This review was actually posted 5 years ago. I had meant to RT it but for some reason, it got buried under all my other work. I am rectifying this grievous error now.
Thank you so much to Rachel’s Now Reading for your kind words. Please subscribe to her page to get book reviews on a wonderfully eclectic range of reading material.
“This is a book review of Victor Fernando R. Ocampo’s “The Infinite LIbrary and Other Stories”. It’s a book containing 17 speculative fiction short stories somewhat linked together to make a whole.
If you’re a sci-fi fan, this is definitely the book for you. The presence of queer elements helped as I always love an inclusive book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this collection and hope you will too!”
Thank you so much to London-based Malaysian editor, writer, and theatre practitioner Zhui Ning Chang for inviting me to be a guest speaker at Birkbeck, University of London’s Arts Week 2023 yesterday. We had a great conversation about the themes of liminality, displacement and death in my book The Infinite Library and Other Stories, as well as my writing process, and the state of speculative fiction in Southeast Asia today. Thank you also to the very lively audience for all the thoughtful questions.
Thank you to the UST Faculty of Arts & Letters and the UST MaKatha Circle for inviting me to share my writing journey at their ” Roots & Refractions: Bridging MaKatha Traditions” event last 27 February. I really enjoyed interacting with so many young writers.
Keep reading what makes your heart sing. Fill yourself up with all the beauty that life throws your way. And keep writing — because young creatives like you are our best defense against all the terrible and ugly things darkening our reality. Once you realize what this world is worth, you will fight to defend it.
Write a new world for all of us…
Up next, meet Victor Fernando R. Ocampo, a Filipino author of speculative and experimental fiction stories!
A fellow at the Milford Science Fiction Writers’ Conference in the UK and the Cinemalaya Ricky Lee Film Script Writing Workshop in the Philippines, he currently resides in Singapore where he was also a writer-in-residence at the Jalan Besar at Sing Lit Station. His works have been shortlisted for the International Rubery Book Award in 2018, and he won the Romeo Forbes Children’s Story Award in 2012.
Victor’s most recognized stories include:
THE INFINITE LIBRARY AND OTHER STORIES. Three Filipino siblings fighting an enemy that uses words as weapons, sigbin monsters in space, a banned children’s book hiding a secret that could save a doomed generation ship, a slow-motion disaster turning people into living math equations,?! Name it and this book surely has it. Grab this collection of stories that goes beyond what our mind deems possible and be carried away by all its mystical twists and turns.
Grab a copy:
HERE BE DRAGONS. Ever wished to have a map that would make life easier? Well,
Isabella met the perfect guy that makes a map of just about anything! Would she take the risk
“The Easiest Way to Solve a Problem” is a short story about adding the consciousness of expat Filipino PMET workers to a massive corporate AI in Singapore. It appeared last April, 2022 in the book Get Luckier: An Anthology of Philippine and Singapore Writings (Singapore: Squircle Line Press, 2022), edited by Migs Bravo Dutt, Claire Betita de Guzman, Aaron Lee Soon Yong, and Eric Tinsay Valles. – https://www.get-luckier-anthology.com/victor-fernando-r-ocampo
“I m d 1 in 10” , his experimental story inspired by Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius’ De Consolatione Philosophiae, first appeared in the July 2014 issue of The Future Fire (Editor: Djibril al-Ayad). It was written with Latin, L337, IM and SMS speak, emoticons and a Filipino argot called Jejemon. – http://futurefire.net/2014.30/fiction/imd1in10.html
Immerse yourselves in Victor Ocampo’s works with this playlist!
: Anjellyca Villamayor, and Roanne Aludino
: Chrystal Cariño, Lauren Ainella Tagle, and Sophia Mendoza
Here’s another teaser from my chapter of Mapping New Stars: A Sourcebook on Philippine Speculative Fiction (Editors: Gabriela Lee and Anna Felicia Sanchez, UP Press pre-publication) which was entitled “The Roots of Speculative Fiction in the Philippines” (you can also read the chapter intro here). For this section, I tried to identify the earliest known Filipino works that could be reasonably argued as Fantasy or Proto-Fantasy, but excluding Folk Literature.
Hope you find this interesting:
Navigating the genre of fantasy can sometimes be difficult and confusing as “fantasy” is not a single definite category but rather a cohesion of many diverse, often wildly different, sub-genres. Wikipedia defines “fantasy” as “a genre of speculative fiction set in a fictional universe, often inspired by real world myth and folklore”.
Fantasy proper takes place in a world other than our own (second world fantasy), whereas the sub-genre of magical realism (also known as magical realism or marvelous realism) focuses entirely on an ordinary “real” world where everything is normal, “except for one or two elements that go beyond the realm of possibility as we know it”. To date there are at least 58 named sub-genres of fantasy including urban fantasy, Christian fantasy, dark fantasy, epic fantasy, mythic fantasy and vampire fantasy, just to name a few.
In the Philippines the roots of the fantasy genre begin in folklore – particularly in local tribal myths and legends, as well as in pre-Hispanic ethno-epics of which over 20 oral narratives have been recorded and translated (many more remain to be transcribed and/or translated – Palawan alone has sixty-three). It should be noted that while the natives of what would be eventually named las Islas Filipinos had little by way of books in codex form, the inland tribes and early maritime polities in the archipelago possessed a remarkable level of literacy and a strong literary tradition.
Myths and legends still figure prominently in modern speculative fiction works, albeit in reimagined or subverted forms, such as the graphic novel The Mythology Class by Arnold Arre (Quezon City: Alamat Comics,1999).
Epics (in the Philippines we speak of ethno-epics) are considered the most direct ancestor of the fantasy tale. These long stories essentially consist of an oral narration of the adventures and trials of a revered folk hero. Sadly, as important as they are to Filipino culture, they have been less of an influence on modern speculative fiction compared to indigenous myths and legends. One of the few to have any impact was Biag ni Lam-Ang which is pre-colonial in origin.
Biag ni Lam-Ang (“Life of Lam-Ang”), tells the story of his extraordinary birth, his various quests aided by magical animal companions, as well as his death and resurrection. It became the subject of a metrical romance in the early 20th century, as well as various comic book adaptations in the 1970s, a movie, an animated film and even a musical theatre production.
Let’s Start with (Philippine) Metrical Romance
The most popular genre of fiction during the 18th and 19th centuries was the metrical romance or chivalric romance, a type of narrative poem which in Europe developed from traditional myths and fables and was typically centered on courtly love, knights, and chivalric deeds. This genre wholeheartedly embraced fantastical elements and was a forerunner of the modern fantasy genre.
In the Philippines, metrical romance in vernacular languages (particularly Tagalog) took on two forms: the awit (a poetic narrative verse set in dodecasyllabic quatrains) and the korido (a poetic verse narrative set in octosyllabic quatrains). Like the epics that preceded them, these tales of chivalry were made to be sung and chanted.
Numerous works in Tagalog (around 200 titles were known to have been published), Bicolano, Ilonggo, Kapampangan, Ilocano and the Pangasinan language were written during this period. Interestingly, while metrical romances are not speculative fiction per se, there has been no other time in Philippine history where fantasy-adjacent genre stories were the most accepted and feted literary works.
 Eugenio, Damiana L., “Introduction: The Philippine Folk Epic”, Philippine Folk Literature: The Epics (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 2001), p. xi
 Jesuit friar Pedro Chirino notes, ‘All islanders are much given to reading and writing, and there is hardly a man and much less a woman, who does not read and write in the letters used in the island of Manila They used to write on reeds and palm-leaves, using as pen an iron point’. However, writing was used mainly for the exchange of letters. Religion, government, and literature were founded on oral tradition. In Chirino, Pedro, Relacion de las Islas Filipinas (Rome: Esteban Paulino, 1604) as translated and reproduced in Blair, Emma Helen and Robertson, James Alexander, The Philippine Islands, 1493-1898: Volume XII, 1601-1604 (Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark Company, 1904), p. 169
 Jurilla, Patricia May Bantug “Tagalog Bestsellers and the History of the Book in the Philippines”, doctoral thesis submitted to the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 30 August 2006 p. 52
Reading-Dialogue across the Sea between Get Luckier Sg/Phil writers
This Poetry Festival Singapore will take place from July 29 to August 10 this year in various locations across the island. Please join us this 30 July for a special event “Reading-Dialogue across the Sea” between Get Luckier Sg/Phil authors, with Singapore-based writers Paul Jerusalem, Migs Bravo-Dutt, Victor Ocampo, Reah Maac, Cathy Candano and Filipino poets Wilson Lee Flores, Wendell Capili, Jo Em Antonio, Cristina Montes, Mariela Lansang with spoken word poet LKN as host (and Cathy Candano as technology expert). The recording will be done from 8pm onwards. Stay tuned for the announcement of the online broadcast.
Get Luckier – An Anthology of Philippine and Singapore Writings II (Editors Migs Bravo Dutt, Claire Betita de Guzman, Aaron Lee Soon Yong and Eric Tinsay Valles) is the sequel to the much-loved original Get Lucky from six years ago. It features writing that illustrate how technology, the pandemic and other current events have impacted the fellowship between Singaporeans and Filipinos.
“Moreover, some stories explore the world between literary and genre fiction. It’s the best of both worlds, and it’s a noteworthy addition to a meager selection of Filipino sci-fi books.“
I also have a short story, “Infinite Degrees of Freedom” in the first book he discussed, Science Fiction: Filipino Fiction For Young Adults (Quezon City: UP Press, 2016). This work was also translated into Chinese and appeared in Science Fiction World‘s March 2017 issue. The story concerns the rocky relationship between a distant father and his emotionally needy son, programmable matter, guns that fire bolts of electricity, chicharon and a mythical sigben monster loose inside a rickety old spaceship.
I firmly believe in the transformative power of Science Fiction in nation building. As historian Yuvel Noah Harari said: “Today science fiction is the most important artistic genre… It shapes the understanding of the public on things like artificial intelligence and biotechnology, which are likely to change our lives and society more than anything else in the coming decades.”
But we must be conscientious with what we choose to write. The stories we dream up could very well be the bedrock upon which the next generation of Filipinos will build the future.
As promised, here’s a teaser from my chapter of Mapping New Stars: A Sourcebook on Philippine Speculative Fiction (Editors: Gabriela Lee and Anna Felicia Sanchez, UP Press pre-publication) – This is the first-ever collection of non-fiction essays and think pieces about about Philippine Speculative Fiction, written by many authors, academics and critics who are active in the field. My research on “The Roots of Speculative Fiction in the Philippines” grew from my 2014 attempt at documenting the early days of local Science Fiction (check out my original post here). For this chapter, I tried to identify the earliest known Filipino works that could be reasonably argued as Fantasy, Horror, and of course, Science Fiction.
Here’s the introduction:
Stories of the fantastic have existed in the Philippine Islands for as long as there have been people to tell them. From the earliest folk tales born in the depths of pre-Hispanic history, to the forms of literature that were introduced and evolved during the colonial period, to the rise of modernism and post-colonial writing that arrived after the birth of the republic, “speculative” fiction that explores the human condition through the unreal or the otherworldly continues to thrive and to grow because it speaks to something deep within readers that cannot be addressed by realism.
Cover of Doktor Kuba by Fausto J. Galauran M.D. Manila: Limbagan Nina Ilagan at Sañga, 1933
Contemporary “Filipino speculative fiction” as a category and domain of cultural activity can be said to have properly begun only in 2005, with the arrival of its first deliberate and sustained platform – the Philippine Speculative Fiction anthology series (edited by Dean Francis and Nikki Alfar). But what about texts that were not explicitly labeled “speculative fiction” by their authors, or were published prior to the first Philippine Speculative Fiction (PSF)? Let’s take a look at how deep the roots of the literature of the fantastic have dug into our history. How far back they go may surprise you.
I. Defining Speculative Fiction in the Philippine Context
“Every enthusiasm aspires to respectability,” Science Fiction Grandmaster Isaac Asimov once said about his chosen field of writing, “and one way of getting it, is to demonstrate that it is old, even ancient.”
He goes on to say that by broadening Science Fiction’s definition to encompass “the branch of literature that deals with the imaginative and the unfamiliar”, it could be induced that Science Fiction is as old as literature itself.
Although Asimov walks this back to a more narrow definition later, his initial, expansive definition of science fiction to include everything non-realist and fantastical is, in fact, one of the accepted historically located meanings for the term “speculative fiction”. In this context, speculative fiction is defined as a supercategory of literature that includes fantasy, horror and science fiction, as well as their derivatives, hybrids, and cognate genres like the gothic, dystopia, weird fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction, ghost stories, superhero tales, alternate history, steampunk, slipstream, magic realism, fractured/subverted folktales, and all their related sub-genres. It encompasses, what fictionist and editor Dean Francis Alfar noted as “at its core, the literature of the fantastic”.
Marek Oziewicz, the Marguerite Henry Professor of Children’s and Young Adult Literature at the University of Minnesota, said that a story falls under the realm of speculative fiction if it has “speculative fiction sensibilities” i.e. it contains speculative elements that are based on conjecture and do not exist in the real world. These non-realist stories can also be filed under one of the genres covered by the speculative fiction umbrella.
Excluded from our definition of speculative fiction are ethno-epics, tribal myths and legends, as well as traditional fairy and wonder tales which fall under the category of folktales. These are anonymously authored literary artifacts, passed primarily through oral narratives. Also excluded are children’s stories and juvenilia, which is a branch of literature on its own.
Philippine speculative fiction is simply the spectrum of all genre work in fantasy, horror and science fiction (as well as their sub-genres) united by a Philippine identity and a coherent Filipino aesthetic.
Prior to the arrival of the first volume of Philippine Speculative Fiction in 2005, the term “Philippine speculative fiction” didn’t exist. Realism was (and remains) the most popular literary mode. Any work that existed outside this scope was marginalized. As both PSF founding editors, the Alfars, lamented in the introduction to the first volume of PSF:
“If you look for speculative fiction in the Philippines, you will be dismayed. Science Fiction and the literature of the fantastic are in very small numbers and are still looked down upon as inferior…”.
Yet despite this realist bias, there are many pre-PSF works of Filipino literature that demonstrate speculative sensibilities that can readily be classified under speculative fiction’s umbrella genres of fantasy, horror and science fiction.
 Asimov, Isaac, The Birth of Science In Fiction (New York: Knightsbridge, 1981), p 9
 Oziewicz, Marek, “Speculative Fiction”, Literature, Oxford Research Encyclopedia, 29 March 2017
 Alfar, Dean Francis, “Introduction”, Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 2 (Pasig: Kestrel, 2006), p IX
 Alfar, Dean Francis, “An Introduction”, Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 1 (Pasig: Kestrel, 2005), p vii
BTW, I’ve decided not to post my unedited original text for the Science Fiction section due to — reasons. Instead I will (eventually) post the intros to Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction sub-sections, as well as the chapter intro you see here.
“Ocampo’s collection is simultaneously a meaningful addition to the genre of speculative fiction and a powerful manifesto laying out the possibilities of Southeast Asian literature.“
Thank you to Elise J. Choi, a copy editor based in Portland, Oregon who “reads science fiction, fantasy, and translated literature to her cat” for writing a great review of my collection, The Infinite Library and Other Stories (1st edition Math Paper Press, 2017; 2nd edition 2020; 3rd edition Gaudy Boy, 2021).
You can read the review at Necessary Fiction here.
“This is a reader’s book through and through, and the final story, a two-page ode to reading, confirms it. “To See Infinity in the Pages of a Book” provides a lovely cap for a work that has reveled in impossible libraries. Sometime in the future, a crack in spacetime reveals an astronaut literally “falling into a good book”:
Inside the singularity, the impossible astronaut is not dead, they are reading. Before they get to that last book they will ever read in their life, there is yet another book that needs to be read. Between that penultimate book and the one they hold in their hand, there is yet another book and another demanding attention. In fact, between the astronaut and Death, there is an endless series of books with no beginning and no end.
The scene is a literary imagining of a mathematical limit, in which a line stretches infinitely toward a value but never quite arrives. Usually it is the writer who achieves a kind of immortality. But Ocampo shifts that power by bestowing it upon his readers. The story closes with the optimistic declaration that “those who fall endlessly into books never die. They are forever reading.” – Elise J. Choi
In 2018 I wrote a near-future science fiction story called “As If We Could Dream Forever” which appeared in Vol. 17 issue of the Quarterly Literary Review of Singapore. The work was set in a city where people surrendered their conscious selves to a corporation’s Artificial Intelligence during working hours. In exchange they got a high salary and the AI developed them into the best possible workers they could be. I had meant it to be a cautionary tale, to inspire horror, but I was the one horrified when I found out that most of my readers actually wanted to live that kind of regimented, automated life.
“The Easiest Way to Solve a Problem” is another short story set in the same near-future version of Singapore. It appears in the e-anthology Get Luckier (Singapore: Squircle Line Press, 2022), edited by Migs Bravo Dutt, Claire Betita de Guzman, Aaron Lee Soon Yong, and Eric Tinsay Valles. This anthology was made possible with support from the Singapore National Arts Council, Philippine National Bank and LBC Express.
Mrs. Mercy Maalala, 33 years old, trained nano-engineer, and a proud Batangueño from Lian, Batangas, begins her employment at Singapore by almost drowning in a vat of microscopic machines. The living computers link her to the Automatic City’s Artificial Intelligence grid which she has agreed to surrender her conscious mind and body for 9 hours every day, five days a week. A strict Non-Disclosure Agreement keeps her from remembering what she did, save for a superficial security log provided to her at the end of every day.
As an expatriate Filipino working in the technology space, I wanted to explore how much imminent future technologies could affect the lives of ordinary Filipinos. Moreover, I wanted to share the experience of Pinoy professionals working overseas, including our dreams, hopes and fears that sometimes don’t quite fit with either the normal OFW or the usual immigrant experience.
Why should Filipinos (or anyone for that matter) read and write Science Fiction? With the publication of Fausto J. Galauran’s Doktor Kuba in 1933, the Philippines actually has the oldest written Science Fiction tradition in Southeast Asia. Despite an early start, the country has had comparatively few serious Science Fiction works in any medium. This is problematic as nothing shapes the vision for a country’s future like Science Fiction does. As historian Yuval Noah Harari has said: “Today science fiction is the most important artistic genre. “It shapes the understanding of the public on things which are likely to change our lives and society more than anything else in the coming decades.”
It’s finally finished! So proud to be part of this seminal work on PH Spec Fic – “Mapping New Stars: A Sourcebook on Philippine Speculative Fiction,” edited by Gabriela Lee and Anna Sanchez . Thanks for inviting me to be a part of this!
I spent the first half of 2021 working on this massive project and my poor editors had to edit out so much material. Please watch out for the launch later this year or sometime in early 2023.
Congratulations to all my fellow TOC mates!
My chapter on “The Roots of Speculative Fiction in the Philippines” grew from my initial stab at documenting the early days of local Science Fiction. This time, I attempt to identify the oldest known Filipino works of Fantasy, Horror, and of course, Science Fiction.
As a teaser, I shall be posting an updated and super-remixed version of the section on Philippine Science Fiction here on my blog very soon (Likely after my upcoming eye surgery).
The beautiful cover below is by Hans Dimapilis
Check out the amazing , powerhouse TOC:
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction: A Beginner’s Guide to Cartography
A Brief Visual Timeline of Developments in Philippine Speculative Fiction
“Waiting for Victory: Towards a Philippine Speculative Fiction” by Anna Felicia Sanchez
Reading Philippine Speculative Fiction
“The Speculative Impulse” by Michaela Atienza
“Sapantaha: Isang Tangkang Depinisyon” by Luna Sicat Cleto
“Ang Kagila-gilalas na Haka kay Mariang Makiling Bilang Bukal ng Paglikha” by Edgar Calabia Samar
“The Roots of Speculative Fiction in the Philippines” by Victor Fernando R. Ocampo
“Tracing the Trajectory of Children’s Speculative Fiction in the Philippines” by Gabriela Lee
“Free and Open Spaces: Komiks and Speculative Fiction” by Francis Paolo M. Quina
“Philippine Speculative Fiction on the International Stage” by Charles Tan
Writing Philippine Speculative Fiction
“Where Do Stories Begin?” by Vida Cruz
“Choosing Your Genre: The Novel or the Short Story?” by Eliza Victoria
“Building Worlds” by Dean Francis Alfar
“Character Creation, or How to Get Away with Murderers” by Nikki Alfar
“Planning the Narrative Journey” by Isabel Yap
“Setting Up a Magic System” by Christine V. Lao
“First World Dreams, Third World Realities” by Emil Francis M. Flores
“Considering Speculative Poetry” by Kristine Ong Muslim