Monday, January 29, 2007

Gwyneth Paltrow's Head

This morning saw me in the head offices of a local bank, turning a moldering old key in the lock of one of their safety deposit boxes. It's actually not my safety deposit box as much as it is the family's storage space, to be honest, and I haven't seen the contents of the thing in a long time. I do, however, pass by to make the yearly payments... although this morning had me looking inside the metal container to see if it held copies of some important documents that someone had misplaced.

Whatever the case, this morning saw me opening up the family safety deposit box. And, because I was alone at the time and constantly wondering exactly what we had left inside, my mind started wandering.

I've noticed that modern movies give us an odd impression of safety deposit boxes. There, they're usually represented as shiny secure areas inside underground vaults protected by surveillance cameras, and I suppose that that's all well and good. But on the other hand, safety deposit boxes in the movies never seem to contain anything that we might normally see as valuable: They never contain family heirlooms or life insurance policies or last wills and testaments, for example. Safety deposit boxes in the movies always contain weird little knicknacks, like mysterious coded messages or odd calling cards or the names of people who nobody's heard about in a long time. You can never expect to find money or legal papers inside a movie safety deposit box, in fact -- only objects that raise some really weird questions.

Sadly, the big metal box I opened up today was one of the more mundane ones. Security concerns prevent me from telling you exactly what its contents are, but I can at least tell you that my mind was in the throes of wild speculation for the few minutes I held the unopened container in my hands.

...So much, in fact, that I wondered how many possibilities I could come up with before I ran out of ideas. What could a single safety deposit box possibly contain?

1: That wallet you thought you lost the last time you passed by the bank.
2: A severed human finger.
3: A miniature representation of your home town, made from toothpicks and glue.
4: A credit card in the name of a fictional character.
5: One coin of foreign currency, the country of which doesn't exist.
6: Love letters from your father, written to your mother's sister.
7: A live bullfrog. (It's just as surprised as you are.)
8: A black hole.
9: Schrödinger's cat.
10: That last set of ladies' underwear you wore. (This is fairly awkward if you happen to be a guy, yes.)

11: A gateway to an alternate universe.
12: An alien doomsday device in the shape of an onion.
13: An issue of MAD Magazine, dated September 1951.
14: The corsage from your high school prom.
15: An uncut diamond, larger than any specimen ever discovered.
16: Old boots.
17: A manuscript for a novel, written by you. (Which is funny, because you don't remember writing it yourself.)
18: A desperate message for help, written in blood.
19: A suicide note that holds your name and signature at the end.
20: Another, smaller safety deposit box.

21: Occam's razor.
22: That single Easter egg you never actually found during last year's hunt.
23: Colorless, odorless nerve gas. (The box otherwise looks empty.)
24: A hand-drawn, amateurish-looking membership card that reads "Fight Club -- Tyler Durden".
25: A VHS tape that, when viewed, contains nothing but static.
26: An empty bottle of wine. The year on the label reads "2005".
27: An old, wrinkled and dusty teddy bear.
28: A baseball.
29: Water. There's a live goldfish swimming inside, for some reason.
30: A DVD that, when viewed, is found to contain upside-down footage of your first public speaking engagement.

31: A sheet of note paper containing a bad joke.
32: A hotel keycard. (The hotel itself is halfway across the world in a country you have yet to visit.)
33: A list of names, some of which have been crossed out in sequence. Those people whose names have been crossed out have all died of mysterious causes.
34: Prescription medicine for a relative you know to be healthy and well.
35: A decayed tooth. (It looks like it came from among someone's upper front teeth.)
36: An unused band-aid and a bottle of disinfectant alcohol.
37: A bullet. (Predictably enough, it's got your name on it.)
38: The reading glasses you thought you lost on vacation three years ago.
39: A recipe for sponge cake that your best friend gave to you.
40: Film negatives containing blackmail material. (Strangely enough, one of the people shown in the film looks like you...)

41: A small painting of an optical illusion. It makes your head hurt just looking at it.
42: A pot of gold and a tiny set of green clothes.
43: A TV remote control. The brand name is one that you've never heard of.
44: Lipstick.
45: An ID card for a company you never worked for. It's dated "1999".
46: Mathematical notes that detail a proof for Fermat's Last Theorem. The handwriting isn't yours, and there's no signature at the end.
47: Human pubic hair.
48: A pastel-and-oil painting, etched onto the inside of the box.
49: A Swiss army knife. The corkscrew extension has blood on it.
50: A bento box. The meal inside is long gone, however.

51: A newspaper clipping concerning the death of a famous personality.
52: One piece of a shattered ceramic coffee cup.
53: A plastic bottle of Mountain Dew. The bottle is still full, and is still well-sealed.
54: Tangled string that looks like piano wire.
55: A microchip. (You have no idea what it is, or how to hook it up.)
56: An authentic aborigine boomerang.
57: The ukulele you bought the last time you stopped by Hawaii.
58: A sketch drawing of a beautiful woman, who is unfamiliar to you.
59: Pixie dust.
60: An old-fashioned top hat, one that depresses in order to fit small spaces.

61: A sealed scroll that contains an invitation to an imaginary school of wizardry.
62: Bird seed.
63: Photographs of random people. All the subjects in the photographs seem to be horrified at the person holding the camera.
64: A massive pool of candle wax, as though someone had melted a good-sized candle inside the box.
65: A wig, a false mustache and beard, and fake travel documents.
66: A Native American dreamcatcher. (When you hold it in your hand, it seems to strain in one direction all by itself.)
67: The tonsils that you had removed when you were eight years old, floating in a small plastic container.
68: A cassette tape, of the "Learn English in Seven Days or Less" variety. (Which is odd, because you're a native English speaker.)
69: An airplane ticket. The date of departure is tomorrow.
70: A 18th-century trade agreement signed by one Button Gwinnett, whoever he is.

71: A cryptographic cipher that translates the English language into an obscure set of symbols. You don't know where the symbols have ever been used.
72: Old music CDs.
73: Twenty pounds' worth of unsharpened pencils.
74: A short letter from a well-known Hollywood celebrity, inviting you for what it calls "one night of unforgettable passion".
75: A cellphone with one text message in its Inbox. (Which reads, "Stay put. I'll get you out soon.")
76: Marbles shaped like the planets of the solar system. (Which is funny, because there are ten of them for some reason.)
77: Tupperware.
78: A copy of Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri computer game.
79: A dinner plate. There's a hairline crack across its center.
80: Beer.

81: A sweatband that belongs to your badminton partner.
82: A key to a second safety deposit box in a different bank.
83: A sheet of graphing paper, on which is written a dirty limerick.
84: Homemade wasabi in an elaborate container.
85: A strange-looking device. As you stare at it, a red light starts blinking on and off.
86: An old wristwatch that stops a few seconds after you open the box.
87: Ticket stubs from the premiere of Peter Jackson's King Kong. (One of the stubs is yours.)
88: An old Mickey Mouse comic book. The cover pages have been torn off.
89: Two hundred unpaid parking tickets.
90: A black costume, a collection of shuriken, and a pair of shuko.

91: A belt with a complex metal buckle. Pressing one button on the buckle automatically transports you to the inside of your closet at home.
92: A newspaper with tomorrow's date on it.
93: Art supplies and reference material. (Despite the fact that you don't know how to draw.)
94: A deck of tarot cards. The art on each card depicts you in various scenes of torture.
95: A set of billiard balls. All of them seem scratched and worn except for the 8-ball, which looks pristine.
96: A Pantone color guide with all the color references in the wrong position.
97: A Transformers toy.
98: A single drop of blood. You don't know if it's human or animal, or even where it came from.
99: The head, arms and legs of a Barbie doll. You don't know what happened to the rest of it.
100: A folded paper crane, made from the resignation letter you supposedly submitted to your last employer.


Friday, January 26, 2007

Party On, Dude

I suppose that it should come as no surprise that most bloggers are social animals. There's a certain mentality that can be inferred from the practice of putting a little piece of yourself up on the Internet each day, much less leaving comments on some stranger's web site or making money off the number of hits you get. In addition to that, the local blogging community even sees a few occasional events where we can get together, let our hair down (if we haven't done so already), and mosh a bit: The iBlog conference is likely to get a third installment this year, for instance. And a bunch of people seem to be getting together tomorrow to hang loose and "parteeh" hard.

I find this odd, mind you -- not because I have something against people having fun, but because I don't consider myself to be an eminently social person. If blogging is all about making friends, associating with people you hardly know, and identifying yourself as one big happy family, then what the heck am I doing here?

Heck, most people out there still have no idea what I look like. That should give you an idea of how often I don't show my face around here.

Don't get me wrong, of course. I'm not some total recluse who lives a solitary life on some mountaintop espousing enlightenment for the common man. I'm perfectly fine with meeting new people, going to exotic new places, and experiencing new... er... experiences. I just don't have the same drive as most people in this regard: I will sit next to you at a mutual dinner and make for some scintillating conversation, but I usually won't look to place myself in such circumstances in the first place. No, it's not your breath that's at fault. If anything, it's probably mine.

As far as I know, I've only encountered three occasions where I chose to actively meet with other bloggers: The first was a small public forum over the ill-conceived Digital Pinay 2005 pageant, and the other two turned out to be the first and second iBlog conferences respectively. I had practical reasons for attending all three events, though: the Digital Pinay discussion offered me a front-row seat in discussing one of the most blatantly gender-biased projects in the IT industry, and both iBlog conferences offered a bunch of casual-professional seminars that I could use to improve my online writing.

In a sense, all this is probably due to the fact that I constantly question the purpose and meaning of a lot of things: What are we doing this for? Why are we doing this? Is there anything else we can do that's would be far more constructive or efficient?

Yes, I don't end up getting a lot of invites. Yes, I tend to put off a lot of partygoers with what they call "my constant killjoy attitude". Not everything should have a purpose, after all. Not everything should be done for a specific reason.

The problem is that we obviously have a reason for holding parties and get-togethers -- otherwise we wouldn't be organizing them in the first place. There's a degree of social gratification in there, and more than a little curiosity. It all has to do with seeing familiar faces and meeting completely new ones. And so these things do have a purpose.

So why do bloggers still find this irresistible urge to get together in an endless train of social events? We can cite the standard generalization for attending parties and other such things, but it just wouldn't work -- we're talking about people whose lives are laid out on the Internet for all to see, for goodness' sakes. Meeting up with each other has to assume that we have far more things to talk about beyond introducing ourselves -- simply because, as far as most bloggers are concerned, we virtually know each other already.

This is why, if you were to corner me in some shadowed venue of any blogging event, then I'd be hard-pressed to find anything to talk about. When the chances are that we both read each others' blogs, then what else is there to say? I don't want to find ourselves trapped in an endless stream of responses that are little more than variants of "I like your blog", and "Thanks, I like yours as well", after all.

If there's something more to the spate of blogger gatherings around here, then I'd like to hear it. Heck, I'd be content just to find out exactly what people do in these gatherings, and why it gives them some form of fulfillment.

Sadly, the only way I'll probably be able to find out is to set my wonderings aside and just go.

Sometimes it's difficult being a little antisocial, I mean.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Run-Up

I don't usually do plugs, but this is a particularly interesting one.

In one of its recent features, the BBC has put together a little panel of reviewers for their take on the Academy Awards hopefuls this year. These six panelists come from various corners of the globe, and were chosen from a wide field of international applicants; They may not necessarily be experienced writers, but they're definitely film fans who have an appreciation for last year's crop of movies.

The panel only has one Asian reviewer among them, however, and it happens to be Ailee Lim, she of Ailee Through the Looking Glass fame. Ailee's been casting a critical look at recent releases on her blog for a while now, and I have no doubt that she's qualified to judge potential Oscar winners from the BBC's standpoint. :)

In any event, the first of her articles is up here. I recommend that you read her, that you like her, and that you pity her for the strain of having to watch multiple movies in such a short span of time -- this year's Oscar race has quite a few contenders, after all.

Afterwards, I suppose, you can probably go home and envy her job.

Right, Ailee? :)

Friday, January 19, 2007

Review: Pinoy Amazing Adventures

Okay, I suppose that this was probably expected.

I spent a couple of hours hanging around National Bookstore on the morning of the same day I picked up my copy of Philippine Genre Stories Issue One (PGS1). Normally when that happens, I spend my time among the humor, hobby and reference sections, looking to see if somebody somewhere finally decided to put together a good book of puzzles. It was on this occasion, however, that I noticed a dog-eared copy of Pinoy Amazing Adventures (PAA) lying tucked away in a forgotten corner.

A couple of days after I picked up a more pristine copy of the book, a bit of Internet research enlightened me on its inner nature. Banzai Cat noted that it was one of three primary outlets of Philippine speculative fiction in 2006, the other two being the second volume of Dean Alfar's anthology, and Philippine Genre Stories. PAA, moreover, was published by Psicom Publishing, a local company that repackages DC comic books, reprints How-to-Draw-Manga periodicals, and comes up with independent text-message books and romance anthologies that I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole. It also doesn't seem to have its own page anywhere on the Net, which is why the only reference link I can find is this one.

It did have four short stories in it, though, which promised to have a solid speculative-fiction bent overall. And I figured that if I had enough of a constitution to review the PGS1's five stories, then I supposed that I could go through four more. (I consider Dean Alfar's collection to be off-limits for now; I'm not crazy enough to slog through almost twenty pieces at once.)

In other words, I'll be going through this review the same way I went through that of PGS1: I'll have a look at each of the stories first, and then wrap up with my views on the publication itself at the end. Seeing that I didn't like the total length of my earlier PGS1 post, though, I'll try to keep my reviews manageable this time.

As with my previous post, this is my warning that spoilers abound. If you haven't picked up a copy of the anthology, know that you read the following reviews at your own risk.

Apocalypso (written by Karl R. De Mesa)

"Apocalypso" was here-and-there for me. It had some solid aspects to its story and its style of writing, but I feel that these were hampered by a lot of technical problems.

First of all, I liked the premise of the story. There are quite a few speculative pieces on the nature and navigation of dreams, and I find the topic to be a useful literary device. "Apocalypso" uses this subject of dreams in much better detail, and imagines what happens in a setting where their influence has extended to the physical world. Second, I feel that it succeeds in placing the reader in an unfamiliar yet familiar universe -- in fact, the slight twist at the end forced me to wonder if the entire story was actually in itself a strange dream. The story's elements were fascinating enough to have it be one, I suppose.

I felt that the biggest problem with the piece, however, was the massive and sudden change in style that took place halfway through the story. Everything started out pretty well, mind you, with a third-person narration of one hunter's dealings with a mysterious client. From there, however, it shifted to the hunter's first-person description of his background and research, and -- just as I was getting used to the change -- it suddenly snapped back into third-person for the ending. I feel that this severely compromises the work: It gives the hunter's extensive speech a "preachy" quality -- as though the author took up half the story just to explain what was going on -- and wastes characters like Lieutenant Kid and Lord Pluto, both of whom were relegated to stand among the background props. The story is also dotted with a lot of minor errors in verbal ambiguity (mostly in the "it's" / "it was" distinction), but that's more a matter for the editor than anything else.

In the end, "Apocalypso" impressed me... but it was only able to do so by means of premise and general plotline. In truth, it struck me as something that needed a lot of spit-and-polish in order to shine: It was a story with great potential that just got bogged down at some point in the writing.

Now, if I can only figure out why Mr. De Mesa felt that it deserved to be titled "Apocalypso"...

Riverside (written by Anna Felicia Sanchez)

I found "Riverside" to be surprisingly good. I feel that its biggest stumbling block involves story length and pacing, but I don't think that those aspects detract much from the overall quality of the piece.

"Riverside" doesn't use the traditional narrative approach. Instead, we're told the story from two different points of view: Vlad and Leena, who are two enforcement officers partnered with each other. I feel that this narrative style ends up enriching the experience, if only because Vlad and Leena are represented as two extremely different personalities. Vlad is more a scholar and a reader, and thus provides us with clear background and history details. Leena is a far more emotional person, and therefore allows us to see events unfold from an active point of view. These instances of characterization enable the story to develop slowly; Instead of getting everything shoved down our throat all at once, the plotline eventually pieces itself together based on a progressive reading of Vlad and Leena's observations. I find this to be remarkably subtle, and carefully crafted.

I feel that "Riverside" overdoes this careful revelation of circumstances and events, though. The author simply takes her time describing the factors of societal breakdown and reprogression; Such things may be vital to the atmosphere as well as how the story turns out, but I feel that everything could have been written much shorter. As it stands, I could almost describe the piece as "dragging", if it weren't for the way the plot turns out. The presence of a lot of agency names, acronyms and future trademarks (Meka-Armors, Meka-Arm Guns, Meka-Scanners...) doesn't make things any easier for a reader. I'd even go as far as to wonder about a possible Animé influence somewhere.

I feel that the story is good, though. It feels like social realism in a highly unfamiliar setting that, interestingly enough, gets more and more familiar as the story wears on. It runs on some very skillful storytelling, and it left me with a very good impression of Ms. Sanchez's skills. It's only stumbling block, I fear, has a lot to do with its pacing: Anyone who can manage to last the length of its thirty pages, though, will probably find it okay in the end.

Lunes, Alas Diyes ng Umaga (written by Vlad Gonzales)

Unfortunately, I'll have to hold off on any praise I have for Mr. Gonzales's approach. While it does fit the nature of "Lunes" perfectly, I've used the same approach on a couple of occasions as well, and I know that it's a good one. Suffice to say that his story does it justice; It takes a certain amount of detail to get the style correct, and he gets it just right.

I think that the story's primary attribute lies in the angle it uses: So you have interdimensional contact at your fingertips, it says. So you can reshape reality to your very whims. Just what do you do with it, exactly? Despite the fact that a number of past authors and pieces already deal with this possibility of temporal manipulation, "Lunes" gives us a distinct use for the stuff. Even better, it doesn't give this away until the latter pages of the story, allowing the revelation to creep up and surprise us. It started out subtle -- complacently subtle, even -- and it forced me to raise both eyebrows at the climax. It's not easy to find stories like that nowadays.

On the other hand, no matter how much I like the story's approach to the subject matter, I have to admit that it's simply been done before. I suspect that this is more of an issue regarding my personal background, though: "Lunes" reminded me of The Twilight Zone's "Shatterday" episode, as well as a few other American science-fiction stories I had read over the years. (Heck, I once wrote a short story on the topic myself.) In addition, it seems that Mr. Gonzales didn't feel as though "Lunes" would be complete without a thorough explanation of what was taking place in his story: I feel that his final two paragraphs serve no purpose other than to dilute the impact of his ending, and I'd cut them out myself if given the chance.

Off hand, I think that this story would probably be a good read for those people who are generally unfamiliar with science fiction, simply because it illustrates a good "what-if" sort of scenario. It would be a good starting point for them, really. The trouble is that I and most readers of similar background will find that it treads ground that we've encountered before. I fear that we're more likely to overlook it in favor of other things, and I feel that that's a pretty sad occurrence for a story that's actually pretty good at heart.

Project: Overmind (written by Emil M. Flores)

I have to get one question off my chest for this one, and that's "What is this supposed to be, really?"

I honestly don't know if this is supposed to be an action-movie-type piece, or if this is supposed to be a satire on such works, or if this is supposed to be a completely serious narrative with some really terrible pacing. At the moment, it leaves me absolutely dumbfounded.

Don't get me wrong, though. There are some aspects that I admire about the piece itself. For one, the premise is certainly interesting: Nazi operations in the Philippines concerning genetic experimentation on human subjects? A photocopier boy with a photographic memory who finds himself in the center of a massive manhunt? The religious sightings of Mt. Banahaw actually being the residual products of a secret laboratory devoted to researching mental powers? The story just throws one improbable element after another into a confused mix, and Mr. Flores somehow manages to have it all make a sort of sense.

I have a huge problem with the pacing, though. The story simply tells everything too quickly, from the incident where we run into the photocopier guy to the shootout at the apartment to the expedition to Mt. Banahaw. It was simply too fast for me to feel any particular attraction to any of the characters, much less see the point of their little adventure. Heck, if Mr. Flores's chapter headings are to be believed, the whole story plays out over the course of two days!

And once I thought about that a little more, something seemed odd about the story.

And that's why I'm sitting here like this, trying to figure everything out.

I suspect that Mr. Flores is making fun of us here. He's conjured up a rip-snorter of a story, something that goes into a full-blown action mode normally reserved for Schwarzengger movies, where convoluted plots gain a life of their own, impossible coincidences happen, and medical consultants inexplicably have degrees in tae kwon do. This is the kind of story where standard literary critiques fail; In fact, they don't just fail -- they burst into tears and lock themselves in their rooms for the rest of the evening.

That's why I'll lay down my critical background at this point, and say it straight: This is an action movie. You'll either like the ride, or you won't. Some people will obviously enjoy "Project: Overmind", and some people will wonder exactly how it's supposed to be good. I'll trust that you know where you stand with regards to this distinction.

I'd recommend this story to everyone, only I don't want to give people the impression that this is the standard for a good story. It sets a standard for unique stories, yes, but it's not a good literary composition according to any of the precepts I've seen so far. To put it simply: It spits in your eye and tells you to go screw yourself. That might be a good thing or a bad thing, I suppose.

Pinoy Amazing Adventures

Now I get to tell you what I thought about the collection itself. Admittedly I have to be much more careful here -- Psicom's been around for quite a while already, and I don't want to offend their fanbase if possible.

I feel that PAA offers about the same deal as PGS1: PGS1 is a five-story anthology that costs one hundred pesos a shot; PAA is a four-story anthology that costs eighty-five per copy. While I feel that the contents of each anthology are definitely interesting enough to justify their respective prices, I think that that's more of a testament to the state of Philippine speculative fiction than anything else.

If you have the money to spare, I'd simply recommend picking up both. It'll cost you less than two hundred pesos for two more books in your arsenal and a fairly good read. (If you only have enough money to pick up one, then I'd suggest that you put it away for a while until you've saved up enough money to buy both. It's that simple.)

PAA's primary advantage is that it showcases at least one piece of artwork per story; Although these elements neither aid nor hinder the reading exercise much, I have a tendency to like Renerick Sevilla's art. It makes me wonder if he's done any comics, to be honest.

I found one major problem with the PAA publication, however, and that involved the spotty editing. A good editor would have found a way to clean up some of the problems I noticed in each of the stories, grammar and spelling issues notwithstanding. A good editor would have noticed lapses in some critical areas -- isn't this supposed to have a Table of Contents, for instance? And a good editor would have noticed that, while the book clearly reads "Pinoy Amazing Adventures" on its cover, it nevertheless reads "Pinoy Amazing Adventure" on its spine. Whoever checks and proofreads publications like these on Psicom's end needs to do a better job.

That's that, I think. PAA, I suppose, is about as good a buy as PGS right now... although a lot of the burden is on Psicom if they want to release a second volume of the anthology. The editorial staff has a lot of things to clean up on their end... although I would probably welcome more works by the independent writers any day.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Review: Philippine Genre Stories, Issue One

Having read the first issue of Philippine Genre Stories, I figured that it would be best to send a personal response to each author on the skill and execution of their works. I've tried to be as honest and as subjective as I can regarding each story. These reactions may be accurate, or they may not... but at least they're honest, and I hope that these reviews from a humble reader are taken in good faith.

Noted below are the exact same letters I've written and submitted to each author regarding his corresponding work. I don't pretend to be a qualified literary critic, but I do try to call them as they are. Feel free to comment or argue on my opinions if you feel like it; I'm not the last word on critiques like these.

If you haven't picked up a copy of the publication yet, I strongly suggest that you do so before reading further. Regardless of what I may have written below, I think that it's a fairly good issue, and well worth the one-hundred-peso price tag. (I mean, would you rather spend up to five times that amount for a foreign-published novel? I'd be more interested in saving my money here.) While I've tried to keep as many details under wraps as possible, some spoilers may still abound.

Wail of the Sun (written by Vincent Michael Simbulan)
Dear Mr. Simbulan,

I'll go right out and say it, I suppose: Out of the five pieces in Philippine Genre Stories' first issue, yours kind of fell to the bottom of my list.

I don't think that it's a bad story, though. In fact, I think that it would make for a pretty good installation in a long-term fantasy epic. Unfortunately, most of that long-term epic hasn't quite materialized yet, and I don't feel that "Wail of the Sun" can hold its own as a one-shot.

The story has quite a few good moments. First of all, the background and setting sounds fully realized -- it looks as though everything takes place against an already-established history and political structure. Second, the story manages to take many of these details and present them in a way that makes them more familiar to readers; It's really easy to imagine what the "Ebonnite Grostequeries" are, or what a "Bone Warden" looks like. Finally, it does something that many attempts at fantasy don't touch on: It presents its characters as less iconic figures and more as ordinary humans with all the corresponding weaknesses. (I particularly loved the fact that the heroes of the realm were known by some very superhero-ey names, especially when Redenthor's character made their humanity all too obvious.)

Despite these qualities, however, I felt that the greatest weakness of the story lay in its characterizations. I found myself not being able to empathize with any of the characters, and therefore couldn't look upon their experiences with the same sense of suspense and urgency. It could just be me, I suppose, but I think it would help if the conversations were a little less expository and little more empathic -- less words about the fact that Redenthor is drinking himself to death, for example, and more words on why everyone thinks that that is the case. I suspect that there's a bit of baggage involved here -- that anything not revealed in this story is revealed in other parts of the epic -- and it hurts the story to stand alone as a result.

Ultimately, while I think that "Wail of the Sun" is a fair addition to anyone's fantasy collection, I also think that it needs some more work in order to stand on its own. It lightly touches on history and familiarity, yes, but I feel that it needs to take them a bit further in order to become a truly effective tale.
I felt that despite the presence of some fluid storytelling, "Wail of the Sun" ran into a problem that is common to many fantasy epics: The individual short stories can't stand by themselves. Something always feels missing, especially considering that important details on background and setting aren't repeated from one story to another. (Mind you, this is also why you can't submit the first chapter of a massive storyline as an English assignment and expect to get a good grade.)

Thriller (written by Andrew Drilon)
Dear Mr. Drilon,

I found "Thriller" to be unique. I haven't been able to read any piece of fiction that incorporates a comprehensive set of song lyrics -- much less Michael Jackson's -- into its narration yet, and I suspect that there's nothing else like it out there. Regardless of anything else, I feel that it's a very, very original approach.

The story itself was actually a little "here and there" for me; I thought that it was admirable for how it set up its story against the lyrics (and vice-versa), but I'm not certain if I find it to be truly great. It's good, maybe, but not great.

For one, it's remarkably readable. At first, I expected the story to be little more than a cheap knockoff of the "Thriller" music video. However, it ended up taking a distinctly different direction, atmosphere and flavor, up to the point where it hardly needed the lyrics in order to stand by itself. In addition, it's got everything that I like to see in a zombie movie: desperate struggle, resourceful initiative, and a once-ordinary person wielding a frickin' big gun. It even had humor in some of the most unexpected places: I mean, good God, could your male protagonist have had a more ironic name? And are those zombies saying what I think they're saying?

If there was a flaw in the story however, then it was something that I would expect to see in anything written based on a set of song lyrics: It started sounding forced after a while. I hated the dream sequence, for one -- it felt as though it only got placed in the story in order to fit excerpts of Vincent Price's speech. And the characters banter about various lines of the Michael Jackson song, which felt as though they were places where you couldn't think of any logical way to use the lyrics.

I think that "Thriller" is a cute story, though. I think that it's oddly innovative, and that it clearly shows the effort that went into making it a plausible tale. Heck, I'd go at it with a highlighter just to see if I can spot every single reference you put in. I don't think that it's perfect, yes, but I'd gladly recommend this to people while we're waiting for the next perfect story to come along...
I'm serious about that recommendation at the end. You have to read Andrew Drilon's story, if only to see how he blends song into fiction. It doesn't even matter whether you like Michael Jackson or not -- you have to read Drilon's work to believe it.

The Middle Prince (written by Dean Francis Alfar)
Dear Mr. Alfar,

To put it in straight terms, I liked "The Middle Prince".

One of the things that I normally look for in a story is an innovative plot idea, or one that takes any established standard and turns it on its ear. This was definitely one of those, and it referenced something that I've asked since I was old enough to read: What is it about the youngest prince in a brood of three, and why is he always the successful one? No one seems to have any sympathy for the older princes, much less the middle one, and it feels good to finally see the spotlight trained on him.

Halfway through, I found that the story takes another interesting turn by giving the middle prince an awareness of his own intractable situation. He knows that he's not going to succeed, he doesn't want to risk his own skin for a quest that will be won by his youngest brother anyway, and he'd much rather be left to his own devices, thankyouverymuch. This is one of the best characterizations I've seen in a "traditional" tale, and it makes perfect sense in the story's context.

Apart from the premise and the characterization, I also admired the story's atmosphere and setting (which had that odd magical realist quality from folkloric tales). It even had all the elements that one would expect to see from a fairy tale -- talking fish, Grand Viziers, enchanted artifacts, princesses in towers, and a lot more besides. My only issue with the story, in fact, was that there were altogether too many of these details (perhaps implying a bigger universe, though), and the ending left me with a sort of "unfinished" feeling -- an inner voice that told me that there were a lot more loose ends to wrap up. I would assume, of course, that these would be more relevant to the struggles of the youngest prince, but this doesn't come out well in a story that's only supposed to pay attention to the middle one. (And even then we don't know what happens to the middle prince beyond his sailing away; This is a story that thrives on loose ends, it seems.)

But I liked "The Middle Prince", mind you. I think that it's high time he got his due without necessarily stealing the spotlight from his youngest brother. That's actually enough for me to overlook the loose ends and cheer him on. :)
The first issue's feature story did not disappoint me. There are serious questions that have to be posed once you tackle a plot idea where the main character is doomed to failure, and I feel that this work answered all of them without overtly changing the requirements and circumstances involved. As you probably already expect, the ending isn't a stereotypically happy one. It did leave me happy for the Middle Prince, though.

Insomnia (written by Joseph Nacino)
Dear Mr. Nacino,

I thought that "Insomnia" was fairly good. It holds a number of elements that combine for a nice piece of suspense; you could easily shop it around to a few literary classes to show students how to create a good sense of atmosphere. I feel that it contains a major problem that compromises its quality, though.

To start with, I loved the approach. Telling the story in terms of journal entries, interview transcripts, medical notes and other forms of indirect narration greatly helped the sense of uncertainty that the story wanted to build up. It didn't even stop there, as jumbling up the order of these entries served this purpose even further; The entire exercise literally forced me to ask what the hell was going on. On a more minor note, it helps the characterization as well: Amy and Reggie obviously play at good cop / bad cop respectively, Peter and Dr. Gutierrez's respective analyses sound like two totally different points of view, and Eden's voice is unique despite her only having a minor role.

Ultimately, the suspense was executed very well. You know that something's happening, you know that it's left five people dead, and you know that Peter's insomnia has something to do with it, but you don't know what the hell is going on. Every time the story reveals a major plot point, it forces you to ask more questions: What language was Peter speaking? What were those figures who showed up on the video? And what horrible truth did Eden discover that doomed them all?

Unfortunately, I feel that this is where the story runs into its major problem. I think that if "Insomnia" has any weakness, it's in the ending: We never actually get a satisfying answer to any of the questions that the story asks. We just get a little more death, and that's it. We don't realize what's really happening, and I feel that that is an important element when putting together a horror story: Uncertainty is a valuable tool when it comes to building up to the climax, but when that point finally comes around, then the story has to scare us. The revelation has to scare us. Regretfully, I feel that "Insomnia" had neither the point of revelation, nor did it have the scare.

I'll have to say that I liked the story from a technical point of view, if only because I think that it does a lot of things right. I'm not certain if I like it as a story, however, and that's only because I didn't like how the ending ultimately turned out. As it stands, I think it's fairly good. But I think it could have been better.

You have some very interesting Easter Eggs, though. Kadath... heh.
Is it wrong to have a horror story that doesn't leave you with the trembling feeling that comes with being scared? Or is it wrong to judge something as belonging to the "horror" genre, and then berate it for not scaring its readers properly? This is what mucked up the math for me with "Insomnia", to be honest. I couldn't decide if it was good or not at first, although after a while I went for the more positive route.

Then again, there's also the possibility that the feelings of uncertainty throughout the story were sufficient enough for readers to follow. We can go on and discuss this all day, I fear.

Inhuman (written by Alexander Marcos Osias)
Dear Mr. Osias,

I don't intend this as a pun, to be honest, but I thought that "Inhuman" was one hell of a read. I thought that it was extremely well-written, and I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that this was because it was extremely well-researched.

The research, in fact, is what makes the story shine. I have never seen an actual exorcism, mind you, but the story presents the experience in such detail that it seems quite realistic. More than once, it made me wonder as to whether or not you witnessed or participated in one yourself. (Heck, I even asked myself if it was possible that you copied the text from some religious record... but I'll trust you on this one, I suppose.)

Beyond the research, however, I marveled at how your narrative did not even attempt to soften or sugarcoat the experience. There are literally no points in which a reader can catch his breath -- only areas where he could become complacent, and therefore be taken completely by surprise as to what Marcel would do next. It takes the obvious "exorcism" plotline a step further by giving readers the impression that this is not just some walk in the park. This is an experience that is mentally, physically and supernaturally draining; It can go as far as to kill people, or at least leave some terrible scars. I have yet to read or watch anything in the same sub-genre that will give me a similar impression.

For all its qualities, however, I feel that there are a few flaws. Having been caught up in the vicious struggle that was the entire rite, I didn't feel much in the way of empathy with the characters. The story doesn't reveal much in the way of background that didn't involve the origins of Marcel's possession or Father Patrick's death, and I think that this resulted in my viewing the story from a rather detached position. I went through the sequence of events and was impressed by the developments; I didn't experience them along with the characters themselves. If anything, the exorcism itself simply steals the show from everything else.

I think that "Inhuman" is clearly a good read. It's vicious, it's compelling, and it demonstrates a masterful knowledge of its subject matter. I'm not certain if it rises beyond that, however, and I would have liked to see more of a personal angle to the entire thing.

I'll say it again, though, and I still don't intend to pun: I think it's one hell of a read. I mean it.
This is the other "must-read" of the issue for me, and it's more because of the level of detail that went into writing the story than for anything else. I hesitate to call it "horror" because I didn't empathize much with the situation of the characters, but I will call it a morbidly fascinating read because, well... it just is.

The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories, Issue One

I have one last set of comments to make, and they're for the issue as a whole. I'll make this as short as possible, seeing that I've taken up too much space for everything else already.

The digest came out okay, I think. I mentioned earlier that I think it's worthwhile for its one-hundred-peso price tag, and I'll stand by that opinion. If there's a problem, however, it's that I didn't feel that any of its pieces allowed the digest to eclipse that price tag. In a sense, the collection is okay... but not remarkable. (I have some high standards for anthologies, though. If you don't believe me, you can judge by yourself. The issues are pretty low-priced to begin with, anyway.)

I think it does a good service to its readers, though, by allowing them direct contact with the writers for potential opinions and critiques. While there's the possibility that we'll be running into some pretentious trolls on the way, it's hard to deny that this will be good for the writers in the long run. Not only that, but it also holds the possibility of weeding out the people who can't take honest criticism -- it's easy, after all, to balk at the possibility of readers breaking down your e-mail with demands to write better-quality works.

If I had to make one change with the digest, though, I'd find a way to shorten the intros that appear just before each story. One or two short paragraphs would be fine, I think, but as it stands, reading three long italicized paragraphs merely left me clutching onto my bag of popcorn and wondering when the movie was going to start, if you get my drift.

In short, the first issue of the Digest of Philippine Genre Stories was much like the stories in its collection -- definitely not perfect, but holding a lot of potential to get there. I'm willing to sit back and wait for the second issue to come out... and then, I suppose, we'll see if the publication will start getting better with experience.

That's it, ladies and gentlemen. Now that I'm done with my piece, feel free to sound off.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Three

The first branch of Bibliarch that I visited didn't seem to have any more copies of The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories for sale, so I had to pick up a copy of the first issue from one of the local magazine stands. The anthology did come out a few months ago, though, so I suppose that I should have expected supplies to be a bit sparse now. It did only cost me a hundred pesos, at least.

I mention Philippine Genre Stories here because of two reasons: The first is that the publication has just secured the rights to one of my short stories, which is set to appear in their next issue. (This should open my work up to further criticism, if nothing else.) The second is that the digest has shown itself to be quite open to comments and critique -- even to the point of posting e-mail addresses for each of its featured authors -- and I'd like to make a contribution to such efforts. Specifically speaking, I'll be posting a review of both the publication and its contents within a few days.

I am, of course, not new to literary critique. I've both given and taken honest opinions on the written word, honed my skills through a number of discussions on prose and expression, and previously noted my thoughts on the Fully Booked contest winners right here on this blog. Setting all that aside for a moment, however, I will point out that I paid for my copy of the digest with my own money, and am reading it on my own time. This should at least qualify me to give an opinion on the publication, regardless of how people may wish to receive it.

I will, however, discuss what I look for in a good piece of fiction. Everybody follows their own line of logic when doing critiques, I suppose: Any person's critique is therefore a good critique as long as it is consistent with his or her own literary beliefs. In my case, my thoughts follow a certain "chronological" theme in that I feel that I must be satisfied with a short story along the three aspects of past, present and future. This allows me to form an initial "gut instinct" for further analysis.

I get the feeling that nobody out there has understood a single word I've said yet, so I'll explain. Whenever I read a story, I usually ask myself all of three essential questions:

The "Past" Aspect: Have I seen this before?
Despite the presence of a slight traditionalist streak, I'm a big believer in innovation. This, I feel, is particularly important when it comes to Speculative Fiction and other similar experimental genres. I want to reward new concepts, settings and directions, as opposed to supporting tired old backgrounds and plot threads that merely get used over and over again.

This is, incidentally, why most short fiction of a high-fantasy nature tends to leave me unimpressed. A lot of fantasy writers seem to be perpetually stuck in worlds composed of elves, dwarves and orcs where nubile young women wear armor made from silly string and young farmboys realize their destiny to save the universe. This is also why my eyes tend to glaze over at any overuse of technical terms in science-fiction pieces, at any plot thread that revolves around breaking any of Asimov's three laws of robotics, and at any post-apocalyptic scenario where Mel Gibson's Mad Max could easily turn up and chew the scenery.

All this is, of course, quite subjective. Whatever I see as tired and overused may be seen by another person as completely original, and I figure that that's perfectly all right as long as we can all make our own distinctions.

Copies and homages (as well as plagiarism) do fall under this category, in case you were wondering about those. If I read something that immediately reminds me of something else I've read before, I usually check whatever references I can find before saying anything. If the work does make an effort to be original in other parts, then I judge it according to those remaining vestiges. (This was, in fact, the logic I used when noting the passages in "A Song for Vargas", back during the Fully Booked awards.) All writers are readers too, after all, and some of them will want to make mention of their favorites. I figure that it's just a question of separating the two before settling on a final opinion.

The "Present" Aspect: Is this catching my eye?
The worst thing I feel a story can do, I suppose, is put me to sleep.

A story is supposed to be able to grab your attention, propel you through fifteen-odd pages of random sentences, and then give you a gentle feeling of satisfaction once you put down the book. This is as much a matter of style and creativity as well as skill and execution; You want the reader to genuinely immerse himself in the literary experience, not feel like a rat trapped in a never-ending maze.

I'll even go as far as to state that a lot of pseudo-philosophical settings and lecture-stories fall into this trap. It's not that I reject them outright, mind you, but these works tend to be short on story and long on personal essay. Either the characters are extremely stereotypical, or the exposition is lacking, or the ending is trite. Stories of this nature make you want to put the book down right there, and then go out and do something else.

Again, this is also quite subjective. Whatever puts me to sleep may just as easily be a heart-gripping read for anyone else. The distinction lies in exactly where our respective thresholds are; I'm afraid to say that mine isn't very high when it comes to this sort of thing. It really depends on who you are, I suppose.

The odd circumstance does occur every now and then, though, and it usually happens whenever I'm distracted from the story by... well, something. It could be anything, really -- a misspelled word, a missing punctuation mark, a couple of transposed pages -- all of these could easily ruin a perfectly good reading experience. While this does technically count as "catching the reader's eye", it's simply not the story that's doing the catching, and it lessens one's interest in the work proper. I try to avoid judging pieces by these unfortunate occurrences, unless the distraction is really too huge to be ignored.

The "Future" Aspect: Would I want to read this again?
The simple action of finishing a reading session will cause different reactions with different pieces. Sometimes you'll collapse against the back of the chair and mutter something about finally finishing the story. Sometimes you'll just sit there for a few moments, taking more than a few deep breaths before forming the word "Wow" with your lips.

I believe that the value of a story goes far beyond that, though. Where a good story will certainly leave an impression on you, a truly great story will make you want to sit down and re-experience that same impression once again, sometime in the near future when all the appropriate planets are aligned. These stories are good enough to make you carry pieces of them wherever you go, and those are the things that I look for. Any story that's not memorable enough to make me want to pursue it is one that has fallen short of the mark.

Yes, this is subjective; All three of these aspects are highly subjective. Critique is a question of subjectivity, in case you haven't noticed yet. My favorite short stories -- the ones I read and reread all over again -- are obviously completely different from your favorite short stories. What's more important, I feel, is that some stories must exist that leave us these impressions. Otherwise, well... why would we be reading anything in the first place?

I must mention at this point, however, that a lot of modern stories depend on carefully-laid subtlety in order to work. These stories usually incorporate a plotline twist of some sort, or construct complex lattices of characterization, or at the very least hide something that only gets revealed to the reader later on. This actually makes it far easier to judge a book by how much you want to reread it, I think. A good story should be able to transcend this ability of revelation -- it should transport you to the point where you're reading the chapters for the first time, and therefore should allow you to experience the feeling of surprise all over again. Few works have this sort of "recyclability", and it's not something that we can voluntarily stuff into every new piece of writing.

Any story that you feel you want to read again for purely personal reasons is a good story... or at least, that's how I feel about it. That's also why I stock a library of very well-worn books.


That's that, of course. I follow a lot more lessons whenever I enter into a critiqual mood, but these are the three dictates that allow me to form my initial opinions. I'll note that the past skill and reputation of the author (as well as the prestige of the publication in question) doesn't necessarily fall under any of these three aspects, and I don't think they should; Writers and editors are only about as good as their most recent work, after all.

Sharp-eyed people will most likely have noticed that these three tenets can be adapted as writing lessons as well. I suppose that this is due to the fact that I approach critiquing from both a writer's and a reader's point of view. Different people out there will obviously approach their judgement from different areas, however, and that's why we won't necessarily agree with each other. But hey, at least you get more opinions to make you think.

I'm almost done with Philippine Genre Stories' first issue, by the way. Once I'm done, I'll let you know how I think things turned out. It may be pretty, or it may be pretty ugly. Whatever the case, it'll be honest. And that's really what I want to go for, anyway.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Those Cheating Bastards

A few weeks after I noted an incidence of cheating in Indian chess tournaments, the Philippine chess community revealed that it was investigating allegations of game-fixing in local events. It seems that chess has been thrust into the spotlight all of a sudden, although I regret to say that this is obviously not the most honorable of appearances.

I've already disclosed my thoughts about the game in two previous posts, so I won't go into too much further detail on chess moves, chess strategy, or chess politics. I do find it remarkable that such a previously "pristine" community would suddenly be the focus of multiple issues at present, however. At a time when modern card-game tournaments have been able to successfully implement and enforce rules against cheating, why are the chess communities being caught unaware by these incidences?

Part of me figures that it's because the chess community is one that goes back entire generations, and the players are therefore far more trusting of each other than one would expect. Serious competitors actually go through rigorous training to be able to compete in tournaments, and it's easy to assume that they get a good education on ethics to go along with this training.

On the other hand, part of me also figures that it could simply be because the community got too secure in its complacency. Chess isn't exactly the easiest game to cheat at, and the prestige of the game does make it really difficult for most serious players to consider cheating. Nevertheless, it would still be really naive for anyone to think that these would prevent any or all possible attempts at unlawful advantage.

Of all the games out there, Magic: the Gathering is probably the best at summarizing and executing penalties for cheaters without compromising its play experience. After all, when you run hundreds of tournaments each year, organize a lot of high-profile international events, promote celebrity players and give away millions of dollars in prizes, you have to ensure the fairness and viability of your play environment. Enter any Magic tournament and you are guaranteed access to a qualified judging staff at all times.

There are, of course, a remarkable number of ways to cheat at Magic. There are any number of ways to cheat at any game, mind you; It's just that no other game can actually list down any and all possible infractions that can be committed -- and recommend the appropriate action for each one. Offenses can run anywhere from drawing a card at the wrong time, to getting coached by outside influences, to engaging in bribery or game-fixing. Penalties run a similar gamut -- they can involve actions as small as letting players get off with a warning, or drastic moves that ban offenders from the game for a number of years.

As obsessive-compulsive as this arrangement might sound at first, it's been surprisingly effective over the past ten years. Put simply, it allows judges at Magic tournaments to know exactly what to look for, and as a result it doesn't give cheaters a lot of room to plan or execute their deeds. More impressive is the fact that the strict tournament regulations recognize no "sacred cows" at all, and to be sure, high-profile players are even scrutinized far more comprehensively than other people. If there is any model of tournament security that should be followed, it's this one.

What's probably the most important thing about this whole discussion is that we can no longer expect any game to maintain a high level of integrity. There are now simply too many people out there who seek to gain any advantage possible; These people end up spoiling the experience for others, and therefore harm the games and their respective communities in the long-term. Officials who are in the position of organizing these events should therefore stop dragging their feet and moving only to pursue retroactive offenses; They should know that there is a possibility for this sort of thing to happen in the first place, and should therefore take the appropriate steps to prevent it.

If otherwise, then... well, what alternatives do we have? There are a ton of available games out there, I suppose; We could always move on to the next ones. Any game with nonexistent player security, after all, would be far better than any game with bad player security.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Apparently, I Snore

As much as I would have liked to hear this revelation from a nice young woman in the same bed as me, I instead found it out from my indignant sister, who happened to be sleeping in the room across the hall. She said that I was snoring so loudly that she crossed over to my bed and hit me with a pillow in an attempt to make me stop.

As a whole, I'm unaffected by snoring. I make it a point to sleep when I'm tired (as opposed to sleeping as part of a normal, everyday schedule), and therefore have been able to doze off sitting in front of the TV or under the glare of the reading light. On the other hand, snoring has become a bit of a fascination as a result: I'm all too willing to stay awake a few more minutes just to listen to the curious, sonorous sound, or wonder if it's going to persist once the snorer shifts position.

For that matter, I thought that I wasn't a snorer for the longest time. I'm usually the last person in my family to fall into slumber each night, so there's almost always nobody around to listen to my transgressions.

I do know that I talk in my sleep, though. So far, nobody has been able to directly interpret exactly what I've been talking about, but I like to think that it involves drafts for future pieces of fiction. Or synopses of strange dreams, if you like; I get a lot of strange dreams.

Yes, it's strange to receive a complaint regarding one's snoring when one hasn't run into any problems at all regarding years of sleep-talking. Maybe the latter is just more entertaining to listeners when it does occur.

Regardless of how inconvenient things may have turned out, it's still a lot less disconcerting than what I went through some decades ago. I had a really nasty sleepwalking habit when I was a child, and if the stories told by my parents are to be believed, then I probably did everything from jumping through hoops to writing masterpiece symphonies. (This seemed to be a family trait, by the way -- I've heard that a couple of cousins have had similar problems.)

And now I apparently snore. This is just one more item in the long laundry list that is my somnabulent history.

I used to believe that snoring was the result of an unfortunate physical characteristic -- perhaps the fact that one's nasal passages were below a certain length, or the presence of a narrow gap between the olfactory nerves and the central palate. While I don't think that I've gone through any physical changes in the last few years, it's altogether possible that my recent rash of colds might have unhinged something in my cranium somewhere. There's probably a forthcoming explanation out there somewhere.

Considering that I've now gone through sleepwalking, sleep-talking, lucid dreaming, a little bit of insomnia, and now snoring, I wonder what's left for me out there. The logical progression seems to imply that I'm going to run into narcolepsy next; It's not something to look forward to, I'll tell you that.

The alternatives, though, are too weird to imagine. So if I stay over at your house one day and you find that I'm tap-dancing in my sleep, feel free to wake me up so that you can make fun of my awkward situation.

Or, failing that, you can always sit back, grab a bag of popcorn, and enjoy the show. I won't mind.

Friday, January 05, 2007


There are a lot of people in my little corner of the world who don't have access to an active Internet connection right now. Just before New Years' came around, an earthquake off the coast of Taiwan shifted quite a few undersea cables, disrupting international networks across a good part of Southeast Asia.

Interestingly enough, I haven't had much of a problem with the Internet connection on my end. The fact that I'm subscribed to a cable-based service might have something to do with it, and this is probably why I've been able to check my e-mail, post my job applications, and blog about various topics over the past few days.

Ironically, every single one of my freelance employers is using the more popular PLDT DSL service. That means that they, along with many thousands of clients across the Philippines, are kicking their heels at the lack of online communication.

That also means that I can't get in touch with them regardless of how well my connection is working.

And if I can't get in touch with them, then they don't get to see my work.

And if they don't get to see my work, then I don't get paid.




I guess that means that sometimes when you win, you still lose.

What a way to start a year.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Of Blades and Sheep

Hidden among the Jobstreet postings I received yesterday was a Creative Writer position with Z-Zone Online Philippines, Incorporated. Normally I don't give "Creative Writer" positions with ambiguously-named companies a second thought -- I mean, for all I know, I might end up getting suckered into writing for online porn sites. This one, however, turned out to be much different... especially when you realize that Z-Zone is the primary operator for the Skyblade: Sword of the Heavens MMORPG.

Stalwarts will probably recognize that this image is available for download as one of the wallpapers on their site. The game is actually based on a Korean graphic novel of the same name; Ironically, from the reviews I've read so far, the comic holds less emphasis in presenting a cohesive universe and has more interest in parodying a "martial arts"-type storyline.

What caught my attention about the job application, however, was this little clause in the requirements section:
* All interested applicants are required to submit via email a 3,000 words story using any of the Skyblade Sword of the Heavens characters as the primary character/s of the story.
Well, now. You have to admit that that's a pretty interesting requirement.

I don't play Skyblade, mind you. For that matter, I don't play any MMORPGs at all -- my interests fall more along the lines of tabletop games. I haven't read a single page of the printed work the game was based on, much less even known about its existence until this morning.

But it's difficult to resist a challenge like this. You get an entire universe to play with, the assurance that at least one person out there is going to read your work, and the opportunity to stamp your own literary style on somebody else's setting. There are only two obvious catches that I can see at first glance: One is the three-thousand word minimum (which is the length of an anthologizable short story), and the other is the lack of available information. There are few reference pieces available (in English) on the Skyblade universe and characters; An applicant going through the entire story-writing process would be hard-pressed to gather enough data for a consistent plotline.

I never thought I'd say this, but I actually wish that there was more fan-fiction available on this thing. Despite what some people may think of it, fan fiction can provide a strangely consistent reading element at times.

I was honestly surprised when I brought up the Skyblade Philippines game forums and found that nobody had posted any fiction works for almost a year. That, along with the lack of any written fiction on the site is a bad sign: It implies that the setting isn't crunchy or workable enough to get people speculating on possible plotlines. Whoever garners Z-Zone's open position will have the responsibility of making the Skyblade world much more interesting to its fans.

Whatever the circumstances, though, this might make for an interesting literary exercise. Seeing that it's the start of the year and that most of the bigshot media companies and publishing giants haven't gotten around to setting up some calls for submission yet, a Skyblade application would make for a good diversion right now. At the very least, the art is somewhat nice to look at.

Too bad Z-Zone didn't go as far as to place a deadline on their application requirements. Their posting did mention that this was an urgent hiring, however, so I figure that they'll want the works to come in as soon as possible.

With all that said, we'll know a few things about the person who will eventually win the position, regardless of who it is: We'll know that they were creative, that they were resourceful, and that they were somehow able to spin entire stories out of an almost-nonexistent bolt of cloth. That would probably make the whole exercise worthwhile by itself.

* The Skyblade wallpaper image above was acquired as a wallpaper download from the Skyblade Philippines web site, and is copyright 2006 by Z-Zone Online Philippines. It is used here for purely non-commercial purposes, as well as the burning desire to point out the giant monster sheep in the background. I mean, seriously -- it's a giant monster sheep, of all things. It would make a heck of a bunch of lamb chops. Mmmm... lamb chops.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Disclaimer: January 2007

For anyone who's counting, this is the 29th Disclaimer post I've written. That means that I've written less of these than I have posts on Suman Latik, although I'll be able to catch up by June this year.

Of course, the number of these posts doesn't really matter. I actually aim to write Disclaimer posts at a rate that allows them to show up regularly on the Recent Post links: Because I write about ten posts a month, and the Recent Posts have been set to show the last ten posts I've written, it only makes sense to put these things together once a month.

Yes, there's a Note of Ownership on the tail end of the sidebar as well as a Creative Commons License, but they're things that people tend to miss easily. Besides, people are more likely to read some of the more technical stuff if you can make it interesting enough for them. The truly dedicated plagiarists, mind you -- those who absolutely don't give a damn as to what they're doing -- will still ignore these posts, but at least I'll have a bit of legal precedent backing me up.

Why am I so worried about plagiarists? Because there's quite a bit of creative material on this blog. There's not as much of it as I'd like there to be, but I'd like to protect the potential presence just in case. In addition to that, I'm a writer. I therefore can't place any visual watermarks into my works like a lot of artists can.

In addition, the articles on this blog make reference to a number of works by other authors as well. I don't claim these works as mine, but I wouldn't want to compromise my own position by being accused as a plagiarist myself. The Disclaimer posts allow me to clarify my use of these works for non-commercial purposes, and might serve as a good example for other researchers in the long-term.

So, with all this out of the way, I'll cite the regular details that go into each and every Disclaimer I write:

Everything written on this web site is completely original, and was conceived and executed by Sean, the writer who owns and operates this weblog. There are a number of exceptions floating around, of course, in which cases I will note the identity and web address of the source (if possible). I will make a point of addressing my references correctly, which means that anyone who objects to me using their material is welcome to contact me for negotiation. I like to think that I am a reasonable person when it comes to matters like these.

Anyone is welcome to use any of the content found on this site, as long as they extend the same courtesies to me as well: I ask that they provide relevant reference in the form of a name and a web address, and refrain from misquotation altogether. I also request that people ask me for permission before actually using any of this content -- this will ensure that I can verify the context in which this content may be used.

I claim any or all rights to penalize those people who misrepresent or misquote me with malicious or avaricious intent. I reserve the finest of all legal remedies for those who take my work with the intention of placing it under their names (or any other persons', for that matter); This is theft, plain and simple, and I will not tolerate it under any circumstances.

Further information on these requirements may be found with regards to the Creative Commons License I previously mentioned. Alternatively, you could also just drop me a line. I'm all too willing to answer questions for the as-yet uninformed.

This is the start of a new year, everyone. Respect for other people should show up pretty highly on our resolution lists, if we haven't already adopted such an attitude.

And, as many others have already pointed out: Have a Happy 2007.