Philippine Speculative Fiction III Book Launch

My short story "The Death and Rebirth of Nathaniel Alan Sempio" appears in Philippine Speculative Fiction, Volume III. PSF III was launched last Friday, and pictured are the authors who attended and, of course, the editors and hosts of the event!

Go out and buy a copy to see what all the fuss is about, hehe.

Write Something Filipino, Man

Strangely enough, while I strongly feel that Philippine Speculative Fiction writers should be free to write whatever the hell they want and create new genres and sub-genres that could only have come from the Philippines, I am, on the other hand, am the member of the LitCritters who is probably most sympathetic to the "hey, let's include something Filipino in this story" ethic.

In my struggles to get good stories out and hopefully published, it has not escaped my fellow LitCritters that nearly all of my experiments in SpecFic writing explored some aspect of Pinoyness in them.

What Qualifies You To Write About Filipinos?

Nothing. I'm no expert on the Philippines and on Filipinos. Then again, few people are. Many think they are just because they were born here (hey, I was born here), and lived here for some time (hey, I've lived here most of my life), but haven't actually studied it (hey, I've studied a little). They haven't read up on the history, learned the cultural dances, studied the martial arts, traveled to the deep north or sojourned to the far south.

Does interest and actually being Filipino count? Does having spent a length of time abroad disqualify me?

My own belief is that my time abroad actually sparked my interest in Philippine History and Philippine Culture. I consciously tried to find out more about the Philippines (and learned more about it) during my time in the U.S. I hung out with 1st Wave, 2nd Wave, and 3rd Wave Filipino immigrants as well as Filipino visitors to the Land of the Free. I bought books there concerning our country that I never even though of looking for here. I learned first hand that things we take in stride here can shock foreigners - and here I trot out the story about how my sister and I communicated wordlessly about how to arrange things in her dorm room using the "point with the lips" technique - and even amaze them. ("Yes, Donald, you've discovered a terrible secret. My sister and I are telepathic. All Filipinos are.")

And yet, including these things in stories - bits of history, bits of cultural habit and national character, bits of trivia - are they enough?

What about bigger things? Like our sensitivity to status and social prestige and our desire for a better country? What about darker things, like the sex trade and institutionalized graft and the destruction of our natural resources and extrajudicial killings?

And if I write about them, will I do them justice? Should I do more research so that I can understand the issues better? Like journalists, should I examine all the sides of an issue so that I don't come across as biased, or worse, wilfully ignorant? Should I take a stand or will I just come across as preachy? How do I create characters that are believable and not just mouthpieces for a particular side of an issue?

ANGST! (angsty pose)

All these thoughts and more were swirling in my mind even before the recent outpouring of opinions, and sadly, few answers have been put forward that have been satisfying and none have been very enlightening.

Ultimately, I believe that we should just write stories and get them published to see if this is the kind of fiction that people are looking for - hopefully a fresh take on topics and themes and experiences that we have learned to ignore as part of the grey buzz of "being Filipino".

OFWs and the Uniquenss of the Experience

Bhex mentions, in response to Charles's OFW question, that
i don’t think the OFW experience is unique to filipinos. if you’re going to write a speculative story that serves as a metaphor to an underprivileged class/race selling themselves into servitude for a shot at a better life, i don’t think you’ll be symbolizing something that’s unique to the philippines, even if that was your intention. without using clearly defined filipino elements, you may as well be symbolizing the exodus of the chinese, the indonesians, the mexicans… it has nothing to brand it as uniquely filipino.
I must respectfully but strongly disagree with the statements made here. I believe that while there are similarities to the experiences of other people who work abroad to improve their own living standards or the living standards of their families back home, there is something inherently unique to the OFW experience: the involvement of Filipinos and Filipinas. The way they deal with the trials and tribulations of living and working abroad is shaped by the culture and the nation they group up in and cannot help but be unique to the Philippines. And there are fantastic little bits of detail that are just waiting to be mined - how we deal with loneliness, how we skirt around the rules and authorities, how we are taken advantage of by our own people, how determination and ingenuity allow us to extract little joys from the stresses of overseas work, how the mini-communities that we form to protect ourselves from an unfamiliar land can foster miracles and tragedies.

If we eliminate this experience just because there are some broad commonalities with SOME other nationalities, then we must eliminate other situations that we share in common with ALL other nationalities from our fiction (such as growing up, going to school, falling in love, etc.).

Celebrating the diversity of the Filipino experience

What is "something Filipino"? The Filipino and the Filipina have many different faces and lives. There are the rich and the poor, the lazy and the hardworking, the good-looking and the ugly, the fashionistas and the fashionless, the inarticulate and the verbose, the hope of the future and the treasures of the past, and so on and so forth.

We're the 12th most populated country in the world - there are millions of us, each life a unique story. (Hey, does the European Union count as its own country?)

Shouldn't our fiction be as diverse?

Philippine Fiction: "Author" vs. "Genre"

More rumination on the current debate(s) on what Philippine Fiction / Philippine Speculative Fiction is, was, will be, will have to be, would have to have been, happily ever after, amen -

- has made me think that perhaps we're trying to cram two different things under the same label. What are these two things?

(1) Philippine Fiction as a body of work from a "defined" set of authors
(2) Philippine Fiction as a body of work under a "defined" genre

Philippine Fiction: the work of Philippine authors
Madali lang ito. Is the author a Filipino (natural born or naturalized)? Then his fiction work is Philippine Fiction. Easy.

Wala namang mga honorary Pinoys di ba? Wag na, that complicates things. Kung ganoon, honorary Philippine Fiction din ang fiction niya.

Philippine Fiction: the genre
Under here, we call upon set theory! If a piece of fiction matches certain criteria that we define, then it can be classified Philippine Fiction, in addition to all the other genres (horror, drama, melodrama, crime, mystery, comedy, accidental comedy, science fiction, fantasy, etc.).

This appoach is interesting because it doesn't REQUIRE someone to be a Filipino. ANYONE can write Philippine Fiction, provided you utilize some or all the genre conventions which are...

... er, well that's another debate / argument / rumble for another day.

And that's okay. After all, even current genres suffer the problem of variance or contradiction or further subcategorization in genre definition: Is this story Science Fiction or Science Fantasy or Space Opera or Baroque Space Opera? Is this story a mystery story or a crime story or a psychological thriller or a horror story? Is this story a romance or a love story or a chic lit story?

What makes Fiction truly Filipino?

Just like everyone else who's written / posted on the subject (not just now but in the past - it's not a new topic of discussion, and not just on Speculative Fiction, but in general), I have my own own opinion. Here it is:

If it's

1. written by a Filipino / Filipina or by someone of Filipino / Filipina descent (in whatever language, except perhaps mathematical, programming, and mark-up languages); or
2. written about a Filipino / Filipina (in whatever language, except perhaps mathematical, programming, and mark-up languages); or
3. written about the Philippines - past, present, future, alternate history, alternate dimension (in whatever lang- well, you know the drill);
4. written in a Philippine dialect

then it's Philippine Fiction!

Pretty simple, no? Too simple, you say? Okay, let's take a closer look.

Criterion 1: written by a Filipino / Filipina or by someone of Filipino / Filipina descent

In My Not-So-Humble But Still Potentially Flawed-By-Virtue-Of-Being-Human Opinion (IMNSHBSPFBVOBHO for short), I believe that if by blood you're Pinoy or Pinay, you're part of the overall Filipino experience. No one person can claim to represent ALL Filipinos, anymore than any one guy can claim to speak for all guys.

(Actually, lots of people can claim to represent all Filipinos or speak for all guys, but IMNSHBSPFBVOBHO they are speaking based on their personal experiences and personal thought processes, which may not necessarily hold true for all the people they claim to represent.

So my solution - take 'em all as Philippine Fiction. Some may be better than others, and some may be outright crap, but then, the same can be said for fiction in general. But I'm gleefully digressing.)

So I go for the gestalt approach. They're ALL Philippine Fiction, and by reading and evaluating the parts or the whole, we get a good picture of what Philippine Fiction is. As far as subject and theme - no limits.

This may, of course, be different from what we'd like it to be, but that's another issue entirely.

Why so inclusive? I'm just an inclusive kind of guy. After all, there were waves of settlers before the Spaniards - the Malay / Indonesian bunch, the Chinese folks, the Indians (from India, not America), and so on. We trace our citizenship through blood as well so I figured bloodline was a good measure.

What if it's a person of pure Indian descent whose family came over generations ago, and is considered a Filipino citizen? Yep.

Criterion 2: written about a Filipino / Filipina

Yes, this includes stuff written by foreigners who have not become naturalized citizens of the Pearl of the Orient.

It may be a flawed mirror, but it is fiction, and it's about us (or one of us), so I include it.

Criterion 3: written about the Philippines

Similar to Argument 2, it's about the setting this time, not the characters.

Criterion 4: written in a Philipine dialect

If you're not Pinoy or Pinoy descent, if you don't write about Filipino characters or write based in a Philippine setting, but you do write something publishable in Ilocano or Cebuano or Chabacano - kabayan!

You may have noticed that I use language as an including factor. I don't really think that language / dialect should be an excluding factor, because while it's debatable some languages can express certain ideas "better", I believe that there are other aspects ng pagka-pinoy that transcend language. It may take a whole paragraph or novel to outline what is denoted and connoted by certain words like "loob" and "barkada" and "inihaw na bola ng kambing", but it can be done. There are limitations and strengths to all languages, and it is the challenge of the writer to communicate his or her story in whatever language he or she choses.

So that's my opinion. You're all open to your own, of course.

In fact, it's very pinoy to have your own opinion. And to voice it too.

A Poet, A Wife, and a Child

Dan Simmon's novel, Song of Kali, is given this nice little write-up to describe it:

This masterful and terrifying debut novel has earned Hugo- and Bram Stoker Award-winning author Dan Simmons the World Fantasy Award. What begins as an exploration of an exotic and forbidding world turns into a harrowing descent of steadily mounting terror when an American writer travels into the dark underworld of the cult of Kali.

Having read the novel, I can honestly say it doesn't prepare you for the horrors within. Even long-time familiarity with horror tropes and threats doesn't soften the effect. You know that something bad will happen, you can see slow and deliberate ratcheting up of the jeopardy for the family, but it doesn't save you from your concern for the well-being of the family. Kudos to the way the supernatural aspect of the story is interwoven into (I hate to use this word) prosaic aspect of the story's climax - horror, true horror.

I highly recommend picking up this novel.

Reading List

I'm inundated by things to read, and so I'm going to share with you my current "I've gotta finish reading this soon" list:

Ilium by Dan Simmons
The Elenium by David Eddings which includes
  • The Diamond Throne
  • The Ruby Knight
  • The Sapphire Rose
Killing Time In A Warm Place by Butch Dalisay

This would be in addition to the regular LitCritter readings, of course.

Reader Response

I got the following comment from mulderandscully from the prior post:

I for one want to know more about speculative fiction! I haven't attended some of these "lit conventions" in a while and would love to hear what seasoned writers like you can introduce to us.
Thank you so much for the comment, and though I'm responding to it rather late, let me say first of all that I don't feel very "seasoned" - I'd probably be considered "lightly dusted" at best.

Speculative Fiction has many definitions that you can search the web for. The way that we use it, it's a catch-all for all forms of fiction that are essentially a literature for the fantastic. You can ask more questions about this if you sign up to the LitCritters Google Group.

Learning the Ropes

Well, the Read or Die Convention panel on introductory specfic texts was an interesting one. Since the goal was to recommend texts to people unfamiliar with the concept of speculative fiction in addition to explaining whatever the heck speculative fiction is / was / will be.

I found out that some of the people attending the panel discussion were already quite familiar with the various genres and were seeking further clarification on the terminologies we used.

I was particularly happy with my explanation of Science Fiction and why I read it; it clarified for me why I'm usually dissatisfied with my attempts at science fiction stories - they don't meet the tough criteria that I have for good science fiction!

A surprise question threw me for a loop - someone looking for dystopian future texts similar to 1984 and Brave New World. Apparently someone in the back of the crowd was spewing out seminal novels like Farenheit 451. All I could manage was the mention of The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress and a general outlook on cyberpunk novels and anthologies.

I wish there was a way that all these specfic bibliophiles could get together and trade recommendations with each other. After all, I'm far from being an established authority on the subject - Brian W. Aldiss kinda cornered the market on that with his thick retrospectives on Science Fiction.

In any case, I hope that the discussion also spurred on a few of the shy specfic writers out there to start writing and submitting. It's time for everyone to help shape the voice of the Filipino in this particular area of culture!

More Introductory Novels (Not Just Science Fiction)

Well, aside from Dune by Frank Herbert, there are, of course, many other great introductory novels to Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Speculative Fiction in general.

Novels from my own experience include Count Zero by William Gibson, Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, Starship Troopers and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein, The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, Ringworld by Larry Niven, Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny and The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester.

Some friends have recommended Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and 1984 by George Orwell.

For fantasy, there's of course, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, The King of Elfland's Daughter by Lord Dunsany, Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny, Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolf, Elric by Michael Moorcock, Ill-met in Lankhmar by Fritz Lieber.

Introductory Science Fiction novels

My friend Dean asked me what I though about some introductory Science Fiction novels, and I was somewhat caught off-guard. I have never thought about the concept of "introductory science fiction".

I think part of that is the fact that part of my experience with Science Fiction is that most of the science in science fiction was part of my difficulty with it. When he asked the question, my thoughts immediately flew to difficulty in terms of science comprehension.

Looking back on the novels I've read and enjoyed or read and did NOT enjoy, I realized that some of the level of difficulty falls under how mature the themes are, or how complex the discourse is in relating the story. It forces me to actually revisit the stories the novels related in my mind and determine how they would measure up with that type of critical. Not an easy task given the weight of yeas and initial impressions of an untrained but exuberant reading eye.

The litcrit sessions have really helped me find words to express my views, especially when my views are at time at odds with or slightly askew from the general direction of critique.

Ha! I just realized that some trolls might mistinterpret my last statement. Don't want to give the impression that the litcritters are of a herd mentality and that I'm the maverick of the group. One of the joys of the group is that the times that everyone is in agreement over a story cements in my mind that a story is really good, or really bad, because no one - and I mean NO ONE - in the group is afraid to speak their mind, even if they disagree with the emerging consensus.

Oh, getting back to my original topic - the first novel that popped into my mind was: Dune by Frank Herbert.

To Venture Into Reality

One of the insights I had regarding a hobby of mine was that the exploration of imagined worlds with a critical mind often opened my eyes to the wonders and horrors of "the real world."

Since one of the things I like to strive for in my writing is verisimilitude, it's depressing how much time I spending researching on the net (and wondering about the veracity of my sources) before writing my story and then realizing that despite my fascination with my researched material, most of it ain't makin' it into the story.

I suppose, however, that it helps that my own mind doesn't complain too much about various questions (what do you feed your mutated tamaraw? what are the underlying principles of reality that can be represented by waveforms? are there special spiritual dangers that ordained female exorcists would face?) by knowing enough that I can extrapolate somewhat.

One other thing that happens is being caught by these same stray questions when driving, crossing the street, or reading an article in a magazine. You being searching for the stories hidden in the tentative swerve of a Revo, the embarrassed smile of a toothless man offering you a handbill, and the frozen half-grimace of the latest ingenue to grace the magazine covers.