Meann's Reviews > Alternative Alamat: Stories Inspired by Philippine Mythology

Alternative Alamat by Paolo Chikiamco
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Jan 08, 12

bookshelves: review-copy, e-book, favorites, filipino-authors
Recommended for: All Filipino readers
Read from December 13 to 21, 2011, read count: 1

*My actual rating is a 4.5*

Originally posted at The Girl Who Read and Other Stories

I love alternative takes on mythology (Rick Riordan fan here), so I thought "Alternative Alamat" would be a good place for me to start with my resolution to read more works written by Filipino authors.

I also love the idea of this compilation because it brings Philippine mythology closer to modern readers like no scholarly book of myths possibly could. I am not belittling the efforts of the authors who wrote the scholarly books, of course, for without them, we would know very little about our mythology. But younger readers and readers who are more exposed to foreign works wouldn't likely pick up an academic book on Philippine myths for their leisure reading.

There are 11 engaging re-tellings in this anthology written by many familiar names in Philippine speculative fiction. Despite sometimes dealing with similar themes or mythological figures, the treatments are delightfully diverse.

"Ana's Little Pawnshop on Makiling St." - The pawnshop reminded me a lot of the Faerie Market in Gaiman's "Stardust," where the wares that are on sale are all whimsical and magical. This poignant story has its own local flavor and charm, though, and I love how Eliza Victoria intertwined the mythology with modern issues.

"Harinuo's Love Song" - It took me a while to get used to the rhythm of this story because it reads a lot like an old folktale, and I didn't expect that kind of treatment. But this turned out to be an enjoyable read. The prose is lyrical and lush, and the plot is well-crafted.

"Last Full Show" - I've never read any of the Trese comics, and yes, you can throw all manner of objects at me, but maybe you can throw the four volumes of those comics my way instead? :p This was so much fun to read, and I love that you didn't need prior knowledge of the original comics to appreciate it.

"The Alipin's Tale" - I love alternate history stories too, so this is a real hit with me. It doesn't introduce any of the more obscure myths or personalities, but the mix of history and mythology grounds it for readers, and makes the fantasy aspect more tangible.

"Keeper of My Sky" - This story succeeds in its intention to intertwine science and mythology, this time. It's a lovely tale, but it's so sad and melancholic. I was thankful it wasn't raining when I read this or I would've sobbed in front of my computer.

"Conquering Makiling" - This particular Maria Makiling theme is quite familiar, but the story had modern sensibilities. The conservation message is well-placed.

"The Sorceress Queen" - This one reads like a great classic fairy tale and also like those local genesis stories at the same time. I had a lot of fun imagining what this would look like if it were adapted as an animated short.

"Beneath the Acacia" - In my mind, I call this the CSI: Arayat story. :p I like the portrayal of Maria Sinukuan here because she seems more human. This is probably because the more fantastical spotlight is trained on the protagonist, Juan, but it's a pleasant change. There was a little hiccup in the story that jarred me a little, though--when Mang Andres describes the supernatural characters, it sounds like he was explaining it to a foreign reader rather than to the other in-universe characters who already know what a kapre is.

"Offerings to Aman Sinaya" - I liked the story, although the point of view was a little unconventional, and therefore took some getting used to. The ending felt a little too abrupt.

"Balat, Buwan, Ngalan (A Myth for the 21st Century)" - I love how this incorporates the old tales into a modern world. I had a lot of fun spotting the pop culture references and nods to the old myths. My only problem was the POV. Because the narrative had a 'meta' feel to it like 'Interview With The Vampire,' I think this would've been more powerful had it been written from a first person POV.

"The Door Opens" - I panicked when I saw that this story had a good number of footnotes because I have a love-hate relationship with fiction that incorporates footnotes. I feel that it's very rarely done well enough that the author doesn't interrupt the flow of the main story. Dean Alfar did well, though. The main narrative read like a complete story in itself, so I had no compulsion to immediately check the footnotes, which would've been difficult because I would've done a lot of scrolling back and forth. When I finally did read them, I found that they embellished the main narrative really well.

As an aside, I just realized how awkward it is to read stories set in the Philippines whose characters speak in English. It can't be helped, of course, but I find it jarring sometimes. If a story is well written, I do get over it, as was the case for all the stories I read.

Despite the diversity in treatment, I felt that there was a lot of underlying melancholy in all of the stories; they all seem so somber. I was looking for a bit of levity in some of the ones where that kind of tone would've been appropriate. All the old tales were already somber enough, I thought someone would actually do a much lighter alternative take. But this personal preference doesn't take away from the quality of the stories at all.

I also wish the stories each dealt with unique deities or themes, that only one story would've had Maria Makiling for a subject, for example. But maybe this also reflects how much work still needs to be done in educating everyone that there exist pantheons of deities and a deep well of other Philippine legends and myths. "Alternative Alamat" is already a great first step toward that, with the interviews and appendices included in the book providing a springboard for further study. I wish more authors and publishers will be proactive and think of other creative ways to bring this aspect of our culture closer to the popular consciousness. I'm proud of efforts like "Alternative Alamat," and hope that more Filipino readers support projects like this. I have high hopes that soon we will find our own local Rick Riordan!

One last thing: I wish they'll publish a print copy of this book so that it will reach more readers, and because the illustrations by Mervin Malonzo deserve to be seen in print.
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Reading Progress

12/18/2011
6.0% "'I didn't have first-hand experience, obviously, but I was pretty sure a dying galaxy would be anything but dull. I believed it would be fantastic, breathtaking, heartbreaking.'"
12/18/2011
11.0% "I loved 'Ana's Little Pawnshop on Makiling St.'! Very atmospheric and poignant. The pawnshop reminded me a lot of the Faerie Market in Gaiman's 'Stardust', but this story has it's own local flavor and charm."
12/18/2011
17.0% "'Harinuo's Love Song' -- It took me a while to get used to the rhythm of the story. The author's prose is very lyrical and lush. It's not quite what I expected because it reads a lot like an old folktale, but it was an enjoyable read."
12/18/2011
19.0% "'Yes, the Tikbalang owes me three favors.' 'Did you wish for world peace?' 'No.' Hahaha!"
12/18/2011
22.0% "'Warrior and healer, child of paradox and possibility...she would die as she had lived.'"
12/18/2011
22.0% "'Last Full Show' was great, too! I like that you didn't really have to be familiar with the Trese comics to get the story. And now I actually *want* to go and read those comics. :D" 3 comments
12/18/2011
22.0% "I keep telling myself I'll read just one more story and then I'll stop, but I just keep reading on. o_O"
12/18/2011
29.0% "'The Alipin's Tale' -- Ah, yes, I do love a good alternate history story. ;)"
12/19/2011
34.0% "'Keeper of My Sky' -- The intention really seems to be to explore how mythology can be intertwined with science, and the story succeeds in doing that. This is such a lonely tale, though. Alunsina and the rain. It's a good thing it didn't rain while I was reading or I might feel someone's heart breaking. :-/"
12/19/2011
44.0% "'Conquering Makiling' - This story also had a folktale feel to it because at it's core is a Makiling story we've heard before, but I like its modern sensibilities. The conservation message doesn't hurt either. ;p"
12/19/2011
44.0% "Before I forget this thought, I should type it in: I just realized how awkward it is to read stories set in the Philippines whose characters speak in English. It can't be helped, of course, but I find it jarring sometimes. If a story is well written, though, I do get over it, as was the case for all the alternative alamats I've read so far. Thank goodness"
12/19/2011
51.0% "'The Sorceress Queen' -- This was fun. ;p"
12/21/2011
64.0% "'Beneath the Acacia' a.k.a. 'CSI: Arayat". :p -- This was interesting, as Maria Sinukuan actually seemed a little more human. It's likely because the spotlight was trained on Juan, but it is a pleasant change. Mang Andres' description of supernatural characters jarred me a little, though, as it read a lot like he was explaining things to someone who isn't aware of the creatures."
12/21/2011
73.0% "'Offerings to Aman Sinaya' -- This story's POV was a little unconventional. I liked the story but the ending felt too abrupt."
12/21/2011
78.0% "'Once more, you nod to yourself, then walk away from the table, dreaming with your eyes open, of love, and of chaining one's self to the ghost of it, till the heart shrivels, and blows away on the gust of a desolate sigh.'"
12/21/2011
85.0% "'Balat, Buwan, Ngalan (A Myth for the 21st Century)' -- I love how this story incorporates the old tales into a modern world. I had a lot of fun reading both the pop culture references and the old myths. My only problem was the POV. I think it would've been more powerful had it been a first person one because it was kinda "meta", like 'Interview With The Vampire'."
12/21/2011
88.0% "'The Door Opens' -- I panicked when I saw that this story had a good number of footnotes. I have a love-hate relationship with fiction that incorporates footnotes. I feel that it's very rarely done well enough that the author doesn't interrupt the flow of the main story. Dean Alfar did well with this story, though. (con't.)"
12/21/2011
88.0% "(con't.) The main narrative read like a complete story in itself, so I had no compulsion to immediately check the footnotes. When I finally did, they embellished the main narrative really well."
12/21/2011
90.0% "I'm envious of that part of Prof. Coben's childhood where people tell her all these fantastical and epic folktales."
12/21/2011
91.0% "'Fantasy is very important for personal growth. Myths, legends, and folktales provide fantastic stimuli for the imagination, and allow people to create an alternative persona.'"
12/21/2011
97.0% "Okay, Paolo, you must tell me the story of Kundaman and his giant (pet) bird!"
12/21/2011
97.0% "I guess it's time to find our very own local Rick Riordan. :p"

Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Tina Yes to the print version! I have friends who want to read this but they're not fond of ebooks so I don't know how I'm going to push this to them. ^^


message 2: by Paolo (new)

Paolo Chikiamco Thanks so much for the review Meann (both this one and whatever expanded version you have forthcoming) - and especially for the story-by-story impressions. Those are of immense importance to an anthology contributor (and editors as well) so thank you very much! Maybe I should have Mervin draw you a poster of Kudaman as a thank you :D


Raissa Thanks, Meann. I was actually inspired by A.S. Byatt's fairy tales when writing this. Glad you had fun reading it;I did have fun writing it. -Raissa


message 4: by Meann (last edited Jul 26, 2012 05:34PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Meann Raissa wrote: "Thanks, Meann. I was actually inspired by A.S. Byatt's fairy tales when writing this. Glad you had fun reading it;I did have fun writing it. -Raissa"

Thanks for the reply, Raissa. :) I've heard of A.S. Byatt but haven't read any of her works. *ducks head in shame* I should add her to my "to read" list. :D

You can really tell when a writer had fun creating his/her story. I hope to read more of yours in the future. :D


Raissa I haven't read a lot of Byatt either, but I do like The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye. I have a new YA book out on Flipreads and Amazon, if you'd like to check it out.


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