By Jenric Jose | Banner design by Mavs Soriano

Speculative fiction, or spec-fic, is an umbrella term that encompasses several fiction genres that deal with elements and concepts that don’t exist in the real world. It includes a variety of sub-genres ranging from science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural fiction, and alternative history, among others.

Narratives in this genre imagine a world filled with supernatural or futuristic possibilities such as magic, time travel, sentient machines, virtual reality, dystopia and utopia, zombies, and the apocalypse, to name a few. Essentially, spec-fic challenges readers with what-if scenarios where characters must face the bizarre and outlandish forces within the authors’ imagined worlds.  

In the Philippines, only a niche community of avid readers follows this specific genre. Fortunately, a wide selection of contemporary works has emerged to further spark interest in spec-fic and entice readers in venturing into its unknown and unusual territories.

 

“The Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2005 – 2010” edited by Dean Francis Alfar and Nikki Alfar (University of the Philippines Press, 2013) 

Often regarded as The Father of Philippine Speculative Fiction, Dean Francis Alfar has written many award-winning spec-fic books and short stories and edited a number of fantasy and horror anthologies. One such anthology is “The Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2005 – 2010” which he edited with his wife and fellow fictionist Nikki Alfar. Here, they put together a collection of short speculative fiction stories by authors such as Andrew Drilon, F.H. Batacan, Eliza Victoria, and Isabel Yap. 

The stories featured in the anthology envision a Philippines entirely different from our own and introduces a novum or unique concept protagonists must overcome or reconcile with. Such is the case in Eliza Victoria’s “Parallel” and Isabel Yap’s “Sink” where parallel universes and artificial intelligence, respectively, are used as plot devices to tell a story of grief and coming to terms with the death of a loved one. 

Similarly, F.H. Batacan’s “Keeping Time” is a story in which most of Earth’s water supplies have been contaminated with an enzyme that causes people to lose weight to the point of starvation, leading to millions of deaths around the world. The protagonist, Mike Tejada, who works for the World Health Organization, reveals that there’s no cure for the enzyme’s effects and inhibitor medications only delay the inevitable. Instead of dwelling on the futility of the situation, he makes the most of his remaining time by sparking a romance with a woman named Marisol. 

With these stories, it’s clear that speculative fiction isn’t just about the strangeness of its created worlds — it also more importantly allows for compelling character studies, focusing on how they are affected by and react to the peculiarity of the worlds in which they live.

Copies of the anthology are available at the UP Press’s online store or at the UP Press’s Shopee page

 

“Dwellers” by Eliza Victoria (Visprint Inc., 2014) 

Departing from the technological and scientific side of spec-fic and delving into mysticism, Eliza Victoria’sDwellers” blends a murder mystery plot with fantasy. The novel tells the story of two unnamed cousins who swap bodies with and assume the identities of the brothers Jonah and Louis. Unbeknownst to them, the lives of these brothers have taken a grim turn when a body is discovered in the basement of their home. Now “Jonah” and “Louis” must piece together the history of their newly assumed identities and the events leading up to the murder, all while readers uncover the past lives of the cousins through flashbacks interspersed throughout the novel. “Dwellers” is, in many ways, a novel about self-discovery as its two protagonists attempt to distance themselves from their past and piece together the realities entailed by their new identities. 

Photo from goodreads.com

Buy a copy at Arkipelago Books.

 

“Wing of the Locust” (Scholastic Inc, 2018) by Joel Donato Ching Jacob

Set in pre-Hispanic Philippines, “Wing of the Locust” follows the life of Tuan, an apprentice to the village sage Muhen, who teaches him the ways of a mambabarang (pre-colonial sorcerers). Conflict arises when Tuan learns of his occupation’s dark side — the way it can often intersect with espionage, sabotage, and assassination. With danger ever present, he questions his new life and comes to terms with the sacrifices he must make for the sake of his loved ones. A coming-of-age story that weaves fantasy and folklore to tell a story of identity, acceptance, duty, and one’s purpose, this book will surely resonate with  young adult readers.

Photo from Scholastic Asia

“Wing of the Locust” is available for purchase at Fully Booked online.

 

​ “Instructions on How to Disappear: Stories” by Gabriela Lee (Visprint Inc., 2016)

With stories of love, fantasy, science fiction, and horror, Gabriela Lee’s book has something for everyone. Her collection of 11 well-crafted short stories – pieces previously published both locally and abroad – are sure to captivate readers with its themes of self-acceptance, hope, and belonging. “Instructions masterfully blends fantasy and folklore elements to create narratives that are simultaneously realistic and surrealistic. Moreover, Lee’s skill as a writer is on full display as this collection is richly detailed with bizarre premises, unconventional protagonists, and unexpected twists which will surely intrigue readers.

Photo from goodreads.com

Buy a copy at Arkipelago Books.

 

“Virtual Center and Other Science Fiction Stories”  by Raissa Claire R. Falgui (Penguin Random House SEA, 2020)

Science fiction often tells stories that are improbable or at times push science to its extremes. In “Virtual Center and Other Science Fiction Stories,” Raissa Falgui envisions worlds where modern sciences (such as virtual reality, robotics, and cloning) have advanced to unprecedented degrees. In the titular “Virtual Center” (a 2002 Palanca Award-winning story for Futuristic Fiction), Falgui imagines a futuristic Manila where the rich live out their fantasies in a virtual reality while the poor are forced to care for their aging physical bodies. 

Other stories in this collection include “The Sincerest Form of Flattery” where a girl feels resentment for her younger sister (a clone of her grandmother) and the post-apocalyptic “The Beauty and the Whole,” which sees a nation imposing restrictive laws on marriage and reproduction in an attempt to revitalize its population. Falgui makes these stories as thought-provoking as they are entertaining, which is certainly a treat for avid science fiction readers.

 

“Virtual Center and Other Science Fiction Stories” can be purchased at Fully Booked online.