(Excerpt) The Roots of Speculative Fiction in the Philippines

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.[1]

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”[2]. 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[3]”. 

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[4]. 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.  


[1] Asimov, Isaac, The Birth of Science In Fiction (New York: Knightsbridge, 1981), p 9

[2] Oziewicz, Marek, “Speculative Fiction”,  Literature, Oxford Research Encyclopedia, 29 March 2017

[3] Alfar, Dean Francis, “Introduction”,  Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 2 (Pasig: Kestrel, 2006), p IX

[4] Alfar, Dean Francis, “An  Introduction”, Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 1 (Pasig: Kestrel, 2005), p vii

Mapping New Stars: A Sourcebook on Philippine Speculative Fiction (Editors: Gabriela Lee and Anna Felicia Sanchez, UP Press pre-publication – likely the end of 2022 or early 2023).

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.

Late Post: Necessary Fiction reviews “The Infinite Library”

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

Read “The Easiest Way to Solve a Problem” for free on Get Luckier

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.”

Read it for free here or scan the QR code below.

An Introduction to SEA Speculative Fiction on Literary Hub

Just sharing my first non-fiction work in a major mainstream literary magazine. I believe that a nascent center for Speculative Fiction has been quietly developing in Southeast Asia. This article provides a round up of the essential anthologies that give a great intro to the works from the region.

You can read the whole article at Literary Hub. Thank you to Gaudy Boy (especially Isabel Drake) for facilitating this.

Mapping New Stars: A Sourcebook on Philippine Speculative Fiction: Update

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

Acknowledgements

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 

“Publishing Like a Pro” by Nicasio Reed 

Works Cited 

End Notes

Further Reading

Author Bios

The Infinite Library and Other Stories (North American Edition) is launched in New York City

Thank you so much to Jee Leong Koh and the rest of the #GaudyBoy LLC team (Kimberly, Judy, Isabel and Emily) for making the launch of The Infinite Library and Other Stories in New York City last 9 October 2021 possible! ICYMI Here’s a recording of the the event on YouTube –

Thank you also to the Pushcart-nominated writer and 2020 Felipe P. De Alba Fellow, Jemma Wei for hosting the event ,and to the wonderful Monique Truong, winner of the 2004 PEN/Robert Bingham Award, and best selling author of The Book of Salt, Bitter in the Mouth, and The Sweetest Fruits for judging the entries to Singapore Unbound‘s first flash fiction contest (the prompt of which was the title of my book). Congratulations to all the winners:

First prize: “A Room with a Point of View,” by Masturah Alatas (Italy).

Second prize: “This Is a Nice Hotel,” by Olivia Djawoto (Singapore).

Third Prize: “Devotion,” by Shuchi (Singapore).

Honorable Mention: “How Fucky Am I To Be Loved,” by Aaric Tan Xiang Yeow (Singapore).

Lastly, thank you to all who submitted entries and to all those who spent their Saturday evening with us!

Gaudy Boy’s North American version of The Infinite Library and Other Stories is available from Bookshop.org and Amazon.com. In the United States and Canada you can also get it at Barnes & Noble and other selected bookstores.

Future Currents: Philippines and Singapore

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)

Language: English

Panelists:

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

The Book of Red Shadows Debuts at the 2020 Singapore Writers Festival

Thank you to everyone who remembered my birthday this week! To say that 2020 has been very difficult (for everyone in the entire world) is certainly an understatement. I am just thankful to be alive and somehow still be able to provide for my family (however diminished this capacity may be). I am also thankful for some small wins on the writing front, such as the launch of my first CYOA interactive narrative.

I am happy to announce that The Book of Red Shadows, my play-by-email story, successfully debuted at this year’s all-digital Singapore Writers Festival from 30 October to 8 November. Thank you so much to the MCCY, the National Arts council and, of course, the SWF team for making this happen. Special thanks also to our producer Sara Y. and the crew of Spaceship Thirteen for putting this project together, as well as to our tireless Game Masters, Wayne Ree, Eugene Lim, Nicholas Chan; our Game Manager, Weiqi Chuah; and Adela Lee, who handled our marketing and promotions.

Lastly, thank you also to the two hundred eighty brave souls from around Singapore and overseas who willingly signed up to be our experimental tests subjects. Your eagerness to have your moral compass sorely tested resulted in our game slots being filled very quickly. Sadly, we had to turn quite a number of people away.

After ten days of playing, about 26% or roughly 72 of you players managed to make it to the end of the story (without your character meeting a horrible or otherwise gruesome end). Congratulations! I hope you enjoyed the experience.

For those who did not get to play, this story was a serialized narrative in ten parts, with an option to follow one of two threads at the end of every chapter. Within a certain narrative limit, reader/players and game masters were able to add elements to personalize their journey, creating a unique story path that couldn’t be played again in the same way. The sole objective of The Book of Red Shadows was to avoid making plot choices that would end the narrative prematurely, as well as to somehow be get to the writer’s original ending (my story ending) despite obstacles and the different ways to get there.

Here’s the synopsis:

Set in 2220, at Singapore’s colony in Mars, where the consciousness of the newly dead are pressed into National Service by the secretive Project Red Shadows. In exchange for a chance to be restored to life, they must help a massive AI alter events in the past for the benefit of Singapore’s colony in Mars. However, things are not what they seem. There are dire consequences whenever they interfere with fate. Moreover, there is a secession movement planning a rebellion against the government from Earth. A digital ghost is haunting the project, and a vicious time hacker is also trying to erase NS operatives from existence for good. The Book of Red Shadows is a dark odyssey about the true nature of time, the consequences of weaponizing artificial intelligence, and the search for hope and meaning in an increasingly bleak world.

An Interactive Story with game-like elements played over email.

The Book of Red Shadows had many media mentions during and after SWF 2020. Here’s a small selection –

It was the most mesmerizing experience I ever had. Every scenario presented was penned in detail as the story launched into more complications than you would ever expect. The choices were open-ended, giving you more control over the path you would like to take. I felt a sense of loss when the 10 days ended, wishing that it would have been longer.” 
IREVIEWUREAD

It’s pretty absorbing. The text sent each day is also, well, uniquely Singaporean and not without a dash of parody. If you like classic CYOA adventures, I strongly encourage you to give this dark saga a try.” 
THE SCRIBBLING GEEK

“(This is) A chance to enter the strange universe of speculative fiction author Victor Fernando R. Ocampo in Play This Story: The Book Of Red Shadows.
THE STRAITS TIMES

Specifically for SWF2020, voices in the SingLit community produced 20 innovative commissions in digital literary works. Begin with Play This Story: The Book of Red Shadows.
ESQUIRE

This year’s offerings include unusual formats such as Play This Story: The Book of Red Shadows.” 
BAKCHORMEEBOY

Fun activities include a psychological horror game that takes place entirely over email (Play This Story: The Book of Red Shadows).”
SG MAGAZINE

Thrill-seekers will enjoy Play This Story: The Book of Red Shadows, an interactive, psychological horror game based on a fictional universe by the speculative fiction author Victor Fernando R. Ocampo.
THE A LIST

Crafted by Singapore-based author Victor Fernando R. Ocampo, the intrigue begins with you freshly deceased – yet kept ‘alive’ by mysterious government technology.
CITY NOMADS

The speculative fiction of Victor Fernando R Ocampo is recast as a choose-your-own-adventure experience taking place entirely over email.
THE BUSINESS TIMES

Play This Story: The Book of Red Shadows (is an) offline interactive (game) that would be sure to keep one on their toes.” 
THE PEAK

Innovative digital events include Play this Story: The Book of Red Shadows, an interactive psychological horror game based on the speculative fiction of Victor Fernando R Ocampo that unfolds over email.” 
SILVERKRIS

SWF also features voices from the community in the form of 20 innovative commissions in digital literary formats. This includes interactive psychological horror game Play This Story: The Book Of Red Shadows, which takes place over email.” 
THE STAR

This year’s innovative offerings include unexpected offline formats as seen in Play This Story: The Book of Red Shadows.”
NAC

Singapore ArtScience Museum’s Take 5

Thank you to Singapore’s ArtsScience Museum for featuring me in their Take 5 video series. I talked about how Speculative Fiction in general and Science Fiction, in particular, helps readers build resilience during tough times.

Thank you also to  Patricia, Isabella and Sophia for shooting, directing and editing the initial footage. You are the best video crew a guy could have!

Please like the video on Youtube as well!

VRO Take 5

Another Late Post: TILAOS review at Singlitstation

Thank you to #Singlitstation and #AJLow (the enigmatic duo behind the famous Sherlock Sam series) for their awesome write-up of my short story collection The Infinite Library And Other Stories. You can check out the original Instagram post here.

AJ LOW TILAOS Review

You can get your own copy of The Infinite Library and Other Stories (Math Paper Press, 2017) at #BooksActually‘s online store. They ship internationally! Check them out here.