Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Feature: The Expatriates of Philippine Speculative Fiction

Every Wednesday, I'll have an essay or a feature on any topic that catches my fancy!

The Philippine diaspora (best exemplified by the nation's "heroes," the OFWs) plays a big part in our culture, from the country's economy to our literature. What's interesting to me is how migration--temporary or permanent--results in a fusion of sensibilities. A Filipino living in America for example isn't simply a Filipino anymore. There's a part of the US with him whether they deny it or not and this will affect their writing. These authors might pursue different agendas from that of their homeland (whether it's the Philippines or otherwise), or tackle them through different means. Thankfully, when it comes to Philippine Speculative Fiction, we have a handful of authors living abroad who bring something different to the scene.

Crystal Gail Shangkuan Koo is currently residing in Hong Kong (and previously studied in Australia) and from what little I've read of her work, doesn't shy away from themes of social relevance. Koo doesn't limit herself to speculative fiction (nor the fiction format for that matter as she's written a poem and a play) and her most outstanding piece is her story "Benito Salazar’s Last Creation," which is a science fiction story that won third prize in the 2007 Don Carlos Palanca Awards.

Singapore is home to three talented Filipino writers. The first is F.H. Batacan who is prominently known for her Philippine crime novel, Smaller and Smaller Circles. While the crime genre is her foremost passion, she makes the occasional foray into speculative fiction such as "Keeping Time," a science fiction piece which won the 2008 Philippines Free Press Literary Awards. In most of Batacan's stories, speculative or otherwise, she tends to focus on the characters and their psyche, whether it's a serial murderer, a scientist, or a cooking utensil.

Another Singapore-based author is Chiles Samaniego who is probably best known for his Weird Tales story "Time and the Orpheus." He doesn't have a lot of output but each of his stories propel a different agenda and utilizes different techniques. His Weird Tales story for example is simple and the speculative element seeps into the story at the end while "Troll's Doll" (the link is an excerpt) is otherworldly right from the get-go. As far as poetics goes, me and Samaniego (peacefully) clash when it comes to our aesthetic sensibilities but that's not necessarily a bad thing as he delivers something different.

Gabriela Lee is both a recognized poet and fictionist, as well as recipient of the Amelia Lapena Bonifacio Literary Award. Her speculative fiction has been published in Philippine Speculative Fiction I ("Instructions on How to Disappear") and A Different Voice: Fiction by Young Filipino Writers ("Hunger"). Both utilize the second-person point of view and Lee tends to focus on the emotional turmoil of her characters. She has a story in the upcoming A Time for Dragons anthology edited by Vincent Michael Simbulan.

Apol Lejano-Massebieau hails from France and has been a consistent contributor to Dean Francis Alfar and Nikki Alfar's Philippine Speculative Fiction ever since volume 2. She's one of my favorite writers and at her best, Lejano-Massebieau channels elements of magic-realism at the same time fleshing out her protagonists. One good example is "Pedro Diyego's Homecoming."

Rochita Loenen-Ruiz is from the Netherlands and is a columnist and reviewer for a variety of publications including The Fix and The Sword Review. Her most prominent fiction to date is "Teaching a Pink Elephant to Ski" published in Fantasy Magazine but readers should also watch out for "The Wordeaters," which was published in the Weird Tales international fiction issue together with Samaniego. Loenen-Ruiz is a flexible writer and in my opinion she's still exploring her own voice. She's written everything from the most whimsical of stories to high fantasy.

Douglas Candano isn't quite an expat but he's currently pursuing his Masters Degree at McGill University in Montreal, Canada (although he's currently back in the Philippines). Last year, he found himself in Barbados at the university's research station. Candano's signature style is a reportage format that tends to be quite lengthy. My favorite story of his is "Dreaming Valhalla," which won second place in the 2007 Don Carlos Palanca Awards.

There's actually a couple of Filipino expats in the US although personally, they have yet to make a personal impression on me. While not exclusively a speculative fiction writer, Marianne Villanueva is the literary veteran as she's been published in numerous anthologies and even had a short story, "Silence," shortlisted for the 2000 O. Henry Literature Prize. Her speculative fiction story "The Hand" won the Juked magazine fiction contest and was reprinted in Philippine Speculative Fiction III.

Rod M. Santos (a.k.a. Rodello Santos, depending on the publication) is published in numerous online venues including The Town Drunk ("The Great Deeds of Payven Larum" and "Curse of the Friendly Forest"), Flash Fiction Online ("Speed Dating and Spirit Guides"), and Dragons, Knights, & Angels ("The Sheperd of Planets").

Jose Elvin Bueno is published in Philippine Speculative Fiction IV ("All We Need is Five Meals a Day") and I remember him for having a chat with Jeff Vandermeer in order to promote the Philippine Speculative Fiction series.

There's also Alex Paman who will be published in the upcoming Digest of Philippine Genre Stories: Horror issue ("Same Time Again Next Halloween") and has an upcoming article on the state of Philippine Speculative Fiction in Filipinas Magazine. There's probably other authors from the US that I've missed but again, these are the ones that I've noticed.

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