Saturday, October 06, 2007

Filipino Science Fiction, Part 2

Let's tackle the technological angle, a class of plot device that, as said earlier, is deemed difficult to write for. Is it really? Consider this thought experiment: imagine yourself to be an uncannily prescient Filipino scifi writer in 1977.

You might write about a future where everyone who wanted to could start their own interactive TV channel. Let's say that everyone is happily minding their own business. And then an insensitive journalist says something bad about Filipinos. How do the Filipinos react? They flood their personal TV channels with insults and death threats to the point where the journalist has to kill herself. The story wouldn't be so much about the personal TV channels as it would be about our own hypersensitivity to criticism, and how we react to it.

Or you might write about a future of self-contained megacities, floating up in the air, where one could get anything one heart desired: food, clothes, education, entertainment, etc. And yet, at the end of the day, the Filipinos who kept it running still had to go back down below to their dirty, crowded, and crime-widden warrens. The story wouldn't be so much about the floating megacities as it would be about the social imbalance and cultural heritage that forces this status quo.

Fast forward to 2007 and the parallels should be clear. Now: Do you really need to know the inner workings of the Internet and blogosphere to write the first story? Do you need to know about the economics of malls in order to write the second?

Hindsight is 20/20, one might say, and prognostication is easier in the reverse. So how about something more fanciful? How about that other staple of scifi, an alien invasion?

If you were writing with a Western bent, your protagonists will repel the aliens with guts and technological knowhow. But what if you were writing with a Filipino slant? The story might train the spotlight on the Filipino leaders scrambling to curry favor with the new alien overlords. It might examine the fawning hero worship of the aliens by the general population. It might end with the Filipinos coopting the invaders by mating with them. It's not very flattering, but the depiction rings far truer than if we have the Philippine Air Force sending their Broncos to bomb the mother ship.

If my take on Filipino science fiction seems a bit too much a reflection of Filipino society, it's because in any genre it is impossible to write decently about the Filipino-ness of a protagonist who is in all aspects divorced from Filipino society.

Take Johnny Rico, for example, the hero of Heinlein's Starship Troopers and arguably the first protagonist of Filipino heritage in any science fiction story. What made him particularly Filipino, aside from Heinlein's last-chapter revelation? That he was a Filipino was simply a tacked-on by-the-way. The way he was written, he could just as easily be replaced by a blond blue-eyed Aryan. In the movie version, he was.

That leads us to the corollary to criteria 4:

4a) Filipino science fiction is essentially social science fiction

This, I suspect, is true of any science fiction story -- or for that matter, any story -- in which one insists on imposing some national or cultural boundary.

To this, there are two other corollaries that follow from this:

4b) There cannot be only one Filipino character in a Filipino science fiction story.
4c) Satire forms an important component of Filipino science fiction.

The proof of these is left as an exercise to the reader.