Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Review: Behemoth

Re-imagined stories have always arrested my attention—a bunch of retold fairytales, revamped legends, or alternate histories have become surprisingly refreshing all because modern authors discovered new formulas to put a wild spin on them. In my book, writers who can create new masterpieces with just the use of old material and excellent storytelling strategies receive two thumbs up. Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan takes the cake in my list of alternate histories, and so when I got my hands on its sequel, Behemoth, I’m really hoping that it will meet my high expectations set by Leviathan. And it did.



Behemoth picks up where Leviathan left off: World War I is brewing, and the Darwinist airship Leviathan is heading towards Constantinople (Istanbul) to finally deliver Dr. Nora Barlow’s cargo to the Sultan. Our main characters still struggle to protect their own identities from the world: Deryn/Dylan Sharp, a young and courageous girl posing as a boy in the British Air Force, tries hard to keep her male fa├žade, which is slowly disintegrating; Aleksandar Ferdinand, son of the assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Princess Sophie Chotek, poses as a commoner as he is still on the run from the Germans who want to kill him. When the ship’s peacekeeping mission goes awry, Deryn takes a perilous mission to bring the Behemoth— the newest kraken-like beastie that the Darwinists created to bring triumph to the British camp—through the Dardanelles strait. Alek, meanwhile, escapes the airship after knowing that he and his men will be treated as prisoners of war after proven worthless. In Istanbul he bumps into and joins a paramilitary group with an aim to overthrow the incumbent Sultan. Deryn and Alek reunite in the City, and together they try to bring the war to a halt.

Once again, I’d like to commend Westerfeld’s skill in world-building. From a plunge into the Dardanelles to a frolic around the lively streets of Istanbul, Westerfeld effortlessly creates an intricate world that the readers can readily be drawn into. His descriptive prose is never flowery, but a concrete image of the setting would pop out immediately after you’ve read the words. Istanbul comes alive before your eyes, vividly festooned with a hodgepodge of different cultures and carefully strewn with new interesting characters.  The steampunk technologies and Darwinist creations introduced are pretty awe-inspiring too: the elephantine Dauntless, the turtle-legged Clanker bed, the goddess walker Sahmeran, the fearsome barnacles, the cute and shrewd Bovril, and of course, the enormous Behemoth. Like in Leviathan, you flip through a few pages of this and you’ll finally feel like you belong in this history.

As for the characters, there is a lot of growing up that happened. Deryn proves to be worthy of the trophy as my favorite character, with all her flaws finally becoming clearer—a remarkable percentage of it caused by her hormones alone. For a very tomboyish lassie she seems to be a little too girly when it comes to her puppy love sort of feelings for Alek, which has developed after an awkard, brotherly hug back in Leviathan. Be that as it may, she’s still the tough girl that we see in the prequel. Alek on the other hand doesn’t think about his love life at all; he is set to bring peace to Europe and Asia as soon as possible. I like Alek’s new attitude—it’s like he’s writing his own bildungsroman, and he knows it. What I’m a little peeved and amused about is Alek’s blind faith in the Providence. I hope this--and something more about religion--will be addressed further in the third installment. All in all, both the characters are slowly being emotionally attaching to the readers, though more fleshing out (at least in Alek's case) wouldn't hurt.

The pace is as always fast and action-filled, though I think people who don’t like anything much about mechas (of the steampunk sort especially) would find the action scenes a little dragging. I’ve read about them before so I enjoyed every battle scene—my favorite would have to be when the Committee and our duo try to bring down the gigantic Tesla cannon that’s about to annihilate the Leviathan. Everything is just made of awesome. :3 (Whoops, I fell in a fangirly pit! Sorry!)

I’d be patiently waiting for the third installment, Goliath.

PS: How could I forget the cool illustrations of Keith Thompson? They are as beautiful and intricate as the ones in Leviathan, and they make me more engaged in reading. :3

Monday, December 27, 2010

Review: Zombies Vs. Unicorns (Round One)

ZOMBIES VS. UNICORNS ROUND ONE!
Story Reviews for Nix and Johnson
from Zombies Vs. Unicorns Anthology 


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The Highest Justice
by Garth Nix  


Flipping the first pages of this anthology brought nostalgia in the air—Garth Nix, one of my favorite fantasy writers, is the first to tell a story supposedly for Holly Black’s side. But I refuse to consider “The Highest Justice” defending Team Unicorns since it contains both a unicorn and a zombie, which in my opinion breaks the rules. Anyway, I think this is an enthralling opener for the collection and I instantly felt the same magic Nix’s pen always does in world-building—I felt like being transported back to his other worlds, particularly the medieval-esque Old Kingdom (which kind of made me miss the early 20th century Ancelstierre, the city that is put in juxtaposition with it). There’s some sort of unconventional necromancy involved so it isn’t that hard to connect it to Sabriel.

“The Highest Justice” is the story of a grief-stricken princess who brings her dead Queen mother back to life—zombify is the correct term—with an aid of a unicorn. She seeks for justice, knowing that her mother is poisoned by the latest mistress of her womanizing father.

This is a rather old tale, at least something with an ending that you would’ve expected from the start. Be that as it may, I liked it because it felt so…inspired, and is utterly poignant. There’s also this little trick that Nix always used, one that I personally call the “teensy jot of romance”. Nix writes YA, but he doesn’t bask entirely in romance; he provides little teasing bits of it, and he would let the readers decide if there’s going to happen to that little spark or it will simply die out in the end. A definitely good read!
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Love Will Tear Us Apart
by Alaya Dawn Johnson 


I know that gushing is not appropriate here unless I want to make this a faux review, but whatever! I loved this story so much it isn’t even funny. I was a bit unconvinced that this zombie story will click with my taste when I read the introductory post—Justine Larbalestier said bluntly that this is unique, because the next author had created a breed of zombies that can fall in love. After that, I was like rolling my eyes and shrugging, muttering something about the insane idea of brainless shambling creatures having emotions--but I want to go on with it anyway because it has been ages since I read a proper zombie tale. And you know what? I read the first paragraph and knew in an instant that I’m a goner.

Initially, I was fairly astonished. From Garth Nix’s familiarly tranquil flow of storytelling, I was catapulted—without any warning—into a crassly comedic writing of Alaya Dawn Johnson…and I liked it. It’s so contrasting, how they treat both their stories, and it almost felt I was trying a couple of gourmet dishes from different countries.

Speaking of food analogies, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” is chock-full of them. The story is told from the point of view of Grayson, a homosexual boy infected with ZSE (Zombie Spongiform Encephalopathy), a rare disease akin to MCD that makes him want to eat humans. I got excited when I read that part—Larbalestier wasn’t kidding when she said this isn’t about the voudin-possessed or the Romero flick zombies! It's refreshing to know that there’s a science fiction-ish element being involved, making Grayson more like a half-zombie of some sort.

Grayson is extremely fond of the sexually (and gustatorily) attractive lacrosse player and son of ex-CIA agent, Jack. The rather complicated harmony of their friendship is sent haywire when Jack sets off reluctantly to kill Grayson. This is a rollercoaster ride of sarcasm, love, hatred and lust, accompanied by a head-bopping soundtrack that you’d truly appreciate if you’re a music lover.

The story felt like a novella for me, and it helps that it is actually divided into mini-chapters—some of which contains Grayson’s flashbacks or just some funny asides. Admittedly, some of these felt like commercials, killing the build-up of the story for a while and then throwing you back to it without any caution (a zombifying technique of storytelling, anyone?). Nevertheless, the story is still amazing for me. Johnson managed to create characters that the readers would care about in just a few pages.

An amazing read! :D
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MY VERDICT:
Team Unicorns- 0
Team Zombies- 1

Note: because, again, I don't consider Nix's story to be defending Team Unicorns, and the Queen zombie in his tale is creepily remarkable too. :) I love both the stories above. :P
SEE YOU IN ROUND TWO!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

I am not Peter Pan

That's what I have to tell myself repeatedly. I grow up, and so does everyone.

I'm not the only one who felt this way when the Christmas season tumbled on our busy paths, dropping there like a small blockade to make us stop--to make the whirlwinds of activities that make us forget stop--and to make us ponder. We're old now, and the simplest things that used to paint smile on our faces when we were just wee things can't do their magic anymore. These are the thoughts that I ploughed out of my in-denial-brain after reading this post by a friend.

I took walks when I'm upset or when I need to think, usually during the early evening. Once, during one of these walks, I watched lively little children singing their hearts out in front of a small house, clanging their bottle cap-tambourines and hitting their spoons and forks together. Through their out-of-tune carols and unintelligible lyrics, you will see in their smiles that they're happy. Just a couple of coins, just a single toy or candy can make them giggle. You'll see it in their eyes. You'll see in them who you once were several years ago, where all the works and all the burdens you are bearing on your shoulders right now are non-existent.

And then I shook my head and chided myself: what the heck am I thinking? That I wish I'm in some kind of Neverland, that I wish I'm a kin of Peter Pan and I'll stay young forever? Screw this Dorian Gray Syndrome-y moment. I don't need this.

Not when I have a lot of responsibilities to perform, not when my to-do list is mile-long. Actually, not ever.

It's okay to reminisce the Christmases we spent as children, and I think so does wishing to be a kid again. After all, what we want is a few minutes of escape from the tedious and tiring world of adulthood. Away from the editing stuff, away from the unfinished thesis, away from all the brain-cracking problems that surround us when we wake up and go on with our lives.

But then we  resurface to our Now, and just chuckle and shake our heads because daydreaming time is over, and we had our share of escape already by just thinking about it.

When I was a kid I didn't believe that Christmas is just for children. Now that I'm a grown up, I still don't think Christmas is just for children.

Sure, we are not as easily pleased as before, but that doesn't mean we cannot enjoy our Christmases too. Today--wait, it's the twenty-sixth already--so yesterday, I found myself smiling at my throng of noisy nephews and nieces as they receive their aguinaldos and gifts from their godmoms and goddads. I found myself smiling at the complete home I have, with everyone inside busy preparing the food on the table. I found myself smiling because after all the toilsome months, here we are still, celebrating a special day together.

Christmas isn't just for kids--it's for everyone, and it's especially for Jesus Christ. Here's what I believe, in the words of Eric Sevareid: "Christmas is a necessity. There has to be at least one day of the year to remind us that we’re here for something else besides ourselves.”

Sunday, December 19, 2010

No time for dilly-dallying

Unlike my Christmas vacations for the past few years, this year's wouldn't be much of a time for rest and dilly-dallying. We've got the Imaginaccion literary folio to work on, a few projects and assignments to finish (i.e. the miniature stage and love story scripts for our drama elective, reports in our minors JPL and Rizal, etc), and a bunch of books to read. Just thinking about the works to be done makes me feel the vacation is way too short. Classes will resume on January 3, which is made of fail if you think about it--so early! :( But we have no choice. Double time! }:(

I'm still not done with my Imaginaccion contributions, yet I dedicated this day to a lot of rest and sleep. I desperately needed to have a few hours in dreamland to restore the energy I've lost during the final Hell week for prelims. I'm feel a bit recharged now. Work work work!

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The photo above describes my life for a string of sleepless nights after the literary contest. The illustrations are  supposed to be for the inside cover of the Imaginaccion, but I have to repeat them because our graphics and layout artist had a new idea. :/ Anyway, having books near me like Leviathan and Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld is totally inspiring me, though sometimes they act like some sort of a double-edged sword. Sometimes I pick them up while I'm working, studying the illustrations....then after a few minutes I'll find myself continuing the novel. The work? Forever unfinished. Hahaha!

Oh well. I have to finish them by Monday because our G&L artist is going to lay out everything by then. I hope everything goes well. We're considering transferring from our current publishing house to Sir Eros Atalia's, which seems to be made of awesome. :D

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Review: Leviathan

The Great War of 1914: Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Princess Sophie Chotek were assassinated in Sarajevo, throwing the world in chaos—Austria-Hungary declared war against Serbia. But don’t yawn yet—this isn’t the same ho-hum story we students are required to read in our history books. Science fiction author Scott Westerfeld took this little chunk of World War I, threw it in a cauldron with juicy tidbits of steampunk, fantasy, and young adult literature, and let it bubble until the magic that was the Leviathan was born.



Leviathan kicks off at the cusp of the war between the Clankers (Central Powers), countries that use monstrous steam-powered machineries in battle; and the Darwinists (Entente Powers), countries that use creatures genetically engineered for combat. The main story revolves around two teenagers. Aleksandar Ferdinand runs away from the Germans who killed his parents, leaving Hapsburg with nothing but a battered Stormwalker and a crew of loyal men. Deryn Sharp, a Scottish girl, disguises as a boy to be accepted in the British Air Force. After a series of mishaps and misadventures, they cross paths and set off in a bigger voyage aboard the airship Leviathan, changing both their lives forever.

One thing that’s hard not to notice about Westerfeld is that he’s an amazing world-builder. In his Uglies series, the readers are taken into a post-scarcity dystopian realm and are introduced to wondrous technologies, i.e. the techno-version of Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak (the sneak suits) or the floating skateboards we’ve loved from the Back to Future flicks (the hoverboards). Now, in Leviathan, he takes the readers to a breathtaking ride to a believable setting in the past, where eight-legged frigates and traveling ecosystems are part of the norm. The world just unfolds magically under his pen—everything is alive! That’s plus points in my book.

Leviathan is more plot-driven than character-driven, what with the historical bits that served as its main backbone. Its fast pace will keep you turning pages, and you’ll hunger for more development about the characters and their relationships. The characters need more fleshing out, but I think that’ll be left to the sequels; this is, after all, the “launching” point of the whole trilogy so the stage must be set properly before the actors can get in fully. Anyway, Deryn/Dylan is a rather likable heroine—she’s Mulan-ish, considering her daddy issues and her boy-disguise story—and she’s so far my favorite. About Prince Aleksandar, let’s see what he’ll be in the sequels. I can’t feel him that much, and that’s saying something because I’m supposed to at least empathize with him, being orphaned and all.

This is an astonishingly cool read. I half-expected it to be boring, since Uglies has its own dry moments and this book has historical basis. Westerfeld proved me wrong. XD I’m engrossed from the very first page. As I’ve said in my previous posts, I recommend this to people who don’t mind reading YA novels with small romance—anyone out there whose cup of tea is historical fiction will enjoy this. Anyway, for consolation, I’m seeing lots of puppy love hints in the sequel Behemoth, which I’ve started a couple of days ago. You romantic bookworms might enjoy this after all, but don’t expect too much.

PS: The story is enhanced by the Victorian manga-style illustrations of Keith Thompson. You wouldn’t regret buying this book for those precious pages—they make the reading experience more enjoyable!

The few words that made my day..or WEEK. :)

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Keith Thompson, artist of all the wonderful sketches in Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan and Behemoth, replied to my email and said he loves my blog (this tumblelog—which is full of childish doodles, hundred thousand notches below the caliber of his drawings).

LOL, I emailed while I was in a fangirl frenzy after leafing through his illustrations in Behemoth, and I didn’t expect him to answer or anything. It seems like not a very big deal, but I sort of need inspiration now—have to make illustrations for our literary folio. THIS is indeed an inspiration.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Victorian Manga: K.Thompson's Masterpieces

Traipsing around sci-fi author Scott Westerfeld's head is already a fun roller coaster ride in itself--the only requirement is good, wide imagination to bring his marvelous worlds to life. His groundbreaking Uglies series worked for me that way. Now, I was catapulted from the post-scarcity dystopian world of Uglies into the steampunk world of Leviathan in 1914, just on the cusp of World War I. I know that Leviathan can work like how the Uglies worked for me...my passport to new pretty town, after all, is just my creativity. But then there appeared several charcoal sketches as I go on with the novel, and I thought excitedly: "a boon for the hungry eyes and the tired mind! Just exactly what I need!"

They're very awe-inspiring, so intricate and yet so clean. I read somewhere before that Thompson's style is called "victorian manga". I think it's a perfect term for the illustrations: there's the blending of the old fashioned victorian style and that of modern Japanese anime drawings (minus the big puppy eyes and all)--very much like the concept of a steampunk story--blending the future and the past. Sometimes I study the illustrations, imagining how carefully Thompson must have been. Most of the time, though, I find myself stuck, not turning the pages and adoring the creative outputs as long as possible.

And because I consider myself one of Thompson's fangirls now, there's no harm in giving him a space in my blog. Here are some of his works from the books Leviathan and Behemoth:


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I'll be rewarded with more Thompson drawings when the third book in the series, Goliath, is released. Can't wait!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

*breathe*

For me, the worst thing that I'll ever have in my bed is this thing:

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Sleeping with it by your side, waking up and it's the first thing you see... Sigh. I don't hate it--in fact it has been my "best friend" for almost a week now, and I know I'm good as dead without it by my side. Every 2 to 3 hours I need to face it, savor the bitterness also known as "dinikdik-na-paracetamol" taste of Combivent, and ignore the numbing feeling it leaves in my limbs (Marc: wag ka mag-alala, side effects lang yan, natry ko yan). What I hate is that it reminds me of the thing I really hate: asthma.

That traitor illness who comes when you least expect it. Or in times where I really need to stay up late because of school stuff, or in times when I really need to WORK and WORK. Hello, Imagi? :(

Sorry. Just escaped from bed because I need to pour this all out.
Will rest now.