If the recent unfortunate turn of events in the Philippines has brought you down, remember that literature is here to salve the hurt and perhaps also offer a way to move forward. Please join fictionist and editor, Gabby Lee and myself as we talk about how speculative fiction can plant the seeds of hope during a time of great darkness.
This online discussion will be hosted by the good people of The Filipino Alliance at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island on 12 May, at 8pm EST (8am in Singapore/Manila). Please use this link to register or scan the QR code below.
As promised, here’s a teaser from my chapter of Mapping New Stars: A Sourcebook on Philippine Speculative Fiction (Editors: Gabriela Lee and Anna Felicia Sanchez, UP Press pre-publication) – This is the first-ever collection of non-fiction essays and think pieces about about Philippine Speculative Fiction, written by many authors, academics and critics who are active in the field. My research on “The Roots of Speculative Fiction in the Philippines” grew from my 2014 attempt at documenting the early days of local Science Fiction (check out my original post here). For this chapter, I tried to identify the earliest known Filipino works that could be reasonably argued as Fantasy, Horror, and of course, Science Fiction.
Here’s the introduction:
Stories of the fantastic have existed in the Philippine Islands for as long as there have been people to tell them. From the earliest folk tales born in the depths of pre-Hispanic history, to the forms of literature that were introduced and evolved during the colonial period, to the rise of modernism and post-colonial writing that arrived after the birth of the republic, “speculative” fiction that explores the human condition through the unreal or the otherworldly continues to thrive and to grow because it speaks to something deep within readers that cannot be addressed by realism.
Cover of Doktor Kuba by Fausto J. Galauran M.D. Manila: Limbagan Nina Ilagan at Sañga, 1933
Contemporary “Filipino speculative fiction” as a category and domain of cultural activity can be said to have properly begun only in 2005, with the arrival of its first deliberate and sustained platform – the Philippine Speculative Fiction anthology series (edited by Dean Francis and Nikki Alfar). But what about texts that were not explicitly labeled “speculative fiction” by their authors, or were published prior to the first Philippine Speculative Fiction (PSF)? Let’s take a look at how deep the roots of the literature of the fantastic have dug into our history. How far back they go may surprise you.
I. Defining Speculative Fiction in the Philippine Context
“Every enthusiasm aspires to respectability,” Science Fiction Grandmaster Isaac Asimov once said about his chosen field of writing, “and one way of getting it, is to demonstrate that it is old, even ancient.”
He goes on to say that by broadening Science Fiction’s definition to encompass “the branch of literature that deals with the imaginative and the unfamiliar”, it could be induced that Science Fiction is as old as literature itself.
Although Asimov walks this back to a more narrow definition later, his initial, expansive definition of science fiction to include everything non-realist and fantastical is, in fact, one of the accepted historically located meanings for the term “speculative fiction”. In this context, speculative fiction is defined as a supercategory of literature that includes fantasy, horror and science fiction, as well as their derivatives, hybrids, and cognate genres like the gothic, dystopia, weird fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction, ghost stories, superhero tales, alternate history, steampunk, slipstream, magic realism, fractured/subverted folktales, and all their related sub-genres. It encompasses, what fictionist and editor Dean Francis Alfar noted as “at its core, the literature of the fantastic”.
Marek Oziewicz, the Marguerite Henry Professor of Children’s and Young Adult Literature at the University of Minnesota, said that a story falls under the realm of speculative fiction if it has “speculative fiction sensibilities” i.e. it contains speculative elements that are based on conjecture and do not exist in the real world. These non-realist stories can also be filed under one of the genres covered by the speculative fiction umbrella.
Excluded from our definition of speculative fiction are ethno-epics, tribal myths and legends, as well as traditional fairy and wonder tales which fall under the category of folktales. These are anonymously authored literary artifacts, passed primarily through oral narratives. Also excluded are children’s stories and juvenilia, which is a branch of literature on its own.
Philippine speculative fiction is simply the spectrum of all genre work in fantasy, horror and science fiction (as well as their sub-genres) united by a Philippine identity and a coherent Filipino aesthetic.
Prior to the arrival of the first volume of Philippine Speculative Fiction in 2005, the term “Philippine speculative fiction” didn’t exist. Realism was (and remains) the most popular literary mode. Any work that existed outside this scope was marginalized. As both PSF founding editors, the Alfars, lamented in the introduction to the first volume of PSF:
“If you look for speculative fiction in the Philippines, you will be dismayed. Science Fiction and the literature of the fantastic are in very small numbers and are still looked down upon as inferior…”.
Yet despite this realist bias, there are many pre-PSF works of Filipino literature that demonstrate speculative sensibilities that can readily be classified under speculative fiction’s umbrella genres of fantasy, horror and science fiction.
 Asimov, Isaac, The Birth of Science In Fiction (New York: Knightsbridge, 1981), p 9
 Oziewicz, Marek, “Speculative Fiction”, Literature, Oxford Research Encyclopedia, 29 March 2017
 Alfar, Dean Francis, “Introduction”, Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 2 (Pasig: Kestrel, 2006), p IX
 Alfar, Dean Francis, “An Introduction”, Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 1 (Pasig: Kestrel, 2005), p vii
BTW, I’ve decided not to post my unedited original text for the Science Fiction section due to — reasons. Instead I will (eventually) post the intros to Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction sub-sections, as well as the chapter intro you see here.
It’s finally finished! So proud to be part of this seminal work on PH Spec Fic – “Mapping New Stars: A Sourcebook on Philippine Speculative Fiction,” edited by Gabriela Lee and Anna Sanchez . Thanks for inviting me to be a part of this!
I spent the first half of 2021 working on this massive project and my poor editors had to edit out so much material. Please watch out for the launch later this year or sometime in early 2023.
Congratulations to all my fellow TOC mates!
My chapter on “The Roots of Speculative Fiction in the Philippines” grew from my initial stab at documenting the early days of local Science Fiction. This time, I attempt to identify the oldest known Filipino works of Fantasy, Horror, and of course, Science Fiction.
As a teaser, I shall be posting an updated and super-remixed version of the section on Philippine Science Fiction here on my blog very soon (Likely after my upcoming eye surgery).
The beautiful cover below is by Hans Dimapilis
Check out the amazing , powerhouse TOC:
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction: A Beginner’s Guide to Cartography
A Brief Visual Timeline of Developments in Philippine Speculative Fiction
“Waiting for Victory: Towards a Philippine Speculative Fiction” by Anna Felicia Sanchez
Reading Philippine Speculative Fiction
“The Speculative Impulse” by Michaela Atienza
“Sapantaha: Isang Tangkang Depinisyon” by Luna Sicat Cleto
“Ang Kagila-gilalas na Haka kay Mariang Makiling Bilang Bukal ng Paglikha” by Edgar Calabia Samar
“The Roots of Speculative Fiction in the Philippines” by Victor Fernando R. Ocampo
“Tracing the Trajectory of Children’s Speculative Fiction in the Philippines” by Gabriela Lee
“Free and Open Spaces: Komiks and Speculative Fiction” by Francis Paolo M. Quina
“Philippine Speculative Fiction on the International Stage” by Charles Tan
Writing Philippine Speculative Fiction
“Where Do Stories Begin?” by Vida Cruz
“Choosing Your Genre: The Novel or the Short Story?” by Eliza Victoria
“Building Worlds” by Dean Francis Alfar
“Character Creation, or How to Get Away with Murderers” by Nikki Alfar
“Planning the Narrative Journey” by Isabel Yap
“Setting Up a Magic System” by Christine V. Lao
“First World Dreams, Third World Realities” by Emil Francis M. Flores
“Considering Speculative Poetry” by Kristine Ong Muslim
The first volume of LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction came out in 2013. Named after “Lontar” (“Rontal” in Filipino), an Indonesian word for a bound palm-leaf manuscript from the fifth century BCE , it was meant to showcase Speculative Fiction writing in its myriad forms from all across Southeast Asia.
I was too late to contribute to its maiden issue, but my story “Entanglement” appeared in Volume 2. Two further works “Brother to Space, Sister to Time” and “Father is the Blood, Mother is the Wine” appeared in Volumes 6 and 9 respectively. Both ended up as the cover stories.
It’s really sad to see LONTAR go. There really isn’t any publication of it’s scope and breadth focused exclusively on Southeast Asia anywhere in the world.
It’s tenth and final issue is double-sized wonder featuring work by Dean Alfar, Vida Cruz, Drewscape, Joses Ho, Patricia Karuningan, Gabriela Lee, Manish Melwani, Wayne Ree, Lakan Umali, Eliza Victoria, Topaz Winters, Cyril Wong, Kevin Martens Wong, and many others. Founding Editor Jason Erik Lundberg wanted to include the artwork made by award-winning artist Sonny Liew for the my book The Infinite Library and Other Stories. I wrote a flash fiction piece called “To See Infinity In The Pages Of A Book” to accompany it.
Thank you to Jason, Poetry Editor Kristine Ong Muslim, Comics Editor Adan Jimenez, and publishers Epigram and Math Paper Press (Volumes 1 and 2) for all the hard work.
Let’s hope it won’t be too long before another publication picks up LONTAR’s legacy.