American sf Reading List

This semester, I’ve been given the privilege of teaching a class on American Science Fiction, ENG 146. I spent a good part of the summer writing and revising my syllabus and trying to create a reading list that is a good balance and mix of different kinds of texts, that show the range and major movements of sf.

Here’s my reading/viewing list:

Short Stories

“The Nine Billion Names of God” by Arthur C. Clarke

“The Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury

“It’s a Good Life” by Jerome Bixby

“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula K. Leguin

Novels

I, Robot

The Martian Chronicles

Ender’s Game

Neuromancer

Ready Player One 

Novellas

Flowers for Algernon

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream

Comics

Action Comics #1

Captain America #1

Fantastic Four #1

Amazing Fantasy #15

The Incredible Hulk #1

Ex Machina Issues #1-5

The Manhattan Projects #1-5

Films

Alien

Back to the Future

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

The Matrix

Looper

TV Series Episodes

“The Shelter” from The Twilight Zone

“The City on the Edge of Forever” from Star Trek

 
That is what I plan to teach this semester. My worry now is how willing my students will be to engage what I believe is a fantastic set of texts. I have some apprehensions as a good number of students have displayed indifference to the material. I know that if I were a student, my brain would explode with the awesomeness of this reading list. But that’s me and I’m a nerd. I just hope that the students do come around, and start seeing how much fun these texts can be, rather than trying to deconstruct them and strip them of their merits just to point out whatever it is that contemporary has taught them to see.

Shooting First: A New Year’s Resolution

When I used to play basketball regularly, I was a terrible shooter. I could make maybe 5% of 3s, if I ever tried to shoot any. My medium range shot was iffy. Though I did have an okay inside game and was pretty spot on for lay-ups. But this limited shooting ability had me develop my passing game. I was never going to be a spot up shooter, nor was I going to blaze past people with crossovers. I could handle the ball and dish to the right players, set picks, and maybe find myself spots on the floor.

I enjoyed the thrill of the assist, of zipping a bounce pass between defenders, of hitting a cutter in stride for a lay-up, of drawing defenders and then kicking to the man spotting up in the corner. Ball movement, unselfish play, getting everyone involved, that’s what I played for.

And as a pass first player, defenders were a lot looser on me. They were not expecting me to take shots. Since they knew I preferred to flip the ball to a teammate, or to pass up a shot, they thought they did not need to defend me. Which meant that once I saw them slacking off, then I would drive into the lane, surprising them with an open lay-up they were not expecting. Or finding a spot I could make a shot from while they were off double teaming a better shooter. It’s always easier to sink a shot when you’re all by your lonesome.

I get to thinking about this kind of mentality now that I am thinking about how I plan to spend the coming year. I realize that I have largely tried to adopt this pass first mentality with a lot of work that I’ve done. As an editor, I’ve always chosen to assign big stories to my writers, rather than taking them myself. I’ve always been reluctant to step up and take responsibility for things. Rather than do something myself, I will pull a team together and distribute tasks. Only when I’ve got no other choice, only when no one else is open and I am, do I like to take the shot.

Which is well and good I guess in certain situations. But the thing is, this year looks like I will be doing some things which do not allow for me to pass off. Which will necessitate my stepping up and taking the shot. To use an easily recognizable basketball reference (and not to compare my talent level in any way to these two, because really, that would be insane), I have to shift from being a playmaking Lebron, and turn into a take-over-the-game Kobe. I have reached a point in my career where I have to elevate, have to escalate what I do. It’s time for me to step up.

You can’t pass off in the classroom. You can distribute the discussion, you can involve the whole class in activities and that whole thing. But when it comes time for lectures, for presentations, there’s no passing off. You are the teacher, no matter what you do, you have to control the classroom and the activity therein. That sounds like mostly playmaker work, but when the moment comes to step up and take over, I cannot be reluctant to launch into lectures when they are needed.

And in writing, well, there is no one to pass off to. I have been struggling with this. I keep wondering if the lack in one’s writing is indicative of the lack of one’s moral fortitude. I think of whether it displays the wanting qualities of one’s character. Or if one can write through those things, in the same way that, when the fourth quarter’s winding down and the other team’s in the lead, you can push everything out of your mind, can push out all of the messes that you’ve made in your life, all the bad decisions and wrong turns, and you can just focus on that moment, take over, and at least in that one aspect, overcome and win the game.

I hope that, for all the mistakes and failures and limitations that I observe so acutely in myself, and which help to inform and enrich my writing, that I can similarly get through all that and finish the work and get it out there.

I plan to work on more films this year. I am dreaming of directing my first feature. I am deathly scared that it will be shit. I want to pass off. I do not want to be responsible, for I would be responsible for a failure if I mess it up. If it’s crap, then I will have wasted the time and efforts of everyone who will work on it. But I have already passed off. I’ve already allowed other people to attempt to execute my vision. It’s time that I did this, time that I stepped up and took the shot.

I have been teaching myself that failure is important. I have launched into a lot of bad writing, some of it I was able to stop, some of it got out into the world. But each failure teaches us something.

Similarly, I have to get used to the idea that we have to take shots. We have to miss shots. We have to work our way out of shooting slumps. Again I use Kobe Bryant as a model here. Sometimes he has terrible shooting nights. But he keeps shooting even when the shots aren’t going down. He shoots until he finds his rhythm. It’s a simple thing to understand, you can’t find your rhythm if you aren’t taking the shot.

I will say it again for my own benefit, so that I can take heart and hold onto the idea: You can’t find your  rhythm if you aren’t taking shots.

I have to accept that once I do this, once I adopt the shoot first policy, then I will be expecting other people to feed me the ball, to pass it to me. It’s on me to make it. I have to accept that there will be off nights, nights when shots don’t go down. But unlike the depressive person that I have been, the one that wallows in shit and flays himself for each aspect of failure, I have to accept that there will be missed shots, that there will be off nights. I have to move on from the last shot, move on from the last night, move on from the last failure, and be ready to take the shot the next time that I get a pass. And not only that, but I have to learn how to create my shot. I have to learn to understand my skills and abilities better so that I can execute, create, move, score.

Allowing for off nights, this means that there will be big nights too that offset it. Those nights when it feels like everything is going down, it’s all flowing, and I can do no wrong. When this happens, I have to ride that crest and keep shooting. It won’t happen every night, but once I start shooting first, there is a chance that I might have that magical 81 point game, or those consistent 40 point performances. The only way to get better is to step up, to take risks.

2013 gimme the ball. It’s on me.

 

reaching a point where i have to take a shot. and i have to keep shooting

2012 in Review: Teaching/Academic Life

I quit yet another job this year. I served as the Deputy Director for Marketing and Operations of the UP Press until October 31st, but I feel that my heart had gone out of it sometime mid-year. It was a number of factors, but among them was the realization that I am pretty good at teaching, and I am more of an asset in the classroom than as an administrator. Put the demanding nature of admin work against the drive to write and do research, and it was clear that I would be much happier as a straight up academic than an academic and administrator.

This might sound pretentious, or as if I am speaking from some ivory tower; any talk of the academic life is precariously perched and always ready to fall into such pretentiousness. But then as I chronicle 2012, as I count the hours down to 2013, I have to really admit that this was the year when I sat down and thought, hell dude, you can probably teach for the rest of your life. I had been resistant to the idea of deciding on a career for any prolonged period of time.

I remember when I was in high school my English teacher said, “You know, Javier, you would make a good teacher.”

And what I said, under my breath, though I don’t know if she was able to hear it, was, “God, why would I ever want to be like one of you people?”

I obviously did not think much of the teaching profession. I remember most of my elementary and junior high teachers fondly. But my high school in Cubao, well, it was a mixed bag, if I’m being kind. There were some terrible teachers, and some with a terrible meanness to them. You could see they were frustrated, tired, only going through the motions. There were some that were inspired, and those I gravitated towards. But hell, I was in high school, I had issues with authority, I thought I was smarter than everyone else. And thus I looked at the teaching profession with disdain.

The first time I tried teaching, fresh out of undergrad, I didn’t make the cut. A few years later, I find myself teaching at Miriam. Then I jump to UP. Terrible things happen in my first year, petty admin BS and things that I felt were grounds for me to leave. I vow never to teach again. Ondoy hits and all my books and other teaching materials are wiped out, and I take that as a sign that I should not be a teacher. It’s the universe literally washing out all vestiges of my teaching career.

I bounce around a few years, and here I am, back in the university. But much more experienced, with a better sense of things (at least I like to think), and I feel a sense of confidence and control. It’s like I was able to overcome a lot of my personal shit, a lot of the things that hampered me from improving as a teacher.

I have had to rebuild my teaching library. It’s still an ongoing process. I have been lucky enough to have received a lot of help from colleagues who generously help me with books.

But more than books, I can say that my colleagues in the department, especially the junior faculty, help to inspire me to go into the classroom every day. It’s wonderful in that there’s not so much a sense of competition as it is a sense of esprit de corps, of everyone pitching in to help everyone else out. It’s not just in teaching or syllabus design either, it’s when someone just needs a drink, needs to hang back and let loose. This is, perhaps, one of the most productive times in my life, and I attribute a good deal of that to the way that the people around me make me better.

When I was teaching in Miriam I carried around a hip flask. For all that the students were wonderful, so many other things hindered teaching and development, and I found myself having to take swigs just to get through the days. Now, that is a bad memory, and I don’t think I will ever find myself doing that again.

Rather, even when the days get tough, even when the kids are working as hard as I would wish, and the classroom isn’t clicking, I feel like I can find ways to keep at it.

Further, I got to attend my first international conference as a scholar. Last year I attended the Fil-American bookfest in San Francisco, but that was as a writer and independent publisher. This year, along with MIc Chua and Emil Flores, I got to deliver a paper in Oxford. that’s insane. Sometimes I say it and I have trouble believing it. And it was thanks to, well, pretty much every friend I’ve had. Some helped out in big ways, donating artwork, money, time, or whatever in our fundraising efforts. We pulled together an incredibly fun gig that helped us raise money for the trip. Just thinking back on it now I feel my chest swell, it was this wonderful time when I could not deny that the people I have been lucky to be around and to know not only make me better, but allow me to do things that I could never have imagined.

Towards the end of the year I got published in the Philippine Journal for American Studies. I got to write about the Punisher storyline in Civil War. At the time of writing and submission, I didn’t think much of what I was doing, but once it came out, I got a true sense of fulfillment.

It’s odd to think that I now have a sense of what I want to do. I have avoided committing to things for so long. Now, well, here it is. I am hoping that this career and this decision takes. I am hoping that the coming years will prove productive and that I can make contributions as both teacher and scholar.

2012 in Review: Writing

So I think after this year, I can sort of take a rest. Not a long one mind you, but maybe I’ve earned the right to not demand so much of myself. I know that sounds close to the verge of resting on one’s laurels, but I don’t imagine that’s what I would be doing. After having released at least one book a year since 2009, I do think that maybe I can take a year off and just focus on revisions and other things.

Okay, no, that’s bullshit. Read more of this post

2012 in Review: Music

Last night I was at the rocking birthday part of Ina Santiago and we were head banging and dancing (well, she and a lot of other people were, I was kind of jiggling in my seat) at Craft’s Glam Rock night which featured cover band Trinidad. And while taking in the Bon Jovi and David Lee Roth it made sense to start thinking about how I have been working and getting back into music this year.

I talk about how music saved my life in high school (I mention it in the paper which I gave, more on this below) and how it has been such an integral part of my life and the way that I interact with the world. Though I was never much of a musician, playing music and loving music form a large part of my identity. I struggled to make it as a musician for a long time, dreamed the rock star dream. Sometime in 2009 I gave it all up. In reaction to the big break-up of that year I put my guitar away. Right now, I don’t know where the bass that served me for many good years is out in the wind, and I guess I should track it down.

But I put the guitars away and stopped writing about music. I still listened to music, but things had changed.

In 2012 though, I picked up the guitar again. Not only that, but I made the jump from bass to guitar. Part of this is thanks to friends Adam David and Michael David, who pulled me into a gig, and that got me started playing. Once I had a guitar in my hand, I missed playing music and realized that I wanted to play again. Over the course of the year, I played a couple times with them at Sputnik, before it closed.

I bought my first electric guitar, a Samik Telecaster style cherry red scorcher. And an orange amp. I’ve pulled ’em out at every possible chance. Again, I’m not much of a musician, but I enjoy playing music.

After gigging for about ten years on and off, and then quitting for almost three years, I took to the stage again with Gang Bading at the Komiks rOX benefit gig. We played a bunch of 90s covers and it was hell of fun. I can’t think of a group of guys whose music I jive with as much, and I am looking forward to playing some more music with them in the coming years (yes guys, this is me trying to drop hints, come on, we gotta do a classic rock set and I can let rip my heavily distorted version of “Heart of Gold”).

And towards the end of the year I got to join the junior faculty as part of the band, playing guitar and bass on one song. It ain’t a performance to write home about, but it was fun to be playing music, and further to play music with people that I just like hanging out with. It’s great in that being able to connect with people has an affinity for in a way that one loves just helps to develop camaraderie and friendship. Sounds like a big dollop of cheese, but yeah, I’m getting a little sentimental and hey the world didn’t end, so lemme have this little shout out.

Beyond playing music, I got to attend some really great concerts. I was near broke and had to borrow money from friends to go (it took a semester for my papers to be processed and for me to get my salary as a professor) but I got to watch Death Cab for Cutie and Toe. That was pretty amazing. I had dreamed of watching Smashing Pumpkins live since I was a teenager, and braving the terrible storm I got to do it with some of my best friends and my sister. Got to catch Snow Patrol and Keane on someone else’s dime too. And towards the end of the year, saw the Wolfgang 20th anniversary concert. To cap it all was glam rock night, which is now something I will want to go to regularly.

I also got to present a paper about music. I talked about music and poetry, and how we can read music using a literary background. Presenting with good friends and faculty bandmates was another fun thrill. Thanks too to new friend Aine, who helped me write this paper. Nothing like talking to specialists who challenge your ideas and help to push you into different territory and ways of thinking.

I also got to listen to a lot of new music this year, as evidenced by the previous post with the list of favorite songs. Music has always been integral to the way that I am in the world. And I guess I am happy that I have gotten to engage it again, and most importantly, start making music again.

Working Through 2012

With the apocalypse seemingly averted, and our lives going on as usual and as expected, I’ve found the impulse to take stock of things. I am in an in-between age where I am past my physical prime, but also find that I am not yet so old as to have a right to nostalgia and to looking back and grumbling about one’s youth.

So I guess a project, in the form of a series of blog entries, will be to consider where I am and how I’m doing after 30-some years of walking the earth. I plan to do this over the course of the next few days. Read more of this post

Top Song Picks for 2012

I tried to listen to a lot of new albums this year. But in truth there was just too much music for me to get a good grasp on everything. Thus take this list not as all the best music, but as some of the stuff that I really liked over the year. Some artists might not be on the list, but came out with pretty good albums (Beth Orton comes to mind) because I did not have enough time to really listen to the album and choose a favorite. In any case, here’s ten songs that I loved this year, and I think that you might like too (in no particular order).

1. Japandroids’ “The House that Heaven Built

I love the big, anthemic, heart-on-your-sleeve, screaming with a sense of urgency, drive of the song. It’s got a simple, catchy riff that sticks and an energy that contends with lyrics that problematize life and aging. There are also these great vocal hooks that I now cannot get out of my head.

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2. The Gaslight Anthem’s “Handwritten”

This album got a lot of play on my iPod this year, and for good reason. The Gaslight Anthem, and I guess I risk sacrilege here with albums by Soundgarden and Smashing Pumpkins coming out too, may have put out the best straight up rock record. It’s got big guitars, mad riffs, great guitar solos, and that Springsteen-like sensibility for rock themes. It’s sweet on the ears without being light or thematically vacuous, which is much more than one can say about most music that gets radio play.

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3. Best Coast’s “The Only Place”

This is just an incredibly catchy little gem. Have to admit to affinity for the place they are singing for, LA kid and all, but then the song also makes me think of the Philippines too. It’s got a beautiful, crisp guitar jangle throughout, simple, sing-along lyrics, and a skip and a beat to it whenever you put it on.

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4. Jack White’s “Missing Pieces”

The song’s initial appeal was, well, coming from a pretty bad break-up the fiendishly dark lyricism reflected a lot of the negativity I was feeling. But god, it’s got this great groove, and this live version here has some extra rocking. Jack White delivers something rocking and raunchy and groovy and dark. Whole album is damn good too.

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5. Beach House’s “Wishes”

I think the proper word is entrancing. This song washes over you and you kind of just get lost swimming in it.

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6. Cody ChesnuTT

I heard the opening guitar riff and I was hooked. Then Cody ChesnuTT came in crooning and I was sold. Damn if this isn’t one of the catchiest, grooviest songs I haven’t heard in a while. I can’t dance, not at all, and yet this has me wanting to hit the dancefloor. It’s lush and classic, got these great horns that pipe in perfectly. Give it a listen, as I find it difficult to describe how it all comes together.

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7. Kishi Bashi’s “Bright Whites”

There’s a great arrangement and an irresistible melody driving this piece of pop. You hear all kinds of musical influences at play, but what comes out strongest is just a solid, beautiful song.

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8. Ladyhawke’s “Cellophane”

I have a hard time putting my finger on what exactly I love about this song. There’s this droning guitar riff that gets my head banging. Ladyhawke’s voice is beautiful. But I think, more than anything, it’s the vocal melodies. The contrast between the melodies in the verses and choruses and the bridges between get stuck in my head. And the swooping, large melodies of the chorus are enthralling.

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9. Norah Jones’s “Happy Pills”

Sure Jones can be boring. And it’s hard to get excited about her stuff. But this was definitely something fun and something to really get excited about. Her collaboration with Danger Mouse provides us with some of the peppiest, trippiest, sounds, and again, the lyrics hit an emotional note.

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10. Passion Pit’s “Love is Greed”

It’s dance-y and fun. They lyrics are ironically biting though. So there’s all kinds of fun and tension going on here together.

11. Metric’s “Clone”

Another song that I like for its vocal melodies. There’s a point later in the song where the vocals push really high and I think it’s a sublime turning point for a very good song.

12. Benjamin Gibbard’s and Aimee Mann’s “Bigger than Love”

Leave it to Ben Gibbard and Aimee Mann to break your heart in a massive way. And yet, it’s couched in lush melodies and there’s a kind of attempt at redemption too.

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Right so, those are some of my picks. I realized, as I was making the list, that there was so much more that I wanted to put on there. But hey, it’s a start. Post comments and suggestions for me or tag me in your posts!