Friday, June 29, 2007

Mystery Question

Which is easier? To plan "the perfect" crime or to solve one? (Similarly, who needs more resources?)

Drilling the Spirit of Service

Having studied in a Jesuit school for seventeen years, one of my complaints is that they tried too hard into instilling the spirit of service into their students. For me, service is about volunteering, about taking your own initiative to help others. When it's required of you for one whole school year at the risk of not passing the subject, that's conscription. Xavier School tries to makes its students socially aware and has many programs to teach this. During my senior year in high school, most of us were required to participate in a 3-day immersion in which we would live with an adopted rural family. For me that's okay--at the end of the day, three days is just three days (unfortunately, this isn't reality TV). The other program is during our junior year, each and every class was required to teach a class in a public school once every week (more or less, barring holidays and the like). While the spirit behind the program is noble, is it really effective or even ethical?

Xavier School's motto is to be "Men for Others" and I do believe that is a worthwhile goal. However, it is not a mantle that you can force upon someone. The school has many public service programs and they involve volunteers. And thankfully, students and faculty alike do volunteer, although not necessarily for the most altruistic of reasons. I'll be honest--a lot of the service-oriented activities involves the school organizations and a big motivation for some of the students is the social aspect of the organization, whether it's maintaining their clique or having a good opportunity to partner with our all-girls sister school (Xavier is an all-boys school). Now I'm not criticizing the student's motivations for volunteering--I'm just saying that aside from the genuine need to help and educate others, each person has other agendas that are similarly being fulfilled by the act of service. And at the end of the day, there is a difference between the people who do volunteer (irregardless of their true agenda) and those who don't.

Having said that, I think the programs of the organizations are vastly superior to that of the school proper itself, especially the part where juniors are required to teach at public schools. My main concern is with two things: desire and training. The volunteers have a strong desire to educate these public school kids and to their credit, are backed up with better training skills (they even make lesson plans beforehand). Us ragtag of juniors don't have either. Well, we usually make an improvised lesson plan the day before or the day itself but I think the bigger issue is motivation. Let's face it, some of the students, myself included, simply don't want to teach. As far as skills are concerned, we have the requisite knowledge (i.e. we're smarter than them). But anyone who's taught knows that teaching isn't just about who's smarter or wiser. It involves a lot of other factors, from empathy to getting your point across to communicating with forty students at one time. What's worse I think is that we're just there one week at a time--we're like permanent substitute teachers (if there is ever such a thing) so I highly doubt it if the students are learning something from us as well. Sometimes I wonder if this isn't a "pity" project by the school--"Observe how better off you all are and that is why you should be responsible citizens."

It's not that I don't want the school to have service projects. I really do. However, I do think there are some projects where you need volunteers and not coerce people into serving them. Back when I was serving at the service department (honestly the last place I expected to be in, either back then or even now looking back), one of the projects we had for the freshmen was to help clean up the school. In terms of service, I think that's a feasible program, irregardless if the students want to participate or not (who really wants to volunteer to cleaning duty?). Whether such an activity truly instills the spirit of service into them is debatable, but as far as effectiveness is concerned, it is quite adequate.

Perhaps the question I really want to ask is how does one instill the spirit of service into other people? How do we get them to volunteer? Personally, in many ways, I find my alma matter's techniques to be a conundrum: you can't teach someone to volunteer by forcing them to do it. And perhaps the weakness of any such program is that it reduces the participants to one rank-and-file job. Honestly, people work best when we're making the most out of their talents. In the same way that some people are better suited to teach, others are better suited to logistics, and others are simply better leaders than followers, I think the answer to true service is letting the participants work on their strengths, on tasks they find personal fulfillment in. Unfortunately, most programs are more like "sign up here if this is your strength" rather than "volunteer and we'll find the right task for you".

Subtitled Death Note

From Newsarama

Viz is finally making subtitled episodes of Death Note available at for download. The first sixteen episodes are currently available while the rest will follow on a weekly basis. Each episode is $1.99 a pop, so no bleeding pockets this time.

Libro Soft Launch

From Read or Die

Join Read Or Die at the soft launch on June 30, 2007 at 4PM at the “Portrait Of The City” exhibit at the Glorietta 3 Park.

Adarna House will also be on hand for a storytelling session for children.

This event is part of the 11th Philippine Book Development Month and is made possible by the National Book Development Board and the Filipinas Heritage Library.

FREE FOOD WILL BE SERVED. Or UCC Coffee, at least. And cakes.

Gone for the Weekend

Will be leaving for the company's required weekend seminar in a few hours, so don't expect to hear from me over the weekend.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Surprising Gleemax Revelation

WotC staffers play DotA!!!

Speaking of which, v6.45 just got released.

Pikachu I Choose You!

From: Henchman Publishing

Apparently, the PS3 game The Eye of Judgment is a CCG video game (with rules similar to Yu-Gi-Oh) that makes the likes of the Yu-Gi-Oh and Duel Masters cartoons a reality (let's even throw in Kamen Rider Ryuki). There's a video on YouTube and while it's in Japanese, the visuals past the one minute mark are self explanatory.

Philippine Genre Stories #3

No, it's not yet out, but somehow Kenneth sneakily put up the contents for issue 3 at their website. It also features a new (Adobe Flash?) trailer by Andre Medina. Cross your fingers and hopefully it'll be out in July 2007.

Fortress Draconis Podcast

From: Henchman Publishing

Author Michael Stackpole is making his book, Fortress Draconis, "free". Free in the sense that it's up as a podcast every week, one chapter at a time. It's also being read by the man himself.

Hands on Manila Writing Contest

From: Hands on Manila

Hands On Manila is celebrating the spirit of volunteerism in the Philippines through a writing competition, entitled "Volunteer Chronicles."

"Volunteer Chronicles" is open to all non-professional Filipino writers, 18 years old and above, who wish to write about his or her experience in volunteer work. Interested participants may write about their significant experience in community and social development, educational programs, and initiatives for the protection of the environment.

The top three winners of the writing competition will receive awards and their articles will be published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The articles will be judged based on the following criteria: relevance (50 percent); writing style (25 percent); and compliance with contest mechanics (25 percent).

Interested participants may join the competition by submitting the following items in a sealed brown envelope: a duly accomplished official entry form and authorization form inside a sealed letter-size envelope, a printout of the write-up, and a soft of the entry on CD or floppy disk. The title of the entry and the author's pen name should be handwritten or typewritten on the letter envelope.

The official entry form and authorization form may be obtained from any Powerbooks branch.

You may also download the forms here:
a) Official Entry Form
b) Authorization Form

Entries may be submitted to any Powerbooks branch or mailed to the Powerbooks head office c/o marketing at 25 Brixton Street, Capitol Subdivision, Pasig City.

Deadline of submission of entries is August 31, 2007 at 9 P.M.

First Prize: P5,000 worth Powerbooks Gift Certificate + Free trip for two (2) to Plantation Bay, Cebu via Cebu Pacific.

Second Prize: P3,000 worth Powerbooks Gift Certificate + Free Accommodations at Baguio Country Club in Baguio.

Third Prize: P2,000 worth Powerbooks Gift Certificate + Free Accommodations at Taal Vista Hotel

First Hits are the Best

I was listening to an interview with Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman from the recent Gleemax podcast and I remembered this phenomenon with some authors. Writers like Margaret Weis and Terry Goodkind are examples of authors whom fans extremely like the first few works (Dragonlance Chronicles in the case of the former and Wizard's First Rule in the case of the latter) but not so much in their subsequent works. Don't get me wrong, these are good writers (although I wouldn't say great) but somehow, their other works just don't have that "spark" that was present in their first novel/trilogy.

In the case of Weis, I don't know why. I read her Deathgate cycle and while it was an okay series, it didn't seem that impressive to me. Returning to Dragonlance in the War of the Souls trilogy, I think the story suffered because of the game line (either its previous state or its new status quo). Goodkind, on the other hand, I can identify part of the reason. A good chunk of his books started being political in a way that wasn't seamless or obvious. That's not the only reason though, and his second and third books were similarly okay, just not packing the wallop his first novel had.

I think the problem is prevalent in genre writers (who write much of the same thing over and over again), especially successful ones who are supposed to come up with dozens of repeat successes, but not limited to them. One of the authors I read early on as a kid was David Eddings and by now, he's published a lot of books. Unfortunately, I also think he's been recycling ideas and characters and by the time you release your 24th book, it's obvious that you can only do so much rehashing.

Of course that's not always the case. Terry Pratchett, despite being quite repetitive with his Discworld novels, somehow manages to save something new and improve. In fact, I admire Pratchett because there's a clear evolution of his writing. The weakest Discworld novels in the series in my opinion were his earlier ones and some of the best are the ones that were more recently released.

Neil Gaiman, while not the most prolific author when it comes to releasing novels (not that he should be), manages to write something very different from his previous novel, which I think keeps his work refreshing. There's constant -reinvention and he's not trapped in the genre glut (in the sense that they're still writing in the same world and telling the same type of stories) that some writers are in (or choose to be in).

Characters: Breaking the Rules

From a storytelling point of view, what was interesting about the original Transformers and G.I. Joe series from the 80's was that they broke one rule of storytelling: when making a team, make every character count.

Obviously, both shows existed to further the massive toy line they were based on. And what was interesting was that they managed to sneak all of the characters and vehicles into the cartoons. In fact, there were too many characters to keep track of, and some characters appeared in an episode without a prior explanation. (Of course of the two shows, I found Transformers to be more stable. Subsequent additions to their cast such as the Dinobots were given ample introduction.) Yet despite that "flaw", we as viewers loved it.

I think future storytellers realized that flaw. That's why in the subsequent American sequels of Transformers and G.I. Joe, their respective casts were trimmed down. The Transformers CGI even cut it down to five characters on each side and moved on from there.

Another comparable show was Justice League Unlimited but the franchise started small (the first few seasons of Justice League) before moving on to this massive ensemble cast. Of course at the end of the day, you can't tell a story by focusing on a hundred characters and Justice League Unlimited pretty much tackles it the same way Transformers and G.I. Joe managed to be a viable series during its time: with each episode, the story focused on a few central characters and the rest were "extras".

Despite knowing that, it still makes me wish that the Transformers franchise would return to the days of hundreds of robots on each side, duking it out.

Indie Publishers at Book Fair

Tin reports that independent publishers have a free both at the Manila International Book Fair. That's a good thing, although I wonder how efficient that info will be disseminated. (Does Philippine Genre Stories count as an independent publisher?) The good news for some of my friends is that it covers comics as well, so if you have some work you'd like to release before the Komikon, contact Read or Die.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

iPhone Musings

Spent a good chunk of the day reading the iPhone reviews (alas, I don't get a complementary copy to review it myself) and it's been an "interesting" read.

Since the Philippines is a country that uses SMS heavily, I've been acquainted with the dictionary function of mobile phones (and they aren't exactly a dictionary as much as "predictive text" programs). So when reviewers explain on "trusting" the iPhone or "using the Force" when it comes to typing, been there done that.

There was also the comment with regards to the camera that the targets needs to be motionless and in a well-lit area. I think most of the 2 megapixel phone/cameras suffer from that problem as well, so that's not a penalty against them.

I was surprised that for a hybrid phone media player, you can't use mp3's as ring tones.

The lack of MMS and voice dialing should be disconcerting, but I don't really use those features either way so it's up to you whether to count it against Apple or not (so do you actually send MMS pictures to friends or actually use voice dial?).

Perhaps my greatest fear in my iPhone prediction was true--network stability/efficiency. And unfortunately, AT&T isn't that so surfing on the iPhone ain't that smooth unless you're in a WiFi hotspot.

Oh, and that 4 GB and 8 GB capacity? Everyone seemed to have forgotten how much space the OS would occupy. Apparently 700 MB, so you're easily down to 3 GB or 7 GB respectively.

Anyway, here's what I like and don't like about the iPhone:

  • It looks pretty!
  • Apparently it really is scratch resistant.
  • If anything, you'd get the iPhone for its long battery life.
  • I can view PDFs, Word and Excel files.* (Hello eBooks!)
  • I can surf the Net at WiFi hotspots.**
*Can't edit them though.
**Unfortunately no Flash or Java.

  • It's too expensive. Get a PS3 while you're at it.
  • Average voice quality.
  • Lack of third party applications.
  • Can't use SIM cards! (Goodbye Philippine market.)

Nikki Alfar Interview at PinoyCentric

From: Dean Alfar

Nikki Alfar: Writing Bravely

In all honestly, Nikki is one of the talented local writers we have in the country, as well as being one of the best editors, period. (She's also one half of the ever-dominant Team Alfar in UpWords.)

Also didn't notice it before but PinoyCentric also has an earlier interview with Dean Alfar: A Spectacular Spectacle.

Reader Question

Does the act of reading need to have a practical side to it? Like if I read a novel, is it required of me to have "learned" something?

My brain tells me yes while my heart is screaming no. Something to personally ponder about.

Doing Away with the Nation

Sometimes, I wonder if we should just do away with the concept of a nation. Yes, I know how much significance people attach to their country--it's their source of identification, it's their source of pride, it's their source of unification. However, I want to focus on the last item: unification. My problem with the concept of a nation is that while it unites people, it also divides. As long as we have nations, there'll always be another nation we'll come in conflict with, whether it's due to political, economic, or military interests.

One paradigm people view the world is through the lens of "us" and "them". It starts with "me" and "everybody else" and then slowly moves up from there: "family" and "everyone else", "our neighbors" and "everyone else", "our community" and "their community", and finally "our nation" and "their nation". It's always been theorized in pop culture and science-fiction that there's another level, when it'll be down to "humanity" and "the aliens". However, the latter hasn't appeared yet, and humanity still views itself in terms of nations rather than as one race. And because of that, conflict with other nations is inevitable.

The nation also has its roots in individuality. Each nation, or at least a significant portion of its community, always strives to "preserve" its culture. It can take the form of language, of practices and rituals, of religion, and ethics. I'm not saying we do away with these cultural markers that sets us apart, but in the end, this is all movement towards saying "I'm different from you". The struggle to be different, I think, is a very human act. However, this also keeps us separated from the rest of humanity, a barrier we set up ourselves. In the end, much of the conflict in the world stems from differences: differences in language, differences in skin color, differences in belief, differences in morals.

When people call for us to be one nation, I ask why limit ourselves to that? Why not be one people instead, rather than stick to the limitations of man-made borders? Why do we separate Filipinos from Americans, Asians from Caucasians, the East from the West? There's value in national pride, but that doesn't mean we should overlook its flaws and limitations.

Komiks Plug

From: Komikero Comics Journal and The Carver's House

Rediscovering the "Komiks" Wellspring by Oliver Palumbarit with interviews with Gerry Alanguilan, Carlo Vergara, Regie Ravelo, and Filomena Coching.

On a side note, it's interesting to see local, original comics thriving in magazines like Fudge and K-Zone. It's not exactly the first place I'd expect to see komiks, but they're there.

Zero Hour?

Warning: Spoilers

  1. Reverse-counting comics? Check. (Countdown)
  2. Multiple Earths? Check. (52 #52)
  3. Dead Flash? Check. (Flash #13)
  4. Monarch? Check. (Countdown #45)
Now if Parallax shows up in today's Sinestro Corps Special (and the solicitations seem to suggest it), we might as well be reading a rehash of Zero Hour.

Anime Merchandising

For me, one of the greatest successes of anime isn't necessarily in the storytelling itself, but in the way it managed to maximize its profits from its own shoes. I don't think American cartoons (or even American TV in general) matches up to the merchandising most anime shows have.

When we talk of merchandising, most people are probably thinking "toys". And to a certain extent, that's true. But what's amazing about anime is that it goes beyond toys. There's music CDs, radio dramas, trading cards, plushies, key chains, video games, candy, comic adaptations, etc. The counter-argument is that American cartoons does this too, especially when characters appear in lunch boxes and Happy Meals. Unfortunately, that's only the case when a series is really really popular. And perhaps the shocker is that the Japanese have been doing this kind of merchandising for more than two decades.

Of course I'll give credit where it's due. Today, there's a brand of anime that is there solely because of the merchandise rather than the other way around. The anime pushes sales of the product and quite frankly, I've seen it work. Examples of this are Beyblade and Let's & Go (no, I don't count something like Yu-Gi-Oh because that was actually story-driven and it was only later that the card game idea manifested and subsequently editorialized) . But 80's US cartoons like Transformers and G.I. Joe fall under that category too and those shows were intended to be that way.

Still, it's interesting to see an anime drama, for example, to rake in the profits without needing to sell action robots and the like but rather earn from selling stuff like keychains or music CDs.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Crazy Crepes

Last week, I discovered a new stall at Robinsons Galleria. It's called Crazy Crepes and it's one floor above Penny Brown. The joint's gimmick is that instead of ice cream cones, they use crepes (and their tagline is "This is a No-Cone Zone"). The price is around P75.00 - P80.00 depending on the flavor you want and you can upgrade the crepe by paying an additional P15.00.

Personally, I was disappointed that they weren't using Fruits in Ice Cream as their ice cream but you can't win 'em all. Not that it should matter as most of their ice cream offerings is more of vanilla and it's the toppings where you get the flavor.

The also serve a variety of crepes, such as hot crepes, but personally, I tried their ice cream crepe. Thankfully they served it with a spoon but I thought of eating it like a regular ice cream cone and all I can say is there's a reason why we use cones and not crepes. Thankfully the crepe was thick so that the ice cream wouldn't penetrate it but the problem is that the moment you bite into the crepe, its structure starts to give away and the "cone" soon collapses unless you can consume it quickly.

There's also a Crazy Crepe branch in Greenhills so you might want to visit that place too.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

The first time I read Flowers for Algernon was in high school and I usually have a policy of not re-reading books I already read (so many books, too little time!). In this case, I made an exception and a good thing too--I have vague memories of Flowers for Algernon but apparently, what I read before was the novella instead of the novel. Much like I Am Legend, Flowers for Algernon isn't necessarily one of those books I'd clump as science-fiction yet here it is. Jon Grimwood writes in the introduction that Keyes breaks a lot of rules of writing yet the talent of the author is that the book is nonetheless quite readable (although I was very glad when I reached the middle, when the main character's persona was writing coherently). More importantly, however, is that Keyes has us hooked to main character who grows from having a sub-optimal IQ to one that exponentially increases. Flowers for Algernon is a good example that science-fiction isn't merely stories about scientific concepts but can easily be a platform for social commentary (and why Flowers for Algernon was easily required reading for us in high school). The strength of the book, I think, is its charming simplicity and the humble focus Keyes has. Flowers for Algernon isn't an epic story of society, but rather the tale of one very simple man.

Rating: 4/5.

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

I'll agree with Neil Gaiman (who wrote the introduction) that the original title Tiger, Tiger! suits it better than The Stars My Destination. Still, it's nonetheless a great read, and what makes Bester a good writer is that he manages to make the anti-hero quite sympathetic despite being amoral and more importantly, dim-witted. The action in the book is quite upbeat and I could never really bring myself to put down the book. There seems to be something significant always happening and Bester weaves a compelling ensemble cast that predates Palahniuk's tendency to link his characters in a bizarre conspiracy. And by the time you reach the end, one is definitely aware that The Stars My Destination is a true SF novel, and one of the best.

Rating: 5/5.

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

Personally, I found I Am Legend to be one of those science-fiction novels that you didn't realize was really classified under science-fiction (Fahrenheit 451 and The Giver being similar examples). It's a post-apocalyptic setting with science-based vampires, yet what makes the book appealing is how Matheson makes you feel for the character and then gives you the surprise twist at the end. It's classic science-fiction in the sense that it doesn't necessarily have a happy ending and is more like a commentary on society (and makes me fear what the upcoming movie will be like). Personally, I found the book a bit dated, although the language was very readable. What's interesting about Matheson's protagonist is that he doesn't start out as a scientific genius, yet the role of figuring out what happened to the world is placed upon his shoulders. A nice read but personally, I read it for its historical significance in the genre.

Rating: 3.5/5.

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

Despite its Vietnam War origins, The Forever War is easily one of the great science-fiction novels of all time, somehow managing to pack a lot of science-fiction elements in a short novel yet told from the perspective of a very sympathetic character. Somehow, reading Haldeman was like reading a modern Philip K Dick and Robert Heinlein. That is to say the story is easy to get into and the language is smooth. Yet at the same time Haldeman touches on a lot of science-fiction ideas without necessarily exploring them fully--he sticks to his core concept, which is a good thing. In the end, what makes this a good read is that it is definitely a heart-wrenching story, and it does take unexpected turns. The Forever War is a good example that science-fiction isn't necessarily just about concepts but about character.

Rating: 5/5.

The Dispossessed by Ursula le Guin

Because I work in a rock magazine, my officemates were screaming "anarchy, anarchy!" when they caught me reading this book. The Dispossessed is one of the books in the Gollancz SF collection and it certainly deserves its place. The setting takes place on two planets, one apparently seeming to be utopian and the other its complete opposite. Our protagonist hails from the benevolent planet but he soon discovers that he has no place in either. It's a science-fiction tale with a definite human dimension to it, one that calls to the reader. It has always amazed me how le Guin can write something as readable as A Wizard of Earthsea and also write something as complex as Left Hand of Darkness. This book belongs more to the latter category, and beginning readers might find it a difficult read, especially factoring in that the characters in the book have different norms and mores from us. An interesting technique le Guin uses in the novel is the juxtaposition of the past and present and while we witness the events that transpire to the main character, it keeps the reader wondering what tragedy befalls him until the very end. Definitely a good but difficult read.

Rating: 4/5.

Fantasy Gone Wrong edited by Martin H Greenberg and Brittiany A Koren

With a title like Fantasy Gone Wrong, you know you shouldn't take this book seriously. This anthology attempts to take the stereotypical fantasy genre in a a different direction, usually with comedic effects. Personally, a bulk of the authors were unfamiliar to me but that didn't detract me from the stories they had to tell. At best, it was a mediocre effort. It's been more than three months since I read the book and all but one story stands out in my memory. It's not like I didn't like the stories, it's just that I didn't love them. The narrative flow was standard-fare fantasy and quite formulaic despite the book's attempt to subvert the genre. Honestly it's a book you might pick up our of curiosity rather than a good laugh or a good read.

Rating: 2.5/5

Monday, June 25, 2007

Archiving No More!

Went through one more round of scanning my archives and I stopped at 2004. I don't think I'll be archiving any thing beyond that.

At this point, I think my "Best Hits" for my old blog has become clunky, especially because I cover a wide variety of topics, and not just books. Or life. Or gaming. More reason for me to make more blogs, but at the same time that makes it more difficult for people to read what I have to say. It's only lately that I seem to have focus on blogging about books, bookstores, and the like.

Anyway, here are two old essays which I really liked and a CCG player can get into:

All I Needed to Know I Learned from Magic: The Gathering
What Magic: The Gathering Taught Me About Business

As a bonus, I found this old link about How to Break into the Game Business by Rich Redman.

Shaping A Different Bookstore's Book Buying Habits

I had this "wonderful" essay about book buying, but I'm still waiting for Tin to publish it, so right now, all you need to know is that book buyers determine what books bookstores order and in what quantities, and isn't far off from what a comic book retailer does when he or she isn't manning the counter.

For big bookstore chains like National Bookstore or Fully Booked, it was highly unlikely that regular customers could influence what books they stocked. Sure, you could place orders on specific books, but when that book actually arrives, you're the only one who receives a copy of that book.

My experience with A Different Bookstore was different. At the time, I was making good use of their book ordering system. Ordering books from A Different Bookstore isn't any more expensive than ordering books from, say, Powerbooks, but what I liked about it is that the books arrived faster. It averages out to waiting for a month for regular books to arrive (more if it's a "rare" or hard-to-find book) but there was a time when a book order arrived in just two weeks. (Of course knowing when their new stocks arrived also helped me "place my order" at the optimum time frame.)

Because I had similar tastes when it came to the kind of books they ordered (i.e. the fantasy/sci-fi genre), it shouldn't be surprising that they were learning from me as I was benefiting from them. Some of the books I ordered made it to their shelves instead of simply the lone copy of the book I ordered. An example I think was Jeffrey Ford's The Fantasy Writer's Assistant and Other Stories. Now I'm a big Jeffrey Ford fan but his books aren't exactly mainstream. In the five years since I last read about him, there are only two other bookstores that stocked his books in at least one point in time, and they're both independent bookstores (Aeon Books and Booktopia). So when I ordered two copies of the book, A Different Bookstore didn't just order two copies. I saw around three other copies at their Glorietta branch and at least one more in their Podium branch. (And thankfully, all those copies sold out.) It's always possible that they ordered it out of their own volition, but I find it coincidental for them to stock a non-mainstream title (especially when their fantasy selection comprised of authors like Margaret Weis, Raymond E. Feist, Robert Jordan) at the same time my order arrived.

This was all possible, however, because A Different Bookstore back then was operating as an independent bookstore (albeit one with bookstore chain book-buying habits--what you see in one bookstore, you'll see in another branch).

Of course being an independent bookstore similarly allows you to take a risk and learn. When it comes to D&D RPG booksfor example, I don't think anyone (not even the gaming shops) really mastered the optimum way to place orders until it was too late. Simply put, bookstore book buyers don't know which RPG books to order and in what quantities. Of course of all the bookstores, I think A Different Bookstore fared best (especially when they stuck to the formula of ordering The Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster's Manual instead of the other supplements or -gasp- adventures). It's only when they drifted from this formula that things started to fall apart and books like Shining South, a $30 hardcover, ended up selling for $2 at the book fair.

Zelda Nostalgia

Spent most of Friday reading Blogging Zelda which is where the author tackles the original Zelda games without the help of a game walkthrough. Of course I think I enjoyed reading the entries because of the nostalgia factor rather than compelling writing on its own. I mean when he talks about the Zelda 1 dungeons, I've been there. It's because I've had the same experiences and why I can relate to it (and at the same time evoking my own memories of the game). If you haven't played the Zelda games, you're probably asking "so what?" or simply end up dumbfounded.

Of course I have to admit that the first time I played Zelda, I simply gave up. I didn't know where to go and was amassing rupies like crazy for no purpose.

For Zelda II, I managed to get moving, including defeating the first boss, before a friend borrowed the game and when he returned it, I watched him finish the game. The final boss was easily Street Fighter for the NES at the time with hi blocks, low blocks, and attacks from various angles (my favorite is the downward thrust). I remember getting stuck somewhere but then again, Zelda II was more linear than the original Zelda.

Fully Booked Serendra

There was a time when I'd tour each and every bookstore every month, including the new stores that open (assuming it's within Metro Manila) with the hope of finding new books but I feel my trekking ways has past me (actually, it's just the disappointment of seeing new and better architecture but the same shelves of books).

Anyway, The Soapbox Barbie Collection visited the Fully Booked Branch at Serendra last Saturday on its soft opening, and has pictures! Amaze yourself at the lovely interior design and the hordes of unsold Moleskine notebooks!

My only real problem with Serendra is that it's out of the way unless you have a car. Which I don't. Of course Tin has also been talking about how it also houses the best A Different Bookstore branch and with the Lit Critters meeting there twice every month, it could easily be the literati hangout in a few month's time. So anyone I can hitch with? Banzai?

The Harry Potter Wars

One of my fondest memories of the annual Manila International Book Fair is when National Bookstore and Goodwill Bookstore (the only two big bookstores present at the time) entered a price war on one of the Harry Potter books. If I remember correctly, the fifth book had just come out a month or two before and as expected, both bookstores overstocked on it. Then comes in the book fair and they declare Harry Potter books on sale. Of course while it began with the usual 20% discount, by the end of the book fair, each bookstore was selling it at 40% off.

I bring this up because the seventh Harry Potter book is about to be released, and a few months way from the book fair. I think it's a safe call to say bookstores will again overstock Harry Potter. The question is what solutions they'll come up to solve this problem (whether it'll go as low as 40% off again looms in my mind but I honestly doubt it). There's also the fact that nearly every bookstore and reading organization has a Harry Potter promo of some sort so it's interesting to see how this all plays out.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Video Game Addiction

Lately, there's been this concern in America about video game addiction, linking it to the same addiction gamblers face. Well here's my take on it:
  1. Duh. Games, whether video games or live games (whatever they may be), are supposed to be addictive in some form or another. Or rather good games should be. I don't think any game designer should say "hey, I'll create a game that no one wants to play over and over again!"
  2. The crackdown on gambling, in my opinion, results from the loss of money. That's always the excuse isn't it? "We're playing Poker but don't worry, no real money is involved so that's okay." But I won't deny that gambling and any other form of gaming isn't a huge time sink if you let it.
  3. Perhaps the biggest problem (or advantage, depending on how you look at it) of video games is that you can play it by yourself (whether MMORPGs count as "playing for yourself" is another discussion but in this case, let's just count it as well). When playing Monopoly, you need to get at least one more player. And as for D&D, it becomes a huge logistical task as you not only need to gather several players, but "train" a GM as well. Video games, on the other hand, are easily like masturbation (and no one's publicly decrying getting addicted to masturbation).

Malate Virgin

Malate was always a place I've heard of but never really been to. There was even a time when I thought it was in Makati (as opposed to Manila). The other thing about Malate is that you can only call it Malate during certain hours (from evening 'til early morning) because visiting anytime else makes it lose its charm. It's like going to watch the Aurora Borealis when you can't see it.

Anyway, was busy working at the Fete dela Musique for fourteen hours. Honestly, because I was stuck in one place, I have no idea how it all turned out. By my count, three concerts down for the year, three more to go.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Spam Spam Spam

Eytan Bernstein proposed compiling spam poems (spam as in the one that fills your inbox, and not the food) and publishing them.

Well, here's another use for Spam emails: random name generators.

Of course there are other, more efficient random name generators out there (especially for RPG games), but how about using Spam names as the topic of a short story? Better yet, use the Spam email as the basis of your short story...

Court of Public Opinion

It's interesting to observe how the Internet--and the communities that are born out of it--is evolving. Perhaps in the early years, the Internet was easily the new frontier, an anti-establishment haven, the true free speech country. It's still that nowadays but of course, it's shifting.

Lately, I think the Internet communities have replaced establishments and the large monopolizing entities we have in the real world. Do we have free speech in the Internet? Sure. But say anything contrary to the beliefs of an online community, and you'll get lynched by a mob. For example, here are some topics that you can try to discuss but people will leap at you in an instant, sometimes without reading the entirety of what you have to say:
  1. Anti-Fan Fic
  2. Anti-Gay
  3. Pro-Catholicism/Christianity
  4. Anti-Abortion
These are, of course, examples of real-world matters. I'm sure in the smaller spheres of fandom, there'll be taboo topics that will similarly get you flamed, spammed, or simply overwhelmed with replies.

What's even more interesting is that these communities who usually favor one specific paradigm haven't realized that they themselves have now become a monopolizing entity. But then again, it's not really so surprising. We're humans after all and an online community isn't so different from a non-online one. The mores and norms have changed but they're still there.

Last Few Salvos

I'll be heading to work in around an hour. The Fete dela Musique may start at 2 am, but for those working behind the scenes, it starts much earlier. And of course, we'll also be one of the last few people to leave the event, so I'll be returning on some day, assuming I survive the event.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Informal World Battle of the Bands 2007 Rules

"Pulp Magazine is hosting the World Battle of the Bands once more. Here are the details for those interested in participating:

1) Any band not yet signed by a major label can join. Submit your band's profile and a demo to our offices at 1601 Antel Global Corporate Center, Julia Vargas corner Meralco Ave. Deadline is on July 15, 2007.

2) Chosen participants will get airplay at NU107 from Monday - Friday. We're still checking the final time slot but NU107 will be airing the songs in a one hour block.

3) Each band will have one song as their entry. The band cannot release (and should not have a prior release) that song for the duration of the contest in any manner, be it an album or a single. The finals will be on September so songs that will be released after that date are still eligible."

Old School RPG Video Games

One thing I always wondered when playing console RPG games was what your characters said to other NPCs. I mean with the press of a button, the NPC would say inane things like "you're cute" or really secret stuff like "the king hides his treasure in his room" or some similar stuff. I mean what is that, the ultimate pick-up line?

On a more serious note, PC RPGs, on the other hand, tend to give you more options. I remember slogging through a demo of an RPG I can't remember but I was simply overwhelmed by the choices. Crap, I thought. If this was a NES or SNES, all I needed to do was press the B button. Here, I have an actual list of questions I could ask, and asking one leads to more questions! Perhaps it came to the point that talking to one NPC and asking all the questions could easily take up an hour of your time (real time!), and that assumes you're a fast-reader.

Pen-and-paper RPGs, on the other hand, required you to think logically, and sometimes out of the box. Any question was up for grabs, and the GM couldn't "accidentally" give you hints as to what the right question is.

John August Quote for the Month

From: John August

"A writer isn't one script. A writer is someone who can write."

Waves of Neocommunism

For me, America has always represented an extreme ideology: of personal freedom, of individual identity, and a justice system that would let nine criminals go free if it means possibly condemning one innocent man. If this were Dungeons & Dragons or Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion, they'd be working for the forces of Chaos. The "East", on the other hand, represented the extreme opposite. In China, there was rigidness and too much traditionalism and duty. The value wasn't on the individual, but in the community. Again, using the same analogy, in my mind, they represented the forces of Law.

Of course times change and that's not exactly the current political climate. Ever since 9/11, America has slowly been shifting more towards Law than Chaos. Numerous countries on the East, on the other hand, have given up ideologies like Communism, and slowly veering away from tradition.

Now to me, Communism isn't this evil ideology or belief. It's simply a system--perhaps a flawed system but not necessarily an inherently evil one. For me it's more akin to dictatorship--it's not the perfect solution to every occasion, but there will be occasions when choosing it over the alternative might be the best choice. Personally, I don't like it because there's little incentive for person achievement, but if it's equality you want (as opposed to equitable), you can't deny its effectiveness. And perhaps what you have to bear in mind when it comes to Communism is that it really places value more on the community rather than the individual.

Property, on the other hand, is always something I associated with the individual. We assert our ego on an inanimate object or idea. Copyrights, trademarks, and patents are similarly extensions of the sense of property, albeit abstract senses of the word. Patents for example aren't tangible per se. When I make a design or a formula, it's not something I can touch or feel, but rather something I imagine or simply potential waiting to be converted to actuality.

Lately though, thanks to the Internet, there's been a slow but certain shift to ideas of Communism. Sense of property, especially over abstract ones, is slowly being swept away. And of course most of it is taking place over the Internet.

It's easy for me to blame fandom but that's not the only area where it's taking place. But for me, using fandom best explains why people are all for it. Simply put, people are spreading their love for a particular title, be it a TV series, a comic, a cartoon, or a book. More often than not (because I accept that such forms of distribution helps promote the product) however this is done without the approval (whether legitimate or informal) of the owners or license holders. And perhaps what's scary about this phenomenon is that fans are expecting that they're entitled to a certain title or series. A few days ago, when Viz gave an ultimatum to fansubbers to desist in releasing fansubs of Death Note in the US, many fans were angry and said they wouldn't purchase any stuff from Viz. Never mind that Viz paid for the US rights and while I'm someone who similarly depends on fansubs, they are well in their rights to ask the fansubbers to stop their activities (of course not all companies choose this action but again, it's Viz's choice). And then there's almost automatic response of the community against any entity trying to regulate and monitor P2P distribution networks. Sometimes the community doesn't get its way (i.e. Napster). Sometimes they fight (i.e. Digg). But the point is, the skirmishes are already present and the battle won't end with those examples.

Another example of "communal property" are the property from which fan fiction is based on. Many pro-fan fic readers/writers expect that once a text is out there, it's for anyone's use what to do with them and they don't really need the author or the publisher's permission. Of course fans might qualify that statement by saying they're not earning anything from it or depriving the publisher of any money, but it remains the fact that they're doing it without permission. It's like your best friend borrowing your car without your permission. Permissible? Perhaps. But it can be annoying or insulting depending on your frame of mind.

Don't get me wrong though, I'm not against this phenomenon, merely observing and detailing it. The one currency fandom retains is fame since "credit" to an author or fan fic writer or fansubbing group remains. That's not the only instance however. Wikipedia is another example I'd like to throw into the mix. This time it's not property that becomes communal property but knowledge. And unlike fandom, the currency that's eliminated is credit. When you contribute to a Wikipedia entry, the entry itself doesn't attribute who wrote it and who added which and what part. Not that I'm saying that's wrong or that it's unfair (since the contributors knew this fact beforehand), simply that individual rights are being forsaken for the good of the community.

There's also a point when I ask myself if maybe we should embrace this form of Neocommunism and do away with copyrights, trademarks, and patents. Google for example has been trying to make every book published available but it's limited to the rules and regulations of every country and what's public domain and what's not. If every book was made public domain, then everyone, whether rich or poor, educated or not, will have access to it (assuming they have a computer and an Internet connection). Of course I'll admit that part of my hesitation in embracing this idea is that I'm an aspiring writer and in the future, I'd want to have control over the pieces of fiction that I write. But this idea doesn't simply extend to books. What if I'm an inventor and I come up with a design that will benefit humanity and at the same time become a lucrative endeavor on my part. But if other people copy it without paying me fees or without my approval, sure, the design will be propagated but I'm not earning from it (and the other effect of this is that there's no quality control over the clones and derivatives). With that situation, the only inventors we'll have will be the purely altruistic ones and might shift the balance towards the opposite of what Communism is trying to achieve: the hoarding of personal accomplishments.

In the next few years, it'll be interesting to note how this all plays out. I'll probably be making a list in my head of phenomena that I'll list as "Communism" and "Anti-Communism" and see how it all balances out. Of course given the reputation of Communism, proponents of this ideology will call it something else or give it a new label. Open Source for example is one item that I'll file under this Neocommunism mentality. As to whether we're all the better for it, who can say? We can make the most of it or we can do what humans do best: exert their own ego.

Comics Haul for the Week

Let me clarify that aside from manga, I really just buy three comic singles when they come out. They are:

  1. Countdown
  2. Justice League of America
  3. Justice Society of America
So interestingly enough, yesterday, aside from Countdown and Justice League of America, I bought Flash #13. And coincidentally, I read it in the right order: Flash, Justice League of America, and then Countdown. So that's your non-spoiler spoiler if it means anything. And it's been a great whirlwind. Here are three observations though:
  1. Is it me or was the Legion of Super-Heroes more effective than they ever were in their original title?
  2. Bart Allen probably has the best doppelganger villain name. I mean the original Flash fights Zoom, The Reverse Flash. And then there's the likes of the Monitor and the Anti-Monitor. The Impulse vs Inertia thing is at least, uh, more creative. Probably seconded only by Superman vs Bizarro.
  3. Karate Kid speaks Japanese! Cool! Wax on, wax off joke is getting stale though.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Philippine Genre Stories at NU 107

Long story short, the office walls weren't conducive to getting a transmission from NU107, even if I'm just a 10-minute walk away from the station. Instead, I had to leave my recorder near the office door and set the record button on.

Mr. Kenneth Yu, is that right?

Kenneth: That's right.

NU107: Kenneth Yu is the editor. Is that right?

That's right. Publisher and editor.

NU107: Publisher and editor. And you brought along two contributors.

Kenneth: That's right.

NU107: You might want to introduce them.

I brought along Mr. Andrew Drilon and Mr. Vin Simbulan.

Vin: Hi!

NU107: All right, Andrew and Vin. Is that right?

Andrew: Yeah!

NU107: All right, tell us the stories, give us feedback first about the first issue. How was the reception?

Kenneth: It was well accepted. I got a lot of emails after it came out that people were enchanted or perhaps surprised that there was a venue for genre stories to suddenly come out and be read, written by Pinoys.

NU107: This is the very first, right? Of its kind in the Philippines.

Kenneth: That's right. It focuses solely on genre stories so I was lucky enough to have two talented writers here to contribute to the first issue.

NU107: So the writers you have here as guests also contributed in the first issue.

Kenneth: That's right, these two came out in the first.

NU107: Cool. Okay, tell us about your work in the second issue. Let's start with?


Andrew. (laughs) And then we'll talk to Vin in a little while.

Andrew: For the Digest of Philippine Genre Stories, I wrote a short story called Thriller which was based on a Michael Jackson song, Thriller. What happened was I was thinking about the connection between songs and stories and how songs are actually stories, they're narratives. And usually the main character, the vocalist, is speaking to someone and you know, what I found interesting was that what would happen if you took the lyrics of the song and you sort of filled it out with the story, whatever story the song might have suggested. So you got the lyrics which is around two hundred words and I just basically filled it in to three thousand words and it's now a big, zombie, horror, apocalyptic story.

NU107: Cool! And that can be found?

In the first issue.

NU107: In the first issue. For the second issue what did you come up with?

Kenneth: For the second I had a fresh batch of contributors.

NU107: Oh, okay!

Kenneth: They're different writers, it's available now but I brought them in as an example.

NU107: All right. Of what you had before. I get you now. Okay, Vin now, you contributed a story to the?

Kenneth: First issue.

NU107: First issue. Tell us about your work.

His is a high fantasy story.

NU107: High fantasy.

That's right. I'm a big fan of the high fantasy adventure genre so my story is called Wail of the Sun and I decided to play around a bit with the conventions of the genre. So my lead character is actually a man who's fallen from grace. He's actually an alcoholic wizard. So I tried to play on that and he has to get himself together in order to save his family and basically I decided to go with a less glamorous feel because a lot of fantasy stories are with powerful characters who are almost flawless. So I decided to go with a character whom I hope is more interesting because he's got a very human flaw.

NU107: More vulnerable.

More vulnerable and from there I took the story where it naturally went.

NU107: All right. So that's high fantasy huh? Tell us about the different types you can expect in this publication.

Like in the first issue, we had high fantasy, comic horror as well as pure horror and a fairy tale. Here in the second issue, we have a sci-fi fantasy, The 101st Michael by K. Osias, and we even have a modern, suburban fantasy, The Final Interview, by Sean Uy. We have a semi-romance even, The Scent of Spice, because romance can be considered a genre. So we accept basically genre stories as they fall under that label, which is sci-fi, fantasy, romance, suspense, mystery, crime, horror, supernatural, ghost stories, all those kinds that seem to attract, attract you as a younger reader.

NU107: All right Kenneth, what inspired you to put up this magazine?

Kenneth: What inspired me is, well many things. First of all there's this US-based magazine Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and Isaac Asimov's Sci-Fi Magazine and I thought, when I saw them, if the US can have it, why can't there something similar be here in the Philippines?

NU107: Oo, bakit wala dito sa Philippines?

Kenneth: So it germinated in my head for so many years and then I set up my business which is printing, it's originally printing stuff. So some time down the years I eventually said now might be a good time, I think I can do it. So here I go I pull out a publication called PGS, the Digest of Philippine Genre Stories, to take in these kind of stories. Horror, sci-fi, fantasy. I thought maybe now is the time.

NU107: All right, and this is a quarterly publication?

Quarterly publication. That's right.

NU107: What kind of people usually pick up this digest?

Kenneth: I'd like the younger folk to pick it up.

Nu107: What's the age bracket? For you?

Kenneth: For me the personal target is fourteen to mid-thirties.

NU107: So you should be distributing this to in schools.

Kenneth: I want to, I've been trying. And I've been targeting the youth mainly because I want to increase literacy among the youth, especially English literacy, to speak better English, to write better English, and I feel that reading is one very good way to get them to do that. At the very least it'll make their attention span stronger and maybe make them better at school. In fact there's a question I'd like to throw if you don't mind at the two writers here, my two contributors. What's the value of stories of writing and as writers I think they can answer that very well. What is the value of writing stories?

NU107: All right, let's start with Vin. The value maybe to the reader and for yourself. Do you get anything?

Vin: Because personally I started writing because I enjoyed reading so much and I believe that if you really want to be a writer, a large part of it is enjoying reading and because of that, it encouraged me to create stories that would appeal first to myself and hopefully to an audience. And to answer Kyu's question, it's about exploring the sense of wonder. It's about the fantastic, it's about exercising your imagination and I think it's something you tend to lose as you grow older and you get more concerned with the mundane, you know, nine to five jobs and all those things. So I think--

NU107: This is the key to youth, huh? (laughs)

Vin: Yeah and for me--

NU107: To remaining young.

To remaining young. It's called the head first. But what I mean is it's something you shouldn't lose sight of even as you get older and more serious and you get caught up in work and these everyday things, for me that's why I choose to write spec fic and that's why I enjoy reading spec fic: it's because of that.

NU107: For Andrew?

For me, writing and I guess reading, I guess the value is why anyone, any artist or musician, would choose to create it is because it's a venue by which you can express yourself. We're gifted with imagination and we're given words and we're taught how to read and write all throughout our lives and my feeling is, why not use that? Why not use that to entertain people, maybe share your feelings on the world and your views, and for me, genre stories I suppose are one of the forms of writing that aren't very utilized here in the Philippines that much. And it's a valid venue for sharing writing and for readers to be introduced into worlds and to characters that they might not ordinarily encounter.

NU107: So let's ask Kenneth to answer that other question. What is the value to the readers?

Kenneth: Value to the readers.

NU107: Because we talk about the value to the writers so how does this benefit those reading stuff like this.

Kenneth: The way I see it, if it's just on the practical level, we live in a world where attention spans, especially the youth, is getting shorter and shorter, for whatever reason. So much media, Internet... so many things to shorten your attention span. Now you read, your imagination as put by Dean Alfar, the king of Philippine spec fic, as he puts it, your imagination goes into overdrive. And when it does that, you're forced to focus. So you read, your imagination goes into overdrive, you're using your head. And on the practical level, that kind of attention, can stretch to your other stuff. When you read your textbooks, your homework, or read other stuff, focus on the things in the world, reading the newspapers, you develop not only that attention span but critical eye for analyzing things and thinking for yourself. And that's what I believe reading can do. Vin?

NU107: And it's a way to exercise your brain right? Things are all around you, you can exercise your muscles, we need to.

And unlike other forms of entertainment, if I may add to what's already said, I think it's also because reading, unlike television or other forms of media, a lot of other forms are very passive. It's an active form, you have to exercise your head.

NU107: Oh yeah, right. That's a good point.

Kenneth: Let's take the Lord of the Rings movies. That has been imagined for us by the director, Peter Jackson. How the orcs look, how the stuff looks. But if you read it, and try to disengage yourself--

NU107: You come up with your own version, right?

Kenneth: You come up with your own. And your mind might even come up with something even better than what he did.

NU107: All right, now you've come up, you're a reader, you've come up with all these things. Can a person contribute, just get in touch with you and come up with a story and maybe will be published in this digest?

Kenneth: PGS is open to, is very friendly to new writers. Please send in your stuff, our blog is All the details are there. And please send it in. We're open, we're open to developing your writing, we're open to new writers and new stories, fresh stories from unheard of people. From all of you who are just trying it out, we're very friendly.

NU107: What if a person comes to you medyo raw pa? You know, his work needs editing lang. How does that work? How do you teach people? Do you have like seminars? (laughs) How do you get in touch with contributors?

Kenneth: Okay, that's a long answer. If I really have, if I really like the premise of the story, I will help. I'll go back and forth with the author.

NU107: If you think he has the talent.

I'll make suggestions, suggestions mind you. Because I respect the author's creative rights. I don't edit without permission, I ask his permission and give suggestions and we work together to come up with something we find mutually publishable. Now as you said seminars and what, there's this group of which Vin and Andrew are members and it's headed by Dean. It's called LitCritters, LitCritters Manila. They get together every week and they discuss stories, fiction--foreign as well as local, with the aims of developing writing. They have this seminar or get-together for want of a better word, get-together this Friday at 4 pm--sorry, Saturday, at Serendra, at one of our distributors where you can find PGS: A Different Bookstore in Serendra, 4 pm. It's open to the public and you can hear them talk about the stories from their own personal points of view. Learn, they'll discuss what they can learn or what they can hopefully duplicate from good works. And you can pick up a lot about how to write or what they find good in a story: what works, what doesn't, and that's what they've been doing. It's called LitCritters Manila headed by Dean Alfar and these two are members.

NU107: Cool. Again, it's happening?

Andrew: At Serendra, Saturday, 4 pm.

NU107: This Saturday huh?


NU107: All right, if they don't have time to go to that event this Saturday, how do you get in touch with that group? Do you have a website?

Andrew: Actually this Saturday is our first session. We have, this new thing is happening bi-monthly--

Vin: Bi-weekly. Every two weeks.

Andrew: Bi-weekly. First and third week of the month.

NU107: Do you have this posted on a website or something?

Kenneth: A Different Bookstore. Or check the PGS website. I've got a link there to the schedules.

NU107: What's the website again?

Kenneth: (one word, small letters). And I've got a link there to show when and where each time they're meeting. I'll announce every time they have a get together so people can go.

NU107: Cool. So can we expect works of Vin and Andrew in the upcoming issues?

Kenneth: PGS four will have a new Vin story. And PGS five hopefully will have a new Andrew story also.

NU107: Anyway your current issue is now out and where can they pick it up?

Kenneth: They can pick it up at, well, we aforementioned A Different Bookstore, Booktopia, Comic Quest, Fully Booked, Mag:Net, Books for Less, The Loyola Schools Bookstores and the Ayala Museum. They're available there.

NU107: I heard you have a writing contest coming up. You wanna talk about it?

Kenneth: That's right, thank you for reminding. Each issue has an image and it's a section called Image Inspiration, and has an image be it a photo or a drawing by a local artist.

NU107: Where can you find that?

Kenneth: It's at the last page.

NU107: For this issue, you have...

A drawing by Andrew. Who's also a talented artist. So we invite people to write a short short story, between three hundred to five hundred words, and then a panel of judges, who don't know each other, will give their comments and rank them and the winner gets to win a free copy and have their story published in the next issue.

NU107: So how do they go about sending their entries?

Kenneth: Everything is on the blog,, but this particular contest is over. So wait for the third issue, we'll have a new picture, a new image, for which people can join.

NU107: Cool. So any parting words from the writers? Vin and Andrew? Want to encourage them to try their hand at writing and pick up an issue?

I encourage everyone to pick up Philippine Genre Stories where Kenneth said was available and if you're free this Saturday, or the Saturday after the next, I'm inviting everyone on behalf of the Manila LitCritters to join us at Serendra, A Different Bookstore, at 4 pm Saturday.

NU107: Thank you. And Vin?

I myself would like people to submit for Kenneth's magazine because aside from being writers we're also readers. One of the biggest enjoyment we get from the magazine and from what Kyu is doing is that we get to discover new writers and possibly become fans ourselves of other people's writing. So I think you have nothing to lose, it doesn't hurt to try. And if you don't get accepted in an issue for the story that you sent in, try again. Because rejection is part of a writer's life and I think it's all about how much you really want it and keep trying.

NU107: One last question, what do you think of the Harry Potter series?

Kenneth: It's wonderful! It's getting people to read. I'm all for it, it's getting people to read. And that's great, it engaged the youth to read, to pick up a book and read more. May I thank some?

NU107: Sure, go ahead.

I'd like to thank the sponsors of PGS who've been doing a lot in supporting us and they are PLDT myDSL, Superbowl of China the restaurant, Modess, Starbucks Coffee, Choco-Mucho by Ribisco, and of course NU107.5.

NU107: All right, thank you. Thank you for dropping by the station again, it's called the Digest of Philippine Genre Stories and issue two is now available. When will issue three come out?

Kenneth: By July or mid-August at the latest.

NU107: Okay, so do check out the Digest of Philippine Genre Stories. Thank you Kenneth Yu, Andrew, and Vin.


The interview is eighteen minutes long and I'm halfway. As usual, check in tonight for the rest of the interview assuming I don't experience any technical difficulties.

Here's the relevant link list:

Philippine Genre Stories
Vin Simbulan
Andrew Drilon
Manila LitCritters details
Manila LitCritters mailing list
Dean Alfar

You can also read some of Andrew's vignettes and short stories at his old blog: The Brass Buddha Machine.

Reading Paradigms

Tin's The Rules of Reading and her mention of the "perfect reader" reminded me of one of the lessons our Filipino teacher taught us in college. The complaint was how much didactic many stories have become--and it's not just limited to the Philippines but Western culture in general. In fact, we've been trained to ask "what's the moral of the story" when the lesson of the story isn't necessarily a question of right versus wrong or good vs bad. Hansel and Gretel, for example, isn't necessarily a story of good vs evil, but a competition of wits (or if you take the actual story in its context, a story of hunger in general [the family, Hansel and Gretel, the witch]).

Our preconceptions can simply alter how we might interpret anything we read. I mean to most Filipinos, we all know about Noli Me Tangere, and we've been conditioned to treat it with reverence. But I wonder how other people would interpret Noli Me Tangere, never having heard of Jose Rizal. A better example for the Philippines is perhaps the Bible. A lot of Filipinos treat it with reverence but that simply impedes me from talking about it in a non-religious context. I was telling a batchmate at how The Bible is really a book of myths in the same way Greek Gods were myths. Of course he was reluctant to talk about it as he perceived it as insulting to talk about a culture's beliefs as if it were mere myth. Jeffrey Ford even postulates that the Bible is a book about "the creative power of language", an idea that many educated but anti-Christians might initially scoff at simply because the Bible is a representative of all they dislike about religion.

Perhaps a better and more "practical" analogy might be lateral thinking. Usually this might come in the form of a mathematical question such as "If it takes one man to dig a ditch in one hour, how long would it take two men to dig one ditch?" and answer it with other questions like "is there sufficient equipment?" or "what material is the ditch made of?" depending on other variables that isn't readily available in the lead question. It's out-of-the-box thinking and the problem with conventional reading lessons is that it doesn't encourage such thinking but rather promotes the established interpretation of a story.

I think it's rare for a story to be completely stand-alone. The author makes several assumptions about his or her readers--we're all part of the same collective consciousness. A writer doesn't really explain what a human is for example, or enumerate each and every difference between male and female (but they do cite instances of their roles in the current cultural context, such as a Westerner writing about how females are portrayed in say, Chinese culture). Every reader makes assumptions, even if it's as simple as the sun rising in the morning and the sun setting in the evening. If aliens were to read our books (and somehow translate the language), I'm sure they'll be baffled by several of our assumptions.

As for "the perfect reader", it's an impossible designation (at least taking into consideration human limitations) simply because there's so much human experiences and cultural relativity that no single person is able to familiarize themselves with all of them. Better yet, if a state of "the perfect reader" could be achieved, why limit it to reading? Wouldn't this person be a great psychologist as well? Or anthropologist? Perhaps even a bureaucrat, who can satiate various nations and promote world peace.

Of course having said that, there is value to being a "good" reader. If we can understand various texts and their contexts, how much more can we understand other people? Unfortunately, it's also been my experience that the two aren't exclusive. I've met people who are smart and understanding when it comes to texts but mean and impatient when it comes to people. We have to keep in mind that books don't talk back, and if a person has a certain interpretation of a text, the text itself won't complain and say "hey, you're reading me wrong!" (assuming of course it is possible to read a text "wrong"). Most likely, readers will feel confident and smug about their interpretation until they run into a contrary belief. At that point, they'll either re-evaluate their earlier interpretation or start a debate of which is the "correct" version.

I think that in the end, paradigms can never be eliminated (and it is difficult to write a story that takes no paradigm into consideration) but let's also be aware that we, as readers, bring a certain paradigm when reading a story.

Common Pitfalls of Building Social Web Applications Part 2

From: Bokardo

Common Pitfalls of Building Social Web Applications and How to Avoid Them Part 2

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Haruki Murakami Essay Writing Contest

Originally got this from aiah:

From: Japan Foundation Manila

The Japan Foundation, Manila is pleased to announce the Haruki Murakami Essay Writing Contest.

The essay on Murakami’s novel/s must be an original and unpublished work; it has to be within 1,000 words in English typewritten on A4 size paper (12 Arial, double space).

Entries may be sent to: or via fax # (02) 811-6153 together with the writer's Name and Contact Details on or before Friday - August 31, 2007. Winner/s of the contest will receive a Haruki Murakami book and Gift Certificate. All participants/writers will be entitled to Free Membership in the JFM Library wherein a Haruki Marakami collection is available.

Further announcement/details to follow. For clarifications, please contact the Japan Foundation, Manila at tel. # 811-6155 to 58.

About Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami is a Japanese novelist and translator born in Kyoto, but grew up in Kobe. He is often distinguished from other Japanese writers with the Western influences heavily present in his writings.

His first novel, “Hear the Wind Sing” (1979), inspired by a baseball game he watched, won first prize in the Gunzou literature contest. His works have received citations and prizes locally and internationally. Some of his writings include Norwegian Wood (1987), The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (1995), and Kafka on the Shore (2002) – which received the Franz Kafka Prize.

Aside from literature,Murakami has a penchant for Jazz and marathon.

Short Stories Aren't "Short" Novels

When it comes to fiction, stories can usually be classified into four categories (although there's more, filling up the different word count void but the principle remains the same): flash fiction, short stories, novellas, and the novel. What many people assume (including some beginning writers) is that writing one is the same as writing the other. For example, if writing a 10,000-word short story takes you five days, people will assume it will take you twenty-five days to write a 50,000-word novel. Unfortunately, the reality is, writing isn't scientific and reduced to mere numbers. A 50,000-word novel might have the same word count as five 10,000-word short stories, but the skills needed to write a novel isn't identical to the skills needed to write a short story.

That's not to say there's no area where skills overlap, but one can't go writing a novel expecting it's a longer short story and vice versa. That fact is even more pronounced in the extremes (i.e. flash fiction vs novels). I'm not even saying one is more difficult than the other. Each writer has different strengths so one might find writing a novel easier than writing a short story.

When writing a story, what one needs to focus on is the story itself. Story isn't just about word count but various other factors: plot, characterization, pacing, climax, etc. I'm not here to give you the rules (and what I call anti-rules when you're breaking existing rules) of writing. I'm not even a good writer myself and just because I know these facts doesn't empower me to write well--I'm simply aware of them. Executing them is another matter and sometimes, writers simply go with their "gut feel".

But flash fiction, short stories, novellas, and the novel have forms. And there are differences, no matter how minute, that set them apart. Take flash fiction for example. For me it's best described as ultra-compression. There's little time to dally and you have to limit your words to the integral details. And rarely do we see a multiple point-of-view with flash fiction because more often than not, there's not enough words to do justice to everyone. Novels, on the other hand, give you liberties. It's the right place to describe long, exquisite scenes that are there not for the sake of the plot but because it's lovely to talk about. One can also have a huge, epic cast in novels because you have the space to expound on various characters and their habits.

Years ago, I remember meeting with groups interested in publishing and some of them would say "hey, I don't have a short story, but let's publish one chapter of my upcoming novel instead!" This even applies to the comic scene except instead of stand-alone comic in a few pages, instead you get merely a part of a larger narrative. Now what's wrong with that is that well, as I said, short stories aren't novels and vice versa. While some chapters could easily be short stories (and contain all the necessary elements of a good story), not all chapters of a book are good stories by themselves. That's like claiming to eat cake and all you've tasted is the icing. The icing isn't the cake--the cake is the whole package. And because short stories are different from novels, the reader will come out with a different experience.

If you want to use an excerpt from your would-be novel, just say that it's an excerpt. That way, the reader will understand, especially when the story is anything but whole.

A good short story that I recently read was Nikki Alfar's "Beacon" from Philippine Genre Stories Vol. 2. While there's room for expansion, it's really a self-contained story. If Nikki were to expand it to a novella, there's going to be some major rewrites involved, and perhaps even adding new characters. Vin Simbulan's "Wail of the Sun", from Philippine Genre Stories Vol. 1, on other hand, could easily be interpreted as one chapter in a much, much longer narrative. That's not to say that Vin didn't write a great short story--he did. But honestly speaking, Nikki's story was more "self-contained" than Vin's. That's not to say that the former is better than the latter. Merely that they have different forms and Vin's story would probably take the least rewrite if converting it to a novella or a novel (it could also easily be chapter one or chapter ten of a long epic). But that's the nature of short stories too. You could write two similar-themed stories and end up with different products.