We Must Create The Fantastic

I’ve spent the past few months reading speculative short fiction by Filipino/a writers. It’s a fun way for me to explore my roots and also helps me to discover the kinds of stories other Filipinos/as are writing. Thanks to the magic of ebooks and Amazon, I’ve been able to access some wonderful collections of stories originally published in the Philippines (and for a while, difficult to find in the United States). One of my recent purchases comes from an annual anthology series entitled Philippine Speculative Fiction, which began in 2005 as the brainchild of husband and wife writers/editors, Dean Francis Alfar and Nikki Alfar. They strove to promote the writing and reading of speculative fiction in the Philippines by publishing some of the best stories they could get their hands on. Fast forward to 2017, and the anthology series is still going strong with volume 11 currently in the works. I’ve been reading one of their special anthologies, Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2005-2010, just to get my feet wet. Instead, I plunged into the deep end. It’s been a revelation thus far.

Speculative fiction from the Philippines has seen rapid growth in the past fifteen years, with even more anthologies joining Philippine Speculative Fiction. Some are even dedicated to specific genres, like horror (Demons of the New Year), science fiction (Diaspora Ad Astra), and fantasy (The Farthest Shore). There are Filipinos/as being published outside of the motherland, too, with writers gracing the pages of Strange HorizonsTor.com, and Apex Magazine, just to name a few. Filipinos/as are snagging literary awards as well: Michi Trota won a Hugo for her editing work on Uncanny, and Alyssa Wong won both a Nebula and World Fantasy Award for her short story, “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers.”

My re-education of what speculative fiction can and should be began at Stonecoast but continues as I trudge through my own journey as a Filipino American writer. And if you too, dear reader, would like to glance at spec/pop/genre fiction through the cultural lens of the Philippines, then get ready for a fun sampling. Here are ten of my favorite short stories (so far!) by writers who identify as Filipino/a in no particular order:

1. “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong, originally published in Nightmare. I mentioned this award-winning story earlier, and if you haven’t read it yet, prepare yourself. This is horror at its stomach-churning, goosebump-inducing best. Wong crafts one hell of a twisted tale: Jenny appears to be a stereotypical single girl looking for love on the internet, but when she reveals her true self, the reader plummets into a downward spiral toward the darkest depths of desire.

2. “Parallel” by Eliza Victoria, originally published in Philippine Speculative Fiction 4, reprinted in Expanded Horizons. This may be a “soft” science fiction story about parallel universes and the unbreakable bonds of family, but the ending hits pretty hard.

3. “L’aquilone Du Estrellas (The Kite of Stars)” by Dean Francis Alfar, originally published in Strange Horizons. This modern fairy tale features a girl who goes on a quest to gather materials for a kite that will take her to the stars. It’s also a love story that ends in a way you won’t expect. The prose is exquisite and lyrical; Alfar plays with language using words that sound Italian, French, Spanish, Latin, or Filipino, among others. They often sound alien yet maintain a familiar warmth in their syllables and structure, which helps create a similar feeling with the world Alfar has built.

4. “Painted Grassy Mire” by Nicasio Andres Reed, originally published in Shimmer. This slipstream piece is difficult to describe, but I’d refer to it as “historical magical realism.” It’s a beautifully written, haunting story about a young girl exploring her place in the world. Reed’s stunning prose also breathes life into Saint Malo, a Filipino settlement founded in the bayous of Louisiana during the mid-18th century. That’s right; Filipinos were living in North America prior to the birth of the United States.

5. “The Secret Origin of Spin-Man” by Andrew Drilon, originally published in Philippine Speculative Fiction 4, reprinted in Anna Tambour Presents: The Virtuous Medlar Circle. If you like superheroes, this one’s for you. A pair of young brothers bond over their mutual love of comic books, but then Spin-Man changes everything.

6. “Of Alternate Adventures and Memory” by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, originally published in Clarkesworld. This science fantasy piece opens with an exhibit celebrating the removal of the wall between Central City and Metal Town, allowing — in essence — humans and sentient AIs to come together. Our protagonist, the aptly-named Adventure Boy, begins to question his identity and place in this changed world after meeting an enigmatic metal man known as Mechanic.

7. “The Ascension of Our Lady Boy” by Mia Tijam, originally published in Philippine Speculative Fiction 3, reprinted in Expanded Horizons. The narrator of this story, Lady Boy (don’t do a search for this term at work!), shares her struggles on growing up transgender in a family unwilling to accept her gender identity. Lady Boy is outrageous, outspoken, and wonderfully blunt. Tijam uses humor as a tool to expose and dismantle prejudice against the transgender community in the Philippines, making it one of the most entertaining stories I’ve read in a while. There’s also an aswang and some subtle magical elements to round it all out. While most of the story is in English, there are a lot of Tagalog words and phrases. If you’re not familiar with the language, Google Translate will be your best friend and help you pick up some of the more crass humor.

8. “Bearing Fruit” by Nikki Alfar, originally published in Philippine Speculative Fiction 2, reprinted in Fantasy Magazine. Now for a change of pace: here’s an unusual tale about a girl who gets impregnated by a mango. Yup, you read that right. Alfar writes in the rarely used 2nd person POV, all while gleefully tearing down stereotypes that often plague young, female characters. You may never look at a mango in the same way again.

9. “Have You Heard the One About Anamaria Marquez?” by Isabel Yap, originally published in Nightmare. A mix of urban legends and paranormal happenings gives this story a creepy vibe. Mica is a fifth grader at St. Brebeuf’s who has to deal with the pressures of growing up and organizing a haunted house for the school fair. But there are whispers of ghosts on campus, and one of her best friends is going through some tough times of her own…

10. “Blessed Are the Hungry” by Victor Fernando R. Ocampo, originally published in Apex Magazine. In this science fiction story, Earth is a distant memory as the remnants of humanity struggle to survive on a spaceship heading towards their new home planet. Elsa and her family suffer from cramped living quarters, food shortages, and a tyrannical religion that “excommunicates” anyone displaying a modicum of dissent. When Elsa discovers a secret, the situation on the ship takes a dangerous turn.

It’s a great time to be a fan not only of Philippine speculative fiction, but speculative fiction in general. Diversity is spreading throughout the western world. More voices are being heard and being given the spotlight. This is something to be celebrated. Come join us!

–LA

Title Quote: “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. We need to do magic.” — Dean Francis Alfar & Nikki Alfar, from Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2005-2010.

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