Saturday, April 20, 2013

Books are alive.


“Reading the right one at the right time can make all the difference.” (Brandon Sanderson, Alcatraz and the Evil Librarians series)

Review: Steampunk!

Editors: Kelly Link & Gavin Grant
Genre: steampunk, young adult, fantasy, romance
My Rating: ★★★★ (3.5 stars)

currently reading

The steampunk genre snagged my interest when I realized it can pass as some kind of a magical blend between the past and the future. I really get a kick out of tales about Victorian retro-futurism. But to tell you the truth, I haven’t read tons of books in the genre, so the image I can concoct in my head is pretty run-of-the-mill: a world that basks perpetually on vintage vogue, mixed with loads of gears, clockworks, and cogwheels of steam-powered gadgetries. My latest exposure to steampunk is Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series. I haven’t picked up the last book yet but it was good—too good that it made me want to pick up more works from the genre.

Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories is what I chose to satiate this lit-hunger. I didn’t expect much since I know that collections are always a mixed bag, but I’d say I really enjoyed this. The 14 tales here—written by a gamut of talented sci-fi authors—range from raunchy to majestic, from commonplace to dreamlike, and from droll to poignant. There are duds as expected, but there are a bunch that is nothing short of amazing, containing stories that continue to haunt me up to now (in a good way).

Libba Bray’s “The Last Ride of the Glory Girls” tops my list. The tale takes place in some Old Western town where a gang of girl robbers raids trains with the help of a time-freezing gun. Bray’s style made the whole story pop out of the pages; each phrase seemed to create an extra layer of atmosphere, and the narrator’s thick country accent made me feel as if a true-blue daughter of a wild-west colony is really relaying the story to me. Also hard to ignore are the glimpses about religious fanaticism there. If the whole thing doesn’t summon a busload of questions about beliefs, decisions, and life as a whole in the readers’ minds, I don’t know what does.

Cory Doctorow’s “Clockwork Fagin” also left a deep dent in my memory. It’s a Dickensian account about decapitated orphans and how they snatch authority from their ruthless benefactor. For some weird reason, I think the story has a very Burton-esque feel to it, in a Sweeney Todd kind of way. It has a lasting grimness, occasional morbid humor, and overall filthiness that are enmeshed together by good writing. When I reached the last page of the tale, I sort of wish that Doctorow expands it into something longer. I will definitely check out more of his works.

“Steam Girl” by Dylan Horrocks is also pretty memorable. It’s about a girl who may or may not be an inhabitant of another planet, churning out out-of-this-world stories (no pun intended) to her misfit friend. Aside from her quirky gadgets, she has this Reality Gun that stuns everyone when she pulls it out. The beauty is that the reader may feel like he’s taken a bullet from this incredible weapon—you would be left guessing which events are real and which are not.

Other stories that I loved include Christopher Rowe’s “Nowhere Fast,” a post-apocalyptic account where America has run out of oil; Ysabeau S. Wilce’s “Hand in Glove,” a quasi-detective story centering on a petulant femme constable and a rogue killing hand; “Seven Days Beset by Demons” by Shawn Cheng, a comic strip-style tale where a man commits all seven deadly sins when he falls in love; Cassandra Clare’s “Some Fortunate Future Day,” where it is shown that innocence can instantly be transformed into something beastly by mere infatuation; and Garth Nix’s “Peace in Our Time,” a dystopian anecdote of revenge by a representative of an almost extinct race.

The others are unfortunately forgettable. Some of them don’t even appear to have a touch of steampunk (as I know it) in them. Be that as it may, I really had a ball reading this anthology, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I started getting thirsty for more steampunk. I’m giving this book 3.5 stars. :)

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Project 01: Jar of Smiles

Back in the beginning of the year, I and a couple of friends decided to keep a “Jar of Awesome.” It’s a project circulating in the info superhighway for as long as we can remember and it's been favorite of many Tumblritas. The idea is you take a container and you fill it with papers detailing the awesome things that happen to you throughout the year. On New Year’s Eve, you open the jar and reflect on all those things. Think of it as the literal ‘counting of blessings’ in your past 365 days.

Jar of Smiles1

I want to call mine a “Jar of Smiles.” What I write about aren’t just happenings that virtually carry the tag “awesome”  in my book. I also jot down fleeting fragments of happiness from  instances that manage to coax out a genuine beam from my lips. Little things matter the most in my life right now; they have to count into the tally somehow.

By the end of February, my container is already crammed to the lid. I know that if I would continuously follow my it-made-me-smile formula, I would perhaps be in a possession of half a dozen jars by the end of the year. Maybe more. A pail is really what I need, haha! Or a chest box. :)

Jar of Smiles2

Anyway, the thing about my Jar of Smiles is that the “memories” inside aren’t just recklessly crumpled or rolled or folded. Nor are my notes just plain notes. When a really special thing made my day I’d scribble it down on a strip of paper, which I will then transform into origami cranes, frogs, and planes. One example is this paper butterfly that I dedicated to Carol Rifka Brunt’s Tell the Wolves I’m Home.  Aside from the fact that a main character from the book has a habit of folding napkins into butterflies, the novel is also one of my favorite books this year (yep, that's already decided even if it's still the first quarter of 2013). I wrote bits of my book review on it before I began folding. I made two, and I keep the other one at my office cubicle. :)

Sometimes, I write in haiku; sometimes in a two-stanza poem. Sometimes I just jot down quotable quotes on the strips, or maybe doodle a little. I always make it a point that this jar contains some kind of vivid variety, not only in colored strips but also its honest and raw contents.

What do you think about this project? Do you have a “Jar of Awesome” too? :)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Peter Lerangis in Manila

Bestselling author Peter Lerangis is coming for a book signing event on May 4! National Book Store gave me a heads up about this event and thought about sharing it with you:

Poster - Peter Lerangis
New York Times bestselling writer Peter Lerangis, author of Seven Wonders: The Colossus Rises, will visit Manila for a book signing event on May 4, 4 pm, at the National Book Store flagship in Glorietta 1.

Described by Publishers Weekly as “a real page-turner,” The Colossus Rises narrates the extraordinary problem of thirteen-year-old Jack McKinley who is told he has six months to live. After being kidnapped and brought to a mysterious island, he learns that he and three other kids must set on a mission, planned by a secret organization, to retrieve seven lost magical Loculi that, if mixed correctly, can save his life. However, the Loculi are relics of lost civilization and haven’t been seen in thousands of years.

Peter Lerangis is the author of more than 160 books including the New York Times bestselling The Colossus Rises, book one in his new series the Seven Wonders. His books have sold more than five million copies and been translated into 30 different languages. He was the man behind the two books in the New York Times bestselling series The 39 Clues The Sword Thief and The Viper’s Nest and co-author of Vespers Rising and The Dead of Night in The 39 Clues: Cahills Vs. Vespers series, along with Rick Riordan, Gordon Korman and Jude Watson. He has conducted workshops in the National Book Foundation and the Highlights Foundation among others and visited schools all over the world for humorous and informative presentations.

Seven Wonders: The Colossus Rises is available in hardcover (P629) and Trade Paperback (P349) in National Book Store, Powerbooks and Bestsellers branches. Shop online at Follow National Book Store on Facebook and Twitter (@nbsalert) for the latest events, promos and contests.

I honestly haven’t read any book of his, but Seven Wonders does sound interesting. I might pick it up before he comes here. :)

Happy Birthday, Gundam Wing!

Operation Meteor is now only two years shy of being two decades old! On April 7, 1995, Mobile Suit Gundam Wing was aired in Japan for the first time. GundamWing The anime premiered in the Philippines in 1998 (yes, remember the horror that was the Tagalized version?) and debuted in the United States in 2000. This year marked the show’s 18th year as well as Relena Peacecraft's—its main female protagonist's—33rd birthday.

I’m not really into stories laced with too much politics and warfare, but Gundam Wing readily snagged my attention from episode 1 and held it down to episode 49 (plus its three-episode OVA, Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz). I’m captivated by the ideological debates, questions about humanity, and how the creators managed to flesh out each character with their own unique personalities.
The story was diverse, and it was in this universe’s sandbox that I began to play (I'd be lying if I say I'm not a shipper). The pen and the imagination are such amazing toys. ;)

Here’s the premise of the story from Wikipedia:

In the distant future, mankind has colonized space (with clusters of space colonies at each of the five Earth-Moon Lagrange points), and, down on the Earth, the nations have united as the United Earth Sphere Alliance (UESA). However, the Alliance oppresses the colonies with its military power. The colonies desire a peaceful resolution to the situation, joining together in a movement headed by the pacifist Heero Yuy. In the year After Colony 175, Yuy is shot dead by an assassin, forcing the colonies to search for other paths to peace. The assassination also prompts five disaffected scientists from the Organization of the Zodiac (OZ) to turn rogue after the completion of the mobile suit prototype Tallgeese.

In the year AC 195, Operation meteor was launched. In a move to counter the Alliance’s tyranny, rebel citizens from certain colonies scheme to bring new arsenals to the earth, disguising them as shooting stars. These are the gundams.”

Check out my other Gundam Wing posts at my fandom tumblr:
Essays and Metas | Little GW Things | OTP Graphics | GIFs | Photosets

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Back to Bolinao

Have you ever felt an experience so precious you wish you could physically bottle its essence and keep it on your bedside table forever? I have, lots of times. Mostly it’s related to eargasm from new music and non-stop bookscapades, but I do pull myself a notch away from being a total social pariah from time to time. And it’s always worth it. The last time I wanted this proverbial ‘bottling’ is when we went to Bolinao—finally, after seven summers.

Here are some of the highlights from our two-day vacation at the province.

Dipping at the beaches.

We all know it: beaches are places that can give you some kind of lacunar amnesia. They can temporarily rub out your brunt of cosmopolitan stress and responsibilities. When you’re caged within city walls for a very long time, you get to treasure the littlest things that a tropical paradise lets you to bask in, yes?

at the beach 01 

Everything was a gem, of course. I love how the powdery golden sand got stuck between my toes. I love how the film of water rushed under me when the waves lapped on the shore. I love the coolness of the waves when I first plunged. I love the sun’s kissed on my skin. Honestly, it seemed like everything on the beach was a sensory treasure.

Before settling in our humble abode in Pilar, we beach-hopped the last few hours of our first day in Bolinao: we went to El Pescador, Puerto del Sol, and of course, Patar. It was in Patar where we went back to swim on our last day.

 at the beach 02 

Last March, I spent three days at Puerto Galera’s White Beach with my friends and officemates. We had unadulterated fun, but I had to admit it was a different kind of enjoyment when you’re spending your vacation with your family. It wasn’t everyday that I get to bond with them and from then on, I swear that I’d rectify that soon. That epiphany, too,  is both a treasure worth keeping and a promise that begs to be kept.


Letting out the inner kid.

Actually, my inner kid always shines. She’s out when I’m doing art, when I get overly enthusiastic about the simplest things, when I’m about to learn something new, or just when I let myself be completely carefree. But being in the city gives me a mute order that she must be tucked in as much as possible, because exposing little bits of childlike delight can be misinterpreted by the narrow-minded as immaturity (not that that fact ever got in the way, but you get my drift). The province just opened the floodgates for the kid-in-me.

Climbing trees

I climbed trees again. I’ve always been awed by panoramic views of just about everything: skylines and metropolitan vistas, city lights at night, the off-kilter chess boards of the metro’s tree-clumps and stucco establishments. The views calm me for some reason, more so if it comes with an undisturbed solitude. So emo, I know.

But climbing trees and admiring the view from the branches? It’s all a different beast. The joy starts when you hook your foot in crevices and dips in the trunk, grab a low-hanging branch, and haul yourself up. The repetitions of the process, the roughness of the bark against your skin, and that little gasp you let out when you accidentally touched an insect or a trickle of sap…they are priceless.

The tree I climbed that time wasn’t very tall. I even think I could jump without breaking my legs (well, granted that there are layers of dried leaves on the ground to cushion the fall). All I could see from the branch are portions of the woods and our little house. But I was happy all the same. I sat on the branch, slid my headphones snug on my head, and admired the fragments of sunshine falling through the breaks in the tree’s foliage. I would’ve stayed up there for hours if ma’s voice telling me to go down didn’t break through Natalie Walker’s syrupy singing in my ears.

The province life + chillax mode.

It’s some kind of a more general sister of the above item. Our house stands at the mouth of the baleful-looking woods—there is electricity but there is no network signal for Globe or Sun; there are wells and septic tanks but no NAWASA taps. The TV doesn’t get enough signal most of the time, which doesn’t matter much because we don’t want to fry ourselves inside the house. The whole thing emits heat like an h-e-double-hockey-sticks hole on earth. True story.

sidewalk goat

Goats, cows, and peacocks loiter everywhere, especially on the sides of the un-cemented roads (see above image). I also found there the fattest chickens I’ve ever seen in my life. When you wake up, the first thing you’d hear are the cicadas’ summer screeches, nature’s songs that I missed terribly from the last time I went here. Walk a couple of meters from the sidewalk to the other side and you’ll get to the shore. We used to stay on our house by the sea but since it can’t accommodate us that weekend, we have to take the other one near the woods. Fine by us because it’s shadier there.

chill out

chillout 2
Relaxing is the whole point of the vacation, and relax we did. We lounged on bamboo benches and wooden tables, sharing stories or drowning ourselves in our own music and musings. The latter rarely happened; everyone is a chatterbox. The gaggle of kid-cousins from my Pa’s side was keen on doing their versions of Eat Bualaga’s famed cha-cha or belting out their rendition of Jireh Lim’s “Buko” every chance they get. We have to play the audience role for the most part. It was enjoyable, I have to admit.


As expected, there’s no house in Pilar that doesn’t shelter either a fisherman or a hunter (Pa is technically both before he went to Manila about two decades ago). I left my hammock when I saw these men setting up fish top be dried under the sun. They’d totally make for a good, appetite-whetting viands.

The food.

You don’t think I’d forget the chow, do you? When we arrived on Thursday, I almost forgot what their dietary routine is like. It’s customary for people in the province to eat bread and swill cups of coffee or tea at dawn’s break, have a full meal of breakfast at 10:00 AM, get ready for lunch at 1:00 PM, and prepare for dinner at 5:00 PM. We adjusted easily though. We set up a wooden table under the tree’s shades and helped ourselves to the meals there all the time.

food 01
Considering our location, the easiest ways to put edibles on the table are to fish and to pick fruits and vegetables. One of my aunts served us sinigang sa kasoy on the first night. I liked its unconventionally sweetish tang; the cashew flesh made me want to pick armfuls of the fruit again, just like what I did seven years ago. We also opened the canned luncheon meat and hotdogs that we brought for my kid-cousins.
On the second day, Pa prepared a grilled swordfish and a pair of flying fishes dipped in soy and mango sauce. There was a gamut of vegetable-strewn, soupy seafood recipes that our grandmother served in our whole stay. Apparently she’s just experimenting and there’s really no names to call these dishes, but they weren’t bad at all. I asked for seconds in every meal.

Hungry is perhaps a word they seem to forbid there. They’d feed you every two hours at the most. For merienda, we ate rice cakes cooked straight from bamboo stalks, crabmeat, anything that we can make from freshly picked mangos, and even the mouthwatering jackfruits. They abound in our yard, so the only thing you need to do when your stomach rumbles is to stand on your tiptoes or climb trees. Ah, the easy life.

The stories + the memories.

Allow me to slip into my notorious sap mode, please? All the things we found there would have a boring pallor were it not for all the stories we shared and the new memories we made. From our eight-hour road trip to Bolinao right up to the long drive we took on our way home, I could say that every minute was colorful. Banters, discussions, teases, and anecdotes galore—they all made the vacation  totally one for the books.


We’ve imbibed many stories during our stay in Pilar. We leafed through photo albums and laughed at them; Pa re-introduced me to my aunts and uncles in the pictures and accompanied them with funny tales. We learned about the ways of the province. I even learned loads of new stuff from my kid-cousins! We visited my grandmother’s sister about two “blocks” away from our house, and she shared with us as many stories as she could, starting from her daughter working in Brunei to our twenty-year-old cousin who committed suicide. It was a medley of all things tears-of-joy-inducing and heartbreakingly poignant.

going there

What filled our boat rides and road trips? Mini-discussions about Hacienda Luisita when we passed the place, the Aquinos, the elections, and politics in general; funny  moments during our stay in Bolinao; endless joshing and joking around; sketches that we weren’t able to tell each other in dinner tables back in Manila because of the incomplete attendance of its occupants; abstract things that we leave in Pangasinan, and the things we’re bringing to the city from it.

We stopped to eat in random diners in two towns miles away from Bolinao. If we hadn’t found the nearest Chowking right away, perhaps we would have continued our diner stops and I could imagine we’re in a different version of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road-ish pancake tour of North America. Haha!

got her to come!

Well, good things come to an end. We arrived in Manila at about 9:00 PM on Saturday. We’re too tired to even get our unwashed clothes to the laundry basket. I was glad to see the house again with all its heaps of books and comforting atmosphere that I wouldn’t find anywhere else. After playing with my grand-niece for a couple of minutes, I went to my room and hit the sack.

way home

Confession: I’m a little saddened the next morning when I woke up and saw the hard shapes of the roofs between our venetian blinds. I honestly thought I was still in Pangasinan, and it confused me a little when I realized there were no cicadas singing or why we weren’t summoned to the wooden tables for coffee and stories. We’re back to the city again, back to our responsibilities, back to our realities. But that doesn’t mean the magic of Bolinao has to end, right? In my mind, all those moments will always be alive. And perhaps same time next year, I’d be able to revel in its glory by visiting the province again.