Sunday, July 31, 2011

Philippine Speculative Fiction Updates August 2011 Edition

Lots of interesting news for the month of July. (I also want to remind Filipino authors and readers to update the Philippine Speculative Fiction 2011 Database.)

First, as a backlog, Michael A.R. Co published his short story collection, The God Equation and Other Stories, on the Kindle late last year. The titular story, which won the Greg Brillantes award in 2006, can be found in the Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler.

For the short story roundup, Philippine Genre Stories (guest-edited by Yvette Tan) published "Sweet" (1|2) by Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon (the story originally appeared in The Philippines Free Press last year and was a finalist in the 2010 Philippines Free Press Literary Awards) and "Malvar" by Paolo Chikiamco. The Philippines Free Press published "Why This Soft Soil" by Catherine Batac Walder (it's one of those stories that's ambiguous enough to be considered spec fic) while Philippines Graphic published "The Fortune-teller's Beautiful Daughter" by Dean Francis Alfar.

Alfar and Alcazaren de Leon's stories are particularly noteworthy.


When it comes to awards announcements, The Dragon and The Stars edited by Derwin Mak and Eric Choi (DAW, 2010), is a finalist for the Best English Related Work in this year’s Prix Aurora Awards. Three of the stories are by Filipino authors and now available online:
You can find other excerpts and stories from the anthology here or here.

The World Fantasy Awards nominees have also been released and this blog is nominated for the Special Award, Non-Professional category.

The Dragon and the Stars Links

The Dragon and the Stars, edited by Derwin Mark and Eric Choi, is a finalist for the Best English Related Work in this year’s Prix Aurora Awards.

Here’s the table of contents, along with links to the stories and excerpts (when available):

Friday, July 29, 2011

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Book Review: Feed by Mira Grant


I once read a blog entry stating that Neil Gaiman's Sandman was porn for lit majors while Warren Ellis's Transmetropolitan was porn for journalists. If that's the case, then Feed is porn for bloggers.

On one hand, you can't take Feed as a vision of the future too seriously. It's not the zombie aspect--that part is convincing and the novel successfully conveys that the author did her homework--but in narrowly focusing on blogging, you have to wonder, how about the rest of social media? What happened to Facebook (or Google Plus), Twitter, or the next thing that pops up? But applying that kind of framework can be faulty. Feed isn't about predicting the future, although Mira Grant does utilize the tools of speculation, but rather how one aspect of today's technology can reshape the way we think and live. And that's really the central conceit, this distilled perspective that's applicable to both blogging and the zombie plague, which goes back to the title and how it can be interpreted in multiple ways.

In terms of concept, what's impressive with Feed is how it's working on at least two levels. Take for example the label of horror. Sure, Feed can be classified as horror, but it's not the zombies that make it terrifying. We can slap on the science fiction label, and Grant writes plausible scenarios for the predicaments her characters find themselves part of, but it's also part of a larger field, whether it's the aforementioned horror, thrillers, or even fantasy (a friend even mistook Feed as a YA book). Each chapter is composed of two parts: a first-person narrative and a blog entry, and while the latter might seem like a redundancy, its inclusion reinforces the central themes.

When it comes to technique, what makes Feed an enjoyable read is Grant's grasp of character, and that's very integral as the story is filtered through the lens of her protagonist. On one hand, Grant's characters are familiar: they have fears, vulnerabilities, and aspirations. On the other hand, and this is evident early on, they're people different from us: they grew with a different kind of culture and social norms. And yet, despite this layer of removal, Feed feels very much like the America of the previous decade and draws upon that specific zeitgeist.

I wouldn't say that Feed is compelling throughout, but Grant provides readers with enough incentive to go along with her for the ride. Her style is upfront and accessible while her settings are detailed enough. Exposition doesn't seem out of place, especially since we are both familiar and strangers to her world, and is actually one of the welcoming aspects for me. Perhaps if there's any criticism I have of the book, and it's not that it's not without its strengths--it's definitely enjoyable and entertaining--it's that it falls short of "greatness"--although it's definitely a memorable one (it'll probably be known as that zombie-blog book). Not that Feed was intending to do so and the book is compelling enough to tempt me into buying the sequel. So, porn for bloggers? Try Feed.

July 27, 2011 Links and Plugs

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The Emergence of Latin American Science Fiction edited by Rachel Haywood Ferreira

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Book Review: Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine


It's difficult to talk about Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti because it encompasses so much in such a short length. Occasionally, you come across a novel that breaks convention and more often than not, it's the structure that people end up talking about rather than the story itself. Not so with Mechanique as the form serves the narrative without drawing attention to itself. And in many ways, that's the secret of this book: Genevieve's Valentine's prose is elegant without crossing the line of preciosity. This is fiction stripped down to its bare essentials yet is full of potency and nuances.

If you've attended a writing class or workshop, your teacher, moderator, or classmates will have their own set of best practices when it comes to writing. What's impressive with Valentine is that she breaks many of those assumed rules and makes it work. For example, the heart of Mechanique are its characters, whether it's the individuals or the circus as a whole. It's a huge cast and one could easily assume that you'd need hundreds of pages to flesh all of them, just as authors like George R. R. Martin or Robert Jordan have done in their respective novels. Yet with Valentine, she conveys--and insinuates--a lot with just a few sentence or paragraphs. What's even more impressive is that despite the brevity, verisimilitude is never sacrificed, nor is their ability to defy expectation (and still act in character). Related to this is the "show don't tell" adage and Valentine does a lot of telling but it's enjoyable, appropriate, and the reader never feels being spoon-fed.

Another technique which Valentine successfully pulls off is the shift between first person and second person narratives. It's the latter that lesser writers stumble upon but Valentine's sparing but unhesitating use of it gives Mechanique that extra level of intimacy.

Other methodology which Valentine employs that should be praised include: flashback, foreboding, telling details, the alternating chronology, and shifting character perspectives. At first glance, the imagery and plot seems like a jigsaw puzzle: the reader might catch a snippet of the bigger picture or snatch a piece here and there, but what keeps you going is your piqued curiosity despite traversing the unknown. The individual chapters themselves, while not making sense initially, are interesting vignettes yet Valentine never dawdles as she quickly moves on to the next story, the next character, the next event. Soon, the complacent train ride transforms into an out-of-control locomotive and by that time, it's too late to pull back from the immersion.

Valentine weaves the illusion that writing and plotting is easy when Mechanique is anything but that. And that's the beauty of the novel, that it's quick and accessible yet daring and hides many surprises.

The Dragon and the Stars Finalist for the Prix Aurora Award

One of the anthologies from last year that I was included in, The Dragon and The Stars, is currently up the Prix Aurora Award (Best English Related Work).

To help with the voting, some of the contributors are making their fiction available online or posting excerpts.

Here's mine:

"The Fortunes of Mrs. Yu" by Charles Tan

Other excerpts/full texts are available here. It even includes fellow Filipino Crystal Koo's "The Man on the Moon".

July 26, 2011 Links and Plugs

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When the Great Days Come by Gardner Dozois

Monday, July 25, 2011

Book Review: A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin



The anticipation for the latest A Song of Ice and Fire novel has been huge. It's been six years since I last read A Feast for Crows and what's significant for me as a reader and a reviewer, aside from the story details that I might have forgotten over the years, is how I'm a different reader today. Terry Goodkind and Robert Jordan's appeal for example has significantly diminished so I was curious how A Dance With Dragons would hold up to my original assessment of the previous books.

Time and experience has actually made me appreciate George R. R. Martin's writing more. The skill in his technique stand out. For example, each chapter typically ends with some sort of cliffhanger, not necessarily in the vein of Adam West-era Batman, but definitely enough to keep you hooked. What's doubly impressive is how the author manages to sustain this for nine hundred pages. Which isn't to say Martin's writing is perfect: there are points where I feel the author was repetitive with character details (which is understandable considering the gap between the novels) and recycling metaphors within the span of a few chapters, but for the most part, Martin's fiction remains interesting and compelling.

There is a set naming convention for each chapter--usually that of the point of view character--and while this can be repetitive, there are parts where Martin starts having fun. The character "Reek" for example goes through various title changes over the course of the novel and this signifies a blatant evolution in the character.

With regards to the book itself, I had no problems diving into the novel cold turkey. Sure, there were parts where I was wondering who certain characters like Reek were but that was eventually resolved (and there's always the mammoth appendix at the end although I never needed to consult it).

While it's previously known that parts of A Dance With Dragons was originally supposed to be included in A Feast for Crows, the novel is probably better for its exclusion as everything thematically fits here, such as the way two prominent protagonists handle the logistics and tribulations of managing a kingdom and an army. Jon and Daenerys attempt to rule as best they can yet they both make painful compromises. In a certain way, Daenery's plight reminds me of America's predicament of occupying Iraq, and while it's tempting to become didactic with the text as Goodkind has done with his own series, Martin here let's it play out, and the reader remains unsure of what the right choice--if any--is.

While there's no shortage of politics and intrigue in the book, a stark contrast (at least if my memory stays true) from the rest of the series is how the fantastical element (downplayed in the first few books) is becoming a key factor in the story. In fact, the prologue itself is undeniably supernatural, and it's an interesting evolution at how events in the series have escalated.

Most satisfying is the fact that A Dance With Dragons remains interesting and unpredictable, although a part of me is also worried whether the series will be finished in the next two books as Martin continues to build, build, build, with the end seeming too far off. Again, I want to stress how thematically concise A Dance With Dragon is, although this also means that not everyone gets the limelight. Some favorite characters only get a chapter or two and their beats depends on how much you remember from the last book.

July 25, 2011 Links and Plugs

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Never Never Stories by Jason Sanford

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Book Review: Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord


I received a copy of Redemption in Indigo from Small Beer Press last year but didn't read it immediately. That was clearly a mistake.

In a lot of way, this novel by Karen Lord captures a lot of what I want to discuss when it comes to World SF (a problematic term, I know, but it's what I have to work with right now without delving into a longer discussion, so bear with me). Take for example another problematic definition: magic-realism. There is both value and valid criticism with the term and it's easy to pigeonhole works like Redemption in Indigo as falling under that sub-genre in much the same way a lot of Philippine fiction like the fiction of Dean Francis Alfar or Joy Dayrit can be described as such. But that assumes there is a rigid formula and set of tropes that can easily be mimicked or identified--or that such interpretations is common across all cultures. Magic-realism is usually associated with (but not limited to) Gabriel Garcia Marquez yet in many ways, Lord's writing is the complete opposite. Marquez overwhelms you with vivid details while Lord is brief and concise. The former features lengthy, convoluted histories with genealogies that blend together while the latter features a growing cast but presents them in such a way that's easy to follow. A Hundred Years of Solitude doesn't attempt to explain the fantastical elements while Redemption in Indigo applies scientific principles in key moments to explain how magic works. Yet despite these stark differences, there are elements in the narrative that might identify Redemption in Indigo--at least to a Western reader--as a magic-realist novel.

And what are these elements? Is it the combination of the fantastical with the mundane and how the latter does not bat an eyelash when the former is presented? Is it the nature of the setting, someplace local and rural, a stark contrast to the settings of a lot of urban fantasies? There is also the style and tone to consider for while Lord is perhaps not as verbose as certain Latin American authors, her technique has a certain beauty and finesse that ensnares, throttles, and tickles the imagination. These contradictions and cues doesn't really define what magic-realism is, although it could be used as a crutch.


Now I'm a complete ignoramus when it comes to the culture Lord is writing from but Redemption in Indigo immediately conveys this to the reader. It's not just the presence of the mythology or the practices of her characters, but it's in the subtle details and authorial choices. What's immediately striking is how the story evokes the art of the oral narrative, not just in the way a story is passed on from an uncle to his son or a grandmother to her granddaughter, but through the mystery of an omniscient yet intimate narrator who is not afraid of breaking the fourth wall. There's the length of the book (which is relatively short) for example and it's a trend that I find common with novelists from the Philippines. There's also the nature of morality in the novel, for while the narrator identifies the presence of a "villain" in the book, the conflict is really of a different kind, not what would typically be classified as good vs. evil or even the gray morality of noir and modern epic fantasies. The presence of syncretism is also another key identifier.

While there is much to be praised when it comes to the cultural value and authenticity of the book, what really excites me is how this is compelling and exciting writing. In the first few pages, Lord immediately catches your attention, and she does this through judicial use of flash forwards (an underused technique) and flashbacks (it's also worth mentioning at how in the latter part of the book, the author eschews these technique as it's no longer necessary to hook the reader). There is the slow build-up of the cast and what seemed like a small and private party quickly spirals into a huge gathering of major and minor characters who surprisingly retain their significance from start to end. It's impressive at how the narrator lies and attempts to deceive the reader yet Lord makes it work: for example, the ending professes to be didactic but the author actually holds back some crucial information and leaves hints for readers to figure out (the epilogue, for example, is the closest thing to hitting the reader with the book, but is presented in such a way that's still restrained). Lastly, there is the juggling act of writing a story with depth and including humor that doesn't draw attention to itself.

It's also refreshing to read a narrative that features a strong female protagonist, not in the stereotypical fashion of the alpha female or the overly sexualized heroine, but one that is holistic and embraces propriety, domesticity, curiosity, and vulnerability.

Redemption in Indigo is to be praised on many levels but what really strikes home is that despite all the agendas and baggage we bring when reading such a novel, this is really a fun book with its ability to combine comedy, a sense of mythic-ness, gravity, and sheer elegance.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

July 21, 2011 Links and Plugs

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Here's one from my favorite artist:
A Song of Ice and Fire 2012 Calendar illustration by John Picacio

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

July 19, 2011 Links and Plugs

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You are compelled to buy all of Papaveria Press's lovely books:

Songs for the Devil and Death by Hal Duncan

Monday, July 18, 2011

July 18, 2011 Links and Plugs

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Future Media edited by Rick Wilber

Friday, July 15, 2011

July 15, 2011 Links and Plugs

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You can get an early copy at ReaderCon...

A Slepyng Hound to Wake by Vincent McCaffrey

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

July 13, 2011 Links and Plugs

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A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Dance With Dragons Day One

A Dance With Dragons is large and heavy, and I'm referring to its physical size and weight. The closest thing I can compare it to is my hardcover of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. At one point, I was carrying three copies of these in my bag and it was straining my shoulder.

So I spent much of today, aside from getting work done, visiting various bookstores, checking up on how they fare on the launch of a not-quite-popular novel (here in the Philippines).

Fully Booked, at least the branch in Promenade, didn't have copies. I had a reservation and nada, no phone call or text message.

Powerbooks, on the other hand, was pretty much on the ball, minus some arguable failings. They had copies in their branches by the time the stores opened. Where it failed was the pricing. It originally had a price of P1399.00 (and I bought one of my copies at this price) but was later adjusted to P1195.00 (matching the price at National Bookstore). By my estimate, each branch (save perhaps for its main branch) had around five copies allocated. The branches at Mega Mall and Shangri-La already had all their copies reserved so it was pretty much sold out when it was released (and informs you the kind of consumer market they have).

National Bookstore, on the other hand, got their books later in the day (sometime around lunch time) depending on the location. Again, by my estimate, they probably had five or six allotment per branch, unless a lot more were hidden (at least two were always on display). Unlike Powerbooks, most of their copies weren't reserved, so there was a lot to go around. Of course the problem is the slightly-delayed release and I think I saw a girl browsing through A Feast for Crows as she waited for a saleslady to assist her with a copy of the book as she dropped by when the mall just opened. (Anyway, if you still don't have a copy, National Bookstore looks like your best bet.)

July 12, 2011 Links and Plugs

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My Life As a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland

Monday, July 11, 2011

July 11, 2011 Links and Plugs

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Jabberwocky #6

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Essay: Counting Down to A Dance With Dragons


I'm an opportunist. In college, I carried a spare umbrella just so that I can loan it to someone when it rained. Having said that, I'll seldom have the courage to ask a girl out. Does that make me active or passive? I don't know, that's the problem with binaries.

My Sunday nap was interrupted by a text message from one of my favorite customer service representatives. She informed me that their branch had only stocked five copies of A Dance With Dragons, and that she reserved me a copy (which is why she's now my favorite customer service rep).

Now here's how my mind works: Great, I have a copy. Oh crap, what about my-crush-who-rejected-me, my friends, the guy I met at GeekFight the other day whom I told A Dance with Dragons would be available at the local bookstore?

There's opportunity here, a chance to be a hero to some friends if I managed to get them copies, because clearly, there's going to be a shortage of books. It's time to earn my self-labeled monicker, Bibliophile Stalker.

A part of me hates this situation. Why does book scarcity have to ever come into play? On the other hand, I'm good at this kind of crisis. I start making phone calls to various bookstores and branches. I encounter both helpful and unhelpful customer service representatives. I start visiting bookstores.

There's lots of disappointing and sometimes conflicting (remember the part about unhelpful customer service representatives?) reports. Fully Booked's main branch at The Fort for example reported has only twenty copies of the book and they're not accepting reservations. It's a different story at the Shangri-La branch, however: At first they said they only have one copy remaining... I can have it reserved and pick it up today... and then wait, it will only be available on the 12th... and then that one remaining copy is already reserved so no dice.

National Bookstore--the country's largest bookstore chain--is a mystery when it comes to A Dance With Dragons. The most helpful customer service rep I talked to said that they don't expect stocks to arrive until the 11th so they don't know in what quantities they'll be acquiring it but it'll be released on the 12th. Of course the question is how much copies of the book they received and how much will be allocated to each branch.

Now I know George R. R. Martin isn't as popular in the Philippines as other authors best-selling authors. There was no shortage of Harry Potter books for example, even as fines lined up at Powerbooks to claim their copies as early as 7 am on book launch day. National Bookstore is currently prepping for Lauren Kate's second visit (and there's a big acknowledgment to National Bookstore in her recent novel) so there won't be a book shortage for her fans either.

On the other hand, living in the Philippines, it's also rare for a genre title to have a day one simultaneous release with the rest of the world (there are exceptions of course like those previously mentioned). I remember the days of visiting bookstores for the entire month of August and September just to wait for Terry Brook's latest novel to come out or Ellen Datlow's latest anthology. So I can't be too sad about A Dance With Dragons as it's having a worldwide simultaneous release (well, technically, we're getting it 12 hours ahead of time). I'm just disappointed when it comes to this missed opportunity (for the bookstores). Not that they're to blame--for all I know, the publisher themselves might have limits due to Martin's newfound popularity.

When Tuesday arrives though, National Bookstore might have ordered a lot of books. Or the customer service reps might have been mistaken. I don't know. Hopefully there'll be enough books to go around. And at the end of the day, I realize this is a nerdy and trivial problem.

Friday, July 08, 2011

July 8, 2011 Links and Plugs

Why did no one tell me about Fantastic Women: 18 Tales of the Surreal and the Sublime?


Also one of my favorite Speculate! episodes on Workshopping.

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In honor of Jeff VanderMeer's birthday...

 The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer

Thursday, July 07, 2011

July 7, 2011 Links and Plugs

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 Naked City edited by Ellen Datlow

    Wednesday, July 06, 2011

    Book Review: Heartbreak & Magic by Ian Rosales Casocot





    Ian Rosales Casocot's fiction--speculative or otherwise--has been known to be both potent and lyrical. But the charm of Casocot's writing is his unique foray into the borders of Philippine literature. I won't lie: Philippine fiction tends to gravitate towards Manila-centric stories and that is just one example of how Rosales deviates from the norm. His stories of Dumaguete is wildly imaginative yet also grounded by telling details and nuances that identify him not as a tourist but one who calls it home. There is also the nature of the stories of Heartbreak & Magic for while Casocot has his own writing style, each piece attempts something different and crosses various genres whether it's fantasy, science fiction, or horror.

    Heartbreak & Magic isn't by any means a thick collection but this petite publication is easily one of the most important speculative fiction titles of the year. It collects Casocot's speculative fiction stories, including those that have won awards over the years. At eight stories, it seems like slim pickings, but the issue for me is quality, not quantity.

    I can't honestly say every story is outstanding. "How Sarah Broke Up With Me," Casocot's foray into flash fiction, was simply ho-hum, while "The Painted Lady," didn't strike me as much as the rest of his stories. But the other six? They are wonderful and exciting and worth rereading (and I have, in fact, reread them for this review).

    Take for example "A Strange Map of Time". It's a layered story in the sense that if you read it on the literal level, it's an enjoyable interstitial narrative (which in itself is no mean feat). But to someone who's not versed in Filipino culture and myths, they might miss out on the nuances of local history and folklore. The story admittedly takes a nostalgic and traditional foray into the dilemma (foreigners as the source of evil) but for the most part, it's a well-crafted story that grows with each rereading.


    "A Tragedy of Chickens," on the other hand, showcases both Casocot's talent at writing what can be considered as "magic realism" as well as the country's passion for food. Again, it's the details that get to you, and it's amazing how Casocot captures the locality of his setting while crafting characters that are undeniably Filipino. It's funny without being too direct and has a narrative as a sturdy backbone.

    And then there's "The Flicker," one of Casocot's few forays into horror, but it's one that surprises and latches on to you.

    The beauty of Casocot's fiction is that it has its own unique voice that leaves a distinct, unforgettable impression. The fact that it's all collected in one book, Heartbreak & Magic, is a boon to fans of speculative fiction. The only flaw of this collection is that it lacks a bibliography, and at the end of the day, one must also question the publisher's agenda of having a "Questions for Study" section.