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.
Deven Philbrick, a writer, essayist and prose editor for the Seattle Review covers “The Infinite Library And Other Stories” for Singapore Unbound:
“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. ”
I am so honored and thrilled to get this killer review. I was both stunned and humbled after reading it. You can read the whole review here: Where Her Shawl Ends And Her Cat Begins (which is a line from The Old Blue Notebook, a story which first appeared in Daily Science Fiction).
Thank you to Deven and to Singapore Unbound editor Jee Leong Koh!
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.
It was the book birthday of The Infinite Library and Other Stories last 28 September. If you would like to get an advanced copy, it’s available at the independent bookstore BooksActually ahead of the launch at the Singapore Writers Festival (on Tuesday, November 7 from 8.30 pm – 9.30 pm at the Gallery II of The Arts House).
Trivia time: What else shares my book birthday?
In 2015 NASA scientists announce the discovery of flowing water on Mars.
In 2008 SpaceX launches the first ever private spacecraft, the Falcon 1 into orbit.
In 1987 “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” debuts on syndicated TV
In 1965 Taal Volcano explodes in Batangas, Philippines killing around 100 people
In 1928 Juan de la Cierva completes the first helicopter flight over the English Channel
In 1901 Filipino patriots defeat 48 members of the US 9th Infantry in Balangiga, Samar
In 1066 William the Conqueror invades England, landing at Pevensey Bay, Sussex
Singapore-based Speculative Fiction author and Lontar Journal founding editor Jason Erik Lundberg moderated a lively panel on Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction at yesterday’s #Worldcon75, with Nebula award- winning author Aliette de Bodard and myself. Like my other panel, this one was quite well attended and we were very happy to see that so many people were interested in Southeast Asian speculative fiction.
Aliette and I did a reading from one of our works and we spent the rest of the time taking questions and recommending many fine SEA authors from the region such as Dean Alfar (Philippines), Zen Cho (Malaysia) and JY Yang (Singapore).
P.S. – I provided a quick sneak peak of my first short story collection “The Infinite Library and Other Stories” during this panel 🙂
Writing from the fringes of both genre and mainstream literature, I’m always surprised when someone says that they’ve read one of my stories (no, really). Two weeks week ago I found out that a high school in Las Vegas, Nevada used “Blessed Are The Hungry” (Apex #62) as a study text for literature class. After reading it, 58 students left comments for me at Apex’s website. Most were very positive, a few critical, some were even quite effusive — but wow, 58 comments! That’s definitely a new record for me.
Here are some of my favorites:
From Kirsten Tan – “I thought that this story was engaging, and it was an interesting take on what can happen when you don’t fight back and how something horrible can continue to be perpetuated. I enjoyed reading about how the father and his sons chose to fight back instead of “suffer in silence,” and how this chain of events led to everyone finding out what was actually happening. I also felt concern when the mother told Elsa that she couldn’t go with her father simply because she’d be a great “breeder.” she’d It sort of reminded me of A Handmaid’s Tale, because women’s fertility were considered highly important.”
From Jordan – “Your story was very well written. It was very descriptive because of all the details, figurative language pieces, similes, etc. you added to your story. I found the part where Elsa was talking about all of these gruesome words to her younger sibling very disturbing and I can’t believe she was teaching those kinds of words to him but wow, this story gave such a different vibe than all the rest (which I really enjoyed). The dystopian, space feel was super cool to read in a book because I have never read anything like this before!”
From Ariel Bloch – “This story is gruesome yet beautiful. A dying ship travelling through never ending darkness, with a spark of warmth and hope igniting in the dark. This terrifying yet realistic interpretation of the future keeps your eyes glued to the screen, and makes you fear, perhaps, your own dark thoughts and selfishness. The figurative language used in this short story sharpened my vision as I read, and encouraged me to dive further into this cold world. The moment you begin reading you get a sense of the foul society that Elsa lives in, and the hopelessness that has devoured generations as they were born and buried in the dark vacuum of space.”
From Anna Wood – “From the beginning, I was immediately intrigued by the execution scene. It was shocking how children were there to witness it. As the story progressed, it only became more and more fascinating. I like how you included a bit of mystery with the missing page and unknown levels of the spaceship. It left me questioning. At the end, I was still left with many questions. It was a very well written short story that I would definitely read as a book.”
Although I did not write this story with secondary school readers in mind, I am very pleased that it was selected for them. Moreover, I am ecstatic that most of these kids seemed to enjoyed it (despite the scary parts). This is really a wonderful gift that they have given me. Without knowing it, these kids from Las Vegas and their wonderful, albeit anonymous, teacher have provided me with the encouragement I really needed to complete this story arc as a novel. Thank you so much!
Basil Davenport, an author and literary critic for the New York Times, once said that “Science Fiction is fiction based upon some imagined development of science, or upon the extrapolation of a tendency in society.” Indeed the technologies presented in many science fiction stories examine the possibilities and implications of new devices, machinery and other practical applications developed from scientific knowledge. Unique to the genre is the possibility that some of these speculative products of the imagination may become realities. Examples include now commonplace things such as space stations, mobile tablets, video-calling and moisture farming, all of which were once just fictional concepts. Occasionally, the real-world technology gets invented first, and science fiction authors ponder and elaborate on how these developments may be used. More importantly, they speculate on how technology could affect the human condition, both for good and for ill.
Filipinos have been writing Science Fiction for 70+ years. Here are 10 interesting speculative technologies that are worth contemplating — especially since they were used in the context of a Philippine setting.
Note that this list is not comprehensive and selects only those technologies that are realistic (based on existing or near-future technologies), or based on far-out concepts that do not violate generally-accepted scientific laws. Excluded are technologies used purely for plot-device purposes or have no actual scientific basis (e.g. the gravity disruptors from Pocholo Goitia’s An Introduction to the Luminescent  and the undescribed time travel method used in Michael A.R. Co’s Waiting for Victory ). Wherever possible I have included links to the stories or to discussions about them.
- The SentryServ Identity Database from Project 17 by Eliza Victoria . In Victoria’s arresting 2013 near-future novel, a shadowy corporation called Sentry keeps track of all humans (and androids), collecting movement, personal records and other important, supposedly private information. This potentially sinister application of technology is probably very close to becoming reality (a few would argue that its already here with Facebook, Google, Tencent and WeChat). Here’s an article on Business Insider on 12 ways that companies spy on you.
- Bio-Plasticine Millet and other artificial food from Milagroso by Isabel Yap
(2015) . A balikbayan returns to his childhood home in Lucban Quezon and discovers that artificial, plastic-derived food was somehow being turned into the real thing. This concept of non-nature created food first appeared in an earlier story by the same author, called A List of Things We Know (2013) . Edible plastic as a source of nutrition is also used in my story Blessed Are The Hungry (2014) . The technology of artificial food is a growing new industry. Here are 19 food items that are actually not made from food.
- The Heliodisc VTOL Aircraft from The Apollo Centennial by Gregorio Brilliantes . In this dystophian short story from 1980, the Marcos dictatorship never fell, and Luzon (now a protectorate of the United States) is patrolled by these unusual VTOL aircraft: “Now the sky is clear but for the remote clouds and a couple of helidiscs humming in a wide arc over the fields. For a moment the fighter-bombers hang gleaming, in silhouette against the mountains, their two-man crews visible in the bubble canopies, before rising vertically, abruptly, cut off from view by the roof of the bus.” It’s interesting how Brilliantes’ fictional aircraft seems to describe the Avro Canada VZ-9 Avrocar, a proposed “UFO” fighter which was still classified when the story was written. A similar egg-shaped VTOL vehicle called an “Aerocopter” also figures in Crystal Gail Koo’s The Rooftops of Manila (2009), this time as a civilian transport to a new underground city.
- The Solar sails used by Skyharvester spaceships from Sky Gypsies by Timothy James M. Dimacali (2007). This story is about a space-faring Sama-Laut father and his son who gather rare minerals from asteroids using their solar-sailed ship the Karumarga. Solar sails, also called “light sails” or “photon sails”, are a type of spacecraft propulsion using radiation pressure exerted by sunlight on large mirrors. As the author correctly posited, in the near future, these may be the best way for humanity to traverse the solar system. NASA recently announced the first such deployment of a solar sail, the Near-Earth Asteroid Scout probe, which will be launched in 2018.
- Diseases as a Service – In A Retrospective of Diseases for Sale by Charles Tan (2009) , the author goes one step beyond disease mongering with a corporation that sold ailments online (instead of the pharmaceuticals to treat them). The most interesting — and original — part of this concept was how the disease was alleged to be delivered: the vector was the email confirming purchase which contained an encrypted psychosomatic code which could “mentally activate various proteins in the human body that replicated the effects of the disease you ordered.” While no government would allow such a service to operate, it is not impossible to speculate that deadly diseases are already being bought and sold by criminals and terrorists on the Dark Web today.
- Xenotransplantation – In 1959’s The Heart of Mathilda (Ang Puso ni Matilde) by Nemesio E. Caravana , a brilliant young surgeon saves the life of his beloved by performing a dangerous and unethical cross-species heart transplant. Xenotransplantation is the transplantation of living cells, tissues or organs from one species to another. Although it is a promising avenue for treating final-stage organ failure, the technology is fraught with ethical issues — not the least of which is the creation of hybrid monsters (which was the subject of this very early Filipino Science Fiction serialized novel). Here’s a brief history of this controversial technique.
- Experimental Gerontology – Life extension and human augmentation seems to be a favorite topic of many Filipino Science Fiction authors. Practically every available SF book in the Philippine oeuvre has at least one story that uses it as a trope. In fact, the earliest known Filipino Science Fiction story, 1945’s Doktor Satan by Mateo Cruz Cornelio  involves the development of a serum that could restore the freshly dead back to life. A similar formula called Bio Regain was the subject of Vince Torres’ 2013 short story, The Cost of Living  which gave those who drank it a lust for life-extending blood. Interestingly, there is a controversial medical technique called Parabiosis which temporarily connects the circulatory system of an old and a young subject to rejuvenate an old person’s body with youthful blood. The Starvation Enzyme in F.H. Batacan’s brilliant Keeping Time (a short story and later a novel), originally from 2007, also falls under this category. The enzyme was originally developed as a means to control obesity and diabetes. It was added to the world’s public water systems to disastrous consequences. Similarly, in Sharmaine Galve’s The Paranoid Style (2009), the public water supply is tainted with a drug cocktail like to those used to treat ADHD patients. This converts the unsuspecting populace into literally a “polite” society .
- Cybernetic Augmentation – The other way to extend life is to go the Transhumanist route of using Bionics. In Fortitude (again by Eliza Victoria, 2016) , many characters live with cybernetic transplants including arms and lungs. In Dancing in the Shadow of the Once (2013) by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz , a woman uses media-based augmentations to recount the stories of a world that was now lost. Dominique Gerald Cimafranca’s 2007 story Facester, revolves around a procedure called “Cara Nuevo” that used an artificial enzyme, laser sculpting and radiation treatments to let people physically change their faces . Naturally, identity theft was one of the inevitable unfortunate applications. Here’s an article about a few individuals who have gone beyond wearable technology towards a post-human future. For those not inclined to replacing body parts with electronics, there is the somewhat less radical practice of bio-hacking.
- Robot Companions – Robots are no longer Science Fiction and scientists are looking at augmenting them using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to provide empathy and assistance to people in a socially acceptable manner. The question that both Science Fiction and Technology writers have asked is: how human do these machines need to be? Also, how far can or should people take relationships once the so-called Uncanny Valley is crossed? In Haya Makes a HUG by Erica Gonzales (2009), a sentient program tries to find out what a human hug means by building a humanoid from spare parts.  In Raymond P. Reyes’ The Romeo Robot (2016), a spoiled but lonely young man begs his father for a robot boyfriend only to abandon his faithful companion once his social anxiety is overcome.  Likewise, in Surrogate (2016) by Daniel Carlos Tan, a young woman from a future Davao cannot handle the fact that her recently deceased mother had programmed herself into a Personal Surrogate Droid. Here’s an article exploring the future of relationships, love and sex in the time of robots.
- Digital Torture – As a predominately Catholic country, the subjects of Heaven and Hell are never far from the minds of most Filipinos. In my story Panopticon (2014) I explored the possibility of being trapped in a digital afterlife, tortured endlessly by a vengeful former lover.. The Technological Singularity may still be faraway but using neural interfaces for recreating the proverbial tortures of hell is rapidly becoming a reality. “Remote Neural Monitoring, Control and Manipulation” (RNMCM) refers to the usage of specific technologies to record and/or alter the electrical activity of neurons in the human body. In Prisoner 2501 by John Philip Corpuz (2011), the Olympus MetroComm of an unnamed dystophian future city use RNMCM, gaslighting and isolation to torture prisoners into admitting terrorist affiliations. Elon Musk, a major proponent of neural interfaces, has spoken against the abuse of this technology for this type of interrogation.
One of the troubling aspects about chronicling the ten technologies above (and reading the twenty-three stories where they were used) is that these were all presented in a more or less negative context. There is little of the positive world view in which scientific progress has made the world a better place. Whether this is due to: an innate fear of technology, a reflection of the zeitgeist, or simply that there are not enough Filipino Science Fiction stories yet — or, perhaps all three — is up for debate.
There is also that unique fear that plagues Science Fiction writers. Namely, that their stories will be judged on whether what they wrote comes to pass or not, with no thought to literary merit. This is a mistaken notion. The task of Science Fiction is not to predict the future. Rather, it is to contemplate all possible futures. Simply put, Filipino Science Fiction Writers are meant to dream of every future for Filipinos.
For now, it’s a dark future that many of us are dreaming.
 Davenport, Basil (1955). Inquiry Into Science Fiction; New York: Longmans, Green and Co. p. 15.
 Goitia, Pocholo (2005) “An Introduction to the Luminescent”. Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 1, ed. Alfar, Dean Francis; Manila: Kestrel DDM
 Co, Michael A.R. (2006) “Waiting for Victory”. Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 2, ed. Alfar, Dean Francis; Manila: Kestrel DDM
 Victoria, Eliza (2013) Project 17; Manila; Visprint Inc.
 Yap, Isabel (2015) “Milagroso“; Tor.com published by Tor Books
 Yap, Isabel (2013) “A List of Things We Know”, Diaspora Ad Astra: An Anthology of Science Fiction from the Philippines eds. Flores, Emil M. & Nacino, Joseph Frederic F. ; Manila, The University of the Philippines Press
 Ocampo, Victor Fernando R. (2014) “Blessed Are The Hungry“, Apex Magazine vol. 62, ed. Sigrid Ellis; Lexington; Apex Book Company
 Brilliantes, Gregorio C. (1980), “The Apollo Centennial”, The Apollo Centennial: Nostalgias, Predicaments & Celebrations; Manila, National Bookstore
 Koo, Krystal Gail “The Rooftops of Manila”(2009), Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 4, eds. Alfar Dean Francis & Alfar, Nikki; Manila, Kestrel DDM
 Tan, Charles (2009), “A Retrospective of Diseases for Sale“; The Virtuous Medlar Circle presented by Anna Tambour. Also appears on Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 4, eds. Alfar Dean Francis & Alfar, Nikki; Manila, Kestrel DDM
 Caravana, Nemesio E. (1959), The Heart of Mathilda (Ang Puso ni Matilde); Manila, Aliwan Magazine
 Cornelio, Mateo Cruz (1945) Doktor Satan; Manila, Palimbagang Tagumpay
 Torres, Vince (2013), “The Cost of Living”; Diaspora Ad Astra: An Anthology of Science Fiction from the Philippines eds. Flores, Emil M. & Nacino, Joseph F. ; Manila, The University of the Philippines Press
 Batacan, F.H. (2007) “Keeping Time“, Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 3, eds. Alfar, Dean Francis & Alfar, Nikki; Manila, Kestrel DDM
 Galve, Sharmaine “The Paranoid Style”(2009) Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 4, eds. Alfar Dean Francis & Alfar, Nikki; Manila, Kestrel DDM
 Victoria, Eliza “Fortitude” (2016) Science Fiction: Filipino Fiction for Young Adults eds. Alfar, Dean Francis & Yu, Kenneth; Manila, University of the Philippines Press
 Loenen-Ruiz, Rochita, “Dancing in the Shadow of the Once” (2013) Bloodchildren: Stories by the Octavia Butler scholars, ed. Nisi Shawl; Seattle, Book View Cafe
 Gonzales, Erica, “Haya Makes a HUG” (2009) Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 4, eds. Alfar Dean Francis & Alfar, Nikki; Manila, Kestrel DDM
 Reyes, Raymond P. ,”The Romeo Robot” (2016) Science Fiction: Filipino Fiction for Young Adults eds. Alfar, Dean Francis & Yu, Kenneth; Manila, University of the Philippines Press
 Tan, Daniel Carlos ,”Surrogate” (2016) Science Fiction: Filipino Fiction for Young Adults eds. Alfar, Dean Francis & Yu, Kenneth; Manila, University of the Philippines Press
 Ocampo, Victor Fernando, “Panopticon” (2009) Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 9, eds. Drillon, Andrew & Tan, Charles; Manila, Kestrel DDM
 Corpuz, John Philip, “Prisoner 2501” (2011) Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 6, eds. Alfar, Nikki & Osias, Kate; Manila, Kestrel DDM
Top image reworked slightly from original digital art by BP Sola. All other pictures taken from the Internet and belong to their respective copyright owners.
My YA story about shape-changing robots modeled after the Sigben (Sigbin) of Philippine myth has been translated into Chinese. The original appeared in the book Science Fiction: Filipino Fiction for Young Adults (2016, eds. Dean Francis Alfar & Kenneth Yu) from the University of the Philippines Press.
The translation appeared last month in China’s Science Fiction World. With a circulation of +300,000 and 3 to 5 readers per copy, Wikipedia estimates that SF World has a total readership of about one million people — making it the world’s most popular Science Fiction periodical.
“Infinite Degrees of Freedom” is my second story in this venue, after 2015’s “Blessed Are The Hungry” (which originally appeared in Apex 62).
Sadly, the artist for my story did not use the Sigben visual references I provided. The monster illustrated above looks more like a mutant snubbull from Pokemon Go.