Featured Filipino Author: Dean Alfar (Part I)

I vowed to support more Filipino authors and start alloting a budget for their books but I started researching for their works online because I don’t know where to start. And so I gravitated towards the advocate of speculative fiction writing in the Philippines, Dean Alfar.

The first short story that I read online was The New Daughter, a tale of a certain toy maker that we all know from a popular fairy tale.

“Now we must be patient, you and I,” he told her. “If my son could come to life, then certainly so can you.”

To read the whole story online, click here. Warning: It’s sad. It pinched my heart but it was just so good that it blew me away at the same time.

I got hooked so I proceeded to search for more of his published stories online. I’m a fiction fanatic so I focused on his work that I found on the Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler page. Entitled Six From Downtown, these are six short stories that I devoured in one sitting. Out of the six, my favorites are The Wet Market, The Red Light District, and The Housing Projects, all of which dealt with the mystical/mythological. I’m a fan.

When I passed by Fully Booked, the homegrown section featured a thin book with his daughter, Sage, which I, of course, purchased for only Php 199.

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The father-daughter tandem wrote eight wonderful stories and my favorites are The Blade of Virtuous Water (Dean), ASHI > Fix This (Sage), and Stars in Jars (Sage). This time, the daughter won me over.

When I was in Baguio two weeks ago, I shopped for more books at Mt. Cloud bookstore because we were staying in Casa Vallejo, Hill Station, for a night. I picked up The Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2005-2010 that Dean co-edited with his wife, Nikki, but I haven’t finished reading it yet so that will be for a separate post real soon. It encouraged me to plan and make time to write a short story in my lifetime in this genre, and when I feel one or more are good enough, maybe I’d have the gall to submit to some literary contests.

In the meantime, let me help you read more fantastic Philippine spec fiction, dear readers. Start with him!

The Girl With All the Gifts

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It’s been a while since I read anything in one sitting, and this book made me. Borrowed this from my sister to read something new and I couldn’t stop until I got to the end. Thoughts:

  • The dystopian world fades into the background as the author focused perspective on Melanie, the special girl in the class, before shifting POV to the minor players in the story. The shift in the narrative was a welcome surprise.
  • The relationship of Melanie and Ms. Justineau strongly evokes Roald Dahl’s Matilda and Ms. Honey. While Matilda had to fight tyranny with magic, Melanie’s self-awareness, wonder, and goodness fought off the icky fungal whatever that body-snatched her biology.
  • Not for the faint of heart. While it may be common nowadays to depict people as the walking dead, having a child army kill you and run after you is gripping and also heartbreaking.
  • Loved the Greek myth references. It is, I think, necessary literature to read kids or make them learn about the gods to awaken realizations of humanity, and the title of the book itself is a clue about a girl who had a special box of evils that she unleashed to the world. Melanie, like Pandora, is symbolic of hope in the post-apocalyptic world they live in.

There’s actually a film adaptation! I loved the book, so I’m looking forward how the movie holds up.

Doctor Who: The Celestial Toymaker

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I stumbled upon this novel of my fave fantasy TV series in a pop-up stall of an online bookstore in Eastwood, but the name of the bookstore escapes me at the moment. I think I got this for only 100 pesos because it’s yellow and old but I didn’t care because it’s a rare find. At first, I thought since I have not seen any classic Who episodes that I’d be having a bit of difficulty reading this thin novella, but it turned out to be a fun and a rather quick read!

According to the Tardis.wikia.com, this 1986 novelization is based on the (1966) 6th episode of the first Doctor with his companions, Dodo and Steven. Here’s the publisher’s summary of the story:

Somewhere outside space and time there waits the Celestial Toymaker, an enigmatic being who ensnares unwary travellers in his domain to play out his dark and deadly games.

Separated from the security of the TARDIS, the First Doctor is forced to play the complex trilogic game with the evil magician. Meanwhile, Dodo and Steven must enter into a series of tests with, among others, the schoolboy Cyril and theKing and Queen of Hearts.

If they lose, they are condemned to become the Toymaker’s playthings for all eternity. For in the malevolent wonderland that is the Celestial Toyroom, nothing is just for fun…

From the book cover and the synopsis, the publisher might as well have labeled this book in the horror section because of the creepy clowns and its stuck-in-a-dollhouse slash carnival horror house theme that made the reading experience quite chilling. The Doctor and his companions all had to play the games or get stuck in this universe forever. The catch though is they have to end and win AT THE SAME TIME. How crazy is that, right? The Doctor and the Toymaker are in a separate room for a numerical pyramid computation thingymajig with a one-way mirror where they both could monitor Dodo and Steven doing obstacle courses and Amazing Race-ish mental challenges against clowns and mannequins that came to life and the King and Queen of Hearts. Yes, they won against the Toymaker (there won’t be 12 more Doctors if he didn’t), but it definitely wasn’t an easy journey!

YouTube has audio episodes and still images of this, so if you’d like to look and listen, here it is:

 

 

For other Doctor Who related posts, here’s a list of links to the DW 50th anniversary books I’ve read and made reviews of:

https://tabbedbooks.wordpress.com/2013/05/25/doctor-who-50th-anniv-books/

https://tabbedbooks.wordpress.com/2013/06/28/ten-little-aliens-by-stephen-cole/

https://tabbedbooks.wordpress.com/2013/06/15/the-silent-stars-gone-by/

https://tabbedbooks.wordpress.com/2013/10/15/only-human-by-gareth-roberts/

https://tabbedbooks.wordpress.com/2013/08/30/earthworld-by-jacqueline-rayner/

 

Fortunately, the Milk

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My fondness for Neil Gaiman’s works gravitates towards his children’s literature. I recently grabbed this thin and affordable book for just Php 199 (I think) because I forgot about Chu’s Day. So what is it about?

 

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Excerpt from http://www.mousecircus.com

It is about a dad who went out to buy milk from the grocery for his children’s cereal and came back with fantastic adventures on a time machine that involved aliens, dinosaurs, a talking volcano, among others. His adventures were, apparently, the cause of the delay of the precious milk.

Yup, that’s basically it! 🙂

Filled with wonderful illustrations by Skottie Young, this can probably be a fun substitute as a bedtime story for kids (as long as they don’t ask you to explain what the space-time continuum is).

 

Demigods & Magicians Review

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I’ve read these three short stories online before I bought it in novel form, but I gladly re-read it again and enjoyed it immensely. The crossover stories are expectedly exciting because it intertwines the Egyptian and Greek mythology and magic together in two sets of contrasting (teen) warriors of the modern age. The Kanes were definitely counterparts of Percy and Annabeth in terms of personality so the conflicts in their encounters are always interesting.

Is Uncle Rick preparing us for a consolidated heroes universe? That’s a far-fetched idea though because am not sure if there is a unifying thread among the different mythologies of the world, but Riordan does prep us in this particular set of stories of commonalities we don’t know of in our histories. He amazingly knows history well enough to find a convergence in facts to spin understandable snippets of history with elements of fantasy. In this trilogy of stories, Riordan spun a tale about Ptolemy, the Egyptian astronomer, mathematician, and geographer of Greek descent. See what he did there?

To defeat a villain who wanted to fuse the dark magic of Egyptians and the Greeks will need the assembly of heroes who’ll naturally have to combine their strengths and save the world. Percy and Sadie are the kick-ass warriors, Carter and Annabeth are the strategists. Their initial meetings were hilarious because they met their opposites and thankfully were able to trust each other before anyone killed each other off. FYI, in the Riordan universe, the Greek territory/Mount Olympus is in Manhattan while the Egyptian descendants reside in Brooklyn. Setne, a magician who’s the descendant of Rameses, comes back from the dead to fuse the crown of Upper and Lower Egypt by mixing Greek and Egyptian magic to become a god and rule over Governor’s Island (still in New York).

It’s a short but exciting read for Riordan followers. I can only imagine what it feels like to control elements of the Earth like water and it must be terrifying to “host” a god inside of you (especially a carnivorous one). These teens’ lives were changed for good once they’ve experienced (literally) going through hell, and Setne was just another day of fighting an evil entity. Heroes don’t ever get to rest. Or study in peace. Or have a normal, quiet love life.

Thank the gods I’m not one. I’d rather just read about their adventures!

 

Excerpt from the Winds of Winter

Well, well, well. George R.R. Martin wants fans to know that he’s still at it while an already exciting season is ongoing for its TV series counterpart. I honestly don’t remember much about the details in the novels, especially A Dance With Dragons because I focused my attention on the main characters (that are still a lot). Non-readers might not get what the excerpt is about (even I don’t) but still sharing the link to all.

Read the excerpt on a new (?) Sand character here.

The Magic Circle by Gilda Cordero- Fernando

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It’s been a while since I picked up Philippine prose because my last one was a chapter of Trese, a graphic novel. Admittedly, this became a choice because I judged a book by its cover! It appealed to me because 1) it is purple 2) the cover has texture 3) I like the illustration. Now let me be quick to say too that it is a book of well-known Philippine author Gilda Cordero-Fernando which convinced me that it is a good buy, aside from it being aesthetically pleasing to my taste. So what is it about?

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It starts off with a lavish sketch of a tree and a description of special, no, magical atmospheric conditions that is a peculiar phenomenon for Filipinos. The first character introduced is a poor boy named Jepoy, but the story isn’t about him at all. In the magic circle of Philippine mythological creatures and folklore, he was merely an observer to an important gathering. It was a wedding that turned into a meeting and then a funeral, where humans happened to be just accessories, topics, and the reasons for suffering. It is a short story about one’s life purpose, the role that we all play in contributing to the destruction of the environment, and how things die because we have forgotten. Worse, we now refuse to believe.

It is short, but definitely not sweet. It is a jab at Filipino culture, where the forgotten are the main characters and where its strongest message would still be to take care of Mother Earth.