“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.
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
UPDATE: Thank you to everyone who watched us last night! If you missed our panel you can still catch it on YouTube here.
This coming Sunday, the 29th of November, 2020, please join Eliza Victoria, Isabel Yap, Vida Cruz and I as we talk about Speculative Fiction from the Philippines and Singapore (okay, it’s essentially mostly me for the latter) at Future Currents: Philippines and Singapore.
4am: California/Pacific Standard Time (PST) | 6am: Mexico City | 9am: Brasilia | 1pm: Rome | 4pm: Dubai | 8pm: Singapore/Manila | 11 pm: Sydney (AEDT)
Eliza Victoria (Philippines) – Eliza Victoria is the author of several books including the Philippine National Book Award-winning Dwellers (2014), the novel Wounded Little Gods (2016), the graphic novel After Lambana (2016, a collaboration with Mervin Malonzo), and the science fiction novel-in-stories, Nightfall (2018). Her fiction and poetry have appeared in several online and print publications, most recently in LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction, The Best Asian Speculative Fiction, The Apex Book of World SF Volume 5, and Future SF Digest. Her work has won prizes in the Philippines’ top literary awards, including the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. Her one-act plays (written in Filipino) have been staged at the Virgin LabFest at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
Isabel Yap (Philippines) – Isabel Yap writes fiction and poetry, works in the tech industry, and drinks tea. Born and raised in Manila, she has also lived in California and London. She holds a BS in Marketing from Santa Clara University, and an MBA from Harvard Business School. In 2013 she attended the Clarion Writers Workshop, and since 2016 has served as Secretary for the Clarion Foundation. Her work has appeared in venues including Tor.com, Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, and Year’s Best Weird Fiction. Herdebut short story collection will be published by Small Beer Press in 2021. She is@visyap on Twitter and her website ishttps://isabelyap.com.
Vida Cruz (Philippines) – Vida Cruz’s fiction has been published or is forthcoming from Strange Horizons, PodCastle, Expanded Horizons, and various anthologies, as well as been longlisted for the British Science Fiction Award. A Clarion graduate and a Tiptree/Otherwise Fellow, she is also a book editor with The Darling Axe.
She lives in Manila with her family and 10 memeable dogs.
Victor Fernando R. Ocampo (Singapore/Philippines) – Victor Fernando R. Ocampo is the author of the International Rubery Book Award shortlisted The Infinite Library and Other Stories (Math Paper Press, 2017) and Here be Dragons (Canvas Press, 2015), which won the Romeo Forbes Children’s Story Award in 2012. His play-by-email interactive fiction piece “The Book of Red Shadows” debuted at the Singapore Writers Festival in 2020.
His writing has appeared in many publications including Apex Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, Likhaan Journal, Strange Horizons, Philippines Graphic, Science Fiction World and The Quarterly Literature Review of Singapore, as well as anthologies like The Best New Singapore Short Stories, Fish Eats Lion: New Singaporean Speculative Fiction, LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction, Maximum Volume: Best New Philippine Fiction, and the Philippine Speculative Fiction series.
He is a fellow at the Milford Science Fiction Writers’ Conference (UK) and a Jalan Besar writer-in-residence at Sing Lit Station (2020/2021).
Visit his blog at vrocampo.com or follow him on Twitter @VictorOcampo
Speaking of KidLit, I have finished writing the text for my next illustrated children’s book, The Ocean Above Her. I am now in the process of finalizing the artwork before looking for a publisher. Here’s a sample illustration from Christian Oliver Cruz. This work was done with coffee stains, watercolour wash and ink.
“…what is most striking is that these stories form a continuum of the Filipino diaspora from history into a hopeful future, investigating how separation has affected its members, and how in turn they have affected their host communities. This creates a deep and lingering connection between all the stories in the collection, through aspects of religion, language, time, and literature.”
Literary journalist, architect and P.H.D. student Sandro Lau, writes a great review of two short story collections — my book The Infinite Library And Other Stories, and This Is How You Walk On The Moon, a collection of Speculative Fiction edited by Patricia Karunungan, Samuel Caleb Wee and Wong Wen Pu. You can read the review here.
“The distinction between literary and genre fiction has been the topic of much debate in recent years. How the distinction ought to be made and whether the distinction is ultimately useful at all are questions with which many people interested in contemporary fiction are deeply engaged. Although a consensus on the answers certainly does not exist, one significant result of the questions having been posed is a reluctance to dismiss universally so-called genre writers as peddlers of formulaic fictions designed for quick consumption and simple, mass appeal. Science-fiction, for example, is now more than ever taken seriously as literary art. Its potential for imagining alternative realities, for conceiving of other possibilities for organizing a world, makes it a genre with the capacity for profound philosophic investigation. Writers like Samuel R. Delany, Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, Thomas Disch, and Joanna Russ are increasingly accepted as towering figures of English-language letters. Victor Fernando Ocampo, author of The Infinite Library and Other Stories, has written a book that puts him among their rank.
Fundamentally, The Infinite Library and Other Stories is a book about possibility, limitation, and the boundary between them. In imagining alternative possibilities and stretching them to the point of snapping, Victor Fernando Ocampo engages in an act of profound political importance, aesthetic significance, and philosophical rigor that is a serious pleasure to ingest. ”
My proto “Anito-Punk” story “My Father Is Made Of Light” was recently published in the anthology Steampunk Universe edited by Sarah Hans. This is an older story which was the seed for a longer, later work called “Father is the Blood, Mother is the Wine” which originally came out in Lontar Volume 9. The anthology also features works by Maurice Broaddus, Ken Liu, Malon Edwards, Suna Dasi, Emily Cataneo, Matthew Bright, Pip Ballantine, Jody Lynn Nye, and Lucy Snyder.
My L33t Speak/JEJEMON story “I M D 1 IN 10” was in the 2016 volume of Best New Singapore Stories (Jason Erik Lundberg, editor).
This year, my Pinoy space-opera story from Lontar Volume 6 made it to the honourable mention list of the Best New Singapore Stories Volume 3 (Cyril Wong, Guest Editor). I was a bit surprised (but grateful!) to see this, because it is the most Hard Science Fiction work I had ever attempted. Congratulations to all that were selected or shortlisted!
“Brother to Space, Sister to Time” is lovingly dedicated to my brother Hector Francisco V. Ocampo and my sister Noreen Maria-Regina Ocampo Oconer. Strangely enough, despite the genre trappings, this is also the most personal story I have ever written. There is so much for a reader to discover between the lines.