Monday, February 25, 2008

The Treatise To Test Top Thoughts

I'm preparing my reviews for Philippine Genre Stories' Christmas Issue right now. I'm aware that I'm already three months late for this, but everybody probably knows about my present concerns at work. Ironically, I picked up my copy of the issue to read over the long December weekends, only to find that the little digest would sit unopened inside my laptop bag while I mollified German, Italian and Japanese clients over the state of their servers.

It turns out that a few people have been doing their own assessments in the past couple of months. I refer specifically to Electrick Twilight Boogaloo and the Bibliophile Stalker, both of whom saw fit to post their lists of outstanding Philippine Speculative Fiction that came into publication last 2007. I'll admit that I'd like to see other peoples' lists as well, but I'm looking at some obvious limitations there: Dean Alfar and Kenneth Yu, for example, organize their own anthologies, so their favorites are already up on the shelves for us to read. Moreover, Banzai Cat feels that he hasn't read a lot of the local works from last year, so a list from him might not make for a very accurate impression. And of course, a lot of other people have their own jobs and deadlines to worry about, so I'll just have to be satisfied with what I can read right now.

As for a list of my own, I'll have to beg the same excuse as the aforementioned grimalkin: I don't think that I've read much of the local speculation fiction from last year. Sure, I've gone through all the PGS issues so far... but I've only gone through a few of the stories from Dean's third anthology, I haven't picked up a single copy of Story Philippines, and I have yet to check out other outlets for these short stories. I don't know how many pieces I would have to read before I can conceive of a "top ten" among them, but forty seems like a nice round number. Or fifty, if you want to stretch it a bit.

I did see a few familiar titles among the two existing lists, however, and I'd like to go over those. It seems that there are places where I will most definitely agree with the list-makers, and places where I'm likely to raise an eyebrow in curiosity. That's not to say that I'm contesting their opinions -- they're welcome to their own thoughts, after all -- but I'd like to have a look at them nevertheless.

Electrick Twilight Boogaloo's list
(Titles in bold are those that I've read.)
Dreaming Valhalla (Douglas Candano, Story Philippines)
2. The Saint of Elsewhere (Chiles Samaniego, PGS volume 2)
3. The Flicker (Ian Casocot, PSF volume 3)
4. Excerpt from a Letter by a Social Realist Aswang (Kristin Mandigma, Clarkesworld Magazine Oct07)
5. Brigada (Joseph Nacino, PSF volume 3)
6. Tell it to the Sky (Luis Katigbak, Rogue Magazine Dec07-Jan08)
7. The Ascension of our Lady-Boy (Mia Tijam, PSF volume 3)
8. Reclamation (Angelo Lacuesta, PSF volume 3)
9. MaMachine (Dean Alfar, The Kite of Stars)
10. Homer's Child (Paolo Chikiamco, PGS volume 3)
HM: Carmen and Josephine (Elyss Punsalan, PSF volume 3)
HM: The Scent of Spice (Crystal Gail Shangkuan Koo, PGS volume 2)
HM: Noche Buena (Andrew Drilon, PGS Christmas 2007)
HM: The Music Child (Alfred Yuson, PSF volume 3)

While I did like "The Saint of Elsewhere", my problem is that I find it difficult to pinpoint exactly why I liked it. I don't know if it felt symbolic, or if its plotline was revolutionary, or if I could personally relate to it. In any sporting event where you'd have ten judges holding up a bunch of scorecards, this would be a technicality. For me, though, it's a huge technicality -- I have to know why I liked a piece, in addition to feeling that I liked it.

"Brigada" was very interesting. I felt that it fleshed out a pseudo-post-apocalyptic Philippines very well, and it was very easy to understand, for a world that the author had to create from scratch. It had the remarkable aspect of focusing all attention on the main character by leaving a very high body count among the supporting cast.

"Homer's Child" was quite good. It's one of the few stories that gives me hope for the mystery genre around here, despite a flaw in the attention it devotes to needless detail. I could be biased here, though, seeing my personal affinity for stuffed toys.

I felt that the primary strength of "The Scent of Spice" involved the intertwining between two different stories, giving us the impression that each was based on the other and somehow creating a larger, cohesive work in the process.

As for "Noche Buena", I won't give away my review just yet. I did like it very much, though, and I think it should place better than an Honorable Mention. But I haven't read the other works, so don't take my word for this just yet.

The Bibliophile Stalker's list
(Titles in bold are those that I've read.)
1. Beacon (Nikki Alfar, PGS volume 2)

2. Logovore (Joseph Nacino, Fully Booked 2nd Graphic/Fiction Awards)
3. The Death and Rebirth of Nathaniel Alan Sempio (Alexander Marcos Osias, PSF volume 3)
4. Frozen Delight (Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon, PSF volume 3)
5. The Datu's Daughters (Raymond G. Falgui, PSF volume 3)

Charles puts together a list that is entirely different from the previous one. In a way, this is both a blessing and a curse. For one, it indicates the presence of different schools of thought on the quality of Philippines Speculative Fiction. On the other hand, it also implies that there were no truly good stories that can be elicited from a consensus of readers.

With apologies to Nikki Alfar, I must say that "Beacon" never really did it for me. I didn't feel as though it renewed the fantasy genre (which I think that a good creationist universe should be able to do), and I didn't see anything really interesting with the general plot. I still think that "Beacon" actually runs on its style and characterization technique... both of which were truly original, but not altogether story-defining in my book.

"Frozen Delight" raised both of my eyebrows, and it kept doing so until the very end. I felt that it was new, that it was refreshing, and that it deserves its place on the list. It was cute, funny and eventually quite morbid at the same time, and that's no mean feat.

While I'm not about to make a list of my own, I do have some pieces that I'd like to see in one: "Beneath the Acacia" (Celestine Marie G. Trinidad, PGS volume 2) still gets my vote as the best melding of mystery and traditional folktale to come around in a long time. "Muse" (John Philip Corpuz, PGS volume 3) marked its author as somebody for me to watch. "The Magic Christmas Box" (MRR Arcega, PGS Christmas 2007) is likely to see some very good feedback from me in a later post. And if you can find it, "When They Think They Can Fly" (Petra Magno, Heights volume 55 issue 1) has a setting that is executed in the most subtle way that I've ever seen.

But of course, everything here has been my personal opinion. You're entitled to yours as much as I am to mine. And as long as we all have our own stories that we like, then everyone benefits.


banzai cat said...

Interesting analysis, sean. Personally, am just trying to finish Groyon's antho before making my own list. Meanwhile, is there anywhere we can check out the Heights book?

Sean said...

Banzai Cat: Unfortunately, the book is a college literary publication, and was only made available to AdMU students late last year. I only managed to score a copy due to the diligent efforts of my sister. In the event that anyone's looking for it, though: It's a mostly black book that's about as large as PGS and four times as thick, with "HEIGHTS TOMO LV BILANG I" on the spine and a naked woman on the front cover. (Ah, those wacky Atenean artists.)

Charles said...

Unfortunately Heights has a very limited distribution system (but not print run) so... (but there should be one in their office)

As for consensus of readers, for me the lack of one is always the case as different people look for different things in stories. For example, some people are sold by the "idea" of the story but I tend to look for "discourse". I also have a soft spot for genre stories which explains some of the stories in my list.

Don said...
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Don said...

hey man!

I felt the same about The Saint after reading it but after re-reading it many times before I made my list, everything fell into place.

As for Noche Buena, well it did seem like the kind of oddball love story that I tend to like but well, the ending was sort of a let down. But anyway, its supposed to be a Christmas story.

My list was based on what I thought was good and memorable and what was not. I tend to focus on the aesthetics and the story and its impact.

Anyway, I think an explanations post will be appearing soon.

Sean said...

Charles: Well... I'm not specifically looking for a consensus here. I'm just saying that it would have been nice if one had turned up.

I think that consensus is the greatest factor in determining the quality of a short story -- this implies that the work reaches across multiple styles of criticism and touches many different classes of readers.

Yes, people will look for different things in stories. But if a whole bunch of people all say that a certain story is good, regardless of whatever background they're coming from, then we know that it's good. I usually find myself hoping for these sorts of things.

Don: As Charles pointed out, we look for different things in a story, and our lists will always diverge in some way. It's all good though -- the fact that we're each airing our thoughts is what's important, I think.

All: Lest you think otherwise, I'm not contesting anyone's opinions here. I'm just putting up my thoughts, and these will inevitably agree or disagree with others'. I intend no offense to anyone with this post, although I do expect the discourse to be interesting.

banzai cat said...

What, so no jello-wrestling? :-(

Don said...
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Don said...

Sean: well there are only two of us who posted lists. Do we count as a "consensus"?

I'm hoping you and Banzai Cat would post your lists soon. Now that would be fun. Hehe.

Sean said...

Banzai Cat: Fettucine. :)

Don: I figure that any number of people can make up a consensus as long as there's more than one opinion involved. It's a lot better when you have more people in there, of course, but two is already fine by me.

I won't be posting a formal list anytime soon, though. Maybe next year...