I'm preparing my reviews for Philippine Genre Stories' Christmas Issue right now. I'm aware that I'm already three months late for this, but everybody probably knows about my present concerns at work. Ironically, I picked up my copy of the issue to read over the long December weekends, only to find that the little digest would sit unopened inside my laptop bag while I mollified German, Italian and Japanese clients over the state of their servers.
It turns out that a few people have been doing their own assessments in the past couple of months. I refer specifically to Electrick Twilight Boogaloo and the Bibliophile Stalker, both of whom saw fit to post their lists of outstanding Philippine Speculative Fiction that came into publication last 2007. I'll admit that I'd like to see other peoples' lists as well, but I'm looking at some obvious limitations there: Dean Alfar and Kenneth Yu, for example, organize their own anthologies, so their favorites are already up on the shelves for us to read. Moreover, Banzai Cat feels that he hasn't read a lot of the local works from last year, so a list from him might not make for a very accurate impression. And of course, a lot of other people have their own jobs and deadlines to worry about, so I'll just have to be satisfied with what I can read right now.
As for a list of my own, I'll have to beg the same excuse as the aforementioned grimalkin: I don't think that I've read much of the local speculation fiction from last year. Sure, I've gone through all the PGS issues so far... but I've only gone through a few of the stories from Dean's third anthology, I haven't picked up a single copy of Story Philippines, and I have yet to check out other outlets for these short stories. I don't know how many pieces I would have to read before I can conceive of a "top ten" among them, but forty seems like a nice round number. Or fifty, if you want to stretch it a bit.
I did see a few familiar titles among the two existing lists, however, and I'd like to go over those. It seems that there are places where I will most definitely agree with the list-makers, and places where I'm likely to raise an eyebrow in curiosity. That's not to say that I'm contesting their opinions -- they're welcome to their own thoughts, after all -- but I'd like to have a look at them nevertheless.
Electrick Twilight Boogaloo's list
(Titles in bold are those that I've read.)
1. Dreaming Valhalla (Douglas Candano, Story Philippines)
2. The Saint of Elsewhere (Chiles Samaniego, PGS volume 2)
3. The Flicker (Ian Casocot, PSF volume 3)
4. Excerpt from a Letter by a Social Realist Aswang (Kristin Mandigma, Clarkesworld Magazine Oct07)
5. Brigada (Joseph Nacino, PSF volume 3)
6. Tell it to the Sky (Luis Katigbak, Rogue Magazine Dec07-Jan08)
7. The Ascension of our Lady-Boy (Mia Tijam, PSF volume 3)
8. Reclamation (Angelo Lacuesta, PSF volume 3)
9. MaMachine (Dean Alfar, The Kite of Stars)
10. Homer's Child (Paolo Chikiamco, PGS volume 3)
HM: Carmen and Josephine (Elyss Punsalan, PSF volume 3)
HM: The Scent of Spice (Crystal Gail Shangkuan Koo, PGS volume 2)
HM: Noche Buena (Andrew Drilon, PGS Christmas 2007)
HM: The Music Child (Alfred Yuson, PSF volume 3)
While I did like "The Saint of Elsewhere", my problem is that I find it difficult to pinpoint exactly why I liked it. I don't know if it felt symbolic, or if its plotline was revolutionary, or if I could personally relate to it. In any sporting event where you'd have ten judges holding up a bunch of scorecards, this would be a technicality. For me, though, it's a huge technicality -- I have to know why I liked a piece, in addition to feeling that I liked it.
"Brigada" was very interesting. I felt that it fleshed out a pseudo-post-apocalyptic Philippines very well, and it was very easy to understand, for a world that the author had to create from scratch. It had the remarkable aspect of focusing all attention on the main character by leaving a very high body count among the supporting cast.
"Homer's Child" was quite good. It's one of the few stories that gives me hope for the mystery genre around here, despite a flaw in the attention it devotes to needless detail. I could be biased here, though, seeing my personal affinity for stuffed toys.
I felt that the primary strength of "The Scent of Spice" involved the intertwining between two different stories, giving us the impression that each was based on the other and somehow creating a larger, cohesive work in the process.
As for "Noche Buena", I won't give away my review just yet. I did like it very much, though, and I think it should place better than an Honorable Mention. But I haven't read the other works, so don't take my word for this just yet.
The Bibliophile Stalker's list
(Titles in bold are those that I've read.)
1. Beacon (Nikki Alfar, PGS volume 2)
2. Logovore (Joseph Nacino, Fully Booked 2nd Graphic/Fiction Awards)
3. The Death and Rebirth of Nathaniel Alan Sempio (Alexander Marcos Osias, PSF volume 3)
4. Frozen Delight (Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon, PSF volume 3)
5. The Datu's Daughters (Raymond G. Falgui, PSF volume 3)
Charles puts together a list that is entirely different from the previous one. In a way, this is both a blessing and a curse. For one, it indicates the presence of different schools of thought on the quality of Philippines Speculative Fiction. On the other hand, it also implies that there were no truly good stories that can be elicited from a consensus of readers.
With apologies to Nikki Alfar, I must say that "Beacon" never really did it for me. I didn't feel as though it renewed the fantasy genre (which I think that a good creationist universe should be able to do), and I didn't see anything really interesting with the general plot. I still think that "Beacon" actually runs on its style and characterization technique... both of which were truly original, but not altogether story-defining in my book.
"Frozen Delight" raised both of my eyebrows, and it kept doing so until the very end. I felt that it was new, that it was refreshing, and that it deserves its place on the list. It was cute, funny and eventually quite morbid at the same time, and that's no mean feat.
While I'm not about to make a list of my own, I do have some pieces that I'd like to see in one: "Beneath the Acacia" (Celestine Marie G. Trinidad, PGS volume 2) still gets my vote as the best melding of mystery and traditional folktale to come around in a long time. "Muse" (John Philip Corpuz, PGS volume 3) marked its author as somebody for me to watch. "The Magic Christmas Box" (MRR Arcega, PGS Christmas 2007) is likely to see some very good feedback from me in a later post. And if you can find it, "When They Think They Can Fly" (Petra Magno, Heights volume 55 issue 1) has a setting that is executed in the most subtle way that I've ever seen.
But of course, everything here has been my personal opinion. You're entitled to yours as much as I am to mine. And as long as we all have our own stories that we like, then everyone benefits.