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Lauriat: A Filipino-Chinese Speculative Fiction Anthology
Lethe Press, 2012

Charles Tan, a Philippines-based member of the speculative fiction writing and blogging community, has brought together a wonderful buffet of spec-fic stories in this collection, the third that he’s compiled (the earlier two are The Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2009 and Philippine Speculative Sampler).

This time, he’s focused on stories by Filipino-Chinese writers. As is true throughout Southeast Asia, people of Chinese ethnic origins are integral to the history of the Philippines. Some came to the Philippines centuries ago and intermarried with Spanish colonists and members of the local population; others came during the first half of the twentieth century, when the nation was an American protectorate. And people continue to emigrate from China to the Philippines today.

In his introduction, Tan brings up the issue of who’s considered Filipino-Chinese:

Heritage is always a tricky subject--my family being a good example of Chinese purity and prejudice: whenever I’d bring a friend to the house, the first thing my parents would ask was whether they were Chinese or Filipino, and would speak about the latter with contempt. A lot of Filipino-Chinese families I know even forbid their children from marrying someone that wasn’t of “pure” Chinese blood (i.e. someone whose parents are both Chinese), even if they themselves had broken that taboo by marrying a Filipino.

“Pure,” by Isabel Yap, addresses precisely this issue: teenaged Arrie drinks a “purifying” syrup from shady shop in Binondo (which Wikipedia will tell you is the oldest Chinatown in the world) when the boy she’s crushing on tells her his family doesn’t want him to date anyone who isn’t pure Chinese. The outcome is unsurprising, but I enjoyed all the details of modern adolescent life in Manila--habits, fashion, family relations, and friendships.

Erin Chupeco takes up the theme of who’s suitable dating material in “Ho-we” ("boyfriend"), but puts a hilarious spin on it, as the narrator’s Achi (oldest sister) and father spar over who Achi can date. Dad is not keen on Achi’s choices. Why can’t she find a nice minotaur from mainland China, like Di-chi, or a Taiwanese half-dragon, like Sa-chi? Dad’s trying to foist Gary Cheng on Achi--Gary’s father is a business colleague--even though Gary is a zombie. The story is excellent; I read it out loud to the teenagers in my family, who appreciated it thoroughly.

Many of the stories take place during or around funerals; my favorite of these was “The Stranger at my Grandmother’s Wake,” by Fidelis Tan, about a mysterious mourner. Others are about ghosts, including the stunning first story, “Two Women Worth Watching,” by Andrew Drilon. Faye is a TV star, but Mia has an even larger fan base . . . among the dead:

Mia is quite content with where she is right now. At ten years old, she had a total of fifty followers. The number grew as she got older, in ones and twos each year. She lucked out in high school, when she dated a third-generation legacy celebrity and managed to hijack his 1,562 viewers. They had been trailing him out of loyalty to his grandfather, and were growing bored anyway. Mia attended a concert in Araneta Coliseum and nabbed another couple thousand by getting arrested in front of a camera. She took a dance class in Malate, enchanted a hot gay barkada and picked up over three thousand deceased homosexuals . . . Mia is now pushing 60k.

Feeling inadequate when you contemplate your number of Facebook friends, Twitter followers, or website page views? Never mind: maybe you’re really big among the dead!

Gabriella Lee’s “August Moon” is a ghost story with a more traditional sort of twist; the viewpoint character wakes up, amnesiac, beside a coffin, and gradually the events that led to this outcome are revealed. In Kenneth Yu’s “Cricket,” a talking cricket has unwelcome words for Richard Chuang on the occasion of his mother’s death at “a venerable one hundred eight.” The narrator in Douglas Candano’s “The Way of Those Who Stayed Behind” has an equally disturbing experience when he comes from Canada to Manila upon the occasion of his grandmother’s death, though in his case it relates to discovery of a mysterious book expounding the tenets of a secret family religion.

And speaking of grandmothers, they’re another common element in these stories, whether as mourned matriarchs, as in Candano’s story, or as wise advisers, as in “Two Women Worth Watching.” In “Chopsticks,” by Mark Gregory Y. Yu, the purchase of a pair of porcelain chopsticks prompts all kinds of memories and stories from the grandmother in the family, including the story of a special pair of chopsticks the grandmother received when she emigrated to the Philippines in 1950.

Two of the stories have an erotic horror tinge to them: Christine Lao’s “Dimsum” (in which the roles of blood and milk are confused) and Margaret Kawsek’s “The Tiger Lady” (where it’s blood and semen). In both cases, young men, beware!

Two draw explicity on Philippine history. The first is the “The Captain’s Nephew,” by Paolo Chikiamco, in which Captain Paua tries to enlist a tikbalang--a creature from Philippine folklore--to fight against the Spanish in the Philippine Revolution. The second, Yvette Tan’s “The Fold Up Boy,” features the ghost of a boy who died in the Sangley Rebellion of 1603, in which some 20,000 Chinese were massacred. That second story tries to do perhaps a little too much, addressing not only the present-day focal character’s disconnection from her heritage, but also her family, while also throwing in the hint of a romantic element. I’d love to see it expanded into a YA novel, where all the themes and plot elements could receive their due.

Although none of the stories is exceptionally experimental in narrative style or language use, Chrystal Koo’s “The Perpetual Day,” which imagines a world suffering a pandemic of incurable insomnia, conveys the febrile, unfocused, semi-hallucinatory experience of chronic sleep deprivation, all the while developing a cast of characters and the personality of a neighborhood, which impressed me, and Kristine Ong Muslim uses the device of descriptions for the signs of the Chinese zodiac as a launch point for twelve micro-flash vignettes.

I highly recommend the collection; it’s a varied and entertaining set of stories. Come back and tell me which you like best!


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 5th, 2012 02:21 am (UTC)
I'm actually familiar with tikbalangs.

I thought Bogleech wrote about them, but nope.
If you're curious as to what southeast Asian vampires he did write about, go here:
Aug. 5th, 2012 02:51 am (UTC)
Whoa, the Polong and Pelesit! Yikes!
Aug. 5th, 2012 09:52 am (UTC)
Perfect timing! I'm currently taking a MOOC (massive online open course) via Coursera.org, Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World. We've got students from all over the world, so one of the topics under discussion in the forums is, quite naturally, this issue of multicultural speculative fiction. I've taken the liberty of sharing a link to this post on the forum, as I think many of the students will be interested in your review.

Oops! Edited to add links.

Edited at 2012-08-05 09:53 am (UTC)
Aug. 5th, 2012 09:58 am (UTC)
I couldn't resist. Once I started sharing, I had to share all over the place!
Aug. 5th, 2012 10:33 am (UTC)
That's fine! The more the merrier! I want to help give the book as much exposure as possible, so thank you!
Aug. 5th, 2012 11:12 am (UTC)
Good! I thought that would be the case and I hope my efforts will help.
Aug. 5th, 2012 10:32 am (UTC)
Thanks for adding in the course link! That looks great. And online learning is *the* thing these days, and wakanomori will be very interested in it too. Some online classes seem like not-as-satisfactory alternatives to in-person classes, but this one seems to take advantage of precisely what's good about being online--namely, the possibility of interaction with people from all over. Do you like the class?

And thanks very much for sharing the review link! I hope some people check out the book. I *love* reading fiction, speculative or otherwise, set in not-familiar-to-me locales, and I like hearing voices that are different.

My favorites were "Two Women Worth Watching" and "Ho-we," but I really liked the narrative voice in "The Perpetual Day," the vividness and hinted-at story in "The Fold Up Boy," just the plain old legend and history of "The Captain's Nephew," and the sexiness of "Dimsum" and "The Tiger Lady." And I really liked the stranger in "The Stranger at My Grandmother's Wake," and how the main character comes to know him.

I know it's unlikely that people will have a chance to read the book and get back to me about it, but I'd love to hear other people's reactions. And it's not as if the stories were without problems--there were things that were jarring about some of them--but there was so much that was interesting and positive about them that I wanted to focus mainly on that.
Aug. 5th, 2012 10:58 am (UTC)
You're welcome! One of the people I interact with on Google+, Laura Gibbs, mentioned that she was taking this class, and her description was so interesting, I decided to try it out. This is the first time I've ever taken an online class, so I'm still trying to get a good feel for what works and what doesn't. Laura also teaches online classes, but hers are smaller than this one. She's actually had quite a bit to say about the discussion forums on her course blog. Which reminds me that I'm also blogging about the class at Just MOOCing About.
Aug. 5th, 2012 11:11 am (UTC)
Oops! I meant to respond to what you'd said about the book! I also love reading works from other cultures. One of my favorite classes, maybe even my all-time favorite, at UA was the Women's Literature of the Middle East. Our professor was Persian (as opposed to Iranian, which is, as I understand it, a political distinction) and was intensely passionate about the works of the women writers and poets from the entire Middle East region. The books, short stories, and poetry we read was wonderful. Much of what we read I would categorize as magical realism, with magic elements very different from those I've encountered from other cultures. Some of the poems were from our professor's translation work, and had never been published in English, possibly never at all; I don't remember the details, now, but there was some mystery about the woman and I believe some of her papers had been hidden away in a library vault prior to his obtaining them.
Aug. 5th, 2012 05:03 pm (UTC)
I love the different assumptions, the different things people notice, the small differences in daily life--and then, the larger things, like what goes into a story and how you tell it--that would be on the level of the magical-realism stuff you were noticing.

So glad it's possible for us to read all this stuff now!
Aug. 5th, 2012 03:27 pm (UTC)
This sounds completely awesome! I HAVE to try to find this one, because it sounds utterly fascinating. :D
Aug. 5th, 2012 05:00 pm (UTC)
I am sure you'll like some of the stories--I can't wait to hear which ones :-)
Aug. 5th, 2012 04:28 pm (UTC)
I'd seen this anthology but wanted to know more about the stories. Now adding it to my Goodreads queue! Have the stories been translated into English, or were they originally written in English? I ask because you note a lack in narrative and language experimentation, and maybe that's a factor?
Aug. 5th, 2012 04:41 pm (UTC)
I believe these were all written in English--in fact, I'm as close to 100 percent sure as I can be without confirming it with Charles. I think that's definitely a factor. I'd say "The Perpetual Day" *did* actually push the envelope a bit in terms of narrative style, and as I say, that really impressed me. And my two favorites, even though they were just straight-up well-told tales were *really* well told. "Ho-We," which is narrated by a young girl, includes random definitions that the narrator supplies us of words she looks up, and those are very humorously placed, and "Two Women Worth Watching" was great social satire and just extremely well told.

I really would like to see "The Fold Up Boy" done as a YA novel. The details in it were enough to send me running to the Internet to find out more stuff. Oh, and speaking of more stuff, if you look up to yamamanama's comment and check out the link he supplies, there are some fascinating and gruesome monsters there.
Aug. 5th, 2012 11:38 pm (UTC)
They were all originally written in English :)
Aug. 6th, 2012 01:34 am (UTC)
Thanks for the confirmation, Charles.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )

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