Living in the Philippines has its usual terrors. While our culture is steeped in the fantastic and the mythic, our daily lives are plagued by elements that are all too real and threatening. The six o’ clock news is a repository of these evils: daily crimes of corruption, murders, robberies, rapes, and more killings. Ours is a country where a crime, as heinous as it is, goes unpunished and unsolved for decades. It’s a grim scenario, which is why crime goes hand in hand with horror in this country of ours. Crime stories may not be populated with ghouls and supernatural creatures but the feeling of dread and terror is more manifest than any great horror story of film.
In many ways, and as explained in guest editor F.H. Batacan’s welcoming letter, the stories in Philippine Genre Stories Crime deviate from the usual norm of crime fiction. The genre has been associated with CSI-style narrative, police procedural and the crime/gangster cult films which are all dipped with too much gore and gunpowder. Sounding an open call for a crime issue of a publication could possibly yield results, considering the fact that the Philippines is a country which has a crime rate that could possibly be on par with Mexico’s sleaziest towns or New York’s dank alleys.
Each of the stories in PGS: Crime issue (which unfortunately is the final PGS issue in print) mines a distinct aspect of crime: a missing relative, a family hiding a hard secret, a woman lost in the forest of her psyche, a kidnapping, and bureaucratic nightmares. Stories always have the capacity to reflect the characteristic of the country which the story is set. Fiction is something that is still rooted in something clear and real. Crime fiction presents a unique opportunity to reflect not only on the state of crime and police work in the Philippines but also on how the psychological capacity of each of the perpetrators in the story reveals an outlook that is never too far from some of the most evil criminal minds in the world.
In Alex Osias’s “Blogcaster”, set in a not so far-off future, bloggers who expose the negligence and crimes of the government gradually ‘disappear’. Told in a series of blog posts, comments and correspondence, ‘Blogcaster’ feels real and paralyzing, with the implications of internet journalism more relevant in these times of one-click publishing and high-speed trickery.
The crimes in Dominique Cimafranca’s ‘Grenadier’ and Maryanne Moll’s ‘God is the Space Between’ unfurl in different ends of the spectrum. The payoff in ‘Grenadier’ is as swift as its titular device, exploding in sharp fragments, making it a thrilling read. On the other hand, Moll’s ‘God is the Space Between’, although well written, slugs through its curlicues of words until it rips into bloodshed.
Remembrances flood Xin Mei’s ‘Less Talk, Less Mistake’ (which actually is one of the longest stories in the issue) and Crystal Koo’s ‘The Last Time I Saw Uncle Freddie’. Familial ties have always been the root of crime, with Cain and Abel being the primal examples. ‘Less Talk’ unravels a harrowing family secret hidden for generations while throwing in the relations and dynamics of a Filipino-Chinese family.
Of all the stories, it is Koo’s ‘Uncle Freddie’ that gives the meanest punch. Despite its pace, ‘Uncle Freddie’ is a haywire investigation of one man’s past, crisscrossing generations, immigrant issues and identities. Koo uses a reverse narrative to thicken the intrigues which works in the story’s favor.
In this final print edition, Kenneth Yu’s PGS tidily summarizes its seven-issue run in his farewell letter. The stories published in the past issues have varied qualities and quirks but PGS has always been about Yu’s belief in good storytelling and giving writers a chance to tell their perspectives especially in genres overlooked by bigger publishing venues. Stories, after all, are but a small part of our cultural fabric, and with tales as harrowing as these, it’s undeniable that we face different forms of horror, no matter how disguised it is.