Monday, September 18, 2006

spec fic

With close to 90 submissions, my task of selecting the stories that will go into the second volume of Philippine Speculative Fiction is delightfully difficult. Filipino authors from all over the country as well as different parts of the world responded to my request, providing an even wider range of texts to read, as compared to last year's set. The quality of writing is higher, with strong contenders in fantasy, science fiction, horror and mixed genres, coming from first time authors as well as established writers: filmmakers, students, teachers, readers, magazine editors, comic book writers, children's authors, engineers, lawyers, government employees, call center folk, NGO volunteers, musicians, stage performers, doctors, bank managers, out-of-school youth, business owners, photographers, and more.

For fantasy, I received the expected retold Filipino folk tales along with powerful fantasies set in wholly imagined new worlds, as well as modern day fantasies set in Manila, Zamboanga, Cebu, the Ilocos Region, and various parts of the archipelago. Dragons (imported and native), dreams and quests; meditations on longing and love; tales about magical trapdoors to other places, the power of the choice, the place of miracles and the consequences of war and freedom - these themes and more are explored in lush words and images, through brutally viscious fairy tales, quiet legerdemain and rousing action and adventure.

For science fiction, I received stories about attempts to alter history, tales set on distant planets imperilled by humanity's basest instincts, and explorations and fabulations into the cause-and-effect of technology. Aliens walk among us, artificial intelligence develops at an alarming rate, Filipinos colonize the nearby celestial bodies, mankind makes terrifying war among each other, while some yearn to answer the siren call of distant galactic clusters.

For horror, I received stories about internal and external nightmares, supernatural thrillers and ghost stories, nightflyers, twilight-walkers and psychological tales that begin or end with murder. Settings include various populated and secret places in the Philippines, as well as more exotic countries and locales. A subset of stories deal with the Apocalypse or the End of the World; another, with the dark passions of the human heart.

For mixed genres, a number of stories jump into the slipstream or stake their claims in the interstices, difficult to categorize and made even more delicious to read. Stories about a devouring corporate entity, slice-of-life tropes that venture into the surreal, and a few that I'm certain I didn't understand at first reading.

The initial short list I created after reading the first batch of stories continues to morph and alter as great stories give way to excellent stories that are undeniable in terms of quality of ideas and craft. A number are preciously literary, balanced by those that throw pretensions to the winds and engage the reader in their own way. A great majority are well-written, which makes me very happy. My big problem is the "For Consideration and Re-reading" pile, which is densely populated by a bewildering array of stories. At this point, I am only absolutely certain of a small number, tempted by other stories which make fine arguments for a slot in the anthology. I wish I had enough money for a super-thick book, but sadly, economic realities are still hold sway.

I'm done with the initial reading and am about to embark on second and subsequent forays into the words. I reformatted each submission and printed it out, carrying texts with me during my daylight hours so I have something to read in between client meetings, presentations and photo shoots. When I get home, I read until fatigue warns me that my critical faculties are imperiled - that's when I stop, because I want to give each story a fair chance.

So that's my life right now - reading, reading, reading (as for my own fiction, The Middle Prince is over at Bewildering Stories).

And now, back to work. There is a story about time-traveling government assassins - and another about a ghost that isn't quite a ghost - that I find particularly enticing.


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