Women Writers of Folklore and the Fantastic: Kristine Ong Muslim

Today’s featured writer Kristine Ong Muslim is a native and resident of Maguindanao province, southern Philippines. Her uncanny fiction, poetry and translations of other Filipino writers have been widely anthologized, and her most recent book is the collection of apocalyptic short fiction, The Drone Outside (2017).

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Kristine Ong Muslim. Source

My introduction to Ong Muslim was her short story “The Pit,” in the uncanny fiction anthology Uncertainties, Vol 4 (editor Timothy J. Jarvis), from Swan River Press. It’s short, unsettling, and ambiguous. There is much for the reader to reconstruct between the lines–as is generally true of the type of fiction that shows up in the Uncertainties anthologies. It’s the kind of story that will work for some readers, and not for others. I was intrigued; I wanted to find more.

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Ong Muslim writes on a variety of dark themes, with a mixture of horror, science fiction, weirdness, and allegory. Not all of her tales are necessarily “weird,” but there’s always at least a trace of the uncanny in her prose. In the last few years especially, much of her fiction has had a decidedly apocalyptic theme running through it, and a deep pessimism about human nature. I won’t lie; a lot of her stories are hard to read, at this time, in the present pandemic situation. But they’re beautiful.

Much of her work is available online, and here are some stories that I especially liked. This is more links than I usually share, but many of these, even the “longer” ones, are quite short. The longer pieces are in roughly chronological order.

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Friday Video: A Sci-Fi Tell-tale Heart

I’ve been on an unintentional Edgar Allan Poe roll lately: first some of Horacio Quiroga’s fictional homages to Poe, then the Dario Argento/George Romero cinematic tribute to Poe. Now another cinematic tribute: Orbit, a futuristic sci-fi update of “The Tell-tale Heart.”

This is an almost verbatim retelling of the tale, by which I mean that the narration is literally a reading of the short story, with only minor tweaks. It works quite well.

Length: 9 minutes, 6 seconds

I’ve been really impressed by the quality of the films from DUST. I’m not sure what their business model is, but I’m keeping an eye on their YouTube channel, for sure.

Enjoy.

Science Fiction, Horror, the Uncanny

Adapted from some ramblings on Twitter.

I watched Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires the other night. I’ve been exploring Bava’s early giallos and proto-giallos, and my husband is an enthusiast of schlock 50’s style sci-fi and horror (“quantity cinema” is what he calls it). Planet of the Vampires was in his collection, but neither of us had noticed it was a Bava. Until now.

Planet of the Vampires 1965 Terrore Nello Spazio MSS poster 6
Terror in Space is a much better title. Source: moviescreenshots.blogspot.com

It’s not as groundbreaking as Bava’s giallos; it really is a schlock B movie. But it’s a fun movie. Terrible title, though.

The set design was mimimal, and very much of the genre, but it was well done, considering the teeny tiny budget Bava had: something like $200,000. Yes, it showed. My husband pointed out the thermofax machine that was doubling as a piece of instrumentation. The “captain’s log” (some years before Star Trek) also looked to be a copier or blueprint printer or something, and the periscope-style viewer on the bridge looked like it was cobbled together from a salon hairdryer. But it was endearing. And the elevator hatch thing to bring the astronauts down to the planet’s surface was clever.

I loved the costumes.

Planet of the Vampires
C’mon, these are great spacesuits. Source: IMDB

Considering Bava’s budget, the effects and production values were impressive. Supposedly the set for the planet’s surface was literally two styrofoam rocks, smoke and mirrors, along with some well done in-camera effects. But on screen, it looks pretty good.

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On the Obligations of the Reader

Adapted from some ramblings of mine on Twitter.

I recently came across the essay “Let Me Tell You,” by author Cecilia Tan. It’s a response to the old writing dictum “show, don’t tell,” and in the process of arguing against it (specifically in the SF/Fantasy genres), the essay also takes a shot at the myth of “universality” that underlies the dictums of writing “quality” (read: literary) fiction.

I highly recommend the essay to you. But in addition to what it says to writers/readers of SF/Fantasy, it crystallized some other thoughts of my own – a reader, not a writer, and not generally an SF/Fantasy reader either – about the obligations of the reader.

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Clumsy exposition (“as you know…”) is one of my pet peeves. And I’ve noticed that I sometimes prefer reading works from an X writer to those of an X-American or otherwise hyphenated writer (X-British, X-Canadian, etc.), and this is kinda why: X-Americans often feel an obligation to write to “Americans”. That is, they feel the need to explain bits of X culture or history to the mainstream “American” reader.  X writers write only to X-ians.

A Filipinx author can leave the fraught relationship/history between the Philippines and US unsaid, even when that relationship is central to their themes or to their characters, because readers in the Philippines know. But not all Americans do, so a Fil-American author might feel the need to somehow work a little history lesson into their narrative.

But is it always necessary?

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Would The Twilight Zone Fly Today?

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I went on a Twilight Zone mini-binge the other day, inspired by this post at the Shadow and Substance blog. It got me to thinking: would The Twilight Zone have been a success if it had launched today?

Everything about it is counter to what’s popular in modern television. It has no recurring characters, no season-long, multi-episode story arc. It doesn’t really have a “theme”: the topics of the stories are all over the place. Despite the fact that it constantly flirts with both the supernatural and science fiction, it has almost no special effects, and what effects it does have probably looked cheesy even back then. It’s dialogue heavy — monologue heavy, even. It was more successful as a half-hour show than as an hour show.

And all these characteristics are why I love it; probably, it’s those features that make it attractive to many of the show’s fans. It’s the television show equivalent of a loosely-themed short story collection, or of dim sum or tapas. There’s always been a place for short stories and tapas; but the world at large seems to prefer novels and entrees.

The fun part of it is that Rod Serling and the other folks at TZ felt free to experiment. With no continuity worries, they could throw something on the screen to see what happened — if it worked, they could do it again, otherwise, move on. So we get the almost set-less Five Characters in Search of an Exit, the almost dialogue-less The Invaders, the episode shot half as a silent movie, Once Upon a Time (starring Buster Keaton!). TZ also managed to attract some really interesting actors, both acclaimed and soon-to-be-acclaimed. I’m sure the chance to experiment or to be the center of an episode had something to do with that.

It’s fashionable to say that the entertainment industry has become too bottom-line, less willing to take a chance. Perhaps Mr. Serling couldn’t have made this happen today. On the other hand, this is the age of YouTube and Vimeo; some web-series have garnered a large (if niche) following, and have fairly good production values, to boot. The Twilight Zone format could be perfect for a web-series.

So could Rod Serling have done it today? Luckily, we don’t have to find out.

Enjoy.


The image above is the title card from the opening segment of The Twilight Zone (from the later seasons, I think). Sourced from Wikipedia.

Jack London’s Apocalypse: The Scarlet Plague

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Civilization ended this past summer.

The old man manifested an accustomed chagrin as he brought the coin back again close to his own eyes.

“2012,” he shrilled, and then fell to cackling grotesquely. “That was the year Morgan the Fifth was appointed President of the United States by the Board of Magnates. It must have been one of the last coins minted, for the Scarlet Death came in 2013. Lord! Lord!—think of it! Sixty years ago, and I am the only person alive to-day that lived in those times….”

In Jack London’s post-apocalyptic novella, The Scarlet Plague (1912), humankind is almost completely wiped out by a virulent, ebola-like disease in the summer of 2013. James Howard Smith, an English literature professor at the University of California, Berkeley, is the last man alive who still remembers that summer. The story is told in flashback, to Smith’s grandsons.

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A Different Kind of Science Fiction

“Science Fiction”: what does that mean? Fiction based on science? About science? Speculative fiction about the implications of science? It’s all those things, or at least can be; but it seems to me that most of what we refer to as science fiction might better be called “technology fiction.”

Think about it; what comes to your mind when you think of science fiction? Space travel, probably. Spaceships, faster-than-light drive, phasers, encounters with alien civilizations. Hovercars. Perhaps you think of cyborgs and intelligent robots. If you read cyberpunk back in the day, then you might think of avatars, and the version of cyberspace and the internet that authors imagined back then. But it’s all technology, really, not science. Except for the alien civilizations, of course.

NewImageImage: Wikipedia

People do make a distinction between hard science fiction and soft science fiction; roughly, hard science fiction is about the hard (that is physical) sciences: physics, chemistry. It’s also about the engineering that comes from those sciences, engineering that produces spaceships, or cyborgs. Classic science fiction from the days of Analog or Astounding was by and large hard science fiction. Arthur C. Clarke and Larry Niven wrote hard science fiction.

Soft science fiction (setting aside space operas and space fantasy) concerns itself with questions from the soft sciences: sociology, anthropology, psychology. I would say that Asimov’s I, Robot was soft science fiction. Ray Bradbury wrote soft science fiction. Soft science fiction speculates on the social, cultural, or psychological implications of technology. Or perhaps, even, on the way technology creates new expressions of old-as-history human psycho-pathologies and baser tendencies. I’m thinking of Bradbury’s uber-creepy “The Veldt” when I say that, and there’s also “The Jigsaw Man” by Larry Niven, about a society where criminals convicted of capital offenses are used as organ donors. But organs are in high demand — so eventually, traffic violations become a capital crime. Again, these stories are speculation about the implications of technology, so I would argue that even soft science fiction is generally another form of technology fiction.

But science doesn’t only concern itself with technology. What about the life sciences, the natural sciences? Science is also about understanding the world, purely for the sake of knowledge. Can we write a speculative fiction that is based on science conceived that way?

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Reprints from Galaxy

The Marching Morons

Let me admit right off that this post is a shameless crib from a recent post on Acid Free Pulp. I’ve been browsing the website for Rosetta Books, and I came across their Galaxy Series: selected reprints from the venerable GALAXY magazine.

I’m not a huge science fiction reader, but even I was intrigued: Bradbury, Vonnegut, Frederik Pohl… I think I’m going to pick up Kornbluth’s The Marching Morons, just to see if it’s as prescient as everyone claims.

Their Crimescape true crime series might interest some of you, too.

Happy Browsing!