Interview with Sci-fi Author Timothy James Dimacali

I don’t often see space opera and indigenous resistance standing side by side, which is why Sky Gypsies, a short story in Philippine Speculative Fiction III, captured my imagination. The story is told from the point of view of Badjao indigenous characters and explores their relationship to space, interstellar mining and state power. I’m grateful to be joined here by the author, Timothy James Dimacali.

***

Sky Gypsies Timothy James DimacaliCaroline: I hear Sky Gypsies is being read in some high schools and colleges, congratulations! I’m impressed by how much world-building you’ve fit in seven pages. I’m also intrigued by the concept of a sea-faring Filipino/indigenous people becoming spacefaring cheap labour, and inspired by how you’ve conveyed their enduring strength and resistance. Where did the inspiration for Sky Gypsies come from? And are you developing this world further in another story?

TJ: Thanks for the kudos! I’ve always been a fan of space operas and I wanted to see something like that for ourselves, from a Filipino standpoint.

I chose the Badjao because I wanted a space opera that didn’t have clunky space suits in them, with characters that were more in harmony with their environment.

In most space operas, the characters’ relationship with space is really very Westernized: there’s a sense of conquering, of dominance and mastery of nature. I think it’s a throwback to the age of Western expansionism and the pervading philosophy of scientific reductionism that went hand-in-hand with it.

But elsewhere in the world, in Asian and Polynesian cultures in particular, you see a different world-view, a different sense of relationship with the physical world around us. Sky Gypsies was an attempt to project that zeitgeist, if you could call it that, into the future.

It’s been said that all good scifi, no matter how far into the future it’s placed, is still a projection of contemporary problems. I think that’s what Sky Gypsies is. It wasn’t a conscious thing for me at the time, but I think that’s how it turned out.

I was gripped by the idea of the Badjao, who live almost their entire lives at sea and yet are, even today, sometimes seen as foreigners and are ostracized outside of their own seaside settlements. I liked the idea of being naturally at home in this fluid place that, to everyone else, is strange and unfamiliar.

Writing Sky Gypsies was an interesting challenge, because I strongly wanted to be respectful of our collective culture (in general) and our indigenous cultures (in particular).

This was a problem because I felt like a stranger to our own indigenous cultures, in a manner of speaking: I’m a third-generation Manileño, born and raised in the urbanized capital.

There was the urge to want to completely submerge myself in research, to learn all I could about Badjao culture that I could —to actually live there, if possible. But my resources at the time were very limited, and I also realized that nothing I did short of being born a Badjao would ever make me understand the culture in its entirety.

Plus, of course, the fact that I had to get on with writing the story. And so, armed with what little knowledge I felt I had, I plunged headlong into the work. I just kept reminding myself to at least try to be respectful.

Since it was published, I’ve been deeply surprised and touched by people who come up to me and tell me that the story is being read in high school and college literature classes, both as an introduction to Filipino indigenous culture and the concept of “otherness”.

It’s also been adapted into a gorgeous comic by John Ray “JR” Bumanglag, a very talented young artist whose work is very innovative yet satisfyingly reminiscent of Filipino komiks masters like Francisco Coching and Larry Alcala.
 I’m currently working on a continuation of the story and will be working with JR on turning it into a full graphic novel.

I find the interesting challenge, at this point, is looking at how the little details that I wrote into the original story will unfold into the larger story arc (which I actually already have plotted out).

I feel like I somehow managed to cobble together a working clock. Now I’ve wound up the spring and am eager to find out what each cog does.

I already know how it’s all going to end, but it’s getting there that’s the challenge.

Caroline: Yeah, I love space opera too, and I also can’t get past some blind spots the genre has, especially with people’s relationships to resource extraction and development in space. How do you feel about having your stories published in books that are specifically for Filipino speculative fiction? Do you think there is a similarity of subject matter or themes between Filipino spec-fic authors? And what audience are these stories geared towards?

TJ: Those are interesting questions.

As a professional writer, I’ve always believed that you should target a specific audience with your writing; you should have a clear idea of who you’re talking to, and shape your words accordingly. This jives well with what I learned in advertising about the “unique selling point”: understanding that a good product or idea will always have many things going for it, but you should focus on one particular aspect that makes it stand out and resonate with your target audience.

But all of that, of course, begs the question: Who is the target audience of the PSF books? I can’t speak for the PSF anthology’s editors, Dean and Nikki Alfar (and Alternative Alamat’s Paolo Chikiamco), but I do know that they’ve always been passionate about promoting speculative fiction to Filipino readers, on the one hand; and to make international audiences aware that Filipinos can write stellar speculative fiction like the best of them, on the other hand.

I think it’s a dilemma that every Filipino author in any genre has to face on their own, but I personally erred on the side of addressing a primarily Filipino audience, regardless of geographic location.

I was driven by the understanding that there’s a very real need for us Filipinos to have our own speculative fiction —science fiction, in particular.

Here’s why:

It’s a fact that we don’t yet have the means to produce our own high technology, and won’t be capable of doing so for at least a generation more to come, if at all.

This means that we’re completely at the mercy of whatever technology lands in our hands from first-world countries. Sure, they’re built and assembled in Asia, but the basic construction paradigms and even the basic marketing strategies stem from people who are of a different cultural milieu and world-view than ours.

And yet, we’ve proven time and again that we are capable of adapting these technologies to suit our needs and to use them in ways that the original designers never even thought of.

This happened a decade ago with SMS, and now with social media. But all of these are after the fact, merely reactionary to the arrival of foreign technologies.

So that’s where speculative fiction —particularly SCIENCE fiction— comes into the picture: it’s a way for us to dream our own future, to empower us with a vision of what we can become. So that we’re more than just blind adopters of foreign technologies.

Caroline: That’s a really fantastic point—that’s quote worthy! You’ve mentioned to me in an earlier discussion that there seems to be a zeitgeist in Filipino speculative fiction, there’s significantly more visibility for the writers and there seems to be far more interest from readers (both domestic and international). What would you say is the cause for this? The internet? Digital publishing? Demographic trends? Is there also a decolonizing process at work here? So do you think that the stigma against Filipino literature is still there, and if so, do you think it’s changing, and why is it changing?

TJ: Certainly, the internet and digital publishing have opened the floodgates —or, at least, lowered the barriers— to Filipinos wanting to get published. But there’s a lot going on under the surface.

Philippine speculative fiction seems to be at the same stage of development that Filipino literature in English was at in the middle of the previous century. Then as now, the challenge is to come to terms with ourselves and our collective identity even as we are learning to do so in a foreign language.

The crucial difference is that the struggle now has less to do with the English language per se and more with the conventions and paradigms of science fiction and fantastic fiction —both of which had a long time to develop in Western cultures.

So for us, on the one hand, there’s a sense of treading a well-worn path but, on the other hand, also the growing confidence that we’re doing it in a way that hasn’t been done before.

I say “growing” because there are still some birthing pains that need to be overcome, not the least of which are those echoes of colonialism that won’t just go away.

The bookstore layout that you mentioned is just a physical manifestation of this. On a deeper level, I remember Gaiman himself expressing surprise during one of his trips to the Philippines at the sight of so many people coming up to him and asking him to write about aswangs and kapres and manananggals and what-have-you.

To his credit, he politely declined, saying that Filipinos can do a far better job than he could —because it is, after all, our culture.

So here we are, in an age of literary exploration, slowly getting our sea legs in the wide specfic ocean. It’s important for would-be writers to just jump in and get their feet wet, and that’s where digital publishing comes into the picture: it makes that first dive if not more inviting then at least less intimidating.

***

Thanks to TJ for the wonderful interview! Sky Gypsies can be read in Philippine Speculative Fiction III, the comic adaptation is available as free download from Flipreads, and you can follow TJ on Twitter and Facebook

Alternative Alamat edited by Paolo Chikiamco (2011)

Alternative AlamatFlipreads / Amazon / Official Site

5/5 stars

Description:
Philippine mythology is full of images that ignite the imagination: gods of calamity and baldness, of cosmic time and lost things; the many-layered Skyworld, and weapons that fight their own battles; a ship that is pulled to paradise by a chain, and a giant crab that controls the tides… Yet too few of these tales are known and read today. “Alternative Alamat” gathers stories, by contemporary authors of Philippine fantasy, which make innovative use of elements of Philippine mythology. None of these stories are straight re-tellings of the old tales: they build on those stories, or question underlying assumptions; use ancient names as catalysts, or play within the spaces where the myths are silent. What you will find in common in these eleven stories is a love for the myths, epics, and legends which reflect us, contain us, call to us–and it is our hope that, in reading our stories, you may catch a glimpse of, and develop a hunger for, those venerable tales.

“Alternative Alamat” also features a cover and interior illustrations by Mervin Malonzo, a short list of notable Philippine deities, tips for online and offline research, and in-depth interviews with Professors Herminia Meñez Coben and Fernando N. Zialcita.

Review:
Alternative Alamat a fascinating read. I gained more knowledge about certain mythological figures (e.g. Maria Makiling, Tungkung Langit, Alunsina, Bernardo Carpio), but I feel like it’s just the beginning. There’s so much more to explore and retell.

Stories that stood out to me in particular are
-”The Alipin’s Tale” – a mythological retelling of Lapu Lapu’s fate and the changes after the Battle of Mactan. It is told like a folktale from the POV of his alipin (servant) and it concludes with a ballsy ending that’s like a punch in the gut. I also give it props for incorporating the intersection of race and class.
-”Keeper of My Sky” – the post-creation story of Tungkung Langit and Alunsina. This is one of the most bittersweet stories I’ve ever read. It’s simultaneously intimate and epic, both about the fate of two people and of the universe. If you’re prone to moisture in the eyes, maybe you shouldn’t read this in public.
-”Offerings to Aman Sinaya” – about a fishing village, their way of life, and their struggle to survive in the present day. It has moments of joy when young members master their birthright, but also of anguish as they continue to feel the negative impact of industrialization.

There’s also bonus content in the appendix: a list of notable Filipino deities and the region their stories originate from, interviews with two professors (specializing in folklore and anthropology, respectively) and a list of additional resources on Filipino mythology.

As a whole, this is not what I’d consider to be an uplifting or an escapist read. It raises more questions than answers, because many of these stories touch on contemporary issues that we don’t have an answer to yet. It’s unique and thought-provoking, but I’d recommend reading something lighter in alternation with this book when it gets too heavy.

This anthology is a rare gem, and it’s wonderful that it’s available as an ebook. I’d recommend it for those who are curious about Filipino mythology, or interested in mythology and folktales in general.

You might like this if you like…
Mythology and folktales; Philippine speculative fiction; short story anthologies; an intelligent read that is bittersweet, but rewarding

I was given Filipino speculative fiction today. Therefore, it was an awesome day.

Image

Charles Tan (from Bibliophile Stalker) most generously gave these books to me today. Thanks so much, Charles! I’m really thankful to have copies of these books because Filipino speculative fiction is hard to come by.

But thankfully, no matter where you are in the world, you can read two out of the three because of the magic of ebooks. Here are the goods:

Image

A Bottle of Storm Clouds by Eliza Victoria

Genres: Speculative fiction, short stories, Filipiniana

Questions of morality in exploring alternate realities; goddesses of old, living in modern-day Philippine society; the flesh trade in a dystopic future; four childhood friends, taunting fate by crossing the line between life and death, and coming back again; a world where Justice is immediate, absolute, and therefore deemed perfect—these are but some of the ideas to have sprung from the mind of up-and-coming writer Eliza Victoria. In A Bottle of Storm Clouds, Victoria’s first compilation of short fiction, her subjects are a mottled bunch; her characters, of all walks of life; her approaches, from all directions. But her stories all boil down to one question: “What if?”

The ebook is available at Flipreads and Amazon, and paper copies can be purchased at Fully Booked.

HONTIVEROS_seroks1_web

Seroks, Iteration 1: Mirror Man by David Hontiveros

Genres: Speculative fiction, short stories, Filipiniana, dystopian

Seroks, Iteration 1: Mirror Man, is the first in a series of short fiction collections set in the dystopic future world which was first seen in the Palanca Award-winning short story “Kaming Mga Seroks” by David Hontiveros.

In this Iteration, paired with the singular artistic sensibilities of Alan Navarra, Hontiveros continues to explore this clone-littered world where everything is a commodity, and everything can be pirated, even people. A world where the truth is ugly and a fake can be a hero.

Unfortunately I don’t think this is available as an ebook. Please correct me if I am wrong! But if you are in Metro Manila, you can purchase it from Fully Booked.

 

Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction

The Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2005 – 2010 edited by Dean Francis Alfar and Nikki Alfar

Genres: Speculative fiction, short stories, magical realism, slipstream, Filipiniana

The Horsemen of the Apocalypse are all born to a Filipino family; an aswang nanny passes on her powers to her young gay ward; a family’s freezer gets a surprise visitor; a young boy discovers how his brother turns into a superhero locked in an eternal struggle with the Forces of Chaos; a company makes a fortune selling diseases. The Philippine Speculative Fiction series showcases the rich variety of Philippine literature. Between these covers you will find magic realism next to science fiction, traditional fantasy beside slipstream, and imaginary worlds rubbing shoulders with alternate Philippine history—demonstrating that the literature of the fantastic is alive and well in the Philippines.

This anthology is a collection of what the editors consider thirty of the best stories from the first five volumes of Philippine Speculative Fiction, published from 2005 to 2010.

The ebook is available at Amazon. I don’t know where the paper copies are. Maybe at the book store of the University of the Philippines?

Adarna SF is undead undead undead…

Adarna SF had been on hiatus since April 2012. My apologies to the authors whose books I read but didn’t review (MeiLin Miranda, Isa KFT… sorry!).

Yes, this is Frida writing. I have changed my pseudonym from Frida Fantastic to Caroline Cryonic. This is because my real name is indeed Caroline, and it’s easier to bridge my real life self and online persona that way.

Back to the hiatus. What happened was that I got burnt out from book reviewing, had other life priorities, and just lost interest in general. I think I’m ready to get back into blogging, although things will be different. The focus will still be on speculative fiction, ebooks, and indies but I’ll mix it up with other kinds of content, primarily of the geeky persuasion. We’ll see how it goes.

I’m moving from Vancouver, Canada to live in Metro Manila, Philippines for one year. I’m really interested in promoting Philippine speculative fiction and meeting the local authors. There are plenty of publications available as ebooks, so expect to see me blog about them. Speaking of Metro Manila, does anybody know of a writing workshop or group that I could join?

Anyway, I will leave you now with the opening sequence to a 1983 vampire flick, The Hunger, just because.

Frida explains her absence, then disappears into a puff of magic purple smoke

Hoo boy, I’ve been MIA since April 2012. Yeah, there’s been lots going on in my life: moving, job searching, etc. which is why Adarna SF has dropped down from my priority list. I can’t say my life is settled enough yet for me to have a regular reviewing schedule, so I’m mostly-on-hiatus as a reviewer. I want Adarna SF to keep chugging along as a review site though, so I’ll see if I can find more contributors.

If any of you Vancouverites are free this Saturday night October 20, I’ll be attending an event at the Rhizome Cafe from seven onward: “Six Queer Artists for Six Years of Rhizome: Gathering Spaces, Queering Places”. There’s an awesome line-up, but a guest of note is Japanese-Canadian writer, Hiromi Goto. I haven’t read any of Hiromi’s books, but I know of her through her insightful blog posts about cultural perspectives and appropriation in speculative fiction, which are highly recommended reading for writers and analytical readers out there. I’ll respond to shouts of “FRIDDAAAAAA” if you’re not afraid to make such shouts in public.

On another topic, I’d like to mention a brave little girl named Phoenix.

Art by by Carlo Sayo

She was almost five years old, battled leukemia like a warrior, and was growing up to be a superhero. I attended her funeral last night–I didn’t know her well, but she’s a family member of several people who are close to me. As a friend of mine put it, this fire bird has transcended her physical bounds, but she will be sorely missed.

Rest in power, Nenix.

Checking out the city’s first major comicon at Fan Expo Vancouver

FanExpoVancouverAs a sci-fi/fantasy geek in Vancouver B.C., I’ve envied the conventions that take place in the rest of North America.

We have some small scale events here, but they’re pretty low-key and mostly entail browsing through the stock of the local comic book stores. I like them, but I’ve also been craving the big con experience, along with the cosplays, chaos, and big media consumerism. I finally had a taste of it at first Fan Expo Vancouver.

FanExpoVancouverCosplay

Badass Cosplayer. Photo by Rick Chung. (www.rickchung.com)

It took place this past weekend, April 21-22, at the Vancouver Convention Centre. The line-up outside was insane, eventually spanning several blocks. I purchased my ticket in advance, so I was able to go inside immediately, but even then, it still took 45 minutes of lining up inside. It was that packed.

Damn, there were a lot of geeks, so many that I’m sure that many were from outside of Metro Vancouver. The scifi/fantasy media represented were mostly film, TV shows, video games, and comic books. Guests included the original Batmobile, Adam West & Burt Ward (Batman), Kevin Sorbo (Hercules, Andromeda), Marina Sirtis & Michael Dorn (Star Trek: Next Generation), and Kristin Bauer (True Blood). Canadian author Spider Robinson was pretty much the only one repping SF literature. But where was Vancouver homeboy, William Gibson? Perhaps cons aren’t his thing.

BatmobileFanExpoVancouver

The original Batmobile. Photo by Rick Chung.

Comic artists/writers included Pia Guerra (Y The Last Man), Greg Rucka (The Punisher), and Whilce Portacio (The Hulk, and he’s Filipino-American). English voice actors represented the anime area (none of which I recognize, not my scene, although Anime Revolution hosted some panels), and several folks behind ReBoot were there.

Just some quick background–ReBoot is a 3d animated series from the 1990s, and a favourite amongst many Canadians of my generation. It was the first of its kind and produced from Vancouver, paving the way for the city’s animation industry. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen a single episode. What the heck was I doing back then? I think I was watching Cybersix and reading Dragonlance. Anybody have episodes to lend? I need to fill the hole in my Vancouver geek cred, quick.

I also had a nice chat with comic artist/writer, Nina Matsumoto, i.e. Space Coyote. She’s most well-known for her comic art for The Simpsons. She also illustrated the comic prequel to the Last Airbender film and is the creator of Yōkaiden, an original English manga published through Del Ray.

NinaMatsumoto

Nina Matsumoto/Space Coyote

I actually haven’t read any of her more recent work, because I knew her from her Saturnalia webcomic, before she became famous with her Simpsons art. She’s busy with the Simpsons series, but she said that if she were to return to Saturnalia, she’d like to work on a prequel. Nina is also a Vancouver-based artist. She went to a high school that I know several people from, and we also went to the same art school, but at different times.

My favourite part of Fan Expo was the Artist Alley, checking out the goods by local comic artists. I read indie SF literature all the time, but what about indie SF comics? It’s a scene I’d like to explore further. I procured some merch to facilitate further research.

VancouverFanExpoSwag

My Canadian comic bounty

My research materials into the Canadian comic scene consists of two fancy comic books, and one badass print of a flapper with a Tommy Gun. Awesome. Oh yes, apologies for the bad photo quality. Despite the fact that I am part Frida Kahlo and part cyborg, I still use a Nikon point and shoot from 2005, and I don’t have Instagram pro skills. Consider these previews of the real thing.

FlapperandTommyGun

Flapper with a Tommy Gun by Craig Wilson

My photo doesn’t do this art print justice but I swear, it’s gorgeous. I don’t think this lady is in a comic, but she should be. She’d probably fit into Art-Deco-Noir Strange Aeons webcomic. But yes, this print is made by Craig Wilson, who is a Vancouver comic artist man of mystery, who probably likes snowboarding or storyboarding because his online pseudonym is BoardGuy, but that’s all I could find out about him. Craig, where I can I find the rest of your stuff outside of your blog? Do you have an online shop? When’s your next con appearance? And if you’re reading this, can you please make a 1930s action comic where the ladyfolk are armed to the nines? You can collaborate with Jordan Boos of Strange Aeons, or compete against him, I don’t care! I need to see that flapper in an action sequence set inside the Marine Building, and causing the whole thing to collapse unto itself and burst into flames.

VancouverMarineBuildinginFlames

Like this.

Next up is Lords of Death and Life, a Mesoamerican historical fantasy comic by Jonathon Dalton.

MayanAztecComic

Lords of Death and Life by Jonathon Dalton

Jonathon lives in Abbortsford (a city just outside of Metro Vancouver) and he has some ongoing free webcomics on his website. I browsed through them and he seems into historical fantasy set outside of the usual European/Western tradition, and I completely approve.

MayanAztecComic3

Inside

This was the first time I’ve seen his work, but the premise and the beautiful artwork drew me in.

MayanAztecComic2

Lords of Death and Life Back Cover

You can’t really read it, but this is what it says:

Imagine a world with powerful empires, huge cities built on trade, and three thousand years of recorded history, but one in which even the wheel doesn’t exist. It is a world where heroes step in and out of legend and magicians transform themselves at will.

Mol Kupul lives in this world. When he travels to the city of Xicalango in search of someone to interpret his strange dreams, he instead finds trouble brewing between the city’s Mayan and Aztec populations, and supernatural forces at work beyond his worst nightmare.

And with some commentary from Scott McCloud:

Jonathon Dalton’s Lords of Death and Life is an intoxicating fusion of ancient design and modern imagination. A fresh and enjoyable read.

Between those is a scene of a lone person wandering though the underworld, and beyond him is a skeleton with a spear to the skull–sold. I can’t wait to read it. If you can’t wait either, you can purchase the paper book from one of the listed retailers on Jonathon’s website, or as an ebook on The Illustrated Section and Graphicly.

Last but not least is Exploded View, a sci-fi comic anthology from the Vancouver-based Cloudscape Comics.

CanadianScifiComic

Exploded View from Cloudscape Comics

I’ve never read a comic anthology before, but it has stories from 25 different creators, so that should be interesting.

CanadianScifiComic2

Inside

Dialogue from Aquanaut Zero by John Christmas:

“Government issued sake sucks. It’s the first thing you learn in Aquanaut training. This still hasn’t stopped Takashi from complaining about it. We’re explorers on imperial science vessel 00119 on a mission to the heart of the ocean.”

And Takashi behind him shouts, “My dog drinks better sake!”

You can buy the ebook and paper copy at the Cloudscape Comics store.

VancouverComicArtsFestival

If you Vancouver folk want more comiccon action, there’s the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo next weekend from April 27 to 29 (only a 13 hour roadtrip!) and the Vancouver Comic Arts Festival (VanCAF) from May 26 to 27 (a Skytrain ride away). The latter takes place at the Yaletown Roundhouse and it’s free to attend. I’m totally going to VanCAF. By then I’ll be caught up with my ebooks and comics, and ready to take on more.

I found out all about this awesomeness through Fan Expo Vancouver. So let’s do it all again next year! What say you?

Generation by William Knight (2011)

Generation by William Knight(Smashwords not available) / Amazon / Author’s Site

2/5 stars

Description:
Journalist Hendrix ‘Aitch’ Harrison links bodies stolen from a renowned forensic-research lab to an influential drug company. Aided by Sarah Wallace, a determined and beguiling entomologist, he delves into a grisly world of clinical trials and a viral treatment beyond imagining. But Aitch must battle more than his fear of technology to expose the macabre fate of the drugged victims donated to scientific research.

In 2001, scientists isolated the gene for regenerating damaged organs from the DNA of a South American flatworm. Within five years it had been spliced into the chromosomes of a rhesus monkey, transported through the cell walls by a retro-virus denuded of its own genetic material. Attempting to regrow impaired or elderly tissues, a scientist will one day modify the DNA of human beings by injecting the gene-carrying virus. It is just a matter of time.

Before consenting to treatment, you may want to ask a simple question: could there be a situation in which you would want to die but were unable to do so?

Review:
Generation pitches itself as a “crime-thriller with an injection of horror” and “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo meets the X-Files.” That’s an accurate description of the concept, but not of the quality.

Hendrix Harrison, the protagonist, is a British Mikael Blomkvist with Fox Mulder’s interest in the paranormal, and he uncovers a conspiracy surrounding an experimental drug treatment that turns its test subjects into the living dead. The concept is intriguing, and I was hooked by the prologue and the body horror. I love my body horror and Knight knows how to write it excellently.

A row of teeth ran alongside a swollen tongue and Hendrix tried to discern where the tongue ended and the lips began. Translucent red skin was stretched tight across the chin and one cheek providing a window on a network of black veins and white nervous tissue. It was a mass of putrescent flesh dripping onto the pillow, soaking into the sheets, and being washed down the drain every time Thora cleaned.

While many of the horror elements are good, Generation is not a solid thriller in its current form. The first 25% of the book is a massive infodump, and I would have stopped reading it if I didn’t commit to writing a review. Sometimes, a slow build-up to the conflict is effective in horror fiction (Voice by Joseph Garraty is an example, and that’s a five-star book), but in Generation, it’s simply tedium. There are scenes of boardroom meetings, corporate Powerpoint presentations, lonely meals in greasy pubs, long-distance drives to meet with leads that go nowhere… it felt like it was going exactly in that direction–nowhere. But it significantly improves as the story goes on, and it fully hits its stride at the 75% mark.

This would have been a leaner and meaner book if chapter 10 was the beginning, and the background info in previous chapters were included in subsequent scenes that moved the plot forward. The novel has potential but there needs to be more focus on what’s important.

There was an obligatory sex scene that took place without foreshadowing (out-of-character sex seems to be the domain of thrillers, no idea why), and it was awkward because it disrupted the momentum of the story. It happened during a race-and-chase portion of the plot where the protagonists could be gunned down. I read on while thinking “This is the last thing I care about!”, flipping through it with growing frustration, hoping that the scene wasn’t too long because I wanted to get back to the story. I apologize for being crude, but the experience can only be described as the “reader blueball”.

The prose itself is good, and I could tell that the author was an experienced writer, but likely not as experienced with fiction. Small mistakes litter the work: typos, awkward adjectives (“rain-coloured sky”), redundant sentences summarizing the previous paragraph, problems with compound words, and so on. I’m not a professional editor, and I focus on enjoying the story as reader, but the mistakes kept on taking me away from the story.

Some of the differences in compound words are likely a difference in British spellings (I’m a reader based in Canada), and I’ve reviewed books by other British writers, but none of these differences bothered me. I think it’s because the errors in this book kept on switching on my inner editor and I couldn’t help but scrutinize the most minor of details.

I didn’t warm up to the characters at first, I actually had trouble telling them apart because their characterizations were so bland. But I grew to like them and root for them once Big Pharma was out to tear them apart limb from limb. This happened midway through the book, and again, I wish it took place earlier.

Overall, Generation has its moments, and it has the foundations for a solid sci-fi/horror conspiracy thriller. Unfortunately, it’s not polished enough in its current form, but I hope there will be a re-edited version. Considering the major problems with story focus, pacing and infodumping, I’m not ready to read another full-length novel by this author. But Knight writes excellent body horror, so if he has some short horror fiction, I’d definitely be interested.

You might like this if you like…
A British Mikael Blomkvist with Fox Mulder’s interest in the paranormal; body horror; evil Big Pharma; conspiracy thrillers; zombies; near future sci-fi

William Knight is a British born journalist and technologist currently living and working in Wellington, New Zealand. In 2003 he published his first feature in Computing magazine and has since written about the many successes and failings of high-tech for the Guardian, Financial Times and the BBC among many others publications. He continues to maintain a lively IT consultancy.

April 23 update: I received an email from an author stating that the ebook available on Amazon is a recently edited version and a significant improvement over my review copy.

Quick Update on the Adarna SF Review Schedule

As you’ve noticed, we haven’t been following the Review Schedule recently. But please be assured that Chris has been reading the Alternative Alamat anthology, I’ve finished reading Generation by William Knight, and I’m in the process of reading Arcane.

We haven’t been updating as frequently since we’ve been busy with other projects. There’s been a lot of changes in my life last few months–I’ve graduated from university, taken on new volunteer work in the community, and face the usual flux that people in their early 20s tend to experience. Starting this book blog is one of the best things I’ve done, but it runs on our unpaid volunteer time (affiliate marketing for indie books doesn’t pay well…), and to stay passionate as speculative fiction fans we have to treat book reviewing like an awesome hobby. If we start treating it as work, we might devolve into jaded pseudo-editors, and that’s not cool.

Adarna SF is still active and we’re in it for the long-haul, we’re just adding the disclaimer that our Review Schedule dates are more approximate than definite. So readers, stay subscribed to our RSS feed or via email, and authors, keep submitting–we’re happy to get lost in your worlds!

Fistful of Reefer by David Mark Brown (2011)

Fistful of Reefer by David Mark BrownSmashwords / Amazon / Author’s Site

3/5 stars

Description:
In 1918, when Chancho Villarreal and his friends inadvertently create the legend of El Chupacabra, they draw the attention of Texas Ranger J.T. McCutchen to their goat ranch and marijuana farm north of Del Rio, Texas. What follows is an action-packed ride across the wilds of a Texas haunted by rumors of Chupacabras behind every bush.

This double-fisted, dieselpunk weird-Western resides between No Country for Old Men and The Three Amigos.

Review:
Fistful of Reefer has a killer premise. It’s a Weird West/dieselpunk adventure set in Texas about a gadgeteer genius Mexican marijuana farmer who’s on the run from a bordering-on-psychotic prohibitionist Ranger. It’s the first novel in the Reeferpunk series.

The opening scene sucked me in. Ranchers confront Chancho about their dead goats, and one reaches for his pistol and growls, “The goats didn’t die from demon curse or fright, they died from colic–from too much marihuana.” There are shootouts, chili-bombs, and epic chase scenes involving bales of marijuana. What more could one ask for?

The flippant prose is delightful in its old school pulp style, and the action sequences are thrilling. I’d probably re-read some of the fight scenes because they’re that awesome.

For a book that promotes itself as a dieselpunk adventure, there isn’t much dieselpunk machinery, although Chancho makes a pretty epic marijuana harvester that runs on manure. I hope Chancho displays more of his gadgeteer genius skills in the future.

I liked that the protagonists were a Mexican man, indigenous woman, and Black Seminole in a Weird West. But unfortunately, there’s a lot of forced sentiment regarding protagonists, but your mileage may vary. If you like the melodrama and romanticism found in old movies like María Candelaria, then it won’t bother you, but I found it to be dated and uncomfortably bridging on noble savage tropes with its cultural baggage (which requires taking its portrayals of indigeneity with a truckload of salt).

Characterization isn’t Fistful of Reefer‘s strong suit. Everyone can be summed up in two traits. They’re still charming in that pulp fiction way, but I wanted more depth in the protagonists. I still really like that they are the heroes in a Weird West, but I wish they were more often defined by their personality, with their background informing their point of view, rather than being almost nothing more than their background. The story should make it clear that Chancho is a loveable rogue because he’s Chancho, and not because he’s Mexican; Nena is a brave woman because she’s Nena, not because she’s of the Kickapoo people; and Muddy is loyal and dependable because he’s Muddy, not because he’s Black Semiole.

Pages of infodumping about the protagonists’ histories take away the story’s momentum. Along the same lines, there’s a lot of telling instead of showing with regards to their character traits. There’s a disconnect between what their traits are supposed to be, versus what they are actually doing in the story. I can’t say I’m impressed by the protagonists, but in contrast, the villain Ranger McCutchen is an excellent character. His motivations and history are revealed more naturally in smaller segments, and his actions speak for themselves. The narration didn’t have to tell me explicitly that he’s creepy and insane. He just is. This would be a much stronger book if the protagonists’ character traits were laid out in a similar manner.

Chancho’s aspirations grow larger towards the end of the book, instead of merely trying to outrun the ranger, he starts having loftier dreams of liberating the American people. Unfortunately, I was confused as to what this exactly meant. Does liberating the people mean liberating them from prohibition? Is it strictly about marijuana or is it more than that? Even though it’s not clear what Chancho stands for, people turn up in droves to support him, because the narration claims that he’s a Good Guy and stands for Good Things. So at the end of the book, I was left confused and unfulfilled.

Even though I have a number of criticisms with Fistful of Reefer, I commend the author for creating a fun and unique world, and I think that the series has promise.

You might like this if you like…
Weird West; race and chase scenes; liberation from prohibition; pulp fiction; sweet ganja

The sequel, The Austin Job, is now available on Amazon.

David Mark Brown has some free serialized novellas set in the same world. You can read them on his website under “Reeferpunk“.

Voice of the Lost by Andrea K. Host (2011)

Voice of the Lost by Andrea K HostSmashwords / Amazon / Author’s Site

4/5 stars

Description:
Medair an Rynstar wants only to leave.

Five hundred years after the Empire she served fell before the Ibisian invasion, Medair has betrayed her Emperor’s memory by helping the descendants of the invaders. She knows she will be reviled, that to thousands she is hero-become-villain. Her one goal is to return to the hidden cave where she slept out of time, and hope that she wakes in a world where the name Medair an Rynstar has been forgotten.

Assassins, armies, and desperate magic complicate Medair’s plan of escape, leading her inexorably to face the very people her choice has cost the most. She has learned that you can never return to your past, or run from the consequences of your actions, but can she find a way to live in defeat?

Review:
Voice of the Lost is the perfect sequel to The Silence of Medair. The first book is a political fantasy that’s epic in scope, and Voice continues to develop the themes of colonialism, empire, and sacrifice and a controversial romance is set in motion. Medair chooses to side with the descendants of her invaders while facing an oncoming apocalypse brought on by wild magic. Talk about raising the stakes!

I loved this book, and it has the strengths of The Silence of Medair, but with a slightly different focus. It’s still character-driven, but there’s less brooding introspection and more political intrigues. Medair is thrust in the midst of a war and makes tough choices, possibly earning her place as a villain in history. What makes it interesting is how she deals with it, and how she views heroism, sacrifice, and ethics in herself and the colonizers. Medair’s character development is one of the best I’ve seen in the fantasy genre.

I must commend the author for how she handles magic in the world-setting. Magic systems are best explained in some books, while in others, it’s best left as a mysterious force of nature–whichever helps the suspension of disbelief. Höst treats it as the latter, and it works. Magic is a messy thing in this world–it merges parallel worlds, triggers a looming apocalypse, and even changes people’s ethnicity–which is a big deal in a historical reality of heated colonizer vs. colonized dynamics.  While those are all crazy, its believable because the emotional consequences for the characters are so real, and that’s the key achieving verisimilitude in fantastical literature. I don’t know how the author pulled it off, but she deserves mad props.

With sacrifice as a key theme, it mostly reads like a tragedy. Whenever I cheered for the small victories, things became infinitely worse, but none of it came off as melodramatic. I was on the verge of tears in some parts, unable to decide whether it’s best to read on (and feel that screwdriver to the chest) or put the book down (and be unable to think of anything else!).

Medair’s internal dialogue sometimes summarizes what just happened and her reaction to it instead of only the latter, and it’s a little redundant. But other than that minor quibble, there’s nothing I’d change about the book.

It’s rare to find an epic fantasy that’s ambitious in scope and yet ties the story together succinctly. There’s no filler subplots or unnecessary scenes, it hits hard but ends with a satisfying conclusion. The story is emotionally involving and deals with heavy themes, but it’s worth it. I highly recommend this duology if you’re looking for an epic fantasy that’s character-driven, different, and thought-provoking.

You might like this if you like…
Epic fantasy with no filler; epic apocalyptic scenarios; fantastic character development; intelligent themes that you’ll ponder on long after you’ve read the book

If you’re interested in reading this two-book series, you can also purchase it as a single volume on Smashwords or Amazon. It’s a better deal than buying each book separately.

You can also read my interview with Andrea K. Host.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 84 other followers