PSF6 Review: “The Kiddie Pool” by Kenneth Yu

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On May - 28 - 2012

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 :P ]

——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!

 

Kwentillion is Coming

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On May - 24 - 2012

EDIT: Just received an update from Komikon that our stage time has been moved from 300pm to 330pm. Please adjust your schedules accordingly :)

I’m proud to announce that the first issue of Kwentillion, a young-adult themed comics+fiction+features magazine (print only as of now, but digital in a few months) that I’m co-editing with Budjette Tan (Trese), will be launched this Saturday, 3:00 3:30 p.m. at the Summer Komikon, and will be available in stores soon after (we’ll hopefully have a few copies to sell at the Komikon, but that’ll only be a handful.)

This run is something of a test, and if the issue performs well, it could become a regular magazine. I’ve talked about this project a bit on Facebook and Twitter, and in a recent Buhay Indie post,but I haven’t had the time to plug it yet here on Rocket Kapre.

Kwentillion is a bi-monthly (eventually, we hope), black and white magazine (with an eight-page colored spread every issue) that features reviews and previews of young adult books, interviews with creators, and articles which tackle a wide variety of topics of interest to the YA community. For this issue, the story contents are reprints:

  • For comics, we have “The Last Datu” by Budjette Tan & Kajo Baldisimo, “Poso Maximo:A Fair Trade” by Robert Magnuson, “High Society” by myself and Hannah Buena, “Skygypsies” by TJ Dimacali and JohnRay Bumanglag;
  • For prose, we’re reprinting Andrew Drilon’s “The Secret Origin of Spin-Man”.

We have interviews with Chester Ocampo (who also did the cover – you can see a draft below), and Manix Abrera, YA book previews from YA book bloggers Chachic Fernandez and Tina Matanguihan, a discourse on the benefits of fanfiction by Anna Sanchez, and the first of what I hope will be a regular column from YA advocate and blogger Tarie Sabido. We’ve got a feature on Filipino artists to follow online, showcasing their art as part of the 8 page colored spread. We also have resources for aspiring writers and artists: “How to Draw a Tikbalang” from Trese artist Kajo Baldisimo, and a primer on Philippine Folk Magic, written by me and illustrated by our Alternative Alamat artist Mervin Malonzo.

Kwentillion, I think, could be a great boon to Filipino readers and creators. It’s important that Philippine comics be regularly and widely available, in a quality printed format. It’s important that more Philippine young adult content be created, so our young people have the option of reading about heroes/heroines who are more like them. It’s important that a publication exists that treats those popular yet oft disparaged genres – YA, science fiction/fantasy, comics – with an enthusiastic heart, a respectful attitude, and a critical eye.

I’m sure the first issue isn’t perfect – I promise you we’ll do everything we can to improve every issue, but to do that, we need this small 3,000 print run to be a smashing success. If you’re a fan of YA books or comics, an avid SFF reader or an aspiring creator, if you feel the same gnawing hunger I do when I look at the bookstore shelves and dream of what could be there… now’s the time to be heard.

Summer Komikon, Bayanihan Center, Pasig City. Saturday, May 26, 3:00 p.m. See you there.

Here's one of the work-in-progress sketches Chester (Ocampo) sent us. The official cover will be revealed on Saturday.

 

A Tour of the Philippine Fantastic (2 of 2)

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On May - 12 - 2012

Part 2 of my article on the Philippine fantastic for the “World Tour of Wonderment“ feature of Fantasy Faction is now up. (You can find part one here.) In this post, I give a brief primer on the fantastic in prose fiction and comics, by talking about prominent creators/projects in these fields. Check it out!

A Tour of the Philippine Fantastic (1 of 2)

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On April - 28 - 2012

For those who don’t know, I’m a contributor over at the U.K. site Fantasy Faction, and the editors graciously allowed me to handle the Philippine stop of their “World Tour of Wonderment“, a regular feature where the site focuses on a particular country and its contributions to, and traditions of, the fantastic. This is the first part of the article, and gives an overview of our varied mythologies, as well as some of our folklore creatures. The article is meant to be a basic primer for non-Filipinos, but it may be an interesting read for anyone interested in the Philippine fantastic. In the second part of the article, coming next week, I’ll mention specific works and creators to check out.

TOC: Steampunk III: Steampunk Revolution

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On April - 5 - 2012

It gives me great pleasure to announce that my steampunk story “On Wooden Wings” (originally from Philippine Speculative Fiction volume 6) has been selected for the new “Steampunk III: Steampunk Revolution” anthology, edited by Ann Vandermeer. I read the first “Steampunk” anthology while I was working out the world of “On Wooden Wings”, and for it to be included in the third volume of the series is an incredible honor. You can see the table of contents here, and I’m glad I only confirmed the complete TOC today, otherwise I don’t think I could have kept quiet about this news for so long. It’s also awesome to see a strong Southeast Asian presence in this anthology as well–two of the stories come from the Singaporean anthology “The Steampowered Globe“, and there’s a new essay by Jaymee Goh.

Speaking of Jaymee, I’d like to give her a special shout out since she’s the reason I decided to submit the story for consideration in the first place. And hence, I now have a new example of how submitting your work, flaws and insecurities and all, is of paramount importance to every writer. So thanks to Jha, thanks to Nikki Alfar and Kate Osias for publishing it first, and thanks to Ann for choosing to republish it.

 

Philippine Speculative Fiction 6 Review: Hub and Intro

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On April - 1 - 2012

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]

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PSF6 Review: “Break in at Batay Street” by Francis Gabriel Concepcion

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On March - 15 - 2012

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.

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PSF6 Review: On Wooden Wings

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On February - 23 - 2012

Since the author’s not into self-mutilation (and for the sake of objective delicadeza), Paolo’s sitting this one out and my bold type is being turned over to Don Jaucian (critic and film buff, proprietor of pelikula.tumblr.com and geeksturr.tumblr.com/) who’s been steadily hanging out his critical cajones out there and here.

Don, I hope you charge Paolo Chikiamco for this because he really pays people to have fun while savaging his stories haha.

Wait, so I’ll get paid for this? Hahaha. Anyway, the beginning kind of threw me off. Too much jargon and terms that needed explaining, which can be a problem for the readers who aren’t really familiar with the culture discussed here.

The beginning did not hook me in at all, especially with the opening line. And just looking at the pages, I had to condition myself to read the story, sighing to myself, “Oh boy this is gonna be a long one…” I had to try several times to get myself to sit through it because it just wasn’t getting me.

I was actually afraid it’ll continue to be like that for the rest of the story. The approach is like a cloying hard science fiction story: here are facts, terms, historical allusions piling on top of each other. Quick, Google them!

— Hahaha! Well there’s that overload that shuts down my brain then onto a re-boot to make sense of it all. My problem was that this process was happening in a stumbling loop because my cliché bell was also clanging tsk tsk

But some of the terms become clear as you go along with the story or maybe some readers will just disregard some of the terms and stick with the flow of the story.

—- Sometimes I do react like the “some readers” that you’re referring to. Especially when I’m not so familiar with the terms. It’s like chatter and my brain says “Action na! Bilis!”

Exactly! But then again, I guess it’s also one way to familiarize with the Muslim culture, especially on their culture and education. You can tell Paolo did a lot of research on this.

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PSF6 Review: “Villainoguing” by Joseph Montecillo

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On February - 9 - 2012

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.

The traditional (think Golden/Silver Age) superhero story is one of those story types that draws from a small pool of highly recognizable elements, and requires a very healthy suspension of disbelief.

— sigh, I wish we weren’t gonna do this to this one… but hell yeah, especially if the reader were me, ayayay

That’s not to say that I don’t think you can write a good, straight-up one–Lou Anders’ “Masked” anthology has a few–but simply that few writers make that attempt. It’s tough, like writing a straight-up humor piece.]

— An attempt at a straight-up humor piece about superheroes and villains = ridiculous and funny reality. Right.

I think that it’s this combination of factors that makes it so common in contemporary literature/media to see attempts at deconstructing the genre and its tropes. In movies, this frequently takes the form of light-hearted parodies (Megamind, Despicable Me) where the ridiculous nature of many of the genre’s tropes are used for comedic effect (even works that aren’t straight up parodies take pains to draw a line between what works in a 1940s Batman comic, and what would work “in real life”–see the treatment of capes in The Incredibles).

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PSF6 Review: “A Smell of Mothballs” by Maria Elena Paterno

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On February - 2 - 2012

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.

Except for a jolting transition after the 3rd paragraph on the first page and “dull thud” making my bell wince, I found the story smooth, short, and sweet. There were still cliché phrases but this story showed when such articulation is just appropriate like in the usage of “woke with a start” or “…looked at him uncomprehendingly”. Because to do otherwise would make the story’s language suddenly turning verbose. Though the latter is still kind of making me wince given that it is an isolated line and therefore draws implied significance.

What I enjoyed craft-wise in this story was the ability of the author to hone in on very specific environmental/sensory details in order to give more reality and particularity to a scene. “…[s]troked the space between the inside of the elbow and the surgical tape that held the tube down…” If you’ve been in the hospital much/recently, you know exactly where that spot is. Another: “There was a smell of old coffee beans and spiders lurking in corners.” (I’d like to think that last is intentionally ambiguous.)

Man you haven’t been to old houses in the provinces much, huh? There’s a smell exactly like that in bodegas (or what we call in Bicol as zaguan). Can also be smelled in old aparadors. Think of the smell of old spiders as a thicker smell of dust, add that smell of coffeebeans, et voila! C’est par la:  It doesn’t make you sneeze.

[Pao: Our “ancestral home”, so to speak, is on a farm. I guess the spider smell was overpowered by the chicken poop, er, coop.]

One thing that bothered me about the opening scene–I’ve mentioned this before–is the non-identification of the POV character with a proper noun until the third paragraph. As I said, maybe it’s a bias from my time in the slush fields, but if basic information is withheld from me, I expect it to have been done for a reason, and there didn’t seem to be any need not to just say “So Simeon woke with a start…” (And I don’t think you sacrifice in media res by a clear identity.)

Double-checked that. The way I see it, if proper noun were used in the first paragraph, the beginning would lose that sensation of emerging from sleep. The use of proper noun would make the POV too conscious, because as it is the POV’s panning from internal subconscious to waking to groggy alertness.

[Pao: Ah, I see your point. But then why not introduce it in the second paragraph? Protagonist seems fully aware by then.]

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