Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November 30, 2011 Links and Plugs

Do check out the local eBook store that I now work for: Flipreads.

And again, reminding about Magick 4 Terri.

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It was the last day of WFC and they were having breakfast... and I was behind them but too shy so here's the plug.
Seed by Rob Ziegler

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Random Photo

November 29, 2011 Links and Plugs

I want to stress that Terri Windling is in need...

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Within the Flames by Marjorie M. Liu

Friday, November 25, 2011

November 25, 2011 Links and Plugs

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The Folded World by Catherynne M. Valente

Thursday, November 24, 2011

November 24, 2011 Links and Plugs

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 Shadow's Witness by Paul S. Kemp

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Books in the Mail 2011/11/23

Queen of Kings by Maria Dahvana Headley
 Technicolor Ultra Mall by Ryan Oakley
 Circle Tide by Rebecca K. Rowe
 Gaslight Arcanum edited by J. R. Campbell and Charles Prepolec
Tesseracts Fifteen edited by Julie Czerneda & Susan MacGregor

Some Anne McCaffrey Tributes

You can also check John Scalzi's thread.

November 23, 2011 Links and Plugs

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 Here Comes the Nice by Jeremy Reed

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

November 22, 2011 Links and Plugs

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Kafkaesque edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly

Monday, November 21, 2011

November 21, 2011 Links and Plugs

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 Alien Contact edited by Marty Halpern

Friday, November 18, 2011

November 18, 2011 Links and Plugs

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Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights by Ryu Mitsuse

    Manila International Literary Festival 2011: The Stranger Experience

    On writing away from home, cross-cultural experiences, and the multi-faceted immigraton experience.

    Junot Diaz, Holly Thompson, Gemma Nemenzo

    Chair: Oscar Campomanes


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    Thursday, November 17, 2011

    November 17, 2011 Links and Plugs

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    A Mayse-Bikhl by Sonya Taaffe

    Wednesday, November 16, 2011

    Manila International Literary Festival 2011: Writing from the Margins

    Writers from minority backgrounds on writing for a mainstream audience within the mainstream of American publishing.

    Pulitzer Prize winners Edward P. Jones (The Known World, 2004) and  Junot Diaz (2008)

    Introductions and first questions by Vicente Groyon and Angelo "Sarge" Lacuesta


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    Manila International Literary Festival 2011: A Conversation with Junot Diaz

    A One-on-one with the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

    Junot Diaz

    Chair: Jose Y. Dalisay, Jr.

    (Apologies as during the 20 minute mark, somebody left their phone in the room during their talk and interrupted the discussion.)



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    Alien Contact Interviews


    While I was away at World Fantasy Convention 2011, my clone managed to do some interviews for the Alien Contact anthology.

    November 16, 2011 Links and Plugs

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     Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword and Sorceress XXVI edited by Elisabeth Waters

    Tuesday, November 15, 2011

    Monday, November 14, 2011

    Plug: Press Release - eBooks now made accessible to Filipinos through Flipreads.com


    Filipinos can now have easier access to eBooks through the online eBookstore, Flipreads.com. Likewise, authors and publishers can now distribute their eBooks more widely and securely through the same website, which was launched on November 11 2011 from 4-7PM at the Celebrity Sports Club Grand Ballroom.

    Flipreads.com is owned and developed by Flipside Publishing Services, a sister company of Flipside Digital Content. Flipside Digital Content, previously just a conversion house catering to four of the top six international publishers, is responsible for publishing and co-publishing more than 70 Filipino and Asian eBooks on Amazon, Apple iBookstore, and Barnes and Noble just in its first six months of operation. Most of these international eBookstores, however, are not available to the local populace. Filipinos can only buy from Amazon, albeit with an added cost of $2 per book.

    Now, Flipside is making eBooks more accessible especially for Filipinos through Flipreads.com. Readers can download eBooks onto their Apple or Android devices. They can even download it onto their PCs or Macs. Whereas before, Filipinos could only buy eBooks legitimately if they had credit cards, but with Flipreads, they may use other payment gateways such as CashSense and, in the near future, Globe GCash, and Smart Money.

    Flipreads also serves as a secure distribution platform for Filipino publishers, authors, and other content providers. Therefore, publishers can now sell their eBooks securely through Flipreads.com. Authors can also opt to independently publish their titles through the site. Other institutions and entities can also distribute their digital materials safely through Flipreads.

    eBooks distributed through Flipreads can be made secure through the use of Adobe Content Server’s DRM. DRM stands for Digital Rights Management and is the means by which eBooks are protected from casual piracy. Alternatively, authors and publishers may choose to distribute their eBooks for free through the Flipreads site.

    Flipreads also hopes to provide a venue to publishers and authors to bring previously out-of-print titles back into circulation. Since everything is online, these titles will also be available to an international market.

    For more information, email business@flipreads.com or call +632-5709255 or +63917-6206244.

    You can download the press kit here (15 MB zip file).

    Book Review: After the Apocalypse by Maureen F. McHugh

    The problem with being a relatively new genre reader (just the past decade — less if you consider my familiarity with the short story format) is that I'm unfamiliar with a lot of authors. For example, I'd probably miss out on someone like Peter S. Beagle (The Last Unicorn film aside) if he didn't have a recent resurgence in terms of output. Maureen F. McHugh is one such writer: I didn't immediately appreciate the significance of Small Beer Press publishing her short story collection. In retrospect, I've read some of her short stories in the past, notably in original anthologies from talented editors like Ellen Datlow and Jonathan Strahan. Initially, I never made the association between McHugh's name and her stories, because at the time, the writing style and technique wasn't immediately striking, at least compared to the other stories in the aforementioned books. (There is also the fact that I was a different kind of reader back then.) In McHugh's latest short story collection, After the Apocalypse, I'm given the opportunity to re-evaluate my assumptions, thanks to the presentation of her stories in a different context.

    Short story titles can be difficult, especially if you're a writer whose style has a wide range. I'm not against the current practice of naming a short story collection after one of your stories (sometimes not necessarily the most famous one, which is the case here), but with that limitation, some titles fail to convey the theme (or lack of a theme as the case may be) of an author's body of work. That's not the case with After the Apocalypse as I find it captures the mood and atmosphere of the included stories. It's not all post-apocalyptic, at least not in the general sense: the stories are all personal, and whatever bleakness and darkness that is present is due to the author's strength in characterization and empathy. On that level, After the Apocalypse immediately conveys to you what you need to know about this book.

    In terms of story, McHugh's style is best described as slow, deliberate, and very character-focused. This can lead to emotional and heavy stories, which is a testament to the potency of the narrative. Take, for example, the horror element of some of her stories: it's not evident in the beginning, but it creeps up on you by the time you read the last line (nor is it a case of simply O. Henry plots). I attribute this to characterization, especially the way McHugh crafts convincing — and sympathetic — characters. Take, for example, the opening piece, "The Naturalist." Early in the story, you're rooting for the protagonist. Until you discover something reprehensible about them, but this revelation is what makes them compelling. That's also the case with the titular story, "After the Apocalypse." It's not that these characters are beyond our social norms, but their behavior are aspects of ourselves that's magnified to a certain degree that it crosses a moral line. One would even argue that in the latter story, the line is never crossed. It's this ambiguity that makes for a rich narrative that continues the dialogue even when you've put the book down.

    Another topic that needs to be addressed — which is a non-issue for me but might be the case for some readers — is genre boundaries. I'm not exactly the type of reader to quibble whether a story is science fiction, fantasy, or something else: I'm more interested in whether it works, whether it was convincing, or whether it was entertaining. All the stories in After the Apocalypse succeeds on those counts. But if you want to quibble on some of the stories, whether they are indeed fantasy or science fiction, well, McHugh does have that kind of vagueness. "The Lost Boy: A Reporter at Large" and "The Effect of Centrifugal Forces" feels like realist* stories for example. But for me, it's not just the tone that makes them science fictional, but the subject matter, as they are based on science; mundane science fiction if you will (which is an interesting debate because "The Kingdom of the Blind" is just as likely to happen in the real world but the concept of artificial intelligence, at least as far as the present paradigm is concerned, still feels very science fictional).

    At first glance, McHugh seems to employ traditional writing techniques, but if you dig deeper, there's actually a lot of experimentation taking place. "The Lost Boy: A Reporter at Large" for example is a documentary in prose format, and while other writers have attempted something similar (to varying degrees of effectiveness), the context and presentation is different, and what works here for example might not work in a different short story. (In the novel format, compare World War Z vs. Feed.) There's also the issue of characterization which I've already brought up: choice of characters, point of view, etc. all play a part and McHugh constantly presents us with tough choices without being didactic.

    There are nine stories in this collection and what makes this book a must-have is the three originals. They're not, by any means, gimped short stories but well-polished and striking in their own right. I can easily imagine "The Effect of Centrifugal Forces" and "After the Apocalypse" finding their way to awards ballots because they're that potent and disturbing, while there's something cathartic when it comes to "Honeymoon."

    If you haven't discovered McHugh yet, After the Apocalypse is a must-have. There's a few collections I'd nominate for an award like The Shirley Jackson Awards, and this is one of them.

    *Or maybe that's the conceit, that McHugh imagined a condition that sounds plausible and incorporated it into the fiction.

    Book Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz



    What immediate fascinates me about The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao — and this isn't readily apparent once you're done reading the novel — is that it's a different kind of book depending on who you are. A more formally-trained reader for example might home in on the history and politics of the book, an immigrant might relate to the expatriate experience of the characters, a geek might applaud all the comic and D&D and anime allusions, and wallflowers will outright identify themselves with Oscar Wao. It's the secret plurality of the book (because I think the ability of a novel to address multiple concerns isn't exclusive to Junot Diaz's writing) that makes The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao accessible to all kinds of readers, whether you're a Pulitzer judge or a fanboy in line at a convention. Which is quite a paradox because on paper, this seems like the most exclusive book to hit the shelves: it uses Spanish frequently, invokes a vast knowledge of pop culture ranging from Marvelman to Macross, and features footnotes the size of vignettes. And this is a testament of Diaz's skill as a writer that he makes it work.

    In terms of craft, there's a cadence to Diaz's writing style that sucks you in: the beat and the flow makes the pop culture analogies effective instead of sticking out like a sore thumb. And speaking of allusions, as a genre fan, the way he utilizes geekspeak as metaphors is simply impressive: Kimota! 4d10. Ringwraiths. It's very much possible that the reader won't get all — or any — of the references (and with the popularity of the Lord of the Rings movies, the rise of MMORPGs, and comics going digital, the likelihood of catching the nuances keeps on improving) but the story works regardless of that. And that pretty much sums up the language barrier as well as the mood and context clues are enough to guide the ignorant reader. But if you are the perfect, ideal reader (Carlos Hernandez's Oscar Wao: Murdering Machismo comes to mind), then the book becomes this rich, vibrant novel that's daring and (I wouldn't call it ahead of its time in terms of reader reciprocity) timely. And then there are the usual stuff: tone, character, telling details, and a larger-than-life antagonist that never makes a personal appearance (well, he does in a brief scene) but dominates most of the book.

    It's the personal impact, however, that strikes home. The Philippines for example was also a colony of Spain (and faces American colonialism) and I can relate to the language and the themes. We have our own Trujillo in the form of Marcos and the feudal (as well as misogynistic) atmosphere and mindset is (unfortunately) all too common in the present. Oscar Wao belongs to my generation, from the comics he reads, the games he plays, and even his luck with women (perhaps the only disconnect is that he is overweight and I am underweight). I'm not quite the ideal reader but it's close.

    To claim that The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is fun is an understatement. But much like Lolita and stories by Gene Wolfe, there's a lot more one can get from digging beyond the surface. There's something for everyone and it's a compellingly-written narrative.

    November 14, 2011 Links and Plugs

    Also plugging If You Lived Here survey from Underland Press.

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    StarShipSofa Stories Volume 3

    Sunday, November 13, 2011

    Short Story Collections for the Aspiring Speculative Fiction Writer

    I'm a short story writer.

    When people talk about speculative fiction, they usually associate the genre with novelists: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Robert Jordan, George R. R. Martin, J.K. Rowling, etc.

    And yet, when I look at the field, we have a rich pool of wonderful, exciting short stories.

    One common problem among writers who attempt to write short fiction is that they don't read enough short stories. Novels, yes. Short stories, no.

    So if you're looking for writing advice from me (that's completely the opposite of what you'd learn from NaNoWriMo), here are books that I recommend you read. Note that these are books that are in print and relatively easy to order (and if you're from the Philippines, you will have to order these books as they're not readily available in local bookstores). For example, I think Mary Robinette Kowal is a writer everyone must read, but her short story collection, Scenting the Dark and Other Stories, is out of print (I will instead defer you to her sampler of stories). Kij Johnson is another talented author but at the time of this writing, her short story collection hasn't been announced yet (although do check out her fiction).

    So, without further ado, here are ten short story collections that have influenced my writing, and recommended to aspiring short story writers:

    Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link

    In many ways, Kelly Link took both the Fiction and genre world by storm. There's a reason for that — her writing style very different from what was the norm at the time, and Magic for Beginners, I feel, is her strongest collection (of the three that's been released to date).


    In the Forest of Forgetting by Theodora Goss

    This was the book my peers recommended to me and I was never disappointed. Interstitial fiction is an amorphous, ever-changing beast, but if you want to catch a glimpse of interstitial fiction done right, you need to read Theodora Goss.


    The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender

    I think many genre readers (and writers) will miss out on Aimee Bender, simply because she isn't overtly genre, which is a shame. Like Link, she employs unconventional techniques for her time, and incorporates the speculative elements organically.


    The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami

    For readers of my generation, the most commonly-referenced Haruki Murakami short story is "On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning." There's an unconventionality to Murakami — whether a foreign perspective or simply a unique style — that's a breath of fresh air yet remains accessible.


    The Fantasy Writer's Assistant and Other Stories by Jeffrey Ford

    If there's any writer whose short fiction I can safely re-read (and continue to be impressed by), it's Jeffrey Ford. His short stories are elegant, immersive, breathtaking, and while it's been almost a decade since the book was released, it continues to be relevant and engaging.


    In the Mean Time by Paul Tremblay

    There's always room for subtlety and elegance, even in genres like horror, and Paul Tremblay understands this. What makes his fiction remarkable is that it creeps up on you, instead of being transparent and overt.


    Objects of Worship by Claude Lalumière

    Claude Lalumière has the ability to combine two (or more) unrelated genres and craft this potent story that's greater than the sum of its parts.


    Twelve Collections and The Teashop by Zoran Živković

    Zoran Živković's fiction is simple yet elegant, and what's impressive with Twelve Collections and The Teashop is that he manages to create twelve stories that are effective independently, but when read together, forms this larger tapestry.


    After the Apocalypse by Maureen F. McHugh

    I've finally found the time to crack open this collection and Maureen F. McHugh impresses, especially with her character-driven narratives. Human motivation can be both a wonderful and scary place and McHugh knows how to draw them out and utilize those elements in her narratives.

    Yellowcake by Margo Lanagan

    Okay, I lied: this might not be the easiest book to get a hold of (it might become easier the following year as non-Australian publishers pick it up) but this is a solid reprint of Margo Lanagan's short fiction. Like Paul Tremblay, you need to read between the lines to appreciate Lanagan's fiction but the rewards are well worth it.

    Friday, November 11, 2011

    November 11, 2011 Links and Plugs

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    SteamPowered II: More Lesbian Steampunk Stories edited by JoSelle Vanderhooft

    Thursday, November 10, 2011

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     Red Dot Irreal by Jason Erik Lundberg

    Wednesday, November 09, 2011

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    Myths of Origin by Catherynne M. Valente

    Book Review: Naked City: Tales of Urban Fantasy edited by Ellen Datlow


    In the hands of a talented editor, the term urban fantasy can be this flexible theme that's not limited by sub-genre. That's the initial impression I got with Naked City: Tales of Urban Fantasy, as it features all sorts of stories ranging from high fantasy, noir, mythic fiction, and horror (or some combination thereof). Admittedly, there are readers who find comfort in formula, but if you're the type that revels in the unknown, willing to be surprised or charmed or horrified (trick or treat!), then this is the book for you.

    Admittedly, I read Naked City under the worst possible circumstances — that is, one story at a time over a period of two months, which is slow for an anthology with twenty stories. Combine this with the fact that Ellen Datlow has released several anthologies this year, so things can get a bit blurry. But in many ways, this is the harshest test for a book: which stories leave a lasting impression and which are forgettable? It's a testament to the editor and contributors at how striking many of these stories are, even when read independently and a review is being written weeks after the last story is read.

    For me, the stories in the anthology can be divided into one of two categories: those that are simply fun, and those that are meaty, bizarre, and takes some time to process. Not that a story is exclusive to one of these two, nor is "fun" a term that's articulate enough to describe what makes the story work, but these categorization helps me classify which stories can be read on the surface level, and which ones require a significant investment on the reader's part.

    There's more of the former than the latter. "On the Slide" by Richard Bowes has this definite noir cinema atmosphere and the mashup is actually relevant to the story; "The Duke of Riverside" by Ellen Kushner is a welcome return to the world of Swordspoint; "Fairy Gifts" by Patricia Briggs combines vampires with the fey; "Priced to Sell" by Naomi Novik is funny and cosmopolitan; and there's something loosely Lovecraftian in "The Colliers' Venus (1893)" by Caitlin R. Kiernan. While the plot of these stories can be summed up in an elevator pitch, they successfully conjure one dominant emotion as you're reading through the story, whether it's foreboding, dread, or whimsiness.

    When it comes to the meaty, complex stories, there's three that I'd like to tackle. First, there's "The Projected Girl" by Lavie Tidhar. It's atmospheric and continually blurs the line between the supernatural and the realistic. Legedermain is employed as the author uses his protagonist's history to link the conflict to present events and everything seamlessly falls into place. There's something formulaic about the story but Tidhar is transparent about this and doesn't really care: his style mesmerizes you and takes you for an enjoyable ride.

    "Daddy Longlegs of the Evening" by Jeffrey Ford is deceptive; there's a playful tone to the story and it's evident that Ford is having a fun time writing this piece. Of course underneath all of that is this layer of darkness, and the author continually juggles the reader's sense of wonder along with dread and the weird.

    Last is "The Skinny Girl" by Lucius Shepard. I'm not from Mexico, but Shepard crafts this believable setting that's peppered with telling details and nuances. What wins you over is the slow transformation of the protagonist, at how his skepticism eventually transforms and evolves. It's a bait that the reader is all-too-willing to partake and Shepard pulls it off.

    The three aforementioned stories are already well worth the price of entry to Naked City but what's great about the anthology is that there's a lot of strong, memorable stories that defies formula and actually reinvigorates our understanding of the term urban fantasy.

    Tuesday, November 08, 2011

    Book Review: Yarn by Jon Armstrong



    Cyberpunk never really appealed to me although its central themes continues to be relevant to this day. While I can enjoy the tropes and formulas of a sub-genre, the real challenge is how to appropriate and rejuvenate cyberpunk for a new generation of readers. While not outrightly labeled as cyberpunk, Yarn conjures the same atmosphere and rebellion. Everything from the hyper-commercialist society (with its own maleficent Lady Gaga/Madonna figure), the oppression of the rural citizen, the paranoia, and even the jarring jargon is included. Yet this is not readily apparent when you start reading the book and that's probably a good thing. Jon Armstrong takes it slow and builds up his world piece by piece.

    One of the striking details in the novel is the role yarn plays in the book. Armstrong subverts the notion of sewing and uses this as part of the action. If the fusion of martial arts and guns gave birth to Gun Kata, then here, the author creates his own Yarn-fu if you will. While this might make for entertaining reading, it's disappointing though to see that for a fashion-centric novel, the protagonist's sewing skills are seldom used for actual creation. Instead, it becomes a vehicle for another way of committing violence and theft.

    The author excels in characterization and he immerses us with juxtaposition between his protagonist's present and past. Initially, it's the former predicament that compels the reader but soon, the former gives way to the latter. In this, there is an uneven sense of conflict, although it is no less interesting. Much of the suspense is the flashback, although the reader is aware that the main character survives. The predicament of the present, on the other hand, has less immediacy of a threat, although the pendulum again swings in the other direction by the time we reach the climax. Armstrong does a risky attempt at narration near the final part of the book where he alternates between present and past with no breaks but for me, it worked.

    Yarn also has this sense of contrivance as a narrative but this is fiction we are reading and Armstrong is unapologetic about connecting and resolving what he's established in the beginning of the book. Ideas, themes, and emotional roller coasters are constantly reinforced, making for a more conservative narrative. Still, despite its shortcomings, Yarn has a unique identity and fresh voice, and Armstrong executes his concept with flair and energy.