Wednesday, October 01, 2008

talking spec fic

I'm glad that a lot more people are talking about speculative fiction (PGS collects the various threads here). Some reacted to one of my posts on the need for a critical framework for Philippine spec fic, others blogged after the LitCritters panel at UP, others react to the continuing publication of the anthology I co-edit, some take issue with the term "spec fic", some demand for the "movement" (note the quotation marks) to validate itself, some ask where the Filipino and regional language stories are (as I told Luna Sicat, and as I've written about before, I also want to see anthos dedicated to spec fic that is not English), some react to other bloggers, and so what we happily have at this point are conversations between authors, readers, editors, and critics (both from academe and from outside academe).

(UPDATE: Adam David looks at the stories in PSFIII, beginning with Apol Lejano-Massebieau's "Pedro Diyego's Homecoming". Hopefully, he gets through the entire book.)

It is vital that we keep talking to each other, that we ask difficult questions, that we wrestle as we write and produce stories, that we publish and read, that we communicate. Of course we will never all agree on everything, but that is the way of things - we grow because of differences in points-of-view, in our poetics and approaches and philosophies, and yes, how we define things.

I look at all of these discussions and seething blog posts, even the dismissive and seemingly narrow-minded ones, as much-welcome activity. I am but one voice in a plurality of writers and editors and publishers here, offering one man's perspective - we need more and more ways to look at things. I'm glad spec fic - the writing, the production, the definition, the approaches - is provocative.

It should be.

Prior to putting out the first annual Philippine Speculative Fiction antho, we barely spoke about these things. Now we're talking, and the arguments are fast and furious and heartfelt and intellectual and off-the-cuff and fresh - thanks to the power of the internet which allows all of us to speak our minds in any way we please in our blogs (as opposed to having to wait for a letter of comment or a critical essay to be published somewhere in print). My stand in all this is to encourage discussion (but also to reiterate my focus - that all this talk is well and good, but at some point we all need to stop talking and get to writing stories, which, in turn, will provide us more things to talk about later).

I love the fact that I am not alone in struggling with what spec fic is, and what makes filipino spec fic, and where it is going or what it needs to be, and what it means to be a Filipino writer of speculative fiction, and what speculative fiction means. I'm glad that people feel strongly enough to write and to question and to try to parse out answers and positions.

My hope is that sometime soon there will be other anthologies of spec fic published here, in different languages, helmed by editors with different poetics. I want to see the day when the genres under the umbrella have their own anthos, something like The Year's Best Filipino Fantasy or Best Tagalog Science Fiction - there should be, as these genres predate the umbrella term. I want to see magazines and publications dedicated exclusively to scifi, horror or interstitial fiction. I want fantasy workshops in Iluko or Bicolano. And where is the spec fic poetry? Mikael Co, for example, has made his mark on the Philippine poetic landscape because he writes excellent nationalistic poetry in both English and Filipino (he's a back to back Palanca 1st prize winner in Poetry in both languages)- why can't there be poetry for pinoy scifi or fantasy?

Someone should do it. Someone should do these things.

Someone should put together these anthos in different Philippine languages, create new publications, organize workshops, and champion these forms of writing.

People should start working towards concrete answers to their demands, write the stories that we lack, and create the texts that will describe the map of our writing. People should market their works, get readers excited and reading, and hopefully inspire more people to write in this vein, understanding that business (publishing) and the market (the readers) are part of the literary landscape and the cycle of production.

In my own small way I do what I can (PSF is self-published and every year is a struggle to come up with funding), as do publishers like Kenneth Yu, businesses like Fully Booked, bigger entities like Anvil, but clearly we ought to work harder to create more spaces, more opportunities.

In the future (since I embrace the "speculative") I want to see, here in our store bookshelves, and in the hands of readers, Filipino books filled with spec fic, similar to the ones a search on for "speculative fiction" brings (some descriptions cut-and-pasted):

Encountering Enchantment: A Guide to Speculative Fiction for Teens - From School Library Journal - This useful guide should be in every YA collection. It encompasses 13 genres and subgenres included in the term "speculative fiction" and focuses on in-print titles published in the last 15 years. Each subgenre is clearly defined, and most of the 1400 titles are accompanied by a brief synopsis. Awards for each title are noted. At the end of each section, the author lists exemplary titles. The volume is well indexed, providing access by author, title, subject, and award. A bibliography and webliography point to additional resources. Other features include programming ideas, best titles for book clubs, and those available in A/V formats. The author interview in each subgenre is a welcome addition.

New Wave of Speculative Fiction: The What If Factor - "brimming with quality writing, speculation about what might be, a mix of horror, fantasy and sci-fi, as well as some new twists on classic themes."

The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Sixteen Original Works by Speculative Fiction's Finest Voices - Declaring that short stories are the heart and soul of fantastical fiction, prolific and venerable editor Datlow collects 16 impressive original stories in this unthemed anthology. Standout selections include Margo Lanagan's deeply disturbing The Goosle, which eloquently corrupts the Hansel and Gretel fable with bubonic plague, sexual slavery and mass murder; Jason Stoddard's The Elephant Ironclads, which describes an emergent 20th-century Navajo nation struggling to become a world power while staying true to its culture; Elizabeth Bear's Sonny Liston Takes the Fall, a poignant tale about the life, death and sad legacy of the troubled heavyweight fighter; and Pat Cadigan's Jimmy, a strange and supernatural coming-of-age story set in the moments just after John F. Kennedy's assassination. The thematic diversity and consistently high quality of narrative throughout make for a solid and enjoyable anthology.

Sum3: The 2006 Zircon Anthology of Speculative Romance - A secret agent investigating murders of an extraterrestrial origin. A desperate guardian of a people's last hope. A rebellious lady artist in the English countryside. A farmer's boy. A college professor. An assassin. What do all these people have in common? They're all going to fall in love...with someone, somewhere, somewhen. And falling in love can change the world.

Wilde Stories 2008: The Best of the Year's Gay Speculative Fiction - As such literary movements as interstitial and slipstream gain momentum, more and more authors interweave their traditional stories with gay themes as coming out, homophobia, and self-as-other, with a bit of the strange and weird. Named after one of the founding fathers of gay speculative fiction, Wilde Stories is a new annual anthology that offers readers the best of such stories from the prior year. Editor Steve Berman, a finalist for both the Lambda Literary and Andre Norton Awards, has collected an engaging selection of the fantastical, the strange, and the scary from such notable authors as Victor J. Banis, Hal Duncan and Lee Thomas.

Redshift: Extreme Visions of Speculative Fiction

Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora

Speculative Japan: Outstanding Tales of Japanese Science Fiction and Fantasy

Tesseracts Eleven: Amazing Canadian Speculative Fiction

Wyrd Wravings: An Anthology of Humorous Speculative Fiction

Obliquity: Speculative Fiction from the Pacific Northwest

Agog! Terrific Tales : New Australian Speculative Fiction

Nova Scotia: New Scottish Speculative Fiction

Whispers from the Cotton Tree Root: Caribbean Fabulist Fiction

The short story form cannot be claimed exclusively by academics (I've read that some people actually think this way). Spec fic short stories can and should be written by anyone who wants to tell a tale of the fantastic. Every story need not be impregnated by agenda, be it a literary slant or nationalist agenda. Each story need not be imbued with gravity or be a vessel for national transformation. These things are for each individual author to decide upon, based on their aims, philosophies or poetics - and for the critics to parse. Stories can be light and humorous, entertaining reads (yes, we should disempower the negative connotations cast upon the term "entertainment" as well).

For we working writers, what is non-negotiable is that our speculative fiction must tell a story in the best way we can, engage the reader and open a door into the fantastic.

And that we keep on writing.



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