PGTW: Starships, swords, and sorcery

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 13 February 2014, Thursday

Starships, swords, and sorcery

The literature of the fantastic has always held a special appeal for the minds of the imaginative, who ride on the wings of words to other lands and other visions.

Many of us are familiar with the escapist Western forms made popular in books and movies. But speculative and horror fiction not only entertain, they engender thought, by presenting new, even radical ideas, embedded in familiar tropes, to stimulate and disturb.

For those hankering for something with a local flavor, the Stranger Fiction Series from the University of the Philippines Press offers three interesting short-story collections.

Diaspora Ad Astra is a 15-story science fiction anthology edited by Emil Flores and Joseph Frederic F. Nacino. In one story, a woman whose life is well-lived eagerly embraces her world’s death (Raymond P. Reyes’s “Ina Dolor’s Last Stand”).

Another tells of a future USA where a Filipina and possible illegal immigrant wields devastating firepower (Dannah Ruth Ballesteros’s “Ashes///Embers”).

In a clever exploration of the influence of the OFW, a band of Filipinos takes a newly-discovered planet without having their own starship or other resources, just employing bayanihan and diskarte (Celestine Trinidad’s “Taking Gaia”).

The Farthest Shore contains 12 fantasy tales and was edited by Dean Francis Alfar and Nacino. In a story that draws on Philippine myth and legend, a ruler who sold her soul for the power to uplift her people tries to best the demons who come to claim their prize (Rodello Santos’s “Queen Liwana’s Gambit”).

Historical references pad the tale of a parallel world, where Tien Pu comes from faraway Tsin to find his fortune, and a new home, in tropical Hinirang (Vincent Michael Simbulan’s “In the Arms of Beishu”).

This one’s a love story: an officer of the Empire becomes enamoured of a courtesan; after a week of pleasure in luxurious surroundings, he discovers his beloved’s secret and watches her erupt in flame (Nikki Alfar’s “Emberwild”).

Demons of the New Year, a collection of 11 horror stories, was put together by Karl de Mesa and Nacino. The tales feature netherworld nasties: a demon channels its inner pop star into a showbiz career (Carljoe Javier’s “Demon Gaga”); a woman who is more than she seems aids a man in transgressing the boundaries of sex and violence (Yvette Tan’s “Grotesquerie”); zombie children, doomed to crave flesh, still exhibit fraternal love (Alfar’s “Brother and Sister”); and a demon slayer, demurely dressed in a schoolgirl’s uniform, hunts down a witch (de Mesa’s “Fist of the Magdalene,” a graphic short illustrated by Gani Simpliciano).

My quibbles involve the typographical errors (among them, the pronoun ‘you’ is frequently capitalized) and grammatical (‘have’ instead of ‘has’, for instance) and syntactical errors that have somehow escaped the proofreader’s eye. This can be addressed in future editions.

I also object to the length – each book was too short. I wanted more horrific, fantastic, out-of-this-world goodness; I was bitin. If this were music, each was the equivalent of a mere tape cassette.

I’d like to see anthologies released in the now-popular trade paperback size, in easy-to-read font, running around 300 to 400 pages. Certainly there are enough writers to create the stories; they just need to be discovered.

Science fiction, horror, and fantasy do not appeal to all tastes. But to aficionados, the mix of the common and the novel attracts, sometimes repels, but always interests.

One takeaway is that, no matter how horrible our reality is, it could be worse. Much worse. In that sense, the literature of the fantastic reminds us how fortunate we still are, no matter what our present situation. ***

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