Ten Speculative Technologies in Philippine Science Fiction

Futur Manila 2

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.”[1]  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 [2] and the undescribed time travel method used in Michael A.R. Co’s Waiting for Victory [3]). Wherever possible I have included links to the stories or to discussions about them.

  • The SentryServ Identity Database from Project 17 by Eliza Victoria [4].  In Victoria’s biometricsarresting 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
    download (2015) [5].  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) [6].  Edible plastic as a source of nutrition is also used in my story Blessed Are The Hungry (2014) [7]. 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 [8]. In this image-640978-galleryV9-osph-640978.jpgdystophian 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.[9]
  • The Solar sails used by Skyharvester spaceships from Sky Gypsies by Timothy James 906339M. 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.[10]  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 download (2)(2009) [11], 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 xenotransplantation-resizedNemesio E. Caravana [12], 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 forever-young-727666favorite 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 [13] 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 [14] 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)[15], 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 [16].
  • Cybernetic Augmentation –  The other way to extend life is to go the Transhumanist 122on45route of using Bionics. In Fortitude (again by Eliza Victoria, 2016) [17], many characters live with cybernetic transplants including arms and lungs. In Dancing in the Shadow of the Once (2013) by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz [18], 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 [19]. 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 tumblr_inline_npu9tbWBYJ1r9js4k_500at 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. [20] 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. [21] 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.[22] 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 olklutunw0lkk6nvwglwHell 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.[23].  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.

 

Notes:

[1]  Davenport, Basil (1955). Inquiry Into Science Fiction; New York: Longmans, Green and Co. p. 15.

[2] Goitia, Pocholo (2005) “An Introduction to the Luminescent”. Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 1, ed. Alfar, Dean Francis; Manila: Kestrel DDM

[3] Co, Michael A.R.  (2006) “Waiting for Victory”. Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 2, ed. Alfar, Dean Francis;  Manila: Kestrel DDM

[4] Victoria, Eliza (2013) Project 17; Manila; Visprint Inc.

[5] Yap, Isabel (2015) “Milagroso“; Tor.com published by Tor Books

[6] 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

[7] Ocampo, Victor Fernando R. (2014) “Blessed Are The Hungry“, Apex Magazine vol. 62, ed. Sigrid Ellis; Lexington; Apex Book Company

[8] Brilliantes, Gregorio C. (1980), “The Apollo Centennial”, The Apollo Centennial: Nostalgias, Predicaments & Celebrations; Manila, National Bookstore

[9] Koo, Krystal Gail “The Rooftops of Manila”(2009), Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 4, eds. Alfar Dean Francis & Alfar, Nikki; Manila, Kestrel DDM

[10] Dimacali, Timothy James M.  (2007) “Sky Gypsies“; Manila, Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 3 eds. Alfar Dean Francis & Alfar, Nikki, Kestrel DDM

[11] 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

[12] Caravana, Nemesio E. (1959), The Heart of Mathilda (Ang Puso ni Matilde); Manila, Aliwan Magazine

[13] Cornelio, Mateo Cruz (1945) Doktor Satan; Manila, Palimbagang Tagumpay

[14] 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

[15] Batacan, F.H. (2007) “Keeping Time“, Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 3, eds. Alfar, Dean Francis & Alfar, Nikki; Manila, Kestrel DDM

[16] Galve, Sharmaine “The Paranoid Style”(2009) Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 4, eds. Alfar Dean Francis & Alfar, Nikki; Manila, Kestrel DDM

[17] Victoria, Eliza “Fortitude” (2016) Science Fiction: Filipino Fiction for Young Adults eds. Alfar, Dean Francis & Yu, Kenneth; Manila, University of the Philippines Press

[18] 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

[19] Cimafranca, Dominique Gerald, “Facester” (2007) Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 3, eds. Alfar Dean Francis & Alfar, Nikki; Manila, Kestrel DDM

[20] Gonzales, Erica, “Haya Makes a HUG” (2009) Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 4, eds. Alfar Dean Francis & Alfar, Nikki; Manila, Kestrel DDM

[21] 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

[22] Tan, Daniel Carlos ,”Surrogate” (2016) Science Fiction: Filipino Fiction for Young Adults  eds. Alfar, Dean Francis & Yu, Kenneth; Manila, University of the Philippines Press

[23] Ocampo, Victor Fernando, “Panopticon” (2009) Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 9, eds. Drillon, Andrew & Tan, Charles; Manila, Kestrel DDM

[24] 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.

Charles Tan and the Problem of Labels: “Tell Me About _______ Science Fiction”

Names can be cages, We seldom realize it but when we speak or think, we do so in terms of languages and images which we didn’t invent. Words and names which were given to us by our society; words and names, which for many in the developing world, come from the language of former colonial masters. Charles Tan writes a great article on the issue of labeling Science Fiction with terms like “Filipino SF, Singaporean SF, Malaysian SF, etc.” Here’s Charles’ post from the Skiffy and Fanty Show:

The Skiffy and Fanty Show

As someone who’s asked to talk about Filipino science fiction and fantasy, and after listening to several podcasts (including the Skiffy and Fanty show) interviewing authors who eventually end up representing their country/continent/ethnicity, one question that inevitably gets asked is how they would describe science fiction or fantasy from their country: “What is Filipino speculative fiction?” “What is Chinese science fiction” “What is Carribean fantasy?” The interviewers have good intentions (and I’m one of those people who’ve used that particular phrase numerous times), but the more I think about it, the more problematic the question becomes.

At the root of the question are certain assumptions and privileges people take for granted. The first is that they are coming from a Western paradigm, where Western literature is at the center. The answers and responses of the interviewee will always be compared and contrasted to concepts and ideas from Western literature, because…

View original post 618 more words

Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 9 is Out!

Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 9 has been released on Amazon, Flipreads, Kobo and iTunes. ! This is my second outing with the PSF series (the first, in 2011 was my first published story ever – Resurrection). Thank you to Andrew Drilon, Charles Tan and the good folks of Flipside Publishing.

PSF #9 has my cyberpunk revenge story “Panopticon”. Here’s a short excerpt:

“After a while, I staggered out of the toilet. Night had fallen and I looked around the deserted alley, wondering where I was supposed to go. A bicycle had been propped on a wall just in front of the lavatory entrance. As soon as I stepped towards it, the bike began to flash its lights, illuminating layers of advertising graffiti with a frail white fluorescence. The lights kept blinking until I put my hand on its bamboo handlebars.

A message popped on its digital odometer:

“Thank you for choosing a Shimano Intelligent Bicycle Mr. Salazar. The seat has been automatically adjusted to your height. Your route has already been pre-selected. Please climb aboard and simply pedal.”

I heaved myself up to the gel-padded saddle and kicked off. The bike guided me through the dark and narrow alleys that snaked through the labyrinth of tenements. Everything in New Tundon lay in the shadow of its sole skyscraper, the neon-lit Torre Paraiso.

I passed through the slums like a ghost. Through the yawning windows I saw people leading seemingly normal lives — playing mah-jongg or the card game pusoy dos, eating dinner or simply gathered around their living rooms, plugged into a legion of electronic devices. This was a town of old people, permanently idled; permanently trapped in the amber of unstructured time. Not a single child was in sight.”

PSF9_cover

Cover design by Kevin Roque.

“Panopticon” on Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 9

I’m happy to announce that my Filipino Cyberpunk short story “Panopticon” will be in the latest volume of Philippine Speculative Fiction. This ninth edition of PSF is edited by Andrew Drillon and Charles Tan. Here’s the announcement for the Table of Contents which is listed below:

Blood of Iron by Christian Renz Torres
Panopticon by Victor Ocampo
A Cha-cha with Insanity by Vida Cruz
Only Dogs Piss Here by Michael Aaron Gomez
Last Race by Jenny Ortuoste
Oscar’s Marvelous Transformation by Kat Del Rosario
Stations of the Apostate by Alexander M. Osias
Sikat by William Robert Yasi
Deliver Us by Eliza Victoria
Miracles under a Concrete Sky by Franz Johann Dela Merced
The Unmaking of the Cuadro Amoroso by Kate Osias
The Woodsman by Cedric Tan
And These were the Names of the Vanished by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz
Anthropomorpha by Crystal Koo
Sofia by Marianne Villanueva
Transcripts from the Investigation on the Life and Death of Alastor de Roja by Vincent Michael Simbulan
TG2416 from Mars by Nikki Alfar
Mater Dolorosa by Marc Gregory Yu
Scissor Tongue by Elyss Punsalan
Cogito by AJ Elicaño

Congratulations to the editors and all the authors listed!

PSF 9 Image

 

 

 

A Short and Incomplete History of Philippine Science Fiction

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

Most Filipinos readers don’t know that the first Filipino Science Fiction story was written almost seventy years ago (making the Philippines, to my knowledge, the first country in Southeast Asia to have a written SF tradition).

The 1940s to 1960s: In the Beginning

Exz0

[Newspaper advertisement for Teodorico C. Santos’ Exzur from October 1956,  the first SF alien invasion film in Southeast Asia, later serialized by Nemesio E. Caravana.]

In 1945 Mateo Cruz Cornelio published a short 48-page Tagalog novel called Doktor Satan (by Palimbagang Tagumpay, Manila).

Docktor Satan was a R. L. Stevenson-inspired tale about a brilliant chemist and medical doctor Alberto Estrella who was desperate to find a cure for his mother’s terminal illness. After a batch of his secret formula restores a Russian suicide to life, he drinks his own medicine believing he’d found the secret to immortality. In a Dr Jekyll/Mr. Hyde turn of events, he gets transformed into a demonic being with red eyes, fangs and a pair of horns. The newly-monstrous Dr. Estrella goes on a rampage, destroying property and anyone in his way. He murders his fiancée Nena before he is finally killed by a police officer. His mother however, completely recovers from her illness.

Copies of Doktor Satan are now very rare and one of the few existing volumes can be found at the Rizal Library of Ateneo de Manila University.

Another early work was The Heart of Mathilda (Ang Puso ni Matilde) written in 1959 by author and film director Nemesio E. Caravana. This was a dark and brooding story reminiscent of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein but with a touch of Alfred Hitchcock and H.P. Lovecraft.

Ang Puso ni Matilde was a Tagalog novel serialized by Aliwan (“Entertainment”) Magazine — which along with publications like Liwayway (“Dawn“) were among the most important venues for vernacular literature at that period (Caravana had previously serialized the 1956 movie, ExZur by People’s Pictures for Liwayway magazine. Both the comic and the movie featured the dramatic destruction of Manila’s City Hall, the Bureau of Posts building and Quezon Bridge by an armada of flying saucers.)

Caravana’s novel is about Dr. Lino Romasanta a good man whose one true love Angela is raped by an evil colleague. She later suffers a heart attack and dies. Dr. Romasanta just happens to be a skilled surgeon and he rescues his love by replacing her heart with a new one (although he keeps its source secret). The operation is successful but Angela’s behaviour starts to change — becoming more canine and feral. In the end it’s revealed that the heart he’d used belonged to his pet bulldog, the titular “Matilde” (note: it’s amazing how Caravana could get away with such a controversial tale during the very conservative 50s/early 60s).

“Hindi matingkala ang kagalakang nag-uumapaw sa puso ni Dr. Romasanta nang matapos ang kasal. Masigla at halos pasagsag na inilabas niya ng simbahan ang kanyang magandang asawa.

Gayunman, nang sila’y magkasama na sa awto ay hindi pa rin lubusang mapawi sa isipan ni Lino ang pag-aalaala. Baka sumpungin ng pagkaaso si Angela. Hindi nakaila kay Angela ang pag-iisip ni Lino.” – from “Ang Puso ni Mathilde” by Nemesio E. Caravana

“After they got married, Dr. Romasanta could barely contain the happiness overflowing from his heart. With great joy and enthusiasm he swept his beautiful wife out of the church.

However when the two of them were alone in his car, he began to worry that Angela would revert back to her canine behaviour. His new wife noticed his sudden introspection and wondered what the matter was.” (apologies for my poor translation)

Apart from the two novels mentioned above, comic book serializations were the only real source of Filipino Science Fiction stories in the 1950s and early 1960s — unfortunately most of them were of the pulp variety. The most interesting of these was Clodualdo del Mundo, Sr.’s “Tuko sa Madre Kakaw”  (“Geko on the Madre de Cacao Tree”) from 1958. Del Mundo was a prolific novelist, playwright, essayist, short story writer, journalist, screenwriter, teacher and critic who was seemingly not content with his prodigious output of literary pieces. He also wrote numerous popular works such as “Binibining Pirata” (“The Lady Pirate“)  and many other fantastic tales (“Salamankero” or “Magic Man“, “Planet Man“, etc.).

In this Island of Dr. Moreau-like story,  a tormented, psychologically-unstable biologist, Tomas Montevideo, creates a serum that could increase the size of any animal to gigantic proportions. He tests this on an unwary gecko (the titular “tuko“) which transforms into a dinosaur-sized reptile with an unfortunate appetite for destruction. The main plot concerns a group of clueless teenagers who try not to get killed for the bulk of the story.

In 1959 “Tuko sa Madre Kakaw” was made into a movie of the same name in by director Richard Abelardo of LVN pictures. Sadly, this movie is now lost save for a few stills (which can be seen in film buff Simon Santos’ amazing blog Video 48).

tukosamadrekakaw01

[Cover of the January 1958 issue of Hiwaga (“Wonder”) magazine with Clodualdo del Mundo, Sr.’s popular  “Tuko sa Madre Kakaw”]

The 1970s to the 1990s: the Marcos Years and After

The next few decades were lean years for written Science Fiction. Philippine Literature in general was undergoing a transformation away from Romanticism and any author who did not write under the aegis of committed Social Realism risked not being taken seriously.

darna7

[Cover of the June 1950 issue of Komiks Magazine with Mars Ravalo’s classic super-heroine “Darna”]

Despite the fact that it was the height of the Space Age and the local popularity of such SF authors like Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert and Robert Heinlein, as well as the popularity of Western genre movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars, very few Science Fiction works were produced in the period between the 70s and the 90s. However SF and its tropes flourished in local comic books such as Mars Ravelo and Nestor Redondo’s Darna and in film (e.g. the Kaiju movie Anak ng BulkanChild of the Volcano” by Emmanuel Rojas, a pioneering alien invasion pulp classic Excur by Teodorico C. Santos, the Filipino version of Heinlein’s Destination Moon,  Zarex by Richard Abelardo, and the social commentary Aliwan Paradise by Mike de Leon).

Aliwan Paradise

[Movie still from Aliwan Paradise (Mike de Leon, 1992)]

Perhaps the only significant work from the 1970s was Tantaroo from 1971. Penned by famed Ilonggo writer Jose E. Yap (writing as Pedro Solano), this story remains one of the very few Science Fiction works in the Hiligaynon language (I don’t think it has ever been translated into English).

A decade later, the late Martial law period brought with it the first important English language Science Fiction short story — Gregorio Brilliantes’ 1981 piece “Apollo Centennial”.

Written as a commentary on the Marcos regime, it contemplated a future where Marcos’ corrupt and brutal New Society never went away. It is considered by many critics to be one of the finest English Language short stories ever written by a Filipino.

apollocentennialbrillantes

Apollo Centennial” is set in 2069, a hundred years after the 1969 lunar expedition, and it tells the story of Arcadio Nagbuya, an indigent farmer who takes his family to see a travelling exhibit of artefacts and mementos from the now 100 year-old lunar landing.

The family’s journey is difficult, and in the narrative it’s revealed that while the rest of the world had moved on (to more wondrous high-tech futures), Filipino society had stagnated. The country had become an oppressive police state where traditional regional languages were suppressed in favour of a state-sponsored lingua franca called “Tagilocan”.

“His cousin clicks off the flashlight and speaks to him, not in Tagilocan, but in the old language and the tender fluid accents of their father’s tongue, unheard for so long yet never quite lost nor forgotten, bring a swift rush of pride and love that pushes back the enclosing dread.” – from “Apollo Centennial” by Gregorio Brilliantes

The story captured in beautiful yet searing prose one of the greatest fears of Filipinos – that nothing will ever change and that the Philippines will always be left behind.

Also in 1981, Jose Ma. Espino published the fairly obscure and very hard-to find Orbit 21, a collection of “twenty one tales of Science Fiction and Fantasy” (reprinted by Giraffe Books in 1999).  Five years later, in October 1986, he would also release Into the White Hole (Cellar Book Shop). This book was probably the first YA S SF book ever written by a Filipino. (Note: I have not read either of these works as I am still trying to find copies. Source: Honey de Peralta).

jose maespino

On the other side of the linguistic coin, infamous local author Arnel M. Salgado published a short novel 14 years later called Kidnapped by the Gods (Royal Press, 1995). This Erich von Däniken-inspired “metaphysical science fiction thriller” was the only SF novel written after 1959’s Ang Puso ni Mathilde until Eliza Victoria’s Project-17 appeared in 2013 (Clodualdo del Mundo, Sr.’s “Tuko sa Madre Kakaw” does not count as it was a comic serial) .

FullSizeRender

It makes for fun if difficult reading (although that was certainly not what the author intended), replete as it is with Salgado’s signature purple prose, as well as his “alternative” use of vocabulary and grammar rules.

“They walked finally going into their chamber whence the Time Diffusing Machine was positioned.

‘Go now!’ Captain Schmidt commanded.

Without a second, Evan Louis stepped forward thriving to a single flat form with a fibreglass walls.

Atop him was the device that could transfer him to light in order to wend the universe with pervasive space.” – from Kidnapped by the Gods by Arnel M. Salgado

However one feels about where Salgado fits in Philippine Literature — if he does at all (perhaps he is our equivalent of Henry Darger), all his works are certainly singular and entertaining. Kidnapped by the Gods is definitely no exception. However it’s somewhat distressing that this is one of the only Science Fiction works the country produced in an era that also created Jurassic Park (Michael Crichton, 1990), Neuromancer (William Gibson, 1984), Einstein’s Dreams (Alan Lightman, 1992) and Snow Crash (Neal Stephenson, 1992).

Also published in 1995 was Project Pawaii by Jose E.C. Añozo (New Day Publishers). This very rare volume was billed as “the first Filipino Cyberpunk novel” (Note: As with Jose Ma. Espino’s works, I have not read this book and I am still trying to secure a copy).

PawaiCollage

The 2000s and After: The Golden Age of Philippine Science Fiction

At the turn of the millennium Speculative Fiction got a much needed boost when the country’s most prestigious literary awards body, the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature added the “Future Fiction” category (in both Filipino and English languages).

Future Fiction involved stories that the Palanca Awards committee said “looked beyond into the future to transcend the boundaries of the present.”

The first six winners in the year 2000 were “Kailangan” (“Required”) by Johannes Chua (First Prize, Future Fiction in Filipino), “Cell Phone” by George de Jesus III (Second Prize, Filipino), “Desaparecidos” (“The Disappeared”) by Alwin Aguirre (Third Prize, Filipino), “Subterrania” by Luis Joaquin Katigbak (First Prize, Future Fiction in English), “Secret Notes on the Dead Stars” by Lakambini Sitoy (Second Prize, English, appears in her anthology Jungle Planet by UP Press, 2005) and “The Field” by Adel Gabot (Third Prize, English).

Jungle Planet

Unfortunately, the Future Fiction category was discontinued less than a decade later, after much criticism from the mainstream literary community.

Writer and critic Butch Dalisay noted that there was something of “a disconnect” between the intent of the Palanca Awards committee to “encourage writing about the future” and the actual winning pieces — with some works more Fantasy or Realist than what could be pigeon-holed under the term “Future Fiction”. There were also questions about the quality of certain works, with some “old writing hands” intimating that one or more stories would have never won a Palanca had they competed in the general category.

ATPS CKANGPAMILYANGKUMAKAINNGLUPA

[Movie poster from the film version of  “Ang Pamilyang Kumakain ng Lupa” (“The The Family that Eats Soil”) by Khavn De La Cruz]

Despite these (IMHO mostly unfair) criticisms, many Palanca award-winning works like “Hollow Girl: A Romance” by Dean Francis Alfar, “Ang Pamilyang Kumakain ng Lupa” (“The The Family that Eats Soil”) by Khavn De La Cruz, “Virtual Center” by Raissa Rivera Falgui, “Kaming Mga Seroks” (“We the Xeroxed”) by David Hontiveros, “A Monumental Race” by Arturo Ilano, “Treasure Islands” by Karen Katrina G. Manalastas, “Turtle Season” by Timothy R. Montes, “Sidhi” (“Intensity” or “Strength”) by Yvette Uy Tan, and “Niche” by Catherine Rose Torres (just to name a few) were very well written and have greatly expanded the canon of Philippine Science Fiction.

“Hollow Girl first became aware of sound: a sudden thumping that repeated itself in an established rhythm. Without anything else to focus on, she was entranced, mesmerized by the regular beating of her heart. When vision came, her world exploded in light: colors and shapes that fought for her attention, swirling into clarity before being disrupted by the next image. Touch followed: the waft of warm recycled air from the atmospheric scrubbers on her skinsheath, the cool moisture on her face, the gentle caress of the polyfabrics that swathed her body in lieu of a mother’s embrace.” – from “Hollow Girl: A Romance” by Dean Francis Alfar

Hollow Girl

[A panel from the comic book version of “Hollow Girl: A Romance” by Dean Alfar with art by Jeremy Arambulo (from the graphic fiction anthology Siglo: Passion)]

We can only speculate what heights Philippine Science Fiction could be today if the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards Committee had allowed the category to mature.

A further issue with the Palancas was that that many of these award-winning stories were only made available online for a short period of time — before they were filed away indefinitely. As such many excellent and interesting works of Science Fiction, Near-Future Fiction (“Last Bus Ride” by Pia Roxas) and Science Fantasy (“Espiritu Santos” by Pearlsha Abubakar) have gone out of the reading public’s reach. Perhaps one day the Palanca Awards Committee can publish a print compilation of all the winners of Future Fiction as has been done for the other Palanca categories.

Expeditions

The other notable award of the 2000s was the short-lived Fully Booked/Philippine Graphic Fiction Awards which had been partially sponsored by Neil Gaiman (Collected in the anthology Expeditions with a foreword by Neil Gaiman). This contest had produced a couple of interesting Science Fiction works including “The God Equation” by Michael A. R. Co, the absurdist Science Fantasy story “The Great Philippine Space Mission” by Philbert Ortiz Dy (in which space travel is possible via a rocket powered by human gossip) and Ian Rosales Casacot’s “A Strange Map of Time”, a complex lyrical narrative about a man lost in time.

“The year was 2139. In the growing brightness of dawn, he could see Dumaguete in full light minus the distractions of flying traffic and the moving wind of grayness that obscured most of the daytime skies…He felt he understood how the city worked, how it negotiated through endless revolutions of time and memory.” – from “A Strange Map of Time” by Ian Rosales Casacot

Other venues for Science Fiction that first appeared in the 2000s or first published fantastic fiction include Story Philippines (Founding Editor, Jade Bernas), Philippine Graphic (“Matrice” by Dominique Gerald Cimafranca) and The Philippines Free Press. The latter, in particular, published many excellent genre works such as “Keeping Time” by FH Batacan (which won First Prize in the Short Story category of the Free Press Literary Awards in 2008). There was also the beautifully illustrated Usok or “Smoke” (Founding editor Paolo Chikiamco of the Fantastic Fiction blog Rocket Kapre), which featured mostly urban fantasy stories but also had SF works like Chiles Samaniego’s “The Saint of Elsewhere”; and Philippine Genre Stories (founding editor Kenneth Yu) which published Nikki Alfar’s “Selected Transmissions from Synthesized Human Emulation Mk.8.014b, Otherwise Known as ‘Katey’” and Rochita Loenen-Ruiz’s “The Song of the Body Cartographer”. This excellent short story was nominated for the British Science Fiction Association Awards in 2013.

“Siren traces the marks on Inyanna’s body. There are concave hollows in Inyanna’s arms, and there are connectors along her ribs that allow her to jack into her windbeast when she is in flight. Under Siren’s fingers, the patterns on Inyanna’s shoulders register as bumps—like tiny hills grouped together in circles that wind in and around each other.” – from “The Song of the Body Cartographer” by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz

In 2005 Dean and Nikki Alfar published the first volume of Philippine Speculative Fiction (PSF). Their manifesto was simple:

“To find the fantastic, we must create the fantastic. We must write it ourselves, develop it brick by enchanted brick. We must write literature that unabashedly revels in wonder, infused with the culture of our imagination – which means being Filipino and surrendering that very same limiting notion – being more than Filipino, unleashing the Filipino of our imagination, simultaneously divorcing and embracing the ideas of identity, nationhood, and universality.”

No other series of books has contributed so greatly to the acceptance of Fantastic Literature by local authors and the general reading community. PSF has even made inroads overseas, where its various volumes are often cited when discussing the Filipino Speculative Fiction scene (full disclosure: Nikki Alfar and her co-editor Kate Aton-Osias were responsible for my first published story, “Resurrection” in PSF volume 6).

PSF1-6ebooks

[Cover art for the e-book versions of the first six volumes of Philippine Speculative Stories]

In terms of Science Fiction, the many volumes of PSF have contained numerous gems like “The Doppler Effect” by Tyron Caliente, the Steampunk (perhaps more accurately “Wood Punk”) “On Wooden Wings” by Paolo Chikiamco, “Prisoner 2501” by John Philip Corpuz, “The Sky Gypsies” by Timothy James Dimacali, “The Midwife” by U Z Eliserio, “An Introduction to the Luminescent” by Pocholo Goitia, “Dino’s Awesome Adventure” by Carljoe Javier, “Reclamation” by Angelo Lacuesta, “From the Book of Names My Mother Did Not Give Me” by Christine V. Lao, “Stations” by Gabriela Lee, “Brigada” by Joseph Nacino, “Gunsaddled” by Alexander Marcos Osias (Science Fantasy), “A Retrospective on Diseases for Sale” by Charles Tan (The Philippines’ SpecFic ambassador-at-large whose Bibliophile Stalker blog has been nominated for a World Fantasy Award), “The Ascension of Our Lady Boy” by Mia Tijam (more Science Fantasy and one of the first Specfic stories to explore LBTG themes), “Parallel” by Eliza Victoria, “Sink” by Isabel Yap and especially the hauntingly beautiful story “Ashland” by Elyss Punsalan (also appears in the anthology How to Live on Other Planets: A Handbook for Aspiring Aliens along with Dean Francis Alfar’s “Ohkti”).

“She removes her mask and sings the first lines of a folk song. The rabbit hole echoes, ‘O naraniag a bulan, un-unnoyko’t imdemgam…” The words warble through bits of faded grating, jarring, burring, jangling, clicking and clanging. Ghosts of the Hub doors closing, the windows relenting, the Leviathan pushing, her heart pulsing, her lungs expanding, her mouth screaming. The song thins and wears out, and the rabbit hole empties itself of her voice.” – from Ashland by Elyss Punsalan

The first-ever anthology of Filipino Science Fiction came out online in January 2012 (and in print the following year). Edited by Joseph Nacino and Emil Flores, Diaspora Ad Astra was a collection of 15 short stories which “dwelt less on gadgets” and hard science and more on what the editors said was “the human face of this technology – specifically how we Filipinos will live with these new technologies.” Among the outstanding stories were Dean Francis Alfar’s space opera “The Malaya” and Isabel Yap’s “A List of Things We Know”.

diaspora-ad-astra

Speaking of firsts, prolific Speculative Fiction author Eliza Victoria published Project-17 in 2013, a fast-paced, social-media savvy near-future thriller about a care-giver caught in a great mystery. The story’s resolution leads to a chilling revelation about the true nature of who runs the world. This is perhaps the first modern Science Fiction novel published in the Philippines by a Filipino (Salgado’s Kidnapped by the Gods and Añozo’s Project Pawaii notwithstanding).

Project 17

Speed Magazine (Dec, 2013) called Project-17a social commentary on so-called modern-day systems that aim to examine, dissect, and de-familiarize the day-to-day city dwelling of ordinary citizens.”

“In some provinces the Sentries still looked like the policemen of old – blue uniforms, bare faces – but in major cities the Sentries were all dressed in black, their eyes covered by a black shield made of glass, making them look like Zoned-out citizens. They lined Ayala Avenue, where Northpoint-Pascual’s main offices were located inside Pascual Tower, a glass-and-steel building 10 stories high. From the sidewalk, a pedestrian could look directly through the glass wall and observe the lobby like a child looking at fish. Insured and well-compensated fish.” From Project-17 by Eliza Victoria

What’s next for Philippine Science Fiction?

Filipino Speculative Fiction authors have now begun to get published internationally with Dean Francis Alfar being the best known, (especially for his much-anthologized fantasy work like “L’Aquilone du Estrellas” which initially appeared in Strange Horizons).

WSADF-cover-3

In terms of Science Fiction, Clarion West-graduate Rochita Loenen-Ruiz leads the pack with stunning works of short fiction that often combine high technology and alien cultures with imagery from Philippine mythology and traditions. Her many works include “Of Alternate Adventures and Memory” which appeared in Clarkesworld in 2013,”Alternate Girl’s Expatriate Life” in Apex Magazine in 2012, “What Really Happened in Ficandula” in We See a Different Frontier (A Postcolonial Science Fiction Anthology), and the incredibly beautiful “Dancing in the Shadow of the Once” in Bloodchildren: Stories by the Octavia Butler Scholars, both anthologies from 2013 (also appears in Alex Dally MarFarlane’s Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women with “Excerpt from a Letter by a Social-realist Aswang” by Kristin Mandigma).

Filipino Science Fiction has also appeared in Apex Magazine, Bewildering Stories (“Packing for the Moon” by Dean Francis Alfar), Expanded Horizons (“Once They Were Gods” by Eliza Victoria), International Speculative Fiction (“59 Beads” by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz – Also appears in Apex),   Lakeside Circus (my story “How my Sister Leonora Brought Home a Wife”) and international anthologies such as Fish Eats Lion: An Anthology of New Singaporean Speculative Fiction (“Mirage” by Noelle de Jesus) and Lontar: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction (“Departures” by Kate Aton-Osias).

Lontar

[Cover for the first issue of Lontar: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction]

What I want to See

I would like to see more Filipino Science Fiction in the coming years in English and in the various Philippine Languages – especially from new and unfamiliar names of younger folks, from every gender and gender preference.

I would also like to see someone write a Philippine SF story that is wholly Filipino and free from the colonial mindset and trappings that most writers (myself included) find very hard to escape from.

Lastly, I would like to see a Filipino Science Fiction author being shortlisted for the Hugo or Nebula awards. Perhaps Dean Alfar or Rochita Loenen-Ruiz will get a story in and win — or perhaps it will be you, dear reader.

Who knows, anything can happen in Science Fiction.

Update: I am very pleased to announce that Alyssa Wong, a graduate of the famous Clarion workshop has become the first Filipino nominated for a Nebula for the Story “The Fisher Queen” which appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction last May 2014. Here’s a great interview at SFSite.

Sources: Dean Francis Alfar, Roberto Añonuevo, Butch Dalisay, Paolo Chikiamco, Timothy R. Montes, Elyss Punsalan and Charles Tan

All images used in this post are owned by their respective artists/owners.

The first post won’t hurt at all

I never thought that I would ever get anything published.

As a kid in Manila all my stories were rejected simply because they were Science Fiction or Fantasy and publishers didn’t want them. The Filipinos that did read the “Literature of the Fantastic” preferred American or European Authors due to a lingering colonial mentality and/or because nothing else was actually available. Save for Japanese cartoons, half-forgotten myths and the occasional meanderings of local realist writers into the surreal, there were no Fantasy, Horror or Science Fiction authors in the Philippines. There were also no venues to read or to submit such stories.

I stopped writing for a very long time. Over the next few years I finished school, left the country and started a family. But I never stopped hoping I would find writers outside the Western mainstream, authors who would write Speculative Fiction with my voice, my experience and my point of view.

Then something magical happened early in the new millennium. Because of the efforts of people like Dean and Nikki Alfar, their Litcritters crew, Paolo Chikiamco, Joey Nacino,  Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Charles Tan, Eliza Victoria, Kenneth Yu and other pioneers,  venues like the Philippine Speculative Fiction anthology series, Philippine Genre Stories and Story Philippines started to appear and somehow, in a way I had not expected, Fantastic stories in all of their strange and delicious flavors became accepted, became (comparatively) popular, and most importantly, became respected.

My wife sent one of my stories to Nikki Alfar and Kate Osias without my knowledge (cheeky girl but I love her so).  To my great surprise it ended up in PSF volume 6 and I haven’t stopped writing (or submitting) since.

cover-PSF6

Later on, I discovered that this renaissance of sorts was also happening (with various degrees of success and acceptance) in many parts of the world — including my adopted country of Singapore, where I was lucky enough to become part of Fish Eats Lion (Edited by Jason Erik Lundberg) arguably its first compilation of literary Speculative Fiction.

The Literature of the Fantastic in Southeast Asia is breaking out of the shadows and I am so happy to be part of to this evolving landscape.  I hope you like my stories (particularly the Science Fiction ones) and I would really love it if you dropped me a line at the comments box below or at  vrocampo (at) yahoo [dot] com.

Thank you!

Artwork above by Jon Jaylo from the book “Here be Dragons”