Monday, May 01, 2006

Of Cat-Girls and Dragons

When it comes to literary creation, the roads less traveled hold plenty of advantages over the main highway. You don't get bogged down by the weight of past endeavors, for one. You also run into far less competition than you would in the mainstream, and whatever you produce tends to be more original and far less derivative.

That's not to say that the literary roads-less-traveled are easy, of course. With the sheer number of writers trying to make a name for themselves nowadays, even finding the roads less traveled is a chore in and of itself.

The local writing scene has run into a lot of competitions lately. In less than a year, we've had a speculative fiction anthology, a fiction-writing contest sponsored by a major bookstore, and the annual national writing awards. It feels as though the forces of nature are giving us incentive to write, although their reasons are probably unfathomable at this time.

Three months after his deadline, Vin Simbulan has released the final selections for his Dragon anthology (now titled "A Time for Dragons"). While it's probably interesting enough to leaf through the book's eventual table of contents, I find Mr. Simbulan's selection notes to be far more insightful. For that matter, I find one of his observations to be of particular personal interest: While his anthology received a lot of different, stellar approaches to dragons and draconian aspects, no author wrote about the concept of dragons in a science fiction setting.

What truly gets my attention about Mr. Simbulan's remark is that I've observed something similar during my attempts at writing. I put together six or seven drafts for his anthology, and half of the rejects tried to marry those two aspects. Up until Mr. Simbulan posted his comments on the subject, I was scratching my head on why I hadn't been successful. After all, it turns out that if I were, then I would have had an entry that was unique among all of the submissions.

The sentiment is most definitely not a new one. Months ago, Dean Alfar also released a similar set of notes regarding the creation of his Speculative Fiction Anthology. While Mr. Alfar did not bewail the lack of submissions in a specific field, he did mention something interesting in his attempt at classification:

4. Manga/Anime fantasy. Thinly disguised variations on Japanese manga/anime, with cute girls with cat ears.

That roused my curiosity back then, and it still raises my curiosity now. Is there a specific category of manga/anime that deals exclusively with cat-girls? Is it well-known among enthusiasts? What specific qualities do these works have? And most importantly, is it possible to write a piece of fiction and that can be unmistakably recognized as being of "the cat-girl genre"?

Yes, it's a very narrow and extremely specific point of thought. Not everybody goes around wondering how to write cat-girl literature, after all. But now Mr. Simbulan's posts have raised the question of why nobody handed in a marriage of dragons and science fiction, and it's apparent that the issue is far more open than we originally thought.

Again, it's a question of the road less traveled. These are obviously avenues that few people walk, much less notice past the weeds and the brambles and the disused road signs. We don't know why few people choose to walk them, but we do stand around and wonder where they lead. We wonder if they really go anywhere, and regardless of whether or not they do so, we wonder if the experience is worth the time.

Now, it's not merely a question of getting one's work published just because it stands out from the rest with regards to genre issues. It's a question of writing something that is truly unique simply because it follows a path that nobody else seems to bother with. Readers of Philippine literature will realize that there are a lot of overly popular subjects out there: Social realism. Political commentary. Cultural discussion. Even traditional fantasy starts to feel a little old when you take in the sheer number of people writing it nowadays.

Cat-girl literature and draconic sci-fi are probably more important than we realize in this manner: They're fringe topics -- fields that are so narrow that you wonder if it's really possible to write about them. But then that's probably the best part, I think. If we can actually pull them off and produce a work that can be accepted by the reading public, then we'll have a unique piece that is incomparable to anything in sight. We won't necessarily win any awards or get any royalties from them, but they'll be unique and incomparable regardless.

For my part, I'm going to take a closer look at Mr. Simbulan's remarks and see if I can make something out of them. Dragons and science fiction aren't the most elementary of topics, and I already know that it's difficult to build a logical story out of the combination. It was difficult enough to shut out an entire circle of potential ideas, after all.

But then, that's probably part of its charm in the first place. Better to say that you tried something difficult and untested than to say that you just stuck with something that was familiar and comfortable, I suppose.


banzai cat said...

Hey Sean,

Yeah, Vin's notes actually sparked a few ideas in my head, not the least why none of the writers picked up the idea of writing Filipino SF featuring dragons. I figured (as I commented on his blog) that it's a tricky marriage of three concepts: Filipino SF, Filipino dragons, and-- here's the hardest part-- SF dragons. It can be done-- after all, speculative fiction gives a lot of leeway, which is why I figure most of us have chosen this field. However, it's like trying to graft three plant shoots to wrap around each other: it can be done but it's a real bitch to do. And done properly or else it'll look ugly as hell.

Still, like you, his notes did challenge me to come up with a story (which the concept is now percolating in my head). Sadly, it makes me think that I should have known about this before submission time because I think I would have enjoyed writing this story and submitting it to Vin. (And not because there weren't enough SF dragon submissions to begin with.)

Sean said...

Banzai Cat: I must note that something similar did happen with Dean's Speculative Fiction Anthology -- remember the post where he mentioned having received a lot of Science Fiction entries, yet not much of the Fantasy genre? That one probably jump-started a few imaginations...

I get the feeling that it's just difficult to put together a Dragon-based Science Fiction story, Filipino context or no Filipino context. I can't find any concrete theories as to why that's the case, though.