Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Philippine Speculative Fiction Updates September 2011 Edition

No major news for August--unless you count the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards leaks--for Philippine speculative fiction.

Philippine Genre Stories continues its regular output of stories, with "Stars" by Yvette Tan and "Fragrant Blood" by Elyss Punsalan. Kristine Ong Muslim has a flash fiction piece, "The Next Generation," published in the August 2011 issue of Black Lantern Publishing.

The two stand-outs for the month, however, is "Disappearances" by Exie Abola (it's also the second prize winner for short story in English in the 2011 Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards), published in The Philippines Free Press, and "Worth It" by Yvette Tan, a flash fiction piece (one among five) published in the July 2011 issue of Uno Magazine.

And for aspiring Filipino writers, deadline for submissions for Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol. 7 is at the end of September.

August 31, 2011 Links and Plugs

It's the last two days for the World SF Travel Fund. Also signal boosting the Strange Horizons fund drive.

Interviews and Profiles


Circle of Enemies by Harry Connolly

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

August 30, 2011 Links and Plugs

Signal boosting Rose Lemberg's search for trans, genderqueer, and/or gender-changed themed speculative poems.

Interviews and Profiles


 The Uncertain Places by Lisa Goldstein

    Monday, August 29, 2011

    August 29, 2011 Links and Plugs

    Interviews and Profiles


    Briarpatch by Tim Pratt

    Friday, August 26, 2011

    Essay: The Dichotomy of Language in the Philippines

    One of the essays circulating recently is "Language, learning, identity, privilege" by James Soriano (Edit 2: it's inaccessible now but you can check the Google Cache). It's not an original or even fresh opinion: it's a never-ending debate that's plagued by the Philippines for the past few decades (and I'm sure it's an issue in other, multilingual countries as well).

    Whenever someone raises the English vs. Filipino argument, they often miss two significant points.

    The first point is context and this is very important. A lot of people assume that Filipino is the de facto language of the country when it's not: it's transitioned from Spanish to English to Filipino (and sometimes, switching back to one or simultaneously having two national languages). Just look at the country's iconic (if not contentiously important) novels: Noli Me Tangere by Jose Rizal was written in Spanish, The Woman Who Had Two Navels by Nick Joaquin was written in English, and Bata, Bata... Pa'no Ka Ginawa? by Luwalhati Bautista was written in Filipino.

    There is the belief that one language is "more Filipino" than the other but we have to understand that history is dynamic and constantly changing. English (together with Pilipino) might have been the vernacular during the Martial Law era when English was the National Language while Filipino the common tongue during the Cory Aquino administration when English was replaced. It would also be important to note the evolution of the language, as there was a time when Filipino exclusively used the abakada alphabet with just 20 letters, but how modern Filipino has expanded that repertoire into 28 (with letters c, j, v, etc. making the cut).

    And while it's true that one language is used more often than the other in a particular context, you also have to ask where. I'm from Metro Manila so the common language I used every day is English and Filipino. But that's not necessarily the case in other regions like Visayas and Mindanao. There's a lot of dialects being used that's not represented by our National language (and another never-ending point of contention). To those who don't subscribe to the idea that Filipino is the language that best represents the entire archipelago, Filipino is as tyrannical and elitist as other foreign languages.

    So when we talk about language and identity (which asks the question who we are), we also need to factor in when and where into the equation. It's not enough to say the Philippines as if there was just one Filipino experience, but clearly, generation gaps, locality, and personal experiences are all important elements.

    The other point, and is perhaps the bigger problem, is our subscription to the ideology of dichotomies: something is either black or white, good or evil, positive or negative. It's a tempting paradigm, just as the concept of Schrödinger's cat at the very least gives pause to many people.

    For example, as a personal experience, there's this belief that funerals and wakes should be depressing. The relatives of the deceased should be crying and mournful. While there is an atmosphere of sadness, for some family members, this is also a time of camaraderie, of seeing, talking, and empathizing with friends and relatives whom you don't often see. That's not to say you don't feel a sense of loss during a wake, but it's not the only emotion you're capable of experiencing. Both positive and negative emotions can take place simultaneously and the existence of one does not invalidate the other.

    My difficulty with essays that frame the Filipino vs. English debate is that it becomes a zero-sum game where there is no room for co-existence.

    Again, I've lived in Metro Manila, and as much as I'd like to say I speak in fluent English or in fluent Filipino, the reality is that most people fall somewhere in between. The mixing of both languages--"Tag-lish" as some of us call it--is natural, just as some might mix smatterings of Bicolano or Ilocano with Filipino or English (I was raised in a Filipino-Chinese atmosphere so I also encountered "Chi-Tag-Lish"). Even the recent text messaging lingo which we deride as Jejemon is a subversion of both English and Filipino so you can't get any more street-level than that.

    Even within English and Filipino, the influence of one is evident in the other. For example, with English, terms like "salvage" or "the province" have a different meaning when compared to their Western counterparts. Filipino is constantly appropriating foreign words and another constant debate is the practice of colloquial Filipino vs. deep Filipino which is evident in word choices like tsapter vs. kabanata.

    That's not to say there isn't any difference between English and Filipino--there is and only a fool would overlook that--but one of the prevailing ideologies is that English is an elitist (even imperialist) language while Filipino is the downtrodden underdog. My answer to such claims is that it's much more complicated than that and honestly, if you're just rooting for underdogs, there are other vastly underrepresented languages in the Philippines: they just don't happen to be national languages.

    Another trend that I'm noticing--and its propaganda, based from personal experience, is incredibly effective if Soriano's column is any indication--is the English-language guilt: if you're fluent with English or if you have an American/English accent (or alternatively, if you don't speak in Filipino or do so with an accent), then you are somehow less Filipino than you ought to be. Again, this falls into the trap of dichotomy, and ignores the fact that English IS one of our national languages. True, it comes with imperialist baggage (and for the most part is the biggest contention against it), but we've also appropriated it as our own and to simply disregard it is to eschew its role in our history (both good and bad).

    On one hand, I'm glad we're having this conversation. National pride and language are important matters to discuss. But my problem with limiting paradigms is that it doesn't really address the core questions that plague us. A lot of people will see this as a problem of language (English vs. Filipino) just as Soriano has framed it, but for me, the heart of the dilemma is how can we be responsible Filipinos, and that's going to be a very subjective answer. For me, it's more important to prove my virtue and nationalism through my actions and my decisions, rather than simply by the language that I speak (although that too is an integral factor) or how fluent I use it. As a writer, I recall that language isn't inherently good or evil, but a tool. There will be times when one language is best suited to a particular task, while at other times a different one is better. And in many ways, that's the beauty of the Philippines: we're a plurality of languages and cultures.

    Edit: Just to clarify, that's not to disregard biases against Filipino. There is a negative bias in the country when you can't speak fluent English (but adept in Filipino), or how English proficiency is demanded--if not required--in a lot of business environments, or how the publishing industry favors English over Filipino (although there are exemptions). But raising awareness and appreciation of Filipino is not the same as tearing down English and those who choose to use it.

    August 26, 2011 Links and Plugs

    Interviews and Profiles


    The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger

      Thursday, August 25, 2011

      August 25, 2011 Links and Plugs

      Interviews and Profiles


      The Whitefire Crossing by Courtney Schafer

      Wednesday, August 24, 2011

      August 24, 2011 Links and Plugs

      Sad to hear about Ann VanderMeer's departure from Weird Tales.

      Also signal boosting a friend's bake sale (there's books too...).

      Interviews and Profiles


       Low Town by Daniel Polansky

      Tuesday, August 23, 2011

      August 23, 2011 Links and Plugs

      It's the last leg of the World SF Travel Fund so hopefully you can help fund it (we've already reached our goal but there's always the succeeding years to think about).

      Interviews and Profiles


      Ico by Miyuki Miyabe

      Monday, August 22, 2011

      August 22, 2011 Links and Plugs

      Congrats to the Hugo Award winners.

      Interviews and Profiles


      Link Arms with Toads! by Rhys Hughes

      Friday, August 19, 2011

      August 19, 2011 Links and Plugs

      Interviews and Profiles


       In Extremis by John Shirley

      Thursday, August 18, 2011

      August 18, 2011 Links and Plugs

      I forgot to plug that my short story, "The Fortunes of Mrs. Yu," (reprint) is up on the talented Anna Tambour's site.

      Interviews and Profiles
      • (Peter Orullian) interviews Kate Elliott.
      • Angela Slatter interviews Jaime Lee Moyer.
      • SFWA (Cat Rambo) interviews Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (2|3).


      Kitemaster and Other Stories by Jim C. Hines

      Wednesday, August 17, 2011

      August 17, 2011 Links and Plugs

      Interviews and Profiles


      The Tempering of Men by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear

      Tuesday, August 16, 2011

      August 16, 2011 Links and Plugs

      Interviews and Profiles



      LCRW #27

      Monday, August 15, 2011

      August 15, 2011 Links and Plugs

      Sorry there were no updates last Friday.

      Interviews and Profiles

      Nemonymous Night by D.F. Lewis

      Wednesday, August 10, 2011

      August 10, 2011 Links and Plugs

      Interviews and Profiles


      Bluegrass Symphony by Lisa L. Hannett

      Tuesday, August 09, 2011

      Neil Gaiman on Imagination and Creativity in the Contemporary World and Other Plugs

      As I was looking through my files, I found a recording of Neil Gaiman from 2007 when he was at the Ad Congress. He gave a talk entitled Imagination and Creativity in the Contemporary World, which I re-uploaded. I have to warn you though that it's not a professional recording, so the audio quality isn't that great (you might also want to turn the volume up).

      Also, I want to shamelessly plug The World SF Travel Fund. Please fund it, pretty please?

      August 9, 2011 Links and Plugs

      Interviews and Profiles


      Wilde Stories 2011  The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction edited by Steve Berman

      Monday, August 08, 2011

      August 8, 2011 Links and Plugs

      Interviews and Profiles


      Thief of Lives by Lucy Sussex

      Friday, August 05, 2011

      August 5, 2011 Links and Plugs

      Oh, and the local book blogging mafia ordered me to plug this: The First Filipino Reader Conference

      Interviews and Profiles


      Warriors of the Tao edited by Damien Broderick and Van Ikin

      Thursday, August 04, 2011

      August 4, 2011 Links and Plugs



      Geek Wisdom edited by Stephen H. Segal

      Wednesday, August 03, 2011

      Plug: The World SF Travel Fund

      I'm the first recipient of this project so there's some self-interest involved here.

      But I hope my readers give the World SF Travel Fund a look:
      A combination of genre professionals and fans from the international scene and the United States have gathered together to create the World SF Travel Fund. The fund has been set up to enable one international person involved in science fiction, fantasy or horror to travel to a major genre event.
      Personally, I would never dream of being able to afford to attend an event like World Fantasy Convention 2011. The planet ticket alone--and this is finding one of the cheapest flights (no first-class for me)--costs around $1300.00. Which might not sound much for some of you (even with the the US's economic crisis) but for someone like me who lives in a third-world country (yes, we still use that term here), I'll never afford it (I earn around $400/month).

      And that's why I'm excited about this fund because it enables writers, editors, artists, and other professionals involved in the genre who wouldn't otherwise be able to attend a major convention (let's face it, the big conventions are held in either the US or Europe). In a perfect world, we'd bring the convention to them (imagine holding a World Fantasy Convention in Indonesia, in Singapore, in South Africa), but at this point in time, it's impractical (especially for regular Con attendees) so this is hopefully the next best thing.

      The World SF Travel fund won't drastically change the industry, just as the World SF Blog isn't creating massive change as of the moment (as Lavie laments, of all the posts in the blog, the Elizabeth Moon issue is still the most popular, and that's despite all the other content that's been posted for the past few years). But it's a start, a drop in the bucket, our contribution for what seems right at this point in time.

      The current Peerbackers project is aiming to raise $6,000.00. That's not just for me, that's to enable the project to be run for two years (so that the next recipient won't have a hard a time raising funds--I mean it's well and good if they're more popular than me but what if it's a professional/non-professional most fans haven't heard of? All the more reason for them to go). And mind you, that's not yet inclusive of the various deductions/fees from Peerbackers or the bank.

      The project is backed by awesome people (and these people are just as deserving--if not more so--of being funded themselves):
      The Board, tasked with selecting future candidates, is composed of Lauren Beukes, Aliette de Bodard, Ekaterina Sedia, Cheryl Morgan and Lavie Tidhar and reflects the truly international nature of the SF world today.
      I'm also impressed by the many supporters of the project, including supporters like Angry Robot Books, Chizine, Apex, Small Beer Press, Tachyon and PS Publishing (here's Small Beer Press's offerings to those who'll pledge), as well as those who've already pledged. Whether the project succeeds or not, thanks and it's much appreciated.

      As for readers of this blog, I hope you can back the project, whether it's $10.00 or more (I only mention $10.00 because it's a package that comes with eBooks!). Do it for me, do it for the cause of World SF, do it because of the rewards (there's some impressive rewards--what Small Beer Press is offering is nothing to sneeze at for example).

      Oh, and congrats again to the World Fantasy Awards nominees. It's an impressive list and irregardless of whether I'll be able to attend the event personally or not, I'm honored.

      August 3, 2011 Links and Plugs

      Interviews and Profiles


      Flashes of Illumination by Nancy Jane Moore

      Tuesday, August 02, 2011

      August 2, 2011 Links and Plugs

      I also want to plug the World SF Travel Fund and for this year, if they reach their goal (you can donate here), I'll hopefully be going to World Fantasy Con. (There's also free books if you donate!)

      Interviews and Profiles


      The Goblin Corps by Ari Marmell

      Monday, August 01, 2011

      Essay: Not A Book Blockade

      More than two years ago, the Philippines had an issue Robin Hemley called The Great Book Blockade of 2009 (the catchphrase was shortened to "Book Blockade" and you can get the timeline here). Eventually, there was a victory of sorts, as the then-president declared "the immediate lifting of the customs duty on book importation."

      While this was a boon for book importers (i.e. bookstores), that doesn't mean import books here didn't get taxed. Individuals whose books went through the post office still got taxed.

      As I mentioned in an old essay, I'm not against book taxes per se--I just want transparency and consistency. If we're going to break the Florence Agreement, that's fine. Let's not just pretend to uphold it while practicing the opposite. Various countries like Australia do have taxes on import books and it's been a continuous debate whether this is positive or not (I'm leaning towards the latter but that's besides the point).

      Anyway, here's the latest announcement from the Bureau of Customs. Italicized text is my interpretation of their statements (the editorial comes after the quote):
      SUBJECT : BoC Rationalizes Tax-Free Importation of Books
      1. The Bureau of Customs has issued new guidelines for duty and tax-free entry of imported books into the country. (We have new rules.)
      2. Customs Commissioner Angelito A. Alvarez issued Customs Memorandum Order No. 25-2011 for uniformity in the treatment of book importations. (Credit goes to Customs Commissioner Angelito A. Alvarez.)
      3. Alvarez said the order covered the following importations: (There are three exceptions to taxes on import books and our latest policy acknowledges them.)
      • Educational, scientific and cultural materials under the Florence Agreement;
      • Books or raw materials to be used for book under RA 8047 or the “Book Publishing Industry Development Act:” and,
      • Importations of books by non-stock, non-profit educational institutions under Section 4 (3), Article XIV of the 1987 Constitution.

      4. Under the new guidelines, importers must apply with the Revenue Office, Department of Finance for duty-free and/or tax-free importation of books/materials stating the legal basis for the request for exemption and appending the pertinent certifications issued by the concerned agency or office. (If you want a tax exemption, you first need to talk to the Revenue Office of the Department of Finance.)
      5. Applicants for importations under the Florence Agreement must first secure a certification from the UNESCO Office in the Philippines attesting that the importations of educational, scientific and cultural materials are among those included in Annexes A to E of the Florence Agreement. (If you're filing for an exemption due to the Florence Agreement, get your papers from UNESCO.)
      6. The Florence Agreement, signed in 1952 in Florence, Italy by 17 countries, waved tariffs on books and other printed materials in order to facilitate the free flow of educational, scientific and cultural materials.The Philippines became a signatory to the Florence Agreement on August 7, 1979. (We signed the Florence Agreement.)
      7. The certification to be issued by UNESCO must be addressed to the DOF and must be attached as one of the supporting documents to the application for duty tax and exemption submitted by the importer/applicant with the Revenue Office of the DOF. (When you file for the exemption, make sure you bring your UNESCO papers with you.)
      8. For importations of books or raw materials to be used in book publishing, the importer/applicant must attach to the application for duty tax exemption his registration with the National Book Development Board (NBDB) as a book publisher. (For those seeking an exemption due to the Book Publishing Industry Development Act, get your papers from the NBDB.)
      9. Also required is a certificate to be issued by the concerned local domestic producer/supplier of non-availability of the raw materials to be imported. (We want proof that the raw materials is actually out of stock, hence justification for the import.)
      10. Applications for the duty-free importation of books by non-stock, non-profit educational institutions must be accompanied by a certification from the Department of Education (DepEd) or the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) attesting that the importations are economic, technical, vocational, scientific, philosophical or historical books. (If you're filing for an exemption due to Section 4 (3), Article XIV of the 1987 Constitution, get your papers from the DepEd or CHED.)
      11. Importations of books and any newspaper, magazine, review or bulletin which appear at regular intervals with fixed prices for subscription and sale are exempt from the value-added tax (VAT). Importers however are still required to secure an exemption from the DOF for purposes of VAT-exemption. (Import books and magazines that come out regularly are exempted from VAT but you need your papers from the DOF.)
      12. Importations of books/materials otherwise not falling under any of the above-cited instances and without the DOF endorsement shall be levied the corresponding rate of duty provided under Executive Order No. 855 series of 2010. (Everything else will be taxed.)
      13. Alvarez said examples of books/materials subject to duties and taxes of at least 5% included dictionaries and encyclopedias, maps and hydrographic or similar charts as well as plans and drawings for architectural, engineering, industrial, commercial, topographical or similar purposes. (These are examples of books we will tax.)
      Now, what I like about this announcement is that the Bureau of Customs is transparent. They have a policy and it is going to be universally applied. (It's even announced ahead of time.) Now my praise ends there.

      The first problem are the fees. On paper, a 5% tax on import books seems reasonable. However, it's not because, well, what the Bureau of Customs is actually charging you isn't just import duties. For example, here's what I was charged for a book package earlier this year:

      There's Import Duties; BIR Taxes; VAT; Customs Duty; Import Processing Fees. We're not talking about just one fee but several.

      The second is the process of filing for an exemption. It's time (and money) lost to travel and red tape. It has its own set of fees (arguably cheaper than what the Bureau of Customs is charging, but it's hardly free).

      Now the first two problems aren't that significant if you're an institution (although it's still cutting into your bottomline). If you're an individual, however, filing for those exemptions is going to be tricky due to the required paperwork.

      There's also lots of room for debate on the significance of this change. What kind of culture are we nurturing when we tax books? (Again, some countries have made it work and some have honestly suffered for it.) What are the unintended consequences for such actions? (Do we encourage the black market? The secondhand book market? The eBook market? The wealthy over the poor?) Is this optimal usage of taxation? (Why not tax other commodities instead like cigarettes or alcohol?)

      I'll admit, the process in which the Bureau of Custom's latest guideline is worded is clever. You can't really blame them for breaking the Florence Agreement for example: that's determined by UNESCO. (Same goes for the two other exemptions.) It just adds red tape to the entire process, discouraging automatic exemptions. I also wonder how this new practice will affect local businesses (bookstores are just one industry which will be affected).