Saturday, June 30, 2007

Drinking Song

Darn it, I'm in bad times right now. I need a stiff drink.

The problem, however, is that I just happen to be one of those irritating teetotallers of contemporary times. That means that I hardly touch the alcoholic stuff: I am perfectly willing to chew on a slice of rum cake, or have the occasional sliver of champagne at weddings... but I'm not a regular drinker in any form, shape or function.

What makes things worse (because misfortune always comes in pairs) is that I'm going through some liver problems right now. Liver problems, for a man who doesn't touch alcohol. Hah. What that means is that I get deprived of what little alcohol I consume (which I don't miss), and what significant amounts of carbonated drinks that I do consume (which I'd kill for, at this very moment).

I don't know why I don't drink. I do have a few guesses, though, which those few other non-drinkers out there may instantly recognize:

I'm anti-peer pressure. That is to say, I was a misfit antisocial high school kid. If the other guys decided to go out and party, I stayed home to read a good book. If the other guys took up smoking in the empty lot behind the parking grounds, I settled in the library to study. If the other guys got together to drink and binge in some seedy bar, I slept early and learned how to snore. It was as though I was being rebellious against the other teenage rebels, and it had a nice ring of irony to it.

I hate the taste. This still puzzles me -- why on earth would people want to drink something that tastes terrible, and is usually more expensive than your normal beverage besides that? I have yet to run across an alcoholic drink that actually tastes good, in my humble opinion. Maybe it's my taste buds. Maybe it's my high standards. Maybe everyone else out there just happens to have cast-iron stomachs.

I fear drunkenness. I like to think of myself as a rational, logical person. I'd rather not think of the possibility of seeing myself as an irrational, illogical person, much less with a face as red as a hot chili pepper.

I've got a support group. This is not to say that I specifically hang around non-drinkers; In fact, some of the people I know are perfectly willing to drink like parched fishes. I do have the benefit of knowing a lot of people who are willing to accept me as I am, and I thank them for it. They don't make a big deal about my preferences, despite the fact that my constant prattle tends to get on their nerves sometimes.

I get enough headaches. Alcohol always seems to give me these, and it's not just relegated to those splitting hangovers that people get in the morning. For me, I usually get a slight buzzing or tingling feeling a few hours after the drink, followed by the dawning realization that the pounding has started on the inside of my temples. I suspect that I probably have an adverse reaction to the stuff, only I'm not entirely sure why.

It's reasons like the above that usually get me setting aside the beer and wine in favor of a nice bottle of Mountain Dew. Of course, I can't even get that now... I'm forced to subsist on such abominations as Pepsi Max and Coke Light. Sometimes, at those most desperate hours, I'm forced to drown my sorrows in mineral water -- and there's nothing more desperate than the mere action of trying to get oneself drunk with mineral water.

Darn it, now I'm depressed. Where's that stiff drink I asked for, anyway?

Friday, June 29, 2007

Intelligent Questions

I subscribe to the pinoywriters mailing list mostly as a way to get in touch with the community. Half the messages that get posted there are spam, to be quite honest, but I suppose that if you're patient enough to slog through all the promotional messages and the bad treatises to author superiority, you'll find a few gems in there.

One such gem came up a few days ago, and it was a series of questions that was apparently interesting enough to garner a few immediate responses. I felt that these answers were fairly good already, and so I deleted the original thread and thought nothing more of it until I realized that the questions were still drumming at the back of my thick skull.

What follows, then, is a series of personal answers to a series of good questions. These are remarkably professional questions, an inquiry as to whether or not there are certain established rules in the writing field. These are my answers, and are by no means the final word on the matter; I only write this because these questions made me curious about exactly where I stood on the issue.

The questions, by the way, were originally asked by a writer named Natz. I did not acquire his permission to post these questions (nor edit them slightly) as of this writing, but I'll be notifying him about this entry soon. I feel that these are some important questions to consider, especially if you're the kind of person who makes a living off his imagination:

1. Is it okay to create a new, imaginary place and integrate it in a 'real' place or location? (e.g. Creating a new city in the heart of Metro Manila.) What's the literary rule on that one?

It's perfectly all right. This is fiction, after all. You can play with your setting however you want.

I think that you should be warned, however: It's more difficult to introduce readers to "revisionist" settings, because you'll need to spend time fleshing them out. I feel that a reader will always approach a story with certain assumptions in mind; You don't want to surprise them with details of a revisionist setting at a point when they've already gotten nice and comfortable.

That doesn't mean that you can't integrate imaginary places into real-world locations, though... you just have to be careful about doing so.

Before using your re-imagined setting, I would first ask if it's absolutely critical to the story. Can you, for example, set it in any real modern-day city without compromising much of your plotline? If so, then you could potentially save yourself a lot of trouble right there.

I don't think that there are any rules here that you should be concerned about. You do have to consider this carefully, though.

2. Is it okay to write about a fictional event that occurs in a real location? (e.g. Releasing a counterpart of the Black Plague within Metro Manila in 2006.)

Same as above, except that fictional events will usually produce a much larger impact on any story. Generally, events produce a "snowball" effect: The farther in the past that your fictional event takes place, the greater its consequences on yourc ontemporary setting. A deadly plague in 2006 Manila might not have far-reaching effects yet; That same plague in 1980s Manila might result in drastic changes in government and the rise of the medical profession; and that same plague in the 1940s might even prevent the Americans from retaking the Philippines from Japan.

My feelings here should be the same, though: Think this over carefully, and make sure that you establish this well enough for the readers to understand.

3. Is it okay to have a fictional community live inside a real community or place?

This is far easier, I think. Think of them as fictional characters who just happen to live in real-life locations -- most readers will probably be willing to accept the possibility that these people could easily live in such places. I suppose that just as long as you don't stretch this too far (like, say, an Eskimo community in Tondo), then you can usually pull this off without much trouble.

4. When using a real location as the setting, is it necessary to adhere to the history of the place? Can we say, for example, that an earthquake occurs there in 2006, when in truth, the earthquake being portrayed actually happens in 1986?

Assuming that the history of the place is essential to the story, you'll have to narrate it to the reader to begin with. If that's the case, I think that this is more-or-less the same question as #2, and should get the same answer: Watch the cause-and-effect, and make sure that you establish this well.

5. Will I get into trouble for using real locations in a piece of fiction?

Heck, no. Plenty of fiction is set in the modern world, after all. Some of them even try to put some neat little twists on our contemporary setting, much like what you're probably planning.

Sharp-eyed readers will probably notice that my answers above leave quite a few gaps: Specifically, while I did say that all of the above items were permissible, I gave little implication as to how one could possibly pull them off. That, I think, is already a question of literary style -- it's up to the author to figure that part out.

You're welcome to discuss this, of course. We're probably all writers or readers here, anyway. I'll even go as far as to say that each of us might have different answers for these questions. It's not as though we all have the same styles or imaginations, after all.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Ain't That a Kick in the Head

Having been out of work for a period of seven months early this year, I've almost forgotten what it feels like to be busy. And I don't mean knock-down, dragged-out, face-to-the-canvas busy; I mean really busy.

At this point, I'm starting to hallucinate little blobs of sweet, delicious light floating around my head every time I so much as glance at something. That's after fifteen straight hours of meetings, ladies and gentlemen; I can't wait to see what happens once I start doing overnights in the office again. I suppose that that would make a compelling reason for me to store a camera and a notepad in my desk cabinet -- they would make good companion pieces beside the sleeping bag.

No, I'm not complaining. After seven months of utter boredom, I finally get to plunge my hands into some dirty work. If that work involves spending most of my day in the office putting things together and taking them apart all over again, then so be it. It's better than being completely bored out of your skull with only the dregs of the Internet keeping you company.

Then again, I'm pretty sure that I can't keep this up for more than a few months. I'll probably start seeing the error of my ways after a while.

That, or I'll keel over at my desk one day. But that's another story.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Cause and Effect

I believe that I live in an age where superstitious practices, old wives' tales, and unfounded traditional admonitions have no place. This, I suspect, is why I constantly seek a logical foundation behind everything -- why I figure that anything worth doing has to have some sort of reasoning behind it.

This is not to say that I use this as a hard-and-fast rule, though; I like being spontaneous as much as the next guy. In fact, I wouldn't be engaged in the writing business if I weren't spontaneous to some degree. What I'm saying, however, is that I believe in having some sort of logic behind our rational actions. I'm saying that, if I've got an important something to deal with, then there's got to be a good explanation behind it.

Let's say, for example, that I have a certain bottle of medicine in my hands right now. Let's say that it's not one of those over-the-counter things, that it's one of those drugs with a strange-sounding name and a definite prescription requirement. If a qualified doctor tells me that I have to consume this stuff for a specific illness that I'm suffering, then I'll take the stuff according to his recommended dosage without much argument.

Now, if I were given the same advice by an unqualified doctor (say, a veterinarian who specializes in horses), then I'd hesitate. If I were given the same advice by a relative or a friend in a non-medical profession, then I'd openly balk at the possibility. And if I were given the same advice by a complete stranger in a dark alley late at night, then I'd immediately run away without asking any further questions. There's a certain qualification at work in this situation, after all -- why would I listen to someone here if they don't have a good degree of knowledge about the situation, the illness and the cure?

I can expand the argument here into any number of possibilities: Maybe the drug is untested or illegal. Maybe it has a set of ingredients that I know to be poisonous or detrimental to my health. Maybe I suspect that the qualified doctor in question has other ulterior motives for recommending the drug. Maybe I'm not sick at all, and some well-meaning (but misguided) relative just thinks I am.

Whatever the case, I want some logic in there. I want some means to qualify the recommended practice. I want some train of thought, some mental thread, some reference... anything that convinces me that this action is the best means to proceed with my current situation. Telling me that "it's always been done this way" isn't enough. Telling me that "everybody else is doing the same thing" isn't enough. And telling me that you can't provide your own justification for why I should be doing the dirty work sure as hell isn't enough, either.

I can see why I wouldn't want to walk under a ladder, yes. But I don't see why I should get scared whenever a black cat crosses my path. I can see why I shouldn't break any mirrors, yes. But I don't see why I should cower in bed whenever it happens to be Friday the 13th.

I'm just a man looking for justification here. I suppose that even a vague reason of some sort would help sometimes. But, well... I'm not about to listen to some random, unconnected piece of advice that looks like it has little to do with my current circumstances. I'd be more curious as to which completely different planet in which completely different solar system that came from. And then maybe I'd laugh.

I realize that my argument opens more than a few uncomfortable doors here -- it raises the question of religious faith, for one. It doesn't allow for such things as "hunches" or "personal instinct". It doesn't work very well with situations where you have less than thirty seconds to make a decision and where you can feel the pressure breathing down your neck.

But I think that it's a good rule. It sure as heck doesn't answer all the issues that are out there, but it does answer a sizeable chunk of them. I can't go around living my life on a bunch of rules that may be as outdated as scrolls and parchment; I've got to be realistic enough to pick out those that still make sense.

Otherwise, well... where would that leave me? I wouldn't want to go around as a disturbing reflection of times long past. I wouldn't want to ignore how the rest of the world changes around me. I wouldn't want to pass anything to my listeners that I don't believe is a fundamental truth, much less say anything that I only partially believe in.

There's usually got to be a logic somewhere. If not, then why would we have this capacity to think things over in the first place?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Isn't it Weird?

When you live in a cookie cutter world,
Being different is a sin.
So you don't stand out,
But you don't fit in.

- Hanson, Weird

Again, I don't usually do memes. But I do make a few exceptions to this rule, although I make up for these transgressions by never passing them on to other people.

This particular meme comes to me from darkhalf, and it involves writing down six weird things about yourself. Personally, this fascinated me, as I do make an effort to promote the fact that I'm not exactly your normal person: I collect episodes of weird events in my life, maintain a tendency to think of strange things at inappropriate times, and somehow remain silent enough to blend into a crowd despite the invisible monkey perched on my shoulder.

In short, I know perfectly well that I'm a weird person. But it doesn't matter how weird a person you think you are -- if you put six things on that list that everybody knows about you already, then you're about as weird as a sack of unpeeled potatoes.

So now I have to think of six weird things about me that I haven't already made known to the public. That means that I can't mention anything about the stuffed toy collection, the studies in combinatorics, the efforts to combine two random words together in one phrase just to short-circuit peoples' brains... I can't mention anything that I've already mentioned to a lot of people somewhere. That makes this an incredibly difficult task... and that you'd all better appreciate the effort I'm going through. :)

1. I work a lot of pop culture references into a lot of the essays I write, just to see if people will spot them. Some of them are subtle and some of them aren't, but I put them in anyway. I don't know where these come from, to be honest -- it's not as though I encounter them in everyday conversation. Bah weep granah weep ninni bong?

2. Despite the fact that I can draw, I don't promote my skills in that area. I only use my drawings as character studies (and I make the occasional doodle whenever I get bored), but I don't go out and advertise myself as an artist. I think I can actually do design consultations about as well as I do literary critiques.

3. I don't eat much in the way of candy or chocolate, and this was the case even back when I was a kid. My peers would happily tear into a package of jellybeans at about the same time I would bite into a dish of steamed vegetables. I still find it strange that people would love these excessive bits of sugar, mind you.

4. I don't like the prospect of insulting other people, although I can probably throw around a bunch of "yo' mama" jokes with the best of them. I usually only direct insults at others under three circumstances: Either it's completely unintentional, or it's something that I can apologize for afterwards, or the person has done something that really rubs me the wrong way.

5. I always look into a woman's eyes whenever I speak to her. From what I hear, this is an incredible achievement for a guy, especially considering that their eyes will wander to a woman's chest or cleavage most of the time. Whenever I do realize that my gaze is tending in such a direction, I just turn and look at something else.

6. I hate Sudoku. I simply abhor this puzzle. I literally have to restrain myself from bawling out its many fans the moment I hear about their enthusiasm for the game. I was solving Sudoku puzzles when I was six years old (yes, it's been around for a while), and its current popularity just... confounds me. Where were these people twenty years ago?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Antaria: Depths of the Keep

(Author's Note: This piece is chronologically preceded by the work "What Lies Beneath".)

"She's awake, I think."

"Good," a brusque voice said. "Make sure that the bindings are tight, scholar."

Amalthea opened her eyes, and almost immediately a sensation of pain flooded her thoughts. She could see an incandescent circle of orange light before her, a blurred image that slowly came into focus the longer she stared at it.

It was a fireplace, she noticed. Long licks of flame whipped at their stray embers, which were bright with the dust of old wood. Forgotten cobwebs and stale air alike melted before the heat, although the shadows of the room seemed to enjoy the attention as they flickered across her robes.

"They should be tight enough," said the reed-thin man standing nearest to her. He looked pale and sick by the firelight, although his garments implied a certain degree of affluence. Amalthea noticed an unkempt nest of scrolls and writings nearby; It wasn't too much of a stretch to figure that they belonged to him.

"If you say so," the man with the brusque voice said, but there was the sound of drawn metal nevertheless. "You must permit me my own safeguards, however."

Amalthea shifted, feeling the cloth bite into her wrists.

The brusque man approached, and this time she could see him clearly. He was a stocky man of middle age, weathered and scarred by the seasons and bearing mismatched armor of the same nature. The dagger he held in one hand was lacquered and carved in wood and soft metals, which sharply contrasted with the set of his jaw and the angle of his broken nose.

"Er..." Amalthea said, "I don't have any money, you know."

The brusque man gave her a strange look. "We're not after your money," he said.

"My supplies are outside," Amalthea said. "I hid them in a place that even the scavengers aren't likely to find."

"We've got enough supplies," the brusque man said, "but thanks all the same."

"Then... what do you want?" Amalthea asked, an entirely unwelcome possibility forming in her mind.

"Not what you're thinking," the brusque man said, sticking the dagger point-first into the space between two floor tiles.

The scholar cleared his throat. "I was... I was just wondering what you were doing here, good lady."

Amalthea raised a suspicious eyebrow. "Here?" she asked. "Where's 'here'?"

"Spare me the theatrics," the brusque man said. "You know you're in Thorngarde. We know we're in Thorngarde. These days, there's only one reason why any of us could possibly be in this thrice-cursed place."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"You don't stumble onto this place by accident, girl. You either have a lot of maps at your disposal, or you're luckier than a three-legged hare."

"We've been circling this floor for a couple of days," the reed-thin scholar explained. "So far we've been able to avoid most of the traps with the maps I've acquired, but the one I have for this floor is incomplete."

The brusque man scowled. "Incomplete, nothing. You ran out of maps."

"If it wasn't in the Centuran archives, Sir Candor, then it doesn't exist."

"No," Amalthea said. She could feel the cloth unraveling before her fingers. "It just means that the floors haven't been explored yet."

Both of them glared at her for a second, just before the scholar spoke. "She does have a point," he conceded.

The brusque man muttered something under his breath, then picked up the dagger and twirled it in one hand. "So we're at the point of no return, then."

"You might say that," the scholar said. He looked more nervous by the second.

"You'd better pay me when this is all over," the brusque man said, just before he turned to Amalthea. "Can we trust you?" he asked her.

Slowly, as though performing a conjurer's trick, Amalthea slipped smoothly out of her bonds and presented the wrinkled cloth to her two hosts.

The brusque man raised an eyebrow. "I guess not," he said. "Who are you, and what business do you have here?"

"My name is Amalthea," Amalthea said. After a moment's thought, she added, "I'm a Metrian."

"A mage," the scholar said in a curious tone.

"That doesn't do wonders for your trustworthiness," the brusque man mused.

Amalthea held up both hands. "I'm certain that we're here for the same reasons. We don't have to compete with each other, my lords. We can work together."

"That strikes me as a fine idea, Sir Candor," the scholar said. "I was about to suggest it myself."

"That," Candor pointed out, "is why you're the scholar and why I'm getting paid to haul you around."

Amalthea straightened. "I can hold my own," she said. "You wouldn't have to worry about me."

"Now what would a mage like you possibly want with a scholar and his hired dog? You don't see much in the way of money or sorcery in dusty old keeps."

"Whatever you're looking for, I'll help you find it."

"We're looking for a way out," Candor said.

The scholar looked surprised. "We're not looking for a way out," he said.

"You're walking into the bowels of an abandoned stronghold full of deadly traps without so much as an idea as to where you're going, and you're not looking for a way out?"

The scholar suddenly looked nervous in the face of Candor's glare. "Er... no," he finally said.

"I can get you out of here," Amalthea interjected. It was a stretch, but it would have to do.

"I have to admit that the Metrian has more sense than you do, Lord Phineas," Candor gestured.

"But we've only just started! This is where the work truly begins!"

"I'll do it on one condition, though."

"Name it," Candor said, "and the scholar will pay it."

"I'll get you out of here," Amalthea said, "...if you'll take me inside with you."

This time the silence was deafening.

"You're crazy," Candor finally said.

"You're already here," Amalthea pointed out. "What's the harm in looking around for a while?"

"I'd like to leave with my own skin still attached. I know a few suicidal scholars already," Candor said, glancing at Phineas. "I don't need a suicidal mage on top of that."

"We have an agreement, Sir Candor," Phineas complained.

"It didn't cover death and dismemberment. That costs double."


"Triple," Candor said quickly. "For the insurance."

The scholar considered this for a moment. Candor continued to glare at him, as though expecting a thorough response. Amalthea simply waited.

"Very well," Phineas said. "Triple the rate, once we return to Hadrian."

Candor folded his arms. "You're crazy," he said.

"Is that a deal?"

"There's a fine line between risking your neck and living to tell about it," Candor said.

"Yes, but do we have a deal?"

"Done, you thrice-cursed bookworm. Done!"

Phineas gave a long sigh. When he turned, he seemed to notice Amalthea all over again.

"And you?" he asked in a weary tone of voice. "What sort of payment would you want?"

"Oh, I'm fine," Amalthea said. "Just... lead on."

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Review: Philippine Genre Stories, Issue Two

I promised myself that I would review Philippine Genre Stories' second issue a long time ago, for the sole reason that I wanted to compare it to the first one. I'll be honest here and say that comparing one publication to another -- like, say, Pinoy Amazing Adventures and Philippine Genre Stories -- are like putting together apples and oranges: They're completely different things at heart, and sometimes it's hard to make a fair comparison. Comparing the first issue and the second issue of a single publication, however, is like comparing two apples to each other: One of them's most definitely the richer, the riper, and perhaps the more succulent one... and you have to decide which is which. Did the magazine improve after a few months, or did it go a little farther down the crapper? Comparisons like that, I suppose, make for fair questions.

I will say again, though, that I'm not some qualified martini-guzzling critic. I'm just a guy who reads stories like these, and who occasionally has a hand in writing them every now and then. I try to look at these writings from the point of view of a person who sits on both sides of the fence: I may sound like a biased judge at times, but I try to make up for it by being my own devil's advocate. If I think that a story's good, I ask myself where it needs improvement. If I think that a story's bad, I ask myself what I enjoyed about it.

When I wrote my review of PGS's first issue, I transcribed those reactions I had written and e-mailed to each individual author into one long blog post, then added a few more comments on the side. I use this same approach here, although I've tried to sound a lot less wordy and a lot more straight with the authors in question. The fact that I'm disseminating this stuff in the first place invites anyone to further discourse: I don't hold the primary definitive opinion to anything and everything, and I don't pretend that I do.

And regardless of how things turn out, I'd still recommend picking up and reading a copy before going through these reviews. The digest retails for a mere P100.00 in most places, which is not such a bad price when we realize that we purchase a bunch of other novels to the tune of five hundred smackers (or worse) each. And with PGS, you get six completely different stories to pick and read at your leisure. Buy it and have a look.

Now I must get to the reviews before I start boring you all. Don't forget -- spoilers abound below, so be careful. Here there be dragons, and other beasts besides.

Beneath the Acacia (written by Celestine Marie G. Trinidad)

Dear Ms. Trinidad,

I have to say that I liked your story.

As a mystery, it works in a remarkable manner. It has a detective of dubious background, a colorful cast of characters, a set of very subtle clues, and more than a few red herrings that kept me occupied throughout the tale. What got my attention, however, was how you managed to incorporate all of these elements into a mythical Filipino setting: I think that the story manages to blend the concepts of fantastic nature and human motivation without sacrificing the consistency of the setting or the quality of the mystery. I felt that it was a very Filipino story and a good whodunit at the same time.

Most of the issues I had with the story were relatively minor. I thought that it was written in a very slow and leisurely pace, for example, and while that's probably okay with other readers, I prefer a mystery that motivates me to take a close look at each and every detail. I also fear that readers who are unfamiliar with Filipino mythology may not get some of your more obscure references -- particularly the reference to a "realm" inside the kapre's tree and the relevance of Juan's true identity. The relationship between Juan and Maria Sinukuan also seems to be a little one-sided: I keep wondering if the young man does nothing but irritate her, and I keep wondering why the young deity does nothing but oppose him. I would have liked to see these characters fleshed out a bit more.

While I don't think that the story was perfect, it still made for a good read. This story combined the setting and the intended plotline very well, and I feel that that's rare when you work with genres like these.

Having worked with them before, I'm of the belief that it's difficult to do a good mystery. What makes me marvel at "Beneath the Acacia" is not just the fact that it manages to pull off the short detective story, but that it somehow manages to set this in a mythical Filipino context. It's definitely a different approach, and it delivers in spades.

The Scent of Spice (written by Crystal Gail Shangkuan Koo)

Dear Ms. Koo,

I felt that "The Scent of Spice" was an interesting story. I thought that it was of good quality and effective storytelling, but I also think that it could have somehow been more consistent with regards to its resolution.

I liked the style in which your story was written, probably to the point where I can say that I felt that it was better than anything else in the book. The alternative storylines that weave among each other in the text were a very nice way to emphasize the parallels between your two stories. In effect, I feel that this allowed each one to help the other: Any questions that the first storyline raised had answers that could be found in the second one, and vice-versa. And in effect, both of them aided in building one complete story of love found and love lost, with a small sliver of hope yet remaining in the end.

The details were also done very well. I found both storylines to be extremely distinct, considering the constant references to modern technology and pseudo-fantastic titles. It's interesting how two inherently different settings can somehow manage to form a legible story together.

If there was any place where I feel that the story ran into problems, though, it was in the climax and resolution. The story seems to imply that Jim was interested in his female flatmate, yet somehow figured that she didn't feel the same way about him. Unfortunately, the story doesn't give much information about Jim's point of view beyond how his writings tell it, and I feel that this sudden turnaround is more than a little abrupt. It left me scratching my head, wondering if I had missed something that happened between the two characters when my mind wandered for a second. I don't think that it killed the ending for me, but I think that a little clarification here would have helped me immensely.

All in all, however, I thought that your story was interesting. I thought that it was an engaging read, and that it provided a nice example of what you could do with the interplay between two different narrations.

I liked the realism inherent in this story. Ms. Koo surprised me at the end of her narrative when she revealed that she had gotten all the call-center-type technical details from a friend; She had me convinced that she had the experience to write such things.

Beacon (written by Nikki Alfar)

Dear Ms. Alfar,

I'll honestly say that I didn't think much of "Beacon" when I started reading it, but I did see my opinion turn around in the end. It was a debatable reversal, however, and it took me a while before I could finally decide whether I felt that it was a good story, or otherwise.

I found "Beacon" to be incredibly subtle. Hearing the characters narrate the story from four different points of view wasn't merely a style choice; I was able to gain some insight into each of their respective personalities and motivations through this method of storytelling. You mentioned that Aidan was gay and that Serai was Asian; I was able to notice both of these during my read, yet for the life of me I couldn't figure out which passages were the ones that gave them away.

Despite the major style points, however, I had my issues with the story in general. I felt that the ongoing theme seemed strangely generic ("Every few eons, a mystic portal opens through which the armies of darkness enter this world to... well... do whatever it is that a bunch of demons and monsters do"), and I thought that Jed's narration made for a bad start -- it was close to incomprehensible, from the way I read it. "Beacon" also left me in the dark as to the general setting; I felt that so much attention was given to the central 'savior-of-the-world' identity that most of the background details remained unfinished.

In short, I felt that the story left me confused for most of its telling, only to recover quickly once it became obvious as to what the Beacon really was. Given that the characters' narrations seem to progress in this direction as well, however -- we start out with Jed's near-gibberish and end with Stone's summarized truth -- I wondered if this was perhaps deliberate, that the whole tale symbolized a move from confusion to clarity. In the end, I eventually had to admit that I liked the characterization, and that I liked the revelation at the end... so I'll grudgingly admit that your story feels okay. I'll probably argue that point with myself forever, though.

As much as I eventually decided that I had a favorable opinion for "Beacon", I have to admit that if I had to make the choice today, then "Beacon" would be at the bottom of my quality list for this issue. This opinion persists despite the fact that I have a whole bunch of these stories clumped together with regards to the quality scale... I just think that "Beacon" is the least redeemable of all of them. I feel that it's good, but I also feel that it's the worst among a set of good stories.

Looking back on both this and my review of Vin Simbulan's "Wail of the Sun" back in the first issue, I'm starting to wonder if I may be biased towards works of this genre. I just find it strange, mind you, that PGS has published exactly two pure Fantasy stories so far, and that I have somehow relegated both to the far ends of my perception. So if you're reading this, Mr. Simbulan and Ms. Alfar... I'm just saying that it could just be me.

The 101st Michael (written by K. Osias)

Dear Ms. Osias,

I'll be blunt here: I don't think that "The 101st Michael" is a great story. I do, however, think that it's a good story, and I'll understand perfectly if some groups are willing to see it as a great work.

I'll also admit that the concept didn't seem interesting at first glance -- I initially felt that it was a father-and-son tale set in a stereotypically sci-fi future, with bits and pieces of some weird "Michael" narrative sandwiched in between the passages. I remember thinking that the setting and the plot direction most definitely did not complement each other, until the story hit me with the truth of exactly who the "Michaels" were and what they had to do with the characters in question. At that point, I leafed back to the first few pages, skimmed the story all over again, and wondered about how the whole thing made sense all of a sudden. At its heart, it's a love story... although it's obviously not the kind of love that I see in a lot of stories. Moreover, I offer you additional points for presenting a unique, inhuman character who nevertheless has some very strong, inhuman motivations.

My quibbles about the story are somewhat scattered. I can understand the need for subtitles, for one, and while the "Michael" designations are okay with me, I thought that the "Christopher's anchors", "Ignacio's mission", and "Eric's repentance" labels contributed absolutely nothing to the story. Eric, for that matter, felt like a useless character to me -- he only seems to be there because the story needs one more section of narrative before the big reveal.

Ultimately, I thought that "The 101st Michael" was nice. I felt that it had an excellent theme, a well-fleshed-out relationship between the two main characters, a remarkable antagonist, and one very nasty plot twist. It was the latter element that certainly made me raise an eyebrow halfway through the telling.

I have to hand it to the publishers here: The cover was incredibly subtle. I expected an archeological dig of sorts in the ruins of an ancient Manila, and instead I got a strange little thriller-love story hybrid. That's the best way to deal with plot twists, I suppose: You have to act as though there's nothing out of the ordinary about the story at all.

The Saint of Elsewhere (written by chiles samaniego)

Dear Mr. Samaniego,

On the one hand, I saw your story as a bunch of strange psychobabble coupled with some complex hypotheses on the interplay of time, space and destiny. On the other hand, I found it to be a remarkably sentimental story, something about twisting the whole of reality for the sake of locating a single perfect moment.

I have to admit that the style is interesting. From what I've read so far, it doesn't seem to emphasize tangible description as much as it does emotional impact, and I think that it puts more weight on the nostalgia as a result. Then there's the ending, which gives me the impression that everything that happened somehow didn't exist, or perhaps forces me to consider the fact that it all happened somewhere, sometime, or someplace else. Whatever the case, it only heightens the change that comes over the main character, and puts forward the possibility that he's probably still out there... somewhen.

I found the story difficult to read, but perhaps I'm just not accustomed to the style of writing. I had to read it twice before the concepts would start to sink in.

I had one major comment on the story, however, and that involved the scientific gobbledygook scattered throughout the text. I feel that it interrupts the dreamlike narrative; I didn't like getting absorbed in reading emotions, senses and nostalgia, only to run into a wall of technical explanations that I could barely understand. I'll particularly admit that it's very Zen to have an old man give a technical explanation of our perception of reality, and then say that it's entirely wrong... but it also leaves me with the impression that I sat through a needless bit of text when I could have been progressing further along the story. I suppose that it's meant to show the contrast between the scientific and the enlightened views, but for me it relegated the scientific argument to be nothing more than a mere irritant, something that spoiled my reading at various intervals.

Was it good, then? Yes... I did like the narrative, and I believe that I did understand the story. I think that I would have really enjoyed it under different circumstances, though.

"The Saint", in fact, was the most difficult of the submissions to review. I felt certain that I liked it, but for the life of me, I couldn't figure out why. And when I can't figure things out, I tend to write and write and write and ramble on in the vain hope that understanding will come.

The Final Interview (written by Sean Uy)

Hello, old goat. It's nice to see that you're still at it.

Your story has one of the most interesting premises that I've seen so far: It somehow manages to blend a staple of fantasy literature with the setting of the modern world, and give me the impression that it makes perfect sense. How a lucky bastard like you could possibly come up with stuff like this still makes me wonder.

With that said, a story doesn't run on premise alone. I have issues with the pace at which the text flows, particularly those areas where the thoughts of the characters intersperse with their dialogue. Despite the fact that he's the centerpiece of the entire work, I would have liked to see Hazhenaas get more screen time -- he's barely there for so much as half the story. And of course, your weird fetish for ellipses still shows.

I'll admit that your work's somewhat readable this time, but I'd advise that you shape up a bit if you want to get a few more things published. You could stop putting off writing your stories till the last minute, for example.

After Hours (written by Anne Lagamayo)

Dear Ms. Lagamayo:

A short story, I suppose, deserves a short letter with a brief critique.

I liked your story, especially considering that the image at hand could have been interpreted in many different ways. It's short, it's concise, and it still manages to note a little twist at the end right where the reader expects something to happen. Part of me thinks that it's a little abrupt, but I'll concede that the story didn't have much of a word limit to work with. If anything, it actually makes the most of what it has, and I'm not surprised that it gained top privileges among a good number of submissions.

I hope to encounter your work again, perhaps with longer writings so that we can see what you can do with the prospect of more words at your disposal.

The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories, Issue Two

Finally we come to the collection in general. Was this better than the first one, then? Did my one hundred pesos buy me a little more in terms of quality? I'll say yes... but I'll also say that the publication still has a ways to go.

I don't know when the digest decided to come up with advertisements, and I expect that there was a lot of debate in the decision to accept them. At this point, however, I thought that the advertisements didn't compromise the magazine in any way... so I suppose that the managers of PGS can probably sleep well at night knowing that. They weren't too excessive and they didn't interrupt my reading in any way... although it felt kind of weird turning to the next page of Mr. Samaniego's dreamy narrative to find a Modess ad staring me right in the face.

The surprise improvement of the issue, however, lay in the illustrations that accompanied each work. I found them to be quite entertaining -- it's one thing to have to slog through a story to divine its secrets, and it's another thing to glance at an illustration and wonder what the author has in store for you. These pieces of artwork actually ended up influencing the sequence in which I read the stories -- because I have a preference for Elbert Or's art, I ended up reading the stories that accompanied his illustrations before I got to the ones with Alex Drilon's.

I would normally have some suggestions for improvement at this point, but I can't seem to think of any right now. It could be that PGS has already gone beyond its initial "awkward" phase. If there's anything important that it needs to do right now, it's the fact that it must come up with a regular production schedule and gain a consistent reading audience in the process. Beyond that, I still have yet to encounter an issue that exceeds the value of its cover price in my book... but that's more an issue of my standards than it is the fault of the publishers.

And now... I've been writing for hours. It's time to put down my keyboard, publish this thing, and prepare for the tide of public opinion to come.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Offline for a Bit

Sorry, everybody... I've been busy at work, catching up on everything that I've missed in the last couple of weeks. I think I must have received over two hundred e-mail messages in the interim, and it's taken me a while to answer each and every one.

In addition to that, we recently decided to set aside our old home computer (the one with the erring hard drives) and get a brand new one. This newer, sleeker, darker model arrived a couple of days ago, and we've been hard at work setting it up. Hopefully it won't eat our files a couple of times like the last one did, much less eat our files once.

And in addition to that, I've been preparing a couple of reviews for a couple of interesting literary-type things. You'll know them when you see them, which will probably be before this month closes out.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Stranger in Warsaw

I'm about eleven hours away from my checkout time, after which I'll be heading through airport screening for a two-part flight back to Manila. Despite my two-week stint here, I'm aware that I haven't put up a lot of posts about my stay. Part of this is due to the fact that I've been attending a long series of meetings in the meantime, and part of this is due to the fact that I have to pay through the nose in order to get an Internet connection outside of the office.

What I did do over the past two weeks, however, was put together a few paragraphs about life as a visitor to Warsaw. Because I'm really supposed to be heading to sleep in a few minutes, they'll be up here in no particular order. Hopefully I don't come off too strange or anything like that...


For one, it's cold here. It's not just cold, mind you, but cold cold. In fact, it's so cold that the family air-conditioner back home would probably cry at these temperatures.

There was a spot of warm weather for the first two days, and I was able to walk around without my jacket for a while. Some of the people here actually complain about a 24-centigrade day, to the point where they start sweating around and wearing shorts. I have yet to see a building that has the heat turned up to Manila levels, although I suppose I can adjust the thermostat in my room to those numbers.

Warsaw ran into a bit of rain lately, which is strange for a city that's supposed to be so close to summer. It's dropped the temperature considerably, to the point where I feel as though my nose is going to freeze right off my face, and I have to ask for an extra blanket during the night. I've been in colder spots before, mind you, but I haven't found myself in these climates for over two years. I'd be wearing my sweaters right now if I didn't find them to be so moth-ridden a couple of weeks ago.


For a place that's so cold, I find myself wondering why the ice machine doesn't seem to be working right.

My hotel room has a few amenities -- a separate bathtub and shower stall, a LAN outlet, the usual minibar and room safe -- but like most other hotel rooms, it doesn't have so much as an ice-cube tray and a freezer. If I want some ice, I have to pad down the hall in my shorts and go into a white-tiled room next to the service elevator; That's where the ice machine holds court among a mess of pipes and unused equipment.

I don't know if it's a little quirk of the ice machine, or if the people around here really do prefer their ice like this, but I don't seem to get any substantially-sized cubes at all. Instead, whenever I punch the button in front of the heavy, bulky machine, it gives me this grinding noise and then pours a torrent of shredded ice into the bucket I bring along. Shredded ice. You could probably pave a road with the stuff. There's a bunch of tongs enclosed with the ice bucket, but one of those little teaspoons has proven to be much more practical at this task.

I suppose that I'm probably crazy, looking for a way to make cold drinks in a place like Warsaw. But I just can't find it in myself to boil up a glass of Mountain Dew before consumption. That, and the shredded ice does melt in the glass after a while... although not before congealing in one huge, solid mass that would probably make the Titanic shudder in fear.


I haven't gotten used to the sun still being up in the sky at a time when I should be having dinner. It just feels unnatural, especially when you come from a corner of the world where it gets dark before 6:00pm.
The good news, though, is that it lets me walk around and find dinner without suffering the insecurity of shadowed streets. The bad news is that it mucks around with my body clock; On top of the jet lag, it's all been pretty bad for me. Closing the curtains of my hotel room has made for a good solution, though.


Polish cuisine mystifies me. I'm told that a lot of the traditional dishes have slowly faded from popular consumption, and that they're now only usually seen on special occasions and thematic restaurants. Ironically, I've gone to a lot of different restaurants during this trip -- English, Italian, Egyptian, Greek and Japanese -- but I was only able to experience what's supposed to be homegrown Polish cuisine once or twice.

Near as I can tell, Polish cuisine seems to be heavy on meat and carbohydrates. Apart from the standard chicken-beef-pork selections, the local dining scene also deals in duck, venison, rabbit, and wild boar. Potatoes seem to be a popular side dish -- they're either salted, boiled, fried or baked into pancakes. Where there aren't any meat or potatoes involved, there's an excellent trade in salted fish and rice.


The topic of junk food has been one of my constant irritations lately. When I say "junk food"', of course, I mean those huge bags of crunchy stuff that tend to be cheese- or barbecue-flavored. I've gotten into the habit of delving into one every now and then, usually with a soft armchair and an interesting paperback novel involved.

Much to my chagrin, Warsaw seems to have little or no junk food at all. Apparently the people around here munch on biscuits, candy bars, fresh fruit... anything but traditional snacks. The bags of Cheetos available in the supermarkets take up a mere set of side shelves, cost a lot less than normal, and taste like cardboard for some reason.

Under these circumstances, I would normally adapt to candy bars and cookies... except that my doctor strongly advised me a few months ago to stay away from commercial sweets. As a result, I have nothing to do but grin and bear it in the meantime.


The worst part about being on a paid Internet connection is the knowledge that you've got a time limit hanging over your head. It's no Sword of Damocles, but it's definitely sharp and pointy: If I even so much as miss the cutoff time by two seconds, I get forced to wait another three days just to put up my posts.

Aren't we living in a connected world nowadays? And for that matter, isn't the company already bending over backwards to pay for my bookings here? I should be getting an Internet connection for free. Otherwise the whole notion of "Have computer, will travel" makes about as much sense as a dancing monkey.


And now I have to close up. Somebody made the interesting choice of scheduling me for a flight that leaves Warsaw at 6:45 in the morning, and I'm going to have to set my clock back a few hours just to wake up and check out. I just know that this is going to play around with my jet lag a little more; I can't even hit the hotel café in time for their buffet breakfast.

Ah well, chin up. They'll probably serve a good meal on the plane. That'll give me time to contemplate my six-hour layover in Amsterdam, too.

Then again, maybe I should have brought a shopping list.

Disclaimer: June 2007

Given the circumstances, I should have gotten somebody to translate this into Polish for me. As it stands, however, everyone here has been pretty busy over the last few days, preparing for the Corpus Christi holiday this Thursday. And on my end, I'm slowly preparing for my return to Manila in the wee hours of Friday morning.

I fear for myself. I'll essentially be arriving back home with two weeks' worth of displaced time on my hands. I've received little or no news during the time of my business trip (save for what little information I gleaned from those phone calls at 2:30 am), and my "surprise me" attitude does little to help. It's as though I got abducted by aliens who ended up not liking my obvious sense of cluelessness.

What's more, I've been remiss in updating this blog. I blame the fact that an Internet connection around here costs an arm, a leg and part of your left lung, and so far I've only been courageous enough to spend for it twice. This, as you've obviously deduced, is the result of this second blow to my financial senses... and I'm using it to post a monthly disclaimer.

Our conclusion, you ask? What this means is that all those potential plagiarists out there had better pay attention. I'm only going to say these once before I start toying with this monthly feature again.

Everything written on this blog is entirely original, except where noted. These posts, essays, short stories and other assorted writings are the product of the twisted mind of Sean, whose profile appears somewhere on the sidebar to the right, currently represented by a bewildered-looking stuffed penguin. Sean reserves the right to represent himself as any other stuffed creature, up to and including monkeys, meese, porpoises, chinchillas, lobsters and platypuses. Do not claim that these original works ever existed before this blog; I'll have a merry day playing around with your maladjusted logic.

The only exceptions to this "originality" thing are those works that I reference from other sources. These items are all clearly marked wherever they occur; I try to acknowledge not only the author in these matters, but also the title of his work and any relevant details that might be interesting to note. I also try not to misquote or delve past out-of-context boundaries, but if any author feels that he or she has been misrepresented here, then they are welcome to notify me so that I can remove the offending mention.

I frown heavily upon those who quote me completely out-of-context, come down hard on those who misrepresent what I try to say, and leave behind the smoking corpses of those who appropriate my own work and put their own names on it. I devote a significant amount of time to this writing, and I'm not going to give up the fight just because some young turk out there decides to be lazy. If you want some good work, then you can pull it together yourself, because you know you can do it without having to resort to petty theft.

With that said, I am open to the use of my work as long as the right permission is requested. I will most likely only ask for a link to this blog in return; Otherwise, well, you can just ask. I don't bite.

There's a Creative Commons License somewhere on the lower part of the right-hand sidebar; I would suggest reading through its terms and conditions to get a better idea of what I'm enforcing. The long and the short of it, however, is that I fully encourage you to write your own works while discouraging you from stealing them. If you follow the former, then I shall be a very happy man. If you follow the latter, then I shall be the leather-clad bounty hunter who kicks down your door, rearranges the furniture, and takes out the garbage.

That's it for another month, I think. Now, I've got to get to packing. Enjoy your weekend, everyone.