Women in SF&F Month Banner

Today’s Women in SF&F Month guest is Gabriella Buba! Her short fiction includes “Dying Rivers and Broken Hearts” and “A Unified Explanation for Elven Urbanization and Associated Morphological Changes,” and her first novel, Saints of Storm and Sorrow, is being released on June 25. The first installment in a Filipino-inspired epic fantasy duology, The Stormbringer Saga, her book is described as featuring “a bisexual nun hiding a goddess-given gift [who] is unwillingly transformed into a lightning rod for her people’s struggle against colonization.” I’m excited she is here to discuss one of the reasons she wrote her upcoming debut novel in “Fantasy Safe Spaces: Facing the Specters of the Past Now They’ve Come Back to Haunt Us.”

Cover of Saints of Storm and Sorrow by Gabriella Buba

Fantasy Safe Spaces: Facing the Specters of the Past Now They’ve Come Back to Haunt Us
by Gabriella Buba

Fantasy has always held a special place in my life. From school days when the quiet of the library was a rare sanctuary from bullying, through to the pandemic when once again Fantasy became a window out of the creeping isolation, dread, and anxiety of daily life.

But more than an escape, for me, Fantasy has always been the safest place to dig deep into the topics that most trouble and grieve me. I was once told I write like I’m wringing my grief onto the page, and I am. As a biracial Filipino-American child of immigrants, I struggled a great deal with feelings of disconnection. There is so much grief that is part and parcel of being diaspora. Displaced from homeland, language, history—handed down culture piecemeal and fragmented. Carrying these stories and this grief inside like seeds, growing ever growing, feeding a burning anger and resentment that modern life and the modern world has very few spaces or tools to unravel or examine.

But Fantasy can ask all the what ifs of history: what if all the victors destroyed and time has lost still remained? It can fill in the gaps between the lines of racist reports written by Spanish clergy—Spanish that I read with more fluency than my stumbling Tagalog.

And so reading and then writing Fantasy became the vehicle by which I could safely unspool and grapple with the history of colonialism and imperialism that created the war, want, and waste that sent my Filipino family across an ocean.

Taking this fragmented pre-colonial history together with re-imaginings of myths and folklore, Saints of Storm and Sorrow is a Filipino-inspired Fantasy in which Lunurin, a bisexual nun hiding a goddess-given gift, is unwillingly transformed into a lightning rod for her people’s struggle against colonization.

It is Lunurin’s efforts to protect those she loves from the crushing realities and abuses of colonialism and its twin tools of greed and religion that ultimately awakens her Goddess and forces Lunurin to act, to break the status quo, and finally face the past she’s become so good at running from.

Did you know, the Philippines is the only country in the world where divorce is illegal? Abortion is illegal and Human Rights Groups have faced backlash for attempts to push against the stance. In addition despite 2012 efforts to increase access to contraception it remains controversial. A once thriving pre-colonial tradition of women-led, and often queer and gender non-conforming spiritual leadership of the babaylan/katalonan/shamans, has been consistently denigrated and pushed to the edges of society, with every tool western powers had at their disposal. The long history of Spanish suppression of many of these shaman-led revolts against colonial rule is brutal and bloody from the earliest days of colonization in the 1600s to the dios-dios revolts of the 19th century.

And though in the modern era the Philippines is one of the most conservatively Catholic countries in the world, I grew up on a steady diet of my grandmother’s stories of the suffering that ultra-conservative Catholicism created in her own life and the lives of her friends and family. From forced marriages in cases of rape, to the dangerous ends women pursued to stay in school if an accidental pregnancy was discovered, to even worse abuses of power the Church allowed to run rampant.

I was told of how war and greed exacerbated poverty that threatened to steal away every gain my grandmother made to better her own life. Of years spent stealing newspaper scraps so she wouldn’t forget how to read when she was forced to leave school. Darker stories about how the soldiers who uphold empire will never face the consequences for their cruelties.

For me the worst thing was the inevitability in my grandmother’s stories, in the lack of accountability or justice, or sense in the suffering of herself and others. There was only grief, only pain.

And so in Saints of Storm and Sorrow I wrote a story where women and girls looked that hopeless inevitability in the face and had the power to say No More. It ends here. It ends with me. In addition to addressing colonialism, Saints tackles difficult realities of sexual abuse enabled by the Church, a resulting teen pregnancy and abortion.

Because sadly, these abuses don’t only live in our past but in our present as well.

In a political climate where women and girls all across the world are rapidly losing rights to bodily autonomy and necessary healthcare, the suffering my grandmother uprooted her family to escape has started proliferating anew all around me. In the year after Texas’s near total abortion ban teen birth rates rose for the first time in 15 years. And every day the reproductive rights of women in the state are eroded further.

This year the 5th Circuit recently upheld a Texas decision to prevent Title X federal clinics in the state from providing birth control to teens without parental consent—effectively blocking any ability for teens with unsupportive parents to control their reproductive health and safety. Decades of progress towards helping women and girls control their reproductive futures and have a chance at education and economic independence is being undone, by a minority of greedy power-hungry men determined to drag us all back into the dark ages.

So I wrote Saints of Storm and Sorrow in part because the writing of it was the safest, kindest space to own my anger and lay my grief to rest. But also because I hope that if we remember to stand together we will discover we have the power to make sure that this kind of suffering goes no further. I hope we can create a truly safe space for all of us, and that we do not repeat and repeat these cycles of suffering. I hope that we can stand together and say No More. It ends here. It ends with me.

Photo of Gabriella Buba Gabriella Buba is a mixed Filipina writer and chemical engineer based in Texas who likes to keep explosive pyrophoric materials safely contained in pressure vessels or between the covers of her books. She writes adult epic fantasy for bold, bi, brown women who deserve to see their stories centered. SAINTS OF STORM AND SORROW comes out June 2024 from Titan Books.