Clouds.