Monday, March 03, 2008

PSF Short Stories, Best of 2007... Finally

As requested, here's my top list of the Philippine speculative fiction short stories published last year. Unfortunately, I only limited myself to 5 short stories for the best-of category and 5 honorable mentions category. With regard to honorable mentions, these stories could have made it to the top 5 but because of one element or another that I had problems with, I thought there was room for improvement.

I based my decision on the stories I read that came out in 2007: Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol. 3; Philippine Genre Stories# 2, 3, the Christmas issue; Vicente Groyon's A Different Voice (Pen Fiction anthology); and the Fully-Booked Expeditions: 1st Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards collection.

My Top 5 (no rankings) - What's interesting about my top 5 stories is that they're essentially about retellings of familiar tropes to make something new. Whether it's epic fantasy or Filipino monsters, I like it that there is no such thing as a much-abused idea and that with the proper spin, a great story can still be written.

Furthermore, the fact that two of the stories came from a literary anthology reinforces me two things: (1) that using speculative tropes is getting to be more accepted in local publications nowadays (and not because it's YA/childrens' books), and (2) that it's really hard to keep track of good spec fic stories if we were to limit ourselves to genre publications only.

Now that's out of the way...

Nikki Alfar, Beacon (Philippine Genre Stories) - Nikki targets the tropes of epic fantasy (Western-style) by using a different form in writing it. Here, she tells of a group of adventurers on a quest and by using different perspectives (and different tones of voices) of each adventurer, she manages to tell the story. What's more, by switching perspectives constantly, Nikki manages not only bring the story forward but also backward as it reveals who these really protagonists are.

Alexander Osias, The Death and Rebirth of Nathaniel Alan Sempio (Philippine Speculative Fiction) - I am admitted and unabashed fan of Osias' stories, especially those involving cultural references to Filipino action movies replete with heroic insurgents and larger-than-life protagonists similar to his previous story, 'Gunsaddled". Here, Alex sets his tale in a near-future Philippines and of a killer out for revenge against a warlord, a conflict that echoes Bonifacio and Aguinaldo's rivalry.

Mia Tijam, The Ascension of Lady Boy (Philippine Speculative Fiction) - Okay, barring the obvious relation, I loved this story because it's a horror story but it's also damn funny story with an excellent narrator's voice and the Filipino-English wordplay. I mean, who else here didn't laugh at the phrase, "the most beautiful woman on the skin of the earth"? And yes, it's a horror story and ultimately it's a sad story, but we're happy with how Mia has managed to fool us all with this sleight-of-hand of a tale.

Douglas Candano, Reply to A Query (A Different Voice) - Though Candano's story in PSF vol. 1 underimpressed me, I thought his horror story in Groyon's anthology was quite good. Despite the dry narrative (which actually contributed to the feeling of tone of horror of the story), the story combines Filipino monsters, the time-displacement element of fairy tales (the Old European version) and the Bluebeard story. Impressive, all in all.

Gabriella Lee, Hunger (A Different Voice) - On the other end of the spectrum, Lee's story of a teenager dealing with the usual angsts of life, including being a manananggal is actually refreshing. It reminded me most of dean's "Six from Downtown" and how monsters of legend would actually live in the present times. It also helps that the protagonist is especially likeable, something to chalk up to Lee's handling of the voice.

My Honorable Mentions (though more like 'Writers to Watch out For')

Michael Co, The God Equation (Expeditions) - Except for a section near the end that I thought was clumsily written, Co's story was almost perfect. I say 'near' because the mathematical explanations almost sent me running and screaming in fear-- but I didn't.

Kristin Mandigma, Excerpt from a Letter by a Social-Realist Aswang (Clarkesworld) - This one had potential though it was damned too short for my liking. Another exceptional re-telling of Filipino horror tropes.

Dominique Cimafranca, Facester (Philippine Speculative Fiction) - An interesting concept but I especially loved the characters and characterizations. What happened to the two afterwards, Dom?

Charles A. Tan, Urban Legends (Philippine Speculative Fiction) - Like I said, the good writers can take an exhausted trope like Filipino monsters and make them new again. Charles' use of them in a building setting is exceptional.

Celestine Marie G. Trinidad, Beneath the Acacia (Philippine Genre Stories) - What's not to like about this story which combines all the best of the detective/romance/fantasy genres?

Disclaimer aside, what's interesting to see in the past year is that kyu's Digest of Philipine Genre Stories is turning out to be the opener for really new writers who don't have the publishing access that other student-writers with links to the creative writing programs have. Obviously, we also have dean's Philippine Speculative Fiction but it's once a year and at least DPGS comes out regularly (unlike say Story Philippines). Take a bow, kyu.

Now let's see what's in store for 2008...


Don said...

Woah, you and Charles have two stories in common! I have really weird taste siguro. Ha ha.

And I get what you mean with not sticking to genre publications but man, its hard out here. Its rare that I get to spot good books here eh. But lately, National Book Store here has been shelving books that I tend to like.

And as much as I want to read PFP, walang available dito.

banzai cat said...

well, you did order Vandermeer's older stuff, as well the Harrison books. :-)

How is the NBS Filipiniana section there anyway? Is it the same as in Metro Manila?

Don said...

Well, true that! Haha.

eh, mostly old titles (Sleepless in Manila, Latitude, F. Sionil Joses, Jessica Zafras, Bog Ongs), some recent athologies like HeartBrek and First Love--you know, "marketable stuff".

banzai cat said...

Hehe you make it sound like a bad word.