The World SF Blog

Speculative Fiction from Around the World

Samit Basu Interviewed by Charles Tan (Author Week #4)

Samit Basu Interview

By Charles Tan

Hi Samit! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, could you tell us about your latest book, Turbulence?

Thanks for having me on World SF, Charles.

Turbulence is a superhero novel. It’s set in India, Pakistan and London in the summer of 2009.

Passengers on a flight from London to Delhi discover after a few days that they have strange new physical abilities that correspond to their innermost desires. Our hero, Aman Sen, has become a cyber-demigod, capable of manipulating all communications networks. Uzma, an aspiring Bollywood star, now has infinite charisma. Vir, a third-generation Air Force pilot, can now fly. Tia, a housewife from the Indian North-East who got married and had a child too early, can now split into multiple bodies and live several lives at once.

But of course there are other people on the plane who can now use their powers for gaining, well, power, and the book follows a group of fellow passengers who have to unite to survive and figure out how to stop this whole phenomenon to turning into a comic-book slugfest. They’re also in a part of the world that needs drastic change much more than it needs the status quo protected. The book aims to be as real as possible, despite all the superhero shenanigans in it, and is fundamentally a novel about our world, here and now, and about two questions that aren’t necessarily superhuman questions: What would you do if you got what you really wanted? And how would you feel if you were given the power to change the world?

What’s the appeal of the tropes of the superhero genre for you?

I picked superheroes largely because they’re everywhere now, and if you suddenly found yourself possessing miraculous physical ability, you’d have no choice but to think of superheroes, given their omnipresence in global pop culture. It’s also because superheroes have been around for so long now, and so much has changed in the last eight decades. So it was great fun looking at the tropes and the stereotypes, and seeing how they would play out in the real world, in today’s world: what people would do today in terms of things like costumes, secret identities, lairs, missions, and so on. I think for dedicated writers and readers of SF and fantasy in any form, there is much joy to be found in both celebration and revision of tropes.

At its core, the very idea of the superhero – an individual with extraordinary powers whose actions affect society at large – is modern myth-making, is the core of pretty much every SF or fantasy story. But what makes superheroes unique is that most superhero stories are commentaries on the world around us. The ideas that relate superhero stories to the world around us aren’t implied, aren’t something readers have to find on their own – they’re explicitly shown on the page. And the wants, the ethics, the very nature of what would be right or wrong in today’s world, how it would react to the presence of the physically different, the extraordinary, the immediately celeb-hood worthy – all these issues interested and challenged me.

What were the challenges in writing Turbulence?

Well, two very definite aspects of this answer relate to the medium involved and the publication process, so let’s leave them for the questions you’ve asked later. Apart from these, very little, actually – one was trying to map out the real-world consequences of a superhero origin event on a global scale – it’s always been frustrating for me while watching or reading superhero stories how small their universes are, how limited the results of their apparently world-changing actions – but fortunately there’s just so much research material available now, and so much interesting technology out there to help you, that the whole process was not as mind-destroying as I was afraid it would be.

How do you decide which medium best fits the project? For example, in the case of Turbulence, why a novel instead of a comic?

I’ve been writing comics for a few years now, and while it’s the most popular and successful medium for telling superhero stories – the superhero genre, as a whole, has always been a tremendously visual one, and this may be why superhero novels haven’t taken off in the past – I wanted to do things with this story that made the novel the ideal medium for it.

I did want to have big visual set-pieces and action sequences, of course, and I hope that the writing lets readers imagine them effectively, but a lot of this story is driven by big ideas about the world and the people in it, dialogue, characters thinking about what their powers mean, what they do to their everyday lives, and quite a few of the biggest moments in the book occur inside our protagonists’ head. Now while all this can be done very well in comics – Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman have shown that several times – for me, the novel is the best medium for this sort of story.

How did Titan Books end up publishing the book?

My agent, John Parker at the Zeno Agency, got the book to them, and I was lucky – they loved it and were excited by it.

Turbulence is my fifth book, and the response to my earlier books had been the same from UK publishers – editors loved the books, but marketing didn’t know what to do with a foreign author with no following in the UK, especially in a market as saturated and as full of talent and huge names as science fiction and fantasy. Superhero novels haven’t sold well before, this isn’t a book aimed at the Indian diaspora, and I don’t know of any Indian writers doing well in genre markets abroad. So the dice seemed quite loaded against finding a publisher, but my agent had warned me at the time of signing up that finding a publisher was going to be a slow process since I was, well, new and foreign.

Fortunately Titan Books was confident enough in the material to make that leap of faith, and I’m very grateful for that.

Do you have any details on the film adaptation?

To be honest, I have no idea what’s going on. Several producers and directors have loved the idea in Bollywood, but Bollywood is a crazy town. Indian superhero movies thus far have been uniformly terrible, and a large part of this is because they are completely dependent on the whims of the stars in them, whose  concerns are primarily not story or character, but looking good to their fans, strutting about and flexing.

But in India, to build a film on the scale Turbulence will have to be on, you need a star attached, and most of the people who can get the film greenlit are booked up for the next couple of years. The screenplay’s lying with them, every other person the film needs to get  moving is enthusiastic, but I suspect even if the film does end up getting made in Bollywood, it’ll be very, very different from the book. Bollywood hasn’t quite grasped the concept of good sci-fi/fantasy storytelling yet. I’m hoping to change that one day.

On the UK/US front, though, things are beginning to move. My agent tells me there’s interest, and there might be some interesting meetings when I come to London later this year. But the actual honest answer is I have no idea what’s going on.

What other projects are you currently working on?

The Turbulence sequel, Resistance. As of now, it’s set a few years after Turbulence, and I’m attempting to make it as standalone as possible, though of course several key characters from Turbulence will appear. In shorthand, if Turbulence is the Superman book, Resistance is the Batman book.

Apart from that, there’s a zombie comedy comic set in Delhi, called UnHoli, another comic called Local Monsters featuring a group of Indian monsters sharing a flat in Delhi, and a couple of film scripts, one of which I’m actually hoping to direct myself. That’s not sf/fantasy, though, that’s a low-budget comedy.

Anything else you want to plug?

Yes, my first three books, the GameWorld Trilogy, starting with The Simoqin Prophecies, are going to be out on Kindle worldwide in around a month. I wrote Simoqin when I was 22, a decade ago, and it’s so great for me that it’s finally going to be available outside India. So do watch out for that.

Thank you, Samit!

August 29, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Comments Off

RIP Moebius 1938-2012

The Guardian reports on the death of French comics artist Moebius (Jean Giraud):

The artist Jean Giraud was principally known for his work on comic books under two pen names. As Gir, the co-creator of Blueberry, one of France’s most popular strips, his brushwork was detailed and realistic; as Moebius, he used intricate, visually arresting penwork to explore the subconscious in his creations Arzach, Le Garage Hermétique (The Airtight Garage) and L’Incal (The Incal). But Giraud, who has died of cancer aged 73, had an impact on the visual arts that went beyond comics. He was seen as a figurehead linking bandes dessinées with modernism and nouveau réalisme. As the co-creator of Métal Hurlant magazine, he took comics to an older, more literate audience. In cinema, his fans ranged from Federico Fellini to Hayao Miyazaki and his style influenced dozens of others, including Ridley Scott, George Lucas, James Cameron and Luc Besson. – read the full obituary

March 13, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Comments Off

Introducing World Comics

World Comics is a Finnish NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation)  working around the world, organising comics workshops, lectures and exhibitions.

The concept of grassroots comics

A low-tech communication tool for activists – Community activists can use grassroots comics as an inexpensive communication tool to put forward their views.

Activists, who have very little or no experience from drawing, can in a few days learn how to produce grassroots comics.

It is the story, its drama and how it is presented, which is central, not the drawing skill. The activists’ passion and engagement in the issue at hand are evident in the stories they produce.

The main format is the wallposter comic, which is made by joining two ordinary-sized photocopies. The activists, who normally have no or little access to mainstream media, can make the grassroots comics their own medium.

The grassroots comics are cheap and quick to produce: only pens, paper and photocopying are needed. And, of course, a good story!

The distribution is important. The wallposters can be pasted up in places such as hotels, bus stops, clinics, schools, road-side food stalls, beauty parlors, barber shops, etc.

Grassroots comics have been used by organisations to focus on different issues, such as racism, sexual harassment, girl child rights, school drop-outs, hiv/aids, sanitation, and right to education. These are just a few examples. Any issue, on which one can make a story, can be expressed through grassroots comics.

There is also a selection of samples of local work from around the world on this page.

March 8, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Comments Off

Lavie Tidhar’s Going To The Moon

Lavie Tidhar’s latest book, the picture book Going To The Moon, about a boy with Tourette’s Syndrome who wants to become an astronaut, is now available. Lavie is interviewed over at SF Signal, who also review the book.

Photo (c) Sandy Auden 2012

From Paul Weimer’s review:

Going to the Moon is the story of a young boy named Jimmy who wants to be an astronaut. He wants to go to the Moon. Jimmy also doesn’t want to have to fight his constant, taxing struggle against the Tourette’s syndrome that dominates his life. He doesn’t like the dance-like involuntary movements it causes in him. He’s bullied, in the way young people who are different are often bullied. The corprolaia of Toruette’s syndrome means that he involuntarily uses curse words, even though he doesn’t want to. As such, the book doesn’t shy away from trangressive words. Words I can’t use in this review.

The real heart and soul of the book is found in the pictures by Paul McCaffrey. They are beautifully and colorfully drawn. But there’s more to the book than just Lavie’s words and the pictures. Like the best picture books, the text and the images engage and interpolate with each other, in a dialogue that makes the book stronger for that interaction. The theme of aliens (and Jimmy himself is definitely an alien in some ways) is reflected in the imagery much more than the text. To cite another example, the use of curse words in exclamation in the imagery reminds me of the innovative subtitles in the movie Night Watch.

And the end brought tears to my eyes as the reader figures out what Jimmy and the friend he makes are too young to realize. Curse you, Lavie Tidhar…your audacity strikes me again.

It’s not a book you’d want to read to your children, because of the language. Although its about a young boy and his concerns, its a book for adults. And it moved me. It will move you, too. – read the review, or interview!

February 17, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Moebius graphic novel published in English

Via [BoingBoing]:

In 1981, comics writer Alejandro Jodorowsky teamed up with French comic artist legend Moebius and created a new French comic serial called The Incal, (allegedly salvaging a bunch of material Jodorowsky created for an aborted film adaptation of Dune). The Incal‘s story is barely comprehensible, a mystical, satirical space-opera that anticipates many of cyberpunk’s tropes. But the story isn’t the point of The Incal. Reading Self-Made Hero’s new English edition of Incal is an exciting and delightful experience for reasons having nothing at all to do with the consistency or comprehensibility of its plot. – continue reading.

February 15, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Comments Off

Philippine Steampunk Comic High Society Released!

Via Rocket Kapre:

The mysterious steampunk comic book collaboration between myself [Paolo Chikiamco] and the wonderful Hannah Buena has now been released! Flipside Komix has published “High Society” (formerly “Kataastaasan“)  onAmazon as a Kindle comic. It’s an alternative history story that mixes automata, Philippine folklore, and the British invasion of Manila in the 1760s. It’s also the first comic book story set in the world of the “Wooden War”, which was also the setting of my story in Philippine Speculative Fiction 6.

There’s not a lot of Philippine steampunk stories out there (I’m eagerly awaiting “The Marvelous Adventures of the Amazing Doctor Rizal”), and none that mix it up with Philippine mythology quite the way that Hannah and I do here, so if that interests you, please do buy a copy!

November 21, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 4 Comments

The African Batman?

Bombastic Element reports on a new DC superhero – Batwing, “spawned from Bruce Wayne’s desire to franchise the Batman name across the globe.”

Batwing’s name is David Zamvimbi from Tinasha in the DRC and he will be wearing the cape for the time being as “Africa’s Batman“. Batwing Issue #1was part of DC comics’ historic relaunch of 52 of its titles last week, resetting those books’ clocks back to issue one.

Over at Huff Po, filmmaker Bryan Young interviews Batwing writer Judd Winick, and this time Winick reveals a lot more about how he will be remixing all the available African stereotypes for a Western audience while fleshing out the Batwing character and staying true to Batman’s mythos:

Winick on Batwing’s origins:

…what could be considered the more political bent is that Batwing is an AIDS orphan. He lost both his parents to AIDS. Which some folks might call that politics. From where we sit, we’re just trying to be true to life in Africa right now. In most of the regions, one-fifth of the population is HIV positive or living with AIDS. And there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 16 million AIDS orphans out there. It rang kind of true to us especially in the Bat universe. Batman himself and most of the other members of the Bat family come from tragic beginnings. That’s sort of the motif. That’s sort of the opera of it all. It’s not like Batwing was out there doing pre-law for a while, starting his own practice, and then decided “Hey, I’ll put on a costume.”

“Maybe they are right to start from the heart of stereotype hell,” BE comment. You can read the full thing here.

September 13, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Comments Off

India’s first ComiCon

CNN reports on India’s first Comic Con:

India’s first comic convention wouldn’t have been born if Jatin Verma and his team of graphic geeks hadn’t forgotten to get travel visas.

“After we collected the money for the San Diego Comic Con, we realized we had no visas. So we decided to bring the comic con to us,” says Verma, CEO TwentyOnwards Media.

The idea turned into Comic Con India, a convention at urban fairground Dilli Haat in New Delhi with its usual fare of rural artisans and craftspeople.

Verma says it was a perfect location because they wanted that kind of “walk-in public.”

They were looking for comic virgins to rediscover Indian comics with a vernacular focus.

In all, some 15,000 fans, geeks, nerds and a whole lot of costumed freaks turned up.  – continue reading.

Our friends from Blaft Publications also attended!

March 30, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Comments Off

The Vilcek Foundation’s Shattering Stereotypes Issue

The Vilcek Foundation’s summer newsletter focuses on Shattering Stereotypes: Immigrant Artists and Writers Transform the World of Cartoons and Comics. Here’s their table of contents:

  • Straddling Worlds: The Immigrant Connection to Superheroes
  • Playing Against Type: Marvel Comics’ Greg Pak Creates a New Kind of Hero
  • Comics, Cartoons, and Covers: Françoise Mouly Does Them All

You can read more here.

December 22, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Comments Off

Announcing The First Abu Dhabi Comic-con!

March 2011 will see the first ever regional comic-con in the Middle East, hosted at Abu Dhabi’s National Exhibition Centre.

From the Jerusalem Post:

Fans of comics, sci-fi and fantasy in the Middle East will now have their own comic convention. In March 2011 Abu Dhabi’s National Exhibition Centre will be the first in the region to host its own version of the San Diego Comic-Con International.

The event in San Diego started in 1974 as a meeting point for people interested in science fiction, comic books and movies. It has since grown into a four-day event with over 140,000 visitors and important industry events involving computer games, pop culture, Japanese cartoons known as anime and sale of memorabilia and merchandise.

The organizers of the event in the United Arab Emirates are expecting 10,000 to 15,000 visitors.

Arafaat Ali Khan is the managing partner at ExtraCake PR, which is organizing the event.

“We have been thinking about this since we were in diapers, so it’s been going on for a long time,” Khan told The Media Line.

“What we see now is that there is interest in the infrastructure as far as stores over here stocking anime, [Japanese] manga [cartoons] and comics,” he said. “It’s all coming together at the right time.”

“The genre is exploding in the Middle East. We have a growth in the sales and bookstores are dedicating entire shelves to comics,” Khan said.

“Then there is the latest trend in this part of the world – that is the talent of artists and writers that have no outlet for their passion and to become serious artists,” he said.

Khan said that the convention would be similar to the ones held in the U.S.

“The main difference will be the market but we will follow the tried and tested international ideas,” Khan said. “We are going to have expos, merchandise, games and show classical movies and hopefully some new trailers.”

Today the American comic and sci-fi events are used as major marketing platforms for feature films. Movie stars, both past and present from various genres attend to promote their latest works.

No special guests, however, have been announced for the Abu Dhabi event as of yet.

Local comic book fan Saeed Sabbagh said the event would be a good opportunity for networking. – continue reading!

December 6, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Comments Off

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