Well. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but… we’re still living in an alternate reality, and it’s just getting worse. I was hoping things would be back to “normal” by this time, but no dice.
Fiction is becoming more comforting and reliable than real life. And while I’m as angry and astounded as everyone else about global proceedings, I find myself delving more into fiction (specifically, those about future worlds) for solace.
I’ve also been reading more local novels and anthologies. I spent the past year taking fiction techniques and workshop classes for grad school (and writing my own short stories), so I wanted to see how other Filipino writers do science fiction and speculative fiction. Or, put in another way, I wanted to see how different our class lessons are from what’s actually being published and demanded by readers.
Like the books I read years ago about future worlds, the two science fiction/speculative fiction books I finished reading five months ago (yes, I know) present multiple possibilities of how our lives will look like.
Future world #1: Pinoys in space!
For example, Diaspora Ad Astra: An Anthology of Science Fiction from the Philippines depicts us in ways that are rarely seen in our own stories, movies, and TV shows. The 15 short stories in this anthology, edited by Emil Flores and Joseph Nacino, are about Filipinos living in space, or in the process of remaking Earth.
(Disclosure: This anthology also served as one of my inspirations for my full-length science-fiction screenplay for my screenwriting class. But that’s another story.)
I loved reading three specific stories from this anthology: Vince Torres’ The Cost of Living, Carljoe Javier’s The Day the Sexbomb Dancers Invaded our Brains, and Celeste Trinidad’s Taking Gaia. Torres’ story has a simple plot (a devoted husband goes to great lengths to keep his clinically dead wife “alive”), and employs a nice twist ending that I honestly didn’t see coming. Javier combines YA and sci-fi in an amusing tale of spaceship-wide brainwashing — Get! Get! AW!
OK, I’m good.
Anyway. Javier’s story also looks prescient to me, given how showbiz personalities are taking over politics, spreading fake news, and effectively brainwashing the masses.
As for Taking Gaia, I loved how Trinidad depicted how Filipinos look at ourselves, and how belittled we are in global politics. There’s also a dash of spy/recon work here — I have two words for you: Yaya unit. Genius, really.
The anthology also showcased different story formats, which I liked. It’s fun to see stories that don’t quite follow the standard structure. Some stories read like journal entries or personal logs (like Dean Alfar’s The Malaya), and another (Isabel Yap’s A List of Things We Know) reminded me of an MFA classmate’s preferred narrative structure: it’s a series of microfiction pieces linked only by the reuse of the last words of the prior story as the first words of the next one.
Overall, Diaspora Ad Astra contains several good stories. But quality-wise, the selection was uneven. I know I just said it’s fun to see untraditional stories, but if you’re deviating from the norm, you have to do it well. Some stories didn’t make any sense to me; some were mere descriptions of a moment in time or moments in time; some were too heavy on exposition and forgot about actual action from the characters; and frankly, some made me wonder how they got published at all. Some stories also relied heavily on tropes to move the story along — I’m all for tropes, but too much of it can make the story unreadable.
And can someone fix the many, many typos, errors in tenses/pronouns, and confusion regarding when to use uppercase and lowercase? Please and thank you.
Future world #2: Manila (and Bulacan) mystery
Sure, going to space is always nice, but staying here on Earth is also fine with me. Eliza Victoria’s fiction novel Project 17 offers another depiction of a future world, yet it also has enough roots in our present time that plausibility isn’t that difficult to establish.
The concept’s enticing enough: babysitter Lillian begins asking questions about her boss Paul and his strange brother Caleb. She and her friends and everyone else then go headlong into a heady mix of murder mystery plus corporate conspiracy and cover-up with a dash of movie-worthy action. Cool. Sign me up.
I like the plot, although if Lillian were a real person, for some reason I’d love to punch her out. Or maybe fire her ASAP if she worked for me. As for Caleb and Paul, they remind me of the lead characters in another Victoria-penned novel, Dwellers (which I also reviewed in 2015). There, brothers Jonah and Louis switch bodies; here, brothers Paul and Caleb switch identities. Both sets of brothers are also working to move past their former lives, which are best described as hot messes.
Project 17 has all of Victoria’s storytelling trademarks. She works with an excellent concept, gives readers a steady buildup, suddenly introduces new story elements midway through, goes for broke in the (typically short) climax, then does a twist ending that feels rushed and unearned. I’ve seen this before in Dwellers, in her short story Rizal (in the aforementioned anthology Diaspora Ad Astra), and in her Virgin LabFest 2016 one-act play Marte.
But despite all these, what I envy about Victoria (aside from her prolific output— where does she find the extra time and energy???) is that she knows how to get her readers to invest in the story, and keep turning those pages. It took me just one day to go through Project 17‘s 159 pages. With my short attention span, that’s already a huge feat.
If I’m going to go strictly by what I’ve learned about creative writing so far, I’d say there’s a lot for the writers of these two books to fix and work on. Daming mali, mga bes.
Then again, as a reader, it’s easier to spot others’ mistakes. I’ll admit I commit the same mistakes (and more) in my own work. And then I see them or realize it only after we’ve workshopped it to death, or after submission and grading.
One more thing. They’re writing and publishing, and I’m not. (Yet. Or not now.) Ultimately, that’s what counts, right?
Well, now I know what my future world will look like.
Diaspora Ad Astra: An Anthology of Science Fiction from the Philippines, Emil M. Flores and Joseph Frederic F. Nacino (editors)
Paperback, University of the Philippines Press
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