Friday, October 30, 2009

October 30, 2009 Links and Plugs

Running late again. Will try to lay low next week as my new glasses haven't arrived yet and it's a pain in the ass reading (on the monitor or otherwise) when there's an imbalance in your eyes. That and I have a stye.

And from classy author/artist James Owen:

The Shadow Dragons by James A. Owen

Thursday, October 29, 2009

October 29, 2009 Links and Plugs

Spotted this from Ekaterina's Twitter and it's geeky on multiple levels: Anli & Laura's Lesbian Gamer Geek Wedding.

Don't forget that the Interfictions 2 Auction will start on November 1, 2009.

And it's almost the nomination deadline for the Best of the Web. Go nominate now.

Honest question: When it comes to genre podcasts (fiction and otherwise), is there a large trucker demographic?

Just finished listening to Adventures in SciFi Publishing's latest podcast:

7th Son: Descent by J.C. Hutchins

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

October 28, 2009 Links and Plugs

Finally made it to the George Optical V-Mall branch. Unfortunately, been straining my eyes too much so I need to relax them in order to get a proper check-up so no reading for me for the week (eep! time to go on a podcast download frenzy). Don't expect much next week...

When it comes to personal plugs, I have a new essay at BSC Review: eBook Pricing – The Chicken or the Egg Dilemma.

Oh, and since there are a lot of retired tabletop RPG gamers who are also authors, someone should host a one-shot game for them. Perhaps during a con?

And important plug for the day is John T. Unger's situation: Imitator Sues Me to Overturn Copyrights: Please Help Defend My Art.

Book release day:
By the Mountain Bound by Elizabeth Bear

Essay: Reactions to the Ashok Banker Interview as the Interviewer

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

There's a lot of controversy surrounding my recent interview with Ashok Banker over at the World SF News Blog (WSNB). For the purposes of this essay, I'm not here to discuss Banker's points (feel free to agree or disagree with them over at WSNB), but focus more on the methodology of the questions (or rather, one question in particular). Of course bear in mind that I AM the interviewer, so my reactions are biased.

First off, my philosophy when it comes to interviews (other interviewers will have different practices) is that the interview isn't about making the interviewer look good, but rather focuses on the interviewee. Considering the fact that some people commented at how the interview made me look amateurish/idiotic/culturally insensitive and then quotes a couple of Banker's responses, I'd say mission accomplished.

Second, I'd like to thank Mr. Banker for answering all of my questions. As Cory Doctorow put it, "I ask 10 1-sentence questions, you do 10 essays, I get to put my name on it, OK?" is one unfortunate extreme when it comes to email interviews, but right now it's the most convenient tool at my disposable. And honestly, answers reprimanding me isn't the worst thing that could happen. The worst thing that could happen is that the interviewee replies with one-word answers, or worse, not answer the questions at all (with video or audio, an interviewee's silence or no comment can be telling, but that's honestly not optimal in print). The interview certainly had some questions which annoyed Banker but if he was willing to answer them, then it's only fair that I publish them in their entirety, even if it might make me look unflattering.

Third, there's a couple of reactions stating that my interview conveyed my ignorance (culturally as well as with regards to Banker's work). Sure, I'll accept those criticisms. There's one question however that I take exemption to, however, which is what I'm going to tackle:
What made you decide to write in English? Are there any nuances with that particular language that you’re not quite able to accomplish in Hindi?

Not-Lol. I’ve met this particular cultural bogey before and it remains as unfunny as ever! My mother tongue was English, not Hindi, and in fact, there are more English-speaking people in India than in the US – it’s one of our two official national languages in fact. And of course, you probably know that India has the fastest growing publishing industry and English-literate readership population in the world – I believe our publishing business is No. 3 right now and on track to be No. 1 at this rate in the next two decades or less. I grew up speaking only English, learned Hindi only later in school because it was a compulsory subject (as were either Marathi or French – I took French), and English remains the only language I’m completely fluent in even today. So I have no idea what cultural stereotype you have of me, and am not responsible for it but it’s as offensive as my asking someone named Johnson why he chose to write in English instead of Swedish! Still, I guess you didn’t mean anything by it, so let’s chuckle and move on. :~)
Banker is entitled to take offense (and thankfully doesn't take my question personally). I suspect this isn't a one-time incident, but rather a systematic misunderstanding, the same way that Asians in the US are often asked "so you're Asian, do you know martial arts?" or that it's presumed that Filipinos working abroad are maids (and no, Filipinos in the US are not martial-artist maids ala Hayate the Combat Butler). Not that I was aware of this when I was doing the interview, since it's not a question that I've seen in his other interviews online. But I can understand the frustration.

Now for the question itself, which can be broken into two parts. The first: What made you decide to write in English?

Apparently, a plethora of criticisms arose from this, in tandem with my second question and Banker's answers. What I'm really annoyed is when people presume that just because Banker is fluent in English--based on his writings--that it's justification enough not to ask that question because, hey, he's proficient with it so it must be his first language. I have two pet peeves here:

1) Readers assuming that I'm doubting his fluency in English. (I'm asking him why, not whether he's capable of doing so. Which is clear considering the entire interview was conducted in English.)

2) That just because you write in English (and fluent at it) doesn't automatically means it's your first (and only) language.

Here's my context: I'm a Filipino. The Philippines has had two national languages, English and Filipino. Some citizens are proficient with both (and I think it's a cultural misnomer to think that just because you're fluent with one doesn't mean you're not in the other; it's perfectly possible to be fluently bilingual, or trilingual, etc. as the case may be). Others will take umbrage that English is a national language (imperialism!), just as some will take umbrage that you presume they know how to speak Filipino (because like India, the Philippines has a couple of regional languages as well, and some groups don't take kindly to the fact that Filipino is enforced upon them as the national language). A softball answer to the question "What made you write in English?" would be to simply say that it's the language you're most proficient with. For some writers however, they have conscious agendas for using a specific language. It might be to cater to a wider audience, it might be for nationalism, or it might be because of syntax and linguistic nuances. I even know Filipinos who are versed in both languages yet for one reason or another, chooses to write with just one. What I'm interested is the why.

I've asked variations of this question and I get different answers. Take for example French authors Melanie Fazi and Aliette de Bodard. For both of them, English is a second language but the former primarily writes fiction in French while the latter in English. And it's a testament to de Bodard's skill that based on her fiction alone, you wouldn't think that English is anything but her primarily language (thus debunking the stereotype). It's my opinion that a lot of international writers are capable of writing in more than one language, but why they stick to one (or not as the case may be) is an interesting question to delve into.

Where I do err is in my follow-up question: Are there any nuances with that particular language that you’re not quite able to accomplish in Hindi?

Nick Mamatas points out that the flaws of the "silent interview" and this is where it crops up in this interview. The follow-up question is unnecessary based on Banker's answers to the first. My second mistake is including Hindi. The reason I included Hindi is because I was consulting an Indian friend who was more familiar with Banker's work and one of the questions my friend suggested was to ask why he wrote in English as opposed to one of the regional languages. Mind you, I'm not pinning the blame on my friend; I'm the interviewer after all and any questions I use (or not use) is my own responsibility. Here's where my ignorance and cultural stereotypes come in. Somehow, I equated regional languages with national language (which has been pointed out, is not the case). But still, even knowing that, Hindi is still one of India's national language and had Banker not answered it in the interview, I am curious as to why he chooses not to write in Hindi (in the same way that I am curious as to why local author Dean Francis Alfar does not write in Filipino).

Also, some misconstrue the question as me placing English as superior to another language like Hindi. That's not the case. Every language has its own nuances to the point that there is no such thing as a perfect translation. There is always something lost, whether it's English to Hindi, Hindi to English, or some other language. Chinese for example has its brevity and reliance on monosyllables and accentuation. If you want to take it further, Chinese has specific words for the gender of your siblings and the order of their birth. Filipino, on the other hand, uses a lot of syllables and repetition. Both are very different from the syntax of the English language (which, quite frankly, has a lot of exemptions).


After what's all been said and done, if I could turn back time, I'd still ask the same question, and my only correction would be to change "Hindi" into "regional languages". The interview after all was a great platform for Banker to share his views. If anything, the interview drew attention to itself because it asked these kinds of questions (or if you prefer, Banker replied with controversial answers to unoriginal questions). At worst, you can see me asking these kinds of questions so that future interviewers don't make the same mistake. But personally, I ask these questions to start dialogue. If I don't bring these points up for fear of retribution, who will?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

October 27, 2009 Links and Plugs

When it comes to personal plugs, my SF Signal review of The Secret History of Science Fiction is up (and it's different from yesterday's review).

You can also check out The Dragon and the Stars Table of Contents (alas, no cover illustration yet).

You know you want to read it... (I'm looking at you Moonrat!)

The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

Interview: Diana Rowland

Every Tuesday, I'll have an interview posted.

Diana Rowland is the author of Mark of the Demon.

Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, what made you decide to try your hand at writing?

I’ve been writing since I was old enough to write, and I’ve always loved making up stories and writing scenes and adventures. The big step for me wasn’t so much deciding to write, but rather deciding that I wanted to try my hand at being a writer--as in trying to get people to pay money for my stories. And even with that, I don’t remember making a conscious decision to go for it. I think it was simply a steady progression from writing scenes and story fragments to writing complete stories and allowing other people to read them. Once I broke through that barrier of letting others read what I’d written it seemed only natural to do it some more!

Before writing Mark of the Demon, were you familiar with the urban fantasy/paranormal romance genre? What made you decide to foray into that field?

I’ve loved the whole concept of urban fantasy ever since reading Children of the Night by Mercedes Lackey almost twenty years ago. I went on to devour Tanya Huff, Neil Gaiman, and eventually Carrie Vaughn, Charlaine Harris, Kim Harrison, and many many others. I have very eclectic reading tastes, but the core idea behind urban fantasy--that the story is based in something resembling the “real” world--has always appealed to me as an ideal form of escapism. And, since I enjoy reading the genre so much, it seemed only natural to write in it.

What was the road to publishing your first novel like? What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome?

Mark of the Demon wasn’t the first novel I wrote, though it’s the first one that made it to publication. (And the first one that deserved to make it to publication as well!) I wrote my first novel about fifteen years ago, and even though in retrospect I can see that it was terribly weak (imagine a novel filled with every possible epic fantasy trope you can think of) it was still a terrific book simply because it showed me that I could write a novel. I attended Clarion West in 1998 and upon my return to the real world I did what “everyone” said you were supposed to do: write and sell a bunch of short stories to improve your craft and make a name for yourself. Unfortunately, it really wasn’t the best advice for me--I don’t enjoy writing short fiction, and even though I managed to do well with a few stories, I lost some of my love for writing and ended up taking a several-year hiatus from the writing scene. I stopped trying to sell anything, and though I continued to write snippets and scenes when they came to me, I didn’t try to make anything resembling a “story.” Eventually I woke up and realized that I needed to get my head out of my ass, stop obsessing about short fiction and the market and “making a name”, and just go ahead and write another damn novel and have fun with it. By that time I had several years of law enforcement experience under my belt and urban fantasy was beginning to seriously take off as a genre. I started writing a book about cops and demons, and a few months later I had Mark of the Demon. At that point my time in the trenches with short fiction paid off, because I had a solid understanding of how the market and the publishing industry worked. I researched the market, queried agents, revised my pitch and queried some more, and eventually found terrific representation. Six months later, Mark of the Demon sold to Bantam!

How has your experience as a cop/detective/morgue assistant shaped the book?

How has it not shaped the book? Mark of the Demon is a police procedural/crime thriller at its heart, with the twists that there are arcane powers involved and that some of the characters aren’t human. But the procedures, routines, and interactions are taken from experiences I had in law enforcement and death investigation.

There's a couple of geek references in the novel. What made you decide to include them?

I’m a geek! Seriously. I am. I made a model of the Enterprise when I was in grade school. I wore a hat and scarf a la Doctor Who in high school. I played D&D until the wee hours in college. It felt somehow wrong not to include at least a passing nod to my geek heritage.

What promotional/marketing plans did you have for the launch of Mark of the Demon?

Pretty much all of my promotion and marketing was of the online variety. I’ve been a follower of several book review blogs for a couple of years now, and I figured that the most effective use of my time and energy would be to tap into that network. I sent emails to several bloggers whose sites I followed and enjoyed, asking if they’d be willing to review my book. Once those reviews started appearing, then I was thrilled to see that other bloggers began to show interest, and before I knew it I had a strong word-of-mouth buzz going on for the book. As I mentioned earlier, I have eclectic reading habits, so I knew that urban fantasy had an appeal that reached beyond the Science Fiction and Fantasy community--especially in Romance. And, since most of the bloggers I initially approached reviewed romance as well as urban fantasy, I think that helped considerably with reaching a broad swath of potential readers.

When you wrote the book, did you intend it to be a long series?

I guess that depends on how you define “long.” I certainly don’t want it to be an endless series that goes on for decades. There’s a definite ending to the overall story arc, and I know exactly what happens at that end. (I even know the title of the last book!) I’m not sure how many books it will take to get there, but I don’t intend to string readers along for dozens of books to find out.

What's in store for readers in Blood of the Demon?

Blood of the Demon picks up a couple of months after the end of Mark of the Demon. Kara is trying to cope with the aftermath of the Symbol Man investigation, she’s trying to figure out how she feels about FBI Agent Ryan Kristoff, her aunt is in an inexplicable coma, and a certain demonic lord wants to strike a dangerous deal with her. But something or someone is eating people’s souls and it’s up to Kara to find out if it can be stopped.

How is writing/editing your second novel different from the first one?

Blood of the Demon ended up being much harder to write than the first book. It didn’t help that I was about halfway through writing BotD when I decided to set it aside and work on something else. (This was when MotD was still on submission to publishers. It had been several months and I wasn’t sure if it was going to sell, and I was getting nervous about spending time working on the sequel to an unsold book.) So, when I came back to BotD I realized that the plot had some serious issues, and I ended up ripping out almost a third of it. I nearly missed my deadline (made it by hours!) and I learned some hard lessons about time management, and also learned what writing process works best for me.

How did you end up as a contributor for Magic District?

Actually, I somehow ended up being one of the creators! There are a number of terrific group blogs out there, and I was interested in doing something like that with other urban fantasy and/or up-and-coming authors. I contacted Greg van Eekhout--since he and I both had books coming out from Bantam--and asked him if he’d be interested in something like that. He supplied the name, I set up the website, and we both convinced a handful of other suckers, er, writers, to join in.

How did you end up covering the San Diego Comic Con for Suvudu? What was the experience like?

Purely by chance! It was my first time at Comic Con, and so I often took refuge at the Random House booth to get a break from the press of the crowds. The Suvudu gang was there, and when they saw me and Jackie Kessler standing around apparently doing nothing, they shoved a camera into our hands and thrust us back out to brave the crowds. But Jackie and I had an absolute blast doing it, and we hope to do it again next year!

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Don’t be afraid to take a break from writing. I hear all sorts of advice about how you should always write every single day, keep the butt in the chair, etc... And yes, that’s excellent advice for staying on track, but I think that if you start to dread opening up that file, or if you find ways to put off working on a story or project, you need to step back and ask yourself if you need a break or if you need to make a change. Sometimes you have to take the pressure off and let your mental muscles recover.

Anything else you want to plug?

I definitely want to encourage people to stop by The Magic District. Come by and see what everyone’s talking about! (Okay, maybe not everyone... but there are a couple of people talking about it. Probably. Possibly. Okay, most likely nobody’s actually talking about it, but you should still stop by the site and see what we’re up to.)

Monday, October 26, 2009

October 26, 2009 Links and Plugs

Let me get this off my chest: George Optical V-Mall is atrocious. Been there twice and no doctor to assist in my eye check-up. (I was content with their Shoppesville franchise but alas, that branch is currently undergoing renovation.)

My pal Elbert is asking me to plug his Sketch-a-thon event, the proceeds of which go to victims of Typhoon Ondoy and Pepeng. Tarie has a Halloween Giveaway for Book Lovers in the Philippines.

And the last of favors is Lavie Tidhar wants me to promote his new blog.

And yay, upcoming zine!

Book/Magazine Review: The Secret History of Science Fiction edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel

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

Disclosure: The publisher sent a review copy for the purposes of this review.

The Secret History of Science Fiction -- sounds like the title of a blockbuster movie or exhaustive nonfiction book but this is, in fact, an anthology that features stories that bridge the literary vs. genre divide, or "li-fi" as Orson Scott Card would put it. The book includes authors who are considered literary but has written fiction which could be considered science fiction as well as science fiction authors who've successfully crossed over to the mainstream to some extent.

What's impressive with the introduction by editors James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel is that it has a narrative to it. It starts with a reaction to an essay by Jonathan Lethem which posits what if Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow had won the Nebula Award, instead of Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama. Would this have indeed reconciled two opposing genres (the literary mainstream and science fiction)? The editors debunk this myth and along the way, we hear familiar arguments, such as the bias against science fiction by the rest of the world. The pair however temper their views with how science fiction fandom has also been unfair to writers who've transitioned to the mainstream. The aim of this book is to somehow bridge that gap (can't we all just get along?). This is the anthology you give to your literary professors, the ones who profess that they don't read science fiction. Alternatively, this is the same book you give to people who've never read anything else but science fiction.

Much like Tachyon's previous anthology, The Very best of Fantasy & Science Fiction edited by Gordon van Gelder, this could easily double as a history book of the genre, especially with all the notable authors it includes, from Ursula K. Le Guin to Michael Chabon. Even Fiction (with a capital F!) readers must acknowledge writers like Margaret Atwood and Jonathan Lethem. There's a lot of tension in this book, reflective of the two-seemingly opposite worlds of genre and non-genre. On one hand, some stories are idea-centric (the stereotype of science fiction), while others are character-oriented (again, a stereotype of literary fiction). Compounding this are the quotes preceding each story (save fore the last): the first is from the author of the story detailing his or her writing ethos; what follows are statements from one or two contributors, usually stating an anti-thesis or contrary opinion.

The two genres are so blurred that an interesting experiment would be to strip the stories of their titles and their authors, and make unsuspecting readers wonder whether they were originally considered a science fiction story or a literary story (which actually isn't too hard, considering the book lacks a proper biography--intentional or accident?). And honestly, at this point in the review, I'm sick of using "literary" and even "science fiction" as a descriptor, because as the stories here prove, the distinction between the two isn't as clear-cut as some critics would make it so. And because I'm not the most well-read of reviewers, there were some authors whose stances on the divide I was simply unaware of. And you know what, that's probably for the best. These are terrific stories, irregardless of your biases for or against the authors.

Nineteen stories are featured in the book and more than a few are my favorites: "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" by Ursula K. Le Guin is just as powerful as I remember it; "Ladies and Gentlemen, This is Your Crisis" by Kate Wilhelm is like wine: it gets better with time and feels more relevant with the advent of reality TV; "Homelanding" by Margaret Atwood is a memorable flash fiction story that's on par with Ted Chiang's "What's Expected of Us" although for different reasons: her disassociation of the familiar makes her thesis all the more relevant; "Interlocking Pieces" by Molly Gloss is compact and tight yet conveys so much in her brevity.

In fact, the fiction selection is so strong that there are only three stories which didn't blow me away, although they're undeniably competently written. A more valid criticism of the book isn't in the quality of the stories but in the choices. As a friend pointed out to me, if the theme of the book is the "secret history" of the genre, why did the editors include their own works? It's not that their pieces aren't well written--I actually loved them--but neither Kelly nor Kessel have really been associated with mainstream literature. Of course if there were genre writes who were to make such a transition, Kelly and Kessel would get my vote, not just due to their writing style, but their actual profession as well (and in fact, these qualities make them ideal editors for this anthology), but at this point in time, the inclusion of their stories leaves room for doubt.

Overall however, The Secret History of Science Fiction is a fantastic anthology. It covers a theme that's fresh but poignant, and there's a strong selection of stories that would have otherwise been unread (whether you're a mainstream reader or a die-hard genre fan). The selection of quotes alone is worth the price of admission, as they summarize many of the debates we currently discuss. Whenever there's a literary vs. genre argument, this is the first book that one should bring out and realize the distinction--or lack of distinction--there is when it comes to fiction.

Book/Magazine Review: Sleeping Beauty ,Indeed & Other Lesbian Fairy Tales edited by Joselle Vanderhooft

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

Disclosure: The editor sent an electronic review copy for the purposes of this review.

Sleeping Beauty, Indeed & Other Lesbian Fairy Tales isn't a new anthology but has recently been re-released in paperback form by Lethe Press. My initial impression is that with only ten stories and under two hundred pages, this is a very thin book. However, that judgment was premature. Editor Joselle Vanderhooft aims for quality over quantity and that's not an empty boast. It's not often that I run across an anthology where each story grabs my attention and there's honestly no bad story to be found. Another element that's praise-worthy is how Vanderhooft consistently compiles stories that sound like fairy tales, albeit ones with a lesbian agenda. In a certain way, being aware of this subversion can diminish the impact of some stories (in the same way that a horror reader can brace for the impact of a horror anthology) but overall, this accomplishment should be highlighted.

I'm by no means a fairy tale expert so thankfully, most of the stories here work well without being aware of the original fairy tale they're based on. On the other hand, some stories sound original, while others revel in its metafictional qualities.

What impressed me with "Two Sisters" by R. Holsen is the author's writing style and how she retains this consistency. Related to this is the way she crafts the dialogue of her characters and their motivations. I'm amazed at the direction this story went, and how it tugs the reader's emotional strings.

"Bones Like Sugar" by Catherynne M. Valente is overtly subversive and is in many ways classic Valente with her elaborate and beautiful descriptions--even as the author tackles a dark subject matter. While it might work independent of Hansel and Gretel, for me it made its big impact because of how Valente inserts a new perspective on this familiar narrative.

"The Mute Princess" by AJ Grant has the subtitle that it's based on a Yemeni Fairy tale and that's perhaps the only clue that would make you think this wasn't crafted whole cloth. This is one of the stories that faithfully mimics the conventional form of a fairy tale and including all its tropes, from repetition to the wise phrases. Enjoyable because of its faithfulness to being a fairy tale (as opposed to being a modernized rendition of the story).

"The Seduction and Secret Life of Deirdre Fallon" by Frank Fradella distinguishes itself not only due to the epistolary format but the Victorian atmosphere as well. I wouldn't call this one of the strongest stories in the anthology, but its unique characteristics does make it stand apart.

"Sleeping Beauty, Indeed" by Regan M. Wann is a light story as it injects humor and modern qualities into a popular fairy tale. The narrator's tone is commendable as it possesses a certain beat.

"Future Fortunes" by Kori Aguirre-Amador is this fun, adventurous story and uses an interesting perspective. Given the theme of the book, the mysterious element of the story is easily guessed although that doesn't detract from the rest of the action (action being the operative word here).

"Undertow" by Meredith Schwartz successfully combines two fairy tales we don't normally associate with each other and while I liked the initial hook, what stands out more is the somber mood at the end of the piece.

"Voce" by Kimberly DeCina is ingenious in the first part of the story as it makes you sympathetic to the narrator before subverting your expectations. I'm still not convinced by the change in behavior of the protagonist, but DeCina does make a good attempt. The other elements flow naturally and DeCina includes enough detail to make the setting feel genuine.

"Bird's Eye" Erzebet YellowBoy features elegant language and much like "The Mute Princess", feels like an original fairy tale. The plot won't win you over, but the language and descriptions will.

"Coyote Kate of Camden" by Julia Talbot is an interesting Western "re-skinning" of another familiar fairy tale and that's the strength of this piece--that fact that the elements of an old story was successfully implanted into a new setting.

Tight and consistent, Sleeping Beauty, Indeed & Other Lesbian Fairy Tales has all the elements of a successful themed anthology, and actually reminds me of Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling's fairy tale anthologies.

Book/Magazine Review: Damaged People: Tales of the Gothic-Punk by Karl R. De Mesa

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

What got me interested in Karl R. De Mesa's fiction was the praise our editor-in-chief at work gave with regards to his upcoming novella collection, News of the Shaman. Damaged People: Tales of the Gothic-Punk is a a slim (under a hundred pages), four-year-old short story collection. My first impression is that the book is an example of an amateur author's mistake with regards to collections: instead of waiting until the writer has developed a series of strong short stories, this is instead a compilation of the author's recent work (at that time).

There's a lot of lackluster stories here--competently written but predictable and doesn't deliver anything new in terms of narrative. The problem could easily be the flash fiction format, as De Mesa doesn't have a strong handle on what makes them effective. Stories like "Bernardo, His Fortune", "The Lovers, A Symbol of Pain", and "Miguel, Librera Me" simply don't pack a punch. The agenda is clear--to deliver one dominant emotion--but it's unfortunately not impressive. The flash piece where it works is "Isabel, The Damaged", wherein the author creates this bizarre environment and setting.

As for the longer short stories, they are unremarkable. De Mesa is obviously not a "description" writer, although he does try to elaborate on some of the more gruesome scenes. The problem here is that he doesn't really compensate for it in other areas. I'm not looking for a lyrical narrative, but De Mesa is simply too plain, whether it's in structure or in plot. "Turn Loose the Angels" for example is competent, but doesn't do anything for me with regards to the twist at the end. Nor does the characterization of the protagonist make sense for me: he has an unquenchable desire to fly, but it's not revealed why he has this dysfunctional craving. "Lily, Faith and Disease" treads into the transgressive genre territory, but other than the sheer taboo of the acts perpetuated in the story, there's no other reward to be found. "Desiderio, The Afflicted" had a strong opening, but eventually crumbles towards the end.

That's not to say this collection is irredeemable. In the longer forms, De Mesa manages to churn out decent fiction. "Violet, Her Love for the Quick" follows conventional horror tropes and delivers a satisfactory, albeit mediocre, read. "New Wilderness" juggles too many elements but that doesn't make this a bad story, simply one that could have been tighter. There is one story that really impressed me, and hopefully De Mesa comes up with more of these: "Cortez, The Lamb of God" hits all the right beats, from the characterization to the unique Philippine setting and the psychological horror. The author successfully strikes a balance between all the elements of a short story, and while the ending is predictable, it fits the theme and build-up.

One pet peeve of mine is the use of terms in a book's title. In this case, the inclusion of Gothic-Punk draws unnecessary attention to itself and makes this reader question whether such boasts needs to be mentioned. I would have been content with Damaged People: Tales but Gothic-Punk honestly feels unwarranted.

Overall, it's not that De Mesa is a bad writer, but this collection is honestly filled with a lot of disappointments. One terrific short story and one good flash fiction piece is not worth wading through the rest of this muck.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Angela's Sekret

Angela Slatter has a couple of sekret posts and I got envious so here's my own:

October 23, 2009 Links and Plugs

Crappy ISP at home. As far as I can tell, 28 hours of absolutely no Internet!

In the meantime, phase 2 of Internet domination has begun. So aside from seeing me at the World SF News Blog, Fantasy Literature, and BSC Review, I'm now a contributor to SF Signal as well.

This week's Philippine Graphic also features a TERRIFIC speculative fiction story (well, it's one of those gray area stories where it could be spec fic) from Francezca C. Kwe: "The Fires of the Sun in a Crystalline Sky (after Greg Brillantes)". One of the best local fiction that I've read in months. Go read!

And Cheryl Morgan has a World Fantasy Award 2009 Local Dining Guide.

Here's your zen photo for the day, although I don't know how to attribute this to (the problem with Twitter posts...):

And here's an anthology I've literally been waiting for a year to come out:

Phantom edited by Paul Tremblay & Sean Wallace

Top 10 Best-Sellers as of 2009/10/18

From USA Today's best-seller list (you can find out their basis here):
  1. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days by Jeff Kinney
  2. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
  3. Pursuit Of Honor: A Novel by Vince Flynn
  4. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  5. Nine Dragons by Michael Connelly
  6. Have A Little Faith by Mitch Albom
  7. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
  8. The Associate by John Grisham
  9. Cross Country by James Patterson
  10. Arguing With Idiots: How to Stop Small Minds and Big Government by Glenn Beck

Thursday, October 22, 2009

October 22, 2009 Links and Plugs

Happy birthday to Ursula K. le Guin!

Also, if possible, try to help out PopeLizbet's friend Dave (details here).

And check out the talented John Grant's latest nonfiction book.

Bogus Science by John Grant

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

October 21, 2009 Links and Plugs

Arrived home at midnight and still lots of work to do!

As an ice-breaker, here's something discovered on Twitter--The Publisher-Dating Dictionary:
You say: 'I know you don't usually accept unsolicited manuscripts, but please, just have a look at this.'
Dating equivalent: 'I know you're married, but please, just go out with me once.'
And as interesting as November 18th is International Science Fiction Reshelving Day sounds, be aware that you're inconveniencing the bookstore staff (and in some cases, publishers). That's honestly the equivalent of bookstore terrorism.

And I want to highlight Anil Menon on Simpson’s Paradox In The Slush Pile. Related: Vandana Singh on Racism in SF: Two Articles.


Sad it's now one anthology instead of two, but still: I want I want I want.

Essay: Thirty 8-Bit Lives

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

I'm running late so here's a 2-year old piece that was intended for a video game anthology that didn't push through (so far).

"Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A." If the 8-bit generation had a secret handshake, it was the Konami Code. The casual gamer used it to beat Contra but the die-hard fans knew it applied to Gradius as well as other games--even games not developed by the company that made it famous. It was easily something we always attempted no matter what game we were playing: it didn't hurt to try after all (unless you were playing Gradius III--in which case your ship would blow up, or so Wikipedia claims). The Konami code was a cheat, an exploit, yet there was nothing guilty about using it. There were no teachers to penalize us, no parents to reprimand us: games were our own private playground and everything was legal as long as we enjoyed the game.

That's not to say we didn't try to beat Contra without using the cheat. Twenty years down the line, amidst next generation consoles and DVD-ROM games, people are still attempting to beat Contra without using the Konami Code, usually getting as far as the hangar stage where they meet their demise one stage before the final boss. And then they get frustrated and enter the code anyway and start blasting those damn aliens with wild abandon. I mean hey, we got this far with three lives and three continues: look what we can do with thirty! Video game cheats taught us lateral thinking way before there were Game Genies and GameFAQs. If you couldn't beat the game the old-fashioned way, you cheated (I hadn't seen The Wrath of Khan back then).

Not all cheats, however, were illegal. Before there were memory cards and The Legend of Zelda, passwords were one way to "save" your game. Instead of going through Cutman and Gutsman and all those other robots Dr. Wily sent against you (one wonders when Capcom will eventually use B-list superheroes for their villain roster such as Aquaman, Plastic Man, Iron Man, etc...), simply enter the right password in Rockman and you'd end up in the final stage with a powered-up character. Of course I could easily imagine that passwords became games within games for some budding cryptographers. Instead of actually playing the game to reach the end, they'd attempt various combinations in an attempt to discover an exploit that'll give them an edge.

Unfortunately being an unapologetic addict, video games were my only way to socialize with others. I'd drag my parents to the computer shops at Virra Mall (back when the third floor still had a cinema and there were no DVD bootleggers offering to sell you porn) and I'd browse through the various cartridges with names were in Japanese. I'd nag my mom or dad to shell out the few hundred pesos it costs to buy a game and that was pretty much our relationship. When I'm at a stranger's house--the stranger that's really the son or daughter of a family friend but aside from that fact, you share nothing in common--video games was the great icebreaker. You simply shut up and let the fingers jamming on the controller do all the talking for you. Thank God for two-player games.

Some two-player games were really single-player games in which you took turns. Just look at Super Mario Bros. wherein you were always wondering when the other player would die so that you could play already. Then there were the "real" two-player games, either those that were competitive in nature such as Pong or Street Fighter II, or those that were cooperative such as Twin Bee or Ikari Warriors. In the middle were games like Contra wherein if you were careless, you could kill the other player. Jumping too quickly in Contra, whether simply a mistiming or an intentional leap, could spell instant doom for the second player lagging behind as the screen adjusted to the player in the lead. There was more than one instance when the other player took it personally and instead of mutually trying to beat the game, it became a sprinting contest in which the loser would lose a life (hey, that's why it's important to have 30 lives!). In Double Dragon II, it wasn't just your enemies that you could hit with a flying kick but your ally as well. Better start preparing your excuses or failing that, your apologies. And then I remember playing a game like Battle Toads where having a second player wasn't always an asset and could actually make the game harder to beat because once the other player died, you restarted the level. One lesson I learned early in life is that you should be careful who you gamed with: sometimes, other people dragged you down.

Some of the best games, however, were those you played by yourself, keeping you company until the wee hours of the night. Playing Castlevania in the evening gave it a certain ambiance even if the sound effects were lame. Perhaps one of the biggest advantages of the Famicom (along with all its inane rituals such as blowing the cartridge and making sure that the cartridge slot was actually clean) over the Atari (although I do miss the joystick with the cherry-colored button on top) was that games started having a story. As much as I enjoy playing Pac-Man and running away from ghosts, I wanted some sense of closure in my games instead of simply aiming for the highest score possible (which is why I was never enamored with the pinball machine), even if it meant something as cliche as saving the princess or saving the world (but high scores were important--they gave you 1ups!). Back in the 80's, in a period when boys thought that female gamers were a myth (tomboys don't count), Metroid had a surprise ending when you discovered that you were really playing a girl.

Unfortunately, not all games were fun. I remember playing Prince of Persia and dying immediately. I never got to the point when picking up the sword mattered. Then there was the game Karateka where you could easily die in one blow if you weren't in the proper stance (hint: don't use the fighting stance on the princess!). Unfortunately, the games I played didn't come with manuals so the only time I figured that out was ten years later, when other games caught my attention. Lastly there were the poisoned mushrooms in Super Mario Bros. 2. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Such games however were just one of the few disappointments as a gamer. You'd think people would be have been thrilled when Hollywood came out with movies like Super Mario Bros. or Street Fighter but honestly, they were horrible movies even by video game standards (don't even get me started with the Fred Savage film The Wizard).

Nonetheless, my childhood revolved around video games. It was easily something people my age could relate to and had a level of interactivity that other media could never capture. Video game characters were easily the pop icons of my generation, even when I failed to recognize who celebrities like Kareem Abdul Jabbar or The New Kids on the Block. And amidst the newest batch of game consoles, I still remember the dark red color of the Famicom I used to own and there's always the temptation to try out the Konami Code just to see if anything special would happen.