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Jar of Awesome. The idea is you take a container and you fill it with papers detailing the awesome things that happen to you throughout the year. On New Year’s Eve, you open the jar and reflect on all those things. Think of it as the literal ‘counting of blessings’ in your past 365 days.
I want to call mine a Jar of Smiles, and here’s WHY.
(this is actually a great idea.)
Title: Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories
Editors: Kelly Link & Gavin Grant
Authors: Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray, Cory Doctorow, Shawn Cheng, Ysabeau S. Wilce, Delia Sherman, Elizabeth Knox, Kelly Link, Garth Nix, Christopher Rowe, Kathleen Jennings, Dylan Horrocks, Holly Black, and M.T. Anderson
My Rating: ★★★★ (3.5 stars)
The steampunk genre snagged my interest when I realized it can pass as some kind of a magical blend between the past and the future. I really get a kick out of tales about Victorian retro-futurism. But to tell you the truth, I haven’t read tons of books in the genre, so the image I can concoct in my head is pretty run-of-the-mill: a world that basks perpetually on vintage vogue, mixed with loads of gears, clockworks, and cogwheels of steam-powered gadgetries. My latest exposure to steampunk is Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series. I haven’t picked up the last book yet but it was good—too good that it made me want to pick up more works from the genre.
Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories is what I chose to satiate this lit-hunger. I didn’t expect much since I know that collections are always a mixed bag, but I’d say I really enjoyed this. The 14 tales here—written by a gamut of talented sci-fi authors—range from raunchy to majestic, from commonplace to dreamlike, and from droll to poignant. There are duds as expected, but there are a bunch that is nothing short of amazing, containing stories that continue to haunt me up to now (in a good way).
Libba Bray’s “The Last Ride of the Glory Girls” tops my list. The tale takes place in some Old Western town where a gang of girl robbers raids trains with the help of a time-freezing gun. Bray’s style made the whole story pop out of the pages; each phrase seemed to create an extra layer of atmosphere, and the narrator’s thick country accent made me feel as if a true-blue daughter of a wild-west colony is really relaying the story to me. Also hard to ignore are the glimpses about religious fanaticism there. If the whole thing doesn’t summon a busload of questions about beliefs, decisions, and life as a whole in the readers’ minds, I don’t know what does.
Cory Doctorow’s “Clockwork Fagin” also left a deep dent in my memory. It’s a Dickensian account about decapitated orphans and how they snatch authority from their ruthless benefactor. For some weird reason, I think the story has a very Burton-esque feel to it, in a Sweeney Todd kind of way. It has a lasting grimness, occasional morbid humor, and overall filthiness that are enmeshed together by good writing. When I reached the last page of the tale, I sort of wish that Doctorow expands it into something longer. I will definitely check out more of his works.
“Steam Girl” by Dylan Horrocks is also pretty memorable. It’s about a girl who may or may not be an inhabitant of another planet, churning out out-of-this-world stories (no pun intended) to her misfit friend. Aside from her quirky gadgets, she has this Reality Gun that stuns everyone when she pulls it out. The beauty is that the reader may feel like he’s taken a bullet from this incredible weapon—you would be left guessing which events are real and which are not.
Other stories that I loved include Christopher Rowe’s “Nowhere Fast,” a post-apocalyptic account where America has run out of oil; Ysabeau S. Wilce’s “Hand in Glove,” a quasi-detective story centering on a petulant femme constable and a rogue killing hand; “Seven Days Beset by Demons” by Shawn Cheng, a comic strip-style tale where a man commits all seven deadly sins when he falls in love; Cassandra Clare’s “Some Fortunate Future Day,” where it is shown that innocence can instantly be transformed into something beastly by mere infatuation; and Garth Nix’s “Peace in Our Time,” a dystopian anecdote of revenge by a representative of an almost extinct race.
The others are unfortunately forgettable. Some of them don’t even appear to have a touch of steampunk (as I know it) in them. Be that as it may, I really had a ball reading this anthology, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I started getting thirsty for more steampunk. I’m giving this book 3.5 stars. :)
I went to The Mind Museum in Taguig a couple of weeks ago. Among all the thingamabobs I found there, my personal favorite is, expectedly, the simple Literature Section. They have these heart rate devices that you clamp to your finger. There are passages on the back-lit walls, and while you read them, you can check your bp/hr on the monitors to see if any of the passages moved you. :)
The excerpt from J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye stirred me, but not as much as how the paragraph from Patrick Suskind’s Perfume: The Story of a Murderer did (odd, I know).
Title: Jellicoe Road
Author: Melina Marchetta
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance, Drama
My Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5 stars)
Many pop-literature junkies are getting more vocal about giving up on the stories churned out by most of today’s YA authors. And no wonder—if you’ve noticed how ‘bestseller ideas’ are being downcycled again and again to populate the genre’s shelves, you may even agree with them when they huff, “Oh well, can’t blame the writers; kitsch sells.”
Fortunately, novels like Melina Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road emerge to reassure us that the Young Adult section isn’t in any way heading for an aesthetic holocaust. It’s the kind of book that stands stark against its slew of peers; it’s the kind of book that says, “Just dig in, there’s still a multitude of us here.”
Jellicoe Road follows the story of Taylor Markham, who was abandoned by her mother on the Jellicoe Road when she was eleven. She hasn’t moved on about it six years later, but she tries to swim with life as it surges forward. She takes over their school’s Underground Community in their annual territory against the Townies and Cadets. But Lady Luck has a way of tethering Taylor to the past. Taylor finds out that Jonah Griggs, the boy who betrayed her when she ran away to find her mother three years ago, is the current Cadet leader. Problems and internal issues heap up when her guardian Hannah goes missing, leaving only a story about five kids that Taylor feels a strange connection to. Taylor acknowledges then that only when she is able to properly arrange her past’s puzzle pieces would she only find the key to her present and future.
Honestly, I don’t think there’s any summary that can do justice to Jellicoe Road’s real magic. If anything, the book itself refuses to be boxed by its own blurbs and nondescript excerpts. Marchetta’s storytelling talent is evident in the fact that even if the book is built on the same foundations of a hackneyed YA novel, it manages to morph into something so tastefully refreshing and intricately beautiful. It veers off the kitsch high way, if you get my drift.
Marchetta’s prose flaunts an even blend of insightful and crude. It gets deep and lyrical during Taylor’s introspections; it gets laugh-out-loud funny in the punchy, profanity-peppered dialogues between the main characters. In both sides, Marchetta showcases a kind of writing style that I can only describe as a breath of fresh air from the heaps of YA lit that I’ve previously devoured. Add to that a certain edge that gives off a vibe of magical realism, and I can totally say the book is nothing short of unforgettable.
Onto one of its distinguishing points: Jellicoe Road contains a story within a story. As I’ve heard, the first hundred pages made most readers mistake the book for mind-screw galore, discouraging them to leaf through the next three hundred pages. It’s understandable because the two parts read like very different entities. But as the plot charges along, Marchetta drops clues that glue both stories, filling in the gaps little by little until the two meshed together to form an intricate masterwork. The mystery is not so hard to crack, though. The wham! lines would elicit an “About time you figure it out, Taylor!” instead of an “I didn’t see that coming!” from the thinking audience. Be that as it may, the emphasis given on the anticipation factor was excellent.
Taylor as a character doesn’t stray so much from her antiheroine peers: she’s angst-on-two legs, carries an emotional baggage heavier than herself, snarky, unapologetically selfish, and has lots of trust issues. But akin to all the characters I’ve loved in literature, it isn’t about how unlikable Taylor seems to be—it’s all about how she emerges as a well fleshed-out person from the pages. Her humanness shines the brightest when she tries to be tough but grudgingly acknowledges that she needs other people to hold on to.
Standing alongside her is a ragtag bunch of other memorable characters: Aboriginal Townie leader Chaz Santangelo, the amiable ex-Townie Raffaela, the self-deprecatory muso Ben, and the damaged and stoic Cadet Jonah Griggs. This group as well as the other in the accompanying story are caught up in complicated relationship polygons—enemies, friends, friends-but-not-quite, lovers-that-aren’t—that somehow contributed to their dimensionalities.
Reading about their petty territory disputes was somewhat fascinating, though it made me extra-afraid of the actual territory wars our country is engaged in with Sabah and China. In the book, violence is the punishment for whoever trespasses into enemy terrain. That’s just black eyes and broken bones, but it’s violence just the same. Imagine this system blown up as the people involved fight over international lands. Death tolls, negotiations, pleas? Our newspapers carried headlines about those for weeks.
Anyway (sorry for digressing), since we’re already talking about boundaries and places, I commend Marchetta for her first-class world-building. The weight of the realm she created is as palpable as the lives of the people who inhabit it.
As a whole, I can say that Jellicoe Road is one of those books that deserve an improper fraction—I’d totally give it 6 out of 5 stars if I could! Hands down, this is definitely one of the best books I’ve read.
MY FAVORITE BOOK!