Thursday, July 13, 2006

Reviews: Monstrous Cycle and Stella for Star

Download Monstrous Cycle and Stella for Star from the Fully Booked website.

By now it should be obvious that I'm going through the stories in alphabetical order. It's fortunate happenstance that the next two on the list, "Monstrous Cycle" and "Stella for Star", fall in the same genre and can thus be reviewed in a single entry.

Both stories attempt a new take on the monster story, specifically, Philippine monsters. "Monstrous Cycle" uses the monster motif for humorous satire; "Stella for Star" is somewhat more conventional but uses unconventional characters. One works well, the other falters.

"Stella for Star" is a changeling story played as straight horror, the twist being that the adoptive couple are two gay men. Don't worry, I'm not giving anything away; that revelation is made as early as the second paragraph of the story. But ultimately it's pointless: the story never exploits the fact. The couple could have been heterosexual and it wouldn't have made a difference to the story.

From the get-go, we already know with which character we're supposed to sympathize, but the psychological build-up comes haltingly and is never fully developed. It doesn't help that the narrative undertakes several point-of-view shifts between the two men. Ultimately, it dilutes the impact of the story.

As with the unconventional relationship between the two men, there are many other gratuitous details that don't go anywhere: the changeling's language, the fax from the Professor of Philippine Lower Mythology, the lover-turned-colleague, for example. Some scenes seem to have been added simply for their gross-out effect. "Stella for Star" seems like so much wasted material.

"Monstrous Cycle," on the other hand, makes no pretensions as to what it is. The opening line already tells you that you're going to be reading a comedy. The story is so simple that it really only needs two characters: a demure, overweight manananggal who wants to be a star, and a psychic doctor whom she approaches as promoter. The language is tongue-in-cheek all the way, and works well enough on that level alone.

However, there is more to the story. It's really a satire on the local celebrity culture, and it pokes fun at celebrity doctors, celebrity endorsements, celebrity tiffs, and celebrity tantrums. Where the story really bites is in the transformation of the woman into a true monster, and that happens near the end. You'll have to read it to see what I mean.

There are some areas where "Monstrous Cycle" could use some improvement. First, the story is so simple that it almost reads like a comic skit. There's never really any development of suspense, one that ought to serve a monster story well. Second, the language could use a bit of polish here and there to make it a smoother read. And last, I wonder if the approach might not be too contemporary Filipino as to exclude readers from other cultures.

On the whole, though, "Monstrous Cycle" is an enjoyable read. It's simple, it affects no airs, and yet it has something to say.