Our friend Mia Tijam has a new piece of Speculative Fiction out on Bewildering Stories. Entitled “Quartered in the Sunset“, it may be particularly interesting to people in the call center/ BPO industry. After you read the story, go on and see the discussion between Don Webb and Mia in the same issue.
Tor.com just featured Expanded Horizons in their Short Fiction Spotlight, reviewing the April 2013 issue which includes two reprints from the Philippine Speculative Fiction anthology series: “From the Book of Names My Mother Did Not Give Me” by Christine V. Lao, and “Waiting for Agua de Mayo” by Mia Tijam.
On “From the Book of Names My Mother Did Not Give Me”:
I appreciate the lyrical quality of these shorts, as well as the food for thought each offers on the changes, good and bad, in the lives of these women: how culture and society place their own pressures, and how women can connect, or lose connections, with each other (“Barbara”), are themes that interest me. This story is a handsome, small thing, made of parts smaller still, that does the majority of its work on the allegorical level rather than that of plot. As such, it’s the sort of piece that lingers, though it may not at first make a drastic impression.
On “Waiting for Agua de Mayo”:
The story itself, however, remains engaging thanks to its execution: Tijam’s attention to detail renders the protagonist, her “dragon,” and the setting vividly. The added tension of cultural conflict—where the idea of the “dragon” even comes from, and why she thinks of it primarily as that before thinking of it as the bayawak—is a further note that the story sounds, giving it a fresh take on a common theme.
Check out the full review here.
The April issue of the excellent online magazine, Expanded Horizons has two pieces of fiction from Filipino authors: Mia Tijam’s “Waiting for Agua de Mayo” and Christine V. Lao’s “From the Book of Names My Mother Did Not Give Me “. Go check the issue out!
“The Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2005-2010″ edited by Dean Francis Alfar & Nikki Alfar, and published by UP Press, will have a book launch on Feb 28, 2013, 5:50PM, at the UP Bahay Kalinaw. Making the cut is my science fiction short story “Carbon” from PSF5. Here’s a more complete description:
Between these covers are the best short stories of fantasy, horror, science fiction and genres in-between, selected from the first five years of the Philippine Speculative Fiction annuals. Step through the portal and explore worlds old and new and experience the power of the literature of the imagination as crafted by Filipino authors. Featuring stories by: Rebecca Arcega FH Batacan Rica Bolipata-Santos Jose Elvin Bueno Ian Rosales Casocot Paolo Chikiamco Ronald Cruz Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon Timothy James M. Dimacali Andrew Drilon Russell Stanley Geronimo Pocholo Goitia Carljoe Javier Angelo R. Lacuesta Anne Lagamayo Apol Lejano-Massebieau Joseph F. Nacino Alexander Osias Kate Osias Vincent Michael Simbulan Joshua L. Lim So Charles Tan Yvette Tan Mia Tijam Noel Tio Eliza Victoria Isabel Yap Kenneth Yu
Let’s start the new year with some good news! Congratulations to the Filipino authors whose stories were included in the 2012 Mariner Awards of Bewildering Stories. Dean Alfar (Packing for the Moon), Victor Ocampo (Synchronicity) and Mia Tijam (Talking to Juanito) all produced stories “that the Review Board and Managing Editor have rated “very good” or “excellent” in 2012. They have earned Bewildering Stories’ most signal honor.”
Our good friend Mia Tijam has a new piece of fiction up on “Bewildering Stories“, for their 504th issue. “Talking to Juanito” told from the perspective of a child, but it is not a children’s story– or, rather, the material may not be for children. In another sense though, it *is* a children’s story because it deals with their fused awareness of the real and the imagined, as well as the rules imposed by adults so different as to seem to be from another species. For those who enjoy stories where the line between real and unreal is blurred, this one may be for you.
The editors of Bewildering Stories had this to say about it:
The story mingles languages very effectively. The subordinating conjunction ta is essential: it means “because, and it’s a bad thing…” And the interjection Ta… ta… recurs frequently. Readers can imagine the “lolas” muttering darkly, “Bad… very bad.”
This post is a part of our story-by-story review of Philippine Speculative Fiction volume 6. You can see the introductory post, and our disclaimers here. Bold font is Mia Tijam, everything else is Paolo Chikiamco.
Mia: I’m in the mood for bullet points so let’s tick this way (because we like bulleted documents anyway):
1) As much as the opening line was very interesting, it was stilted. How about instead:
Just like her, Rico thought, to leave the house in the morning without a word or a kiss, only her panties LEFT—stretched beyond their years, hanging off the radiator to dry— to say hello to him…
Pao: I like it the way it is actually, since I like interjections being immediately next to the word they spring from, but your version works too.
2) And I always say to leave the onomatopoeia out, like with panties going hrrrrnhh, hrrrrnhh. That is scary and can traumatize all the fantasies about panties from here on haha. But hey, if the Shake,Rattle&Roll franchise would go more daring, Eternal Winter’s panties can be an episode. :p
OK, yeah, the hrrrrnh, hrrrrnh threw me off a bit. Not a sound I’d associate with garments, unless they were in a washing machine.
3) The story follows the classic formula of post-cataclysm-unto-post-apocalypse in the tradition of Noah’s Ark. The scenario in the story is very real and very possible and hell if it isn’t happening more so now, and the sad-but-true thing is that we’ll read this now and when this happens in the future we’ll all say “Hey, déjà vu!” Man, I’m really apocalyptic and believe in post-technology haha.
I’m always happy to see classic genre formulas applied to a Philippine setting, but in this case I don’t think enough was done with it. The story does a good job showing us the state of affairs between Rico and Luna, but it’s not long enough to really develop Rico’s relationship with his job, or to give us a real atmosphere of encroaching doom (as in, say, Batacan’s “Keeping Time”.) I wish the story had been longer so that, even if the plot was conventional and linear, we could get that kind of development.
–Dude, it’s the external reality (Baguio- Apocalypto Environment) mirroring the internal reality (Marriage-Apocalypto Environment) and vice-versa. If you’re seeing it this way, then this parallelism wasn’t tight enough apparently.
– Apparently not, for me at least. The world is coming to an end, just as the marriage is coming to an end? I didn’t feel that sense of foreboding with the world, while with the marriage it was quite explicit.
4) I love the “dramatic” scene(s) in the end: It’s very Pinoy, HK, and B-Movie flicks with the speech/dialogue cum action; like the speech before a bad guy kills somebody or before somebody dies or is saved hahaha.
Since I didn’t really feel there was much of a buildup, those final scenes didn’t have much “oomph” for me. It seemed more to me like the end of Act 1 than the end of the story – I’m much more interested in the situation that Rico found himself in at the end of the story than I any situation he was in during the story.
–Dude, it was drama that was funny because I just couldn’t take it seriously.
But for dramatic effect for 4, better if that “Fuck you!” was deleted. “Show don’t tell” rule yo.
I agree. This would have been a good part to go with something inarticulate. The curse plus the subdued ending made the final few paragraphs meek instead of strong.
5) I like how this story touches on the triumphs and follies of Nativism— a) The Native Culture as Cassandra; b) The Native Culture as being consigned to “unrealistic” by the present and the future because of “unwillingness to communicate and be cooperative” which is sometimes synonymous to “against conformity” ; c) The Native Culture as “stubborn ass rebels who refuse to get with the program” therefore becoming extinct— how we can all forget our ties to what is our cultural core because of the way things are like technological advances and globalization et al and only return to what matters when it’s too late.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard any Filipino refer to members of indigenous groups as “natives”, though. When I’ve heard them being denigrated, the names of the cultural groups themselves served as ample epithets (or the name of one group improperly applied to another). Granted, this may actually be the practice in areas that border indigenous communities, or maybe it was an attempt to draw parallels between rich and the colonizers of old, but it just seemed odd to me.
–Let me clarify: “Nativism” is a framework and when I said “Native” (Culture), I was using the term used in post-colonial criticism when referring to the NON-Western/Colonized/Hybrid/Synthesis Culture being discussed (and in the story’s case it was the Kankan-e or Kankanaey which is one of the many Igorot Tribes). Historically, since the Kankanaey have been reached by modern amenities then they consequently put stock on education and desire more socio-economic developments for their large population (which would as much as possible not harm the environment nor go against their core values).
So, there’s that minority and the Baguio Hegemonic Culture in the story. Luna’s character— after being immersed in this Baguio Hegemony— decided to return to her Kankan-e roots (because of the conflict/s provided by the story).
And when you’re coming from the extreme end of Post-Colonial Re-Framing, an example of “Nativism” would be, “If I really want to be true to my culture, then I will not write in English but will write in my native language(s) instead.” Kaboom! Gets?
–No, I get that you were using “native” in an academic way – what I was referring to was the use of the term “native” by characters in the story: “he’d decided he wasn’t going to argue with her about the natives and the birds.” “She’s one of the few that the natives will deal with!” “they don’t need to deal with the natives anymore” and so on…
–Ah! Kasi naman use reference! Ha ha. That’s how it is really, the Hegemonic Culture does use “native” to refer to the, er, natives, because it’s always a challenge to the majority from the time of Genghis Khan, Cesar, Magellan, Mayflower Compact, The British East-India Mates and so on until Benosa’s Baguio to pronounce the proper names of the native minority. Ano ba, Katutubo nga raw eh. In English: Natives! :p
6) Really, the story is an elephant that says “MOVE! BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!” The storytelling has generally good enough composure but it’s not something that sticks to me.
A few further points I’d like to raise:
- I found the prose and dialogue to be awkward at times, particularly Luna’s rant about midway through the story, which is a shame since that’s a key segment in the story.
–A consequence of not yet having the stamina, composure, experience in this kind of storytelling. All a matter of time for the author.
- While I really liked the opening segment, and felt that it integrated world-building with the day-to-day stressors of Rico very well, the flashback-expositions in the latter parts of the story don’t fare as well. I understand having Rico dwell on memories about Luna during the final exodus, but did we really need that segue to the Korean immigrants?
–The segue to the Korean immigrants is texture for the Baguio setting because the city has turned out to be the Little Korea of the Philippines based on Korean population.
–Oh, I didn’t know that! Still, I think that there’s mention of Rico and Luna’s friends earlier, and in the second-to-last scene of the story, I still feel the flashback-exposition hurt the momentum more than it added to the context.
— And so we always learn something haha. But like I said, it’s a story that didn’t really stick to me as I had to re-read it while going through our critique.
Kyu’s strength as a writer lies in the details.
That sentence made me pause and go into a trance, there’s a load of insight right there haha.;)
[Pao: That's what I like about you Mia--you always think I'm smarter than I actually am ]
——Awww, you’re selling yourself short, man. Shucks, such charming humility. :p
One of the most difficult skills to learn as a writer is how to include enough detail in a scene to make it feel like it’s occurring in an actual place, to make the characters and actions take on enough substance in the mind of the reader that he/she has a foundation for his/her imagination.
Ah the anchors for the imagination— I say let the imagination fly, oh beauty, fly!
[Pao: Heh. Savants aside, most of us still need some solid ground from which to launch ourselves. Or maybe it's just lazy readers like me ]
This is particularly important when you’re dealing with a mundane setting, such as the public pool or a dim corridor, and Kyu does a good job putting in enough detail so that I see an image, and not a string of words.
Well, the title makes it all obvious— of course it will involve swimming and pool and how much detailing do you need for that— and so predictability comes after.
But yeah stories with that kind of treatment ensure that readers will see the same things that the storyteller wants us to see. This story is very clear and given the detailing then we do move from one scene to another. Smooth. Experiencing it though the way the storyteller wants the reader to experience it— or how the story should be experienced— is the challenge.
I also enjoyed the reveal of the ghost of the woman, since it captures the feeling I’ve had before while swimming, that the surface world would change once I turned my attention back to it.
Hey, I like any story that captures the sensation of swimming or being underwater, that sort of sensory deprivation. But even that ghost-woman’s revelation’s predictable and flat. I felt that there was nothing horrifying or even any uncanny sensation that should have been triggered by how one’s senses change in and upon surfacing from deprivation, that synesthesia that could make anyone believe that hearing unto seeing a ghost is normal. The foreshadowing was literally there but it was just too there therefore did not build up the way it should. It’s all in the details.
[Pao: But didn't it seem like the intent was to divest the change/revelation of that horror, that sense of wrongness? I mean, this is clearly not a traditional horror story. If anything, it seems intent on domesticating the supernatural element, so that "flatness" may have been the aim.]
Some of that detail, however, is fleshed out within sentences that feel rather awkward, like they go on for just a few words too long. This issue with sentence structure, compounded by some odd word choices, bleeds into a more serious concern: the protagonist does not sound like a young man. (This was particularly problematic since it was told from a first person perspective, where the assumption is that the narration is in the POV character’s own words.)
Haha besides the issues with the comma use that was making me sing ala Boy George “Comma, comma, comma, comma, commaleon, you come and go!” and the misuse of the quotation marks in dialogue— usually if the next paragraph’s still part of one character’s dialogue, then one doesn’t end the paragraph with a quotation mark; one keeps it open because otherwise the next paragraph with a quotation mark signals that the line is being made by another character so that really threw me off (see page 106)—
There are ways that one can pull this off, but that dissonance should be contextualized, or at the very least acknowledged–I could see the strange manner of speaking/thinking of the protagonist to be one of the factors that alienate him from his peers, but that’s me retconning (short for “retroactive continuity”, or “the alteration of previously established facts in a fictional work” – Mia made me explain this) what was not implied by the text.
Use the full term nga kasi haha. Anyway, precisely. I saw it as the POV-POSSESSION-PROBLEM i.e. Parang sinsasaniban yun “I” with the “S/H/It” hahahaha. Meaning, the story was using the First Person POV for internal and external reality but it would unwittingly switch to 3rd Person POV for the external reality WHILE trapped in the I-POV. That created the dissonance which cast doubt on the authenticity of the characterization of the main character.
Simply: The main character’s a male tween or maybe a male young adult BUT his mind, his reactions, his language are of a much older adult… Exorcise the Author from the Character hahahaha.;)
If this were told in the 3rd Person POV then it might have worked better. Or since the story really wants to tell the story from the perspective of the tween male, then the perception: language: narrative should be of the character.
[Pao: I have to agree, this was a third person POV story in 1st person clothing to me.]
The other primary issue I had with the story is a bit harder to quantify, so bear with me as I feel my way through this. It just didn’t seem… substantial. (No, that’s not a pun on the fact that the story involves a ghost.) I didn’t get the feeling that what happened in the story really mattered to the protagonist–the story is bookended by two encounters with the opposite sex (one taking place just before the story starts), and the protagonist’s emotional state in both situations is almost identical.
Maybe this shows one snapshot of the state of folks nowadays: it’s a very “whatever” reaction. (That word has my derision. Next to “thingie”.)
[Pao: Wait, you lost me a bit. Who are the "folks"? The youth in the story? The reader?]
——Folks= World. But let’s make it more specific so I’m referring to people in the Philippines. Yeah, that includes the youth in the story and maybe even the reader. Hahaha, let’s just go back to folks= world.
Yes, the outcome is different, but the immediate cause of that seems to be the advice given to him by the lifeguard–which means that you can cut out the bulk of the story, which contains the speculative element, and have the same ending.
Hahaha, Pao, the real advice from the lifeguard that altered reality is this: Kid, dealing with girls is like dealing with ghosts. Just say “Hi” and they’ll talk to you. Katakot hahahaha.
[Pao: Ah, Mia, I take it you've never been to a Xavier-ICA Acquaintance Party? Sometimes the "Hi" is what initiates the ignoring…]
——Hahahaha 1) Last time I checked I didn’t attend ICA nor Xavier. 2) I skipped high school boys and went straight to college dudes and yuppies hahaha so that I won’t have to go through that kind of high school horror. 3) I went to a high school for aliens nga eh.
Add to this how, during his encounter with the speculative, the protagonist is emotionally detached and is somehow made to act rather than acting intentionally (he takes a route “for some reason”; he knows “somehow, not to rush”) and I just don’t feel connected to the events of the story, or invested in how it will turn out.
It’s the predictability that comes from the narrative being too telling and not showing or leaving some things unsaid that led to a reader’s detachment. Welcome to clinical horror that makes horror literal and not cerebral nor visceral (and man I keep seeing this in local short-fiction “horror” stories/collections).
[Pao: But is this a horror story? I don't think that was the aim at all. I think that this was the mainstream literary "revelation during an ordinary day" story, with ghosts.]
——Hahahaha, and here come my bitch-ass:
——1) The hell was it doing in PSF 6 then if its identity is just according to what you stipulated? Ah, there seems to be a precedent for this emerging trend in this volume (and previous volumes). Which is why there’s been a call for a more specific definition of what is “speculative fiction”.
——2) It’s “Horror” according to the “Best Horror of the Year” volume 4 honorable mentions by Ellen Datlow.
——3) Welcome to the discourse on horror now being officially opened: What is/was horror? What has been “horrifying” in the “horror” stories published since 2005? What are the elements of horror? What is horror in Philippine Speculative Fiction?
——4) The gates of that heart of darkness are now open: abandon luck ye who enter here, the horror, the horror, bwahahaha.
Going back to Kyu’s Kiddie Pool, the reader’s detachment is already staged given the protagonist’s detachment. For reference, see paragraph with “I was not so much afraid as I was curious about the woman…” on page 104.
I usually try to avoid mentioning/comparing previews works of the author, but I did review Kyu’s PSF4 story, “Beats”, and that had a similar vibe to this one (down to the strong role of water), and yet it worked much better for me. I like the quiet stories where the surface calm can still give the impression of deep, churning, currents (again, not making any puns here) but “The Kiddie Pool” just didn’t make me feel that there was more to it than met the eye.
Hahahaha! Pao! I’m so not gonna edit out that comparison (boils and gels he edits out my comparisons because they do make things bloodier) but what I do like about Kyu’s stories is that they experiment with the story-language that is rooted on the character’s language/reality therefore making his stories distinct from the lot.
Hey, the tween/young adult from the story did advise that it’s good to hug out things so let’s hug this out.;)
And, regardless of the fact that the story didn’t quite work for us, congratulations to Kyu for making Ellen Datlow’s Honorable Mention list for “The Best Horror of the Year” (volume 4) with this story!
Yes, I know that reviewing an anthology which contains one of your own stories is not something that is regularly “done” in the world of literature, but after weighing the pros and cons in my mind, I’ve decided that the disadvantages of appearing like a self-promoting lout are outweighed by the benefits of promoting more critical attention focused on Filipino authored speculative fiction.
The authors of Philippine speculative fiction (the category, not the anthology) have been producing an ever growing number of stories since the first PSF (the anthology) volume was released, and I think it’s essential that criticism keep pace. In the field of komiks, I’ve been open about my agreement with the position that robust komiks criticism is necessary to push the field forward, and I feel the same way about prose spec fic. I’ll begin with PSF6 because it is the most recent spec fic anthology, and because I’ve found that while I did not like all of the stories in the anthology, each one is worthy of discussion.
And, as a discussion requires more than one person, I’m happy to announce that I will be joined in this commentary by Mia Tijam, one of the best writers in the field, and someone who isn’t a contributor to PSF6. Mia and I have very, very, different sensibilities, and we thought we’d play with the form of our reviews a little: one of us will write a stand-alone review of a story, and the other will then do his/her review by playing off the initial review (and then a little back-and-forth during the revision process). This is our attempt at having a dynamic element, while keeping it from becoming a total free-for-all, which is what would happen if we merely transcribed our conversations.
This post will serve as a hub for all our PSF6 reviews, as we work our way down from the first story of the TOC, so I guess this is where I’ll make my disclaimers: it shouldn’t need to be said, but nothing here is meant to be the final, authoritative, word about the story– comments and rebuttals are highly encouraged; yes, some of the authors are friends of ours, but we try not to let that affect our judgment, or even our tone; we can’t promise to be nice–as someone who pays people to savage my own stories, I have a bias toward the helpful and harsh as opposed to the watered down and useless–but we promise to take each story seriously; authors are welcome to comment, but, that being said, if you know you’re sensitive to criticism, please advance only when you’ve hardened your heart (after all, this is part of what it means to display your work in a public realm).
All clear? Great. Let’s go.
[Review index under the cut]
This post is a part of our story-by-story review of Philippine Speculative Fiction volume 6. You can see the introductory post, and our disclaimers here. Bold font is Mia Tijam, everything else is Paolo Chikiamco.
I like the first paragraph, as it did a good job of establishing the setting, and situating the protagonist. But the rest of the first segment didn’t really achieve much–why not simply go straight to the street child talking to Benjo? The mention of the break-in would have been an immediate hook.
Exactly. And as much as the first paragraph was that, I saw it as too detailed narration. The first segment could seriously use conciseness and a warning went off in my head: STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS DETAILING MAY GET IN THE WAY OF THE CORE OF THE STORY. Enter Sean Connery in my head and shoulder-reading, “Where are you taking me?”
The story has quite a few sentences that feel overloaded: “His eyes widened as he sighed and shook his head slightly, eyeing the clock to his right.” There’s also a problem of redundancy on occasion, on both a micro and macro story level (the incident surrounding the break in are narrated multiple times, and not al the repetitions had enough of a variance to be warranted).
Ergo the warning. Dude, the story was that whole lot. The second segment made me pause though because it was touching on what makes amulets powerful— the whole dilemma of its power based on faith versus (understanding preceding) belief. And kudos to the story for placing me on that ontological level. There I was kinda hoping too that we’ll have something along Nardong Putik.
BUT the story lost this reader’s attention as it went on and on and it all became talky-talk about the “this” in “that”.
By the third segment and so on I was muttering to the story— Too many details. Cut! Go to action! The author was just telling so much and not focusing on what might be the speculative anchor (which is the anting-anting/amulet). Ang daldal ng kuwento! Ang daldal ng mga tao sa kuwento ha ha ha!
Whether the style of dialogue works for the reader is largely dependent on where they stand on the issue of whether dialogue in fiction should replicate real conversation, or be streamlined without seeming inauthentic.
The dialogue in this story definitely leans toward the former, and I don’t think it did the story any favors, as a lot of the exposition is made through dialogue, and “real” conversations can be quite vague. The mileage of other readers may vary though.