Sunday, April 22, 2007

spectacularly speculative

From the Sunday Inquirer Magazine (Philippine Daily Inquirer)
April 22, 2007

Spectacularly speculative
By Ruel S. De Vera

MANILA, Philippines - As far as Dean Francis Alfar is concerned, Filipinos dream just as potently as any other race, especially when it comes to worlds and realms beyond our own. The much-bemedalled writer (nine Palanca Awards and counting) is easily the alpha writer in the kingdom of speculative fiction.

"Speculative fiction is the term used to describe the literature of the fantastic," he explains. "Its roots are in the science fiction genre, when it was first used to describe stories that were premised on the idea of 'What if?' As time progressed, it became an umbrella term for stories of the non-realist genres, which includes fantasy, science fiction and horror as well as fabulist, magical realist and interstitial stories. For the purpose of generating interest in the literature of the fantastic, I've adopted this term to encompass the stories of the Filipino imagination, as opposed to stories that use the methods of social realism and domestic realism."

Because teachers have tended to favor realism, Alfar says that it's very common for people to view speculative fiction as being kid's stuff. "There are many different types of stories, and none should be more privileged than the others," he says. "Speculative fiction celebrates the Filipino imagination and goes beyond mere escapism. The literature of the fantastic is just as capable of exploring and exposing the human condition."

Now, it is a matter of getting more people into reading and writing spec fic, and Alfar admits it's a relatively young genre. "Children's literature aside, I would consider Greg Brilliantes as one of the earliest, if not the earliest, writers of what we now consider speculative fiction, particularly with his 'The Apollo Centennial,'" he says.

"Good examples among the older writers are Alfred A. Yuson, for his novel 'Great Philippine Jungle Energy Cafe' and his short story 'The Music Child,' as well as Rosario Cruz Lucero's short stories. But the majority of Filipino speculative fiction is new and written by younger authors."

It's the rise of many of those young readers, and writers, that's given speculative fiction an opportunity for ascent. "They are more open to the collapsing of genre boundaries than their elders ever will be. This generation sees the intrinsic value of fantasy and the liberating power of science fiction," Alfar notes.

Alfar has walked the walk as well. A collection of his own spec fic stories, "The Kite of Stars and Other Stories," is due from Anvil Publishing later this year. But he has gone beyond that. Alfar has edited and published, through his Kestrel IMC, the country's first anthology of speculative fiction. "I believed that writers, if given an opportunity to write and publish these kinds of stories, would do so," he explains. "So I sounded a call on my blog and was happy with the results."

In fact, "Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol. 2" was launched just last December. For this book, Alfar says he received more stories than for the inaugural volume, some coming from all over the nation and even other countries, often from first-time authors. The third volume is in the works, hopefully before year's end. Alfar identifies the following as writers of quality speculative fiction today: Ian Rosales Casocot, Kit Kwe, Cyan Abad-Jugo, Sarge Lacuesta, Luis Katigbak, Yvette Tan, Nikki Alfar, Pocholo Goitia, Kate Aton-Osias, Andrew Drilon, Vin Simbulan, Douglas Candano, Alex Osias, Karl de Mesa, Joseph Nacino and JB Lazarte, among others. He notes that a new generation of younger writers is emerging as well.

Alfar is very much encouraged by all that he sees. "It is a very exciting time for writers of speculative fiction. There are so many directions to go, stories to tell, scenarios to bring to life, and issues to tackle," he says, pointing out that writers of spec fic can see such work published in venues such as Story Philippines, Philippines Free Press and the Digest of Philippine Genre Stories. And in a development perfectly in synch with the nature of spec fic, blogs and the Internet help expand the audience.

"All Filipino speculative fictionists need to learn how to infuse their stories with the culture of our imagination, which means being Filipino and, at the same time, surrendering that very same limiting notion, being more than Filipino, unleashing the Filipino of our imagination, divorcing and embracing the ideas of identity, nationhood and universality," Alfar says of the next stage in the evolution of this uncharted territory. "We need to do magic."

Dean Francis Alfar keeps a blog at "Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol. 2" is available at Fully Booked, Booktopia and A Different Bookstore.

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