Monday, December 31, 2007

In Gratitude

So far this four-day weekend has been a wash.

I spent this morning at the office, for one. Somebody halfway across the world decided to go on vacation early, which means that they overlooked a problem with their system that got brought to my attention last week. As much as I'd like to leave it alone and have them deal with the problem once they get back, I'm not that kind of person. Fortunately my support team was very forthcoming with their assistance despite the fact that they should be out there celebrating with their families. Their presence was what I was grateful for on the last day of the year.

I've also been working on my textbook for the last two days. My publisher tells me that it's on the verge of going to print (i.e. the first rollers are going to be greased on January 2nd), and as such, I'm looking at a slew of last-minute changes. So far, I'm grateful to Microsoft customer support for their prompt response (although you won't see me saying the same thing about Windows Vista), and to my publisher contact for actually sending me a few first proofs for my viewing pleasure.

Yes, I didn't quite expect my first (impending) book to be a textbook, but I'll take what I can get. Let's just hope that the government doesn't end up scandalizing it like a lot of other publications.

Apart from those, my weekend also involved accounting work for the family bakeshop (which is in production around the clock despite a diminished staff), and a family death anniversary (the occasions of which don't take a break even for the holidays). The jury's still out on whether or not I should feel grateful for being able to hang around my family for a bit, since it looks like we're all in work mode at the moment.

Beyond the past few days, though, I'm grateful for the events I've experienced in the last year, and I'm grateful for all the people I've met and associated with during that time. Yes, even the angry monkeys.

I'll see you all in 2008. Hopefully I won't still be at work then.


Albert's always sincere, he's the sensitive type
His intentions are clear, he wanna be well-liked
"If everything is nothing, then are we anything?
Is it better to be better than to be anything?"

...And Albert's vision is blooming uncontrolled
All his wings are slowly sinking

The world begins to disappear
The worst things come from inside here
All the king's men reappear
For an eggman, fallen off the wall
Who'll never be together again.

This year I figured out that I've still got a long ways to go before actually knowing what I once thought I knew. That covers a lot of things, really.

It covers work (which needed so much dedication that it started eating into my writing time), and it covers writing (which needed so much dedication that it left me with only two or three hours of sleep each night to work with).

It covers time (which I sorely misjudged throughout the year), and it covers money (which I also sorely misjudged throughout the year).

It covers struggle (which I couldn't keep up with) and depression (which I kept up with, just a little too much for my own good).

It covers a whole lot of things, some of which I won't bring up here. You get the general idea: This was an epiphany of a year, in many ways.

Normally I don't come up with the traditional New Years' Resolution. I'm thinking, however, that this might be a good time to put one in place. One of the things that one must realize, after all, is that if something's off-kilter with certain operations, then a plan must be put into place to try and set things right. Now is probably the best time in my case.

Yes, I'll post it. Just you wait till January.

For now, though, this is a good first step.

Einstein's down on the beach staring into the sand
Cause everything he believes in is shattered
What you fear in the night in the day comes to call anyway
We all get burned as
One more sun comes sliding down the sky
One more shadow leans against the wall

And the world begins to disappear
The worst things come from inside here
And all the king's men reappear
For an eggman, fallen off the wall
Who'll never be together again

- Counting Crows, "Einstein on the Beach (for an Eggman)"

Friday, December 28, 2007

People of the Year

Vladimir Putin is Time Magazine's Person of the Year, and I think that's okay. Al Gore and J.K. Rowling are among the runners-up, and I think that's okay, too. Hugo Chavez and Wesley Autry are in their "people who mattered" list, and of course I think that's okay as well.

I like looking over the magazine's "Person of the Year" lists and corresponding analyses, mind you. I find it nice to have a little retrospective over the events of the past year, and when that retrospective involves a great deal of discussion over who beats out whom for a certain top spot, then I'm likely to be there in a heartbeat.

This is not to say that I agree with all of Time's choices; in fact, the magazine and I rarely see eye-to-eye. I remember mentioning the novelty -- and then the absurdity -- of choosing "You" as their honored personality last year. (I mean, was there a poor selection of figures last year or something?) I also remember raising an eyebrow at George H. W. Bush ("The Two George Bushes", 1990) and Newt Gingrich (1995). Time magazine supposedly grants the honor to those people who did the most to "influence the events of the year," and that's usually where I have a bone to pick with them.

My issues with Time's selections usually lie along two lines of complaint: First, the magazine seems to favor an American context over a more appropriate world-view; and second, antagonistic personalities are usually left out of the running despite how much they may have influenced events during a certain year. I suppose that you could make a convincing case for the latter item -- you wouldn't want to give the impression of promoting acts of barbarism, hate or terror, after all -- but the first one is a little too hard to swallow in my book.

A quick look at their 2007 "people who mattered" list should show you what I'm talking about. Sure, Don Imus and Nicolas Sarkozy are there... but does Ron Paul have an impact on anything outside the United States? Did Robert Gates do anything truly distinctive, apart from take over from Donald Rumsfeld? And why are "Hannah Montana" and Britney Spears on the Time list while people like Pervez Musharraf (who's trying to hold a fracturing Pakistan together) and Cho Seung-Hui (who touched off a deadly school shooting at Virginia Tech) languish in the background?

The problem with building lists like these in an international publication is that the circle of candidates tends to be subject to local context. If you follow the American situation more closely than any other country, then the American luminaries are likely to be the first that come to mind. Similarly, a dedicated desire to promote the higher end of human behavior means that you're not likely to place murderers, terrorists, or similar personalities among your choices.

At some point I wondered if it was possible to construct a more personal list of "People of the Year" -- that is, a selection of personalities who were relevant to the Philippine context in 2007. I mean, we certainly don't have a shortage of news items in our corner of the world, and our point of view would almost certainly be different from that of the editors of Time magazine. At the very least, it would be another interesting exercise to look at.

I ended up mulling this selection over the course of a week, and the names below just happen to make up my personal list. My basic qualifications were as follows:

- I would choose ten "people", just because ten is a nice round number, and I happen to like nice round numbers.

- I would not necessarily focus on the political scene. Being Filipino is all about watching politics, true enough, but it's difficult to say that one scandal is more influential than another when there are so many of them marching by.

- I would automatically disqualify President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, because she would be too obvious a shoo-in for any such list in any year of her tenure.

- I would consider those people who were influential within the circles that I join or observe, or who performed prominent actions within the year, or whose actions caused significant ripples within the Philippine context. (That is to say, they affected Filipinos or the Philippines in particular.)

I'm aware that this might cause some backlash, but I've already said my piece for that: Lists like these are subjective. The selection below depends entirely on the Philippine environment as I see it. If you don't like the way I think, feel free to sound off in the comments below... or go to your own blog and make up your own list.

Sean's Ten People of the Year, 2007

1. The Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs)
The OFWs have been a relatively silent -- though influential -- force even since last year, but it was this year that their combined remittances ended up having a staggering effect on the Philippine economy. It was an unholy combination of OFW cashflows, long holidays and weak foreign currencies that caused the peso to skyrocket to a P41.00:$1.00 exchange rate -- an event that left the Central Bank scrambling to impose controls and raised eyebrows across world currency markets. Ironically, this also meant that these same OFWs were getting less worth for the dollars in their salaries, but hey, nobody really saw this coming, did they?

2. Joseph Estrada, Former President of the Philippines
One day before the ruling on his plunder case, Joseph Estrada commented that he expected acquittal on all charges. One guilty verdict later, he was practically speechless. Here was a man who had been left high and dry by many of the people he had implicitly trusted -- by many of the systems he had implicitly trusted, mind you -- and he was still realistically expecting that the courts would let him pack up his clothes and go home. I saw little wonder in the way he jumped on his executive pardon like a starving dog does with a scrap of raw meat; I just hope that his entire ordeal has left him a wiser man, if not necessarily a smarter one.

3. Edita Burgos
Ever since her son -- activist Jonas Burgos -- disappeared in April 2007, Edita Burgos has searched relentlessly for his whereabouts. Never mind that her son was one of many outspoken militants or independent advocates to go missing or be killed; the elder Burgos's public demands forced an investigation that led to the implication of military forces in the crime. Eight months after her son disappeared, Edita Burgos is forcing the government to answer some very hard questions, and has become a rallying point for those militants who accuse the president of masterminding a series of human rights violations. This, interestingly enough, has made her a far more effective force of nature than her son Jonas ever was.

4. Armando "Jun" Ducat
The way it seems, Armando Ducat loved the kids in his day-care center so much that he threatened to blow them up unless somebody could guarantee a full education for them. That's a twisted sort of logic right there, and exactly what it means depends on how you feel about his actions. It's your call, really: Either he's a genuinely caring man who gives in to moments of complete irrationality, or he's an incredibly impulsive hostage-taker who just happens to like kids. In short, he was a prime representation of just how absurd the Philippines could get as a result of our unique set of circumstances -- all that, wrapped up in a good-sized straitjacket.

5. Fr. Ed Panlilio, Governor of Pampanga
If there has been any man who could make a convincing argument against the separation of church and state, it would be the honorable Ed Panlilio. For starters, he actually managed to win governorship of the province of Pampanga -- no easy task, considering that the position had fallen under the same political family for the last twelve years. But his shining moment came when he refused to accept a five-hundred-thousand-peso "contribution" allegedly given to politicians in order to drum up support for a scandal-plagued government project. Would the money have gone unnoticed if Panlilio hadn't brought the matter out into the open? I think so. The man simply refuses to fall into our traditional negative impressions of local politicos, and I do hope that he keeps it up.

6. Carlo Cruz
It all started with a man's letter asking for personal leave from his employer. The circumstances, however, were unique: The man's name was Carlo Cruz, and he had just lost his wife Leslie to one of the most distinct events of the year -- a massive explosion in the upscale Glorietta shopping mall. The letter -- a short, carefully-written piece about his relationship with his wife and their daughter -- somehow got forwarded outside the walls of his office, and within days became the most widely read e-mail in the metropolis. It gave a very human face to the tragedy, and pointed out that not all casualties can be identified with newspaper statistics.

7. Jason Drilon

I've never made a marriage proposal to anyone yet, but I can imagine how difficult it is. So if you're a guy who manages to pull one off, then you're already okay with me. If you manage to do it in a very creative fashion, then that earns you a few points in my book. But if you somehow manage to get Neil Gaiman, of all people, to give you a hand; and if you somehow manage to do the whole thing in front of hundreds of people at the biggest writing event of the year without losing it, then you da man, dude.

8. Malu Fernandez
The embattled People Asia columnist doesn't make this list for her notoriety; rather, she makes this list because of the incredible Internet backlash against her. Malu Fernandez's piece on the habits of OFWs drew the ire of Filipinos across the World Wide Web, who immediately retaliated by spewing hate-filled messages, relentless attacks, and disgraceful parodies on her personality. The fact that Malu Fernandez's initial reaction showed little remorse only fanned the flames further... until a notice that she had (allegedly) resigned finally mollified the online public. At last check, Fernandez was still writing for the paper that chose to defend her with silence. Perhaps she came away with some heavy insights after her ordeal.

9. Mariannet Amper
Mariannet Amper made headlines when she hung herself at the ripe old age of 12, proving once and for all that there are no age limits to suicide. Exactly why she did so is a matter of debate; however, critics of the Philippine situation have seized upon her death as an example of the poverty and desperation that plagues the country. The deceased 12-year-old has since been used as a rallying cry for social change, for anti-corruption drives, and even for anarchistic action... consequences that Mariannet most definitely did not expect when she slipped the rope around her neck. Exactly who she was in life is no longer of relevance, not when the forces surrounding the country have found such profit in the circumstances of her death.

10. Sen. Antonio Trillanes
The lieutenant-turned-rebel-turned-senator seemed to have it all. One moment he was on trial for staging a mutiny that paralyzed the main business hub of the nation; the next, he became the first senator ever elected in a campaign run straight from his prison cell. And then, in one critically mistimed and ill-organized decision to hold another mutiny, it all came crashing down. A public that once saw Trillanes as an agent for change now sees him as a major screw-up, and agitator who puts little thought into what he does and why he's doing it. It will obviously take the man years -- or some fortuitous miracle -- to repair his reputation; exactly what he plans to do now is a matter of conjecture. Hopefully he puts a little more thought into it this time.

That's it, everyone. For what it's worth, those are the ten people who made 2007 what it was for me. If there's anyone who you expected to see on this list but is nevertheless missing, I must admit that I had a long list of honorable mentions who didn't quite make it.

I know that Time magazine gets quite a few letters of dissent for their choices, and I'm fully expecting to get some for this one. But you know what? This is my list. I'm not telling you to swallow it like some matron and a bottle of foul-tasting medicine. I'm just giving the facts and the analyses as I have them.

Plainly speaking, the ultimate arbiter of any "People of the Year" list is us. A magazine shouldn't be able to tell you otherwise, a hard-luck writer/blogger shouldn't be able to tell you otherwise, and a tap-dancing Chihuahua shouldn't be able to tell you otherwise. Just so you know, that's all.

So... who's on your list?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Reading Level

I was browsing Adam David's weblog a few minutes ago when I noticed that he had a link to the Blog Readability Test. I had heard about its existence for some time now, but I hadn't yet bothered myself enough to give it a try.

Considering that it's the last day of a four-day weekend, though -- and that I'm deprived of anything constructive to do before I report to work tomorrow -- I decided to give it a shot. So I opened a new tab in Firefox, fired up the website, entered this blog's address in the text field, and waited five seconds to get...


Something was definitely wrong here. I mean, I constantly hit advanced reading levels on Microsoft Word analyses. I can provide rudimentary discourses on philosophy, probability and aesthetics. I have a vocabulary so large that people actually complain about it sometimes. I have no idea why some Java-based readability algorithm would think that I'm readable by elementary schoolkid standards.

Just to convince myself that maybe it was a random designation of some sort, I tried entering a few other blog addresses in the box. Dean Alfar's blog, for example, scores as "High School". Philippine Genre Stories comes out as "Junior High School". Dominique Cimafranca's blog emerges in the "College" category, with a "Post-Grad" add-on.

After those and a few other blogs, I tried entering the "Lengthofwords" address again. This time I got...

That couldn't possibly be right.

I tried keying in my address all over again. Same result.

I entered a ton of other blog addresses that I knew. Some of them I read on a daily basis, others I passed by every now and then, and still others I grabbed off a bunch of random links. Everything came out in some strange mixture of "High School" to "College" to "Genius" category -- the latter of which, I imagine, is the most admirable one.

After that exercise, I went back to square one and entered my blog address again.

You have got to be kidding me, Blog Readability Test. No wonder I get contracted to write preschool textbooks and little else.

Right now I'm wondering if this is a good thing or a bad thing. I suppose that it's a good thing when you consider that your writing reaches a larger audience than you originally intended. I'm thinking that that might actually be a bad thing, though, considering some of the works I write. And I think that it might be a little difficult for people to take me seriously if I were to tell them that my works can be comprehended by elementary school students across the world.

Geez... the next thing you know, you'll be telling me that my short stories are fit to be read by three-year-olds.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Fiction: The Endless

The path stretched before him, pitch black against the glare of the neon walls. They had left him only the slightest bits of sustenance to survive.

He crossed forward, ravenous in his hunger. His rationality was almost gone now -- his dignity, his self-respect torn to shreds somewhere in the depths of the maze. He tore into the capsule before him, and when its flavor had disappeared into the corners of his mouth, he reached for the one that lay scant inches beyond. After that it was merely the next... and the next... and the next.

They prowled the endless corridors, he knew -- disembodied spirits with names that disappeared from the tongue and screams that almost froze him in his tracks. But the hunger was a force beyond thinking now, and it dogged him relentlessly. Only the slightest inkling of sanity prevented him from deliberately running into the ghosts' open jaws.

He knew that there was no end to the maze. The last capsule, his final victory against his captors, only meant that the playing field would change. It only meant that somehow, somewhere, they would find another place to cage him. With each new prison he would be a little slower. With each new prison his persecutors would be a little faster.

Every now and then he would fight. Yes, every now and then he would rise up against their abject tyranny and fall upon them with rage and greed and teeth. Sometimes the capsules would be just enough, sometimes they would grant him the strength to go on... but not forever, and never for more than a few seconds before he had to escape once again.

Sometimes he thought of self-destruction. Sometimes he wondered why he would not just curl up at the monsters' feet, why he would not just resign himself against their screams. But always there was a fear there -- a heavy, primal fear borne of speed and constant motion. It was a sibilant voice in his mind, something that told him that what they planned to do would feel far worse than never-ending despair.

They were almost upon him now. He could hear their rime-filled breaths around the next corner. He could sense something moving along the neon walls, blind against his monochromatic skin. He imagined their sardonic laughs, and their oppressive sighs.

He came upon sustenance then, and felt strength blur through his veins and into his fractured mind. The first of the ghosts appeared before him, blue and cold and terrible, and he launched himself upon it in a fervor that startled even those faceless names.

He would die here, somewhere among the black hallways and the twisting glow of the walls.

But he would not die easily.

Wakka wakka wakka.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Wish List

I never ask for anything for Christmas. So sue me.

As far as I know, it's been very frustrating for my family. Most parents get kids who socialize with other kids, eat every single scrap of candy that they can get, and know exactly what they want when the fat man in the red suit comes a-calling. My parents got a kid who preferred to read books alone in his room, chose vegetables over chocolate, and generally refused to answer any subtle questions posed before the Christmas shopping season.

I slogged through a lot of socks, underwear, and new-age Christian books in my time, yes. The more sensible people usually just slip me a little red envelope of money and tell me to buy something nice for myself, but even then their gift ends up as a bookmark in a forgotten volume somewhere.

I just find it difficult to feel want for physical objects, that's all. If I walk around and find that I want something, then I usually just get it myself. And even if I don't pick it up for one reason or another, then I usually don't dwell on it for much longer than a couple of minutes.

I still collect things, of course... lots of people collect things. I scour the stores and look around the bazaar stalls for playable board games, good reading material and rare childhood mementos, and I do it along with the best of them. The difference is that I like the sensation of doing it myself, as opposed to asking somebody for such a thing. If you were to ever discover my covetousness for one particular object (a rare occasion), you're far more likely to find me hunting for it than requesting for it.

This is not to say that I look down on people who ask for specific presents. We're all human, after all, and if you want something bad enough that you'd ask someone to grant you the favor, then that's okay. If anything, it does make it easier for me to pick out a gift for you.

Normally the things I want -- and I mean want want -- aren't very tangible. In fact, they're even more frustrating whenever I use them as well-meaning answers to well-meaning questions. No, I don't want the oft-overused concept of "world peace". But I do want good health and wisdom for the people I know, I want a life that's long enough for me to experience whatever a human could possibly experience, and I want that bold rush of accomplishment that normally motivates my academic actions. I want love, life, and a single good night's sleep. I want a whole bunch of things that you usually can't find wrapped in a little green box with a frilly pink ribbon.

I haven't been told I'm an idiot yet, but you should see the looks people give me.

I don't think that what I'm doing is wrong, and I don't think that people think it's wrong. I'm just saying that I don't elicit a lot of positive reactions.

On the other hand, I'm not looking for positive reactions in the first place. I'm looking for other things right now: A sense of contentment. A good plot idea. A full recovery for Andre Medina. There are plenty of things out there that you can't buy with bills and coins. All that you can do is look to the skies and pray really really hard.

I suppose that, in the absence of any gift, the effort counts for a lot. It's much like the hunt for something to add to your collection, really.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Antaria: The Tavern-Master

The remains of a vicious dragon sat above the fireplace, stuffed with sawdust and strategically positioned to achieve maximum effect. It was unknown as to whether the proprietor of the Wyrm's Roar tavern had killed it himself or had simply won the trophy in a curious wager, and Wasyl was not inclined to tell anyone the story.

Artrem drew one hand back, his fingers covered in cobwebs. "Aran's teeth, Wasyl," he said, "how long has it been since you cleaned this thing?"

"A while," Wasyl said, from his perch at the counter.

"You can't expect us to clean this!" Artrem complained.

Wasyl looked up from his ledgers and adjusted the tiny spectacles he was wearing. "You could help Roth muck out the stables, if you'd like. Or you could clean the outhouse... I'm not sure when that was last emptied."

Artrem grumbled at that, but went back to his work.

Wasyl glanced back at his numbers. In truth, for all its size and extensive clientele, the tavern didn't make much in the way of money. Wasyl couldn't figure it out at first -- he did spend a good deal of time refurbishing the place, and it did see a lot of business from the local mercenary groups. Eventually he put it down to a combination of factors: Unpaid tabs, hush money, the occasional bar brawl... taken together, the figures were almost as intimidating as the stuffed dragon above the fireplace. Almost.

The trick, as Wasyl had learned in his proprietorship, was that sometimes you had to be as intimidating as the numbers themselves. If it meant forcing your clientele to do some of the filthy work for you, then so much the better. Especially if they hadn't paid in months.

The heavy tread of iron-shod boots announced Roth's entrance. The huge man was broad-shouldered and stripped to the waist; He held an old shovel over his shoulder as though it were a weapon that he could swing as easily as any blade.

"Roth likes stables," Roth announced.

Wasyl glanced suspiciously at the floor. "Roth," he said, "you were supposed to wipe your feet."

Roth looked down at his boots, suddenly noticing all the muck that he had tracked in. "Roth sorry," he said, and tramped his way out while Wasyl shook his head.

"It might not look like it, but he's actually smarter than he looks," Artrem pointed out.

Wasyl drummed his fingers on the counter. "When you're done with that dragon up there," he said, "go inside and find the mop."

"I'm just an honest man, Wasyl. I'm not your personal manservant."

"It's either that, or the outhouse. You should feel lucky that I didn't just pay anyone to bring me two of your fingers, archer."


Wasyl sat at the tiny table at the corner of what was generally considered to be his bedroom. He uncorked a bottle of wine -- fine Vanarumite red, if that ever counted for anything -- and poured some of the contents into a waiting tankard.

He was getting old, he knew. His eyebrows had begun to turn a queer shade of bushy gray, his joints had started to act up, and his liver was already giving out on him. There was a time when Wasyl was capable of emptying seven bottles of rotgut per night; now the ale-mug was there to remind him that he had to cut down on the hard stuff.

Those were good times, he mused. Wasyl the tavern-keeper didn't exist then; instead it was Wasyl the mercenary, Wasyl the sometime bandit, Wasyl the legend who once strangled a bronze dragon with little more than two broken spears and some stout cord. Those were times when a sackful of reward money would last him no more than five days of debauchery. Now he was an old man with financial security to last him the rest of his days, and he didn't like it one bit.

He stood and walked over to the mirror that sat on his nightstand. His eyebrows weren't a dull brown anymore, that was for certain. What with the spots and the wrinkles and all, a scraggly old-man beard would only have complemented his facial ensemble.

He felt his bones creak as he shifted around. Soon it was going to be all applesauce and prune juice for him. And then there were the spectacles -- there was probably some morbid humiliation in his having to go to the glassblowers seven blocks down the road.

Damn it all, how could he have gotten so old?

Now his patrons were a different story altogether. The Wyrm's Roar wasn't just a hangout for thieves, spies and other scum -- it's was Wasyl's hangout for thieves, spies and other scum. For a man who wasn't about to buckle his sword-belt and go adventuring with the other folks, sitting behind the counter and watching the fights take place was the closest thing Wasyl had to entertainment.

He just wished that most of them would pay their tabs sometime. Or at least once in a while. Gold crowns didn't just grow on trees, after all.


"Sixty-five crowns?!" Sabine asked, incredulously.

Wasyl raised his spectacles. "Sixty-seven," he corrected. "Including the time you staggered in here bleeding like a pig in a slaughterhouse."

"You charged me for that?!"

"Bandages don't come cheap. Neither does hiring somebody to wipe the blood off the floor."

"That's highway robbery!"

Wasyl drew himself up. "No," he said, "that's your business. Mine involves charging my customers what I see fit."

Sabine's response was not something that Wasyl would have preferred his mother, his siblings, or even his dog to hear. It involved placing any number of objects in places where they didn't belong, for some reason.

When she finally tired herself out, Wasyl was ready. "I can give you a room for the meantime," he said. "Seven days would do it. No extra cost as long as you do what I tell you to do, and as long as you don't start any fights with the customers."

"What in Aran's green earth are you talking about?"

"Work," Wasyl said.

"And what makes you think that I'd work for you?" Sabine threatened.

"First," Wasyl said, "you don't have the sixty-seven crowns. Second, you wouldn't pay me back even if a mound of treasure suddenly dropped from the sky and into my front yard. And third, I have a hundred insurance policies sitting behind you, just waiting for you to make a wrong move."

Sabine turned suspiciously. It was a crowded night for the Wyrm's Roar, and the tables were full with disreputable mercenaries. Some of them were watching the exchange with amusement.

She turned back to Wasyl. "And what makes you think that they're going to stop me, old man?"

Wasyl frown turned into a deep scowl. "Where else are they supposed to get beer for half-price around here? Where else can people tromp about and hire them at a regular rate? Where else can they drink in peace and not get thrown out by the nightly patrols?"

"You think that's enough?" Sabine asked, laying one hand on her weapon.

There was a sound of grinding wood, and a sudden overwhelming silence. The majority of the tavern patrons were suddenly on their feet. Some of them had hands on their own weapons, and the sight of so many blades and points and spikes was more than a little discouraging. Most of them were actually smiling now.

Sabine paused for a moment, and then brought her hands as far away from her belt as possible.

"Am I going to expect more trouble from you?" Wasyl asked.

Sabine didn't answer.

Wasyl cleared his throat. "Am I going to expect more trouble from you?" he repeated.

"No," Sabine mumbled.

"Good. Now sit down."

She grudgingly obliged. The other patrons slowly slunk back into their chairs, and eventually resumed their goings-on.

Wasyl glared at her. "Never," he said, "underestimate the power of beer."

She glared back at him, but wisely decided to remain silent.

"As I said," Wasyl reminded her, "You get a room in the back. You wear an apron, you listen to what I do, and you don't smash up the furnishings. Eight days, Sabine. Eight days of good, clean work."

"You said seven days," she grumbled.

"You just bought a drink for everybody on the house right now, that's why," Wasyl said. "Think of it as a way to... show them that you've got no hard feelings."

A look at Sabine's expression clearly showed that she, in fact, still had those same hard feelings.

"Don't argue with me, Sabine," Wasyl said. "You're going to do it anyway, and it's a lot easier than me taking it out of your own hide. And at least this way, you don't find out how it feels to bleed like a pig in a slaughterhouse again."


Wasyl glanced around. It was now some hours after moonrise, and the bar was finally closed. Even the unconscious drinkers had already gone, dragged back into the shadows after a judicious rifling of pockets.

Wasyl took one more look to make sure that no one was watching, and then lifted the heavy studded mace from where it sat behind the counter.

He used it more as a deterrent nowadays. It was amazing how a man would react when you waved a weapon in their faces, but every now and then there were also some... incidents... where he couldn't help but get involved. They were few and far between, though, and Wasyl figured that he hadn't had occasion to wield his own mace for some weeks now.

It was practically covered in dust. Dust, of all things. Wasyl remembered when the weapon had been strapped to his own leather belt. It didn't stay grimy and unused back then... in fact, back then, if he found himself cleaning it, then it certainly wasn't for any dust at all.

He set it down on the counter. Aran's tongue, he could barely even lift it some days... it was like all his muscle had suddenly turned into flab overnight. Now all he had left was a way with intimidation, and once he got a few years older and memory loss started to set in, then he'd lose that too.

So much for making a name for himself. Now he was just going to be remembered as the man who served people beer at half-price.

There was a light snoring sound in the background. Wasyl decided that it was too late to feel sorry for himself, and returned the weapon to its usual place after giving it a good cleaning. His final tasks done, he walked out from behind the counter and onto the bank of tables in the center of the room.

Sabine lay face-down on one of the tables, a dust rag between her arms. She actually looked good in an apron, although she was likely the last person to admit it. Wasyl's heart would have warmed at the sight, were it not for the woman's snoring.

He pushed her enough to make her shift position. "You," he said, "wake up."

She continued to snore.

Wasyl thought for a moment, and then figured that he was too tired to start another argument. There was a time where he was never too tired to start an argument, and often such times would have result in somebody coming away without the use of an arm or a leg or an eye. But such times were gone now, and Wasyl was tired. Just plain tired.

He hoisted her up, draped her left arm over his shoulder, and adjusted position. It was the barman's three-legged walk, and Wasyl was used to it; he often had occasion to dispose of the bar's unconscious remnants, or the walking wounded, or the unfortunate dead (in some rare cases).

Sabine continued to snore. Wasyl drunkenly steered her around the tables, past the counter, and through the doorway leading to the back rooms. If he was going to have to collect eight days from her, then she was going to have to get some rest. In fact, he was going to have to get some rest.

He deposited her on a convenient bed in the most unkempt manner possible, then shut the door and began walking towards his own room. Wasyl's jaw ached, his joints ached, even his fingers ached. He was going to need that bottle of Vanarumite red.

At least life was still interesting, he mused. It was a different kind of interesting now, but Wasyl wasn't one to complain out loud.

After all, he still had a tavern to run the next day. That was all that mattered, Wasyl thought. That was all that mattered.

He wondered why the words left such a sour taste in his mouth.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome

After manipulating my schedule into a set of complex knots, I found that I had enough time to pass by the book launch for Dean Alfar's third Philippine Speculative Fiction Anthology this afternoon. It's not that I'm one of the lucky twenty-one authors who managed to get their stories included in the volume, mind you... it's more the fact that I read quite a few of the people who managed to make it: Dominique, for example. And Charles. And the Cat himself.

Despite what Dean might say, I turned in a less-than-stellar work this year. I try to be detailed whenever I review other writers' works because I think that their good and the bad elements are subject to readers' personal opinions. Whenever I review my own work, however, it's completely from a writer's point of view, and it usually ends up being a pure distinction between "good" and "bad". My mind works in such a way that each and every plot gets one chance, and if I don't get it right the first time, then I'm not likely to try it again.

Just before the event began, someone -- Charles, I think -- pointed out that I didn't seem to be writing as often as before. I mentioned that this was probably due to my regular job, which keeps me in the office for about twelve hours per day and keeps me worrying about work affairs for a good chunk of my time. There are other factors, of course -- life complications, personal relationships, the fact that my other siblings now have their own blogs and have begun to hog the computer -- but it all adds up to the fact that I'm finding less and less time to plot.

I mean, I obviously still write; otherwise you wouldn't be seeing the usual ten posts per month on this blog. But in order to write some good fiction, I need some time to find inspiration and outline a progression of events. The fact that I usually write and rewrite an average of five or six attempts for each story does not help.

You see that? If you're an unpublished author looking to break into speculative fiction, then now's a good chance -- you've got one less bit of the competition to worry about. Just don't look for your window to stay open for too long.

I realize that I really have to start writing fiction at a regular pace again. The fact that I'm not exercising my craft is a subtle warning, to be honest -- it implies that I'm finding it more difficult to see the fantastic possibilities in life. It implies that I'm often taking things as they appear to be. It implies that I'm not using my imagination at all.

In short, I might be on my way to becoming a rock: Slate-gray in color, shot through with veins of quartz, and generally of a very stoic disposition. And as pretty as I might look in somebody's shoebox, I'd rather not be one right now.

So will this blog expect more fiction from me in the future? I suppose so... it'll depend on how well the story ideas come around. Should I expect to walk around a few more times and try to see the world as it looks beneath a clear purple sky? I suppose so, too.

Will the next few anthologies expect some submissions from me? Definitely, yes. I'd hate to suddenly disappear from the scene after putting only one or two stories in the local pubs for people to talk about...

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Forty Lawyers Running

As it turns out, that graphically-inundated post that you see below is my 40th. Yes, that's right -- this blog has been in existence for about 40 months now, and I've written disclaimer entries to start each and every one of them.

Normally I'd do a retrospective on these posts the moment I hit my 50th, or perhaps even my 100th. Unfortunately, my memory isn't what it used to be, so I'll do one now instead. Besides, if I ever had to create one hundred links for a single article, my fingers would probably fall off.

Of course I won't write up comments for every single one of the disclaimers that I feature here; that would be just as mad. I will, however, entitle them where I can... and I'll have a few choice words for those that seemed as though they came from nowhere at all.

September 2004: First Post
- Yes, the very first post on this blog was a Disclaimer. That shouldn't be a surprise, really.

October 2004: First Post Redux

November 2004: The Evil Pinky Smirk
- The Dr. Evil reference here isn't much of a creative spark, but it spurs other outrageous antics.

December 2004: Hitting Close to Home
- This was my first reference to the John Wiegley case, although it was done in a very indirect fashion. I would later provide a more detailed discussion in my July 2006 disclaimer.

January 2005: Dogs and Lawyers

February 2005: Ruh-Rhoa, Rhaggy

March 2005: SEAN SMASH!
- It has been brought to my attention that this was one of the strangest of the early disclaimers. The writing is very melodramatic, and I obviously didn't do much of a job with the planning and writing. Nevertheless, it brought a decidedly strange image to mind...

April 2005: Touch This and Die

May 2005: Post-Palanca Drivel

June 2005: e. e. cummings
- This was probably the first true "creative" disclaimer post, and it was written in the style of e. e. cummings, an American writer who had a very striking method of poetry. I don't tend towards poetry, so this was a little strange for me... but then again, all of these posts were a little strange in one way or another.

July 2005: The Artist Analogy
- You've probably noticed that my posts got longer and longer as the years went by; this was the first of my posts to exceed three hundred words. As a result, that puts this post more in the vein of a regular blog entry, and this was a practice that would be reflected in other disclaimer posts.

August 2005: Creative Commons
- I wrote this shortly after applying for and receiving a Creative Commons License, and as such, this is the little gray rectangle's first appearance in a blog entry.

September 2005: How to Use This Disclaimer

October 2005: Cavetalk
- In terms of word count, this is the shortest disclaimer post on record. Fire, by the way, is still bad.

November 2005: Monthly Threats

December 2005: Mother May I?

January 2006: Bad Year

February 2006: It Loses Something in the Translation
- If you're wondering why this blog entry is almost completely unintelligible, I'll tell you why: I wrote up the post, converted it into Chinese via one of those handy-dandy Internet translators, converted the result back into English, then repeated the whole process one more time. Somewhere in the middle of this mad experiment, I realized that this probably invalidated every single shred of legality in the disclaimer itself... but hey, it was still fun.

March 2006: Conspiracy Theory

April 2006: This Entry is a Pack of Lies
- To quote Reiji: "...this is one of your coolest disclaimers so far." I didn't think that I'd be hearing that phrase for any of these other entries, but I guess I was wrong...

May 2006: Why Have You Not Stolen Anything From Me Yet?

June 2006: Obnoxious

July 2006: Why We Fight
- This is the first and only disclaimer post where I provided clear examples of plagiarism for commercial and academic motivations. As far as I can tell, the links in these articles are still active. As far as I can tell, the plagiarists in these cases were never penalized for their actions, and have never expressed remorse or regret for what they feel was a perfectly ordinary act.

August 2006: Staightforward

September 2006: SEAN SMASH! Redux

October 2006: Just the Facts, Ma'am

November 2006: It's About Control

December 2006: Formal Tones
- This is the first disclaimer where I ask people not to quote me out of context. I'm not sure where this came from, but I'm obviously still referencing it a year later.

January 2007: It Don't Really Matter, Boss

February 2007: Resistance is Futile
- Having not placed a creative spin on any of the disclaimer posts for a while, I decided to go nuts with this one. Inspiration came from the excerpt from Star Trek: First Contact that I was watching at the time.

March 2007: Begin Workload

April 2007: Fictive
- I was pretty amazed when I wrote this one up -- despite my constant tries at fiction, I hadn't done a disclaimer post in such a style yet. The character Kyu was originally a dig at the scientist-type guy in the James Bond movies, and I really didn't have Kyu of Philippine Genre Stories in mind at the time...

May 2007: Thou Shalt Not...

June 2007: Greetings from Warsaw
- Having written this while I was walking around Poland, I originally planned to have someone translate this post into Polish for me. Sadly, however, I ended up being extremely busy on my business trip, and thus had to write the whole thing from scratch (as well as spend a fortune on an Internet connection to do so).

July 2007: The Comic
- I had wanted the stuffed toys to do a disclaimer post for quite some time, but I could never think of the right punchline/s for them, nor could I figure out how and when I could take the photographs. Finally, shortly before this post, I had a couple of hours and an angle in mind, so I took the plunge.

August 2007: It Ain't Shakespeare
- Despite the reaction that this post got, I'm not planning to perform this anytime soon. I used a couple of my old folios as references for this one -- Julius Caesar and The Merchant of Venice in particular.

September 2007: Seussisms
- It doesn't take a genius to know that this is based off the good doctor's Green Eggs and Ham, which happens to be the easiest of his books to homage. (I mean, even an episode of Johnny Bravo was able to do it.)

October 2007: The Se7en Deadly Sins

November 2007: So You're a Plagiarist. Now What?
- This was a remarkably straight post in the middle of a bunch of creative musings. I started wondering what things would be like if I ever put myself in a plagiarist's shoes, and that led me to question such things as motivations, means, and consequences. As far as I know, though, I haven't actually done this to anyone else... but this is about as good a profile as I can think of.

December 2007: House of Cards
- This blog tends to have a lack of images, which means that there's often little to break the monotony of words. I wanted to do something with pictures, but I didn't think that I had enough time to make anything substantial... unless I used a templating tool of some sort. And that was when the light bulb went off in my head.

Here's to more disclaimers. At first I wasn't sure if I could keep up the old tradition, but it seems to have some sort of remarkable longevity behind it. Now, if I could only bottle up the stuff and sell it...

Monday, December 03, 2007

Disclaimer: December 2007

Card images were generated by Magic Set Editor version 0.3.5, by Twan van Laarhoven.

The artwork used for Hand of Peace, Stern Arbiter and Proprietorship are uncredited, as I do not know their creators' identities. Should anyone know these, please let me know so that I may update the images. (A little "don't sue me" message would be nice, too.)

And because this happens to be December... Merry Christmas, everyone.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

It's Almost Five in the Afternoon

It's almost five in the afternoon, and my digital calendar is blinking. It's telling me that I have a meeting coming up in less than fifteen minutes, which involves a final round of discussion over our IT setup in Asia. The resulting service contract and definitions will dictate the pace of our operations in the hemisphere for the next two years, and will most likely be a deciding factor between success and inconsistency for the largest market in the world.

But the meeting doesn't exist anymore, because somebody decided to walk out of a judicial hearing and break into the hotel down the street.

It's almost five in the afternoon, and my fingers are dancing across the keyboard. I have a search process running across two different applications in the background, because a contact in Europe asked me for some critical information two days ago. I've had to scan and scour my databases to answer her request; it turned out to be a high-level search, so I've been running processes each day in order to try and get her the data before our weekend deadline.

But my efforts are useless now, because somebody decided to arm a small cadre of supporters, whine about the state of the country, and take matters into their own hands.

It's almost five in the afternoon, and I'm preparing my reports for tomorrow. We have two meetings at the end of each month in order to go over our tasklists; we spend a grand total of four hours arguing over which items are important enough to get priority and which ones can be shunted aside for another month at possible expense to their managers. Projects live and die by meetings like these, and every time we have them, we realize that we make a difference in exactly how well the business functions.

But I won't be able to defend my projects tomorrow, because somebody decided that the public shared his exact same sentiments, and figured that he was to lead them like some modern messiah.

It's almost five in the afternoon, and I'm still in the office. Along with a bunch of other like-minded individuals, I'm trying to hold together a business that threatens to fall apart because somebody decided that planned instability was a whole lot better than seething impatience.

They can hold as many uprisings as they want, oh yes, but they don't know anything about holding things together. They don't care about international observers. They don't care about multinational investors. They don't care about the people who have to work and plead and convince that this country is a good place to do business in, that this is a safe and quiet environment where things can get done.

Of course, they'll never admit this. They'll say that they did it to 'liberate" us from a tyrant. They'll rant that the proper channels were too slow for their needs. They'll assume that their idealism is the most important thing in the world.

It's almost five in the afternoon, and somebody decided that people like me were not important enough to be considered at all.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I Felt the Earth Move (Under My Feet)

Bloggers are funny sometimes. An explosion takes place in a high-class shopping mall and we immediately come through with a bunch of frenzied blog posts and digital photographs. An earthquake shakes the entire metropolis, though, and suddenly the Internet is a quiet place.

If anyone's curious, I was in the middle of a twelve-hour training session on the 20th floor of my office building. I distinctly felt the first tremors, but I didn't pay much attention to them because I assumed that it was the boredom kicking in. It was only when the class started buzzing (and our Indian trainer actually put one hand against a desk to keep his balance) that I realized that something big was going down.

The first thing that went through my mind was, hey... it's an earthquake. The second thing that went through my mind was, what floor am I on again? And the third thing that went through my mind was, that's cool... but now I've got to get back to work.

Yes, it has come to my attention that I may be working too hard.

I didn't feel an inch of apprehension as the floor shifted under my seat, to be honest. Either I was jaded at the prospect of twenty stories collapsing under me, or I had somehow resigned myself to the fact that I wasn't likely to be the first person out of the fire exits. So I merely stretched in my seat and relaxed, which got me quite a few stares.

I did expect a few aftershocks, though, and was sorely disappointed. This is not to scare anyone or convince myself of my overbearing masculinity, mind you; it's just that every earthquake I've ever experienced involved aftershocks in some way. I consider them to be one of nature's subtle little ways of reminding you who's boss.

In the five-minute break that followed, I was able to send off three or four text messages before the service died all of a sudden. I assume that this was because the shock finally wore off for the majority, and everybody decided to text everybody else at the same time.

I did a quick check of my work e-mail some hours later, and noted that nobody had decided to post anything on this interesting development yet. Maybe everybody else was jaded, too. I mean, after consecutive government scandals, a mall explosion, and three typhoons all joining up with each other above our heads, there's not much left that can get us to sit up and take notice.

Ah, well. Maybe there'll be one tomorrow.


Monday, November 26, 2007

The Proposition

I received an offer for collaboration the other day. This is quite common when a lot of the people you know happen to be writers and/or artists; you end up with a healthy respect for each others' works. Sooner or later one of you is bound to ask about the possibility of getting your writing and drawing styles in the same bed together, and seeing exactly how the love child will turn out.

Now, I've done quite a few things in my lifespan. In no particular order, I've written formal business proposals, pieces of fan fiction, pitches for comic series, video game scripts, one-act plays, bad poetry, preschool textbooks, and a few short stories here and there.

But with regards to this collaboration... I've never been asked for a webcomic before.

I'm of the opinion that comedy is hard. Oh, it's easy enough to crack a joke and get people laughing with you for all of fifteen seconds, I'm not denying that. But stretch those fifteen seconds into, say, fifteen days, and I'll have a hard time looking for material before the week is out. What more if, say, fifteen months are involved? It's bad enough for me to last fifteen minutes.

And yet that offer's still on the table. Write me a webcomic, Sean. Make it funny, will ya? And no, this is a take-it-or-leave-it affair. Do not pass Go, Sean. Do not collect $200.

I'm just a writer.

I've begun sifting through some basic plot ideas, mind you. I've got nothing solid enough to go on, so far... but I usually have nothing solid to use for my short stories anyway. Sooner or later I'm going to be able to squeeze a good idea out of my head, maybe two days before my partner's deadline and my mind is starting to go on overdrive.

Any second now.

Any second now.

Darn it.

I haven't even decided what genre I should be pursuing for this one. Part of me thinks that I should be writing the fantasy / sci-i / horror / mystery that I normally use. The catch is that there seems to be a lot of those things floating around, and far less of the mundane, modern-world-lifestyle ones.

On the other hand, I'm terrible at writing about modern lifestyle. I barely get out of my house and meet people; how in the world could I possibly write up a digital equivalent of Friends?

Maybe a combination of the two? Let's see... a vampire, a werewolf, a patchwork Promethean, a succubus, and a disco dancer all move into the same apartment. Cue wacky social hijinks as they try to coexist without tearing each others' livers out. Ugh.

I warned you that I wasn't much good at these things. I do melodrama, subtle twists, and cohesive setting. I'm not the kind of writer who has much experience dealing with four meddling kids and an anthropomorphic canine.

At least I get to read webcomics non-stop for a while. It's research, darn it. The fact that a lot of these are already sitting among my "Favorites" links has absolutely nothing to do with it.

A rabbi, a monkey, and a sock puppet suddenly find themselves trapped on a derelict space shuttle? Naaah.

Sometimes I wonder how the established webcomic writers do it. Sometimes I wonder how they keep themselves from going nuts trying to think of new directions to take their creations.

But then again, maybe I should just stick to straight writing. At least there's a lot more certainty there. I'd rather know that I'm falling into insanity than imagine the risk.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Lost Copy

Well, this is embarrassing.

It seems that I can't finish my review of Philippine Genre Stories' third issue in the short time that I assumed, because I've misplaced my copy. I'm sure that I left it by the bookshelf in my room the other day. Considering the mess around here, however, it's unlikely that I'll find it for a while.

That means that I'll have to grab another copy tomorrow. I promised myself that I won't write any other new posts (apart from this one) until I finish the review.

So far, I've managed to get three reviews up. "Tuko" got written first because it was the first thing I read from the new issue. "Homer's Child" and "Muse" were the most striking pieces for me apart from Mr. Escano's work, so I was able to construct both of them from memory (save for their writers' e-mail addresses, so I haven't sent them the letters yet).

As for the others... I've already read "Twinspeak" and "The Devil is in the Details", but I'd like to go over them again in case I missed anything. I haven't read "Y" yet, and I saved Robert Frazier's piece for last, so if I really need to read anything badly, it's those two.

There's probably some logic to the order in which I read the stories in each new anthology. Maybe someday I'll explore that.

For now, though... I have the new copy to worry about, first.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Review: Philippine Genre Stories, Issue Three

The third issue of Philippine Genre Stories came out three months ago, in the middle of my busy season. While I was able to pick up a copy before mid-September was upon us, I've only been able to read bits and pieces of it between extended meetings, training sessions, and long periods of overtime. (Then again, every single month of the year would probably qualify as my "busy season" nowadays.)

This time, however, the news does not lie in what has changed since issue two -- rather, it lies in what hasn't changed. The cover layout is similar to that of the second issue, and the internal page format looks the same. That implies that the publication is starting to "get into its groove", so to speak -- it's adopting a look and feel that it will most likely have for a while.

As with the first two issues, I'm going to be reading through all the works inside and sending my comments to their respective authors. Issue three has an eclectic ensemble of writers, and ends up acting as a mixture of mystery, horror and personal introspection. For some reason, it seems to jettison the more traditional selections of high fantasy and hard sci-fi in favor of more modern-day settings. While I'm not saying that it's bad -- I welcome it, as a matter of fact -- it's a little surprising, and I wonder if this was a deliberate move on the part of the editor/s.

One thing that you'll notice with my reviews this time is a lack of additional comments at the end of each letter. I decided to leave these out and instead concentrate my reactions in each message itself; I mean, is there anything about each piece that I should keep from the authors? I'm still going to run the "personal correspondence" angle, though, despite the fact that Philippine Genre Stories has a forum for peoples' comments now.

For that matter, I'll also expect to finish this post over a number of days. It's not easy to read and review each of the seven stories in the magazine, much less write up the e-mails and copy them to this blog entry. So I'll take an alternative approach this time -- I'll re-read each of the stories in random order, then put up my comments once I've messaged their respective writers. You might want to catch up with this entry every now and then as a result; I'll be updating it until all my reviews are up.

And, as with both of my other reviews, my disclaimers still stand: I'm just a writer, I'm just a follower of the craft, and I'm just a part-time reader on the side. I'm not an award-winner, I'm not an authoritarian, and I'm not an official critic. But I do call them as I see them, I do try to see the good and the bad in each story, and I do believe that opinions shouldn't hide behind shyness, impudence or anonymity. If you agree or disagree with anything that I say, please feel free to discuss in my comment boxes; I'll try to be as civil as I can.

Oh, and... before you read, just remember: Here there be spoilers aplenty.

Twinspeak (by Elyss Punsalan)

Dear Ms. Punsalan:

I feel that your story uses a lot of elements that would normally be called "disparate": Fraternal twins who share a telepathic bond, a connection between dreams and real-world developments, and of course, the dragensik oombra. Moreover, it's told in an ambitious style that distinctly characterizes Ryan and Rina, who have little in common with each other despite their siblinghood.

For starters, I think that it's very original. I find myself wondering if the "night dragon with scholarly inclinations" is an actual mythological creature, or if its presence was spun from pure cloth. I also like the fact that the story takes place between two people with a supernatural bond -- and that an essential element involves one of them helping the other in the face of animosity. It gives the fantasy a very "human" look and feel.

I am, however, not certain if it works as a whole. I felt as though the result was a patchwork of ideas that ended up reading as a story. The night dragon, for example, didn't get a lot of background; Ryan's misfortunes could have been caused by any otherworldly creature, as far as I was concerned. The notion that one twin's "luck" could have somehow been transferred to the other is a little hard for me to believe. And I'm not very receptive towards the story's opening -- I feel that the notion of a dead cat produced some very morbid undertones that may have affected the rest of the tale.

All in all, however, it's a worthy effort from somebody who hadn't written for a while. I'm expecting a lot from your story in the Dragon anthology, and possibly some more details on a certain night dragon with scholarly inclinations...

Homer's Child (by Paolo Chikiamco)

Dear Mr. Chikiamco:

I felt that "Homer's Child" had a very interesting premise, and I felt that it was a very interesting story. On one end of the spectrum, I was a little tickled that somebody would actually try writing about animated stuffed toys. On the other end, I was surprised that the resulting story turned out so well.

To start with, I liked Basil. I felt that he was a character who I wouldn't mind reading about in further installments; I saw him as somebody who had the curiosity and the perception to investigate cases like these on a regular basis, yet who could somehow make short quips inside his head, primp himself in front of prospective girlfriends, and generally think outside the box. Ironically, I ended up liking him more than Muppet -- although it made me wish that the stuffed cheetah had a better part in the story.

Beyond characterization, though, I felt that it was a good mystery. The way I saw things, the story didn't present me with a lineup of possible suspects and slowly reveal who it was; instead, it gave me a good idea as to the actual culprit and forced me to wonder just how the deed was done. There should really be some style points involved when people realize that the fantastic premise had little or nothing to do with the physical crime at all.

I had a huge problem with the exposition, however. The story tends to ramble at odd points -- sometimes the action comes at a reasonable pace, and sometimes everything slows down just so that a little background material can be explained. Despite the fact that your piece concentrates on the concept of the Homeridae, I couldn't see it as important to the story at all. I think that you could literally cut away every single reference to them, go with the concept of an investigative reporter who solves cases with his stuffed toy companion (seriously speaking), and end up with a much stronger story. But I suppose that that's your call.

Of everything that I've read in Philippine Genre Stories so far, yours is the only story or which I would really want to see a sequel. That says something, I think.

Y (by Sharmaine Galve)

Dear Ms. Galve:

If there was anything that amused me about "Y", it was the implication that it belonged in the science-fiction genre. I don't dispute that assumption, mind you -- in fact, I fully support it. It still amuses me, though, as the story doesn't have much of the technological discussion that is normally found in a lot of sci-fi.

I love "Y" for its subtlety. If you don't mind my saying so, I feel that your story should be packaged in a textbook so that writers can somehow get educated about how to do this right. It somehow manages to throw the reader a lot of details without sacrificing the consistency of the narrative: We know that the protagonist's name is, we know what he does inside a locked room all day, and we know what his marital relationship is like. It brought all this to the point where I was able to clearly imagine how Alfred's world looked. That, I think, is quite an achievement for a story that consists of little more than his ravings.

In a way, it's actually kind of sad that Alfred would look upon life and human relativity from a purely clinical standpoint. He strikes me as the sort who believes that he can manufacture love and emotion from scratch. I get the feeling that all this is meant to touch a few nerves and make readers angry. I didn't feel anything beyond sadness, though, right up to the point where he ends up feeling an unnatural, ironic attraction towards a physical brain.

On the flip side of the coin, I feel that the story has a distinct weakness in Alfred's tendency to ramble. The style is subtle, yes, but the catch is that it seems to take forever for the story to get to the point. I felt that the whole thing was a setup to emphasize the twist at the end -- that is, the location of the second Grade A mind and Alfred's morbid fixation with it -- but its brevity was a bit of a letdown for me. I mean, I had to slog through ten pages' worth of exposition before I arrived at anything even remotely resembling a climax. It feels odd having to listed to a continual flow of statements, only to run into the break at the end.

In your write-up, you mentioned that this story was a bit of a hodgepodge of ideas. I say that you managed to blend these ideas well, but that I think you came to a bit of a bump at the end. I still think that it was a good read, though.

Tuko (by Miguel Escaño)

Dear Mr. Escaño:

A few months before the third issue of Philippine Genre Stories came out, it was "Tuko" that sold it for me. I liked the excerpt that was posted on the PGS blog, and I liked the look of the cover illustration. And now that I'm writing you this letter, I have to say that I liked the story as well.

I've only heard of the "tuko" superstition once or twice, and I feel that it deserved some fleshing out. What I got from your story was an excellent take on this, something that came neatly wrapped in creepiness and suspense without any cheesy shock value. For a horror story, it didn't scare me much... but for a story, it did keep me glued to the pages. I felt that it was compelling, and that the slow succession of events was very effective. It was, in a way, like watching a man move towards his own self-inflicted doom, knowing that he only had a mere skin-crawling sensation of the forces at work.

If there was a flaw in your work, I felt that it lay in the exposition. I just think that there could have been a more subtle way to explain some background elements in the story. When entire sections are needed just to explain why the tuko's call is so significant, or to fill in the background behind the main character's job, then I feel that it's more boring than efficient. I think it distracts from the action, and I think that it prevented me from getting the full impact of the story. I just feel that the exposition could have been done is a far more subtle manner.

Regardless of my quibbles, I felt that "Tuko" was well worth the attention I gave it. I'm happy to feel justified over a story that I wanted to read well before it was actually published.

The Devil is in the Details (by Charles Tan)

Dear Mr. Tan:

As much as it pains me to say so, I didn't think of "The Devil is in the Details" as comedic. It had a few good quips scattered around the story, yes, but I didn't come away thinking of it as a comedy. Instead, it gave me the impression of an essay that was disguised as a piece of literary writing.

That's not to say that it isn't good, though. I found it to be an interesting read -- for something as straightforward as your style was, I felt that it questioned a lot of stereotypical assumptions. I'm pretty sure that most people have asked themselves at one point or another as to what they would do if they ever met the devil face to face, and most of us have probably already come up with "solid" excuses to avoid eternal damnation. Your story gives the devil a hell of a rebuttal (so to speak), and turns the situation
completely on its ear: Did we honestly think that the devil couldn't grant us true love? Did we honestly expect the devil not to offer a straight contract devoid of the fine print? Did we honestly expect that it would be offered to us in a quiet manner with some very obvious digs at time pressure?

In short, I felt that the story was quite sharp. It doesn't ask us for permission to sign the contract in blood -- it slits the nearest vein and pushes the quill into our hand.

I have my differences with the ending, if only because I could never actually figure out whether or not the man decided to accept the devil's offer. He went for true love, sure enough... but did he ask the devil for a chance to earn it? Was his ex-wife's appearance, his wedding ring's showing up, and his impending reconciliation all a part of the deal? I'm not sure exactly what happened in the end.

And finally, I did come away with the notion that this was an essay in literary format. I feel that it's meant to make us think, more than it means to tell us a story. From an essayist's point of view, I believe that the work is successful -- I mean, it made
me think for a bit -- but from a storyteller's point of view I'm not so sure. The events felt a little vague for me, especially when it came to the ending.

Dreamtigers (by Robert Frazier)

Dear Mr. Frazier:

If I read my introductions right, "Dreamtigers" was first published over twenty years ago. For something that's over two decades old, I feel that it still retains a certain "freshness"... as though the subject matter and treatment haven't changed much over the intervening years.

I felt that the atmosphere was the best part of the story. The narration gave me enough details to imagine the setting and the characters, but I feel that it never gave away so much as to clue me in on exactly what was happening to Tou. I think that this resulted in a rather creepy sensation -- it implied that I was seeing a dead man walking here, and that a protagonist armed with the modern medical sciences could do little to help him. There is a constant image at work in the story -- that of a tiger on the hunt -- and this makes for some morbid moments.

I was also somewhat amused at the ending, where the protagonist takes refuge in the African lands of his memory. Does he know that there are no tigers in Africa? Does he wonder if he's truly secure in such a dream?

I did have one concern with the story, which involved the "field-journal" style of narration. I felt that the gap between entries was often too wide; it was difficult for me to read the protagonist's observations over one day, only to pick up on the next entry after a week had passed (and other events had presumably taken place in the interim). As a result I felt as though some background details had been left vague for me -- I find it difficult to identify the members of Tou's family, for example, or figure out the capacity in which Fenneman and the protagonist are involved with the refugees.

Ultimately, however, I felt that the story was beneficial in that it gave a very nice treatment for a strange, more-or-less supernatural subject. It also explored the fact that the nightmare syndrome is by no means limited to the Philippine context, and I feel that it added to the mythology surrounding the condition. In short, I felt that it was an effective story, and that the fifteen minutes I spent reading it made for a worthwhile experience. Thank you.

Muse (by John Philip Corpuz)

Dear Mr. Corpuz:

When I first saw the illustration for the writing contest in issue number two, I wondered what kind of twisted mind could possibly come up with a story for such a picture.

When the "almost accepted" entries went up on the PGS blog, I marveled at their creativity, and wondered just what the winning writer submitted in order to best those works.

Then I went through your entry, and I wondered how five hundred words could make for such a hell of a read.

I think that it was the subtlety that made it good. It didn't waste time trying to explain its setting; instead, it opted to throw the details into our faces and let us figure everything out. I ended up imagining a world where inquisitors existed, where artists could bind their own muse and leave dying words in return, and it all added up very well. The slight twist at the end was just gravy. I would have liked to see some more explanation of the habits and foibles of muses (and how they can kill under the right circumstances), but everything was already all right as it was. Simply put, it was a good read.

Now, of course, I wonder what you could possibly do with higher word limits. But that will have to wait.

The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories, Issue Three

As of 3:19pm SGT on November 25, 2007, I've completed all seven reviews for this issue and submitted them via e-mail to the corresponding authors.

I've mentioned before that this issue takes on a new angle -- every story in PGS3 concerns a pseudo-modern setting in some way. There are no magical universes here (save for Corpuz's work), no high technologies, no cat-girls frolicking in sugar-sweet animé-type surrounds. I'm wondering if this was a conscious decision on the part of the editor, or if this was mere coincidence.

I feel, however, that this is the strongest selection of stories in a PGS issue so far. Every entry here was of quality material in one way or another. I initially had doubts that Robert Frazier's work would either thin out the "Philippine" aspect of the publication or stick out like a sore thumb, but it doesn't. Instead, I find that it provides a remarkable counterpoint -- I'm going to be constantly comparing it against Miguel Escaño's "Tuko" for the foreseeable future.

The art is really starting to grow on me -- I look forward to seeing Elbert Or's interior work from every issue onwards, and I feel that the cover art for PGS3 is as "saleable" as it gets; this is the kind of art that makes me want to open the book and see what's inside.

I'll say that this is the best issue so far, if only because all the managing decisions seemed to have come together on this one: The art makes the book attractive to readers. The inclusion of "Dreamtigers" provides open ground for discussion. The focus on modern settings brings about the impression that one doesn't have to concentrate on the traditional sci-fi/fantasy universes in order to write for those genres.

The only catch, I think, is that it none of the entries haven't yet dislodged my clear favorite among all the stories published in PGS. But then, that's a tough act to follow.

It's been three months since this issue came out, and the next one is probably around the corner. So... while the bookstores still have copies to burn, you should pick one up and give it a good read. You owe it to yourself, I think.

The Top Shelf

I was over at the local Japanese animé-themed novelty store the other day when I noticed something interesting on one of the shelves. Well... about three hundred or so interesting things, to be exact.

By now, it should be automatically assumed that children and Pokémon products go together like magnets and iron filings. This was, in a way, what I realized when confronted with an entire set of display shelves full of tiny Pokémon figurines, each about one inch high. There were enough figurines lined up across four shelves to make your average kid convulse with glee.

I mention four shelves, however, because that number happens to be relevant to my narrative. You see, these shelves weren't stacked in such a way as to display all the figurines at equal height -- instead, they were stacked in a straight vertical formation, one shelf on top of another shelf and so forth.

As you might expect, the top shelf contained what I assumed were the most popular Pokémon creatures, uncovered and shining directly into the eyes of prospective buyers. Pikachu was obviously there, for example, but I also noticed quite a few samples of the local fan-favorites: Squirtle the turtle, Bulbasaur the plant-thingy, and Jigglypuff the weird-looking-round- thing-with-the-incredibly-massive-eyes. A forlorn sign with "Charmander" on it stood beside an empty row, so I guess the fire-elemental dinosaur was a huge seller. I actually went as far as to pick up a few figurines and shake my head at the shoddy paint jobs -- one Pikachu was actually missing an eye, for instance.

In short, it seemed that only the best sellers could possibly make it to the top shelf. For that matter, you could probably put a half-finished, colorblindly-painted representation of Pikachu up there, and it would still get snatched up in less than a minute.

As expected, the second shelf held all the hopefuls -- the creatures that were most likely fringe favorites, or which were most likely awaiting their shot at the big time. I recognized Meowth there, for one -- he's a mainstay in the cartoon, but he's in cahoots with the villains, which probably hurts his street cred. I noticed such characters as Scyther and Abra as well -- both not so popular as to sell in significant numbers, but with enough of a fanbase to bring in the money.

I had to bend over in order to glance at the selection that lined the third shelf. This one was only about two feet off the floor, and it was difficult to see the whole selection. Koffing and Ekans were there -- they're a smog pokémon and a snake pokémon between them -- and I only imagined that they happened to sell only because they were also cartoon mainstays; there was nothing cute about them at all. Also on this shelf: Torchic (a cute bird pokémon that had the misfortune of appearing when the series was already on the decline), and Geodude (er... a floating rock.)

I had to crouch just to see what was on the last shelf. This one didn't even have the figurines lined up in neat rows, much less dusted and cleaned. Instead, it looked as though somebody had thrown all the unsaleable creatures together into a single pile in order to fend for themselves.

You could make a case for any of the creatures you found here: There was Unown, for example, whose figurine could barely stand up on its own. There was Muk, who looked like a living blob of something purple and unmentionable (although I'm sure it wasn't his fault). And there was Porygon, who will forever be tied to the cartoon's seizure episode. It was a little sad seeing all of them stacked up in a messy little pile, wondering if anyone was even going to bother picking them up and dragging them to the cashier. Somehow I doubted it.

I can't help but think that there was a lesson in all that, mind you.

After observing this arrangement for a few minutes, I then proceeded to look for Psyduck. I've always felt an affinity for Psyduck, especially since his special powers all seem to involve going around having headaches at the other pocket monsters. As you can probably expect, he's not universally loved.

I didn't find a Psyduck figurine anywhere, not even on the dirty bottom shelf after a bit of digging. This didn't surprise me at all -- somehow I expected that the psychic yellow duck was a free agent of some sort, running through the cartoon universe with a perpetually bewildered expression on its face. Either that, or he was having a headache somewhere in one of the back rooms, wondering if there were any other shelves that could possibly be lower than his...