A  WONDERFUL  THING

MANILA
, JANUARY 25, 2007
  (STAR) PENMAN By Butch Dalisay - It’s a good thing we’re 7,000 miles away from San Francisco, California, where magical things were popping out of boxes a couple of weeks ago that would have summarily wasted my newfound resolve to divest myself of what the Egyptologist Howard Carter, upon peeking into Tutankhamen’s tomb, called "wonderful things."

I’m speaking, of course, of the Macworld Expo where Steve Jobs, with his usual modesty, announced, "Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything…." And then he went on to introduce "an iPod, a phone, an Internet mobile communicator.... These are not three separate devices!... We are calling it iPhone!"

Now, you all know me as Apple’s chief unpaid evangelist in this country – although, last year, they were nice enough to fly me out to San Francisco for Macworld, where I promptly fainted upon entering the hallway, having achieved one of my life’s grandest ambitions. In other words, when I die, my soul will fly to Apple headquarters in Cupertino, CA, to be locked there in a vault along with the Aquafied spirits of thousands of other dearly departed Mac freaks. So again in other words, you don’t have to believe what I say, which will surely be tainted by my irrational worship of anything stamped with a half-bitten apple (the forbidden fruit, get it?).

But you know what? (And this is what I have to say.) That iPhone rocks! It makes everything and anything we’re holding in our hands look like some Neolithic tool. Imagine a phone that’s a giant, intelligent, full-color touch-screen that unlocks itself when you slide your finger across (something you can’t do by accident when it’s in your pocket); you run commands by tapping icons; when you turn it on its side, the picture follows – voila, landscape mode! It takes pictures with a two-megapixel cam, stores songs, movies, audio books – up to eight gigabytes of them – syncs with both Macs and PCs, surfs the Internet and sends e-mail by Wi-Fi, and did I say it makes phone calls as a quad-band GSM phone? And that the thing runs OS X? And that it’s less than half an inch thick and weighs just 135 grams? (Excuse me while I pick up my tongue.)

What’s the price tag, you ask? About $600 for the eight-gig model. But don’t hold your breath. It won’t be out in the US (and exclusively on Cingular) until June; it will be available in Asia only in 2008.

That’s an eternity, and it seems rottenly unfair for us noodle-eating people to be left out of the picture, but come to think of it, a year’s just long enough to save up for this yummy bit of digital dim sum, which – I fearlessly predict – will be in its second revision by that time, its specs upgraded to include at least a four-megapixel camera, 16 gigs of flash memory, and a full suite of bite-size OS X applications.

Meanwhile, I better free up some space on my desktop for the iPhone charger. And didn’t Steve say something about an Apple TV?

* * *

Speaking of wonderful objects, among the things that greeted me when I got back from the US recently was a copy of a slim booklet titled The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories, which was sent to me by a young new publisher named Kenneth Yu.

Kenneth had written me earlier to announce this venture, and frankly I felt doubtful that he could pull it off. He was well aware of what he was up against. "I have little or no credentials to my name, but then, being small and with limited finances, I can’t afford a professional or name editor as yet. So I’m pretty much the sole mover behind the digest."

I’m always amazed when people go into literary publishing. Of course I admire their faith and fortitude; but some will suggest another "F" word, folly, given the carcasses left behind by many noble but ultimately futile efforts to make money off – or at least break even on – a good read. There was Jose in the martial-law days, then Chimera and Pen & Ink many years later. Today we have only Story Philippines, bravely soldiering on to a third issue (I do have a quibble, though, with its yielding to the artsy temptation of superimposing text on imagery, making things just plain difficult to read; this is a no-no in my book, where readability rules over everything).

Kenneth’s project, while decidedly modest, has the advantage of its focus on what’s been called "genre fiction." "Genre" means category, and genre fiction involves specialized categories like sci-fi, fantasy, horror, mystery, romance, historical fiction, and detective and crime fiction. It’s a kind of writing that, perhaps ironically, used to be mainstream fiction, or the stuff everyone loved to read, before "highbrow" fiction pushed it aside and relegated it to the entertainment book bin as second-class literary fare. That’s an unfortunate misimpression. There’s no doubt that genre fiction is entertaining and often aims to do little more than give us an hour’s escape from the drudgery of daily living, but we forget that much of the kind of "classic" fiction we discuss in graduate seminars today started out as popular fiction, written to thrill the ordinary reader and to pay the writer’s rent. That’s what Poe and Chekhov were doing. That they wrote some memorable masterpieces along the way is for us a happy bonus.

Kenneth came into the picture not with a Ph.D. in literature but a printing business and a keen interest in genre fiction, particularly sci-fi. "Since my high-school years in the mid-’80s," he writes, "I’ve enjoyed US magazines like Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Ellery Queen, Analog, and the like. I would scour secondhand bookstores in Manila looking for back-issues of these publications because I enjoyed their kind of genre-fic."

What moved him to publish, he says, was "a talk I had with some of my wife’s nephews and nieces, all of varying ages. They are all smart, and I’m proud to say that some of them are readers. However, when I asked them about their English classes and their knowledge of local literature, they were very blasé about it. I asked why and they said, to my dismay, that local authors were ‘boring,’ ‘not exciting,’ and ‘not interesting.’ Those are their actual words, sadly. It made me wonder whether their English teachers were selling the local writers the right way. So I asked them, especially the readers among them, what they found exciting. They perked up and they began talking about Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. I attributed this to the Hollywood effect, that they would not be reading these stories at all if they hadn’t been made into movies, but then they surprised me by mentioning books like Artemis Fowl and The Amber Spyglass and even Dune, and that got me thinking: what if there was a venue for Filipino writers to showcase their talents in writing genre-fic? I asked them if they would read stories like the ones they mentioned if Pinoys were the ones telling them and they said ‘Sure! But where are they?’"

And thus, the digest, for which Kenneth cold-emailed some writers he’d heard of, eventually gathering enough material for the first issue, talking to a number of distributors and store owners, and putting out issue No. 1 last December. (For more info, you can check out the blog at www.philippinegenrestories.blogspot.com).

The maiden issue contains five stories headlined by speculative-fiction stalwart Dean Alfar, plus works by Vin Simbulan, Andrew Drilon, Joseph Nacino (The STAR’s own online editor), and Alexander Osias.

For his next issue, Kenneth would like to see more submissions from women writers, and more work beyond horror and fantasy – especially mystery, crime, and suspense stories. (I’ve always argued myself that we need more blood – literally – in our fiction, given what a violent society we live in.)

In sum, Kenneth writes, "I hope that the Digest will be a venue where Filipino storytellers can showcase their storytelling talents in the genre field. A secondary but no less high priority is to increase readership among Filipinos. With more choices, maybe more Filipinos, especially the younger ones (the Digest is targeted mostly for those in their mid-teens to early-thirties), will pick up the Digest and read the work of their fellow Filipinos and see that we can tell as good a story as anyone else in the world. I feel that with increased literacy, we’re bound to get smarter in the long run, and reading stories is one way to do that."

Bravo, Kenneth, and all the best to you on this brave new venture.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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