I’m about two-thirds of the way through the most recent volume of the Philippine Speculative Fiction anthology, edited by Dean Alfar and Nikki Alfar, so I thought I’d get started on my reviews. As I read anthologies from first story to last (I am told I’m a minority in this) here are my thoughts on the first six of the twenty-four stories in this volume, with my thanks to each author for sharing their story with us.
I’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum but nevertheless, fair warning: Here There Be Spoilers.
“The Secret Origin of Spin-man” by Andrew Drilon
It’s hard to look at this story objectively, since the narrative touches upon and uses names and images that trigger so many nostalgic memories for me: Virra mall, CATs and comic books have a special place in the heart of many Xavierians, and the story evokes those memories well. It also does a good job in showing clearly the close bond between the brothers – a good thing too because it is essential to the story – even if there were some points where that focus wavers a bit.
The spec fiction twist is one many will see coming but that doesn’t dilute the feeling of loss that pervaded the last few pages. I was surpised though that the POV character never engaged in a “what if” rumination about what would have happened if he had taken up his brothers offer. Hey, a Watcher (not WatchMEN) cameo would have fit in with the theme perfectly ^_^
“Press Release” by Leo Magno
I had an “oh that’s clever” moment when I realized, about 4 lines into the story, how the author was going to play with the concept of a “release”. I appreciated the connections to present day issues and personalities in the text -except that seeing “the mirror of truth” applied during a senate hearing made me do a double take as to the timeframe of the story (while it’s possible that it was a namesake/descendant in the scene, that doubletake took me out of the story mid-way).
Another issue I had was the fact that the last “release” seemed to deviate from the form of the preceding “releases” (it was not a detached report). Maybe this was because this portion involved someone deviating from the party line – but then, we already saw some of that in the “Psychiatric Release” part, which was still in the form of a detached record.
One last thing, though it might simply be personal preference – I felt at times that too much was made explicit in the text: the truth about Barrera, about North Maharlika… The text did a good job in earlier parts of giving the reader enough to infer those truths; there was no real need to explicitly spell them out later.
“Revenge of the Tiktaks” by Noel Tio
What I loved about the story was the way that the sound of stomping bakyas (Tik. Tak.) was interspersed throughout the text in a way that both set the suspenseful mood and provided a natural partition between parts of the narrative. The sprinkled visayan (I think?) also added to the flavor of the piece. It was a fairly by-the-book piece otherwise (“safe” as an Americal Idol judge might say) except for the risky ending (humor is always risky I think, because it is so hard to do). While I’m kind of ambivalent about the ending, it will certainly let me remember the story ^_^.
“Breathing Space” by Maryanne Moll
Ms. Maryanne write very descriptive prose. I didn’t know what to make of the lack of names in the story at first, but on second reading it makes sense – it makes the story more susceptible to generalization, to universal application. Without names the characters could be anyone, the story could be anyone’s – and sadly I’m sure it is painfully familiar to many – at least insofar as the conflict is concerned.
The ending… I suppose that’s where it becomes spec fic, if ever. That particular resolution can be nothing but a fantasy for most people, no matter how much they might wish it otherwise in their darker moments.
“Mang Marcing and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” by Vincent Michael Simbulan
Two in a row where the spec fic elements are not present in the traditional way – I wonder if that was intentional on the part of the editors? That said I think this was a very well constructed story, with a strong ending: not because of any twist or revelation ( not trying for a pun I swear) but because it fit just right, it made the story feel complete – like no other ending would do.
My only real reservation is that I actually think the story would be stronger if the only reference to the horsemen was in the title; while it might push it farther away from a traditional spec fic story, I think the narrative itself would be stronger if the tale didn’t wear its metaphor on its sleeve quite so obviously.
“The Rooftops of Manila” by Crystal Gail Shangkuan Koo
Ms. Crystal has a prose that sucks me in, in a way that’s more characteristic of a novel than a short story. The multiple POVs give a good sense of where the country stands (although the first POV was noticeably weaker for me than the rest). I do find myself wishing that the piece was much longer – it’s like we’re taken up on a plane and given a birds eye view of a fascinating sandbox of a world, with that great mix of the strange and the familiar that we love in spec fic… Only for the ride to end without allowing us to disembark and walk around.
Maybe that is why I felt the ending was a bit weak and unsatisfactory; I felt we left the world too soon.
Standard review disclaimer: I’m certainly no book critic – literary criticism makes my head hurt – nor the most diverse genre reader, but hopefully my thoughts on what struck me and what confused me, what immersed me and what took me out of the tale, can be of help to you guys. Besides… who doesn’t like talking about the stories they’ve read? ^_^