Monday, August 25, 2014

"The gods are futile guests of literature"

"Sometimes I feel like there's a tendency--even amongst Filipinos--to view the Philippines as a footnote on the world stage. Yet there's so much that is unique and beautiful in Philippine culture, if only we would take the time to learn it. Philippine mythology has much to offer the world. This anthology, we hope, has opened a doorway. We invite you to step through it." ~Paolo Chikiamco
This is an anthology that has made me even prouder of my cultural roots, particularly when it comes to a Filipino's ability and capacity for myth-making, and the eleven short stories (plus a supplement comic story) that comprise this volume are testaments to that quality. I absolutely love it when a book manages to not only pleasantly surprise me but also cast a spell on me while reading it and Alternative Alamat knows exactly how to weave magic in the prose of each story and how best to wield its power to entice and hypnotize anyone who reads it.

Each story in this collection is a re-imagined tale of a famous or obscure folklore/myth or figure from the Philippines and I can honestly say that the ones I'm not familiar with are the tales that captured my imagination the most and stayed with me long after I finished them. In Alternative Alamat we get to enjoy the modern interpretations of some of the well-known Filipino myths as explored in stories such as “Conquering Makiling” by Monique Francisco (a playful look at the most popular diwata Maria Makiling and the idea of her taking human lovers); Eliza Victoria's “Ana’s Little Pawnshop on Makiling St.” (which showed how the changing times affected the way of living among supernatural entities); and the tantalizing and enigmatic piece “Keeper of My Sky” by Timothy James Dimacali (that accentuates the poignant dichotomy found in every creation and ending present in the universe).

There are also cautionary stories about losses and gains that result from either bad decisions or an individual's sheer strength of will (“Harinuo’s Love Song” by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz is quite reminiscent of Neil Gaiman's Stardust but with a bitter ending; whilst “The Alipin’s Tale” by Raymond G. Falgui is a story that ends with an optimistic challenge in regards to our ability to free ourselves from the enslavement and confines of the status quo). We also have a story (“The Last Full Show” ) written by Budjette Tan, who is known mostly for his comic book series Trese, where he decided to reveal a softer side to the titular character of said series and is surely not to be missed by any Trese fan.

We also have stories that provide us with insights in the manner and inner workings of myth-making and superstition in general (“Offerings to Aman Sinaya" by Andrei Tupaz; “Balat, Buwan, Ngalan” by David Hontiveros; and “A Door Opens: The Beginning of the Fall of the Ispancialo-in-Hinirang” by Dean Alfar) but my most favourite stories of this collection have to be Raissa Rivera Falgui's “The Sorceress Queen” that tells the unique tale of Maryam of Marinduque, a proud monarch who will not bow down to patriarchy or the men who wish to subdue her through promises of love and devotion (even if the price of denying such pleasures is loneliness and desolation), and Celestine Trinidad's “Beneath The Acacia” which interestingly used a folklore as a mere backdrop to tell a detective story which aims to solve a very intriguing crime.

The supplement comic story "Upo" by Andrew Drilon was brief yet quite endearing in its style and execution (it's a story of origin regarding a certain vegetable).

I believe that there is an online copy available so you are very much encouraged to check out this anthology. You have my word when I say that reading Alternative Alamat will be an amazing (and gratifying) use of your time.


Monday, August 18, 2014

"We live in a haunted world"

I used to be the literary editor for my college paper about three years ago, and I decided that the literary folio's theme is going to be about our fear and fascination of monsters. I maintain that the monsters that plague our lives are mostly products of self-creation; a mere metaphor for our tortured or unsatisfying way of life. In that collection, the stories also got to feature literal monsters, ones that fuel nightmares and hunt us, demanding for blood. I mention this here because it's definitely the reason why this particular anthology published by the UP Press has intrigued me to no end.

Demons of the New Year had a lot of amazing things going for it. Firstly, it's a horror fiction from my country the Philippines which is already a readily commendable trait, seeing as I've always believed that we have some of the most enticing paranormal lore out there as well as perplexing and creepy superstitions deeply rooted in our collective national consciousness. This anthology was certainly able to deliver these qualities that I've always loved and appreciated about Filipino horror. Edited by rising-star horror fictionist Karl R. De Mesa (whose fictions are definitely just as enjoyable and disturbing) and Joseph Frederic F. Nacino, this volume is composed of ten short stories and a bonus comic story by De Mesa and illustrated by Gani Simpliciano. It's also a part of the ongoing Strange Fiction series that also published fantasy and science fiction anthologies (The Farthest Shore and Diaspora Ad Astra respectively, which I will read soon enough).

What is offered in this volume are some of the most imaginative, poignant, quasi-religious and uncomfortably exciting tales about demons in general; all of which are uniquely tailored to the things we fear, crave and deny the worst about ourselves.

My absolute favorites are definitely Brother and Sister (a re-imagining of Hansel and Gretel), Salot (a story that I couldn't get out of my head because it reminded me of a few childhood encounters with the unknown), K-10 Mushroom (a parable that tackles if not satirizes malicious intentions of organized religions), The Different Degrees of Night (whose prose personified the city of Manila in a way that's reminiscent of how Scott Snyder did with Gotham for his Batman stories) and Best Served Cold (where 'business of the soul' takes a whole new comedic meaning). The rest were good one-shots (The Kambubulag which reads like an entry for creepy pasta; Grotesquerie, Little Hands, Little Feet, Dark Moving Houses and Demon Gaga). The comic story The Magdalene Fist was a surprising supplement that I would want to read the continuation of soon (if there is any).

In a nutshell, this is a worthy addition to anyone's library and a rather delightful reading exercise to be had if you are that eager, preferably during a slow afternoon or, better yet, a solitary night in a quiet corner somewhere in your house.

Let the demons in this book come alive.