Philippine Speculative Fiction V Review
For the past four volumes, Philippine Speculative Fiction has been the measure of all things fantastic in the Philippine fiction scene. Although it doesn’t claim to collect the best stories of the year, it does provide us with a glimpse of the shape of things to come. That doesn’t mean it gets better every year though. While it’s good to see the old guard make way for new and younger writers, the pool seems to get muddled up as the definition of "speculative fiction," moreover of "Philippine Speculative Fiction," gets trampled upon now and then. It’s this whole "what if?" business that started it all, which leaves the definition vulnerable to comments that fiction in general addresses that question. In the fifth PSF volume, Nikki Alfar and co-editor Vincent Michael Simbulan try to establish a stronger ground, as evident as early as the introduction, where Alfar sets out to give her own definition of what speculative fiction truly is.
In the introduction, Alfar gives a rather strong prelude (or a warning) with regard to how the term "speculative fiction" is interpreted in this volume. While it thankfully dispels a lot of homegrown notions of speculative fiction, it also warrants a closer review. Alfar elaborates on their definition of speculative fiction as “fiction that explores the human condition as illuminated by the otherworldly” in its three segments, each focusing on a part of that sentence. Building on writer/editor Marion Zimmer Bradley’s words “stories are about people, not ideas,” Alfar explains, “I believe this should be as true of speculative fiction as it is of any other literary genre. Yes, spec fic not only embraces technology, magic, the supernatural and so on - yet the kind of spec fic I look for focuses not on these elements, but the effect such elements have on characters.” This creates a hole that gives way to inclusion of stories that are neither here nor there; stories that don’t really seem to have outright speculative fiction elements.
What I see here is a collision of genre and realist sensibilities, the whole "human condition" argument. Is this an attempt to be relevant, as with social realist stories? While the stories in PSF5 may contain speculative fiction elements, they are entirely stories bent on exploring human emotion while immersed in varying situations.