Monday, March 27, 2017

"When you allow darkness to blanket your being..."

The root of all horror is fear, but people frequently mistake fear as an easy experience; it's that obvious crescendo in the scoring during a movie when you know some weird shit it about to go down. Horror then is reduced to mere jump scares and cheap thrills to shock and repulse people, but that ultimately is a disservice. Granted, said genre in film had often catered to audiences that are simply looking for mindless gore and lifeless dialogue being spoken by flat characters whose only purpose are to be brutally murdered and disposed. 

But with recent entries like The Babadook, It Follows and even The VVitch, horror movies can possibly become more exploratory and symbolic; just as it had been decades ago in its prime before all these franchises about serial killers, ghosts and demon possessions have turned the genre into something rather repetitive and sublimely stupid.

Such stories after all lack the human element which is exactly what horror is supposed to be all about regardless if it deals with the paranormal or the macabre. Horror stories must deliver a harrowing tale of the human condition in which madness, grief and vulnerability are fully realized and exposed for the pickings of vultures. Anyone who has ever read Edgar Allan Poe would understand that there is more to horror than just surprising you with a well-timed jump scare or a literal rendition of blood and guts spilled for your viewing pleasure.

In this modest Filipino anthology written in the English language, thirteen writers exhibit their own harrowing narratives. Enclosed in a compact collection that is truly impressive as the sum of all its parts, All that Darkness Allows is a worthwhile read with a few stories layered with unforgettable symbolism while others explore myths as the rest were cautionary tales that delivered some punches. Right off the bat, it opens with its titular story about a lunar event that threatens the peaceful quiet living of Earth's residents. The first-person story was hypnotic, prone to melancholic contemplation as readers feel the utter loss of hope.

Afterwards, readers would sample The Skip which presents a post-apocalyptic landscape with almost Lovecraftian monsters thriving in the tunnels of a subway system. We also get a surprising ghost story entitled Going Down whose twist at the end was rather commendable. 

A staple of the horror genre often deals with female protagonists discovering something terrible and inescapable about their lives and this trope is very much present in a lot of the anthology's stories such as Dalaw, Mama's Here, The Invite, Sunshine, All the Birds, Fire Tree and Inked. From this bunch, the ones that stood out for me are All the Birds and Sunshine whose symbolisms have open interpretations that at first exposure would only feel slightly uncomfortable until they really settle in and leave impressions that can chill the bones. Mama's Here and Fire Tree both deal with any mother's truest fear coming to life while Dalaw and Inked have their female protagonists succumb to inner darknesses during one fateful moment. The only difference is that Inked's protagonist truly caved in and offered herself to forces beyond her comprehension. Meanwhile, The Invite explored the nuances of grief and guilt, a rather unpleasant and oppressive combination.

Certain other stories have very perplexing premises and these are Analemma and Phantoma, Towards the Pharmacology which I feel I can't even spoil and readers themselves have to get into. They are respectively written by Eliza Victoria and Karl De Mesa whose works I am more than familiar with in the past. One story of this collection stood out the most because it's probably the only one that really sickened me in a lot of levels and that's the body horror masterpiece entitled Stigmata. The descriptions of debauchery performed by two men of cloth, as well as those concerning a certain illness that inflicts the body, did get my stomach churning for a bit--and when the connotations of religious fanaticism came into play, I really can't stop myself from cringing even as I finished the story itself. 

In a nutshell, All that Darkness Allows is something you don't want to miss out on. If you're looking for horror stories that are more than just passing tales about ghost hauntings and garden-variety gore, then you may want to purchase this from your local bookstore soon.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

To More Ceaseless Nights of Bliss and Frenzied Feeding

Short stories can probably be considered the most underappreciated form of fiction writing these days, particularly those that belong in the genre of speculative fiction. Not a lot of people are aware of this, but said genre actually thrives in the fringes of Filipino literature and most are written in the English language. Writers like Dean Francis Alfar and Eliza Victoria have had small mainstream successes with their respective works, but other writers for the genre only have their works usually published as part of a varied anthology.

In fact, I never would have discovered author Gabriela Lee myself if I wasn't dutifully checking the Filipino Literature section of my local bookstore near my place of work. I'm glad I did one day because I would have missed out in buying my copy of her freshman debut Instructions on How to Disappear whose cover illustration as well as the rest of its visual presentation was enticing enough to pick up and browse through. I was furthermore encouraged to read it because Dean Francis Alfar himself wrote the Introduction who promised the readers a truly remarkable experience in the hands of Gabriela Lee herself. With my expectations in check, I proceeded to partake. Composed of no more than eleven short stories, this collection had made it rather easy enough to make a fair assessment of Ms. Lee's caliber and style.

I would consider that seven of these tales are the ones I considered the most poetic and painfully unforgettable; all of which were intricately woven as they combine both searing, introspective narrative and hard-hitting symbolism. At times I would even feel as if Ms. Lee was carving the words not just in my skin but also in my bones. Her expertise in literary language is unapologetic and unique. She was not only effective in exploring characters with nuance in which their personal journeys through the abyss would resonate almost powerfully in readers, but she was also adept in crafting plots that expose not only the mythical in her more urban fantasy stories, but also the maddeningly sublime and hurtful in her futuristic dystopias. By reading Ms. Lee's collection and embracing its magic, I realized that a short story is only as good as its overreaching message of either hope or despair.

Instructions opens with Bargains whose atmosphere and situation resemble the very premise for CLAMP's manga xxxHOLIC, but with a more horrific twist of its own. An aspiring writer whose ambition outweighs her talent meets up with an enigmatic Chinese shopkeeper. This elderly woman provided her with the means to become successful in her literary field--but for a very steep price. Next we have the charming The Side of the Looking Class which is quite young-adult-esque with its heroine outcast and her weight problems. The wish fulfillment element of this odd story is what gave its sequence of events a guilty pleasure appeal. 

Tabula Rasa was the most haunting piece in the anthology overall; a dark yet romantic tale of how love literally consumes its host. Much of its narrative was driven with metaphorical representation which can be borderline absurd. After all, how else would you interpret events concerning a woman who can absorb all of her boyfriend's memories every time they engage in sexual congress and, in turn, she was also able to abolish his very identity and essence until he was reduced into nothingness? There was something almost suspenseful about this story as it reaches an ill-fated climax. On the flip side, we have Capture which chronicled a college boy's photography project with his model who seemed to slowly become less tangible than the photos in which she was depicted in. These two stories are the most ambiguous as Honesty Hour, meanwhile, is the most straightforward yet also the least interesting story of the collection.

One of my top favorites is Hunger. In this story, Ms. Lee was able to examine her own mythos concerning the lore of the manananggal. Written in the second-person, Hunger follows the intimate details of succumbing to a cursed state and how often liberating it is to accept your transformation as the kind of creature anchored by nightmares and bloodlust. That being said, it was also a bittersweet account about unrequited love. 

Most of this anthology's stories deals with the devastation of a lost love such as the titular Instructions on How to Disappear and August Moon. On the other hand, not all of Ms. Lee's stories captivated me. One of them is Stations which revealed a dystopic landscape that feels a little fragmented story-wise, redeemed only by the bouts of lyricism in the prose; whereas the more urban fantasy story mixed with mythology entitled The Nameless Ones succeeded in delivering a fast-paced thriller which warrants a second chapter because it left me looking forward to a multi-chaptered series of its plot. I would definitely read a second part.

The other science fiction dystopia tale is Eyes As Wide as the Sky whose opening paragraph already illustrates just how breathtaking Ms. Lee can write and sustain that same enchantment of prose all throughout the way said story flowed. Its subtle horror and piercing poignancy were both unexpected, and left me with a sensation of loss myself once I have reached its tragic conclusion that left more questions unanswered.

"We did a good thing when we raised ourselves up from the rubble of the last war. Amid the carnage and destruction, we built the single thing that can truly stand the test of time: the Last City, a shimmering dome that surrounded our fluted structures of glass and metal, rings upon rings of protection that we erected against he elements, against time, against all that wishes to destroy the final creation of mankind." 

In a nutshell, Instructions on How to Disappear is a purchase you will not regret!


Saturday, March 18, 2017

"Poems. Confessions. Apologies. Promises."

Shelved next to copies of Otaku, Candy and Reader's Digest, In Case You Come Back is this medium-sized book of poems with assorted themes which wouldn't even be as noticeable at first glance. Its spine is plain white with a small and barely discernible font, prompting most of us not to give it a second look unless we feel the need to keep browsing the shelf. The only way you could select it among the pile was either by purposely looking for it, or by simply having the strangest luck. My stumbling upon it was admittedly through pure chance, and I may even deem such event as 'serendipitous' because it found me while I was in a delicate cusp of heartbreak and discord where I could certainly use a balm that would appease my troubles.

This poetry collection was a collaborative effort between writers Marla Miniano and Reese Lansangan as well as with the illustrator Jamie Catt. The latter's sketches were pretty and metaphorical enough in execution, providing readers the imagery that often supports the content of the writings themselves. The results of which become a varied palette of some of the most intuitive, well-woven and eloquent compositions that denote sentiments and grievances delivered with more clarity than ever before. There is an unmistakable self-indulgence in how these entries were written and yet the excess ultimately works for their favor.

Miniano's verses can stretch and bend in agonizing intervals, uninhibited by any measure or rhyme. Her stylistic choices are more elaborative than your basic poem structure, often relying on descriptive prose as opposed to the economy of words to deliver her message of all manners of love; from the desperately romantic to the heartbreakingly nostalgic-- all while she would alternate in tone from the the liberated quixotic to the stifled cynic.

I most certainly would argue on her behalf that Miniano's most punishingly detailed and articulate entries were those that invoke not only unforgettable imagery but also strong feelings of the forlorn and lonely which we can readily associate them with. They're the ones that are crowded enough to leave readers breathless. Here are samples of her prose poetry:

These poems wondrously chew the scenery. They also convey an inescapable deluge of details. Such poems might call to mind the most mundane trivialities of every day sufferings mixed then with the tragically extraordinary in order to produce a concoction of emotions. They can define and demystify ambiguities for people who have at one point lost it all before gaining back something else in the end. Such tales were woven together into a singular tapestry next. 

Miniano's poems in this collection (as well as Lansangan) have that constant effect all throughout; these writers break down said experiences first into fundamental aches--like a salvage from all the debris in the aftermath of destruction--before arranging them back to make them whole again through pointed if not searing words.

My best advice to enjoy this collection is to consume it slowly; with steady breaks in between each page so one can fully savor and digest each meal served. Not a single poem was ever lifeless, but some do require more patience to get through because Miniano also possesses a tendency to spin her tale far too carelessly that the ink she had metaphorically used spilled rather messily in some pages, leaving dark spots on the edge. 

That being said, these flaws--if one would be so inclined to overlook or forgive--can enhance her entries. They can be deemed flawed mechanisms of creative expression for even in their failures the poems still hold a certain allure. In Case You Come Back is somewhat of a titular reassurance to its readers; a self-aware apology that aims to win over the most harshest of critic; and an open invitation to explore its lonely territories once more and experience the tidal waves of grand highs and lows without necessarily forsaking one for the other.


Saturday, March 11, 2017

"My Library is an Archive of Longings"


I have a bottomless passion for consuming literature 

and the company of books has been the one constant thing in my life..

It has been said after all that books are the best teachers. In reading them we get to experience the lives of others and become enraptured by their most secret desires and loneliest dreams. These characters and their stories help us explore the triumph of our souls and sometimes even the failures we do not care to admit to ourselves and others, if not the occasional darkness we all have struggle with.

And this was why it's been nice reading books again after taking a long enough sabbatical since December. I haven't realized how much of myself I've lost when books no longer fill up those solitary hours when I don't always spend them through watching shows or roleplaying on Twitter. The truth was the main reason why that happened was because I found someone worthy enough of giving up my personal time for; someone I fell deeply in love with that he had emptied out parts of me that used to be full.

Weirdly enough, it doesn't bother me because he made me believe that love can be possible for someone like me who was so used to the isolation. Love for and from another person has a funny way of pushing you out of your own comfort zone and hiding place. He simply made everything else in my life right now pale in comparison at that.

That being said, I refuse to make him my excuse for slacking off when it comes to my reading plans for 2017. Writing with him for Twitter RP will always be a priority, but I do need a special outlet for the monsters in my head that can only find relief and understanding through the breadth and depth of the stories I read to keep them at bay.

Since I forever remain an unflinching individualist who wears the GEEK identity proudly, I know a significant part of my hunger these days is geared towards intellectual stimulation. The lack of ways to flaunt my nerdy inclinations had made me realize that I do need some personal time again to gather my bearings and travel through that scriptorium once more where I can relate to fictional worlds that serve more than just fleeting distractions. There are still so many stories are still out there that I must read and so many territories of the imagination are beckoning me to map them out.

This year I also made another TO-READ list but with a focus on Visual Novels. I might have to change that and just stick to the basics again; and these are novels from varied genres like science fiction, fantasy in both novel and anthology forms, comics series on beloved heroes like Batman and John Constantine, and even a graphic novel here and there.

And so I will update my book review blogs again and find time to write pieces where I freely share my insights and form discourses on literature through those blogs. I will always find a great sense of purpose and belongingness in books after all. I can find a way to balance that with my writings for Twitter RP, but there is an urgency now for me to trek my way back into the shelves of my library where only myself and my soft places can dwell and thrive.