Review: Philippine Speculative Fiction IV (2 of 4)

I’ve been reading the most recent volume of the Philippine Speculative Fiction anthology, edited by Dean Alfar and Nikki Alfar, so here’s the second batch of reviews. Here are my thoughts on the next 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 Day that Frances, the Copywriter, Became God” by Monique Francisco

I got a kick out of the mention of the “hope that was dashed” in the last Harry Potter book, as my wife had been clinging on to that very same slim thread of ambiguity ^_^ I also enjoyed the biblical phrasing which can lend a very particular tone to a contemporary piece, letting it read like a fable, or a parable – which in a way, this was.

On the down side, while this was a very short story (four and a half pages)I think a lot could still be cut, strangely enough. The “Or…” paragraphs in the first part were a tad too numerous (yes I know that repetition is also a part of the Biblical style but it didn’t work here) and the references a tad too specific.

“A Retrospective on Diseases for Sale” by Charles Tan

I loved the central idea of the story, and I think that the piece did a good job in exploring it throughly. I thought at first the title would be more metaphorical than literal, but in, erm, retrospect (sorry) it does make sense. That being said I think the ending was rather abrupt (or maybe it just went over my head), although maybe that’s just a manifestation of this nagging feeling that the brilliant concept might have been even better explored via a traditional narrative rather than through the retrospective.

“Sky Blue” by Celestine Trinidad

I think this was a very well constructed story, the proof of which being the fact that I enjoyed it despite the fact that the main plot partook of the sort of relationship drama which, while I can appreciate as a creative work, I rarely find myself entertained by. I like the symmetry established by the discussion of colors at the beginning and the end (though from the way Grandma so eloquently distinguishes the shades of blue in the opening, she’d have to have been of a creative bent because otherwise I just can’t see those words being used in the actual conversation). I liked the reflection of the meaning of the word “pasensya. “I also like the pacing of the story, the way her hidden shame was revealed gradually, organically. Sara herself has plenty of depth as a character; she is not simply strong or weak but instead she has enough contradictions to feel like a real person, and because of that I connected with her even if I literally can never have any idea how she felt in the story.

“All We Need is Five Meals a Day” by Jose Elvin Bueno

I’ll come right out and say that this one seems to have gone right over my head. The imagery is vivid and striking and definitely like nothing I’ve read before… but it was like a smooth, abstract sculpture: aesthetically pleasing, but nothing I could find any purchase on. I think I’m just the type of reader who needs a sympathetic viewpoint to latch on to. It was like hearing a descriptive metaphor but not understanding the context, forced to take something literally even if you know there is much more to it than what lies on the surface.

The Sewing Project” by Apol Lejano-Massebieau

This, I think, is modern weirdness done right. I’m sure there are proper genre and literary terms that refer to what I’m trying to describe here (Magical Mundane? Weird Realism?) but what I mean is that this is the type of story wherein the fantastic is treated as ordinary, and the craftsmanship is such that it doesn’t bother me as a reader: I didn’t for a moment start to think about how the protagonist was doing what she was doing, whether other people did it, what the source of her power was etc. I was totally immersed in the story.

I think Ms. Apol achieved this in two ways: (1) the plot was interesting; (2) the story was rich in details, from the materials used to the method of stitching to the characteristics of the sewn man.

Dreams of the Iron Giant” by Joseph F. Nacino

My favorite story in the anthology so far; this is partly I’m sure because of my affinity for action/adventure stories, particularly ones which play out like a big budget anime in my head as I read the story. For one reason or another, the short stories I see tend to lean more towards the literary/slice of life/character study type of tale… but sometimes what I want the conflict in the narrative to involve bullets and blood and, yes, the occassional giant mecha.

It was also an alternate history story, which I don’t think we’ve got enough of here (perhaps because of the amount of research necessary to get it right). I don’t know enough about Russia or that particular era, but the foreign terminology felt right, sounded right, and that sufficed. Having some knowledge of the classic giant Japanese robos, I can say the names given to them sounded just about right as well.

The dialogue was natural and managed to explain a lot of the back story without resorting to infodumps or exposition, the characters were distinct despite the fact that only Sergey had a point of view, to the point that their fates during the ending actually mattered for me. My only real quibbles were the fact that while the presence of the Filipino is rationally explained, his nationality felt a bit tacked on (can’t eally put my finger on why, since it’s not like the Filipino-ness of the character needs to be a part of every Filipino story; maybe it was that, for an unimportant element, it was noted just a bit too much?) and the fact that the author’s note felt entirely unecesary.

Those are very minor issues though which detracted in no way from my enjoyment of the story. I think we’re ready for your novel now Mr. Joseph ^_^

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? ^_^

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