MANILA, Philippines - Eliza Victoria — a magna cum laude graduate from the University of the Philippines with a degree in Journalism — might be the last person you would associate with speculative fiction.
Speculative fiction is a genre that deals with the fantastic, the occult and the absurd.
If there is one thing her first collection of short stories, A Bottle of Storm Clouds, has shown, it's that her sensibility as a news-oriented person can be a factor in weaving stories that feel so relevant and Filipino — characters and settings beyond the American lovestruck vampires and British lightning-scarred wizards Filipino bookworms know.
Don't expect the usual tales starring your friendly neighborhood aswang and that snake-man who lives under women's fitting rooms in this book.
Victoria's characters — though plucked from the stories of our lolo and lola — are refreshing.
We all know Maria Makiling's tragic love story with a Katipunero. But Victoria's Makiling has become a capitalist, commercializing her realm — tearing down trees and smaller buildings for a mall... does that ring a bell? — and has thrown away the concept of love over money.
A news-savvy reader can spot the various references in the short stories that make the reading experience more enjoyable: the Guinsaugon landslide, the Oakwood mutiny, the Rizal Day bombing and even the time the President extended the operating hours of the MRT to appease call center agents.
The book does not alienate readers who don't give a damn about what is happening to the country. Most of the stories deal with the universal concept of self-discovery.
In “Ana's Little Pawnshop on Makiling St.,” a boy discovers a thriving business owned by Ana, formerly known as Anagolay, the goddess of lost things.
In “The Man on the Train,” a man finds the personification of the city in an MRT station beyond Taft Avenue and seeks vengeance for the death of his son.
As Victoria's characters learn the existence of enigmatic entities, they also find themselves in the process. Aren't most of us like them — lost and looking for closure?
In “Salot,” a teenage girl meets a handsome man attacked by the townsfolk for being different. Never mind that he comes with a warning of impending doom: he has chicken feet so he must be evil. Victoria subtly uses the fantastic to magnify the flaws of prejudiced Filipinos.
What I also like about Victoria's short stories is that the side-stories are as interesting as the main stories.
Like a sidebar to an investigative piece, Victoria puts every character's motivation in context. Yes, sometimes you feel the author is giving too much information and it interrupts the narration but you could see that the author is a master in world-building when you reach that “Aha!” moment as the stories progress.
Oops, I may have spoiled too much! But don't worry: the book packs 16 short stories, including pieces that won the author prizes in the Philippine Free Press Literary Awards and the Amelia Lapena-Bonifacio Literary Contest. Some have also appeared in critically-acclaimed anthologies Alternative Alamat and Philippine Speculative Fiction.
I just wish they picked a different cover for the book, though.
Sure, there's the bottle of storm clouds and a mermaid that is a reference to one of the short stories (“An Abduction by Mermaids”); but I would rather have one of Victoria's original concepts shown on the cover — the bottle of storm clouds on Ana's pawnshop or the personification of the city holding the bottle, maybe?
Victoria's concepts are so fascinating you'd wish you were the person who came up with them.
If you haven't been introduced to Filipino speculative fiction, I ask you to do yourself a favor and get yourself a copy of “A Bottle of Storm Clouds.”
Look inside the window Victoria has opened.
There are lot of amazing stories happening in our own backyard and you are missing them! - Rappler.com
Jerald T. Uy is a comic book fanatic and also a big fan of Filipino literature. While he has a day job, he makes sure to write as much as he can on topics of interest for RAPPLER.