"Like Pride and Prejudice, it’s an adventure. Like Don Quixote, it’s a love story; and like Lolita, it has a happy ending."
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
You Must Read This Book Now!
December 31, 2008 Links and Plugs
- You know what's cool? Callithump! -- a magazine of arts and literature distributed through toy capsule vending machines. Ben Parzybok has photos!
- David de Beer interviews Gene Wolf!
- Take a guided tour (look, shiny!) of The J. Lloyd Eaton Collection of SF, Fantasy, Horror, and Utopian Literature.
- More interviews: Jeffrey Thomas is interrogated by Matt Staggs.
- Want to see your name on the inside dust jacket of Greer Gilman's Cloud & Ashes? Details here.
- Charles Stross on Why are SF and fantasy novels the length they are?
- James A. Owens shares his experiences with a branch of Barnes & Noble and Borders.
- Jim C. Hines on book promotion.
- More insight into the publishing industry from Scrivener's Error.
- Joshua Palmatier shares his writing process when it comes to Chapters.
- Jonathan Strahan lists the books he's looking forward to in 2009.
- GalleyCat has the low-down on the new Amazon Author Pages.
- School Library Journal has an article on Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group which consolidates several book companies.
Essay: Retrospective on 2008
Right now, the only thing that I can say is wow. Let's put it this way: before 2008, would you ever have heard of some guy named Charles Tan?
Friends: The top of my list to be grateful for is friends. Made a lot of friends this year (all without leaving the office) and I'll probably forget someone. I've corresponded with Jeffrey Ford for a few years now and he's just as cool (all those weird blog entries and contests) and humble as he ever was. It's probably no exaggeration to claim that Ellen Datlow is mostly responsible for the popularity of this blog, and that aside, she's such a kind soul that helps bind the community. J.M. McDermott gave me my start with email interviews so you can blame him for everything that's spawned after that. John Grant, Paul Tremblay, Vera Nazarian, Mike Allen, James A. Owen, Sam Henderson, Steve Berman, Mary Robinette Kowal, Ted Kosmatka, and Matthew Hughes are terribly friendly and humble in addition to being talented. There's also what I call the Jeff Vandermeer family (like Oracle or Batmite in the Batman family, or Krypto and Jimmy Olsen in the Superman family) which includes Matt Staggs, Sir Tessa, and Larry Nolen who are simply swell people. Marshall Payne for being incredibly supportive (and the official bearer of the Charles Tan Happy Birthday page). Budjette Tan and Gerry Alanguilan and Ian Rosales Casocot who act like the best friends you never had even if I've only met them a few times. Plus the Lit Critters who are no-brainers and probably the people I spend the most time with outside of work (see, I have no life...). And then there's the ever-expanding Friends list in Livejournal (hope to get to know you guys and gals better!). This fact alone makes 2008 memorable.
The RPG Podcasting Community: In 2007, much of my popularity stemmed from the RPG podcasting community and that's pretty much true this year. It's such a swell, welcoming group that's contributing a lot to that industry (Clyde and Daniel and the folks at Pulp Gamer in particular were quite open and helpful). In 2007, we had the RPGPodcasters.com and the Goblin Broadcasting Network while in 2008, we saw the entry of The Vorpal Network and Spooky Outhouse (well, there's also the quasi-rebranding of Pulp Gamer as a network).
Comics Village: I always wanted to be a manga reviewer and well, these guys gave me a chance. My editor Lori was infinitely generous as she mailed me some manga out of her own pockets. Definitely one of the most generous and beyond-the-call-of-duty editors that I've worked with. The only downside with all of this is that I'm currently juggling too many projects and I imagine an alternate reality Charles Tan pursuing Comics Village gung-ho and changing the face of the manga industry. As it is, my current focus is speculative fiction.
SFF Audio: The site was awesome to begin with, providing a much-needed service to the community (the aggregation of speculative fiction podcasts) and it's an honor to be a contributor to the site. That and my editor Jesse is such a swell guy, even when I'm delinquent in my posting.
The Shirley Jackson Awards: I feel like I landed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity contributing to the Shirley Jackson Awards. The staff behind it are pioneers and I'm happy to be in service of an organization that recognizes horror/suspense/dark fantastic literature. Also got a chance to interview some literary heavyweights (I still get the shivers emailing them) and the Shirley Jackson Awards broadened my reading selection. With regards to my interviews, it was also an opportunity to focus more on quality than quantity when it comes to the questions.
The Nebula Awards Blog: Much like The Shirley Jackson Awards, this was a great opportunity for me and again, I broadened my reading horizons. Interesting anecdotes involve me requesting email interviews with people I planned on interviewing for my blog and in one instance, my request to interview them for my blog preceded my Nebula assignment. David de Beer of course has been quite patient with me.
The Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler: Wow, I got to be an editor (or rather co-editor!). Of course, I must thank my co-editor and my staff/contributors (uh oh, I haven't yet paid all of you...) as well as everyone who plugged the site (may you acquire more good karma)--again, too many to mention.
The Blog: It's a perpetual work in progress but this is where people typically know me. I wanted to create a blog that people can visit everyday and find interesting content and hopefully I've had some success at it. The blog's actually a lot of hard work (and a time sink) but you know what, this is the type of thing I'd still be doing even if I was a millionaire (well, I was going to say "I'd work on it even if I wasn't getting paid" but I'm not really earning anything from the blog save for that $5.00 from Google...). The blog's like a dream come true: I get to interview people, talk about my interests, make new friends, etc.
- Book Reviews: Again, still honing my book reviewing skills and thanks to everyone who's given me feedback on it. Of course the book reviews section wouldn't be possible without the talented authors/editors/publishers out there whose content I actually review, and I'd like to thank the various publishers like PS Publishing, Night Shade Books, Norilana Books, Prime Books, Soft Skull Press, and Tor who send me copies for review.
- Interviews: Again, still working at it and conducting all my interviews via email is certainly a challenging medium to work with. By the time you're reading this, 51 interviews should be up on this blog in addition to the 32 other interviews I've conducted beyond this site. Thanks to everyone who've agreed to be interviewed by me.
- Features/Essays: I'd like to think this is the most polished (typos and grammatical mistakes aside) of all my blog entries but there's always room for improvement.
- Tabletop RPG Podcasts: It actually took more more than a year to nail this down and develop an efficient system, cross-posting it to various forums, but yay to me for finally establishing a system. Oh, and gamers out there should listen to gaming podcasts. =)
Feature: Charles's Top Five for 2008
Here's my top five list for the year and it covers books that I've read this year, not necessarily books that were published this year.
Comments: There's a couple of stories that I really really loved from the 2007 Nebula Awards such as Ted Chiang's "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" and Daniel Abraham's "The Cambist and Lord Iron" but I read them in 2007. There's also some 2008 anthologies that I haven't gotten to read such as Eclipse 2 and Best American Fantasy 2 which I expect will feature some great stories that I'm missing out on. Also, see Everything Else.
"Little Gods" by Tim Pratt (Little Gods) - It's the story I want every girl I have a remote romantic interest in to read.
"Daltharee" by Jeffrey Ford (The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy) - The Hollywood pitch would be retro-scifi with a modern touch. Also Ford's most upbeat story in the past year or two.
"Vampires in the Lemon Grove" by Karen Russell (The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror 2008) - Simply powerful, effective prose that makes great use of various genres. Makes me love magic-realism.
"Pretty Monsters" by Kelly Link (Pretty Monsters) - Just when I thought I had Kelly Link figured out, she blows me away with an entirely new and exciting story.
"A Fable with Slips of White Paper" by Kevin Brockmeier (Best American Fantasy) - The brevity and simplicity can be misleading as it weaves into something bigger and touching. Also kudos to the ending of the story.
Comments: Well, again, another disclaimer is that I didn't get to read some of this year's latest "best of" anthologies such as Best American Fantasy 2 (it wasn't available for order in early December and it takes 3 weeks for the bookstore at best to have it in stock). Also one thing to bear in mind is that the "best of" anthologies--or at least one of them--will have an automatic slot in the list (because "best of" anthologies are always invaluable) and in this case, they occupy three out of the five slots (although one of them was from last year), leaving little room for the original anthologies. Also, I see the "best of" anthologies as interconnected. For example, Best American Fantasy and Fantasy: Best of the Year presupposes that The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror is the basis for comparison (and one of their strong points is that they deviate from the "norm", the norm being The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror) and the three form my holy triumvirate (most likely in the years to come if the quality remains consistent).
Nemonymous: Cone Zero edited by D.F. Lewis - One of most refreshing magazine/anthology I've read in recent years (of course that could just be due to my ignorance) and each story is distinct and makes an impact. Besides, between the anonymous authors and the "cone zero" concept, how could you fail?
The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2008 edited by Ellen Datlow & Kelly Link & Gavin Grant - On the non-fiction side, the summary and the honorable mention is a much-awaited list. When it comes to the fiction, it's certainly a strong selection.
Best American Fantasy edited by Jeff & Ann Vandermeer, Matthew Cheney - For the most part, it covers territory not featured in other anthologies in addition to including great stories in general.
The Living Dead edited by John Joseph Adams - Blew me away. Okay, here's the thing: this is a thick anthology and each story will do one of two things. Either it'll make an impression on you or it represents a field in the zombie mythos. If nothing else, the sheer content will overwhelm you.
Fantasy: The Best of the Year 2008 edited by Rich Horton - Includes a distinct selection from the other "best of" anthologies out year and bonus points because I'm attuned to Horton's choices which means I really, really liked around 90% of his choices.
Short Story Collections:
Comments: There's actually a couple of good short story collections in recent years including John Grant's Take No Prisoners and Elizabeth Hand's Saffron and Brimstone. This list I think is more representative of what appeals to me and I'm glad there's a variety of quality titles to choose from.
20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill - Hill goes for the jugular as he writes powerful horror stories that are propelled by characterization and technique. One could even consider his fiction Literary (that's with a capital L!) and this is one of the more refreshing collections that I've read in recent times.
Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link - I'm a big fan of Link and the titular story, "Pretty Monsters", doesn't disappoint. For the most part, Link fans will want to get this because it compiles some (not all) of her more recent work.
Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi - Bacigalupi is one of the hottest SF writers that deals with current issues and this is evident from his most recent stories. This is honestly what I imagine modern science fiction to be.
Little Gods by Tim Pratt - "Little Gods" is one of those stories that justifies purchasing an entire book but that aside, Pratt is my Hemmingway when it comes to speculative fiction. He accomplishes so much with so little and one can sense the passion in those pieces. Is Pratt perfect? Not by any means but his stories tend to be enjoyable nonetheless.
The Drowned Life by Jeffrey Ford - There's actually less variety in terms of style compared to Ford's previous collections but there's also a certain maturation in his writing, a "I've settled down" kind of feeling. His sophistication can be nailed down to sheer technique and at the very least Ford proves that he's as skilled as he ever was.
Comments: I haven't been reading many novels lately as I tend to focus on short stories (be it magazines, short story collections, or anthologies) but this is I think a good representation of what I look for in speculative fiction aside from my guilty pleasures. These are books that I can throw at the Literati crowd as they can stand well on their own even against canonical giants. A lot of the books in other people's lists, such as Jo Graham's Black Ships, I simply haven't had time to read. J.M. McDermott's novel Last Dragon isn't in my list because I read it last year and thus made my list in 2007.
How to Make Friends with Demons by Graham Joyce - This is the single novel that made me believe in the author. Suffice to say, Joyce's fiction has gravity at the same time balancing his speculative fiction elements so that they are relevant to the entire framework. A selection from the novel also won the O. Henry Award.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman - For a time, I was actually skeptical of Gaiman's recent novels but The Graveyard Book is arguably the author's best work yet and restored my faith in him.
The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia - Sedia's writing makes me green with envy as it's both easy to read and compelling. The strength of this novel is its inclusion of Russian myth and how each chapter adds something new to the novel.
Under My Roof by Nick Mamatas - No wasted space here as each chapter both has an impact and lures you deeper into the narrative. This is a well thought out and well-written book and Mamatas's protagonist is a distinct character.
The Shadow Year by Jeffrey Ford - The impression that Ford gives off is that he is Bradbury reborn as The Shadow Year is both a touching and well-crafted novel with all the right elements and technique thrown in. Easily stands toe-to-toe with my favorite Ford novel, The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque.
Comments: Technically, these are still books per se but are usually too short or don't fall under any of the other categories.
A Field Guide to Surreal Botany by Janet Chui & Jason Erik Lundberg - Strictly speaking, this is an anthology but it's presented in a way that's different and warrants itself a new category altogether. Suffice to say I'm pleased with the execution, both in the production and the actual prose. Definitely a memorable item and one that you could easily give to anyone.
The Hiss of Escaping Air by Christopher Golden - It's a chapbook but it's such a terrific story (in terms of skill) that yes, it deserves to stand well on its own.
Fairy Tales for Writers by Lawrence Schimel - For the most part, this was fun. Poetry combined with a fairy tale theme and writing advice. How can you beat that combo?
The Harlequin & The Train by Paul G. Tremblay - Paul G. Tremblay? An awesome and versatile writer. This book will hook you and proves what you can do with characterization and horror. And yellow highlighters.
12 Collections & The Tea Shop by Zoran Zivkovic - Suffice to say, the experience for me is like someone discovering Gabriel Garcia Marquez for the first time. Or Umberto Eco. Zivkovic's a non-American writer that's talented and bring something new and different to the field, definitely not limited by constraints of genre.
Comments: Here are what I think are my top five interviews on this blog. And what I mean by that is that these are interviews which through sheer luck and some miracle, I managed to coax a lot out of the interviewee (the brilliance of their answers of course is attributed to them).
Essay: Filipino Fiction and Globalization
It is with some hesitation that I talk about the topic of globalization, especially because I will be bumping heads with one of the nation's talented writers, F. Sionil Jose. Now I'll give credit where it's due and he is a skillful writer who does not need to prove anything. In fact, it is a testament to his writing that his article "Should Our Writers Globalize?" published earlier this month in a national broadsheet provoked such a reaction from me.
Correct me if I'm wrong but the impression Jose gives me is that for him, "globalization" is such a dirty word. It's the anti-thesis of what he stands for, of everything that is culturally Filipino. For me however, this view is myopic. Is globalization evil? Sure, it has its many disadvantages. Homogenization is always a lurking fear of the xenophobic. And yes, many Filipinos have found failure (abuse, rape, death) abroad. But that is only one side of the coin. Globalization has also brought progress and well, one of our biggest assets as a nation is our ability to export human resources. While many cry out against the latter with terms like "brain drain," we must also remember that we chose this path. If there were indeed lucrative jobs to be found here, then wouldn't the rest of the country have utilized that option instead? (There is also the plight of the comic artist.) I see globalization as a door, both with perils and opportunities, but the bigger Pandora's Box is that it's here. We can't excise globalization from our vocabulary any more that we can deny that we were once colonized by Spain. It's now part of our culture, it's here, and we can't pretend that we're an isolated country. Japan tried that once, before, and when the black ships finally came, they were quickly overwhelmed, not by force of arms but by the culture it brought along with it.
If there is anything I will agree with Jose, it is that "we will write as Filipinos." Who we are will definitely come out in our writing. That's not to say there aren't those who will attempt to be derivative or mimic a particular voice or style. There will always be those, irregardless of whether we will be globalized or not. But if a writer is writing from his or her own voice, then their own culture will become evident, whether subtly or at the forefront of their fiction (or nonfiction as the case may be).
My agreement however stops there. I take issue with "We will write as Filipinos, free from the influences of our colonizers, from the canons they imposed on us. In this way, we will not be swept under by the dulcet enticements of McDonald’s, Toyota and Harry Potter." It is as if any of those experiences can be isolated, or that they are not part of the Filipino experience. For example, our colonizers brought us a lot of things. Religion for one. It's here and it can't be revoked. A good chunk of the nation is Catholic. We can't eradicate Catholicism just because we will it so. And we've certainly appropriated that religion for our own, whether it's our version of the pasyon or the numerous variant religions and cults that have sprung up ever since. And McDonalds, Toyota, and Harry Potter? They're here as well and have become part of our culture. What is Jollibee if not to be juxtaposed with McDonalds? Are automobiles simply to disappear simply because it's by Toyota? And as much like or dislike one might have of Harry Potter, Filipinos are reading it and writing fan fiction. Is that globalization? Perhaps. But it's also the Filipino experience. To be Filipino and to globalize are not mutually exclusive. That's like saying when one becomes an OFW (Overseas Foreign Worker) or an expat, one ceases to be Filipino. More importantly, one can write about those experiences and still be Filipino. (The recently published The Flip Reader edited by Jessica Zafra even has numerous articles where to be global is to be Filipino.)
And the irony here is that Jose thinks that to globalize is to surrender our individuality, our culture yet nothing can be further from the truth. It is because of our individuality, our culture that Filipinos might appear lucrative in the global scheme of things, especially when it comes to our fiction. Why would, say, an American want to read derivative work that he can get from his own country? If anything will appeal to foreign readers, it is what makes us distinct.
Jose falls prey to a misconception although granted, it is a prevalent misconception. A friend was once being interviewed and when asked why she did not attempt to sell her fiction elsewhere (outside of the country), she replied that she thought no one would be interested in it because it's set in the Philippines. When I heard that, I immediately replied that's not the case. And to even prove my case, my friend's fiction has been lauded abroad.
And then there's the Man Asian Literary Prize. I don't profess to have read the finalists but I'd like to think that each of those entries are reflective of their nation in some way and not an attempt to remove everything that is culturally representative of them. And in the end, that's why we read various international authors: because in their writing, there is a sense of their culture. We can claim that there is something Latin American with Gabriel Garcia Marquez for example. Or something Japanese with Haruki Murakami. And yet, these are the writers operating in a global marketplace.
Globalization for the Filipino is apt to me, especially considering many of my fellow countrymen can be found around the world. We're in Saudi Arabia, Japan, America, Italy, etc. Heck, our speculative writers can be found in France, in Netherlands, in Singapore. Why not write about them? We simply can't write about Filipinos living in the Philippines. Those living abroad aren't any less Filipino than we are.
Who should Filipinos be writing for? That's best left for them to decide. But if you want to write about local experiences, then go for it. The burden of adapting it to a global marketplace is best left to the editors and the translators. Or sometimes, we're simply underestimating the intelligence of international readers. And if you want to write with an eye towards the global arena, then go ahead. We can't escape our being Filipino. Don't be guilty just because you're not following the dictates of the Philippine literati.
Jose uses beautiful words like metastasis. I called it stagnancy. And unfortunately, stagnancy plagues us, not just in the realm of literature. Jose clearly looks to the past, what with all that sense of nostalgia and praise for what has come before him. I'm not saying we shouldn't respect the authors of the past--we should. But the fiction of Jose Rizal for example belongs to a certain period in history. The present will always call for change but it's louder now, especially with globalization inevitable. Why let our literature become stagnant when the opportunity to innovate and to promote is here? Look at Philippine speculative fiction. I doubt it if the writers here are consciously thinking of an international audience but those works written with Filipinos in mind are definitely finding a global market. One doesn't get as self-referential as "Excerpt from a Letter by a Social-Realist Aswang" by Kristin Mandigma but there's a story that's gained some popularity--and not just from Filipinos.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Gone for Surgery
Long Story: The bone dividing my two nostrils is bent. This is called nasal septum deviation. I've known this even before I was a teenager. At around six or seven, my pediatrician asked if I had gotten into a fight because my nose was bent. At the time, this wasn't a problem. Last week, it became a problem because I hadn't picked my nose in years and it was only then that I realized my pinkie couldn't reach the nether regions of my left nostril (a stark contrast to my right in which my descriptions I'm sure will not interest you).
To illustrate the discrepancy, my doctor had dipped some cotton into some water and inserted it into my right nostril. To me, it seemed to vanish like magic. And then he did it again. Again, magic!
The procedure was repeated for my left nostril. It felt cramped and painful. If pharaohs had any sparks of life, they would have died during the brain extraction process. No wonder mummies are so angry. And in my case, it was cotton, not some lumpy nerve cells.
All three cottons were later plucked out. You can imagine my relief. Obviously, the pronouncement of the doctor was surgery.
Now my doctor, a family friend and this is the first time that I'm meeting him, has an attitude that is best characterized by Hugh Laurie. Even before the diagnosis, he asked why I didn't have surgery before. Of course he doesn't bother asking that the first and only time surgery was brought up, I was something like six or seven years old and I had no problems inserting my pinkie into my nostrils back then.
And then he mistook my stoicism for fear. This is my translation on what passes for Filipino-Fookien: "If you live to 90, how long will you live the rest of your life like that?" This was interrupted by my mother saying that I don't understand Fookien and then in Fookien, he asks her "So he's Fookien illiterate" which actually sounds like "So he's stupid."
When he asked if I have any heart problems and the like, I told him I had allergies. To antibiotics. Obviously, one can see the problem here. Much of modern medicine relies on antibiotics and there's a wide variety of them. I can't be allergic to all of them. And so the succeeding question is what antibiotics I'm allergic to and all I can say is I don't know.
There's a series of wide-eyed shock here. The first is the doctor's realization that I haven't taken any antibiotics for the past sixteen years or so, as if it's possible for me to still survive without doing so. What do you take for a cold? A soar throat? Nothing. (So if I'm the type of person who espouses healthy living, now you know the reason.)
And then there's the question of how come I know I'm allergic to antibiotics but not aware of the specific type. Well, a long time ago, I had this skin test in which I found out I was allergic to, among other things, cockroaches and chocolate. The doctor said I was allergic to Neozep, a standard antibiotic for the common cold. "You can take it but the next time you have a cold, it'll be worse."
The doctor looks at me and asks again what antibiotics I'm allergic to. I said ask my mom. And I only say that because to this day, I have to fight tooth and nail with her just to get my birth certificate. If she dies today, my bank account dies with her. And so we look at her and ask "Yes mom, what is it that I'm allergic to?" Because I'm smart and all but when I was ten or eleven, when the doctor said I was allergic to antibiotics, I thought that was the be-all and end-all to pharmacology. Little did I know there's a variety of antibiotics out there besides penicillin (and if I am allergic to penicillin, all one can say is "oh crap").
So once the holiday break is over, it looks like I'm going to have an unofficial break of my own. Will be checking in at the hospital on Tuesday afternoon, hopefully when I've stockpiled on books to read and podcasts to listen to. They're gonna cut up my nose and re-align my bone structure. Is it going to cure my chronic respiratory problem? No but at least I stop having migraines every time I have a cold.
December 30, 2008 Links and Plugs
- Quickly, publisher Apex Book Company needs your help!
- My cosplayer friend Hazel shows us how to make that Supergirl costume.
- Richard Dansky on Stirring the Pot.
- The New York Times and Bargain Hunting for Books, and Feeling Sheepish About It (uh oh...).
- Holly Black's Writing Advice (pssst, it's the last line).
- Here's an awesome contest to win four signed books.
Essay: A Year of Jeffrey Ford
When I first heard of Jeffrey Ford, it was too late. At the time, I was still in college, pursuing my Creative Writing degree, and Ford had yet to publish his wonderful novel The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque. I was still ignorant of fiction at the time, genre or otherwise, and my typical experience with fantasy was through the epic- and high-fantasy sub-genres. I had at home a copy of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror and little did I know that Terri Windling would soon be departing from the anthology. Eventually, I read Ford's short story "Creation," thought nothing of it, and forgotten about it until it was brought up by Dean Francis Alfar.
"You have to read this, it's fantastic!" he said.
I dug up the story and re-read it yet the story didn't really register to this adrenaline-filled youth. Where was the action? Where was the drama? What did the ending mean? This fascination with Ford boggled the mind. Thankfully, Alfar had other puzzles to challenge me.
"Charles, as our book pimp, you must find me Jeffrey Ford's novel!"
Of course at the time, the Jeffrey Ford novel meant The Physiognomy and the other books in his Well-Built City trilogy. Save for Vanitas, that was the only novel Ford had gotten published. Unfortunately, tracking down an unpopular book five years old is no easy task. I scoured the Internet, browsed through secondhand bookshops, and even tried ordering it from the local bookstore. In truth, my success only happened by sheer chance. A new bookstore had opened just opposite our campus and a few months into the business, they stocked a of The Physiognomy. It was a no-brainer for me, even as I emptied my wallet of that month's allowance.
Alfar enthusiastically thanked me for my efforts and during one of those weekday nights, I sat down and started reading. To my teenage self, this was a novel that appealed to me. There was action, drama, and a clear antagonist to the story. The setting stirred my imagination and the world was vivid. By the time I returned to the bookstore where I bought my copy, the owner started chatting with me and told me at how one customer was cursing when she found out that I had bought the only copy of The Physiognomy. The store eventually stocked the novel's sequel, Memoranda, and it was quickly added to my collection (and Dean's) before it could be displayed too long on the store shelves (I had this unseen rival after all).
Memoranda mesmerized me in a way that was distinctively different from The Physiognomy. Ford's language was clearly the strength of the book. But what surprised me was how the second novel diverged from the formula of the first one and I actually enjoyed it. There wasn't so much adventure as much as discovery. Action gave way to epiphanies and character realizations. Between the time I read The Physiognomy and Memoranda, something in me had changed. I reread "Creation" and started cursing myself for not realizing the brilliance of Ford sooner. Here was a well-crafted story filled with minute details that felt very real and made the protagonist's father larger than life. And the ambiguity of the ending was simply genius.
I started scouring for the final book in the Well-Built City trilogy but alas, this out-of-print book would never be found. Again, I tried ordering it from bookstores but failed. My only consolation was that Ford's new novel, The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, debuted that same year along with his short story collection, The Fantasy Writer's Assistant and Other Stories. Naturally, I enjoyed both but treasured the latter, especially when I read the last page which mentioned that the book only had a three-thousand print run. I expected American books to have print runs in the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands. I was shocked that Ford's short story collection should only have so small a circulation. Yet here it was, one of the three thousand books in existence, in my hands. Golden Gryphon Press, the publisher of The Fantasy Writer's Assistant and Other Stories, was my hero.
Eventually, I would purchase everything Jeffrey Ford in the years to come. The Girl in the Glass and The Empire of Ice Cream and Other Stories were immediately bought (along with extras for Dean). 2008 echoes that year I discovered Ford. In place of The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque and The Fantasy Writer's Assistant and Other Stories, we have The Shadow Year and The Drowned Life. And when I finally had given up hope on ever reading the ending to Ford's Well-Built City trilogy, here comes along Golden Gryphon Press, not only reprinting the books but hiring John Picacio to do some of the best covers.
It's come full circle for me. This is also the year that I got to interview Jeffrey Ford for my blog (and that same interview got picked up by SF Crowsnest). I mean how cool is that?
Essay: On Reviewing and Joe Hill's Gunpowder
It's an entirely different feeling when you're writing a review and finally seeing it in print (or in my case, published in a blog). In the case of the latter, there's always some detail you want to add or perhaps a typo or two to edit. I tend to correct the latter but stop myself from acting on the former. I could end up in an infinite cycle of revision and the fact is, I'm constantly evolving as a reviewer. If I indulge in perpetual revision, the entire review will become wholly different in a year or even a month's time.
Anyway (while channeling Larry Nolen), I was rereading my review on Joe Hill's Gunpowder and one of those insights flashed in my mind, the type that would have been helpful when I was writing the review. But then again, maybe not. For me, there's always been this division between the reviewer and the critic. Both analyzes but the final presentation or the focus is different. The reviewer, for me, should focus more on the reaction and on the skill of the author. The critic, on the other hand, starts making all sorts of conclusions, tying it to what's come before, what's current, and perhaps even speculating on the future. The critic might even give recommendations to the author. Of course the distinction between the two isn't so clear-cut as one blurs into the other. But that's just my opinion.
There are numerous times when I'm hampered by the limitations I set in my own reviews. If I'm not detailed in my reviews, that's by design. I don't want my reviews to drag on and on but rather the type that you can read in one sitting--preferably under five minutes. I want to give readers enough information whether to read the book or not instead of being a dissertation on the merits of the author's thesis. And then there's my "spoiler-free" disclaimer which isn't absolutely spoiler-free (I do tend to talk, in vague terms, about the ending). It's surprising how little (and how much) you can talk about a book without being concrete in the spoilers. This limitation hampers how much detail I go into my reviews and why, more often than not, I lack specifics. And through a combination of both reasons, a plot summary is often missing in my reviews (but that's not necessarily a bad thing: I don't want to read reviews which are mostly summaries).
Having said that, there's one aspect of Hill's Gunpowder that I want to talk about. And in case you haven't surmised from the diatribe above, there will be spoilers. I don't think this material is essential to the review but it's a topic that might interest the critic or someone who's curious about writing.
It's only upon re-reading my review that I missed one element that Hill excels in this novella. It's the juxtaposition of the various characters. Now the Lord of the Flies-esque concept isn't anything new but I don't praise concepts: I praise execution. In this case, Gunpowder comes out spectacular and fresh that is definitely different from science fiction's other militia-ruled-by-a-boy story, Ender's Game. Readers who are only familiar with the latter might be tempted to make the comparison between Ender's Jeesh and Jake's family. But honestly, the only similarities the two have is that both communities are ruled by charismatic young boys. Everything else is different. For all the merits of Jake, he's not the main hero of Gunpowder and Elaine as the viewpoint character should be a flag to the reader. And this is where the genius of Hill comes in.
Jake, at the start of the novella, is Talented (as in possessing the Talent) while Charley isn't. Jake is the leader of the group while Charley is perceived as the least of them. There are numerous scenes in the first few chapters which establishes this. Yet slowly by slowly, Charley usurps Jake's role. The first hint of this is when Jackson--the interloper--credits the person responsible for building the wall. No one wants to admit that it was exclusively Charley who built it yet every praise Jackson has is in fact directed at him. This is a significant story shift, one that prepares the reader for the incoming change. And before that, it is Charley who comes up with the planet's name, Gunpowder, which we as readers know is significant because it's the title of the book.
And then comes the trap. Everyone who possesses the Talent is enslaved by Jackson via the masks. The only one who's exempt is Charley and he is underestimated by Jackson because he does not have the Talent. Yet in the end, it is Charley who leads the rebellion, not only against Jackson but against the invaders. When it comes to the crucial scene where the ship's guns are aimed at the boys, it is Charley who takes the initiative to use the heavens as a weapon (and suddenly, what little Talent he has rises to the challenge). Jake might have loaned Charley his support but it was the latter who got the ball rolling and in the end, he is the martyr of the story. Jake, on the other hand, is a stark contrast to his characterization at the start of the book. Rather than a fearless, decisive leader, he becomes lost and distracted. The weak became strong (even if he ended up sacrificing his life) while the strong ended up weak.
Another comparison that can be made is between the characters of Elaine and Jackson. Here, Hill is more blatant about it as he voices his thoughts through our narrator: "Elaine felt a dry cold spread through her chest, wondered if the Deans had decided the boys were old enough to need a whore more than a mother." During the chapter "War Council," such observations are made by Elaine. The tension between the two is the most apparent but astute readers will also notice at how the relationships of Elaine and Jackson are reflective of the subversion of Jake and Charley's roles but at the same time representing a different kind of conflict. Jake and Charley for example are genuine comrades even to the very end while Jackson's hold over Elaine and the group is only through her authority and sexuality.
Gunpowder has this undercurrent all throughout yet in my initial review, I only touch upon such themes via these sentences: "What makes Gunpowder work however are the viewpoint characters. Hill's choices are apt and immediately wins over the reader's sympathy." It feels insufficient but my analysis on juxtaposition alone is already longer than the entire review.
That's also for me the big difference between the reviewer vs. the critic. My analysis won't help you in choosing whether to decide to buy the book or not (at least not directly) but rather it's valuable when you've already read the novella. It might confirm your own insights, lead you to your own epiphanies, or perhaps even start a dialogue that's contrary to my thesis. But honestly, to a prospective reader, I don't need to explain all of this. My only worry is that when I say "I don't think this is Hill's best work," I don't mean that it's not brilliant. It's just that the bar he's set is already high to begin with and Gunpowder, while good, is not my favorite when compared to everything else that he's written.
Interview: Adventures in SciFi Publishing (Shaun Farrell and Sam Wynns)
Shaun Farrell and Sam Wynns are the hosts of the podcast Adventures in SciFi Publishing where they interview authors, editors, publishers, and other people in the industry.
Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. I'm a big fan of the podcast. First off, what made you guys decide to start Adventures in SciFi Publishing?
Shaun: I started podcasting because I thought it would be fun. At the time (this was July of 2006) I was conducting interviews for Far Sector SFFH. When I discovered podcasting that summer, I thought the medium would provide a more innovative method for me to pursue my love of SFFH literature. AISFP launched in October 2006 after many months of research and preparation.
Sam: It's my pleasure! Gee... an interview... does this mean I'm, like, famous now and stuff? As for the start of AiSFP, I'm late to that gravy train, so I defer to Shaun on that one.
How did both of you (Shaun and Sam) meet?
Shaun: Mysterious Galaxy was looking to hire a new bookseller. Patrick, the store manager, was a friend of mine, and he wanted to bring me on, but I wasn’t available, so Sam got hired instead. See, Sam, you owe your MG career to me! In all seriousness, we met at the store, which I frequented often in those days as I lived down the street, and we became friends over time.
Sam: I was introduced to Shaun at Mysterious Galaxy, the bookstore where I work. Patrick, the manager, has known Shaun for some time. I believe, after the introduction, he said something like, "Sam took your job." Yeeeeah. Shaun's well-liked, can you tell? (And I'm not being sarcastic... for once.)
What are your current goals with the podcast?
Shaun: I want to keep the podcast fresh and as consistent as possible. One reason I do this is learn more about publishing and to improve as a writer. I dream of writing fiction professionally, and producing the podcast has brought me much closer to that goal.
I hope the show continues to feature new segments, great interviews, writing tips, analysis of the latest events in publishing, and to be fun and entertaining. We launched a new website this summer, which contains pages for book reviews, text interviews, videos, coverage of live events, and more, all at www.adventuresinscifipublishing.com. So, there’s lots of new stuff happening with AISFP that we’ll be looking to expand as time and life allow.
What's the appeal of science fiction/fantasy to you?
Shaun: The escape from the ordinary, the sense of wonder, the idealism, the bold embrace of social problems, the metaphoric veil that allows us to see our world through fresh eyes, and let me not forget ray guys, talking dragons, and bikini-clad Amazon women.
Sam: Where to begin? Exercising my imagination by escaping to something utterly foreign, unknown and unique. I find peace by escapism: my every day life is hectic and full of responsibility, so it's great to escape to something that bears absolutely no resemblance to it. Also, I was raised on science fiction and fantasy, so it's kind of a nostalgic, comforting thing to me. Think of it as my "woobie".
What's the appeal of podcasts?
Shaun: I am so sick of corporate radio and the mediocrity cramming the airwaves. It’s nothing but talking heads and commercials. Sure, there are a few good shows, but very few that appeal to me. With podcasting, you can find professional level production on just about every subject. Could I learn about basket weaving trapeze artists on the radio? I think not.
Sam: I'm sure there are many reasons for people to listen to podcasts: information about something they're interested in, amusement such as you would find in "talk" radio, something to fill the time during travel. Think of podcasting as good radio without the commercials, static, eventual take-over by Mexican radio stations (which happens a lot in my neck of the woods--Sabado gigante!). Something that is free, can be listened to any time or place and is about anything you desire. What's not appealing about that?
What are some of the difficulties you face in producing the podcast?
Shaun: Editing, editing, editing. Time, time, time. I’m constantly trying to find ways to produce the show more quickly without jeopardizing the quality. I’ve spent 20-30 hours preparing a single episode. I’m a perfectionist, and such a neurosis can really bring down the quality of your overall life. I don’t want to sound like I’m whining, because the show brings me great joy, but I do sacrifice other things (usually social time or date night) to make the show happen.
What preparations do you take for each show? (Research, warm-ups, chatting with the personality, etc.)
Shaun: Yep, all that. We search the internet for publishing news, and I conduct all the interviews, which requires more reading and research. I conduct the interviews, edit them, and Sam and I get together to record. Mostly it’s reading and research and outlining what we’re going to discuss for that episode. The authors themselves are pretty easy to talk to. Most of them are quite experienced at this kind of thing.
How do you decide which personality to feature in each show?
Shaun: Sometimes we schedule guests based on live events. This summer I conducted interviews at Clarion, Comic-Con, and Writers of the Future. So, obviously, the lineup was based on who was present. More often though, it’s just looking around at who has new books out and seeing if they want to talk. Usually they do, time permitting.
When looking for people to interview, I sometimes have problems tracking down authors. How about you guys, what steps do you take to get in touch with the people you want to interview?
Shaun: Well, at this point I know several publicists and editors who are always interesting in scheduling interviews. So, it’s pretty easy these days. In years past I would search author websites for their emails and send a no-expectations request. I would tell them why I wanted to interview them, so they could see that I knew my stuff. I’ve conducted over 100 interviews, and I’ve only been turned down four times. So that strategy seems to work.
Doing lots and lots of episodes, do you still feel nervous interviewing some authors?
Shaun: Not anymore. I’ve really come to learn that these people are just people, no matter how many books they’ve sold. They love good conversation, and I have yet to have a bad experience.
For each of you, what were the most memorable interviews you conducted?
Shaun: The first interview I ever conducted was with my idol, Ray Bradbury. He was very kind, and I’ll never forget that. Other standouts are R.A. Salvatore and Kim Harrison at Starbucks, Lou Anders at World Fantasy, and phone interviews with Terry Goodkind, Robert J. Sawyer, Kay Kenyon, and Sean Williams. I’ve also had a blast interview fellow podcasters like Mur Lafferty and J.C. Hutchins. But everyone has really been great.
Sam: Probably my most memorable time with an author was when John Connolly and I went out for drinks. That man is hilarious, and my face hurt from smiling so much. Plus, you know, the whiskey probably helped.
I loved your Clarion and Keys to Publishing series. How did programs like those come about?
Shaun: Mur Lafferty of I Should be Writing approached me about featuring my Clarion interviews on her show, as she thought her listeners would be interested. I was thrilled by this, of course, and so we started scheming ways to make it a summer event. The Keys to Publishing contest was born, slowly, over the next few weeks. I contacted publicists I knew at Tor and Pyr, and they were happy to sponsor it with book giveaways – we gave away 16 books in all, mostly hardcovers. It was a lot of fun, and we had tremendous participation.
To Shaun: How has the podcast helped you with your writing? What's the best writing advice you've received?
I’ve learned a great deal about how the business really works. That’s has been foundational. Most of that information is in the podcast, actually. So anyone can listen and learn most of what I’ve picked up.
Being able to associate with people who have achieved success is also important. If you want to be rich, you don’t take financial advice from broke people, right? In the past, I found myself getting caught up in the writing advice and theories of people who were never professionally published. I’ve learned that just isn’t the best place to go.
Writing is much more difficult than it used to be, and I think that’s because I’m better at it, more aware of what a story needs to do. I think I’m getting better, but personalized rejections and eventual sales will be the test. I’m still working on that.
The best specific advice I’ve received is probably this: believe in yourself when no one else does, set a writing schedule, and worry about telling the best story you can, not on getting a sale.
To Sam: After interviewing all these authors, have you considered pursuing writing yourself? Has your perception of a particular author changed after doing an interview?
To Sam: How did you first get involved with Mysterious Galaxy Books? Can you tell us more about what you do as Young Adult Program Coordinator?
A friend of mine introduced me to the store when I first moved to San Diego and I became a loyal, if infrequent, customer. I should say that I was only infrequent because I couldn't afford to be, well, frequent. Anyways, when I started to look for a job I knew exactly where I wanted to work. I mean, how could I pass up on a killer discount, ARCs, hanging out with my favorite authors and coworkers that make me giggle uncontrollably? It truly was a no-brainer.
As for the Young Adult Program, I started that a year and a half ago. I saw a need to reach out to the community, especially schools: why not bring the authors to the students? It's a captive audience, the kids are excited, the teachers are ecstatic, the author gets their books sold and the store makes money on sales. It's a win-win situation! Or a win-win-win-win-win situation, as the case may be. I approached Terry, one of the owners of the store, about it and she gave me an enthusiastic thumbs-up. I've been learning as I go from there, but I'd like to think things are going well.
To Shaun: Can you tell us more about your other online projects?
Sure! I own Singularity Audio, through which I help others create and edit podcasts. I’m currently producing the New England Fights! podcast, for all you MMA fans out there, and I have some interesting opportunities in the works of which I cannot discuss. I have a blog that I update from time to time at www.decodingthefuture.blogspot.com.
Recently I joined the Gateworld.net team. Gateworld is the web’s premier site for all things Stargate, and I contribute news stories and interviews.
And while this isn’t online, I am also an actor. Currently I am working on a feature film and a dramatic reading. You can learn more about this at my blog, of course, and at www.shaunfarrell.com
Do you listen to other podcasts? Which ones are your favorites?
Shaun: Tons! I can’t keep up. The Dave Ramsey Show, I Should be Writing, Writing Excuses, Escape Pod, PodCastle, The Future and You, 48 Days to the Work you Love, The 49ers podcast, The Gateworld Podcast, Gateworld Interviews, The Agony Column, and, when I can fit them in, Slice of Scifi and Dragonpage: Cover to Cover
Sam: Can I plead the fifth on this one? ;)
What's in store for Adventures in SciFi Publishing in the future?
Shaun: More great interviews, writing tips, and book reviews! After a crazy summer, we’ll be pulling back a bit for the rest of year, but there is plenty of good stuff to come.
Can you tell us more about the rest of the Adventures in SciFi Publishing staff?
Shaun: In addition to Sam and me, Catherine and Steven write book reviews for the website. You can learn more about them here: http://www.adventuresinscifipublishing.com/about-us/
Sam: Staff? BAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Uh, ahem. Shaun and I are it. And really... Shaun is 90% of it, and I'm 10%. You may call me his Muse. It's not true... but you may call me that, all the same. It will make me feel better.
What advice do you have for aspiring podcasters?
Shaun: Read Podcasting for Dummies, talk to other podcasters, prepare like crazy, and record several test episodes before you release anything. Podcasting is easy once you learn everything required, but it took me several months to learn it all. So, you have to be dedicated, and you have to passionate about your subject of focus.
Sam: Just go for it. Think of an idea, take a few classes/look up some information and just do it. Though it can be hard work, especially if you're a perfectionist like Shaun (and I mean that with love... no really!), it's a helluva lot of fun. I mean, when else are you going to sit down for a chat with Ray Bradbury?!
Advice for aspiring authors?
Shaun: Listen to Adventures in Scifi Publishing. I haven’t accomplished enough as a writer to give advice, but if you listen to the guests on the show, you’ll learn quite a bit about writing and publishing.
Sam: Listen to Adventures in Sci Fi Publishing! You'll become rich and famous! And sexy! Also: write every day. Every author I've ever talked to has pretty much mentioned that that's key.
Anything else you want to plug?
Shaun: Nope, but I would like to thank the listeners who have supported us for nearly two years now. We just won the Parsec Award for Best Writing-Related Podcast, and that wouldn’t have happened without all the encouragement and support. We really, really appreciate it.
Thanks for inviting us over for the interview.
Sam: Uh... give us money? And scotch? Scotch would be good.
Monday, December 29, 2008
December 29, 2008 Links and Plugs
- The J. Lloyd Eaton Collection of SF, Fantasy, Horror, and Utopian Literature: A Brief Introduction over at the Nebula Awards.
- Lou Anders on An Escape from an Editorial Hell (and I approve all his recommendations!).
- Juliette Wade on Designing a Story.
- Boston.com has some great photos of the year although you better watch your bandwidth as the images are big files.
- Here are more Books Make Great Gifts videos.
- Mary Robinette Kowal gives fashion advice in Prince Caspian and Hellboy Strut the Runway in 2008.
- Jeff Vandermeer on White Noise, Solitude, and Writing.
- You know what's geeky? Studying Black Holes Using a Playstation 3 (well, using 16 of 'em).
Book/Magazine Review: Shrike by Quentin S. Crisp
It's been my experience that translated Japanese novels such as those by Haruki Murakami or Banana Yoshimoto have a certain atmosphere to them beyond the brevity of their lines (a casualty of translation, I'm sure). Quentin S. Crisp evokes that same mood in Shrike that goes beyond Japan or his allusion to Japanese authors. Crisp isn't simply a mimic but a writer that has his own unique style, from his chunky but readable paragraphs to his aloof but all-too-human characters.
Part of the allure of the book is how little actually happens and most of the conflict is derived from the contemplation of the protagonist. In that sense, it is similar to many literary novels where the pacing is slow and characterization is the focus, with various images and events acting as metaphors for the hero's true feelings. If you're looking for action, this isn't the book you need to be reading. Instead, the excitement stems from the discovery of the character and the details Crisp shares with us. What is the mysterious shrike and what is the meaning of the signs it leaves?
There's a definitive purpose with Shrike taking place in Japan. The setting comes alive not just with the visuals but with the mood and the atmosphere, such as some of the zen-like scenes Crisp includes. The mythology of the country also comes into play, especially during the story's climax, which is appropriate and ties the narrative together. What I particularly enjoyed, although this is just a minor detail, is how the chapters begin with the kanji for "dream" and sections are separated with the kanji for "heart". There's a certain care in the book design that heightens the narrative.
Overall this was an enjoyable read and appeals to the literary reader in me. Crisp is unconventional and doesn't take the easy way out in terms of storytelling. Obviously, if you're looking for your typical sword & sorcery, don't bother with Shrike but those looking for something more sophisticated or simply different might find this rewarding.
Book/Magazine Review: Gunpowder by Joe Hill
I love Joe Hill but at this point, one can't help but get the feeling that he's slowly becoming overhyped. The true test, of course, is to judge him by his latest work. Gunpowder starts out strong with some interesting passages and scenes. I was actually surprised to find out that Hill was writing science fiction but he seems to fit in just fine. With regards to this book, I have certain reservations. I don't think this is Hill's best work but the story is well-written. There are some portions in which Hill does more telling than showing but considering the length of the work, it's understandable. There are some opportunities where he truly shines, such as showing us a facet of human psychology and behavior: the way the children in the story truly feel about each other for example.
What makes Gunpowder work however are the viewpoint characters. Hill's choices are apt and immediately wins over the reader's sympathy. While there are some ho-hum scenes, there are also fantastic ones where the author let's loose and exposes raw, human emotion. Overall, this was an enjoyable read and again, perhaps it's not the highest point of Hill's fiction to date but it's not his lowest either. It certainly has an upbeat pace that'll make sure this book will be consumed in no time and the ending reminds me of one of the better elements of space opera. It's also not a stretch to imagine Gunpowder being expanded in the future, whether as a full-blown novel or via sequels.
Book/Magazine Review: Spicy Slipstream Stories edited by Nick Mamatas & Jay Lake
Slipstream for me was the type of fiction that was bizarre and confusing and defied expectations. That's not a bad thing, mind you, but to quote a passage from the introduction of the book, "You don't write slipstream, you read it." And so it was a big surprise when I started reading the stories in this anthology. They're actually -gasp- readable, or at least accessible to lay people without needing literary degrees or geeky credentials. In fact, the selections actually impressed me because they all stood out and I can honestly say there's no bad story in this book. If I have any complaints with this anthology, surprisingly enough, it's because I feel some of the stories aren't that slipstream, that it's still too coherent and identifiable. But is that honestly such a bad trait?
It might not be evident from the title the pulp influences this anthology draws upon but one look at the cover and the cut-lines dispels any doubts what to expect. Simply put, these are fun and titillating stories, sometimes with off-the-top premises and unabashed cheesy lines. For example, there's always a girl in distress or femme fatale present in each tale. But don't expect that this is simply the old pulp stories dressed in modern attire. The various authors infuse them with new sensibilities and there's a definite goal to each story besides simply being homages.
Again, all the stories are good but here are the three stories that caught my attention. "Heroes Welcome" by John Bowker makes good use of the slipstream element early on. It starts out with your conventional pulp hero and sidekick but it's the latter which is our point of view. The former seems like a caricature of the pulp protagonists and his peculiar ability to summon women literally out of nowhere fits just right in. Bowker hits all the right beats, from the pulp atmosphere to the right amount of characterization (not too little but not too much either).
"Outside the Box" by Lynne Jamneck on the other hand is in some ways the opposite of Bowker's story. I wouldn't call it a O. Henry story but its speculative element enters the last scene and changes how you read the entire narrative. Aside from that fact, Jamneck recaptures noir detective elements, from the investigation protocol to eventually getting beaten up. This is one of those pieces that definitely fits in a slipstream anthology.
"Little Black Dress" by Carrie Vaughn is another outstanding story and features this interesting mix of a pulp atmosphere and a literal poetic metaphor. It also includes beautiful, descriptive imagery as well as some of the cheesiest lines you'll ever read. There's never a dull moment here and it seems to be a perfect fit for the book.
Overall, this was a fantastic anthology that delivered on its goals. Editors Nick Mamatas and Jay Lake are to be applauded because it's seldom that one comes across an anthology wherein all the stories are accessible and striking. If you love the pulps, Spicy Slipstream Stories is a must-have.
Book/Magazine Review: The Flip Reader edited by Jessica Zafra
It was still back in college when I first saw a copy of Flip Magazine. It stood out from all the other local magazines because instead of wallowing in despair at the state of the nation, here was Filipino optimism, witty at the same time relevant. I mean where else does one get to read about Filipino sleeper agents in the guise of overseas workers penetrating the global economy? (It should be no surprise that the magazine's subtitle is "The Official Guide to World Domination.") It is editor Jessica Zafra who reminds us the importance of Filipinos such as Bayani Nelvis--a name now forgotten--whose testimony was crucial during the Clinton-Lewinsky fiasco. Or heck, here was a magazine catering to the AB market and had Judai gracing its covers... and people actually bought it (to say nothing of the convincing feature writing)!
The Flip Reader compiles select feature articles and essays from the magazine and are organized into sections. For example, the first section has all the globalization articles. Occasionally, one would run into a post-Flip analysis from the staff of the now-defunct magazine (usually at the start of each section), a retrospective of sorts. One would think this would be a tell-all confession at the injustices of the publishing industry (the Flip staff, after all, are characters in their own right and are known not to pull their punches) but no, they're grateful for their glorious eight-issue run. They are gracious in defeat but then again, scoring a reprint is hardly failure and hopefully this means brighter things to come. Maybe they'll publish a book like Flip Uncensored but in the meantime, the essays are nonetheless entertaining (at the very least, we finally find out the identity of the mysterious Buddha Boy).
The more I dig into the book, the more I'm filled with ideas and insights that will fuel future blog entries and fiction. Roby Alampay's "Fading Fast" is heart-wrenching as he tackles the plight of war veterans subsisting on welfare instead of their promised pension. I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with Washington Sycip in Zafra's "The State of the Nation According to Washington Sycip." And I've read Alampay's "Ready for Juday" years ago yet there's something about it that calls out to the reader even today. This is just the first half of the book my friends (and just in case you think I only read the first hundred pages, another article that you must read although not while eating is Alampay's "Kingdom of the Cockroaches").
Is the book perfect? Well, considering many of the articles are more than half a decade old, it would have been helpful to know when they were written. (Strangely enough, the message they preach back then seems just as appropriate today.) And of course, it's no replacement for the actual magazine. Some of my favorite articles were the lighter pieces: Krip Yuson talking about the b's of Philippine sports (billiards, boxing, bowling but not basketball) which I found to be more focused than his current columns in the Philippine Star or Tad Ermitano sharing his bookstore shoplifting techniques. Those more stimulated by visuals will note the lack of photos, although those few that do make it into the book are apt. But these are all minor quibbles to what is a fantastic anthology. If it's just a space constraint, I can't imagine any article included in this book that should have been left out or traded for another.
If there is any justice in the world, Filipinos would buy this book. Flip Magazine followed the fate of another well-written publications, Clinton Palanca's Pen & Ink. But unlike the latter, this is a second chance for readers to witness the brilliance that comprise the magazine's staff. It's not just Zafra, it's Ermitano, Lourd Ernest H. de Veyra, Adams Myth, Ramon S. Sunico, and a host of other talented contributors (if I mention more names, I'll be flooding their Google Alerts). In a period where crisis seems inevitable, Zafra and company shows us that we have something to be proud of (or at least intelligently tells us who to blame).