Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Philippine Speculative Fiction 7 Reminder

Reminding everyone of the deadline for submissions to Philippine Speculative Fiction 7, which is on September 30, 2011. Guidelines here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Death Of Books Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

From The Guardian, "The Death Of Books Has Been Greatly Exaggerated". An excerpt:

What does all this data add up to? Hardly an industry in its death throes, so one must ask why there are so many long faces about the place. Let's not be naive. These are times of massive change, and change is never, ever comfortable. The retail sector worries publishers and authors alike; in the past year, publishers have lost Woolworth, Borders and British Bookshops as sales channels and, as Kate Pool from the Society of Authors says: "The increasing dominance of Amazon (as retailer, increasingly as publisher, as owner of the Kindle, etc) is potentially very worrying."

This, combined with the emergence of digital technology, creates enormous uncertainty. It's a fact that the transition to digital devices will mean greater efficiencies and more focus on cost and, overall, a rather less generous publishing industry than before; a rather colder-hearted, fiercer one. The old world is fading, the new world isn't yet in focus. When newspapers and music faced this moment, there was a significant tendency to become hugely angry that the old world in which we were all so comfortable was being "swept away". It's almost impossible for someone who has spent decades working in a calm, creative environment not to be enraged by the sight of American technology companies tipping everything on its head.

But let's not overdo things. Let's not lose sight of the data we have, and let's not invent data when we only have anecdotes. And finally, let's not forget the wonders this new world opens up. Being able to download a book to read instantaneously wherever you are is a thing of wonder, after all (and there is some anecdotal suggestion that people are coming back to books via new digital platforms).

For authors, the chance to reach out to readers, instantly and effectively, is changing the way titles are marketed and delivers a glorious independence that comes with having your own digital presence to curate and to shape. There are new creative opportunities offered by interactive technologies. There is the chance to play in a world where books and stories can be either the private, cherished experience of old or a public, shared conversation with other readers from across the world.

So yes, the party's still on. It's not quite the same party, the drink's a good deal cheaper and we've got crisps, not caviar. But there are more people invited, and some of them look pretty groovy. I'll not get my coat just yet.

Caught By Some Quotes

Just wanted to share a blog entry--specifically, some quotes from a blog entry--by Karen Miller:

As humans, we’re flawed. We’re scarred. We’re haunted, by things done we regret, by things undone we ache to do, but can’t because the moment has passed us by. And fiction is a mirror. It holds up the world to us, and asks us to find the familiar and understand it. Who among us can truly understand the man or woman who is never tempted? Who has never strayed, never fallen, never done the unthinkable then been forced to live with the consequences? I don’t think we can. We might often wish we could be better, more like them, but the unrelenting heroes don’t offer us camaraderie or familiarity or a sense that the struggle is worth it.

Pain is humanity’s common denominator. The pain of living transcends race, gender and creed. If we have nothing else in common, we can share the scars life has left us with. And so, in turning to fiction, in the books and the tv shows and the films that hold up that demanding mirror, we seek out the characters who remind us of our imperfect humanity. Who sometimes allow us to vicariously indulge the very worst of our impulses. And who offer us the hope that at the end of the day, there is an answer. There is redemption. That even the most scarred among us can find healing and peace.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Bibliophile Stalker Deals With An Essay On Language

There's an essay written by a certain James Soriano going viral right now (just search for "James Soriano" on Twitter). It has incensed quite a number of people because of its approach to its topic as well as its tone. The Bibliophile Stalker tackles the issue the essay talks about in a much better way than James Soriano did, in my opinion.

An excerpt from Soriano's piece:

It was the reading and writing that was tedious and difficult. I spoke Filipino, but only when I was in a different world like the streets or the province; it did not come naturally to me. English was more natural; I read, wrote and thought in English. And so, in much of the same way that I learned German later on, I learned Filipino in terms of English. In this way I survived Filipino in high school, albeit with too many sentences that had the preposition ‘ay.’

It was really only in university that I began to grasp Filipino in terms of language and not just dialect. Filipino was not merely a peculiar variety of language, derived and continuously borrowing from the English and Spanish alphabets; it was its own system, with its own grammar, semantics, sounds, even symbols.

But more significantly, it was its own way of reading, writing, and thinking. There are ideas and concepts unique to Filipino that can never be translated into another. Try translating bayanihan, tagay, kilig or diskarte.

Only recently have I begun to grasp Filipino as the language of identity: the language of emotion, experience, and even of learning. And with this comes the realization that I do, in fact, smell worse than a malansang isda. My own language is foreign to me: I speak, think, read and write primarily in English. To borrow the terminology of Fr. Bulatao, I am a split-level Filipino.

But perhaps this is not so bad in a society of rotten beef and stinking fish. For while Filipino may be the language of identity, it is the language of the streets. It might have the capacity to be the language of learning, but it is not the language of the learned.

It is neither the language of the classroom and the laboratory, nor the language of the boardroom, the court room, or the operating room. It is not the language of privilege. I may be disconnected from my being Filipino, but with a tongue of privilege I will always have my connections.

So I have my education to thank for making English my mother language.

An excerpt from The Bibliophile Stalker's essay:

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

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

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

There is the belief that one language is "more Filipino" than the other but we have to understand that history is dynamic and constantly changing.

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

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

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

Readercon Filipino Friday Week 3: Being A Reader In The Philippines

(Continuing the Filipino Friday activities as a buildup to Readercon!)

Growing up in the Philippines during the 1980's, I know that I was one of the lucky ones. Back then, readers were at the mercy of whatever the bookstores of the time (National Bookstore, Alemar's, Bookmark) would carry. With no internet, this was a situation where readers were dependent on whatever the purchasers would like to have on their bookstores' shelves. This was similar to letting someone else decide what you could read, because the purchasers were deciding what you could buy (going further, one could argue that publishers, in choosing what to accept and print, are also deciding what you could read, but that's a whole other discussion). In the event that you got your hands on some article or review about an interesting book, it was completely hit or miss whether the store would have it. This applied to books from abroad and those sourced locally. But I had relatives who lived in other countries who, on their occasional visits, would actually bring me the latest titles. They didn't bring me boxes of books—just a couple or three—but it was enough to keep me ahead, and I remember and am grateful for their generosity. I actually received my first copy of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine this way. Add to that my mother being very supportive of my reading habit and who willingly bought me books from these stores, even with their limited choices, and I know I had it good. And even further, my school also had a pretty well-stocked and organized library for its time and size, particularly with the classics, and even with some pretty obscure titles and authors. Sadly, public libraries then, as now, are nothing like those found in the western world, which is a clear handicap for readers in my country.

This situation with the bookstores changed with the advent of steeper competition through the 1990's and the early aughts. Alemar's and Bookmark got killed by National Bookstore, but second-hand stores turned up, and they brought in truckloads of books from all over the world at reduced prices. Booksale, Books For Less, Chapters and Pages, and a myriad number of smaller stores bloomed like mushrooms after a rain. Then Fully Booked came along, bringing with it the customer service and presentation of a U.S. bookstore. At about the same time (I can't remember if this was before or after Fully Booked launched), National Bookstore started Powerbooks, their sister company, which also tried to sell books following the U.S. model. Powerbooks was the truer bookstore in contrast to the ironically named National Bookstore which thrives more on selling school and office supplies (this is not a hit on their business model; I am aware that they wouldn't be able to sell books if they didn't sell pencils, to paraphrase Socorro Ramos, the store's founder).

But with the internet, with a good enough line to the web, the playing field for readers is now pretty even. Simply visiting book review or book list blogs, or googling authors or titles, is sure to lead one to lists and FAQ's about the latest, or even old, books. Now, with ebooks, it's easy enough to just download your titles to your ereader or computer. Remember what I said about my school's library being pretty well-stocked for its time and size? When it comes to the classics, it's nothing compared to Now, you can search the web for books in the genres you want, by the authors you want, and even receive recommendations of books about all topics from other readers all over the world.

This situation may not be so good for the brick-and-mortar bookstores, but for readers in the Philippines, yes, it's so much easier now, but it still depends a lot on who you are.

The majority of Pinoys live below the poverty line, have limited or no access to the web, and if they do have access, spend their time doing other things with their surfing time, like playing video games, engaging in social-networking, or doing what the majority of the world does, which is surf for porn. :D

The country's low wages also limits the physical books a regular Pinoy can buy, as books, especially new ones, can be relatively expensive as a percentage to one's take home pay. Food, shelter, clothing come first, and after that, who knows how much is left for a book, even a second hand one? Ereaders are growing in popularity, but still not at the same level as mp3 players did at the turn of the century; after all, they cost money too, as do computers. Cellphones can solve this, and Pinoys love their cellphones, but unlike in, say, Japan or Korea, the cellphone as ereader has not yet taken off here.

Most Pinoys too have barely passed high school, and the quality of education in this country remains a problem, a longstanding one. It cannot be disregarded that education contributes to an interest in reading. And going further, language too, is an issue. Though proficient with English for the most part, there is a segment of Pinoys who are, I believe, more comfortable with Filipino, or any of the dialects they grew up with in the provinces they're from; and that segment is substantial. I'm all for Filipino and other dialects' texts not just being printed, but also being made available on the web, if this would mean more people would take up reading (I'm on the record for saying that it doesn't matter what language you read in as long as you do). This would of course mean writers producing texts in those languages, whether original pieces or translations. These writers should be encouraged and given the incentives to do so.

Being a reader in the Philippines is easy if you read in a language whose material is plentiful and accessible on the web, and if you have easy access to it (you have a computer or other device that can connect to the internet, and you can pay for that access or can go to a place that provides it for free, like a mall). Take away any of these elements—the device, perhaps due to cost; the cost of surfing; the text of the language you prefer—and suddenly, it's not so easy anymore. This doesn't even take into consideration a person's personal interest to read.

Having said that, for someone like me--and there are many like me, as I'm part of a substantial segment also, though sadly, not as large as the other segments I have mentioned in this post—this is a good time to be a reader in the Philippines.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Readercon Filipino Friday Week 2: Your Reader's Story

(Continuing the Filipino Friday activities as a buildup to Readercon!)

I can clearly trace my love for stories and reading back to grade school, to D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, and the three friends with whom I shared this initial fascination with reading. I'm grateful for that moment when one of those friends found this book in our school library and shared it with the rest of us. That was the moment our enjoyment of tales and reading began. We dared to even retell the Greek Myths in our own words. From there, from that love of the Greek myths, we moved on to Alexander, Lewis, Tolkien. Then we began reading anything and everything else. We did this together, as a group, and frankly, it felt good to have friends with whom one could share our thoughts and opinions on the stories we read. Despite reading being a solitary pursuit, I can see the value of having fellow reading-enthusiasts spur each other on to good reads.

As I grew older, saw more of the world, and got more of life under my belt, I naturally began to demand more from what I was reading. That was when I expanded my material from what I was usually reading. In other words, I went out of my younger comfort zones, and opened myself up to different tones, styles, cultures, authors. I began to read writers from other countries, not just the US or England. I discovered writers from Japan, Spain, Latin America, and China (translated, of course); from Africa, Canada, Australia, India, and from my own country, the Philippines. I heard, or rather, read, different voices, how different terms and forms of speech were used, how situations can be as different as the new settings I was reading about. This taught me that people love stories, will tell their stories, no matter how different or where they are in this world.

I found myself not just going forward by reading the latest, but to meet my demand for expansion as a reader, I also went backwards, to stories written earlier, the classics, so yes, even if these stories may yet still be set in the US or England (or not), the very change in the times the stories were set in drew me to new worlds as well. Let me put it this way: after having read the fantasies of Tolkien and Lewis, reading the original Aeneid and Odyssey (not the simpler versions, but the ones that go into full detail), or reading the verse form of Beowulf, can be quite a challenge, one with great rewards if one puts the effort in.

How else can I put this? Well, I haven't read Twilight yet, which I heard is a romance tale with vampires, I wonder if the readers of that series, after growing older, may find themselves trying out the romances of Austen, or perhaps going even further and reading Stoker's Dracula, which would give them one of the original perspectives of the vampire. I wonder how Potter fans, after Hogwarts, would consider the different world where the wizardry school of Le Guin's Earthsea book can be found, how different Ged is from Harry, not just as wizards, but as people, yet how they have motivations that overlap and move them in their own ways.

Then, I moved on to non-fiction: histories of different times and countries, biographies of different people, reading about how things work, about ideologies and politics, about languages or even travel books, about wars, real wars, like World War I and II, and how this all fed my curiosity of this very interesting world.

And through it all, through reading all these books, I found out through all these stories, that people are moved by the same emotions no matter their background: joy, sadness, anger, revenge, bitterness, elation, love, hate, greed, generosity, empathy, desire, etc. So many different stories, so many settings, so many varied characters and types of conflict, some set in the real world, some completely imagined, but what moves the intention of these characters is the same, the human experience.

And here's something that gives me comfort: that despite my having moved quite a distance from where I originated in my reading experience, I know that I can always go back to those same books, or even those same types of books, that I read before, and still enjoy them with the eye and pleasure that I started out with as a younger person. In a way, it's nice to know that that kid who started reading a long time ago is still alive and well deep down inside.

Readercon Filipino Friday Week 1: Introduce Yourself

Time to enter the time warp. Wasn't able to join week 1 last week, so I'm joining now, starting from the beginning, and then posting for week 2 after I'm done with this entry. I'm glad for this online activity meant to buildup to Readercon!

My name is Kenneth Yu. I'm the publisher of The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories (PGS), a magazine (now ezine) that prints short genre fiction by Pinoys. The influence for PGS was the genre mags in the west, such as Asimov's, Hitchcock's, Ellery Queen's, F&SF, etc. I thought to myself, “Wouldn't it be nice to have a Philippine version of these?” Since I was in the printing business at the time, when I felt myself finally ready (which took a number of years), I put out the print version of PGS. The digest has transitioned from print to digital just this year. The goal, whether PGS is on paper or in digital form, is to get more people, especially younger ones, into reading the same way I did, which was through genre tales.

And that was how it started out when I was young. I fell into reading because of what is labeled now as “genre” fiction. Some of what comes to mind when recalling what I read when I was growing up are the aforementioned western genre digests, the crime and detective tales of A.C. Doyle and Agatha Christie, the fantasy stories of Lloyd Alexander, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien, science fiction by Frank Herbert, Ursula K. Le Guin and Madeleine L'Engle, horror by Stephen King and Clive Barker, and quite a number of YA books of all types (including realist) published by Dell Yearling.

Oh, and I read a lot of Peanuts, Tintin, and Asterix comics. ;-P

Today, I read pretty much anything, all kinds of fiction and non-fiction. I can't say I have a favorite genre anymore. Ironically, though I publish a small digest with the word “genre”, I really don't look at genre when I read fiction, and instead focus on the story, taking it for what it is. It's only when I have to “type” a tale for PGS that I have to be aware of whether it's a genre piece or not.

This year, I've read a number of YA dystopian stories (The Hunger Games trilogy, the Maze Runner series, Divergent). I'm trying to catch up with G.R.R. Martin's Song of Fire and Ice series. But what I'm currently reading is a book that came out some years ago, 1421, a non-fiction piece about the age of exploration during the time of the dynasties of the Chinese emperors.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

"Fragrant Blood" by Elyss Punsalan

The latest story on Philippine Genre Stories: "Fragrant Blood" by Elyss Punsalan. Guest-edited by Dean Alfar.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

C.S.E. Cooney Of Black Gate Reviews PGS 4!

My thanks to The Bibliophile Stalker for informing me of this review of PGS4 by C.S.E. Cooney of Black Gate! I'm very grateful for her positive review, her favorites from the issue being "Psychic Family" by Apol Lejano-Massebieau and "In The Dim Plane" by Dean Alfar. Thank you very much! An excerpt:

I liked “Psychic Family,” by Apol Lejano-Massebieau better, though. I’m a sucker for a good ghost story, and this one does some pretty neat things with time jumps and section breaks, devoting equal time between world immersion, character study and plot. The first person POV is compelling, a preteen girl whose mother and sister can see ghosts (she can’t; she feels left out), whose father is bankrupt, and whose only friend in the new bungalow they’re living in is Lily. Lily will walk into a room without a knocking, appear behind you when you least expect her, and wears old fashioned clothes. The tone of the narrator is light, but there’s a lurking creepiness, an underlying rot that makes the reader (this reader, anyway) VERY uneasy — which is just what’s supposed to happen in a ghost story.

“In the Dim Plane,” along with “Psychic Family,” was my favorite story in PGS. First of all, every single character in it is a villain. They all exist, after the fall of Forlorn, in a sort of half-life, “with almost no power left and no way to recover any more.” The narrator is the greatest Necromancer of Forlorn: Teros, AKA “Doom of Dirmoth.” His companions are Lord Jussin the Betrayer, “a fallen paladin who had denounced his queen for the promise of power”; Braxas, Harrower of Flame; Lizel Gorgist, The Widow’s Bane; and “the maxim-laden polymath Resa Undermasque, who had bartered parts of her body for knowledge.”

Even their names hint at back stories I’m eager to gobble (some more than others, I’ll admit, and I’ll admit I’m most curious about Resa Undermasque). There was a story-within-a-story that made the bulk of the plot, constantly interrupted by the obstreperous audience members, and a beautifully tidy wrap-up. It had all the good stuff — violence, romance, sparky dialogue, oppressive atmosphere… Pretty impressive, the worlds and characters a person can build in 12 pages!

I’d definitely recommend fantasy lovers to go to the Philippine Genre Stories website and check out their free online content. I had a lot of fun reading this little ‘zine and will be keeping my eye on some of these authors. Don’t miss out!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

PGS Contributor Nikki Alfar Wins Another Palanca!

PGS contributor Nikki Alfar has won 1st place in this year's Palanca Awards, short story for children in English. Congratulations, Nikki!

The Bibliophile Stalker: Is He Going To The World Fantasy Convention?

When I checked early this morning, The World SF Travel Fund had already hit its target of US$6k, which would've sent Charles Tan, The Bibliophile Stalker, to this year's World Fantasy Convention. Then, when I checked again this evening, the limit had been raised to US$9k! So, is Charles going or not? Can anyone provide an explanation?

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Help Send The Bibliophile Stalker To The World Fantasy Convention

PGS contributor and tireless speculative fiction advocate Charles Tan, The Bibliophile Stalker, is nominated for an award at The World Fantasy Convention this year. The World SF Travel Fund is holding a fund-raising activity to help get him to the U.S. for this event. Please help get him there! You get books if you do! From the link:

A combination of genre professionals and fans from the international scene and the United States have gathered together to create the World SF Travel Fund. The fund has been set up to enable one international person involved in science fiction, fantasy or horror to travel to a major genre event.

The first recipient of the fund is genre blogger and activist Charles Tan, from the Philippines. Charles is a tireless promoter of speculative fiction. Besides his own Bibliophile Stalker blog, he contributes to the Nebula Awards blog, the Shirley Jackson Award blog, SF Signal and The World SF Blog. He also edited two online anthologies of speculative fiction from the Philippines. Charles is highly regarded in the SF scene both in the USA and internationally. The Fund’s intention is to facilitate Charles’ travel to World Fantasy Con 2011 in San Diego, California.

Multiple award winning editor Ellen Datlow said: “Charles Tan has in a very short time, become a major force in science fiction and fantasy. Bringing Charles over to the United States for the World Fantasy Convention would be a boon the convention by adding a truly international voice to the mix and selfishly, it would allow many of Charles’s fans in the field to meet him personally.”

Living in the Philippines, where wages are far lower than in the West, Charles would be otherwise unable to ever attend a major convention. The Fund’s purpose is to make such a trip possible, for the benefit not only of the recipient but for creating and extending dialogue in the wider world of speculative fiction.

Author and editor Jeff VanderMeer said: “Charles Tan is tireless, talented, indefatigable, a great guy, and someone who has become indispensible to our sense of the genre community. He’s a wonderful choice for this initial effort.”

The Fund has set up a Peerbackers Project with the hope of raising $6000, enabling two years of running. The Board, tasked with selecting future candidates, is composed of Lauren Beukes, Aliette de Bodard, Ekaterina Sedia, Cheryl Morgan and Lavie Tidhar and reflects the truly international nature of the SF world today. For inquiries and further information please contact worldsftravelfund(at)gmail(dot)com.

"Stars" by Yvette Tan

The latest story on Philippine Genre Stories: "Stars" by Yvette Tan.