First disclaimer: I’m still on hiatus.
Things that blow me away out of the water have a chance of sometimes getting me out of temporary hiatus.
Immediate disclaimer: this is NOT komiks, but generally it’s found where Trese, Zsazsa Zaturnnah, and other Philippine fiction is lumped together in the bookstore.
Lillian just wants money for rent and Candy Stripe, so despite misgivings she agrees to be the babysitter for Caleb Dolores, who is 28 years old but with schizoaffective disorder. The money is good and the brother Paul is not a bad sort, so it’s all well and good. But in a Philippines (Bulacan and NCR) in the near future, where Sentrys are robots, and Big Pharma controls more things than they really should, Lillian and her ragtag barkada stumbles into a dark secret hidden by the brothers, which opens more and more, dangerous, life-hazardous secrets.
Eliza’s forte is giving the ordinary a weird and often scary twist, and this comes out very well here, especially considering that this is her second solid attempt at a long story (after The Viewless Dark). We are quickly immersed in 2028 Bulacan, Manila, Quezon City, and Makati, a place that is strangely familiar yet different, a mix of the old and the new, in the way we Pinoys are very used to. This is then mixed with death and murder, lots of newspaper clippings and twitter feeds, and hacking, and several scientific-but-weird things, and you have an awesome scifi cocktail coming from a emerging master of urban fantasy.
Very Pinoy traits permeate this story, even if it is fully in English: the way characters salvage old things to make new ones, our stubborn you’re-not-hiding-anything-from-us-ness, the way we work best in a barkada rather than alone, the way family comes first no matter how messy that family is, the way barkada becomes second family in a way that is hard to break. Therefore Project 17 resonates on a local level, but in a way that is fully understandable internationally.
Lillian, the main character, is a spunky and dedicated character, an unconventional, young, but effective detective in this story of unraveling scientific secrets. The way she does not accept things at face value, and always with political suspicion, is something most Pinoys learn to have, and she naturally has it without it ruining the kindness in her core character. Her friends are also likeable in their own special ways, and they grow on you as the story progresses. Even Paul and Caleb are presented well, with their personalities and secrets spread out nicely through the work.
On a personal level, this unworthy one is impressed not so much by the high-tech robots, desktops, laptops, and hacking in this story. She is most believably impressed by the close research and fact-checking that happened for Caleb’s medications and clinical presentation. The medications are correct. Their uses as given are correct. The clinical presentation is pretty good coming from one without a medical background. A weaker author, one without her journalism background, would have made many errors, that would have brought psychiatrists, former and current patients, and the relatives of such patients, complaining to Visprint. But they have nothing to worry about. Mental illness is presented in this work with honesty, but without malice. While it was used once to create a shock factor in the story, it is appreciated that that particular scene was not over-emphasized. Rather, it was used to demonstrate the effects of the Project on the person, rather than scaring readers about a person with a mental illness.
The tension in the story was maintained, even tightened as it weaved the various strings into one coherent whole toward the conclusion. Many comic and sarcastic exchanges between Lillian and her friends kept the story light during the heavier moments. The conclusion was rather too convenient, and some places were too cleanly resolved with info-dumps, but the getting to that conclusion was fun, unpredictable and grimly hilarious in the way only this crazy awesome author can pull off without a hitch.
So. I hear people have been looking for the science fiction novel in English from the Philippines. You have the first one among the new generation, right here.
Go forth and find, and read, and spread the good tidings of great joy: The science fiction novel from the Philippines is now here.