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!

Sounds Like Me by Sara Bareilles

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I managed to grab a copy of my fave singer’s book only now, three years after it was published (what a fan, right) but I had been following her musical career all these years. I’ve always cringed at how she didn’t win any Grammy at all (cue her duet with Josh Groban at the recent Tonys) because to me she is a brilliant singer-songwriter who deserved the accolades. At least she already has an ongoing and successful Tony-nominated musical in her belt. There was something about Sara and her songs that were very accessible but not in that basic pop way. She strongly stands on her own because her songs have that depth of experience and point of view I assumed not all pop singers have. When I read this book, my intuition was confirmed.

“You are overwhelmed and haven’t learned to be your own friend through this yet. You will. Your fear of jumping without a net is so valid, and the trick that you haven’t learned yet is that that’s life, always and everywhere. There are no nets. Life is a big, long free fall, and the sooner you can embrace what is beautiful about that, the sooner you will start to enjoy the ride.”

Things I didn’t know about her:

  1. That she was bullied for being chubby.
  2. That she was college friends and front performer for Maroon 5.
  3. That she studied in Italy.
  4. That she had mental health issues.
  5. That the high note in Brave was NOT in her range.

Her writing style does sound like her; very funny and witty and not at all boring based on interviews or spiels I’ve seen of this artist.

“…a three-letter word that, when you break it down, refers to the thing in food that makes it taste good, so I love fat. (Hey bacon, call me. 😉 )”

I was also surprised by the book format because it featured anecdotes from people close to her like bandmates and friends craftily inserted into her narratives.

“It’s funny like that–you just don’t understand something when it’s easy. Like falling in love with someone–just kind of happens without making any real effort or big plans. Important songs come out that way as well.” – Jack Antonoff on Sara B’s “Brave” song

This sort of biographical novel on her musical journey endeared her more to me and brightened the fantasies to be her backup singer (I have a dream). Her album called The Blessed Unrest helped me survive the hardest heartache of my life, and I have to thank her for that. I hope she comes to Manila for a concert which I’m going to pay big bucks for, but Waitress is arriving ahead of her. Maybe I’ll start with that.

“Things evolve into other things. Emotions do the same. Forever. Your best ally in all of these shifting seas is your faith in the fact that you are exactly where you are supposed to be. Stay put. Stay soft. Stay gentle and kind. Listen to your instincts. Meditate. Pray. Laugh as much as humanly possible. Pain is ok too. Say thank you for all of it. Feel proud that you have spent most of your life’s energy on cultivating a strong connection to your own soul and the will of your heart. It is leading you somewhere deeply satisfying, but never perfect.”

 

 

 

Star Wars: The Legends of Luke Skywalker by Ken Liu

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If you can’t get enough of the Star Wars universe and craving for “backstories,” this may be a perfect thirst quencher. Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award-winning author Ken Liu penned these rumors or legends about the heroic Luke Skywalker in the eyes of new characters (even species). First and second-hand stories fill the pages about Skywalker in different ages of his life. Without spoiling anything, the man is nothing short of an overwhelming personality that people in the rebellion and the Empire itself initially fear. Across the stories, however, he never fails to think of others in dire help, but he also showed, surprisingly, his search for self-improvement and learning; that he is not and maybe will never think of himself as someone who has peaked and is a master.

“Legends about our heroes don’t matter as much as what we choose to make of our own lives when the legends move us.”

He is a universal icon, and the various POVs brought fresh insights into the nuances and complexity of Luke as a character and how inspirational he can be. His sass and grit in these accounts make the book an enjoyable read, masterfully crafted to actually lend itself a supplement to the Star Wars canon in these imagined tales.

I was happy to have bought this during the National Book Store 75th anniversary sale where the price got slashed by around Php 200! Such a steal.

 

Ready Player One Film Review

I was super pumped up for this geeky adaptation of Ernest Cline’s novel, but sorry, folks. This is one of the moments I will say the book is better than the movie.

I LOVED THE BOOK. I even read it twice because I got hooked with Wade Watts’s adventures despite being a non-gamer. I understood what he was hoping for, how he wanted to escape, how he wanted to be seen, how he wanted to connect, and how he wanted to help the world defeat tyranny in his dystopian world. I had a blast trying to imagine all the old video games he conquered in my head and how it would have been awesome if the movie got the rights to ALL of them. Alas, my boyfriend found it amusing that I sulked deeper and deeper into my seat as the film’s story unfolded. Man, that was one wallop of disappointment.

(SPOILERS AHEAD. If you’re a curious cat, why not).

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve always loved Spielberg movies and the visuals were top of class and I am a supporter of female roles taking the limelight but I felt like Art3mis stole the thunder from Parzival.

It.really.wasn’t.supposed.to.be.that.way.

I am talking about Wade’s awesome infiltration of Innovative Online Industries (IOI) for weeks in the novel. More than that, Daito was pushed to death, Sorrento is as horrifying as some world leaders in real-life, and Wade’s win was almost hopeless but ingenious because of his perseverance in one time of his life. It was life-changing in the end when he shared his pot money to his friends and to the world and it gives you hope about the youth in that pocket of the fantasy universe.

“I created the OASIS because I never felt at home in the real world. I didn’t know how to connect with the people there. I was afraid, for all of my life, right up until I knew it was ending. That was when I realized, as terrifying and painful as reality can be, it’s also the only place where you can find true happiness. Because reality is real.” – Anorak, Ready Player One

The novel’s themes were very timely, too. The build-up of Aech being female shattered gender stereotypes and the book expounded this quite well.

“As we continued to talk, going through the motions of getting to know each other, I realized that we already did know each other, as well as any two people could. We’d known each other for years, in the most intimate way possible. We’d connected on a purely mental level. I understood her, trusted her, and loved her as a dear friend. None of that had changed, or could be changed by anything as inconsequential as her gender, or skin color, or sexual orientation.”

As a female non-gamer, I would only watch guy friends and lovers who get wrapped up in moments when their hands touch the console, lost in that world. I can’t say I fully understand the feeling of why there is an addiction to it and other factors that make playing games for hours a need, but I guess it’s pretty similar to when I get my hands on a much-awaited novel and I shut off the real world with a Do Not Disturb sign.

“If I was feeling depressed or frustrated about my lot in life, all I had to do was tap the Player One button, and my worries would instantly slip away as my mind focused itself on the relentless pixelated onslaught on the screen in front of me. There, inside the game’s two-dimensional universe, life was simple: It’s just you against the machine. Move with your left hand, shoot with your right, and try to stay alive as long as possible.”

Needless to say, this is a review of the film being so much NOT THE BOOK, and if, by any chance, you get the time to read it after you’ve seen the film, DO IT. It’s a richer fantasy world and more than you’ll ever dream of.

 

Tales from Earthsea (Studio Ghibli)

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Was excited to watch this because I’ve read the first book of the Earthsea novels, A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin, and I wanted to see how Goro Miyazaki, Hayao’s son, would keep up with his father’s legendary filmmaking magic under Studio Ghibli. My verdict? Despite not-so-rosy feedback from critics and reportedly from the author herself, I personally liked most of it. Here’s why.

  • It’s a visual treat. The magic of the fantasy realm is in this land where dragons, men, wizards, mages, and witches co-exist. The color palette is rich and warm in the introduction of town life. Here’s an example of an early scene that started to impress me (it’s a screenshot so it doesn’t do justice).

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  • The music is lovely. The orchestration for the whole film is really good and perfectly enhances every scene, but Teru/Therru’s song was a particularly haunting and moving a capella even Arren cried in this scene! Here’s a YouTube clip of the lyrics in Japanese, English, and Vietnamese. The second song is a closing one, typical of animes.

  • The themes were demonstrated well (spoiler alert). Despite the narrative’s failure to be cohesive, two sets of themes saved it. I initially thought that the protagonist, Arren, was running away from a dark shadow. However, the plot twist was that he was more of a captive of his darkness, and it was his “light” side that was following him!

It also tackled about the desire for eternal life and the fear of death, which the antagonist wanted to gain from his use of magic/alchemy. Invincibility meant control, and Arren’s teen existential angst was emphasized by losing his will to live as he has succumbed to darkness, but Teru argued to knock him to his senses.

  • Roles were consistent with Ghibli stereotypes. As always, the teens saved the world. Teru is a fierce young lady that Arren is such a wimp until he redeems himself, and the adults had the trust in the young ones to figure things out. And can I just add that Lord Cob is the stuff of nightmares???

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I’ve spoken about the good stuff, and now I’m about to drop the bomb on this one: the story doesn’t quite make sense. Why? Because this adaptation is a mix of elements in Le Guin’s novels, hence her critical disappointment despite being a good-looking piece of work. What I read as a novel was the life of a younger Ged, the archmage in this story, but this was sort of a spinoff. The burning question in my head was why Arren did what he had to do because it didn’t have any clear purpose other than he was taken over by evil spirits or something. That could be a probable reason for committing that “sin,” but it felt stretched. It’s understandable that the Le Guin fan base would want to shun this project, but as a Ghibli fan, I still find it remarkable.

It is a must-see for a fantasy ride. I will place this high over some mainstream Hollywood blockbusters, honestly.

 

 

 

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.

The Beauty of Irony in The Zookeeper’s Wife

While everyone was still flocking the cinemas for Marvel’s Guardians on its second week, R & I went to see a less popular flick, The Zookeeper’s Wife, because we heard of its heroic connections to saving the Jews during the Holocaust (I was coincidentally carrying a copy of Elie Wiesel’s Day in my bag that time). Rated R-13 for nudity, violence, and mature themes, most of the moviegoers were mature Filipino and American audiences.

There is something chilling about anything connected to the Holocaust, and the beauty of the Polish petting zoo and its inhabitants were soon marred by the arrival of bombs. Antonina and Jan Zabinski, along with their son Ryszard, witnessed the heartless killing of their animals by the Nazis because the bombing set the zoo inhabitants loose. In comes the villain in the guise of a friend, Dr. Lutz Heck, Germany’s top zoologist who wants to work with Antonina and use the zoo for his experiment. On the other hand, the Zabinskis thought that they could raise a pig farm as a way to extract the Jews from the ghetto by covering them with the fruit peelings they collect at the mentioned camp as food for the pigs. In the zoo’s premises is an underground passageway that served as quarters and hiding place of the “fugitives” of war.

The movie tried its best to not sugarcoat the cruelty and harshness of the true-to-life accounts, especially the rape, but it artistically diverted the heaviness by always juxtaposing goodness right after. There was a lot of emphasis on the empathy and the care for others in the midst of great danger. In the Warsaw Zoo, the animals were loved as much as the humans while the war treats the Jews as helpless creatures. The couple managed to save 300 people, and what courage they had to shield them from death!

Jessica Chastain, who played the role of Antonina, met the couple’s daughter, Teresa, during the premiere.

If there’s any film that could show compassion, include The Zookeeper’s Wife in your list. This world needs real-life heroes like them.