The last installment for the Stranger Fiction anthology trilogy is composed of fifteen stories on the genre of speculative science fiction and this is a collection that is personally the most polarizing of the three. I'm fairly new to sci-fi myself since I only started actively reading from it two years ago but I know enough to both enjoy and criticize a literary work in this genre. Unlike the horror and fantasy collections that I previously read(Demons of the New Year and The Farthest Shore respectively), Diaspora Ad Astra has been quite dissonant in scope especially since I don't think a lot of Filipino authors write sci-fi and there isn't exactly a market or demographic in my country that also reads, let alone celebrates, this genre.
As stated in the Foreword of this book, Filipinos don't exactly have our eyes set on the stars or any futuristic landscape when it comes to our fiction as well as in our lives and priorities in general. We are a culture steeped in superstition and spiritual reflection which is why we thrive with our myth-making when it comes to monsters and paranormal entities. But tales and parables on scientific discovery and space travel? We just don't care much for it. Some of us have formed a perplexing association between science fiction and Western influence considering we are also a developing third-world country whose ambitions have usually more to do with pragmatic desires and needs as oppose to those that go beyond what we can readily perceive, what is most tangible.
Simply put, science fiction stories are inaccessible to Filipinos because we don't exactly have a strong space program or a very present scientific community that could inform or encourage us to look up at the skies and dare ourselves to imagine other alien civilizations that could exist.
But perhaps that feeling is only dormant. Everyone, after all, at some point in their lives questioned whether or not we are alone in the universe, or if we could ever leave this planet and build a new home in another. This anthology had encompassed such stories. I think this is why Diaspora Ad Astra will prove a mighty challenge as a reading exercise for people who are not familiar with the genre itself and may have negative pre-conceived notions about Filipinos writing sci-fi stories in the first place. Luckily, I'm neither, and that is why this anthology was vibrant and challenging, a puzzling literary specimen that exhausted and thrilled me in varying degrees. Not all of the stories appealed to me, however, but those that two were maddeningly memorable and deliciously insightful.
I thoroughly loved to pieces the following six stories: Oplan Sanction by Alexander Marcos Osias, The Cost of Living by Vince Torres, the satirical A List of Things We Know by Isabel Yap, The Day the Sexbomb Dancers Invaded Our Brains by Carljoe Javier (that was unexpectedly comedic and quirky); and the endlessly fascinating oneshots Ashes////Embers by Dannah Ruth S. Ballesteros, Gene RX by Katya Oliva-Llego and Robots and a Slice of Pizza by Raydon L. Reyes.
Some stories were more personal oneshots that contemplate the standing of a Filipino or the entire nation in space exploration/colonization like Ina Dolor's Last Stand by Raymond P. Reyes, Taking Gaia by Celestine Trinidad, and Space and Enough Time by Anne Lagamayo; or or how to generally cope with the gradual loss of individual expression as presented in Eliza Victoria's Rizal.
Others managed to only confuse me because of their brevity and vagueness (The Keeper by Audrey Rose Villacorta, Lucky by Raven Guerrero and War Zone Angel by Emil M. Flores) while one story was something I couldn't figure out (or maybe I did but I just couldn't be sure) even though I re-read it thrice now (The Malaya by Dean Francis Alfar).
It took me a whole month to finish this collection but I also felt that I became a better reader after doing so. I'm very pleased that there are Filipino authors who do strive to write in the science fiction genre, and I certainly hope there will be more in the not-so-distant future.