Literature of the Fantastic
Reviewed by Gillian Polack
The name Philippine Speculative Fiction explains this collection. It’s part of a series and that series is carefully selected covering the best stories by Filipino writers from 2010. Very few of these writers have yet come to international attention, which makes this volume particularly interesting. It reminds me very much of what Australian speculative fiction looked like prior to 1999: some international-standard writers, and a very inwards gaze. This is reflected in the introduction, which assumes a fair amount of prior understanding of the field. It sums up awards received and who made it into print or online publication, who gave public presentations and, of course, acknowledgements. What was missing, however, was an overview that analysed the state of the genre in the Philippines, where it came from, where it is likely to go, who needs to be watched and what makes Filipino work distinctive. The stories give some of this picture, of course, but not all of it.
The variety in this anthology is fascinating, and it provides a handy insight into how Filipino writers see themselves and see the genre. It doesn’t have the feel of a volume ‑ it’s more a collection of stories than a collection that tells its own story. The high points, though, are worth reading for and, as I’ve said, even the lesser stories give insights into writing that ought to be better known.
The story starts off with sports. If there were a collected speculative fiction sports collection, Asterio Enrico N. Gutierrez’ “The Big Man” would easily find a place. It’s told as a pretty standard sports biography, except that the sporting legend in question is not only “the first ever full-blooded Filipino to play in the NBA,” he is also a creature from folklore, a kapre.
Ian Rosales Casocot’s “Alternative histories: really short stories for the Twitter generation” is what the title says. Some of them are better than others (or maybe I lack the right background), but of the various Twitter stories that have passed my desk recently, these are distinctly better than average, leaning heavily on alternate history. My personal favourite has to be:
Marcela did not like the red cloth of the flag she was sewing. “What if I made this pink? Wouldn’t it be fabulous?” she said.
Elyss G. Punsalan’s Ashland is straight SF, with a lovely twist of poetry. Colonists send scouts out, to watch a world without sound and make sure no trouble develops.
Those are the first three stories. Varied and interesting, they create an excellent introduction. The anthology that follows might lack a sense of unity, but it’s not short of variation. Folktales come to life, tiny life stories based on the meanings of names, a prison that destroys the mind and creates its own reality: twenty two stories explore the genre.
The steampunkish “on Wooden Wings” by Paolo Chikiamco, the gentle horror of Kenneth Yu’s “The Kiddie Pool, Andrei Tupaz “Offerings to Aman Sinaya” (which has something of the feel of Kaaron Warren’s stories to it), the examination of anthropomorphism and befouled relationships that is Crystal Koo’s “Hollowbody” and Dean Francis Alfar’s bittersweet “Simon’s Replica” are all worth a second look.
The lack of cohesion comes from the volume’s wide variety and also on its dependence on many shorter stories. That’s the bad news. The good news is that this same wide variety makes it an excellent place to dip into current Filipino speculative fiction and to learn what directions these writers explore. It’s an excellent starter volume, for those, like me, who know less than they ought.