Saturday, October 23, 2010

Want Books? (The Strain)

Want Books? is a weekly meme hosted at Chachic’s Book Nook and features released books that you want but you can’t have for some reason. It can be because it’s not available in your country, in your library or you don’t have the money for it right now.
Sometimes I just really want lose myself in a thrilling/chilling read. Viral pandemic? Vampires? Guillermo del Toro? I was salivating from the get-go. I haven't read Richard Matheson's I am Legend but The Strain sounds like a more action-packed, less introspective read. Where Mr Matheson's novel deals with the after-effects of the pandemic on one survivor, the del Toro-Hogan collaboration chronicles the spread of the virus as it happens, how the world falls apart, how a war with the vampires begins, which all somehow makes me think of The Stand meets Y the Last Man. Very promising.

(Also, check out their very cool website.)

I've seen copies of the second book in the trilogy, The Fall but have yet to see this one. I've been avoiding picking up interesting-looking fantasy titles because they're part of a series, but looking at how fast-paced The Strain seems, I don't have the same problems with uh, sinking my teeth into it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Bloody Chamber (Angela Carter)

No one does dark and sensual stories quite like Angela Carter. She dances on the edge of taboo with her gothic imagery and rich metaphors. She has a deft way of using language to awaken the senses, and in The Bloody Chamber she re-imagines well-known characters and situations against a vivid tapestry of emotions.

That said, I'm glad that I read The Bloody Chamber all the way through, instead of using my usual method of reading the first, then doing random samples of the other stories until I have finished the entire book. This collection of short stories has a logic to it, with folktales and fairy tales retold close to their original narrative found at the beginning of the book ("The Bloody Chamber," "The Courtship of Mr Lyon") before drawing the reader deeper and deeper into the deeply reworked and refashioned spirit of the later stories ("The Lady of the House of Love," "The Company of Wolves"). Had I read it in my normal fashion, I would have lost the lush beauty of that build-up.

Ms Carter presents different women caught in situations not of their own choosing -- a young woman bartered away to a mysterious stranger, a wife trapped in a loveless relationship, a snow-child found by the side of the road -- and shows how the female characters reverse the power structure without reversing the gender roles. By embracing their feminine sides, her characters emerge the dominant figures within their own narratives.

What made this collection a heady read for me was Ms Carter's style, which varied from witty observation:
'Her face was acquiring, instead of beauty, a lacquer of the invincible prettiness that characterizes certain pampered, exquisite, expensive cats (The Courtship of Mr Lyon, p49).'

to sharp melancholy:
'The carnival air of her white dress emphasized her unreality, like a sad Columbine who lost her way in the wood a long time ago and never reached the fair (The Lady of the House of Love, p109).'

to the plain luscious:
'He strips me to my last nakedness, that underskin of mauve, pearlized satin, like a skinned rabbit; then dresses me in an embrace so lucid and encompassing it might be made of water (The Erl-King, p89).'

An embrace made of water. Images like that just hook me. I may have read the book hoping for stories that leaned towards horror but was drunk instead on the bold (if somewhat disturbing) re-imaginings that Ms Carter had in store for her reader -- as if underlining what her collection has shown me: one thought supplanted by another.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Wedding.

You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.
- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince

One of my favorite lines in literature captures one of my favorite couples perfectly. For more than ten years, I have been part of their lives, from friendship to courtship to romance to the here and now. The inevitable. Staircases. Bus rides. Twix Fail. Mammal. Mabango ang Clairol. The soldier from the mountain. Top Three + On Top. Overnights. Slow drives. Baguio. Boracay. Tagaytay. Enchanted. Haranas. Ep Four. Tomi Fun. Moon cake festivals. You killed three bears in one game. Killer iced tea. Instant English-Tagalog song translations. Friendship hierarchy. This is the yearbook entry of our lives. I love you. I love you. I have seen them laugh, cry, doubt, sacrifice, get mad, give in, and fall madly in love over and over again. I have been blessed to have two friends who have never made me feel that I was a third wheel, who have managed to draw me into their special circle with such warmth and openness. That's why I was deeply touched when they asked me to be part of their special day in so many ways. I can say finally, finally. My heart is full.

As weddings go, it was a lovely ceremony that celebrated the bond between two people. Sure, it consumed most of my waking hours for the past few weeks (months?) but they were moments I would gladly give up again for these two:

Chrissie and John from MWCDLS on Vimeo.

This video was done by the amazing team at Daniel Lei Studio.

Change the weather, still together when it ends.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fairy Tale Fail

Mina V. Esguerra, who wrote the uber-fun My Imaginary Ex title for Summit Books, has a new title out! The paperback was recently made available via Amazon although it's been out for months on Kindle.

Here's Mina blogging about it.

Congratulations, Mina! I'm VERY eager to read it! :)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Want Books? (We Never Talk About My Brother)

Want Books? is a weekly meme hosted at Chachic’s Book Nook and features released books that you want but you can’t have for some reason. It can be because it’s not available in your country, in your library or you don’t have the money for it right now.
I was young when I found out that there is still much magic in the world, and a good deal of that discovery I owe to Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn. After reading the latest issue of his Raven Newsletter (they're selling movie frames, btw), I was reminded of how much I want to read his 2009 short story collection, We Never Talk About My Brother.

What little I've encountered of Peter S. Beagle's writing has already impressed me immensely so I'm looking forward to reading more. I'm especially eager for 'The Tale Of Junko And Sayuri,' a Japanese myth-inspired tale about magic and marriage; 'By Moonlight,' which won the 2010 Locus Award for Best Novella; and the title story, which uses Biblical themes and looks to be a powerful, character-driven story.

It's currently unavailable at my favorite bookstore branch, but I hope that I'll be able to get a copy before I leave the city. Reading this collection would be well-timed too, since it's nominated for a World Fantasy Award this October. Guess you all know who I'm rooting for!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Stargazer: The Life and Times of the Telescope (Fred Watson)

No, this is not fiction. And no, this isn't entirely a review.

Not a lot of people know that I'm a huge astronomy nut. I keep a refractor here in Manila, as well as an assortment of binoculars scattered between the different places I call home. I have SETI@home. I regularly buy astronomy textbooks and pretend that I will someday volunteer at the Apache Point Observatory and help make a 3D map of the universe. But I'm no expert. I can still tell you that Venus is hanging pretty low tonight towards the west and will disappear in an hour or so, or that I'll probably be asleep by the time Orion is no longer eclipsed by the old factory behind our home. That's probably the only kind of backyard astronomy that I can do.

That's why I thoroughly enjoyed Dr Fred Watson's Stargazer: The Life and Times of the Telescope. It remains firmly focused on just one essential aspect of astronomy by tackling the discovery, development, and the significance of the telescope. From key figures like Tycho Brahe, Isaac Newton, Laurent Cassegrain, and William Herschel to the various scandals and controversies surrounding the telescope, Dr Watson weaves history and fact into a friendly yet informative account that won't scare off beginning astronomers like me. It also accounts for the more well-known telescopes and observatories of our time which personally translates into a must-visit wish list.

In writing Stargazer, Dr Watson succeeds in widening the general public's understanding of such an important instrument. It presents a rich tapestry of stories that perfectly complements what I consider the most poetic branch of science.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Ship Breaker (Paolo Bacigalupi)

I was keen on reading Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl ever since I saw it mentioned on io9. But there was always some other book, always something else in the way. Then I came across his dystopian YA novel, Ship Breaker, and figured this was a good place to start as any.

At a time when the polar ice caps have melted and the ocean levels have risen, Nailer struggles to eke out a living as a light crew member, someone who strips copper and other useful wiring off grounded tankers and ships. After a particularly devastating hurricane whips through Bright Sands Beach, he and his friend Pima discover a new clipper ship that has run aground nearby. Its crew is dead, except for Nita, a wealthy girl who could probably be the biggest scavenge of all. But Nita (or Lucky Girl, as Nailer calls her) is no ordinary 'swank'; she's an heiress caught in the middle of a huge takeover of one of the world's biggest shipping companies. As expected, Nailer rescues Nita and with help from some unlikely quarters, they journey to restore her to her family.

The opening circumstances reminded me a lot of Terry Pratchett's Nation, where island boy Mau and shipwrecked rich girl Daphne find themselves turning to each other as they pick up the pieces after a life-changing tsunami. Of course, the differences in genre, tone, and approach prevent further comparison but the thought was pretty much foremost in my mind as I was reading Ship Breaker. Just a little reminder (again) to take my comments with a grain of salt, especially if I forget to be objective.

Mr Bacigalupi explores geopolitics for the younger set: the poorly-built cities that collapse under nature's tide, the corporate wars fought over flotsam and scavenge, the genetic experiments that breed half-men. I think Mr Bacigalupi builds Ship Breaker's world with admirable confidence and boldness and this well-drawn scenario was what immediately hooked me.

The novel is not without a few stumbling blocks. Its pace is exciting but somewhat uneven. Mr Bacigalupi spends the first four chapters detailing Nailer's work in the belly of an oil tanker, which I thought was a good pace for a reader acquainting herself with the boundaries of a new world. Somehow, though, in the middle of the action, certain things were glossed over. While I am satisfied with how the book turned out (the first of a series, I'm told) in the end, part of me wishes that the time Nailer and Lucky Girl spent in the Orleans had been longer than two chapters, or at least had been utilized enough to establish a stronger bond between the two, other than being co-fugitives. I didn't really feel the friendship or the mutual dependence and--if the last scene is meant as foreshadowing--an attraction beyond teenage hormones. The characters are a bit timeworn, but for a story that driven by plot, I think they were still effective.

Ship Breaker spins an exciting coming-of-age story. Before Lucky Girl, Nailer lives and dies by his scavenge: 'Ahead, the gull-white hull of the wreck gleamed in the sunlight, beckoning (p78).' In the last scene, as he is watching Lucky Girl's ship, his world and his possibilities have widened: 'Beyond it, the blue sea stretched to the horizon, beckoning (p323).' A lifetime has happened between these two incidents, and stubborn, enterprising Nailer waits to see how many readers will come along for his next adventure.