What better way to start the year than by reading a book of local fantasy? This is one of those books I was anticipating and hoping to enjoy, mainly because it's a book that's not published by one of the local spec fic editors/publications as well as the fact that Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo is one of the big names in the local literati scene. Of course all the while, I'm chanting the mantra "hate the look but love the book" because it honestly is an atrocious cover (and whenever I spot it in bookstores, it's only the spine that's being displayed). Going to the book itself, since this is a Philippine publication, the fact that it's thin is to be expected at under 200 pages. Over 20 stories is crammed in this anthology and they come in many forms from flash fiction to an excerpt from a novel (which thankfully works nonetheless as a stand-alone story). As far as editorial content goes, the quality of the stories covers a wide spectrum. On one end, you have stories that are simply there to shock or give a good laugh. On the other, you have stories that have have gravity as well as betraying the author's skill in the craft--whether they're writing fantasy or not. I'm biased towards the latter so it should be not surprise as to which stories made my top three. "The Sugilanon of Epifania's Heartbreak" by Ian Rosales Casocot is hands-down the best-written story in the collection as his strength lies in the discourse as well as his employment of fable-like language. A close second is FH Batacan's "The Gyutou" as the author's characterization and description is quite superior and enthralling. Last but not least is Cyan Abad-Jugo's "Green Girl" which is this coming-of-age story of sorts that's tinged with the elements of horror. There are several other stories that tickled my fancy but for the most part these three are the ones that proved to be the ones with the most resonance.
Now as much as I enjoyed the anthology, it's not without what I consider its faults. As I mentioned before, the editorial quality covers a wide spectrum so while there are some great stories here, there are also those that fall pretty much under the ho-hum category. I'd say one third of the stories are fantastic, another third that's decent but won't win awards anytime soon, and the last third are stories that will cater to a specific audience (and one of two that makes me wonder: does the author really want to write in the speculative fiction genre?). I'm nitpicking here but my internal editor was also screaming when I was reading through the editor's preface (mostly unintentional typos and misuse of a term or two). I'm also not a fan of the book design (and I mean the entire book layout as opposed to just the cover) but it's something I can live with. Overall it's not a bad anthology and I think the gems within is well worth the price (a hefty P350.00). It's not the anthology I hoped it could be but it's nice to see other local publishers attempt their hand at speculative fiction.
1 - There are better ways to spend your time.
2 - Ho hum books, usually typical of its genre. Probably only recommendable to die-hard fans.
3 - A cut above the rest, usually with one or more elements that sets it apart from the norm.
4 - Highly recommended and is easily a pioneer of the genre.
5 - A classic or it will be.