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.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Yearend Confessions and Plans for 2017

Since the beginning of August of this year, I started roleplaying religiously at twitter. I didn't think it would become a consummate literary endeavor, however which would affect my scheduled reading materials that I review here at my book  blog--but it finally did after all. By October, I was already struggling to read and review all the books and comics I had outlined earlier this year. Sure, I made it through most of them while others did not hold my attention that long enough to sustain my interest so I had to put them in the back-burner. 

This month had been more taxing than expected and since my roleplay writing had become more engrossing, elaborate and interactive where my writing muse truly grew, I couldn't just find time to squeeze in reading into the mix anymore. This was disheartening since I do take so much enjoyment and pride writing reviews not just here in this literature blog but also in my Batman, Hellblazer and X-Men blogs. I started out this book-reviewing project back in 2014 which was also around the same time I also joined GoodReads. 

The intellectual stimulation I got from reading and also typing out insightful reviews demonstrated that I have a passion for consuming and dissecting literature. Suffice to say, this entry would not be some sort of goodbye letter. It's quite the opposite. 

For starters, I just want to disclose that all the scheduled books I had for December have all been dropped and put on-hold for the time being. These include the two webcomics by the talented Minna Sundberg and CLAMP's Legal Drug/Drug and Drop manga. I also had to shelf Grant Morrison's The Invisibles series. I'm not sure when I can pick them up again but I will come back to these goodies eventually once I get over the next clusterfuck headed my way. 

My 2017 Reading Challenge will be my slimmest list yet. I could only commit to reading 50 books mostly because a better part of that year would be dedicated to playing/reading Japanese visual novels. GR doesn't have a criteria for VNs so my reviews will solely be posted here. My Batman and Hellblazer Month will be combined by May 2017. I opted to watch and review Batman-centric animated flicks while I read and review issues #101-120 of Hellblazer: John ConstantineI only have four major works I want to read/consume for 2017 and these are:

  • The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by W.L. Shirer (June-December)
  • 2 books of the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov (October-November)
  • Gilgamesh the King by Robert Silverberg  (December)
  • The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman (December)

For Visual Novels:
  • JUNE: Clannad
  • JULY: Aselia the Eternal
  • AUGUST: G-Sensou no Maou
  • SEPTEMBER: Fault

It's bound to be a very busy year for me! On top of that, I still have major fanfiction writing projects to continue within the year next to my rigorous roleplaying at twitter. I can only hope to fulfill and endure all these scheduled geeky activities. I will pray to all the geek gods to grant me the clarity of mind for this!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Legends of RED SONJA by Gail Simone Vol. 1

I have no idea who Red Sonja is, to be honest, and that means I had to go online to research about the character's origin and publication history as a comic book series. From what I understand overall, she was a character created by Marvel Comics around 1973 when she first appeared in a Conan the Barbarian issue. There was also a movie about her at some point. She's the quintessential pin-up fantasy heroine from comics. What made me want to read this more recent Dynamite comics title is because Gail Simone (from DC's Batgirl) is the writer of this particular line-up. Also, there is something nostalgic about warrior women for me. I did after all grow up to Xena: the Warrior Princess (but I was nine and I don’t remember specific things about that show except that Lucy Lawless rocked and kicked ass). And so reading Red Sonja definitely gave me that kind of nostalgia.

The first volume of this revamped version from 2010 to 2012 entitled Red Sonja: Queen of Plagues reads more of an anthology with a sideline linear narrative. According to what I researched, this Red Sonja is a distant relative for the original She-Devil with a sword. Knowing this premise actually helped demystify some elements for this volume that seemed shaky and suspicious. Nevertheless, reading this collection had been enjoyable because of its action-packed moments and interesting blend of tall tales, feminist insight and sometimes clever subversion of tropes.

A group of warriors named Grey Riders are the 'protagonists' of this story as they are on a quest to capture or slay Red Sonja whose reputation and deeds make her very larger-than-life if not almost mythical. For every issue, the Grey Riders have to interrogate an array of colorful side characters who have a tale or two to spare about the legendary She-Devil with a Sword. And that's how this volume reads and develops as an anthology because of the interwoven separate an standalone stories that the Grey Riders have to hear and often have to figure out whether or not these tales are authentic. A lot of the stories emphasize the badassery and cunning of Red Sonja. Some are exaggerated to the point of absurd while a few are designed to inspire paranoia or discourage the Grey Riders on their quest to seek out the infamous fire-kissed warrior who seems to keep eluding them throughout the journey.

Simone has worked with many fantastic artists for this volume and the variety and quality of the artworks and illustrations are truly a feast for the eyes and a feat of the imagination. What stands out easily when it comes to the depiction of Red Sonja is her iconic bikini-style armor. It is so utterly gorgeous and in one issue Simone even had a self-aware flashback that acknowledges the deadly allure of a formidable fighter who happens to be a scantily dressed woman--and what that can do to unsuspecting fiends and rivals.

I had a great fucking time reading this volume. It's ridiculous yet witty, infectiously daring and unafraid in its exploits and small doses of dark humor, and visually interesting with the multiple collaborations of artists working together. The first volume included a script for one of the issues as well as gallery for the concept art. This is something that can be consumed by novice and veteran comics readers alike. So if you like your women fierce and written by a female writer, you can’t go wrong with Gail Simone and her work for the Legend of Red Sonja.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Rachel Rising by Terry Moore

The last graphic novel I reviewed just a week ago is about a woman who cannot be killed (Lazarus), and now I'm doing another one about yet another female character who is resurrected from the dead. It's a playful coincidence. The two stories have nothing much in common except that basic premise, however, and if I'm to be honest I think I much enjoyed Lazarus although that doesn't actually mean that Terry Moore's Rachel Rising doesn't hold up well as a series. If the first volume is any indication of how certifiably creepy and atmospheric everything is, then I will surely pick up the second volume someday.

Rachel Rising is about the titular female character who was strangled and left for dead as she was buried in a shallow grave next to what seemed to be implied as a land where witches used to live and do evil stuff? It's all speculative for now. The very first pages opened with Rachel walking out of said grave with fragmented memories as well as possessing literally bloodshot eyes and very discernible rope marks around her throat. Moore's illustrations are minimalist and drawn in black and white. The panels certainly make you feel as if you could be reading this on a Sunday paper, in spite of the macabre and gore that would be happening next as the chapters progress.

The story for the first volume The Shadow of Death unfolds in two ways. We have Rachel's side of the plot on one hand and this little girl character named Zoe on the other. Rachel sought the help of her aunt, Johnny, who is a mortician and her childhood friend Jet, to find out about her attacker and how and why in the fuck did she even get resurrected from death. Her character story as the heroine crosses with that of the secondary character Zoe's version of the events. Her side of the story is the more disturbing, filled with gruesome deaths. A malignant force in shape of a mysterious woman had taken control over Zoe's actions, making her do very bad things while she is still much aware of the deeds as she is committing them. At a crucial point in the narrative Zoe and Rachel finally cross paths but another awful tragedy strikes that would claim more lives than either of them could possibly imagine.

I like this series so far. The story is still half-baked and often shaky at best. Most of the time the evasive dialogue and lack of real action aside from people getting killed could get tiresome real fast, but just when the pacing and momentum feel like it's slowing down, Moore leaves readers with just enough incentive to keep them reading anyway, eager to solve the mystery surrounding Rachel's resurrection and whatever evil is about to spread in her hometown brought about by ritualistic sacrifices that heavily imply that this has all been a set-up for now and there is a storm that is about to come. Things may pick up by then.

I think I would recommend Rachel Rising to anyone who is looking for something gothic and enticingly creepy. It's digestible enough if not momentarily baffling in some places. It's still missing a real hook for me which is why I'm giving it a safe rating.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

LAZARUS by Greg Rucka Volume 1

Comprised of the series first four issues, this debut volume written by Greg Rucka, and illustrated by Michael Lark with the colors done by Santi Arcas, is a dystopian science fiction story that definitely holds promises. 

I actually liked it even if it's only a hundred pages long. My review for this graphic novel collection is positive enough although I can't say yet what is in store for the rest of the series, seeing as the four issues of Lazarus felt like watching a pilot for a TV show. With that comparison, I believe these issues hold enough weight on their own both as separate installments and as a singular story that unfolds efficiently well. Action-packed and well-balanced when it comes to exposition and dialogue, Lazarus: Family is something readers can easily consume in one sitting but it's also a substantial serving which would make them come back for more.

Speaking of TV pilots, this series might actually be adapted for a television show, and based from what I have seen so far, I think it would work well. The plot of the story focuses on a futuristic setting where capitalism is the dominating status quo that had abolished real governments across the world. The wealthy and privileged reign as supreme rulers and each city in the states is governed by a 'Family' while the rest are deemed as Waste (not even kidding, it's that blunt). Essentially, the modern world reverted back to a brutal age when elitist rich families are considered the most valuable while everyone else are cattle and slaves. How demeaning is it that after that much progress humans societies have made throughout history that the shift of power had only moved back from what was once considered ancient and barbaric? But I digress. I can actually see this future happening someday because of frighteningly good reasons when you consider the widening chasm and disparity growing between the rich and the poor even to this day.

Now the heart of this socio-political is our protagonist Forever Carlyle, who serves as the 'Lazarus' of the Carlyle family. As the namesake implies, she can never die and can come back from any method of killing or death. She's reserved and obedient, but also quite inquisitive and kind. Forever (or Eve) had started asking questions about her purpose and calling which is something her 'siblings' and the man she calls 'father' are not so thrilled about. The first four issues delved in the beginnings of Rucka's world-building where the Carlyle family has some strained relationships with other feuding families from across the state lines and within their own parameters of territory. There is enough betrayal and deceit to go around with, and characters who will become main players for the narrative are fleshed-out enough to compel readers to look forward to their roles and participation in the future.

I get this vibe that Lazarus will have the sensibilities of The Sopranos and Game of Thrones since it is about the privileged families who are also engaged in organized crime. I think it's not a bad direction to go for, and I'd be interested to learn how Rucka would pull it off in the next installments. Lark's illustrations are detailed and particularly enjoyable to look at especially with scenes that have a weight of importance. I like the way each panels are positioned not only during action sequences but also during the quieter moments. Colorist Arcas had employed rather dark colors for his palette, but they worked exceptionally well to deliver the atmosphere of prejudice and power struggle which the characters are engaged in.

Overall, this is an impressive debut series with a satisfying first arc and a tantalizing heroine to match it. I definitely look forward to the other volumes in the series!


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Webcomics Watch: CUCUMBER QUEST by Gigi D.G

There are a lot of wonderful adventure-fantasy webcomics out there, both popular and obscure, and some of them are long-running series that stretched out for years already that keeping track of their multiple arcs can be a hassle especially if you are more of a casual reader (and more so if you barely get internet access). This ongoing fluff yet sublime webcomics story written and drawn by Gigi D.G is still in the earlier stages of its hopefully long run in years to come, so there is definitely more time to catch up and get yourselves invested in the amusingly enjoyable characters and the literal candy-colored worlds of Cucumber Quest

The collected printed volumes for this webcomics has the Prologue and Chapter 0 as the first volume, Chapters 1 as its second, and Chapter 2 as its third. Currently, the fourth chapter online is about to be concluded. I managed to finish until the third chapter last night, and man it has been such an utter delight. The good thing about Cucumber Quest is that it's truly for light reading and very easy on the eyes. Gigi D.G's simplistic art style shines well because of her extravagant choices of colors. Bright and often with rainbow layers in coloring plus adorably draw bunny-eared characters being entertaining and funny, each page for this webcomics is a pleasant feast for the eyes, and it certainly did remind me of children's books in the best way possible. There is never a dull moment for the chapters of this series because Gigi D.G's enthusiasm and passion shows in the way she balances the pacing, humor and heartwarming moments of each arc, and hence she makes readers eager for more installments concerning Cucumber and the gang as they move forward to face their outlandish villains and visit/get stranded in various candy-colored landscapes that readers would squeal over because of how pretty they are. I know I sure did, and I guarantee that you will too!

In retrospect, Cucumber Quest can just be taken as a straightforward adventure story starring the bookish and socially reserved Cucumber who only wants to go to magic school but is plagued with the prophesy that he's supposed to be a legendary hero. He's neither outdoorsy or skilled in combat, but it's his 'destiny' to defeat the Disaster Masters and the infamous Nightmare Knight. It seems basic but the storytelling chops of Gigi D.G is anything but generic because, on the other hand, Cucumber Quest is also subversion of certain quest tropes with a minimalist approach that never dares to take itself seriously as a deconstruction, and that is what makes it fun and compelling to go through. It never had to be dark or radical that would border on pretentious; what you see is what you get, and what it offers are well-balanced elements of recognizable tropes coupled with fantastic chemistry among its chief cast. This series can be comparable and may have been inspired by Adventure Time animation series, but it's also entirely unique as its own brand of quirky self-awareness and shenanigans. 

Joining Cucumber in his reluctant quest to save the kingdoms and put a stop to the evil queen Cordelia's master plan and also defeat the Nightmare Knight whom she summoned, are his sister Almond who is more or less the one who is more eager to become a monster-slaying adventurer; Sir Carrot, the often cowardly yet endearing knight who loves to do chores, and later by the frustratingly eternal optimist Princess Nautilus of the Ripple Kingdom. The villains they face are the ridiculous named trio of Sir Tomato, Bacon and Lettuce, the witch Peridot (who has a nemesis /girl-crush situation with Almond) and the array of Disaster Masters for each kingdom they visit. Fun times and hilarity ensue as Cucumber is still being forced to participate in all of this while making astute  if not meta observations of how suspicious everything about the famed prophesy and the roles they must take to fulfill it. 

Let's take a look of some lovely art so you guys will get a taste of what I mean when I said that it's literal candy. Here are some of the pages that I enjoyed both for art and content:

It's only by the second chapter (third volume) that things get more explored and given a heftier substance and depth. Cucumber's suspicions are slowly being confirmed the more evasive their supposedly appointed guide Dream Oracle becomes if not outright being aggressively dismissive of Cucumber's questions. The Big Bad villain Nightmare Knight also begins to show his true colors which may not be as vile or dark as everyone believes it to be especially the more he interacts with the captive princess Parfait. Even the Disaster Masters themselves don't seem that willing to keep fighting, and Almond is really the only one who is enjoying this quest while Sir Carrot is more concerned about getting back to his sweetheart Parfait. Still, the humor is entertaining particularly when it's centered around Princess Nautilus who really acts as the charming ditz of the narrative, that is until you get on her bad side. Other extra characters like the thief Saturday, the creepy inventor Cosmo , that alien caped crusader and the Limbo/Pizza gang also provide comic relief in small doses.

In a nutshell, Cucumber Quest is a worthy webcomics series that has enough mass appeal for even the most casual reader to get into and enjoy. Gigi D.G is also beginning to develop the characters in interesting ways as well as drop hints and bread crumbs every installment as to what is the real deal with this supposed 'hero quest' that Cucumber must keep enduring, and why the Dream Oracle is being curiously vague regarding what is going on. 

I will keep reading to find out and you should too!


Monday, October 31, 2016

"No one's love is truly unconditional"

I have been a fan of Eliza Victoria since coming across her novel Dwellers which is one of the most exciting psychological supernatural thrillers I have read, and it spanned only for less than two hundred pages! A year later I stumbled upon this, her latest book, and as fates would have it, I only carried enough money with me that also happens to be the exact amount that had enabled me to purchase this treasure. And it is one for the collection!

The reasons why I get excited about reading Eliza Victoria are (1) I don't usually connect with female fiction writers for some reason, save for Virginia Woolf and the CLAMP mangaka; (2) she is a Filipino author and a very talented one at that; and (3) the genre she writes in, which is urban fantasy, is something I believe she brings a lot of freshness of ideas into, particularly on the mythology of supernatural creatures and several folklores. 

Wounded Little Gods touches upon the polytheistic religion of Filipinos from the old times. Before we became a Catholic nation for the most part, Filipino ancestors pre-colonial times used to have many deities they worship and dedicate functions concerning nature such as weather and harvest, and this novel explores the idea that these deities still do live on, particularly in a remote fictional place called Heridos. But that was until a grave incident occurred which abruptly ended the communication and patronage between the gods and the people of Heridos.

Regina, this book's protagonist of sorts, comes home to Heridos after a co-worker of hers left her a piece of paper containing an enigmatic map and a few unfamiliar names before this co-worker disappeared. Rather curious about this baffling turn of events, Regina tracks down the names on the paper as well as other several clues which more or less feel like someone is purposely dropping these bread crumbs for her to find. The way the story unfolded both on Regina's end, and ultimately on the end of the unseen characters who will be later revealed as important players, has been executed fairly well. Victoria has built up the right amount of suspense to deliver a plot whose twists are subtle yet still memorable. 

I've noticed a common theme in her novels which are sibling relationships. Both in her previous works Dwellers as well as Project 17, a science fiction concerning memories and artificial intelligence, all have lead characters who are cousins or brothers. In Wounded Little Gods, the same theme occurs but this time between a brother and sister. I just think it's noteworthy to point out. I can't really say much about this book because it's rather short much like Dwellers, but the substance is worth the serving because Victoria's prose is a case of simplicity that denotes elegance. The way she weaves certain scenes and sentiments together makes her conflicts and the resolutions of them bittersweet and poignant, often relying on the impact of her characters' defeats and their small compensations at the end.

It might be easy to compare this to Neil Gaiman's American Gods because the concept of deities still living among humans while in disguise as one of them has been explored by Gaiman not just in said book but in his graphic novel series The Sandman too, but  that would be a tad unfair because Victoria's own version is unique in itself. Besides, it's also thrilling to see Filipino deities portrayed in fiction in a very compelling manner. Aside from the pagan religion and mythology aspects of this book, there is also a subplot concerning scientific research with questionable ethics that has been performed in Heridos and which ties with the more paranormal elements of the plot. I think they are inseparable more or less, and Victoria balanced them skilfully enough that the pay-off is something both satisfying and not.

Wounded Little Gods is essentially a story about what need and longing do to sentient beings who will never stop searching answers to their questions and gratification for their desires. It's a story about accepting that humanity always comes with its flaws and deceptions, but even divinity itself may not be as perfect as it may seem. The book also touches upon the value of not abusing knowledge and science, and to use one's enlightenment for the the benefit of others and not for their oppression. Written in brevity yet endurably engrossing down to the last page, Wounded Little Gods is yet another triumphant work for Eliza Victoria.


Saturday, October 29, 2016

X/1999 by CLAMP Volumes 1-9 review Part 1

If you have ever read a CLAMP manga, chances are you're a cynical romantic masochist. And yes, that's a thing and if you have ever fallen in love with any CLAMP work, you know deep inside that you fucking are a cynical romantic masochist. It'd be easier to just blow past it now and accept facts. This particular manga series known as X, and then changed to X/1999 because there was also a Western series with the same name, is the famed 'unfinished' work by CLAMP that is more or less a magnus opei. It went on a very, very long-term hiatus since 2003 and in doing so, left the story lacking any real conclusion TO THIS DAY. Concerns about its increasingly violent scenes have been the issue why the series has been discontinued by the magazine it was published in because they're a bunch of sissies. 

In any case, X/1999 definitely deserved better because it was simply brilliant with layers that would make this possible for several readings. Also, this has to be the most confounding, sophisticated and emotionally stressful series CLAMP had ever produced, and they have a long line of other emotionally stressful stories after this because they are dicks--and I say that with loving affection as a fan. Due to time constrictions, I was only able to finish the nine volumes collected. Now, I would have pushed through it and found a way to binge everything in one sitting, but that is not an advisable route when it comes to any CLAMP series. 

I repeat: DO NOT BINGE A CLAMP SERIES because reading any CLAMP work in one sitting is not good for your mental and emotional health especially with this one. I'll try to give you a semi-spoiler-ish look at why you might want to read this--and why you must brace yourselves.

Essentially my reaction as I progressed through each volume is WHAT---WHY---WHAT THE FUCK?

Essentially me since volume 4


Genre-wise, X/1999 is an apocalyptic fiction combining several elements of the story's own mythology with that of other secular elements, particularly Christian themes. At the heart of its plot is an ontological argument regarding Fate vs. Free Will. The very tagline of this series testifies to it, and serves as the main conflict for the protagonist Kamui who must choose between two fates; one that leads him to a path of goodness and redemption--and the other towards destruction and mayhem. The choice should be simple enough, of course, but X/1999 certainly draws it out to stress the weight and importance of making such a choice because it's not only a matter of doing the right thing but also coming to terms of one's capacity for both good and evil, depending on which part you nurture. 

Kamui, this story's protagonist, is a surly teenage boy supposedly destined to either be the world's salvation or damnation when Armageddon hits in the year 1999. He is brash, immensely powerful and haunted; having witnessed the very detailed and brutal murder of someone at a young age. He has two childhood friends whom he considers the ones he loves the most, but had to cut off ties with them because he doesn't want them to get involved in the supernatural drama that is a prophecy about his life as the chosen 'Kamui'.

The conflict sounds predictable and comparable to other works focusing on the power of choice, and the possibility of how the end of the world hangs in a balance with said choice. There would be nothing particularly special about X/1999 in this regard, except that CLAMP also created an interesting mythos to make its own version of an apocalypse that not only concerns the utter devastation of the world as we know it, but also an intimate portrait of how the burden of making choices can truly be a matter of life and death. Kamui is not the only one who has to decide; the ensemble of intriguing characters that would also play vital roles in the 1999 End of the World. These are the collective seven seals and seven minions who more or less brought up to what their destines would be like once Kamui decides his fate, and theirs for that matter. They all have their own personal motives, tragic backstories and wish fulfillments that certainly allows readers to feel that this isn't just a one-man Kamui show but one that touches upon other players' own choices that could influence a smaller narrative against the backdrop of a much bigger and overwhelming one. 

To see their lives unfold and unravel alongside Kamui's is where the emotional chord is being wrapped around the readers' hearts. The way these fourteen characters would act whether through their own accord or for some higher, preordained plan is a compelling and gratingly frustrating thing to read about because it would definitely make readers question about how much of their life they do control, or if they were ever in control about it in the first place. I would not be spoiling and discussing these characters individually because no introduction about them here would suffice, and discovering who they are for yourselves would be a more satisfying experience because one of CLAMP's strengths is creating memorable characters with nuanced personal histories and conflicts that move you to root for them no matter how hopeless the situations they find themselves in.

You think loving characters in Game of Thrones only to watch them fail and die is painful? Well, CLAMP characters will make you experience a different kind of pain that could be called 'cruel' if it wasn't also persistently bittersweet and ultimately an inevitable end.

On a lighter topic, since this is CLAMP, some unintended/ambiguous scenes of boy-love are ever present. This is mostly prominently featured in the relationship between Kamui and his childhood friend Fuuma who has a sister named Kotori whom Kamui also loves. It's probably the most painful relationship rendered on paper which may only be rivaled by other CLAMP pairings like Sakura and Syaoran of Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle and motherfucking Subaru and Seishirou from Tokyo Babylon WHO ALSO MAKE AN APPEARANCE IN THIS SERIES AS THE ULTIMATE QUEER VERSIONS OF ROMEO AND JULIET, ONLY MUCH MORE TRAGIC! Anyway, here's some ambiguously gay moments:

Amidst the vividly drawn dream sequences, perplexing symbolism weaved into these sequences, and the brutal depictions of killings that would definitely jump out the page, there are also separate chapters focusing on a particular character's story at the end of each volume. The most enjoyable aspect of this series are definitely the gorgeous illustrations of even the most mundane scenes. Aside from Tsubasa, X/1999 has to have the most detailed visual work and exceptionally so, considering the bulk of the plot alone and how two or three volumes usually delved on many pages of dream sequence and symbolism that would make readers head spin as they try to interpret them. I would show them here but that would be spoiling a lot of important elements in the prophecy itself so I won't. Instead, let me just show a touching spread when Kamui decides to save the world so he can preserve the home of his childhood friends/sweethearts Fuuma and Kotori, and the love these three have for one another WILL TOTALLY NOT BECOME A WASTELAND OF ANGST LATER ON. Nope. Not at all.

It's only been nine volumes so I can't have that much strong opinion about Kamui as a lead protagonist of this story. He started out rather unrelatable and even annoying, being quite stubborn and hotheaded, but as readers follow him in his quest for self-knowledge, it becomes pretty difficult to keep thinking he's just some whiny teenager, given the extent of his trauma and his losses along the way that just kept getting worse and worse. His arc in this story as the main one to follow can be very depressing and hopeless, but I would like to see how he fares once his character development progresses along. He's in a very vulnerable place where pain and despair mostly define it. However, the ninth volume changes that with his interaction with one Subaru Sumeragi, the protagonist for Tokyo Babylon which I reviewed earlier this year and subsequently unraveled from. READ THE UNRAVELING HERE.

There are so many things I want to reveal in this review to get you to read it, but I will abstain because it would just spoil too much of what CLAMP has accomplished in this series, as far as I've read in the volumes I got to finish. So, I will just leave you guys with Sumeragi rehashing the painful experiences he had from Tokyo Babylon to give Kamui some context and perspective that there might be a way to survive the worst of heartbreaks no matter how impossible it may seem. And it's not like they have a choice--they're in a CLAMP story!

Once I finish all the required readings for this year, I'm going to read more of X/1999 again. I'll be taking it slow though, considering there is no resolution of this series and I don't want to rush to its non-ending just yet, being discontinued and all, but from what I have seen so far, I really do believe it's worth the trouble.