Monday, May 31, 2010

Book/Magazine Review: GUD Issue #5 Winter 2009

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

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

I'm honestly surprised that it's been more than a year since I last reviewed an issue of GUD Magazine--and that we're only at issue #5. For me, the biggest difference between issue #4 and issue #5 is how the latter has come into its own in terms of mediums. Issue #4 featured quite a selection, with nonfiction, fiction, poetry, and art, but issue #5 seems like the posterboy for interstitial fiction: we have comics, photo essays, and even a play! All this diversity would be for naught, however, if it didn't sustain a level of quality. Thankfully GUD Issue #5 actually holds up quite well.

Because of the varied material that GUD publishes, the table of contents of this issue looks thick, even if the publication is only 200 pages long. There's the photos and the artwork for example, which take up a single page, but as the cliche goes, "a picture is worth a thousand words". "Infrared" by Richard Kadrey for example is this bizarre image that looks like it came out of a (well-made) genre film and remains memorable, if nothing else. Others, like "Bust" by Jon Radlett, works not due to the image per se, but in tandem with its title, which acts as a caption. "Bust", I think, shows how an otherwise unremarkable title and photo could be combined to produce something greater than the sum of its parts. Compare this to "Infrared" which I feel stands out more due to the image rather than the combination of the two.

Another set of short pieces are the poetry. For this issue, the editor's preferences are transparent. The selected poetry are accessible and in a sense leans more towards playfulness. There's some word play involved but it's not really lengthy or too technical. For example, "The Grammar of Desire" by Paul J. Kocak is direct and indulges us readers who are familiar with basic English while "7 Ways to Fake an Orgasm" by Melissa Carroll delivers what it promises.

There's just one nonfiction piece in this issue, "The Prophet of Menlo Park" by Paul Spinrad, but it's a powerful brief biography of Douglas Engelbart, a man responsible for many of today's luxuries--effectively transforming what seemed like science fiction at the time into a reality. As a technology geek, this is definitely one of the must-read pieces in the magazine. Similarly, there's just one play in this publication, "Sweet Melodrama" by Tristan D'Agosta, but it really stands out, sometimes more than the fiction. D'Agosta has a great sense of pacing making this a quick read while sustaining the reader's interest. I find that comedy is difficult to execute but D'Agosta makes it seem effortless and organic.

There are two comics in this 'zine. I didn't really care much for "Gunga Din" by Joseph Calabrese & Harsho Mohan Chattoraj, although the art is dark and gritty. What impressed me, however, was "Ada Lovelace: The Origin!" by Sydney Padua which succeeds because of the way Padua combines fictional elements into her narrative, making what would have otherwise been a straight-forward story into an entertaining and relatable read. The art is in tandem with the humorous direction Padua takes this biography, and includes some of the most refreshing lines I've read in a comic.

And then there's the elephant in the room, the fiction of GUD Magazine. They each succeed in leaving an impression, even if they're not necessarily perfect stories. Take for example "Nature's Children" by T.F. Davenport. Initially it was quite confusing but it eventually paves the way for the ending, which is very science fictional and gives the reader food for thought. Not necessarily the most elegantly-written piece, but the author's thesis and intent hopefully makes up for that lacking. "Lost Lying on Your Back" by Steven J. Dines, on the other hand, is plain disturbing and powerfully so. My only complaint is the final scene, not because it was unnecessary but I felt it could have retained its ambiguity, especially considering the subtlety Dines employs earlier in the narrative. The reader gets a sense that something is wrong with the protagonist, but can't quite pinpoint what it is.

Two stories that I feel are powerful character-centric pieces are "The Tiger Man" by Geordie Williams Flantz and "Liza's Home" by Kenneth Schneyer. These, I think, could have easily placed itself in a literary journal the way they tackle their protagonist's plights. "The Tiger Man" for example is very surreal and it's readily apparent that something is bizarre when it comes to the main character's relationship with his wife. The speculative element here, in my opinion, acts as a filter to tackle this dilemma. "Liza's Home", on the other hand, features time-travel paradoxes while still remaining very human and emotional. It could easily have been a derivative O. Henry story but what made O. Henry's writing popular is the way readers sympathized with the characters, and Schneyer succeeds in that.

Hands down though, my favorite piece is the opening story, "Imperfect Verse" by Rose Lemberg. From a technical standpoint, Lemberg's style captures the era she's trying to emulate, whether it's the purple prose or her poetry. The Norse flavor of Lemberg's fiction is consistent and the final scene elicits all sorts of emotions from the reader, from horror to satisfaction. On the other hand, there is also the subversive element of Lemberg's story. We have a strong female heroine who is rebelling against the norms of her time, and the means in which she succeeds is similarly taboo, at least in the context of her culture.

May 31, 2010 Links and Plugs

Three more reviews from Andrew Wheeler: Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards Comics Anthology, Underpass and Komikero Komiks #3.

Counting down...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Plug: “Remember You’re a One-Ball!”

“Remember You’re a One-Ball!”

At last, “Remember You’re a One-Ball!” has arrived.

Quentin S. Crisp appeared on the writing scene in 2001, with the release of The Nightmare Factory, a collection of short stories published by BJM Press. Since then there have been three more collections of shorter fiction (Morbid Tales, from Tartarus Press, Rule Dementia!, from Rainfall Books, and All God’s Angels, Beware!, from Ex Occidente) as well as a novella (Shrike, from PS Publishing). “Remember You’re a One-Ball!” is his first full-length novel.

The Nightmare Factory and Morbid Tales (2004) established Crisp’s credentials within the field of the macabre. Rule Dementia! (2005) set forth a manifesto for what Crisp has called ‘demented fiction’ – a form of writing steeped in the imaginative freedoms of genre, without the limitations of genre conventions. Shrike (2009) saw the application of these principles in a subtle fusion of Eastern and Western literature.

“Remember You’re a One-Ball!”, written between 2003 and 2005, before Shrike, is the culmination of Crisp’s initial drive towards the demented from his background of the macabre. The result is a narrative that is paced like a thriller, but laced with the bizarre. Long in the wilderness, “Remember You’re a One-Ball!” finally sees the light of day. Is this, as some have suggested, a work too horrible to publish? You, the reader, must decide.

Chômu Press

“Remember You’re a One-Ball!” is the first publication from Chômu Press, an imprint devoted to ‘demented’ and ‘dadaoist’ fiction, as originally championed by Quentin S. Crisp and Justin Isis on the seminal literary weblog, Chômu. The name derives from the nom de plume of a Japanese poet, and is written with the Chinese ideograms for ‘butterfly’ and ‘dream’, an allusion to the story in which Zhuangzi dreams he is a butterfly and wakes to wonder if he is a man who has dreamt he is a butterfly, or a butterfly now dreaming he is a man. As the name suggests, Chômu Press hope to offer limitless imaginative vistas of what is possible in literature.

May 27, 2010 Links and Plugs

Just a reminder, Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol. 4 & 5 will be available at Wiscon courtesy of Prime Books.

And for today, Andrew Wheeler reviews Trese: Mass Murders by Tan and Baldisimo.

Here's a new release from Chômu Press:

Remember You're a One-Ball! by Quentin S. Crisp

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

May 26, 2010 Links and Plugs

More reviews of Philippine comics from Andrew Wheeler.

And Happy Birthday to Missions Unknown.

Other Haikasoru title for the month:

The Next Continent by Issui Ogawa

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

May 25, 2010 Links and Plugs

It's currently Philippine Week over at The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent. First up is a review of Where Bold Stars Go to Die by the late Arlan Esmena and Gerry Alanguilan.


Some Haikasoru:

Loups-Garous by Natsuhiko Kyogoku

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2009 Press Release


Charles Tan, editor of The Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler ( has just released The Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2009 (
, an online anthology that reprints sixteen stories written by Filipino authors. Contributors include Dean Francis Alfar, Yvette Tan, Kenneth Yu, and Gabriella Lee.

In addition to the stories being available online, readers can also download ePub and PDFs of the anthology at the download page:

For more information, visit

Book/Magazine Review: The Devil's Alphabet by Daryl Gregory

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

I'm conflicted when it comes to Daryl Gregory's latest novel, The Devil's Alphabet. I had high hopes for the book, especially after reading the first few chapters. Here was a novel using the tropes of realist fiction--the character-centric plot, the homecoming to the small town that one grew up in, facing the prejudices of society--and enhancing it using science fiction/fantasy elements. The main protagonist is literally a stranger to his own home, especially when the people he knows have been genetically altered. This is also the perfect excuse for the author to introduce the reader the world as while these elements are familiar to the protagonist, he nonetheless remains an outsider.

For most of the book, Gregory sustains this trend of exploring a town's social dynamics while still propelling the personal conflict of his main character and the science fiction elements. The problem, in my opinion, appears towards the end. Whereas Gregory successfully juggled the tropes of two genres early on, the book doesn't quite figure out how it should end. As a science fiction reader, the ending of The Devil's Alphabet fails because it discards a lot of the hinted elements in the story. Also, don't expect closure when it comes to the explanation of the bizarre events that happen in the book. Which would have been fine if Gregory's other intent was successfully executed.

As a character-centric novel, it follows the trend of not drastically altering the status quo, save for our protagonist's personal life. Which, again, would have been fine if Gregory had shown us this growth but the changes by the end seemed abrupt. For example, one of the supposed rivals of our hero is suddenly a welcome friend in the epilogue, whereas in the previous chapters they were at each other's throats. There are also incidents which are ripe for the picking and while touched upon in the book, could have been a venue for more dramatic tension and depth. The issue of birth control for example is a complex matter in the presented context and while it had its moment of exploration, wasn't fully mined. Worse, it becomes a didactic and cliche scene in the epilogue.

It's not that Gregory isn't a talented writer, and if anything, The Devil's Alphabet shows that this author can really write. Unfortunately, this is also an example of how a novel can be great 2/3 of the way, and the ending simply being a clutter of conflicted agendas.

May 24, 2010 Links and Plugs

In other news, Jeffrey Ford enjoyed the Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards Comics Anthology. Here's the publisher/bookstore's website.

Also, Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol. 4 & 5 will be available at Wiscon courtesy of Prime Books.

I'm supposed to include this in the World SF News Blog but here's an advanced heads-up: a recently established site is the World Chinese-language Science Fiction Research Workshop which is focused more on the academic side of the genre. As for the Sky Awards, here's the full list of finalists. Also check out the 2011 Eaton Science Fiction Conference which will focus on global science fiction (there's also an impressive guest list which include Nalo Hopkinson, China Mieville and Karen Tei Yamashita).

Book launch!!!
Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

Friday, May 21, 2010

May 21, 2010 Links and Plugs

Going away now, off to the highlands.

And from the lovely Papaveria Press:

The Honey Month by Amal El-Mohtar

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

May 19, 2010 Links and Plugs

And from Eekhout:
Kid vs. Squid by Greg van Eekhout

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

May 18, 2010 Links and Plugs

Since it's post-Nebulas...
The Nebula Awards Showcase 2010 edited by Bill Fawcett

Monday, May 17, 2010

May 17, 2010 Links and Plugs

Congrats to the Nebula winners!

No further updates for today or the rest of the week, as I have another series of hospital trips (ophthalmologist, dentist, allergologist) and an out of town trip over the weekend.

Plugging Hiromi's book:
Half World by Hiromi Goto illustrations by Jillian Tamaki

Friday, May 14, 2010

May 14, 2010 Links and Plugs

Another round of hospital visits next week.

If you pre-order until May 21, 2010 off Sub Press's site, 10% goes to the American Cancer Society.
Speculative Horizons edited by Patrick St. Denis

Thursday, May 13, 2010

May 13, 2010 Links and Plugs

And from Tor:
For the Win by Cory Doctorow

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

May 11, 2010 Links and Plugs

Will now disappear into my cave...

And this week has me visiting my dentist, ophthalmologist, and allergologist, so...

Expanded Horizons also has a new issue out.

Also, hopefully I'll get around to formally launching Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2009 by next week.

RIP Frank Frazetta
From Holly Black:
White Cat by Holly Black

Monday, May 10, 2010

Book/Magazine Review: Scary Kisses edited by Liz Grzyb

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

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

It wasn't until I finished the anthology and reread the dedication that I finally grasped the theme of Scary Kisses. Horror obviously plays a role in the fiction but what else? Maybe it's because I'm not astute when it comes to the romance genre, but the other vibe I got from the book was a certain level of playfulness and ridiculousness. Take for example the last story in the book, "Pride and Tentacles" by D.C. White, which will polarize Lovecraft fans. The premise is that the Elder Gods are all part of a (romance) book club and that's either blasphemy or comedy, depending on your point of view (I'm not too particularly attached to Lovecraft so it's the latter). Not so much horror there, although Elder Gods are usually elements used in horror fiction. On the other end of the spectrum, we have "Bread and Circuses" by Felicity Dowker which is dystopic and emotionally-charged. A lot of outdated and current taboos are tackled here and for the most part, the atmosphere is dark and very serious. It's the complete opposite of "Pride and Tentacles".

Scary Kisses is a slim anthology but the length suits the content of the book. A lot of the stories are relatively short (a point that I'll tackle later) so if this book were double the page count, the sum of the stories would have made less of an impression in my opinion. As it is, it fits the emotion the anthology is trying to elicit from the reader, which is that this is a fun book that's not to be taken too seriously (although some stories are exceptions).

I previously mentioned that some of the stories are short and they're comparable to flash fiction in terms of impact. Now I'm not the biggest fan of flash fiction because a lot of them tends to be a bit one-sided in terms of features. And for a lot of the short short stories here, that's the case. "Black Widow" by Shona Husk, for example, is great in terms of description and setting the mood. But when it comes to everything else, such as plot, it falls short and ends up simply being a premise story. Not that there's anything wrong with that, especially considering the length of Husk's story, but I tend to want more "meat" in my fiction. That's also the problem with "Phaedra" by Bruce Golden. Golden has a great introduction and style but the ending--and the conflict itself--felt unsatisfactory.

There are a number of stories as well that have lengthier narratives and subsequently yield more complex results. For example, "The February Dragon" by Angela Slatter and L. L. Hannett is a holistically well-developed piece, whether it's the characterization, setting, language, and overall story arc. I like how all these elements are balanced, and how the ending is foreshadowed. Another standout piece is "Cursebreaker: The Welsh Widow and the Wandering Wooer" by Kyla Ward. In certain sense, it's formulaic as it follows the tropes of a mystery but Ward manages to entertain and surprise the reader. The twists and turns are carefully conceived, and the author has a compelling tone to back it all up. It also shouldn't be a surprise that these two stories are also the lengthiest pieces in the anthology.

Overall, Scary Kisses is about expectations. If you're looking for light and entertaining reading, then you can't go wrong with this horror-romance mash-up. It certainly fits my profile of a book you read while on the go. If you're looking for dense and powerful fiction, Scary Kisses has those too, just not a lot of it.

May 10, 2010 Links and Plugs

It's elections today here so good luck everyone.

My buddy Douglas Lain also has this Pick Your Battle project (you can listen to his interview here) so do help out if it interests you.

Should be out soon...

Friday, May 07, 2010

Announcements, Announcements

Had an impromptu root canal yesterday, so that's my dentist story for the day.

Edited: I'm currently guest-editing for Philippine Genre Stories and I currently have one slot available. You can email submissions to charlesatan[at]gmail[dot]com. If accepted, said stories will be published on Philippine Genre Stories's site next year. Here are their submission guidelines. Deadline for submissions is July 15, 2010. Currently looking for new and unpublished writers but everyone (as per the site's submission guidelines) is allowed to submit.

The website still isn't ready, but the eBooks are done. One of my current projects is "Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2009" which is a compilation of last year's best local speculative fiction. You can download the PDF or ePub versions.

May 7, 2010 Links and Plugs

Now available as a PDF:

Thursday, May 06, 2010

May 6, 2010 Links and Plugs

Here's the latest issue of Crossed Genres:

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

May 4, 2010 Links and Plugs

My buddy (you're still taking to me right?) Joseph Nacino has a call for submissions for a "Diaspora Ad Astra" Filipino anthology. Andrew Wheeler also got the books I sent him.

Also, stay tuned to SF Signal for my Beastly Bride interviews. My first one, with Terra L. Gearhart-Serna, is up.

Ain't this cool?

Monday, May 03, 2010

May 3, 2010 Links and Plugs

Still recovering from 7-day work week. Unfortunately, no book review today. A couple of incoming interviews at SF Signal however. I also have an interview there with Sheila Williams on Asimov's accepting online submissions.

New issue: