Why Philippine Speculative Fiction
by Charles Tan
There’s something apropos with me posting here at Suvudu. The first adult fantasy books I read were those published by Del Rey Books, and they were quite influential: The Heritage of Shannara series by Terry Brooks and the Belgariad series by David Eddings. They had memorable characters such as the enigmatic Walker Boh or the crafty Silk. There was this sense of gravity as The Sword of Shannara forced its users to confront deception, especially self-deception.
These books, while entertaining, made me realize that there was more to fantasy; not escapism, but kernels of truth that define us and our world. Since then, like the Ohmsfords clan who are heirs to the Sword of Shannara, I strove to eschew self-deception and seek out the truth, even if it is painful. And one of the realizations I had later in life was that much of the fantasy and science fiction books I was reading was very US and Euro-centric. The Shannara series for example draws a lot from The Lord of the Rings, which in turn was heavily influenced by European myth and ideology. That’s more evident when it comes to The Belgariad if you’ve read The Rivan Codex where Eddings’s basis for his characters and setting are stated. And that fact can be quite limiting, especially when you think of science fiction and fantasy as exploring possibilities.
It’s not that we’re being politically correct by reading non-Euro-centric fiction, but as a reader, I want to discover something different, something fresh, something that’s outside of the prevailing paradigm. For example, I play D&D, and while there’s pleasure in fighting iconic monsters, sometimes you want something more beyond breaking out the Alchemical Silver weapons to penetrate the damage reduction of lycanthropes and vampires. Why not face tikbalangs which look like humanoid horses and can make you lose your sense of direction unless you wear your shirt backwards? Or aswangs whose upper torsos sprout wings and separates from the rest of the body as they hunt for unborn fetuses using their extendable tongues?
Having read a lot of US-published fantasy and science fiction, it was refreshing when I first encountered the Philippine Speculative Fiction series of anthologies edited by Dean Francis Alfar (who would later extend it to various guest editors). It featured worlds that were part of my culture but never read about, it got right what writers like Robert Heinlein missed when it came to Filipino characters and family, and more importantly, the fiction surprised me and evoked the sense of wonder I felt when I first cracked open The Scions of Shannara.
Unfortunately, when I first read the books back in 2005, it was difficult for me to share the books with other people. No one had heard of them, the book had a relatively small print run, and shipping them outside of the country was expensive. Thankfully, that’s changed, as the company I work for released all six volumes (Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 1 to 6) as eBooks, available from various retailers like Amazon, iTunes, Kobo, and our very own eBookstore, Flipreads.
I’m excited about these anthologies because they feature a wide variety of stories, some of which have been reprinted in publications like The Apex Book of World SF 2 and Fantasy Magazine, but new readers will encounter them as a whole.
Another project I’m passionate about is my upcoming anthology from Lethe Press entitled Lauriat:A Filipino-Chinese Speculative Fiction Anthology. While there have clearly been Filipino speculative fiction stories, as well as stories about the Filipino-Chinese experience, there hasn’t really been an anthology focusing on the plight of the Filipino-Chinese using the framework of science fiction and fantasy. As a genre fan, I wanted to remedy this and thankfully publisher Steve Berman of Lethe Press, a talented writer and anthologist in his own right, agreed to publish the book. Here’s the book description:
Filipinos and Chinese have a rich, vibrant literature when it comes to speculative fiction. But what about the fiction of the Filipino-Chinese, who draw their roots from both cultures? This is what this anthology attempts to answer. Featuring stories that deal with voyeur ghosts, taboo lovers, a town that cannot sleep, the Chinese zodiac, and an exile that finally comes home, Lauriat: A Filipino-Chinese Speculative Fiction Anthology covers a diverse selection of narratives from fresh, Southeast Asian voices.
Hopefully these books pique your interest and rekindle your love for fantasy and science fiction.