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Charles Tan: Theres a distinct lack of familiarity with non-Western literary traditions and voices.

 Charles Tan: Theres a distinct lack of familiarity with non Western literary traditions and voices.

I was looking for stories that havent been tackled before and that hopefully address some of the concerns of Filipino-Chinese, says Charles Tan, editor of Lauriat: A Filipino-Chinese Speculative Fiction Anthology.

In putting together the anthology, Charles was motived both by low levels of awareness of the Filipino-Chinese, and also of the distinct rarity of Filipino-Chinese voices within the speculative fiction genre.

The contributing authors are either from the Philippines or from the diaspora, with those from the latter group having spent at time in the Philippines, whether at present or during their childhood.

I knew that they were familiar with some aspect of the culture. How much of that is in their fiction, however, is left to them.

He adds that for many of the anthologised authors its relatively easier to write about the Philippine context as its closer to home for them, and tackles some of their personal concerns. That said, although some are quite explicit about the Filipino-Chinese elements, in others these remain in the background.

The anthology itself is pitched towards a general readership, and Charles hopes that the stories and voices it contains will help expand readers horizons and notions of culture.

In a certain way, I think many mainstream publishers underestimate readers, he says. Yes, the stories in the book have cultural nuances, but I think readers can glean that from the context. Just look at a novel like The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. In it Dominican culture is at the forefront, including untranslated Spanish dialogue and terms. Yet most readers have no problems following the book.

At the same time, Charles acknowledges that theres a distinct lack of familiarity with non-Western literary traditions and voices.

Youre an Australian and Im sure youve experienced moments where American readers have no idea what Australian literature is like. Some might recognise names like Margo Lanagan, Trudi Canavan, or Garth Nix, but how about Kim Westwood, Anna Tambour, or Angela Slatter? And thats for Australia, which some people will consider Western, he says. What about countries like the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, and so on?

Its not only the lack of familiarity thats an issue. Western readers and critics regularly impose a Western paradigm on to the literature of other countries.

One person for example asked why China doesnt write space exploration SF stories, now that theyre developing a space program. Which makes me want to reply, what makes you think they havent written them before? Or why should it be important to them now, when other concerns and topics might be more pressing for Chinese authors?

Those who limit their reading to certain types of material, or in the case of publishers continue to publish only the same type of material, limit the paradigms, ideas and stories with which they can engage.

Each culture has its own favoured tropes and techniques and sometimes its difficult to see outside of that framework. A lot of Western literature is trapped in that box, and they miss out on a lot of important voiceseven those from within their culture.

Similarly, books containing non-western voices are often taken to be a canonical voice, with one voice being applied to whole cultures. When I ask Charles about whether this might be an issue his own anthology might face, his response is eloquent but damning.

That presumes the anthology gets read by a lot of people and somehow becomes canon. As it is, thats not the case, and why promotion becomes important. I honestly dont think a lot of genre readers are aware of its existence. And in many ways, that becomes the problem for a lot of books published outside of the US and the UK.

His response to my enquiry about Lauriats emphasis on dark speculative fiction perhaps having its roots in the Philippine context is similar.

Im a big fan of horror, and pleasantly surprised it went in that direction, he says.

He adds that he deliberately chose the term speculative fiction in order to allow authors leeway to pursue their own interests as writers, rather than being limited to writing fantasy or science fiction or horror per se.

Do I think context has anything to do with it? Perhaps. But I think that in this case, it was coincidence among the writers, and as an editor, it was a coincidence I was ready to nurture.

So if context is coincidence, is it possible for someone to write believably about an unfamiliar culture?

I dont believe that you have to be a citizen of a culture to write about another culture. But it helps and you definitely need to do your research.


 Charles Tan: Theres a distinct lack of familiarity with non Western literary traditions and voices.

About Lauriat:

Filipinos and Chinese authors have a rich, vibrant literature when it comes to speculative fiction, the realms of the strange and fantastical. But what about the fiction of the Filipino-Chinese, who draw their roots from the folklore of both cultures? This is what Lauriat attempts to answer. Featuring stories that deal with voyeur ghosts, taboo lovers, a town that cannot sleep, the Chinese zodiac, and an exile that finally comes home, Lauriat covers a diverse selection of narratives from fresh, Southest Asian voices.

Lauriat'is available from'Amazon'and the'Lethe Press website

About the editor:

Charles Tan is the editor of'Lauriat: A Filipino-Chinese Speculative Fiction Anthology, the'Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler, and'Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2009. His fiction has appeared in publications such as'The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories,'Philippine Speculative Fiction'and the anthologyThe Dragon and the Stars'(ed. by Derwin Mak and Eric Choi). He has contributed nonfiction to websites such as'The Shirley Jackson Awards,'Fantasy Magazine,'The World SF Blog, and'SF Signal. In 2009, he won the'Last Drink Bird Head Awardfor International Activism. He is also a 2011 and 2012 World Fantasy nominee for the Special Award, Non-Professional category.' You can visit his blog at'Bibliophile Stalker

pixel Charles Tan: Theres a distinct lack of familiarity with non Western literary traditions and voices.


  1. MT @readinasitting: Charles Tan: "Theres a distinct lack of familiarity with non-Western literary traditions & voices"

  2. Love what @charlesatan says in this interview:

  3. RT @readinasitting: @charlesatan "Theres a distinct lack of familiarity with non-Western literary traditions &voices."

  4. Definitely a though provoking interview. Thank you. :)
    Jami Zehr recently posted..Television Review: The Vampire Diaries

  5. RT @readinasitting: Charles Tan: "Theres a distinct lack of familiarity with non-Western literary traditions

  6. Hey, Steph, the link contained in this part wasnt working: Charles Tan is the editor of Lauriat: A Filipino-Chinese Speculative Fiction Anthology

    Interesting thought, of course, as Id like to think that I try to read all over the world although that perhaps tend to be more on the literature side of things as other bits like fantasy / sci-fi probably arent too well-known and therefore, not easily accessible (ie. library). On the other hand, Im not much for dark fiction

    It also depends on whats been translated to English, isnt there? Hey, maybe you could do a tranlated work lists (continents based) ;)
    Tien recently posted..Random Reads (October 2012)

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks for the heads-up, Tien! Ill update the link.

      Very good point about how what we get to read is influenced heavily by what gets translated, and is therefore available. I think its very true that most of what we get tends to be high-brow literary stuff. I do have a bit of Russian sci-fi lying around the house, but thats pretty much all I have when it comes to foreign genre fiction (unless Haruki Murakami counts).

      Ill definitely look into doing a single sitting translated books listgreat idea. I might also go through and add in a category for translated fiction and tag my reviews accordingly. :)

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