The latest installment of the Philippine Speculative Fiction series will be launched on Saturday (5PM at the UView Theater, Fully Booked at Bonifacio High Street, for those interested–it’s also the launch of the PGS Crime issue). Volume 6 is the first to be edited by two women, Nikki Alfar and Kate Aton-Osias, and they graciously agreed to a short interview leading up to the launch. We spoke about how the series has evolved through the years, the difference between being an editor and a contributor, and what makes this volume special.
For those unfamiliar with the Philippine Speculative Fiction anthology, could you explain briefly what the series is?
Nikki Alfar: Philippine Speculative Fiction is the annual end result of our yearly semi-open call for submissions of horror, fantasy, science fiction, and related sub- and cross-genre short stories.
We say ‘semi-open’ because contributors must be of Filipino ethnicity and/or nationality; by soliciting and consistently publishing their work, our goal is not just to provide a medium for these authors to reach a reading public, but also to chart and, hopefully, nurture the ongoing evolution of speculative fiction in the Philippines.
Philippine Speculative Fiction is published by leading Philippine specfic advocate Dean Francis Alfar, through his company Kestrel DDM.
Kate, you’ve been a contributor to the anthology before, but this is your first time in the editor’s chair. What was the experience like from the other side, so to speak? Is the grass really greener?
Kate Aton-Osias: Editing has its own challenges, different from writing. The most difficult part for me was in being able to articulate acceptance and rejection letters well. I believe in being transparent; I also believe that authors deserve to know what made their stories work, and why it did not. But the sheer physical limitations of an email, as well as constraints of time and language (People have varying degrees of literary vocabulary; I, for one, know less of the formal terms used for literary criticism than I would like) makes it difficult to convey how we, as editors, felt about a work of fiction. Though I only wrote 3-5 sentences per story, it was still a struggle to get those 3-5 sentences out, especially when rejecting a story that had solid technicals, but was ultimately turned down because of our poetics (see below for definition of ‘Poetics’).
That being said, the process has been extremely helpful (My own submission letters will never be the same again!), illuminating, and of course, satisfying. It was good to hear from the authors – whether or not they were accepted – that they appreciated our comments and compliments.
Nikki, you’ve been involved with PSF from the very beginning, and have been both a contributor and an editor. How has the anthology changed from volume one to the present?
Nikki: I’ve actually been copy-editing (meaning checking for typos and grammatical errors) the series since volume 1, though I didn’t start content-editing (working with authors on a story level, as well as actually selecting the stories) until Dean formally asked me to co-edit, on volume 3. (Yes, I’m married to our publisher, which never helped get me published, but which did help him get me to copy-edit, haha!) So I’ve read nearly all the submissions, published and unpublished.
As I mentioned earlier, part of the goal of the SpecFic series is to chart the development of Philippine specfic writing, and if you look back at the previous volumes of the antho from the beginning, you can see that themes seem to emerge every year. Early on, our authorship seemed to be primarily concerned about romantic love, but as you go forward through succeeding volumes, you can see that the contributors and their concerns are maturing, with later themes more focused on subjects like loss, family, identity, and so on.
Thankfully, as well, there’s been a marked reduction in stories which are basically “I will write a fanfic based on my favorite anime, just change the names, and submit that.” We used to get a huge chunk of those in the first few years—and I’m sure these texts have their market, but it is not Philippine Speculative Fiction; we are simply not interested in stories that explore someone else’s already-well-developed milieu—but nowadays it’s down to just a few.
So, in sum, I’d say the anthology has progressed as the field seems to be progressing; there’s significant improvement, year after year—not just in terms of what Filipino specfic practitioners are writing about, but in the quality and experimental nature of how we are writing it.
Is there anything about this volume that makes it different from the others?
Nikki: We’ve been laughing for some time over this being the very first “two-chick SpecFic”! This is the second time that Dean has not been directly involved in the selection and editing process, the first having been last year’s volume 5, which I co-edited with Vincent Michael Simbulan.
As publisher, Dean has been changing up the mix of co-editors, because he doesn’t believe that Philippine speculative fiction (neither the antho nor the field) should be an exclusive reflection of one person’s (or two people’s, counting me) poetics. (A very simplified definition of ‘poetics’, in case anyone should be wondering, is ‘the kind of writing an individual prefers’.)
So 2010’s SpecFic was a reflection of Vin’s and my poetics—which are diametrically opposed in many aspects, by the way—whereas this one is Kate’s and mine, which tend to be more harmonious, but also (we found out!) startlingly different in various ways. With Dean and me having nailed down the foundations of the series’ style and substance in volumes 1 to 4, we feel that keeping the editorial mix fresh will continue to keep the anthology fresh and exciting.
Speaking of which—there’s going to be a possibly surprising announcement at the volume 6 launch, so don’t miss it!
We have a lot of science fiction, fantasy and horror readers in the Philippines, but few are familiar with the works of local spec fic authors. Speaking to this typical reader for a moment, why should he/she check out PSF6?
Nikki: I doubt that many people know this, but Philippine speculative fiction (again, both antho and field) is getting a lot of positive attention from speculative fiction writers and editors around the world. Many stories from several of the volumes of SpecFic have been cited and/or published by some of the most respected names in the field, and members of the international writing community are actually quicker than our local audience to tell us that the next volume is taking too darn long!
In this upcoming volume alone, we’ve got stories about a basketball-playing kapre, a Muslim artificer (shout-out to you, Paolo!), and a therapist to aswangs and diwatas. These are just the most obvious examples of why Filipino specfic is special—it’s been (frequently!) recognized to be on par with global standards in terms of quality, yet with a fresh perspective, a fresh approach; and it’s all ours.