Monday, December 31, 2007

The New Year Post


Boom! said the kuwitis.
Damn! That's just kuwitis.


As I type, fireworks are blasting away just outside our house, courtesy of the rowdy party palace this neighborhood of ours turns into every time the New Year comes around. We have thick concrete walls and good windows with metal bars, but all that padding seems to be doing very little in keeping the blasts at a minimum, since every subsequent explosion is enough to rattle the wind chimes hanging on the inside of the front door.


I don't know what they're putting in local fireworks these days, but we could start a war with some of them, methinks.

I almost had to celebrate New Year's eve with a bum leg due to a traumatized callus on the sole of my foot, but a quick trip to the hospital took care of that. Now I can positively hobble faster than a tortoise, which means that I don't need a cane to move about the house - which makes this a pretty damn good way of capping the year.

Happy New Year to you folks, and don't let the gunpowder get the best of you!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Such Geekery


Just to fill in dead air between now and New Year's eve, I'd like to talk a bit about my recent geekery. My Satoshi Kon addiction aside, and that brief Kemonozume high, I've been watching - and in the case of I Am Legend, anticipating - several other geek-worthy programs that blow a hole right through my I-am-not-a-geek proclamation.

(Just to make sure nobody forgets, though: I still maintain that I am not a full geek.)

Although I like to stress that I am pretty much a self-made man, sometimes evidence that my geekery is something built up by my two sisters, Yeyey Cruz and Caridad Cruz-Salonga, pops up. The list is long and almost endless; from Fraggle Rock to Lord of the Rings (I read the entire trilogy by the time I was ten three times thanks to my sister), I owe most of my tastes to the years wherein my decade-older siblings sat me through films and shows like A Christmas Story (which I still, for the life of me, cannot remember), Ghostbusters, The A-Team, and the like.

***

Here're a few of the newer things they've tossed my way these past few years:

Evidence 1
Joss Whedon's Firefly has been somewhere in my download list for quite some time now, due to the mad, mad reviews I see about it on the Internets. The only thing that's been keeping me from starting is the fact that Whedon was the man responsible for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, two shows that have failed to interest me whatsoever.

The other day, though, my Ate Yeyey forced me to sit down with her and watch the pilot episode of the series, and while the western motif still turns me off some, it makes for some very interesting lines ("That was one helluva shindig!") and situations (rustling cattle through space). Needless to say, I am hooked.


Evidence 2
Again, this involves my Ate Yeyey.

The other day, whilst I was out drinking with the usual suspects from the old boys' club, I received a text message from my sister telling me that the film I Am Legend was awesome condensed into a film.

Now, the last science fiction movie by Will Smith was, if I remember right,
I, Robot, a movie I and the Isaac Asimov fanboy in me enjoyed immensely. Now here's another Will Smith sci-fi film, and its all I can do to keep myself from going giggly with anticipation. My sister, an impressive judge of popular media, only served to whet my appetite, and when that movie hits Manila theaters, I am getting front-row seats.

Evidence 3
Sometime last year, Ate Carina asked me if I was watching this show on Nickelodeon that looked a little bit like the Japs animated it. She couldn't remember the name at the time, only that it involved the manipulation of the elements, and of course I didn't know what she was talking about, because the only reasons I stop at Nickelodeon were Spongebob Squarepants and utter boredom.

Then I managed to catch one of the episodes of
Avatar: the Legend of Aang, and it hits me that mebbe this was what she was talking about.

It took me a while to actually get hooked to Avatar, since I couldn't help but compare the immediate concept of the series with Xiaolin Showdown's own. It was impressively done, sure, but back at the time, I didn't know just how much research and preparation went into a single Avatar episode, and shrugged the show off as another one of them network things.

With the help of Mahal Adams' enthusiasm (and a lot of free time), though, I finally went and downloaded the first season of the series, since I wanted to know how the relationship between protagonist Aang and antihero Zuko would eventually play out.

And then I downloaded the second season.

And now, I am eagerly anticipating the moment the next episode of the third and final season hits the air. I am burning my sister the entire first half of season three just to thank her for introducing me to this amazing series.

***

And that's it for this edition of Such Geekery with Martin Cruz. Tune in next time for more geek-worthy moments in the life of a geek in denial.


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Merry Christmas to All


It's amazing. Christmas always has that really amazing vibe (Anna D. calls it that citrusy, zesty smell in the air) that somehow makes sure things all end well in the end.

Exhibit A: my friend, Pao. Read his recent LJ / Multiply to find out why.

Exhibit B: me.

The past few week(s?), I've been more or less sick and unable to do anything short of filter feed and breathe. Things worsened last week when my throat decided to squeeze itself close to shut, so much so that the very act of swallowing water was torture. I spent the better part of the week fast asleep, shut away from the rest of civilization, eating the occasional bowl of arroz caldo. Due to this, I wasn't able to join the Christmas shopping crush during the last week before Christmas Eve, up until the 24th itself - which was, in a hilarious act of God, when I did and completed my Christmas shopping for the insular family.

Seriously. I went to Robinson's Place on Christmas Eve to get a check-up (didn't make it, Healthway was closing up shop for the day), and to shop.

Let it be known that when I shop, I don't go about it like the rest of the world; I don't rush from store to store, looking for what to buy. Instead, I amble along, like the good, spongiform lifeform I am, looking at odd knick-knacks and trinkets.

I managed to get my dad a "World's Greatest Dad" Kraft-Art Kalendar, my mom a Kraft notebook (which I hope to dear God she'll actually use), the kids a board game each, the brother a pair of Koss headphones, and an Idiot's Guide for the brother-in-law (he loves things like those).

For the sisters, I'm burning discs. Because really, the only things those two harridans want from me can be found contained within my laptop. Hehehe~

Anyway, a Merry Christmas to everybody. Off to see my bro make a fool of himself to his multitudinous godkids (kidding bro! hehe).

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Aria Di Mezzo Carattere


It sucks entering the holidays when you're as sick as a rhinoceros with dysentery (resurgence of the word courtesy of Jon).

Just to clarify - I do not have dysentery. What I do have, however, is a bad case of engorged, pulsating (albeit pus-free so far) tonsils, that have been messing with my body both physically and mentally. Physically, because I haven't been able to work out at all since the damn thing hit me, not to mention the confabulous headaches and fevers I've been having. The word confabulous is taken from Bruce's stint with desktop widgets with the same name; the name sounds very condescending in a grand way, and should be used as sarcasm.

So I command it, so shall it be.

Anyway. Mentally, because the fevers have been giving me the most amazing dreams that are mixing my days back in high school with my days in Cagayan de Oro and marketing. Just now, before I woke up, I was discussing purchasing planning with a bunch of long-forgotten friends from LSGH in a guitar shop that can be found in Limketkai mall.

Hork. Delusional dreams, some?

Anyway, since I can't really stand looking at the screen anymore - due to the headache the radiation is inspiring - here's an awesome find. These videos, despite the bad qualities of some of the photos in the slide show, brought tears to my eyes and good memories to the surface. This is the English operatic rendition of The Dream Oath: Maria and Draco, which is the opera that can be found in Final Fantasy VI - arguably one of the finest elements of that dear, dear role-player that gives it an infinite edge over any of the later games from the franchise. Take note that this edition features the complete opera, and not the edition wherein Ultros and Locke Cole take over the stage, thus the story of Maria and Draco's love is actually presented in full.

The name of the entire musical segment is Aria Di Mezzo Carattere, a masterpiece unlike any other, and was composed by the great Nobuo Uematsu. Stephanie Wooding provides the mezzo-soprano voice for Maria (although an alto would have sounded better). Chad Berlinghieri is the tenor voice of Draco, while Todd Robinson is the baritone Prince Ralse.

The music is provided by the World Festival Symphony Orchestra, with conductor Arnie Roth.

Part One


Part Two

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Flyboy


Man was meant to fly
Icarus was just an idiot.


After seeing this video, I now want a wing suit.



I've always been fascinated with flying. I'm one of those few people who were given the chance to take their first flying experience alone, and I enjoyed it - and each subsequent experience - immensely. You won't catch me looking over the edge of some precipice, since I still have that annoying case of acrophobia, but I'm more than willing to try something that's liable to make me shit in my pants but will give me more than enough of that adrenaline rush that you just can't find in daily living.

I wonder what material they use for the wing suits. It'd have to be something really sturdy to survive something close to re-entry - at least I'm assuming it'd be somthing like re-entry, since I can pretty much see the curve of the Earth in some of the shots. Is kevlar sturdy enough to survive re-entry? Urban legend says that the older - and less reliable - wing suits were made of varying materials like canvas, wood, silk (are you bloody serious??), and whale bone.

It'd be easy to understand why they'd fail.

But if you watch the video carefully, the flocks of wingmen here are wearing suits that don't fall apart even with the massive resistance falling from an absurdly high altitude entails.

There's even this video that shows this wingman tracing the length of a ski slope. Its been said that wing suits slow down the fall of the human body to 50mph, but allows people to move forward at 70mph - so horizontal displacement isn't static, or accidental. It's a pre-meditated action.

That is seriously so cool.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Signs of the Times


There is an orange on my desk.
It is waiting for lunchtime.



For want of a real post - since the past few days have technically been unbloggable, but not due to the lack of developments in my personal and social life - I will now post a couple of photos I took with my crap camera phone.

A couple of days ago, this was how our living room looked like. My sister was fixing up an office for one of her clients, and she had to order a whole bunch of office chairs in the process. Since she didn't really have any place to store them in, the entire lot - around twenty or so chairs - were dumped in our living room in the meantime.

The temptation to use one of them was rather great, and only the plastic covering the plush seats kept me from delivering weighty justice. My nephew and niece, however, weren't as easily dissuaded, and clambered through the aptly named "forest of chairs" as if the durned things were theirs.

This photo is a winner, except for the obviously bad quality. I had to take this baby on the fly whilst riding a jeep from De La Rosa to PRC. It's actually a shoe repair shop, but for some reason, the brilliant designer of the logo decided that the S in shoe should be replaced by a circle with a shoe inside - which doesn't resemble an S at all.

Thus you end up with a sign that says "Hoe Care." Which is just so hilarious in so many levels.


That's all for now. Let me end this post with a photograph of Zardos, my juggernaut of a cat:

he has fathered around seven children, most of which came from his own children, and shows no sign of growing weary. To the left is my leg, for size comparison.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Save the Flying Congressman, Save the World


Title is taken from
Adrian Arcega's status message
this morning.
And I totally agree with him.



I didn't really like how the second season of Heroes spiraled out into its almost anti-climactic end; there were way too many plot holes, and some of the newer characters were just way too lame. Take the wonder Twins, for example; they were a horrible addition, although granted, their purpose as a device to bring Sylar back into the U.S. was pretty sound, but plot-wise, Maya and her brother could very well have been nothing more than bystanders who just happened to be a minority.


I mean, they had to replace Mendez with another chicano. Status quo and all.

The Takezo Kensei / Adam Monroe character was made of pure win, though; and now, both the heroes and the villains have an indestructible force - season three should be phenomenal, if you're going to have Peter and Claire on one side, Sylar and Kensei on the other. All Hiro has to do is teach Claire battojutsu, and they're all set.

Speaking of Hiro - seeing as he's the only other major character with the most unique abilities (Peter-Sylar, Matt-Maury, Claire-Monroe, Nathan-Claire's flying boyfriend), and he technically has the power to change anything and everything, but is way too much of a samurai to do anything about it - he could become something like a Watcher figure, akin to the eponymous characters in both the Highlander and the Marvel universes. I can't imagine him otherwise, since the only other character (so far) with the abilities to keep up with him is Peter, and that guy has a lot more to worry about than electrocuting somebody who can bend time and space. Like keeping Nathan alive.

Which leads me to the subject of this post: if you've seen the finale of Heroes: Generations, then you'll know what the title is all about. Nathan Petrelli is an all-American hero, reminiscent of Duke from G.I. Joe, or Colonel Sanders when he slapped a lawsuit on the asses of the people who bought - and eventually mismanaged - Kentucky Fried Chicken. He's the only one who can keep up with Lyle or Kyle (I really forget his name), he's the redeeming factor of the Petrelli family, and is the only one capable of preventing his supercharged brother from being a total dork and pansy.

So have a heart. Save the flying congressman, save the world.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

What's in a Name?


Okay, just a quick one:

The Zeppelin's Mezzanine is now the 18th result when Googling for the terms "Martin Cruz" with or without the quotation marks. Take that, Martin Cruz Smith! Although the Yahoo SERPs are a different story altogether.

I am also the 14th result when Googling for "Uwak." "Kilawinguwak" is a no-brainer, since the pseudonym's more specific than Jehovah.

A meatier entry next time!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Insult to Injury: the Death of Pinoy Lit


If you're the type of person who has the attention span of a goldfish,
can't imagine stories without pictures,
and generally are the type of person responsible
for the slow decline of intelligence in the Pinoy society,
then don't read this.

If you are the type, but still venture forth to trudge
through this text, then you are a visionary idiot,
and any attempts to refute my thoughts will be met
with equal - if not greater - force.

If you are a kindred spirit,
then feel free to trade ideas with me
for the good of the written word.

These are just my thoughts, not
gospel truth. Dissect them, question them
there is no right or wrong
for those who know.



I was never a fan of Butch Dalisay. Wait, let me correct myself - I was once a fan of Butch Dalisay, whenever I read his Penman articles on the lifestyle pages of the Star, but back then, I hadn't read any of his 'serious literature' yet. Which is to say, that I was just reading him as a columnist, not as a writer - and yes, I differentiate literary writers from all other walks of the craft; writers are elitists and egotists as a rule, since the profound ability to slog through all those words takes a lot of patience and thorough reading, since once in a while, some genius of a wordsmith decides that the best way to write a literary piece is to play with the words to give more depth to the content - which, in the case of the Ateneans, as according to one Ken T. Ishikawa, was usually the case, resulting in beautiful poetry with very, very little depth whatsoever.


Which makes me glad that I reached my writing maturity in the loving, alcohol-laced arms of UST and the Thomasian Writers' Guild.

Just recently, my father sent me this link, which led to one of Butch's more recent articles, which he entitled "Why We Don't Write More Novels (But Should)." You can read the article here. Now, he puts forward some very, very good points, which I would like to sum up in four rather short sentences:
  1. Pinoys don't earn much from being novelists in their own country (Jessica Hagedorn is a genius for migrating to the U.S. and publishing her crap from there)
  2. We have very little vision
  3. We rarely get out of Manila, which, for its melting pot of cultural goodness, can dull the visual edge of a writer who doesn't dabble in the mad arts of drug abuse.
  4. Pinoy readers are either spastic sons and daughters of bitches with the attention span of a goldfish, or they focus too much on what they see on faster norms of media - either local (Wowowee and Marimar) or on cable (One Tree Hill and American Idol)
He also mentions three very good examples of the Pinoy novel in recent times:
  1. Alfred Yuson's The Great Philippine Energy Jungle Cafe
  2. Vince Groyon's The Sky Over Dimas
  3. Charlson Ong's Banyaga: A Song of War
Which, for all intents and purposes, is to play up the fact that he actually reads good literature, despite writing rather dull stories himself. Which we can't deny the good professor, since he still writes rather well as a journalist.

Now, somewhere in his article, he brings up something about how Pinoy writers that
do write novels tend to try and dwarf the likes of Jose Rizal, Carlos Bulosan, and - gasp! - F. Sionil Jose, which just about covers the greatest writers of varying stages of Philippine literature. Varying stages, you say? Why technically, yes. If you plot the lives of each of the three writers on a timeline that also followed the history of the Philippine Republic, you'd see that each writer was influential during a certain period of the islands' history.
  • Jose Rizal was most influential during the tail-end of the Spanish colonization era, which led to the eventual sale of the islands to the United States during the Treaty of Paris of 1898. His most famous literary works were Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, neither of which were translated into English until much later.
  • Carlos Bulosan was most active during the mid-1900's, and was a labor activist during most of his time as an American citizen, or the lack of it, since the FBI was after him for the organization of labor unions and socialist propaganda. He is best known for America is the Heart and The Laughter of My Father.
  • F. Sionil Jose is an old fart who writes better short stories than novels but is regaled for the sheer magnitude of his Rosales saga. He is bald, fat, and looks like a penguin. He is also partly responsible for the first - and possibly the last - literary award this humble author has ever received in his life. This humble author would also wish that this bastion of post-war writing would just keel over and die, since nothing - nothing - ever changes in the tone of any of his novels. Or the story. Or, for that matter, the main character. Either that, or he should just focus on his short stories, because I really like them.
All of the three aforementioned writers are geniuses in their own right, some more than the others. Rizal painted a fantastic farce of the Spanish occupation, Bulosan knew how to weave a story just right, keeping the elements in check without going overboard in the tension or the descriptions, and Sionil Jose is such an enduring monolith that he probably sold more books than Nick Joaquin, it shames me to say. But Butch Dalisay - the subject of this essay - did a pretty bad number on me when he mentioned all three writers in a heartbeat, because these three, or rather, their styles of writing is the one thing which, in my opinion, is driving Pinoy literature into the Jurassic.

That is, the sheer reliance on cultural heritage. And now I know a lot of writers will hang me for this.

But before you hang me, please let me just point out why this sheer reliance on the
rich Philippine culture is slowly going to erase the good Pinoy fiction from the face of the earth.

-- First of all, times are a-changing. If you'll notice, mini skirts are becoming shorter and shorter, Willie Revillame is combating the popularity of Tito, Vic and Joey, and the attention span of people are becoming so short that soon, you'll need a tape recorder for every individual on the street just to remember what you were thinking about.

Think
Memento. How are you going to catch the attention of a 'reader' who can't even sit through the old T.V. Patrol, back when Kiko Evangelista and Noli De Castro regaled everybody with their stylish business suits, no-nonsense attitudes, and treat-the-news-like-somebody-just-died braggadocio? If they didn't put Arnold Clavio into the GMA 7 nightly news, or if it weren't for Kuya Kim Atienza and Pia Guanio (or was it TJ Manotoc?) on ABS-CBN, people would hardly watch the news. You have to always have something to feed your audience these days, and that's hardly any different when it comes to writing a novel. Why do you think writers like Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, or even Stephen King manage to sell truckloads of their stuff? Because it always offers something different! Sex sells, and so does a vivid imagination! Books are, at their very core, a medium of entertainment, and if you can't entertain with a story about a kid riding on a carabao mourning the cultural loss of his brother to his city-slicker of a girlfriend, then what makes you think you're going to be able to sell the exploits of generations of hacienderos on a fictional province to a public that's getting harder and harder to please by the day?

That is, without massive representation; more on this later.

-- The focus on language is a killer. This is, I think, a sickness that almost every Pinoy writer, with the possible exception of Bob Ong and Pol Medina Jr., is infected with. And it's a very understandable plight: what kind of writing has bad, well, writing? When you write a story, you rely on a variety of figurative devices to set the mood, to paint a picture, to move the story forward. You can't have a living, breathing story without good writing, and that's a fact. Those things just don't happen.

But then, how many readers do you writers personally know that are willing to tread through a quagmire of onomatopoeias? Do you even know anybody who can tell a vilanelle from verisimilitude (which isn't even on the same page) - or, for that matter, an Elizabethan sonnet? I tried lending Don DeLillo's
White Noise, one of the most fascinating novels I have ever read, to a friend who managed to survive Haruki Murakami's A Wild Sheep Chase - and he promptly put it down. Couldn't stand the deep language.

Let's face it. The deeper the language, the more you're bound to lose your audience. And the old school of writing - Rizal, Bulosan, Jose - tends to focus on the
old style of writing, writing as if you were trying to catch the fancy of somebody who could understand advanced literary forms. Which, naturally, is stupid, but that doesn't stop the founding fathers of the contemporary school of writing in the country from drilling in the importance of language, seemingly over content. If the gods of Pinoy writing actually read through contemporary literature, they'd see that writers like Sue Grafton, Tom Clancy, and Robert Jordan have been peddling their books on the shores of more countries than the number of stars on the American flag, they'd realize that maybe language isn't the biggest thing to focus on.

-- There's a surprisingly vivid lack of content in Pinoy writing, so much so that it actually kinda looks like a gigantic bruise pulsating in the midst of the torso that is Pinoy literature. That Ken Ishikawa comment on Ateneo poetry fits like a glove when applied to most of the novels and short stories you can find in the Filipiniana end of the market today. Or maybe it's just me. But whenever I pick up a book or read a story from the Pinoy end of the literary spectrum, it always sounds so bloody lame, it nearly makes me cry. Take these select cuts from the
Philipine Speculative Fiction III anthology:
  • Pedro Diyego's Homecoming
  • Carmen and Josephine
  • Facester (which is so damnably chic)
  • In Earthen Vessels
Of course, there are other, better titles in the anthology, such as this impressive mouthful that caught my eye:
  • The Death and Rebirth of Nathaniel Alan Sempio
but my point remains that in the title alone, the story fails to grab the attention of your readers. Maybe if you were carting your wares to people who had more time to read stories due to the lack of television or Internet at their disposal, you could - but on this day and age, we hardly live a life that isn't one way or the other wired, so you've got heavy competition.

Now, yes, I know Dalisay says that he tries to deviate from the sweeping and generalistic content that his three historical examples have provided by delving into the detective short story - but his stories still strike me as nothing new. And neither, for that matter, do most of the current Pinoy stories out there. Barring the ineptitude of most writers (myself included) in providing a halfway decent title, the stories just tend to circulate on simple themes such as love, sadness, regret, or moving on, and rely instead on a deluge of figurative language to push the story forward - which only brings us back to my previous point. Whatever happened to the slow slide into desperation due to totally unexpected reasons? Where are the ghost stories that just really serve to scare (normal Pinoy horror stories don't count)? Does everything always have to teach something, Mr. F. Sionil Jose? Can't literature just be counted as such because it keeps somebody entertained?

I think the biggest thing people have forgotten about literature - both readers and writers alike - is the fact that the very first function of any media is to entertain, because once you have captured your audience's fancy, you can begin to draw him into the meatier parts of your tale. Otherwise, your story is a failure. It is made of win and awesome, but a failure nonetheless.

-- And finally, marketability. I don't think that when Nick Joaquin was writing
The Woman Who Had Two Navels, he was thinking of releasing it as an impeccably memorable piece of Pinoy literary history. Just like everybody else, he was in it for the money - writing is, after all, still a job, no matter how altruistic your later intentions may be. The biggest problem Pinoys have in selling a good, publish-worthy novel is that they know who they're aiming for - and half the time, they're aiming for people who can understand them too, which isn't that big of a group.

Now, take people like Haruki Murakami or Neil Gaiman. These two gods have all the mental faculties to spin a good yarn, and people from all walks of life read them. I've encountered people who've read their works, people who, in a million years, I would never have expected to walk within a mile of what the literary critics call 'good writers.' So what is it that these guys have that helps them sell their image to a varied public?

I don't know the answer, at least, not fully. But I've been in the Internet marketing business long enough to know that a good campaign is enough to draw as much attention as you'd ever want to a single product. Now, this isn't to say that we commodify a work of art - but consider this. Here's a good piece of literature that you've spent years on, and when you release it, it ends up gathering dust in one corner of the
La Solidaridad bookstore. Which is the dumping ground of the rarest books this side of the country, discounting the existence of Booksale and National Bookstore (Fully Booked and Powerbooks is for the designer crowd; for really good reads, you gotta go deep into the bowels of the earth, like a dwarf mining for mithril).

Now how would that feel?

Writers often forget the beneficial properties a good marketing edge can do for their works. And I'm not just talking locally. I'm talking international syndication, or whatever the equivalent is for novels and such medium. If you're after spreading the word, then what better way to propagate than to go global? If you're after talking and interacting with as many people as possible, then this is the ticket. Wanna make money? Jeezus. GO GLOBAL.

Again, I say: I really dislike Butch Dalisay. I gave a series of reasons for this earlier, counting the fact that he was a better journalist than he ever was a fictionist - and this is a matter of opinion, but I think I'm snooty enough to have a somewhat trustworthy opinion - but after reading this otherwise well-crafted article, I have to say that he's something of a hypocrite, because he's an established writer criticizing a system that he himself is part of. He's somebody the newer players in the game look up to for guidance, and here he is, playing the fool by touting inferences as to what could be turning the Pinoy lit scene into something resembling a dying animal. And for that, my hatred for him grows even more, because his own literary backbone does nothing to represent a change in the stylistic methods that, according to him, is killing the same animal he - and million other Pinoy wordsmiths - wish to resuscitate.