Tag Archives: tom sykes writer

Good review of Realm of the Punisher in TLS

1 Jul


Michael Vatikiotis has reviewed Realm of the Punisher positively in the current TLS (Times Literary Supplement). It’s always reassuring when you try to do something ambitious in writing and an informed reader ‘gets it’.

The article is here behind a paywall, here are some quotes:

‘Tom Sykes’s account of his rambling road trip through the country, The Realm of the Punisher, offers a serious and at times tragic corrective. He conveys in an affectionate, unpatronizing tone the many layers of injustice that run through the Philippines, and uses interviews and site visits to try to explain the eccentric ways and popular appeal of its more muscular leaders.’

‘Sykes cuts through these contradictions with a mixture of casual English aplomb and raw socialist idealism.’

‘Sykes stumbles on one of the more fascinating ironies of the modern Philippines: the appeal of rich strongmen using guns and goons to poor people living desperate and deprived lives. ‘

Realm of the Punisher Review in The London Magazine

2 Apr

Pleased that Georgina Monk’s review of The Realm of the Punisher in The London Magazine appreciates my aim to infuse a travel narrative with reflections on nationalism, populism, imperialism, Orientalism and some other ‘isms’ as they relate to the Philippines. Read it by clicking on these words here.

Cover picture by Louis Netter.

My Interview with Gene Alcantara, UK-based Filipino Activist

5 Feb


In the current online issue of Red Pepper, poet, journalist and community activist Gene Alcantara talks to me about his resistance to Marcos and Duterte, crazed internet trolls and the politics of the Filipino diaspora. Sharp and sleek photos by Alexander Sebley.

Read it here.

DarkFest Presents: The Place of the Outsider

30 Oct

Thursday, 8 November 2018 from 19:00-21:00

Room 0.20, Eldon Building, Winston Churchill Avenue, Portsmouth, Hampshire PO1 2UP

A panel of poets, critics, life writers and fictionists explore the relationship between individual outsiders, mavericks and misfits and their geographical surroundings or places of origin.

Covering a variety of cultures, topographies, historical periods and literary approaches, these writers explore how the beliefs and behaviours of outsider figures – from Edward King to women suspected of witchcraft to embattled Manila slum-dwellers – are shaped by the times and places they emerge from. The panellists also discuss the role that folklore and mythology can play in representations of Self and place, and the creative decisions required to present the outsider and his/her connections to the world.


Poet and novelist Amanda Garrie on rural England, folklore and schizophrenia

Novelist and short story writer Dr Alison Habens on Portsmouth’s literary outsiders.

Poet and travel writer Richard Peirce on the southern Philippines, Turkey and his family connections to Austria.

Cultural critic Dr Sally Shaw on Edward King and wartime Portsmouth.

Will Sutton on Victorian coppers, fallen women and criminals.

Journalist, author and critic Dr Tom Sykes on marginalised groups and fringe beliefs in the urban megacity of Manila.

The panel will be moderated by poet and journalist Emily Priest of Star & Crescent and other outfits.

Photo by Alexander Sebley


New Philippines Story in Private Eye

30 Jul

If you go down the newsagent today you’ll find my latest reporting on the Philippines in Private Eye (under the pseudonym ‘Dr Grim’). The story deals with Duterte’s new war on narcopoliticians and public protests against him, and includes an interview with an activist for indigenous people’s rights who has just been put on his death list. (Picture by Louis Netter).

The Realm of the Punisher Out November

22 Jun

‘At last! A Western journalist/academic writing about the Philippines who has done proper homework and legwork, and who clearly has affection for both the country and its people.’ James Hamilton-Paterson, author of Ghosts of Manila and America’s Boy

In June 2016, Rodrigo ‘The Punisher’ Duterte won the Philippine presidential election. Infamous for his bombastic temper and un-PC wisecracks, he is waging a brutal drug war that has killed an estimated 10-20,000 people so far.

Over the last nine years, British writer Tom Sykes has travelled extensively in the Philippines to understand the Duterte phenomenon, visiting the sites of extra-judicial killings and interviewing friends and enemies of the regime. Sykes witnesses an anti-government demonstration in the capital Manila and journeys to the provincial city of Davao, where Duterte began his crusade against crime using police and civilian death squads.

The Realm of the Punisher also features encounters with slum-dwellers resisting violent eviction, an elderly former sex slave to the Japanese in the Second World War and a public artist who must work while under attack from Maoist rebels.

The past is never far away from these present-day problems and Sykes’ travels to festivals, memorials and a tomb housing an embalmed corpse reveal how key figures in Philippine history – from José Rizal to Ferdinand Marcos – have influenced current affairs.

Funny, tragic, enlightening and uncompromising – and infused with the author’s strong sense of social justice – The Realm of the Punisher is the first major travel book by a Westerner to explore Duterte’s Philippines.

(Design and image by Louis Netter).

Pre-order here.

Two New Tunisian Stories in New African Magazine

27 Aug

I have one article on the ancient Carthaginian and Roman sites of Tunis and another on Tunisian cuisine in the current edition of New African. The pieces are not online yet so it’s well worth buying a hard copy through the site right here, even if I say so myself.

Press and Social Media Masterclass for Writers

22 May

Join S&C editors Tom Sykes and Sarah Cheverton to learn how to:

  • Get your fiction and journalism published in the press (and get paid for it!)
  • Maximise your research by using it across different media platforms
  • Find new audiences & readers for your books by building followers through engagement with shorter pieces
  • Build your writer’s profile online
  • Use social media to boost your writing career
  • Understand which platforms are best for you
  • Avoid time drains and other pitfalls

Sunday 25th June 2017
Eldon Building foyer, Winston Churchill Avenue, Portsmouth University, Portsmouth PO1 2ST

Booking and more information here.

Sarah Cheverton is Editor-in-Chief of local news and commentary site Star
& Crescent. She is also Writer-in-Residence for the voluntary sector
organisation Aurora New Dawn, as well as a writer, lover of Portsmouth and
blogging contributor for Huffington Post UK.

Tom Sykes is a widely published writer, Portsmouth University senior
lecturer and Co-editor of Star & Crescent. He has 12 years of professional writing experience including publications in The Telegraph, New Statesman, The Scotsman, Private Eye and New Internationalist.

Brought to you in association with New Writing South, Portsmouth Writers’ Hub, Star & Crescent and the School of Media and Performing Arts, Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries, University of Portsmouth.

Review of Calcutta by Amit Chaudhuri

31 Mar

University of Calcutta by wikimedia.org is licensed under CC BY 2.0


Read my new piece for the London Magazine here

Review of Adam Robots (originally published in Foundation)

8 Jan


Adam Robots

By Adam Roberts (Gollancz, 2013, 391 pp, £12.99)

Reviewed by Tom Sykes, Lecturer at the University of Portsmouth

Before I had read any of Adam Roberts’s books, I met him in person at the 2011 Current Research in Speculative Fiction conference. He delivered an illuminating – and exceedingly funny – keynote speech outlining his theory of science fiction, which he encapsulated in this one idiom: “the knight’s move”. For Roberts, the finest sf takes its readers on a conceptual flight away from mundane and literal-minded ways of regarding reality and into spectacularly metaphorical representations of it. There are traces here of the Romantic concept of the sublime, and it is therefore apt that Roberts teaches nineteenth-century literature when he isn’t writing sf. Another of his passions is comedy, which he argues operates in much the same way as transcendental sf; the efficacy of a punchline can often be measured by how strange or surprising a departure it is from its setup.

Roberts’s new book, Adam Robots, is clear proof that he practises as a storyteller what he preaches as a critic. Manifest in these two dozen short stories are various “conceptual breakthroughs” (260) that elucidate a number of timely matters, from the theological to the political, the ontological to the technological. But while Roberts consistently takes us to new places and show us things we haven’t seen before, his referential, sometimes intertextual style never loses sight of the time-honoured conventions of the genre that excites him so much. Although in the introduction he admits to wanting to write “at least one thing in all the myriad sub-genres and sub-sub-genres of SF” (1), this doesn’t equate to some superficial box-ticking exercise in homage or fan fiction. It is much more about satirising, subverting and reinventing what has come before.

Thus, what better way to undermine the masturbatory masculinism of boy’s own sf than to write a story about an adolescent lad whose sperm is harvested to create an all-conquering galactic empire? While “The Imperial Army” works on a rollicking, action-packed narrative level – just as early space opera does – it is, at the same time, able to make sideswipes at space opera’s reactionary assumptions about colonialism, eugenics and the martial mentality.

Taking the military theme in a different direction, “Godbombs” posits a future war fought, as the title makes plain, with weapons that compel one side to worship the other like a deity. Here are vigorous nods to ‘Nam-era New Wave freak-outs such as Barefoot in the Head (1969) and The Forever War (1974) (Roberts’s protagonist is one ‘Captain Haldeman’), but also wry winks at the religious fundamentalisms that have driven more recent international conflicts.

If such extreme belief systems appear to be easy comic targets (and Roberts takes aim at them again elsewhere in the book), other stories treat more palatable religious ideas with a sincerity and open-mindedness seldom seen in sf. Whereas a number of high-profile writers in the genre have espoused a militant atheism wedded to an often uncritical scientism (obvious examples being certain Golden Age figures and Richard Dawkins’s good friend Douglas Adams), Roberts repeatedly uses the knight’s move to think more inventively – and less dogmatically – about the relationship between physics and metaphysics, and the limits of human understanding in both areas. In “Wonder: a Story in Two”, humanity gains the scientific capacity to “spread itself to ten thousand worlds” and is then faced with the challenge that “immortality, or God, [is] hidden in a world orbiting a star in the Kyd-blank zones” (256). “Adam Robots” places a robot by that name in an Eden-like garden and burdens him with an ontological crisis: in the garden is a jewel that contains all the qualities required to become fully human. Rather than programme him not to steal the jewel, his creators simply tell him not to, as an experimentum crucis on his capacity for free will. With a healthy amount of irreverence and irony, the tale brings the oldest Judaeo-Christian theology to bear on contemporary research into artificial intelligence. Perhaps Roberts’s most engaging response to the science-belief question is a memorable ‘test of faith’ cliffhanger in another story somewhere else in this collection (to explain it in much more detail than that would, I fear, be an unforgivable plot-spoiler).

Adam Robots is packed full of such “philosophical abstractions made concrete” (to borrow Philip K Dick’s definition of sf). The unsettling “Thrownness” crafts the classic sf conceit of inter-dimensional travel into an ornate metaphor for existential ennui. The disarmingly jolly narrator (“’My heart was chuntering on at a fair old lick’” (51)) is condemned to an eternity of leaping between alternate realities, all of which are eerily similar to the modern Britain where he originates from, although nobody in these other realities ever recognises him. He finds himself both liberated and trapped: never held accountable for his actions, he can do more or less what he likes in the short-term, but is denied the freedom to make long-term commitments or form lasting relationships.

In “ReMorse”, Roberts turns ethics on its head by imagining a drug that is supposed to boost human empathy and herald utopia, but instead leads to a fascistic dystopia sustained by new, unanticipated forms of sadism. The narrator is both sinister and salacious, a hybrid of O’Brien from Nineteen Eighty-Four and a bit player in a 1970s sitcom (“It’s – in a word – look, I’m sorry to use this word, but it’s sex” (137)).

As we progress through Adam Robots, its varied adventures in “radical otherness” (261) start to have a cumulative effect: we get the sense that the knight’s move means a lot more to the human experience than aesthetic transcendence or intellectual expansion. In the epic and cinematic “Pied”, Roberts’s personal vision of the apocalypse doesn’t doom mankind to a plague of locusts or a nuclear holocaust, but something worse: the loss of our “capacity for wonder” (272).

Originally published in Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction