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.
We celebrated 10 issues of LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction last 8 November at a retrospective panel sponsored by #BooksActually. The event was held at the sidelines of @SGwritersfest #SFW2018, and hosted by Michelle Martin of MONEY FM 89.3. Christina Sng and I were on the panel, along with founding editor Jason Erik Lundberg. In the audience were comics editor Adan Jimenez and several contributors such as Theo Melwani and Wayne Rée. Poetry editor Kristine Ong Muslim could not be around (but was definitely there in spirit).
With our favorite LONTAR covers (L-R) Michelle Martin holds a copy of Vol 6; Christina Sng picked Vol 5; me with Vol 9, and Jason with Vol 10. The cover of Volume 6 illustrates my story “Brother To Space, Sister To Time” while Volume 9 featured another of my stories “Father Is The Blood, Mother Is The Wine”.
Michelle introducing Christina.
Shortly after Christina talked about pontianaks, this ghostly bride appeared above us.
With New York based writers Ellie Rhymer and Manish “Theoretical Starchild” Melwani (who contributed “The Tigers of Bengal” in issue #7 and “Sejarah Larangan; or, “The Forbidden History of Old Singapura” in issue #10).
The 2018 Singapore Writers Festival is just around the corner. As both a moderator and a featured writer, I have a lot more events this year than in 2017. Please drop by and say hello.
03 Nov, Saturday 8.00pm – 9.30pm (90 minutes) – Break Out: A Gala Reading
- What: Reading
- Venue: The Arts House, Gallery II
- Featuring: Adam Aitken, Maria Galina, Law Lok Man, Louise 羅樂敏, Nina McConigley, Victor Fernando R. Ocampo, Sithuraj Ponraj, Yoko Tawada
- Moderator: TBC
How does one stay true to one’s identity even as he/she crosses multiple cultures, languages and time zones? Is a person’s voice to be discovered, or a continuum of incremental influences? Whether whipping up new speculative realms or switching between linguistic codes, these writers exemplify the magpie sensibility. Don’t miss this special reading showcasing imaginative wordsmiths.
04 Nov, Sunday 7.00pm – 8.00pm (60 Minutes) – The Familiar and the Alien
- What: Panel Discussion
- Venue: The Arts House, Chamber
- Featuring: Rachel Heng, Kass Morgan, Krishna Udayasankar
- Moderator: Victor Fernando R. Ocampo
In imagining the future or an alternative reality, a writer must achieve resonance through setting and characterisation. How does one draw in the reader with enough known elements from the real world in order to make it relatable? Kass Morgan creates a dystopic series where Earth has been devastated by a nuclear apocalypse; Rachel Heng sets her novel in a near future in New York City where people can live for 300 years; and Krishna Udayasankar, a Singapore-based Indian author known for her modern retelling of Mahabharata through the novels Govinda, Kaurava and Kurukshetra.
05 Nov, Monday 8.30pm – 9.30pm (60 Minutes) – The Influence of Science Fiction on Modern Science
- What: Classroom Series
- Venue: The ArtsHouse, Living Room
- Featuring: Victor Fernando R. Ocampo
What were the science fiction works that came before modern science? Published in 1818, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has been argued to be the first sci-fi novel. Since then, authors such as Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke have imagined what science could achieve through their writing. In this Classroom Talk, sci-fi author Victor Fernando R. Ocampo explores the relationship between literature and the sciences, and how science fiction has actually inspired, and continues to inspire, the science of today.
08 Nov, Thursday 7:30pm – 8:30 (60 minutes) – LONTAR Retrospective
- What: Panel Discussion
- Venue: SWF Bookstore
- Featuring: Jason Erik Lundberg, Victor Fernando R. Ocampo, Christina Sng
Moderator: Michelle Martin
BooksActually presents LONTAR Retrospective with Jason Erik Lundberg, Christina Sng, Victor Ocampo.
10 Nov, Saturday 10.30am – 11.30am (60 minutes) – Speculative Fiction as Moral Compass
- What: Panel Discussion
- Venue: The ArtsHouse, Blue Room
- Featuring: Victor Fernando R. Ocampo, Rachel Heng, Nuraliah Norasid
- Moderator: Khoo Sim Eng
From pursuing immortality to eradicating marginalization, speculative fiction reveals the deepest desires of humankind. How can the genre prompt readers to assess humanity’s moral progress, and to rethink what could be right or wrong? This panel brings together authors across science fiction and fantasy to discuss the potentialities of the genre.
11 Nov, Sunday 3:30 PM – 5:00 PM (90minutes) – Chicken Rice and Adobo: What We Love about the Philippines and Singapore
- What: Reading and Panel Discussion
- Venue: HideOut@Funan Showsuite, Junction of Hill Street and High Street. Free Event
- Featuring: Aaron Lee, Claire Betita de Guzman, Lawrence Ypil, Heng Siok Tian, Felix Cheong and Victor Fernando R. Ocampo
- Moderator: Eric Tinsay Valles
Increased trade and cultural exchanges between Singapore and the Philippines have led to shared experiences and stories in prose and poetry. This session continues a literary dialogue that has spawned joint anthologies and readings. Listen to the featured writers read excerpts of their works and join in the fellowship centered on what we love such as comfort food, cultural diversity and a good story.
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.
“Father is the Blood, Mother is the Wine”, my “Anito-punk” tale set in an alternate pre-Hispanic Philippines, is the cover story in Volume 9 of LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction. Check out the beautiful cover art by Lydia Wong.
The story revolves around a precocious young woman who worships Balatik, the ancient Filipino deity of hunting, journeys and slash-and-burn agriculture. Her father teaches her how to read their ancient language and she uses this knowledge to unlock secrets hidden inside a family Anito (Household God) that once belonged to the first Lakan of Tundon.
Incidentally, the constellation of Balatik is now more popularly known as the “Tres Marias” (The Three Marias) in Tagalog, “Magbangal” in Bukidnon, and “Seretar” in Teduray, the constellation of Balatik is composed of the three almost evenly spaced stars which act as the “belt” of the constellation of Orion the Hunter. It appears in the night sky between the months of October to May. Once directly overhead, it marks the start of the swiddens, the burning season for many Filipino tribes.
I opted to leave this story out of my collection, The Infinite Library and Other Stories, because at that time I felt like I could develop it into a longer story. Perhaps someday…
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.
Lontar No. 6 (Founding Editor Jason Erik Lundberg; Poetry Editor Kristine Ong Muslim and Comics Editor Adan Jimenez; published by Epigram) became available in print (from Kinokuniya and directly from Epigram Books) from last 27 April, while the DRM-free ebook is available from Weightless Books.
It features works from Ken Liu, Eka Kurniawan, J Y Yang, Jennifer Anne Champion, Ng Yi-Sheng, comics from Budjette Tan, Alex Arellano & Kajo Baldisimo, as well as some amazing speculative poetry from Jonel Abellanosa, Ang Si Min, Russ Hoe, Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé, Christina Sng, Sokunthary Svay, Krishna Udayasankar, Brendan Walsh and Marco Yan.
Also part of this volume is my Filipino space-opera/family drama “Brother to Space, Sister to Time” which inspired the cover illustration by Sarah and Schooling.
Check out my Pinterest board for this story.
Lontar is the only publication that specializes in Speculative Fiction from and about Southeast Asia. It has published work from some of the finest writers of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculative Poetry. Please consider a subscription (from Weightless, link above) or supporting them on Patreon.
“A relatively new publication, LONTAR nonetheless publishes high-quality works by award-winning authors. Diverse and under-represented characters and settings are a mainstay of LONTAR‘s fiction, opening the genre to fresh themes and voices, and introducing readers to the rich culture and atmosphere of Southeast Asia.” —Tangent Online
Here’s a short excerpt from my story of a tainted, post-singularity love affair between an American-born Chinese kid and a Filipino-Singaporean ghost. It appears in the second volume of LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction (Edited by Jason Erik Lundberg and Kristin Ong Muslim for Poetry).
My inspiration for this strange little tale was (indirectly) a 1944 movie by George Cukor called “Gaslight“, starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer and Joseph Cotten. The film was the basis for the term “gas-lighting”, a type of mental abuse where false information is given with the intent of making a victim doubt their memory, perception, or sanity.
“Entanglement” is set in the same universe as “Big Enough for the Entire Universe” and takes place a decade or so after a great technological disaster befalls Singapore.
“Did you just transfer recently? I can’t believe I hadn’t noticed you before,” I said carefully, trying not to be distracted by your ethereal form and your beautifully endless eyes. “I’m an American-born Chinese myself. I thought I knew all the Asian kids at school. Dang, I would’ve definitely noticed a fresh freshasaurus like you.”
“Do you like cats?”
“Err… yeah I love cats. I have one at home. Why?” I was amused by your attempt at misdirection.
“Cats dislike change without their consent. I think we end when I follow a cat.”
“So did you have a cat where you’re from, umm… Singapore right? Are you Singaporean Chinese?”
“No, I am Filipino Chinese,” you said unexpectedly, confident of your mythology, “but born in Singapore, raised in Singapore too.”
“So does that make you Singaporean or Filipino?”
“Both and neither, does it matter? I am like Schrödinger’s cat.”
“Yeah, well in these parts your identity’s very important. I mean with the new Immigration laws and everything,” I said. “You are a gorgeous Chinese girl. You’re now American and living in America. Let’s fix on that before someone else is all over you.”
“I am Filipino. I am Singaporean… I am confused,” you told me, as your inner light started to dim. When you looked into my eyes, I knew I had your soul dead to rights. We were now entangled.
“Just listen to my voice,” I repeated gently. Programming deep structures was about repetition, iteration; introjection. “You are a girl, a dang pretty one. You’re also an ABC like me.”
“I… I am a… I am a gorgeous Chinese girl. I am an American in America.”
Truth to tell, I first thought you had Asperger’s or some weird mental wallering going on. To deal with your baggage, the remains of your mind, was challenging. Yeah, you were quite the cattywhompus, playing your shattered angel bit very, very well. I guess it was your way to firewall me, to resist me, a smoke screen to keep your pretense of identity.
Too bad for you, I knew you were a blank slate and I was El Hacedor, The Maker.
For the entire story, as well as other Southeast Asian speculative fiction by E.C. Myers, Tiffany Tsao, Jerrold Yam, Tse Hao Guang, Ang Si Min, Shelly Bryant, Daryl Yam, Eliza Chan and John Burdett, please check out the E-book at Weightless Books.
n.b. Lontar Issue #2 was mentioned recently by Boing Boing.