Read! Fest 2019 – Predicting The Future with Science Fiction

Readfest VRO

As part of the sixth installment of Read! Fest by the National Library Board in Singapore, Senior Artificial Intelligence Researcher Dr Ken Kahn from the University of Oxford and I will be giving a talk about how Science Fiction can predict and inspire real-world discoveries and inventions (or vice-versa).

Here’s the Blurb from Read! Fest 2019:

Programme Synopsis
In 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke describes a portable flat screen news pad which forecast the iPads that we love and use today years before they were even created. Unconstrained by scientific impossibilities and spurred on by unbounded imagination, science fiction has successfully predicted technologies ranging from earphones and radios to medical drugs like anti-depressants. It continues to be a useful tool to conjure new technologies and explore their impact on society. Join Singaporean based writer Victor Ocampo and Senior Researcher, Dr Ken Kahn from the University of Oxford as they share their perspectives on the genre and their love for sci-fic and ultimately attempt to answer the question: Does Science Fiction Predict or Inspire?

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About the Speakers
Dr Ken Kahn’s interest in science fiction from early childhood eventually led him to join the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab which awarded him a doctorate in 1979. As part of his master’s thesis he built a system that could understand Robert Heinlein’s story All You Zombies – a very convoluted time travel story. He now does research at the University of Oxford and teaches at Yale-NUS.

Victor Fernando R. Ocampo is a Singapore-based Filipino writer. He is the author of 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 writing has appeared in many publications including Apex Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, Philippines Graphic, Science Fiction World and QLRS, as well as anthologies like Best New Singapore Short Stories and Maximum Volume: Best New Philippine Fiction.

This year Read! Fest is anchored on the theme of Voyage. Book a trip with us and discover alternative forms of reading at Read! Fest 2019 programmes as we journey through space and time, only from 22 June – 28 July.

When and Where: Saturday 20 July 2019, 11:00 to 11:30 AM at the Imagination and Possibility Room, The National Library, 1000 Victoria Street, Singapore.

For more details, visit check out the NLB site here.

 

The Brave New World of Spec Fic Magazines: A Primer

Kristel Autencio of BookRiot  has written a really useful guide for readers who want to read SFF short fiction online (note: this includes the daughter genres of fantasy, adventure, and horror).

She talks about excellent publications like Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Lightspeed, Nightmare Magazine and (the recently beleaguered) Tor.com and recommends several authors and stories found in each. Among them are John Chu, Mary Robinette Kowal, Ken Liu, Usman T. Malik, Nnedi Okorafor, Daniel José Older, Sofia Samatar and Kai Ashante Wilson.

Incidentally she includes three Filipino authors in the primer — Dean Francis Alfar for “L’Aquilone du Estrellas” (in Strange Horizons), myself for “Blessed are the Hungry” )in Apex), and Isabel Yap for “Have You Heard the One About Anamaria Marquez?” (in Nightmare).

Thank you so much for including me Kristel!

Here’s the BookRiot article : The Brave New World of Spec Fic Magazines: A Primer

 

 

Some thoughts on Science Fiction in the Philippines

(Part 1 of a 2-part article on Filipino Science Fiction)

Of all forms of literature Science Fiction is the only one that primarily concerns itself with imagining the future. As a recent article in Smithsonian Magazine pointed out, SF deals with “thinking about what’s to come for civilization”. For writers it is, as Ursula K. Le Guin points out, “a safe, sterile laboratory for trying out ideas” and “a means of thinking about reality, a method.”

The history of humankind is one of a mixture of gradual and accelerated changes -– social, intellectual and technical, where each small change can lead to a multiverse of possibilities and it’s the job of Science Fiction to contemplate these possibilities and consider their potential consequences.

However Science Fiction isn’t written in a vacuum, it remixes past history with the ideas of tomorrow to examine the very real problems of today. Each country in the world has a different past, as well as a different set of problems and circumstances. Each also has a unique set of alternative futures.

For a nation to progress, to move forward, it is first necessary to dream about where it can go (as well as the scenarios it needs to avoid). Science Fiction is fertile ground for this type of thinking and this is why it’s important for every nation to create its own body of suppositional fiction.

This is particularly true for post-colonial developing nations like the Philippines. The bulk of Science Fiction comes from the United States, the UK and Japan (the latter primarily for anime and its derivatives). The outlook and point-of-view of such culturally dominant narratives is imposed on the rest of the world simply because it’s the only one readily available in the market.

The Philippines (and by extension the rest of the world) needs its writers to add their voices to what should be a multi-ethnic, multi-perspective chorus. Never mind that the international market prefers “western-style SF” at this time. Never mind that very few Filipino writers can write without any vestige of western colonialism. The country needs more stories to define the future it wants and deserves.

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Cover illustration for the comic book adaption of Timothy Dimacali’s Sky Gypsies with art by John Bumanglag

Why isn’t there more Filipino Science Fiction? Putting aside the bias against the literature of the Fantastic that had persisted in the country for decades, the main excuse given is that the Philippines isn’t “high-tech” enough; that it “does not have a tradition of discovery, exploration and scientific thinking” and that high technology exists apart from experience of the everyday Filipino.

While this may have been true half a decade ago, the mobile digital revolution has placed powerful networked computers literally in the pocket of most everyone in the Philippines. Many Filipino kids today have never stepped on a farm, never owned a carabao (i.e. water buffalo, that staple of many a Filipino short story), and probably wouldn’t know what to do with one unless the animal came with a mobile app. This is not to demean those who are marginalized or those work in the agricultural sector, it’s just that we also need other kinds of stories. Besides, discussing politics and social issues are essential to serious Science Fiction. It’s not really the content that needs to be expanded – it’s the form.

Whatever “literary technophobia” that had haunted older authors should mean nothing to new and emerging writers who have to reference technology no matter what kind of story they create simply because technology has become so entrenched in Filipino daily life.

In any case it’s a fallacy that Filipinos needs to have some kind of indigenous tradition of hard science to write Science Fiction. Did the country need to have a local tradition of rock and alternative music to develop the Original Pilipino Music (OPM) industry? No. Yet great Filipino rock bands like Eraserheads exist.

Lastly, despite the “science” in the name, Science Fiction isn’t always about Science anyway (see Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Stanislaw’s Lem’s Solaris and most of Margaret Atwood’s work). As David Brin said “Science fiction is badly named — it should have been called speculative history… Whether you are in a parallel reality or exploring the future, it is all about the implications of change on human lives. The fundamental premise of sci-fi is not spaceships and lasers — it’s that children can learn from the mistakes of their parents.”

It’s about dreaming the future.

In fact it’s time for the Filipino to dream a multiplicity of futures. It’s time to figure out where we want to go as a nation (because you really wouldn’t want the politicians and/or showbiz personalities to do it for you). It’s time to create our Science Fiction.

Now open your word processor. Whip out that note pad. Let’s write.