Welcome to worlds not your own
By Joseph F. Nacino
I’ve done my fair share of traveling when I was younger.
I’ve walked the romantic streets of Paris and the clean-swept parks of Singapore, seen the charming small houses lining the Amsterdam canals and wandered through the night market of Hong Kong.
But through all of those experiences, I’ve always gotten homesick after a day or two to the point that I start looking for familiar Filipino faces in the crowd. And it’s usually not hard to do so: from Sundays in Hong Kong when domestic helpers populate any open space, to a train going to a flower garden in Holland, you can always find a Filipino somewhere in the world.
I guess that we look for the unfamiliar when we travel—but when we’re in an unfamiliar place, we always search for the familiar.
Dean and I first talked about the idea of a secondary or created-worlds anthology late 2008. At that time, we were lamenting the fact that as Filipino writers, we were straight-jacketed to the thinking that we should be writing about things only recognizable as Filipino. These may range from the Philippines itself to Filipino characters in our stories to monsters from Filipino mythology to even the occasional Filipino swear word or slang thrown into the mix.
But as writers of speculative fiction (fantasy, science-fiction or horror or a combination of the three), we were chafing from that particular bridle. Why do we need to be limited? Why can’t we be allowed to let our imagination roam free without the constraints of culture, location or element?
I would make a guess that most Filipino writers of speculative fiction grew up reading secondary world stories in the vein of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings or Frank Herbert’s Dune or even modern tales like George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice or Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time. These stories had fantastical settings, cultures and nations only faintly similar to those from our reality and history, and populated by monsters that had absolutely no relation to the manananggal or the tikbalang.
Since we read speculative fiction, we couldn’t escape this particular concept—and we didn’t want to. As homage and a sign of our love for the genre, we wanted to create worlds without any recognizable sign of anything Filipino on the horizon.
Before anyone starts raising a ruckus about what I’ve just said, I do think that we should have an obligation to write Filipino stories. We don’t have to—but we should try. So I thought: why not have it both ways—or both worlds? We can write about these non-Filipino worlds just as long as we recognize the fact that we should also write about our own Filipino world. We’re writers—the only limit we have in our own writing is the limit we put in it ourselves.
Getting back to the narrative, Dean and I thought of coming up with an anthology chronicling these secondary worlds written by Filipino writers. Unfortunately, economic constraints limited our enthusiasm given the financial global crisis. So we thought of the idea of doing a digital anthology: not only do we sidestep the money issue, we also answered the thorny riddle of distribution in both the local market as well as the international one.
So we had an idea and we had the possibility of a platform: all we needed was the commitment to push through with it. Fortunately, Dean had never been one for just idle talk and proposed co-editing the anthology. Let’s just do it, he said. And so I agreed and we sent out an electronic call for submissions at the start of 2009
So, now that I’ve gotten the introduction out of the way, I’m sure you’re asking: what exactly defines a secondary world anyway?
The grandfather of all fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien, once said the story-maker, as a successful ‘sub-creator’, can make a secondary world in which the reader’s mind can enter. He states, “Inside it, what he relates is ‘true’: it accords with the laws of that world. You therefore believe it, while you are, as it were, inside.” It is this ‘internal consistency of reality’ that is important to make a secondary world work.
Thus, an author creates a story wherein the world imagined in it (but separate from our own reality) must be sound—from its internal laws, principles, etc.—as well as consistent in order to believable. Moreover, this ‘separate’ world combines elements from the ordinary and extraordinary so that readers will be able to find some familiar footing in such an unfamiliar setting.
Given this partial description of what a secondary world is, I then left it to the writer to define the term. And such an interesting set of stories! From a gigantic turtle-like beast traveling in space, to a young woman’s cry for justice in an imagined world, to a witch-queen intent on escaping a deal with a devil, these writers showed how secondary-worlds can be done—with or without the pressure of trying to write a Filipino story.
So welcome these strange but not-so-unfamiliar worlds. Enjoy your stay!
Joseph F. Nacino
Series Editor, August 2009