Sunday, September 29, 2013


Until last month, I've never read a Vonnegut. Yes, I've heard about how awesome Slaughterhouse-Five is, and that Cat's Cradle is one of the novels that everyone should read. I've heard people say that Vonnegut is this, and Vonnegut is that, and that he's an awesome writer, etc. etc. All right, enough already. So last month, I read my first Vonnegut—The Sirens of Titan. And boy oh boy is it good!

First, The Sirens of Titan is one of those novels that somehow defy classification. It does have space- and time-travel, so it must be science fiction. But the science doesn't really do much in the story. It doesn't propel the story in any way, it doesn't provide a comparison with our existing technologies, and it doesn't really showcase alien sciences. It must be satire or black humor then, as Vonnegut seems to make fun of religion, free will, our existing ideologies, and even the military.

In the end though, one asks: "Should we be all concerned with its genre?" No. Because The Sirens of Titan is defined by its story, and its story is one helluva ride in our solar system. The story moves from Earth, to Mars, to the moon, to Mercury, and finally to Titan, one of the moons of Saturn. One is unwise if he or she holds back on the suspension of disbelief. Like most readers who enjoyed the novel I presume, it's better to just enjoy the ride. Vonnegut isn't concerned with the technicalities of space travel; his characters just move fluidly from one world to the next.

Actually, I wouldn't have read The Sirens of Titan if it weren't the September book in the book club. After reading it though, I had no idea that I would be reading 2 more Vonneguts within the same day. That's how talented a writer Vonnegut is. Yes, we lost him in 2007, but thankfully, he was somehow prolific so there are still more novels of his that I would be reading. Woot woot!

The book club discussion was a blast though. As always, it was great to hear differing opinions about a book. The Sirens of Titan is the kind of book that's so ripe for discussion. I had fun reading it, so when asked for my rating, I gave it a 3 out of 5. I know, if I liked it that much, why the 3? Well, it's the shaggy dog that got to me. Vonnegut, you sly bastard—all civilization as we know it existed just to transmit that simple message! Still, I love the fact that Vonnegut was taking his reader for a "ride."

Here are some pics taken by R. during the discussion. Click on each one to enlarge.

The discussion venue was at this aptly themed restaurant.
It was literally filled with SF and fantasy stuff.
I love the candy colors of my edition.
I got my copy from Kinokuniya in Singapore.
The lengths I go through just to get a book!
Prior to the discussion, I wrote some notes.
Somehow, I ended up writing 4 pages.
Oh, the humanity! 
Another thing I love about the Sci-Fi Cafe is that they have books.
And the books are guarded by R2-D2 no less.
R. couldn't get enough of the Nimbus 2000.
Oops, wrong geek reference.
Joko, the moderator
With Mike's Vonnegut finger puppet
I want! I want! I want!
I was seated next to the gorgeous Anne.
Let me direct your eyes for a moment to what I'm wearing.
It has a Frankenstein owl! Thanks R. for the shirt!
I grew up on Star Wars, so I geek out whenever Star Wars is mentioned.
I would love to have these spacecraft hanging in my room.
Sci-Fi Cafe has a corner filled with costumes that customers can use for photo ops.
Here's Marie with Spock (elven?) ears and wig.
Live long and prosper!
It was a lively discussion indeed.
We're a very opinionated lot, and discussions can last for several hours.
Here's Mike saying something, which I couldn't remember now of course.
Of course, there are times when I completely tune out.
Has been happening more frequently I'm afraid.
I travel along the chrono-synclastic infundibulum.
The Flippers
Look at all the toys in the background!
And that's not even half of what's in the store!
Some of us died.

Friday, September 27, 2013

My turn, again

It's been a while since I last moderated an actual and official book discussion at my book club. Yes, I've been involved in our science fiction read-along, which lasted for a little over a month this year. But there's a certain level of anticipation when one moderates the book club's book of the month.

For October this year, R. and I decided to moderate Stephen King's fantastic collection of short stories entitled Night Shift. It's been a while since I read a Stephen King, even though I had a wonderful King phase during my teenage years. (Didn't we all?) Initially, I thought of The Shining, as it's still one of my favorite horror novels and also because the sequel comes out this year. However, I figured that, since most of the books to be discussed this year by the book club are novels, short stories would definitely provide a refreshing break.

Our first concern was the venue for the discussion. Most of our discussions take place in restaurants that somehow fit the theme of the book. (For instance, we had The Blindness discussion at a Portuguese restaurant.) But R. and I feel that perhaps holding the discussion at a very old house might be a good idea. Fortunately, one of the members know of this very old house with a creepy vibe to it. We're keeping our fingers crossed that we can hold it at that house.

The old house in Pandacan
Here's hoping!

Nevertheless, we do plan to have a jolly good time in the discussion wherever it will be held. Who doesn't love discussing horror stories? I can go on and on talking about the books that scared me as a kid and also why King was instrumental in nurturing my taste for the horror genre.

The inspiration for this photo is the short story entitled "The Boogeyman."
Now that's a story that will have you think twice of opening closets in the dead of night.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


Ah, the Printz medal. If a book has been awarded the Printz, even though it's just an honor book (shortlisted for the main award), then it's bound to have a few controversial themes. And A. S. King's Please Ignore Vera Dietz is anything but controversial. I know this is a cliche, but I think it's true and has to be said about King's wonderful young adult—this novel pushes the envelope.

Edgy, that's what Please Ignore Vera Dietz is. But it does have its flaws. Flaws which the reader might tolerate if only for the somewhat different storyline and narrative. So, who the heck is Vera Dietz and why the plea to ignore her? She's the novel's junior high school student protagonist. Vera is a character seeking redemption for her best friend, Charlie Kahn, who's recently died following a tragic incident involving the fire at the local pet shop.

Vera and Charlie have been best friends for so long, but something comes in the way in their friendship, specifically someone named Jenny who becomes Charlie's girlfriend. Vera is what we would call a, pardon the word, slut. She offers oral sex to Charlie who wisely refuses it. However, in an act of stupid revenge so typical of people her age, tells everyone at school that Charlie's father physically abuses her mother. Everything is blamed on Vera, as Charlie was made to believe. Charlie then tells everyone another secret involving Vera—that her mother was once a stripper.

Of course, everything spirals downhill from here. Vera's father a reformed alcoholic, is still hung up on the fact that his wife left them. Vera is probably headed toward the bleak path of alcoholism herself. Hey, if you were forced by your father to work your ass off (full time!) to save for college on top of maintaining an A average, then you'd probably drink yourself to death too. And it doesn't help that alcoholism does indeed run in Vera's family. But hats off to Vera! She decides one day to just simply stop and try to have a "normal" relationship with her father. Now I think that this is one of the novel's flaws. I was surprised that she could just stop. Just. Like. That.

If you're a junior high school student who's best friends with someone whom everyone thinks burned the town's beloved pet shop down and whose mother is actually a stripper, then you'd think that everyone should just ignore you. Something's nagging at Vera though—the thought that she should clear up Charlie's name concerning the fire. She owes it to herself, her dead best friend who she was in love with, and her best friend's family. In the end, she redeems Charlie's name, and when she does, she truly comes of age as she comes to terms with her father and her willingness to have control in her life.

A lot of readers may find it difficult to suspend their disbelief in some of the chapters of Please Ignore Vera Dietz. The chapters wherein we read Vera's thoughts are wonderfully candid. But those that feature the voice of the dead Charlie, the inanimate pagoda, and Vera's father require a bit of work. Sometimes, these chapters aren't believable enough. Plus, Vera's father shares flowcharts on how to deal with certain aspects of life, and these flowcharts feel iffy. They stick out of the novel like a sore thumb. If the point of these flowcharts is to show how methodical Vera's father is in making decisions, all right, they're fine then. Otherwise, they're just a waste of valuable page space.

I did enjoy Please Ignore Vera Dietz though. How ironic to have that title in the book, especially when the character of Vera Dietz, her aspirations, her insecurities, her addiction, her failed love life, and her angst are just so hard to ignore. They're quite compelling to read actually.

Read this book if:
  1. You like controversial young adult books.
  2. You have a best friend whom you were secretly in love with.
  3. You know the importance of redemption.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


I'm having palpitations. My BP is now probably through the roof. And I would've bitten my fingernails to the quick, if I actually had fingernails. (TMI: When I cut my fingernails, I cut them so short that my fingers often bleed. Bloody true story.) I've been holding off on watching the Game of Thrones TV series, as I really, really love the books. Because, as we all know:
100% true: TV episodes/movies ≠ books
75% true: TV episodes/movies < books
But I gave in last week, and I saw all 30 episodes of seasons 1 to 3 of Game of Thrones in a span of 5 days. And, for the life of me, I've never seen so many boobs and vaginas, slashed throats, incestuous and orgiastic coupling (man-woman, man-man, woman-woman), penis cutting, beheadings, horse riding, sword fighting, and what-not in those 5 days. I loved it! I was in hog heaven.

All right, now I've resolved to go back to the books. I read the first novel of A Song of Ice and Fire, A Game of Thrones, back in 2003, if I remember correctly. Then the second one, A Clash of Kings, back in 2006. I started the third book, A Storm of Swords, in 2009. I believe I reached halfway through it, and then decided to just drop it. With George R. R. Martin's pace in writing the series, I think I have all the time in the world. Unless, GRRM dies before he completes it. In which case, it doesn't really matter, because that would be the end of the world for me anyway.

Now I'm back at page 1 of A Storm of Swords, this proverbial book with the notorious Red Wedding scene. So, sorting through my shelves and finding out that I have 2 copies—a paperback and a hardback! Woot! The hardback is a pain to lug around. I'd much rather have 2 pounds of food in my bag (that's 8 quarter-pound burgers!). Thank goodness for the paperback, right? Although, the paperback is still a brick in itself, but I know I can't be choosy if I want to get my fix. Besides, I need to reconnect to my literary family—the Lannisters. We don't mix with sheep.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


I've been going to the Manila International Book Fair since 1994. Ayayay! Almost 20 years! Is my age showing? Anyway, it feels like yesterday since my first MIBF. I've seen it "grow" through the years, and I've mostly viewed the event as an opportunity to exercise my powers of restraint.

It's always a challenge not to indiscriminately buy all the books on display at the event though. There's always the temptation to empty one's wallet. Who cares about food, or clothes, or bus fares when you can get that beautiful hardback you've had your eyes on, yes?

This year, I bought just 2 books! Woot woot! Well, I did also buy a few knick knacks though, as I couldn't resist their witty designs. Photos of my purchases below; click on them to enlarge.

Well, technically, I bought just 1 of these 2 books, and that's the Tigana.
R. gave me the Vonnegut, something to add to my collection.
Tigana is a bit hard to come by, so buying it was a no-brainer.
I just had to get these cards from Tahanan Books.
They cost just Php 19.00 each! Roughly $ 0.40.
The front quotes are just too funny. Misheard, misused, and misunderstood!
These notepads, also from Tahanan Books, have Filipino gay lingo expressions on them.
They're appropriate called Chorva Pads!
Campy and cute!
And the only other book that I purchased.
It cost just Php 500 ( ~$11)! Down from the original price of Php 2,500!
I've always wanted a Larousse.
I don't think I would ever want to remove the shrink wrap.
I can't wait for MIBF 2014! It always feels like Christmas if you're a bibliophile.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


In a bibliophile's life, there are always books that people would rave about which you would wonder why. And one of those books for me is Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being. It's a book heavy on philosophical themes, a historic period in the then Czechoslovakia, the impact of repressive political regimes on art, and the significance of sex in its 4 major characters. I found it hard to digest. And believe me, I digested a lot of things in my life, edible or otherwise.

TULoB has been a book I've always wanted to read, and luckily for me, it was chosen as the book of the month by the book club for August. So, up it went to the top of my humongous, robust, virile, eye-popping to-be-read pile. (Now if I can only say that to certain parts of my anatomy, no? Life would be awesome. But alas...) I read it in a span of a week, and what a week it was. I felt I was high on drugs the whole time, but not in a good way. In fact, it was almost akin to having taken a date rape drug. You had no idea you already took it, but you know that all's not well and sooner or later you're gonna get fucked.

The novel opens with a study in contrast of lightness and weight. Lightness apparently has something to do with living for the moment and not putting too much importance on things. Apparently it's based on a philosophical idea of Paremenides. (And it was at this point that my eyes glazed over.) Weight, on the other hand, stems from the idea of Nietzsche, which has something to do with eternal return, which Kundera doesn't really believe in, which has something to do with people putting way too much weight on sex, their political ideologies, their husbands and wives and mistresses, which has something to do with me believing that it's all just crappy nonsense. The last time I've heard of something like the eternal return, I was probably watching an episode of Dr. Who.

The concept of lightness and being does lead us to Kundera's 4 main characters, two of which are "light" and 2 "heavy." The heavy characters are Teresa and Franz, characters so heavy that they'd probably sink into the ocean if I threw them overboard a ship. Teresa, the photographer, who marries one of the light characters, Tomas, the doctor and philanderer who ends up cleaning windows by the novel's end. Teresa is someone that I hoped to understand but I couldn't. All this coming and going from one country to another. All the issues she feels with marrying a man who cheats. Lady, you knew from the start what you're getting into when you married that perennially horny Tomas. He'd fuck a tree if you draped a dress over it. Get over it.

I did like one of the light characters though—Sabina. She's an artist coping with the insane standards of the country's socialist regime. Sabina is one who knows how to survive; she literally packs up all her bags and moves to the US when she can no longer stand the artistic ideals of her country. During that time, all art forms should be realistic and any other forms which are otherwise are deemed unpatriotic. Sabina is the only character in the novel who has an epiphany. When a drop of red paint unintentionally falls on a painting she's working on, she stumbles on the wonderful concept of accidental beauty. Yes, like Sabina, I believe that art should be organic and truly express the artist's feelings.

While I didn't like The Unbearable Lightness of Being, I did enjoy the discussion nonetheless. A lot of members consider Kundera's most famous novel as their favorite, and it was interesting to note their opinions and thoughts. I thought, on the other hand, that the novel was just too much work. It's the kind of novel that you deconstruct to fully appreciate and understand. It did make me curious about the Prague Spring and how it affected the lives of artists during the Soviet occupation of this eastern European country. But other than that, I found The Unbearable Lightness of Being, well, simply unbearable in its entirety. Too preachy, the language too flowery, the milieu too European, the characters lacking conflict that I could relate with. It's the kind of book that I'd give to frenemies.

Anyway, here are some pics that R. (best photographer ever) took during the discussion. You can click on them to enlarge.

I have no recollection of what I'm telling here.
Yes, that happens when I talk about books I have no strong feelings on.
Gege, the moderator for this month, gave each member a bowler hat.
The bowler hat figures prominently in the story.
It somehow symbolizes erotic playfulness. Whatever.
And each one of us received this loot.
It had a notebook and a bookmark.
Because one cannot have too many bookmarks.
R. made gorgeous illustrations of the members who attended.
Here's mine.
Yes, I was wearing hot pink shorts that time.
Read this book if:
  1. You're a sucker for Kundera.
  2. You want to know whether you're a light or a heavy person.
  3. You fall for flowery language.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Here come the Vonneguts

The colors remind me of candy
And that's a good enough motivation for me.
This September, the book club is set to discuss Kurt Vonnegut's The Sirens of Titan. If you're in Manila and you have nothing else to do on the afternoon of the 28th, do join us. Check out the event details here. It's an open event, so everyone's welcome.

Anyway, I've yet to read a Vonnegut. (I know, it took me this long! For shame! Oh, the humanity!) And I've decided to read not just The Sirens of Titan, but also Slaughterhouse-Five, Breakfast of Champions, and Jailbird. Because I feel I should make up for lost time.

It's always good to tick off an author from one's reading bucket list, yes? Although, I still can't figure out when I'll ever finish an Austen, a Tolkien, a Dickens, and a Proust. I did commit to reading the first book of Remembrance of Things Past this year, and I'm plowing through the book at a snail's pace.

So yes, I'm excited for this month. And I'm enjoying The Sirens of Titan so far. It's quite funny actually. Hopefully, I'll like it all the way through.

Friday, September 6, 2013

When a book has won so many awards, it comes with expectations

Ah, literary awards. Such a double-edged sword in the life of a reader. If a novel, say, like Jo Walton's Among Others, has won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards, you know that it can go both ways. One is that you'll be happy that the novel lived up to your expectations, and another is finishing the book and thinking that you missed something. You just didn't appreciate it that much. Unfortunately, the latter is what I felt when I finished Among Others.

All right, I don't think that Among Others isn't good. I just felt that it wasn't good enough; I was hoping for a wow factor. I was waiting for that glorious moment when I'd be blown away by all the fantasy elements melding together. I was hoping for magic. What I do get though is a beautiful coming-of-age story of a 15-year-old girl who sees fairies and who may or may not possess the ability to do magic.

At the start of the novel, there's poor Morwenna Phelps, the main character of Among Others. She's forced to live with her father who she hasn't seen for the longest time. Apparently, Mori's mother, a seemingly crazy woman who has her hands deep in black magic, is out to seek Mori. Why? Because Mori thwarted her mother's evil plans of becoming a powerful being. The cost of this was high for Mori though, for it involved a car accident that killed her twin sister and left her somewhat crippled.

So Mori is then whisked from her Welsh origins to live with his father, Daniel, and his 3 sisters in the English countryside. Daniel has other plans for her though, as he enrolls Mori in an exclusive boarding school, where, naturally, Mori, is treated as an outcast. Mori then discovers one thing that allows father and discover to bond—their shared love for fantasy and SF books. It becomes clear in Among Others that this love for this particular kind of genre is significant. Mori is one SF and fantasy geek, having a deep love for Tolkien, Silverberg, Vonnegut, Lackey, Asimov, and other fantasy and SF greats. Her father introduces her to Herbert and Dune. The way Daniel lets this love for books grow in Mori is endearing.

Things pick up even more for Mori when she discovers a book club and is asked to join this like-minded group of individuals who have a deep passion for fantasy and SF. It is in the book club where Mori falls in love, where Mori finds the courage to speak out (and to speak out a lot), and basically just grow into her confident self.

But let's not forget Mori's mother, the dark witch. She's probably the only fantastical character in the novel, except for the fairies that Mori sees, which somehow don't figure prominently in the story. The novel's end has Mori confronting her mother in a somewhat anticlimatic manner, in my own opinion. Still, it's a happy ending, and one that makes clear that Among Others is, at its heart, a coming-of-age tale.

Again, there isn't any clear cut use of magic in Jo Walton's multi-awarded  novel. The opening sequence had my hopes up, but in the end, the reader is simply made to speculate whether it was magic that Mori wielded or not. It makes you think, which is definitely not a bad thing. If you're looking for something heavy on the fantasy though, then you're better off reading something else.

Read this book if:
  1. You like your fantasy subtle.
  2. You love unusual coming-of-age tales.
  3. You'll read anything that has won the Hugo and the Nebula.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Lock me up in a room with these graphic novels and throw away the key

Glorious, glorious weekend. I spent a part of it reading Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez's wonderfully dark series of graphic novels that begin with Locke & Key 1: Welcome to Lovecraft. If the rest of the series is half as good as this first installment, then I'm a happy camper.

Now, Joe Hill. 20th Century Ghosts, Horns, and Heart-Shaped Box are books right up my alley. Creepy, gory, frightful fun. I guess being a son of Stephen King does have its perks, no? I can just imagine the family dinner conversations. (My horror is better than your horror. Hehehe.)

The first Locke & Key isn't an all-out horror graphic novel though. It starts with a murder. Sam Lesser, an unstable teenager, murders his guidance counselor, leaving Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode without a father. The three siblings and their mother then move to their Uncle Duncan's house (named Keyhouse) in a town called Lovecraft. Sam is locked up not in a jail but in a juvenile detention center because of his age.

Keyhouse is one weird house, I tell you. Lots of locked doors and rooms, there's a girl in a well that speaks to the Bode, the youngest Locke sibling. Bode is the first to discover how a key can open the Ghost Door. When he passes through it, he leaves his body and moves in his spirit form.

We do learn that the girl in the well has a more significant role in the story than I initially thought. Sam thinks of the girl as his master. And somehow, she is still connected to Sam even though he's locked away, giving Sam tools that pave the way for his escape. Sam travels to Keyhouse as ordered by the girl. It's all gore and mayhem from here. Sam takes the Locke family hostage, and Bode finds the Anywhere Key and hands it to the girl.

Sam is eventually killed though, and the girl in the well escapes. By the end of the novel, we see the girl in the well morph into a man. Such a deliciously creepy end to the first series, don't you think? I'm so in!

Read this book if:
  1. You're looking to read a different kind of horror.
  2. You love graphic novels not involving superheroes.
  3. You like dark and wonderfully weird story lines. 
P.S. The illustrations are striking. Gabriel Rodriguez's panels are just too gorgeous. A few below.
When you go through the Ghost Door, your spirit leaves your body.
Basically, your physical body becomes dead.
The girl in the well house
One of the first few full-page panels
Sam Lesser knocking on the door of Locke's house to murder him