Tuesday, September 30, 2014

RE: 'I Hear Your Voice'



“Koreanovelas” (Filipino term for TV drama series from South Korea) are never my thing.  Yes, there were times when some Koreanovelas would have some details or aspects that were able to stir my curiosity enough to make me catch some episodes.  But none really were capable of completely clinching my interest, turning any slight amount of fancy I had into total fandom. 

The closest one to do so was probably Lovers in Paris, most likely because it was the first Koreanovela that reached our shores (if I remember it correctly), gave me my first idea of Korean pop culture (“Aja!” is an expression I first learned here, and it’s an expression I like since then), thus, had the advantage of novelty; eventually, the plot succumbed to hackneyed soap opera tropes (which our typical Filipino drama series suffer from), obliterating any extent of liking I had on the show.

With what I’ve laid out above, one may understand why I consider I Hear Your Voice (also alternatively titled as I Can Hear Your Voice) as the greatest Koreanovela ever.  Because after Lovers in Paris, thousands of Koreanovelas have popped up through the years, and it’s only this time with I Hear Your Voice that I got to love a Koreanovela series and get to be completely invested on it.  Being compelled to write about it is already a very telling hint of how much this series made an impression on me.  For me, it’s the greatest product that has ever come out of the Republic of Korea since kimbap and the Black Eagle (not really from Korea.  But it’s the first thing that I ever liked about Korea.  See Red Alert 2 for the reference).

I Hear Your Voice tells the story of Park Soo-ha and Jang Hye-sung.  When Soo-ha was just nine years-old, he and his father were assaulted by Min Joon-gook, a man that had a grudge with his father.  The trauma mysteriously gave Soo-ha the ability to hear other’s thoughts once he gets a glance of their eyes.  Joon-gook killed his father, and he was about to kill Soo-ha too when 15-year old Hye-sung timely arrived on the scene to disrupt him. 

During the trial, the death of Soo-ha’s father was about to be dismissed as a mere traffic accident, which would had resulted to the acquittal of Min Joon-gook, when Hye-sung arrived to testify against him.  This ensured Joon-gook’s indictment and imprisonment, and he threatened to kill Hye-sung once he gets out of jail. 

Hye-sung’s bold decision to come and testify had a strong impact on Soo-ha.   He developed an infatuation on her and vowed to protect her from Joon-gook. 

Ten years later, Soo-ha, a high school senior, remained love-struck and had learned martial arts to carry on his promise of protecting her; while Hye-sung became a lawyer and had been recently hired to be a public defender.  After reading in a neswspaper of Hye-sung’s employment, Soo-ha was able to track down his first love.  The two got to meet again after a decade, and Soo-ha would find himself aiding Hye-sung in her cases with his mind-reading power.    

Meanwhile, coincidentally, Min Joon-gook, still vengeful and bitter, was released from jail… 

Such is the set-up in which this awesome tale started off from.   (Watch the series to see how the rest of the story goes.)  
   
The show’s initial run was from June to August 2013.  But it was only this year that it was viewed in Filipino television when a local network dubbed and aired it during weeknights (as I write it, it’s still ongoing).  I got caught of it while browsing channels one night (probably while I was watching replays of games from the 2014 FIBA World Cup).  I was charmed, watched a few episodes, got hooked and intrigued enough to search and buy a DVD of the complete series, watched its entirety, loved the series from start to finish, and then proceeded to re-watch most of the episodes.

What’s so special about I Hear Your Voice?  First, the refreshing and exceptional romance between Soo-ha and Hye-sung was a thrill.  Initially, I admit that I was first drawn to it because of having personally fallen in love with an older girl (*cough*), I found the romance relatable.  But it didn’t just end there.  As I was drawn more to the story, I found the romance to be actually fascinating by itself.  It wasn’t shallow, uninspired, and gratuitous.  It was slowly but pleasingly well-developed; it felt justified and earned.  It was appealing, distinctive, and wholesome.  Hence, I was able to find those scenes designed for romantic purposes a delight to watch. 

Heck, this show even made me swoon!  That’s what is most surprising of all.  It’s something unlikely of me.  I’m never a fan of romances, though I do get fascinated by unique, genuinely enjoyable romantic chemistry and tension between two wonderful characters.  There’s even no need for an actual romance to happen between them, as long as the tense attraction between them are there.  Some examples of such are the “speculative romance” of Jughead and Betty, Batman and Wonder Woman’s quasi-romance in the Justice League animated series, the uneasy attraction between Frank Hardy and Nancy Drew (whenever the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew team up), Sherlock Holmes’ “the Woman” esteem for Irene Adler, and back when Peter Parker (a.k.a. Spider-Man) and Carol Danvers (then still Ms. Marvel) started dating in the comics.  (That’s an idea.  I probably need to list my most favorite fictional couples.)      
     
But cases of fictional couples making me be actually thrilled by their romance are rare.  Disney’s Aladdin and Jasmine were the earliest, I think, and the “Eye of the Beholder” episode from the animated series was arguably its highest point.  The most memorable instance was in Cinderella Monogatari, the anime reinvention of the iconic fairy tale, but that was a long, long time ago (There might be other recent ones, but nothing comes to mind as I write this.)  And now there’s Park Soo-ha and Jang Hye-sung. 
 
Second, its premise that combined romantic comedy, court room drama, fantasy, and suspense – each aspect important in making the story terrific – was executed and utilized effectively.  Having such a lot of different genre elements happening around the show seem to be ripe for an untidy narrative, but the series pulled it off fantastically.  The plot remained coherent, well-paced, poised, and impeccably balanced of humor and tension. 

It’s not really perfect.  I still found dumb details that I can nitpick if I want to.  But they can be forgiven.  This is a show that has a character that can read minds after all, so a little more suspension of disbelief regarding coincidences and lazy details for the narrative to stick isn’t that hard for me to give.  The result is a delightful story after all.  I cut them some slack.  I have no complains.      

Third, there is profundity in its message as well.  Insightful themes like telling the truth, keeping promises, admitting faults and mistakes, not wasting one’s life by succumbing to hate and revenge, and maturing as a person are powerfully articulated by the story.      

Fourth, and most importantly, there were plenty of great character moments.  I’ve always been a big fan of strong fictional characters (that’s why I write plenty of lists on them), and this series had plenty of interesting, deep characters that developed well through the story.  

*Warning: some spoilers ahead!*
The main characters, Park Soo-ha and Jang Hye-sung, were able to learn a lot of things from each other and from all the people they’ve encountered throughout the story.  Their experiences definitely helped them become wiser, more mature, and stronger as individuals and as a couple. 

Min Joon-gook was a terrifying but pitiful villain.  Warped with hate and obsessed with revenge, he served as a perfect anti-thesis of Soo-ha.  Soo-ha would have turned out to be the same if he didn’t have Hye-sung.  So, Soo-ha might have probably vowed to protect Hye-sung, and probably was able to carry it out to an extent, but it was really Hye-sung who saved Soo-ha from succumbing into an empty, hateful life. 

Aside from Min Joon-gook, the most important secondary character is the charmingly geeky and idealistic Cha Gwan-woo.  He’s a former cop who became a lawyer (and Lawyer Jang’s colleague) and completes the “love triangle” between Soo-ha and Hye-sung.  He’s not at all like the disruptive, unwanted “third party” kind of character that is typical of a “love triangle” romance.  He’s actually a great, noble character from whom both Soo-ha and Hye-sung gained a lot of wisdom from.  Though understandably infuriated of him at first (for being a rival who is deserving of Hye-sung more than him), Soo-ha would eventually consider Lawyer Cha as a better man and the person that helped him the most in maturing into an adult, worthy of Hye-sung’s love.  

Other notable characters in the series are Seo Do-yeon, Hye-sung’s high school adversary whose accusations led to the latter’s expulsion in high school, and then grew up to become a prosecutor and Hye-sung’s rival on the court; Lawyer Shin, a veteran public defender who is a mentor for Lawyer Cha and Lawyer Jang; Judge Kim, the judge constantly presiding the cases and always exasperated by Lawyer Jang; Go Sung-Bin and Kim Choong-ki, Soo-ha’s classmates and whose constant bickering is a source of constant amusement for us watching; and Eo Choon-shim, Hye-sung’s mother.    These characters all have key moments and worthwhile developments to follow in the show. 

All of these – romance, plot, themes, and characters – make I Hear Your Voice a fun, exhilarating ride with a fantastic finish.  I was happily satisfied by how the story carried on and concluded.  Its ending, especially, was an extremely satisfactory and empathic wrap-up, but still left some sadness for I would no longer know what will happen next to the characters’ stories that I got to be so invested in. 

For me, I Hear Your Voice is something like how a certain gentleman valued Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.  This gentleman went to Mark Twain and told the author he wished he didn’t read Mark Twain, and was willing give a hundred dollars for it to be so.  His reason?  So he could have again the pleasure of reading Huckleberry Finn for the first time.
  
Really.  I found it astonishing that I found myself wishing I haven’t seen the series yet, so I can have the pleasure of watching it for the first time.  I Can Hear Your Voice is that awesome.             

Some assorted musings:
  • Wow.  I wrote a long one.   Again, I guess I just really, really like this show.  And I am still completely baffled why I do.  Maybe my taste is changing as I grow older?  Hmmmm.      
  • Hye-sung is six years older than Soo-ha.  In real life, Lee Bo-young and Lee Jong-suk, the actors who played them, actually have an age gap of ten years.  Fun trivia.
  • Lawyer Shin makes some of the most hilarious facial expressions ever. 
  • Out of its 18 episodes, my most favorite one is probably Episode 14.
  • One creative thing about this show is each episode title is from a featured title or line from a song.  “Echo” (the theme song) and “Why Did You Come Now?” are the show’s best songs.  They’re in my current playlist.  I probably liked them only because they were of the show.    
  • If Harry Potter’s epilogue is the worst ever, I Hear Your Voice has one of the best ever. 
  • I think this is even the first time I even used the word “swoon” in a blog post.  /shaking my head.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Top 20 TV Series (That Had Already Concluded)


This, of course, is not a listing of all my favorite TV series.  As what the title says, it’s a list on TV series that had already concluded; a large chunk of my favorite TV series are still ongoing.  Also take note that it says “TV series” – serialized shows of an ongoing set of characters and story – and not just “TV shows”, which is a term that can have a broader scope of including every form of TV program (example, the comedy show Whose Line is It Anyway? is one of most favorite TV shows ever, but it’s not qualified for this list).      

As a TV fan ever since I was a child, I’ve seen a lot of TV series (especially this latter part of my life), so I’ve limited the pool of shows to be considered for this list.  First, the aforementioned detail that they already had wrapped-up (or were already cancelled).  Second, it should be a live-action TV series; I’ve watched and loved a lot of cartoons and a lot of the spots will surely go to animated TV series and anime if they were considered.  Third, the series should have run during my lifetime (1989-present); shows that had their tenures prior my birth but I was able to get fond of after watching the re-runs are disqualified for this list (but I will be tackling them in a separate, follow-up list in the near future, hopefully).  

Let’s get the ball rolling…

20.) NIKITA (2010-2013)

This series tells the story of the titular character, Nikita (amazingly played by Maggie Q), and her crusade to bring down “Division” – a clandestine government-funded black ops organization that has become corrupt – which she used to work as an assassin for. 

Back when it first came out in 2010, I was an avid follower of each episode.  But it kind of lost me after season two.  I occasionally watched some episodes afterwards, but I was not that much hooked as its initial season.  Nonetheless, Nikita still gets a spot since I was so into this show during its first season.  I appreciated its fast pacing, the great characters, and the superb action.  I was really excitedly following it in an episode-to-episode basis.

19.) NUMB3RS (2005-2010)

Though this series failed to be consistently exciting for me, it has one of the most intriguing premises for a TV series.  It follows the crime-solving adventures of FBI Special Agent Don Eppes and his brother, Prof. Charlie Eppes.  As a mathematical genius, Charlie helps his brother in his cases by providing mathematical insight, models, or applications that are conveniently relevant in solving the crime at hand.  It’s kind of a bit ridiculous how each of Don’s cases happens to always have elements that Charlie’s mathematical talents can come invaluable to, but, hey, with suspension of disbelief and all, using math to solve crime from time and time again is very fascinating.     

18.) ALMOST HUMAN (2013-2014)

This was one of my most favorite shows last year, and it crushed me when announcement of its cancellation came this year after just a season of 13 episodes.  It’s not exactly the smartest example of science fiction, but it did provide a high level of entertainment.  It established a futuristic setting that I can get fascinated about, and the duo of John Kennex and Dorian – which heavily reminds me of another favorite sci-fi detective duo of mine, the Robot novels’ Elijah Bailey and R. Daneel Olivaw – had enjoyable “buddy-cops” chemistry.

17.) LOIS & CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN (1993-1997)

 
I can’t remember the degree of sophistication that this show had since I’ve watched this series when I was just a child (and I haven’t seen any re-runs of it since then).    But I definitely remember enjoying this show a lot.  From what I gather, Lois and Clark was a romantic comedy TV series that uses the Superman mythos as material.  Again, I can’t remember much to really assess if that premise was silly or clever (but considering the fact that I’ve always found the “love triangle” between Clark, Lois, and Superman a lot of fun, it was likely the latter).  Being a 4 to 8 year-old boy, the only thing that mattered to me was it was a show about Superman – one of my favorite comic book characters – and that was good enough for me.    

16.) MR. BEAN (1990-1995)

 
Having watched Mr. Bean’s 14 episodes many times over at this point already, it can’t get anything more out of me but a mere amused chuckle once in a while.  But at one time, watching the series’ episodes for the first time back in the 90’s, the antics, absurdity, and misadventures of this Rowan Atkinson character induced a lot of belly-aching laughter from me.  For me, at one time, Mr. Bean was one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever encountered.  Thus, it’s easily one of the most memorable TV experiences I’ve had and is therefore deserving of a spot in this list.    

15.) HIGHLANDER: THE SERIES (1992-1998)

 
Despite of its messy and incoherent continuity, I am charmed greatly of the premise of the Highlander franchise (it also helps that its theme, Queen’s “Princes of the Universe”, is very catchy) – about Immortals roaming the earth for centuries, dueling among themselves until there can “only be one” (as its iconic tagline goes).  I enjoyed some of the movies, and I greatly like both MacLeods/Highlanders, but most of my fondness for the Highlander franchise comes from its TV series.  I just felt that there had been better swordfights, “Quickening” scenes, and overall storytelling done on the TV series than on the movies.          

14.) GOKUSEN LIVE! (2002)

 
Gokusen Live! was a live-action adaptation of manga/anime, Gokusen.  The story focuses on Kumiko “Yankumi” Yamaguchi, an enthusiastically dedicated teacher of a class full of delinquent students, who is secretly a Yakuza clan heiress.  Yukie Nakama’s charming portrayal of the main character made her one of my most favorite fictional female characters ever.  I understand that there were two more follow-up series after the first live-action Gokusen TV series, but this was the only series that matters to me (I found the next two lacking, and it’s really not the same without Shin Sawada).

13.) HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS (1995-1999)

As a kid in the 90’s, this had been at one time my favorite live-action TV series.  It was a wonderfully distinctive take on the story of the legendary fictional character, Hercules/Heracles.  Ever since, I have always considered Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules as one of the best pop culture reinventions of the mythological character. 

And Hercules: The Legendary Journeys was a delightful reinvention of Greek mythology in general.  I appreciate much how the world that Hercules and his sidekick, Iolaus, were traveling in during the series’ run was not confined in an ancient Greece setting, but also had other facets, scenarios, and characteristics that are found in other ancient cultures and historical periods (Egyptian, Oriental, Medieval, Norse, etc.).      

12.) FARSCAPE (1999-2003)

The series focuses on a colorful band of characters of different alien species that are on the run from “Peacekeepers” (a corrupt and harsh Spartanic organization) and a human astronaut named John Crichton (who got sucked in a wormhole during an experimental space flight and was picked up by the others) that are wandering through space in a bio-mechanical ship called “Moya.”  Farscape engrossed me a lot during its run due to its wonderful collection of characters, remarkable adventure narrative, gorgeous production value, and by just being an overall exciting space saga.   
        
11.) STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE (1993-1999)

My love for Star Trek is mostly due to the movies.  I’ve never got into the original TV series or The Next Generation TV series.  I was able to see some episodes from re-runs, but I was never really hooked (I was even bored at times).  However, Deep Space Nine (or DS9) easily caught my fancy.  In my humble opinion, it was significantly better-written, more exciting, and thematically richer than any Star Trek show has ever been.    

I love its setting; instead of mostly taking place in a starship as other Star Trek shows, this series took place in a space station named “Deep Space Nine”, which was located near a newly discovered wormhole that permits easy admission to a very distant and uncharted part of the galaxy called “Gamma Quadrant.”  Hence, this station was extremely valuable for political, economic, and exploratory reasons.  This gave the series a kind of a-station-in-the-borders-of-space feel, which I find extremely appealing.  A lot of fascinating story conflicts and plots resulted from this unique Star Trek setting. 

10.) XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS (1995-2001)

 
Hercules: The Legendary Journeys was the first, but its off-shoot, Xena: Warrior Princess, eventually overtook it in my heart.  The awesome Xena would emerge as one of my most favorite heroines ever, and I would find her adventures more entertaining than Hercules’.  The general sentiment was probably like mine since Xena would end up outlasting Hercules for 18 episodes. 
    
9.) SMALLVILLE (2001-2011)

Among the shows in this list, Smallville lasted the longest.  It ran for ten seasons, but I was probably only a fan of half of these.  I closely followed the show’s first four seasons, since the concept of a TV series that retells Clark Kent’s high school years in his hometown, Smallville, as he develops his powers and characteristics that would eventually lead him to become Superman, mightily appealed to me. 

Tom Welling’s deadpan, bad acting actually worked perfectly in making Clark Kent a charming “simple small town boy” character.  Michael Rosenbaum’s portrayal of Lex Luthor was electrifying and captivating – definitely my most favorite depiction of the character on screen.  I also find it extremely refreshing and intriguing that, in this universe, the younger versions of two eventual archenemies would initially be best friends. 

This series also have my most favorite versions of Lana Lang and Lois Lane in all depictions of the characters ever as Kristin Kreuk and Erica Durance did magnificent jobs in playing their respective characters.  It also introduced Chloe Sullivan, a character that had never been part of the Superman mythos prior this series; between her, Lana Lang, and Lois Lane, this series had an ensemble of interestingly strong female characters.       

The middle seasons kind of lost my excitement for the show for it became mostly set on Metropolis and Clark Kent was thrown into more of an “adult situation.”  And in spite of these factors being already provided, the series still hadn’t Clark Kent learn to fly or become Superman.  And it bugged me.  Other DC heroes and many iconic Superman villains were being introduced already, and Clark Kent still hasn’t figured out how to become Superman?!  It was really frustrating.   Moreover, the show’s weakest storylines, in my opinion, were also during these middle seasons.  I was still watching Smallville occasionally, but no longer in episode-to-episode basis.   

Then it started getting more fun again when Lois Lane and Clark Kent’s romance was starting to develop.  It totally reminded me of Lois and Clark (see number 17).  And that’s when Smallville made me care again.  Since then, I saw the show through until its end. However, I was rewarded by an unsatisfying, awful finale.     

Still, despite of half of Smallville’s run being a disappointment, it was still a show that I was greatly fond of.  During its best seasons, the series had provided me some of the most delightful, relatable, and absorbing TV watching experiences I’ve ever had.  Thus, it made the number 9 spot of this list.   

8.) PSYCH (2006-2014)

 
The recently ended Psych has been one of the most amusing and humorous TV series around. I was drawn to it initially because of the uniqueness of its lead character, Shawn Spencer, but my interest and affection for this show were sustained because of the consistent presence of fun, tension, wit, quirkiness, and a lovable cast throughout its seasons. 

Psych centers on “psychic detective” Shawn Spencer and his partner/best bud Burton Guster, as they serve as consultants for the Santa Barbara police department.  The enjoyable catch, however, is Shaw isn’t really a psychic but can effectively maintain the charade because of possessing an extremely potent eidetic memory and deductive prowess. Fun!   

7.) THE ADVENTURES OF PETE AND PETE (1993-1996)

This brilliant Nickelodeon show, situated in a small town setting, tells the day-to-day occurrences and interactions in the lives of two brothers both named Pete Wrigley.  This was easily my most favorite live-action TV series during my childhood.  Its eccentric and clever narrative made it massively charming and entertaining.   With no exaggeration, I haven’t encountered any show yet that has the same kind of delightful, unique storytelling style that this show had.  

6.) VERONICA MARS (2004-2007)

I’ve already repeated the story of how I got into Veronica Mars too many times already.  Let me just do it again briefly here.  I first got wind of it through its spectacular Kickstarter campaign for a movie.  I was intrigued.  I checked out the show, marathoned all of its episodes.  I loved it.  I became a Mars-mallow.  Veronica Mars became a favorite heroineI loved the movie when it came.  Veronica Mars is awesome.  There.    

5.) LEVERAGE (2008-2012)

Leverage is basically Ocean’s 11 in TV.  Which means it’s a smart heist tale that has plenty of twists, charm, humor, and energy.  Though the series wasn’t perfect – e.g. it had an underwhelming conclusion, a few weak episodes, and there were no new members introduced to the team – it was still terrific and immensely enjoyable overall.   

The series follows the exploits of the “Leverage Consulting & Associates” crew, a team consisting of a grifter, a hacker, a thief, and a retrieval specialist, and is masterminded by Nathan Ford – one of the cleverest, most ingenious strategists I’ve encountered in fiction.  The team members – with the exception of Ford (who was an insurance investigator prior to leading the team) – are made up of very proficient criminals who decided to reform (to an extent), and instead use their skills and talents to con and steal from the rich, greedy, and powerful people that have done injustice to ordinary citizens who haven’t the means to fight for themselves. 

4.) ANGEL (1999-2004)

This spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was grittier but just as appealing at its parent show.  It explores the struggles and adventures of Buffy’s ex-boyfriend, Angel, the vampire with a soul, as he runs a private detective agency based in Los Angeles that fights the evils – primarily supernatural in nature – of the city.  This had a delicious “noir” mood effect on the series, with Angel representing the tortured, unenthusiastic, sharp detective that had to deal with the urban underworld in his cases, but this time, the “underworld” is a literal one, with demons and all.  The finish product was excellent and captivating. 

Angel has always been a favorite Buffy character of mine (next to Buffy), and I was so glad that there was this entire show made to centrally explore and develop the character.  Which this show fantastically did.    

3.) FIREFLY (2002)

Firefly is considered by many as the perfect example of an awesome TV series cancelled too early.  Ever since I first checked this show out back in 2011 after being intrigued of its cult status, I’ve re-watched this TV series (along with its spinoff movie, Serenity) almost once a year.  There are only 14 episodes so it’s pretty easy.  And it’s something really worth to re-watch annually.   

The series tells the adventures of the ragtag crew of “Serenity”, a Firefly-class spaceship (hence, the title), led by cowboy-esque Captain Malcolm Reynolds, as they take on various transporting/smuggling/stealing jobs across the “Wild West” outskirts of the galaxy.  Its “space Western” premise, setting, and production value are extremely charming; the writing is clever, has plenty of heart, and possesses a delicious balance of humor, drama, and action (what you’ll expect from a Joss Whedon project); and the “Serenity” crew are easily lovable.   

2.) BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1997-2003)

 
And that’s three straight Whedon TV series getting into the top 4 spots, with this one being the best among them.  I enjoyed Angel a lot, and it was more engaging sometimes.  But Buffy the Vampire Slayer is still the greatest – it had the  Buffy Summers, one of the greatest vampire hunters and female characters in fiction ever; lots of humor; many strong, memorable characters and character developments; exciting action; consistently clever, well-written, and genuinely inspired plots and dialogues; absorbing story arcs; and themes that were easily relatable. 

For years, Buffy the Vampire Slayer had been my most favorite TV series ever.  Then I encountered…

1.) HOUSE M.D. (2004-2012)

Out of its 177 episodes during its 8-season run, I only encountered one weak, unsatisfying episode: its finale.  I’m not saying it was bad.  It’s just felt lacking, that’s all.  The writers did their best to make an appropriate conclusion.  But it was not at all the resounding exclamation point that such great show deserves.  It was a mere period.             

Finale regardless, House was a first-rate, intelligent drama series.  I was not only fascinated in its overall storylines, but I was also made invested in almost every single detail, subplot, and character of the show.  It has a lot of strong points: a stellar cast, outstanding acting and writing, engaging conflicts, thrilling plots, and the smart utility of medical scenarios.   

Of course, much of the credit of this show’s awesomeness has to go to the main character himself, the flawed and brilliant Dr. Greggory House.  He’s the greatest character I’ve ever seen in TV, and he’s definitely – hands down – one of the most fascinating characters there are in fiction of any medium.  He has a lot of depth, and is extremely interesting.  Kudos to Hugh Laurie – who definitely brought plenty of his own personality and talents into the character – for doing an amazing job on bringing this amazing character to life. 

It’s probable that a day will come when another show will overtake House M.D. as my most favorite TV series, but I think it’ll be a long time before it happens.  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Celebrating Team Gilas Pilipinas' Recent World Cup Stint



Thanks to their dramatic silver medal finish in last year’s FIBA Asia Championship, the Philippines qualified to compete in the FIBA World Championship for the first time in four decades.  I’m happy that they made it.  It really made watching the World Cup more enjoyable this year.     

Next to Team Espanya, the most fun team that I’ve ever seen in the World Cup’s first round was Team Pilipinas.  And the only reasons why I think “Team Espanya” was more fun is because I adore Pau Gasol and they actually win games.  Sure, I have to enjoy Team Pilipinas since it’s my team, but I probably am not really that biased since foreign observers also enjoyed and grew fond of them.  One said that the Philippine squad displayed the most heart in the first round, while another said that they were actually more fun than Team USA.  
      
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Technically, Team Gilas Pilipinas’ efforts in the FIBA World Cup fell short.  On paper, a 1-4 record and first round exit is nothing worth celebrating.  But that is just what real fandom is all about.  Regardless of how superficial or minor that achievement is, you will celebrate it.  And when the object of your fandom is in rock bottom, you will still stick by it.  That’s why whether the Lakers win the championship or have a horrendous season, I still root for them.  That’s why even when Bleach sucks already, I still follow it.  That’s why I can forgive all of The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s many flaws and still honestly enjoy it because I love Spider-Man.  That’s why I lament when Almost Human got cancelled after only a season.     And that’s why I make a big deal out of Gilas’ performance in the FIBA World Cup.  As a hoops fan and a Filipino, I can’t help but be invested with Gilas.  That comes with the territory of being a fan.  You will never be apathetic.   You will always be passionate regarding it.   

*             *             *

But adding some context on how Team Gilas Pilipinas’ World Cup record of 1-4 was brought about, you might understand why being excited about the team’s performance has some justifications. 

Coming into the tournament, the Philippines was ranked 34th in the world, and Team Pilipinas was probably the shortest and most inexperienced squad in the tournament.  They were the most underdogs among the underdogs.  Understandably, odds-makers did not expect much from the team and easily dismissed them.  Many thought Team Pilipinas was going to be blown out in most of their matches.  

Consider this: per Rappler, bookies favored 16th-ranked Croatia to beat the Philippines by 23 points during the first game.   But what happened in the first game was totally different.  Yes, Croatia won.  But only with a margin of 3 points, and they needed an extra period after regulation to hold off the Filipinos.  And that made heads turn.  These short Filipinos can compete with the rest of the world after all. 

And that first game was no fluke; against 3rd-ranked Argentina and Puerto Rico, Team Pilipinas came out of the losing end of close matches.  But those matches could have gone either way.  In fact, those 23 points?  That actually became the TOTAL amount of points the Gilas trailed in all their losses (that includes Gilas’ only blowout loss against Greece)!

The possibility of Team Pilipinas advancing to the Round-of-16 with a 4-1 record was as likely of an outcome as the actual 1-4 that transpired.  If we look at it that way, it was not bad for a 34th-ranked team which had been 40-year absent in the tournament and was the shortest squad in that tournament.  Not bad at all.      

*             *             *

The Gilas’ battle cry/slogan, puso – literally translated to “heart” in English – truly defined the team.  They were short underdogs, presumed to easily lose by double-digits.  But despite facing taller, more experienced, more skilled, and more athletic opponents, the Filipinos held their own.  They never backed down.  They never showed any signs of being intimidated. 

It was actually the other way around, as throughout the tournament – even after experiencing successive disappointing losses – it looked to me that they always treated each new match with an air of confidence, insistence, and audacity that they can beat the team they will be facing.  That’s why despite going 0-4, and basically being eliminated from the tournament, Team Gilas Pilipinas was still going all out against their last match against Senegal.  Therefore, they still managed a win out of their FIBA World Cup stint.     

This team might have its flaws (leading to those loses.  Will discuss this later), but lack of effort and guts are not among of them.  They banged and fought against bigger bodies to grab rebounds (their rebound numbers are decent actually despite being undersized), played through injury (particularly the naturalized Andray Blatched), fearlessly shot the ball (especially Jimmy Alapag who became Kobe-like in cold deadliness in the match against Argentina), relentlessly ran back and forth across the court (using speed to their advantage against the bigger opponents), and displayed surprisingly energetic defense (there were many times they displayed amazing transition and zone defenses).  When they yell, “Puso!” they do mean it. 

As I continue to push my 20’s, I’ve gradually came to the realization of appreciating hard work over natural, innate capabilities.  That’s why I really like this aspect of Team Pilipinas.  This is one thing I can say that makes me really proud of them.  They really did their best, gave their all.   They showed the world the tenacity of the Filipino spirit.  They showed the world what puso means.  I can find something inspiring in that.  

*             *             *

Of course, a 1-4 finish is still a 1-4 finish.  Regardless of the fact that Team Gilas competed better than the world expected – almost winning matches against Croatia, Argentina, and Puerto Rico – they still eventually lost.  Regardless of losing by 20 points or merely a point, either way, losing is still losing.  Nothing can change the fact. 

Despite of all the amazing things Team Pilipinas had shown us, there were still several problems.  I would like to point out some I observed:     
  • Gilas lacked poise in pressure.  What do I mean by that?  They commit a lot of mental lapses and turnover when the going gets tough.  In the matches against Argentina and Puerto Rico, Gilas was even able to create double-digit advantages.  But they were not able to keep those leads due to lack of poise.  Which brings me to…
  • They lacked creative half-court sets.  Oh, Philippine-style “bara-bara” basketball did wonders in the tournament.   Other countries were probably not used to see such style of up-tempo basketball offense, which allowed Gilas to confuse them and obtain sizable leads in the first half of games.  It was awesome while it lasted.  However, once teams began to adjust their defenses to break down most of Gilas’ run-and-gun offense, Gilas had no effective, measured half-court plays to turn to.   This caused turnovers.  This caused bad shots.  This caused Gilas’ lead to be erased.
  • And why is there a lot of deferring to Andray Blatche in the perimeter whenever the play breaks down?  Blatche had a lot of turnovers when playing with the ball in his hands from outside.  Sure, he shoots threes sometimes, and successfully drives to the hoop sometimes.  But I think he had more turnovers than net successes.  Gilas should understand that he’s no go-to perimeter scorer.  Better make plays for him in the post.  (Again, Gilas need better half-court sets.)                
  • They need to shoot better in the three-point territory.  I observed that Gilas had a lot of frustratingly missed treys.  Because of size issues, dominating the inside is out of the question.  Filipinos can compensate by doing much damage in the outside instead.  When Argentina, en route to a gold medal, beat the USA in the 2004 Olympics, they’ve done it by lighting the lights out in the tree-point territory.  I believe future Philippine squads will enjoy greater success in the future if they improve the 30-something % in 3pt FG that they displayed in this tournament to at least a solid 40% or greater. 
  • If possible, I would love to see Gilas possess crisper ball movement.  A la San Antonio Spurs kind of finessed ball movement.   
  • With no disrespect whatsoever, but I think there are a lot of better options out there for Gary David’s spot. 
*             *             *

Team Pilipinas’ best might have been not good enough at this point, but I’m expecting that Philippine basketball will only get better.  And if they sustain this fantastic puso attitude as they improve in other aspects, then the Philippines becoming part of the world’s basketball elite is not at all a farfetched fantasy.  Seriously, if there’s a combination of smarts, talent, and puso?  Philippines will definitely dominate.        

I really hope that this is indeed the start of the rise of Philippine basketball.  After the tournament, Philippines is now, if I’m right, number 24 in the world.  I hope that there will be no dive from there.  I don’t mind if its rise is not meteoric.  I don’t mind if it’s a gradual kind rise.  As long as it’s a rise.  Actually, considering Team Pilipinas’ puso identity, it is more appropriate anyway if the rise to number one is slow, steady, and gritty.  It’ll make a more satisfying story.      

And as a fan, I’ll be here cheering every hard-fought step of the way. 

#PUSO #LabanPilipinas

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Top 10 Science Fiction Books


I am not really sure what is my most favorite genre in fiction.  But if my book collection is any indication (sans non-fiction and comics), in which a majority are made up of science fiction books, then I probably lean on science fiction more. 

There are tons of brilliant science fiction stories out there, but since there is only room for ten, I definitely missed out a lot of notable and/or classic science fiction books.  In fact, I’ll inform you now: there are no works of distinguished science fiction authors Robert A. Heinlein, Frederik Pohl, Arthur C. Clarke, Larry Niven, and Harry Turtledove that made this list.  It’s not that I didn’t like their works.  I did.  I’ve enjoyed them and they were actually considered for this list (especially Harry Turtledove’s).  It’s just that I find the ten books that made the list more enjoyable than them. 

It is also worth mentioning that only those I have actually read are considered for this list, and, certainly, there is a lot of great science fiction out there that I haven’t encountered yet.  For example, though I liked the movie, I haven’t read the “Ender’s Game” book yet.  Also, I understand that “Dune” is an important science fiction series but I haven’t read a single book yet.  Moreover, I haven’t read much present science fiction books, and when I mean “present”, I mean published recently in this 21st century.  Most of my science fiction readings are mostly published in the 20th century. 

Again, there is room for only ten.  And these ten, not only did they deliver very entertaining tales, but also did an excellent job utilizing the scientific technologies, innovations, or concepts that they have established in their respective narratives, stirring my imagination greatly. 

10.) “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes

This Hugo award-winning story was originally a short story that has been expanded into a novel (I read both).  It has also been adapted into the movie, Charly, and the Broadway musical, Charlie and Algernon.  

It’s about a mentally-retarded man named Charlie Gordon who underwent an operation that gradually increased his intelligence, which eventually transformed him into a genius.  However, in the end (SPOILERS!), the effect of the operation wore off, returning Charlie to his initial mental capacity.  What makes the narrative of this science fiction awesome is that it’s told in first-person, through Charlie’s journal.  Hence, we were able to really see Charlie’s story unfold from his point of view as we get to really understand, feel, and be immersed in his mental development (and eventual decline) through the way he writes his daily entries. 

Oh, by the way, Algernon was the mouse in which the operation has been tested on before it was done on Charlie. 

9.) “Crosstime Traffic” by Lawrence Watt-Evans

 
Not to be mistaken with Harry Turtledove’s “Crosstime Traffic” books (which are also good reads by the way), this book of Lawrence Watt-Evans is a collection of his short stories.  Half of these are alternate reality/parallel universe-themed, while half are other science fiction and fantasy short stories that are merely there to pad the volume.  This collection of short stories made this list because of three very memorable short stories that deal with alternate realities or parallel worlds: “Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers”, “An Infinity of Karen”, and “The Drifter.”   

The Hugo-Award winning “Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers” tells the story of a young man’s experience when he was working the night shift of a hamburger joint where travelers from different alternate realities are fond to go to.  It’s a quirky story with a surprising profound message in the end. 

“An Infinity of Karen” is a story of a widower hopping around different worlds to search for a widowed version of his wife.  I easily saw how the ending of this story was going, but it’s still a delightful read nonetheless.

Lastly, “The Drifter” is the greatest alternate reality/parallel universe story I’ve ever encountered in fiction.  Ever.  No exaggeration.  It’s really that fantastic.  The story tells of a man named Danny Royce who volunteered to try a machine that will send him to a parallel world.  At first, he thought that the machine didn’t work, for the parallel world he was sent to was just the same as the one he was from, with that universe’s version of himself having just left when he arrived.  Then later, he observed tiny differences in the details around him.  He would learn that as time passes by, he was continually and gradually travelling sideward across parallel worlds!  The differences he observed of the realities were tiny and trivial at first, but since he’s unable to stop his cross-reality travel, after some time, the differences became significant that until after months and then years, he found the realities he was in are completely unknown to him already.  The twist in the conclusion of the story was so deliciously appropriate.      

8.) “The War of the Worlds” by H. G. Wells

 
With “The War of the Worlds”, “The Time Machine”, and “The Invisible Man”, it can be argued that Wells is the greatest science fiction writer of Victorian literature.  Among his works, “The War of the Worlds” is what fascinated me the most. 

The classic novel tells of Martians traveling to Earth in order to invade it.  These aliens, far more superior in intellect and technology, had no trouble in destroying any form of military counter-attack that humans mobilized.  There was no stopping the Martian’s path of destruction and humanity’s total annihilation.  But in a fantastic plot twist, these advanced creatures fell victim to the simplest of earthly creatures: bacteria!  Microorganisms, whose extent of harm to human beings is that of a mere common cold, proved lethal to the Martians who had no natural immunity against them.  It’s one of the most brilliant twists I’ve ever encountered in fiction (I think that this tale is so well-known already that there’s no need for any spoiler warning for that twist). 

Moreover, this related anecdote is so remarkable and legendary that it’s worth mentioning here.  Back in 1938, “The War of the Worlds” had a radio adaptation in the U.S.A. which was so dramatically narrated that it incited thousands of listeners to panic, believing that what they were hearing in the radio was actually real.  Awesome.   

7.) “I Am Legend” by Richard Matheson

“I Am Legend” is a unique vampire story, in which the vampires’ origin is scientific in nature and not supernatural.  The hero of the story is Robert Neville, the last living human on Earth, as he lives in an apocalyptic world wherein every human has become a vampire.  During the day, he hunts the vampires.  But when dusk comes, he barricades himself in his home, looking forward for dawn to arrive.  

It’s a very engaging and unique story – a thrilling reinvention of the premise in style of “Robinson Crusoe.”  The story’s ending, especially, was very powerful and exemplary.  In fact, its recent movie adaptation (starring Will Smith) would have rocked if it stuck with its originally planned ending, which was closer to the book’s own.  The people behind the movie decided to revise the ending after it didn’t do well with their test audience (this alternate ending for the movie can be watched in Youtube.  Last time I checked, it’s still there).  Hence, the official ending for the I Am Legend movie was safe but underwhelming and didn’t make sense at all, wasting the solid and enjoyable movie that had been leading to that final part.   
             
6.) “Brain Wave” by Poul Anderson

This book is almost perfect.  Its only flaw is being too short and rushed.  It has a very fascinating and smart premise, and there was still a lot of room for Anderson to expand the story more.

In “Brain Wave”, Earth, in its cosmological travel, escapes from a force field that had been hindering electromagnetic and electrochemical processes.  The result of this is the tremendous increase of the brainpower of all living creatures – both humans and animals – in the world.  Morons gain average intelligence, those with average intelligence become geniuses, and geniuses become uber-geniuses.  Those that can’t handle the massive leap in intelligence went mad.  Some humans even gain mental powers. 

Because of the increased intelligence, mankind was able to answer all the questions and solve all the problems that they had struggled with throughout history.  However, with the world’s problems all taken care of, what is left for mankind to do?  Now, isn’t that an awesome science fiction premise?           
  
5.) “The Dragonriders of Pern” Series by Anne McCaffrey

This series is my most favorite work of Anne McCaffrey, who has written many enjoyable science fiction stories.  There are a lot of books in this series and I haven’t read most of them, but with the few that I’ve got to read, I easily grew fond of its fascinating premise and world. 

At first glance, one would presume that “The Dragonriders of Pern” is fantasy.  The series is, after all, about teleporting dragons and their human riders, who are emphatically and telepathically bounded to them.  These dragons and dragonriders protect the Medieval-esque world of Pern (or, at least, the parts occupied by humans) from “Thread”, mychorrhizoid spores that fall from the Red Star (Pern’s step-sister planet that has an erratic orbit) to Pern, which burrow into the ground upon landfall and devour any organic material they touch. 

In the first two books, every indication points out that Pern was a fantasy world of dragons.  But in a delightful twist in its third book, “The White Dragon” (SPOILER! You will really enjoy this twist if you aren’t aware of it), and was explained further in later books, it was revealed, that in the past, Pern had been colonized by space-travelling humans.  For two generations, the humans flourished in the planet.  Then the Red Star’s orbit finally fell parallel to Pern, which led to the humans’ first encounter with Thread.  The destruction that it brought about was staggering that it even completely broke Pern’s already weak contact with the home planet.  To combat these, the humans of Pern bred creatures that resemble the dragons of mythical legends of ancient Earth, on which humans can mount to meet the Thread in the sky and scorch them before they can reach the ground.   But through the years of alternating “Intervals” (200 years of no Thread since the Red Star is on its opposite orbit) and “Passes” (50 years of Thread, which occurs between two Intervals), their origin, history, and advanced technology were lost among the inhabitants of Pern as the world succumbed into a Medieval-esque setting and society. 

4.) “Lightning” by Dean Koontz

Besides his “Odd Thomas” books, “Lightning” is my most favorite book of Dean Koontz.  It’s not exactly brilliant, but it’s still very entertaining and wonderful.  It’s such a great, unknown book that I won’t reveal much what it’s all about.  I won’t deny you the pleasure of discovering it for yourself.  Really, it’s one of those books that work best when you have no real idea on what will go on.  You only need to know two things about it: a.) for me, it’s one of the best and most underrated stories that features time-travelling, and b.) it’s titled “Lightning” because lightning strikes whenever time-travelling is activated on the area (it’s corny, I know.  But aside from this, the other details of the story are really enjoyable). 

3.) Jurassic Park” by Michael Crichton

 
Michael Crichton has the talent for writing smart fiction, and all of his books are stimulating, technical reads.   But though “Jurassic Park” isn’t my most favorite Crichton book, I think it’s the best among his most “science fiction-y” works.  It’s also probably his most popular work, too, since a classic movie was based upon it.  The concept of bringing dinosaurs back to life by means of genetic engineering excited me greatly.  It was also in this book in which I first encounter Chaos Theory (through the character Ian Malcolm), which I find very,very fascinating.           
                                         
2.) “Robot” Series by Isaac Asimov

There are other Asimov tales – particularly the short stories in I, Robot – that make use of the concept of “The Three Laws of Robotics” (1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm; 2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law; and 3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws), and they may or may not be part of the universe of the “Robot” series of novels, but what I am pertaining to as the “Robot series” are those that involve the delightful duo of Elijah Bailey (one of my most favorite detectives in fiction) and R. Daneel Olivaw (my most favorite android in fiction), namely “The Caves of Steel”, “The Naked Sun”, “The Robots of Dawn”, and “Robots and Empire” (which featured an ancestor of Bailey alongside Daneel).  The stories essentially involve mysteries, but it also has a lot of thoughtful science fiction themes.  The “Robot” novels are all extremely clever, well-written, and engaging.  It’s definitely, for me, Asimov’s greatest work next to…

1.) “Foundation” Series by Isaac Asimov

This epic is arguably Asimov’s magnum opus.  The science of Psychohistory, which is an integral aspect to the series’ premise, is one of the most thought provoking ideas I’ve ever encountered despite of it being fictional.   For Asimov to thought out something like it proves how masterful and brilliant he is as a storyteller.    

The original Foundation Trilogy – “Foundation”, “Foundation and Empire”, and “Second Foundation” – really blew me away (I’m thankful that I was able to get the opportunity to read that in a chronological order, since I was able to enjoy its story properly).  The trilogy tells a narrative that spans hundreds of years.  It begins with the introduction of Psychohistory, a combination of applications of history, sociology, and statistics that makes the prediction of future events of human civilization possible.  For it to work, it relies on two presuppositions: a) “The population whose behavior was modeled should be sufficiently large”; and b) “The population should remain in ignorance of the results of the application of psychohistorical analyses.”  Its creator, Hari Seldon, through Psychohistory, predicted the fall of the Galactic Empire, which would propel the galaxy into 30,000 years of barbaric “Dark Age.”  He then developed a “Seldon Plan” that would cushion the blow of the Galactic Empire’s fall and reduce the period of “Dark Age” into just a millennium.  The “Seldon Plan” involved the establishment of two Foundations which would preserve human knowledge and competencies, and would guarantee a “Golden Age” after the thousand-year Dark Age.  The rest of the trilogy detailed how Seldon’s “Seldon Plan” was carried out by the Foundations through the years.               

Asimov’s exciting follow-up books, “Foundation’s Edge” and “Foundation and Earth”, expanded the already rich mythology and upped the ante.  The two books revealed that the Foundation and Second Foundation weren’t the only factions in the picture.  Then, it was established the detail that Asimov’s “Robot” and “Galactic Empire” novels took place earlier in the same universe where the “Foundation” novels are set.  It also increased the stakes as it introduced a third presupposition for Psychohistory to work: “human beings are the only sentient intelligence in the galaxy.” 

The potential that this third presupposition presented thrilled me much.   Seldon assumed that only Homo sapiens are in the picture, so what would happen if non-Homo sapiens show up?  Seldon didn’t set up contingencies against aliens (as what he had done with significant anomalies caused by an individual; that was one of the purposes of why he established a Second Foundation).  Or didn’t he?  It’s a really exciting matter to ponder on.  But, unfortunately, I won’t ever know how it will turn out since, instead of elaborating about that, Asimov opted on writing two prequels – “Prelude to Foundation” and “Forward the Foundation” – before his death.  The prequels provided interesting back stories, but I would rather have a sequel for “Foundation and Earth.”