This week’s Locus Roundtable includes an interview with Anil Menon and Vandana Singh held during ReaderCon.
Fabio Fernandes gathers a number of writers on SF Signal to discuss How To Write Science Fiction on a Post-Colonial World, with some fascinating answers.
Participants are Joyce Chng, Ekaterina Sedia, Karen Lord, Jaymee Goh, Jeffrey Thomas, Farah Mendlesohn, Jeff VanderMeer, Karin Lowachee and Vandana Singh.
I like this answer from Jaymee Goh:
Jaymee Goh is a writer of speculative fiction and scholar/blogger of critical theory. She has contributed to Tor.com, Racialicious.com, the Apex Book Company Blog, and Beyond Victoriana.com. Her fiction has been published in Expanded Horizons, Crossed Genres and Steam-Powered 2: More Lesbian Steampunk Stories. She analyses steampunk literature from a postcolonial perspective at Silver Goggles.
Man. Can I ask for a clarification of this question?
This question always crops up, and continues to crop up even more with discussions of race. I think it presents us with a false frame of how writing outside our experience happens, forcing us into a conversation on what “universal experience” is like, and eventually the conversation boils down to “a good story is a good story no matter who writes it.” Way back when, men would argue that women would never be able to write anything valuable or relevant, and women time and again disproved this. Colonizers convinced the colonized that there was a hierarchy of what was superior and more important, and for centuries we by and large swallowed this narrative, with some of our members proving otherwise. Being an outsider,outside the dominant narrative, has often produced revolutionary and incredible work.
But this question doesn’t always come from that frame; it usually comes from the frame of a historically dominant and oppressive group asking permission to do what it has always done to colonized groups: re-interpret the colonized’s experiences through the lens of the more powerful and privileged. So unless otherwise specified, I’m assuming this question refers to Western writers writing about non-Western cultures.
I’ll give this question a bone: when I was a child, I read Robert van Gulik’s Judge Dee comics. Van Gulik was an Orientalist in the first sense of the word: he studied the Tang Dynasty of China extensively, and wrote and drew nuances of the Tang Dynasty into his stories and comics. (Judge Dee is based on a historical figure from much earlier, but let’s just roll with this.) To this day, Chinese audiences still continue to read his stories; Judge Dee is our Sherlock Holmes. I think this answers the first part of the question quite nicely.
I would like to counter this question with another one: to what end does a writer write? For ourselves? Or for our audience? Both intentions are noble. However, if you are a Western writer, trying to write about a non-Western culture, I would raise my eyebrow at any talk of writing as an “enriching experience”. Isn’t economic dominance and touristic neocolonialism enough to enrich your lives? As a writer, I write for myself, as a colonized body, and I write for other colonized bodies as well. My first concern is for myself, to write a story that satisfies me as a reader. but my immediate concern after is for the audiences who don’t see themselves reflected or participant in any process of publishing.
As an academic, I tend to think of X literature as coming from a member of group X, especially if X literature touches on concerns specific to group X (this does not foreclose the possibility of someone from group X writing some other kind of literature). But if X literature comes from a member of group Y, and group Y has often been positioned as more powerful to group X, we need to question what exactly group Y writer is bringing to X literature: something new that re-frames the discourse surrounding group X? Or the same ol’, same ol’ talking about group X as if group X has no opinion or voice of its own? It’s vainglorious to assume the former, and ignore concerns to the contrary.
As such, this question is a self-centered one; it places all the attention on the writer’s intention and skill. I really have to question why any one writer would ask such a question, and am hard-pressed to come up with any other answer besides “seeking validation.” (This happens; it is normal. I do it too.) Western writers can and have written stories set in non-Western cultures. These stories have even been published. They have even *gasp* won awards! Bad stories that rely on racist stereotypes to carry them through and insult the people of that culture, they, too can win awards! Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi, Night Shade Press, I’m still looking at you. Why would a Westerner, with so much historically-granted permission and leeway, ask such a question? Why does no one ask, what kind of obstacles do writers from postcolonial groups face?
Recall Chimamanda Adichie’s story of a publisher who questioned her depiction of Nigeria; it felt inauthentic, because Adichie’s story didn’t fit any African narrative of poverty and ruin that the publisher recognized. Why, when a non-Westerner can be questioned on her writing of her own culture, must we focus on Western writers who have historically gotten away with racist, inaccurate writing, and give them the OK to write stories about us? Why now, when we non-Westerners have finally begun voicing our concerns of how we are depicted? And why we do keep having this particular conversation, in this particular frame, over and over again?
Now, writing as a non-Westerner, about another non-Western culture… the same rules and questions apply. For whom do we write? To what end do we write? What are the ramifications of our writing, and do we embed unconscious narratives that harm the groups we write about? As a Malaysian-Chinese writer, it would be easy for me to write something Islamophobic while writing about Malaysian-Malays, or something incredibly anti-black about African peoples. My status as a non-Westerner does not excuse me from these actions, no matter how well-intentioned I am. Would it be enriching for me to write about other groups that I know less of than the ones I identify with? Perhaps, but in my experience, it has been far more educational to actually just listen to them and support their voices than write about them, without their input.
So what, really, is this question asking? I think anybody asking this question really needs to interrogate themselves further on their reason for asking it. – read the full post.
Anil Menon has announced the cover for the forthcoming Breaking the Bow: Speculative Fiction Inspired by the Ramayana, edited by Anil Menon and Vandana Singh. The anthology will be published by Zubaan Books in India. Here’s the cover, and the list of contributors!
Molshree Ambastha Kalyug Amended
Neelanjana Banerjee Exile
Priya Sarukkai Chabria Fragments from The Book of Beauty
Indrapramit Das Sita’s Descent
Rana Dasgupta The Billionaire’s Sleep
Abha Dawesar The Good King
Sucharita Dutta-Asane Sita to Vaidehi — Another Journey
Lavanya Karthik Day of the Deer
Tabish Khair Weak Heart
Swapna Kishore Regressions
Kuzhali Manickavel The Ramayana as an American Reality Television Show: Internet Activity Following the Mutilation of Surpanakha
Sharanya Manivannan (Tharini Manivannan) Petrichor
Mary Anne Mohanraj The Princess in the Forest
Shweta Narayan Falling into the Earth
Pratap Reddy Vaidehi and her Earth Mother
Julia A. Rosenthal The Mango Grove
Pervin Saket The Chance
Vandana Singh Oblivion: A Journey
K.Srilata Game of Asylum Seekers (Women)
Aishwarya Subramanian Making
Lavie Tidhar This, Other World
Tori Truslow Machanu Visits The Underworld
Deepak Unnikrishnan Sarama
Abirami Velliangiri Great Disobedience
Locus Online have recently done a spotlight on Indian writer Vandana Singh. Check it out.
Vandana Singh was born in New Delhi, India, and now lives near Boston. Some of her short work has been collected in The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet and Other Stories (2009), and she’s published two standalone novellas, Of Love and Other Monsters (2007) andDistances (2008). She has also published picture books for children. Singh has a PhD in particle physics and teaches at Framingham State College.
Over at Torque Control, they’ve just run their second Short Story Club, discussing, among others, stories by Vandana Singh - Somadeva: A Sky River Sutra (read the story online at Strange Horizons) – and Hannu Rajaniemi – Elegy for a Young Elk (read the story online at Subterranean Online). Check out the discussion on each!
Jeff Vandermeer has been in touch with us to remind us that feminist SF publisher Aqueduct Press has recently reached a milestone, publishing it’s 50th title. Jeff has an interview with publisher L. Timmel Duchamp on Amazon’s Omnivoracious blog.
Aqueduct are of particular interest to us at the WSB for publishing two of Vandana Singh‘s novellas, Distances, and Of Love and Other Monsters. If you haven’t read them yet, now is a good time to pick one or both up! And do check out the rest of Aqueduct’s catalogue while you’re at it.
On behalf of the World SF Blog, congratulations to L. Timmel Duchamp and Aqueduct Press!
Part of what we’re trying to do with the WSNB is highlight individual short stories by international writers as they’re being published. You can click on both the 2010 stories or the short story highlight tags to see previous posts.
The latest story we wanted to turn your attention to is Somadeva: A Sky River Sutra, by Vandana Singh (you can also read our interview with her for the WSNB from a little while back). The story is published this week on Strange Horizons.
I am Somadeva.
I was once a man, a poet, a teller of tales, but I am long dead now. I lived in the eleventh century of the Common Era in northern India. Then we could only dream of that fabulous device, the udan-khatola, the ship that flies between worlds. Then, the sky-dwelling Vidyadharas were myth, occupying a reality different from our own. And the only wings I had with which to make my journeys were those of my imagination. . . .
Who or what am I now, in this age when flying between worlds is commonplace? Who brought me into being, here in this small, cramped space, with its smooth metallic surfaces, and the round window revealing an endless field of stars?
It takes me a moment to recognize Isha. She is lying in her bunk, her hair spread over the pillow, looking at me.
And then I remember the first time I woke up in this room, bewildered. Isha told me she had re-created me. She fell in love with me fifteen centuries after my death, after she read a book I wrote, an eighteen-volume compendium of folktales and legends, called the Kathāsaritsāgara: The Ocean of Streams of Story. – read the rest of the story.
Indian publisher Zubaan Books will be releasing a Speculative Ramayana Anthology and the editors are Anil Menon and Vandana Singh. They’re currently open to submissions and you can read their guidelines here.
Over at Rebellious Jezebel, blogger Jha takes Nuno Fonseca (for his editorial here this week) and Luis Filipe Silva (for his response) to task on their treatment of gender, saying in part:
Well, yes, of course arguing the lack of representation in spec fic is a goddamn personal thing. Fuck the male privilege horse you rode in on, because this isn’t an intellectual exercise; issues of representation are serious and personal, because when we read stories, we would like to find some stories that represent us. There are the narrow few perspectives which are overrepresented compared to many other minority perspectives. The fact that you can even pretend that these attitudes don’t exist anymore or are so 1950′s is a sign of privilege, because even while overt racism is rare, what makes you think you don’t subconsciously hold racist attitudes?
These benefits of colonization he’s talking about…. where to start? Speaking English isn’t a benefit, it’s a necessity. Are minority writers always read? They may read but they may not get fair opportunity to be read. And if debates were really that easy to engage internationally – no wait, never mind, because they’re not, taking into account different cultural environments and contexts, which cause people to talk past each other and not necessarily be on the same page as is going on here in this very post.
And I like the number 8. So I will add an 8th point: the rest of their points ring true – it IS difficult non-English spec fic to flourish outside their linguistic contexts. We do face prejudice on whether our books will be picked up or not. Genrecan be a difficult market, what with varying tastes and diverse opinions on what it really should be like bouncing around. Yes, it can get better, but it can’t get better with folks trading on stereotypes and sweeping assumptions like the ones I’ve pointed out above to make their points.
While over in the UK, the gender debate continues with fjm’s Open letter to fans, authors and critics of the male sex:
Women, last time I looked, made up more than 50% of the population. We aren’t quite there in terms of fandom and authordom, but we’ve been past 35% for decades now.
So: the next time you are asked to be on a panel, or part of a discussion, or an anthology, and not a single woman is included, I suggest that it is not enough to shrug and say “well, I didn’t issue the invitations”. Question it. If the answer is “there wasn’t room” consider making a sacrifice.
Furthermore, if you are asked to talk about the state of the field, it is also your responsibility to think before you go ahead and give a list of “the best” science fiction writers with not a single woman on the list [and if you seriously think there isn't a single woman on that list you aren't doing the right reading].
I am really tired of hearing men discuss the field as if there are no women writers. There have always been women sf writers (see the research of myself, Merrick, Larbalastier and Davin). There is not a single decade of sf in the twentieth century in which there were no women writers.
I wish I could say that I am directing this at at some other men, men I don’t know, men who I don’t regard as my friends. But I’m not. I’ve seen almost every man I respect cheerfuly take his place on an all male panel, or reel off a list the best writers which is mysteriously free of women.
I am very tired of this. I will keep pointing it out, every time I see it.
Conventions and panels seem to be an enormous part of the US – and to an extent the UK – world of fandom – a series of social events that seem to play a central role in at least some identities of genre. I find them interesting enough to try and write something more in-depth in the future about it – including the inaccessibility of “world” writers to that social/business network, and whether it should even matter – but I think in the meantime it’s worth highlighting fjm’s concerns. It should be noted that, at least from anecdotal evidence (as you can guess, I don’t really have access to any conventions!) “world” sf writers – particularly of a different shade – tend to end up in the “Others” panel. If I recall, Anil Menon told me he met Vandana Singh at “a panel about the Other”. What IS the other? dark-skinned? Or simply non-North American? I don’t know enough about panels and convention programming to comment… perhaps you could.
And finally, also in the UK, Liz Williams elaborates on fjm’s comments:
OK, here comes massive unpopularity, but I’m a bit tired of maintaining a unified front when there seems to me to be precious little unity behind the lines. fjm has posted a (perfectly reasonable) open letter asking that male fans, critics and so on think first when they compile lists, TOC etc for SF, because the women still get left out. This is fair enough. Sexism is still alive and well, and let’s kick its sorry butt, but I would like to add something.
The last panel I did in the UK was with Pat Cadigan and Jaine Fenn at the Sf film fest in London, and it was about being women writers in a male dominated world. The message that, thank God, Pat got out in the first 5 minutes was how bored we are about constantly being stuck on panels where we talk about Our Struggle. Instead, IIRC, we talked about books we liked. I have done this ‘women’ panel in various forms about 5 times now and thank you, Judith, for not making me do another one at Eastercon. Pat and I are not 20 somethings who think feminists all wear dungarees: I hope Pat will correct me if I am wrong, but we both regard ourselves as feminists and in my case, a lot of my views come out of 1970s feminist theory.
Why is it still all about What the Guys Think? Some moron comes out with some reactionary statement on a blog no one reads and we all run about like there’s a fox in the henhouse (derogatory metaphor is intentional). Why invest them with a power that they don’t really have any more? I’m not that interested in what doesn’t get said on Radio 4 – I’ve done a lot of BBC interviews, they’re always cut to hell and you could bang on about female SF for hours and still end up with a 20 second sound bite about rocket ships.
Much more in all those links, and large comment threads though, as always, we’d love to hear your comments here, too.
Interview by Charles Tan.
Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, what’s the appeal of speculative fiction for you? Do you think it’s an appropriate term for your writing, or is there another descriptor you deem more appropriate?
Thanks for interviewing me! Speculative fiction is indeed an appropriate term for my writing. I view it as an umbrella term covering everything from magic realism to hard SF. The best speculative fiction demands a boldness of imagination and a vastness of scope that no other literature can offer. It also has a potential for transgression, for being disrespectful of boundaries and labels, for throwing us out of our comfort zones. Add to that the sense of wonder that it evokes, the engagement with ideas, and the fact that it provides a two-way mirror for looking at the world — a literal and a metaphorical one — one wonders why everyone doesn’t read the stuff. Plus, for me, what it evokes is a sense of the magic of the real world in all its ordinariness. For these and more reasons than I can come up with at one time, speculative fiction is my natural habitat.
When writing for adults vs. for children, is there a dramatic mental shift for you or do you consider it one kind of writing? How about when writing short stories vs. longer forms? Or writing in English vs. writing in Hindi?
Well, I think my concerns, the things that engage me, remain the same. There are some things I wouldn’t write about in my children’s fiction, or would write about differently — so no explicit sex or certain kinds of violence — but in general, humans interacting with the physical universe, with other life-forms, with each other in ways that reveal social/environmental issues — these sort of things remain the same. In my Younguncle books there is humour and various comic situations and my style is therefore obviously different, but the underlying themes are similar to my adult fiction.
As far as short versus long forms, the longest thing I’ve written is a novella of nearly 40,000 words. I do find a shift here, in pace and emphasis, but I haven’t really practiced enough to explore it.
Writing in Hindi versus English is another matter. I only write poetry in Hindi but because Hindi is my mother-tongue, and despite the fact that I write mostly in English, there is something fundamental about writing in Hindi. I don’t quite know how to put it — it is more than the fact that some things in Hindi are not translatable into English. The feel, the ethos of the language is different. One day maybe I’ll write longer pieces in Hindi instead of just poetry for myself.
Considering that you’ve been exposed to both Indian and American culture, do you see yourself more as an Indian writer, or an amalgamation of both India and America (or any other nation for that matter)?
I don’t much like to label myself as a writer but having said that, I think the label I am most comfortable with is: I am an Indian writer living in the U.S., writing for the world. Inevitably my experience of living in the U.S. influences my writing, but a lot of what I write about is India-centric. There are reasons for this, among which is the fact that I am very interested in the experiment that is India, and how interestingly it blows expectations and stereotypes, and how in its history it has presented some rather unique ways of viewing the world. Living far away has some major disadvantages but it does allow me to see some things about India much more clearly, including the fact that the place I grew up in right through early adulthood, the place I took so much for granted, is actually one of the most interesting places in the world.
For the most part, when it comes to Indian speculative fiction, your name is the first one that comes to mind. What made you embrace promoting Indian speculative fiction?
Well, that is very flattering but it would be dishonest of me to pretend that I’m any kind of pioneer. Speculative fiction has been written in India for a very long time. In fact it is so imbued in the literature that it isn’t even classified (until very recently) as a separate genre. If you include the great epics then this tradition is thousands of years old.
Fast-forwarding to modern times, we think the first Indian SF story was one written in the late 1800’s by the brilliant scientist and experimenter Jagdish Chandra Bose in Bengali. Of India’s 18 or so languages, Bengali probably has the richest and oldest SF tradition. I wasn’t aware of this until people started translating, and then I discovered Premendra Mitra (again in Bengali) and others, and I know there are even more awaiting discovery by a wider audience. This made me very curious and very much aware how much English, being the language of the colonizers, still held a privileged place in the subcontinent. So I talked to my friend, the writer Anil Menon, and we have this long-term project in mind of exploring Indian spec fic in various languages, and finding authors and translators and some day doing an anthology. The fact that there were people in my own country writing spec fic for people like me had an enormous emotional impact on me, because until I discovered writers like Ursula K. Le Guin, I’d always felt excluded by the worlds of classic SF writers like Asimov, whom I’d read as a child.
Here in the Philippines, the local literature scene has a divide between the writers who write in Filipino and the ones who write in English. Is there such a divide in India? What made you decide to write predominantly in English?
I think this is also true in India and reflects a kind of power differential, which I imagine is part of the legacy of colonization. I think it is very unfortunate because there is so much that the literature of these languages have to say to each other that is best said on an equal footing.
As for what made me decide, it wasn’t really a conscious decision. I went to an English medium school in New Delhi and even though I was a pretty good essay writer in Hindi, most of my fiction reading was in English, so it was a natural and unconscious thing to write fiction in English too. In my family we spoke both languages at home (and in fact my mother is an absolutely first rate writer in Hindi, although she hasn’t ever tried to publish anything) but it is now (and has been for a while) an urban middle class thing in India that you write in English. It has to do with our history, and with social class and privilege and power, but I was in no way capable of analyzing it then. I simply wrote in it because it was what you did if you were an English-educated, middle class urbanite.
When I came to the U.S. and began to feel the angst of separation I started writing bits and pieces in Hindi (mostly poetry) because despite my greater practice and facility with writing in English I couldn’t express deep, personal, visceral matters of the soul in English. Or rather, it didn’t feel right. So now I tell people that I write for myself in Hindi and for the world in English.
Do you think there’s a significant difference between a story written in Hindi vs. a story written in English? Or rather is there anything unique that one language accomplishes that the other cannot, at least in the context of stories written in the genre?
I haven’t read any SF stories in Hindi yet, sadly enough (although that will be corrected this winter as I have Arvind Mishra’s book to read) and I am not any kind of expert in comparative literature — but I do think languages have a different feel to them. One of my favorite classic Hindi writers is Premchand, and I once came across an English translation of his short stories. The translation was competent but something was missing. I think it was Premchand himself, in a way — he seemed to have vanished from his own stories.
The way I think about it is: a particular language/culture is a window looking out at the world. Change the language/culture and the view is going to look different, even if it is a view of the same landscape.
Issues of translation aside, I really think this is one reason why it is vital to have access to stories in different languages. To get a sort of multiple vision, you know, of reality.
How about Indian culture: what makes it unique and different from the rest of the world?
Goodness, I really don’t know how to answer that! There is no one thing that is “Indian culture” and it is always in a state of flux, and it seems to defy any kind of consistent description. This might sound unbelievable to those used to viewing India through the exotifying lenses of stereotype but it is true. One reason I’m continually fascinated by India is how it subverts, diverts, embraces and transmogrifies everything. To give you an example, a travel writer I know, who lives in and goes all over India for her stories, once told me that she came across a market in a town where the traditional lassi makers had gone 21st century. If you’ve had Indian food you know what lassi is — the frothy yogurt drink, traditionally churned by hand. Well, you know what these guys used to make lassi? Washing machines.
This may sound silly but it is kind of emblematic. People don’t think in neat, Western categories. Thank goodness! Otherwise we wouldn’t have apparently foolish but successful ideas coming out of the subcontinent, from Gandhi’s Satyagraha to Yunus’ micro-lending.
What’s your stand on cultural appropriation? Is it okay, for example, for foreign writers to write or subvert elements of Indian myth?
Well, there’s cultural appropriation, which is a form of colonialist pillaging, and there’s the other way to do it. Unfortunately many Western writers aren’t even aware that they may harbor the sort of prejudices and preconceived notions that colonizers do, so even if they don’t intend to, they can end up producing uninformed, jarring and even offensive garbage. Of course that is changing as writers become more aware of these issues and smarter about research, but there are still challenges. For instance if you are writing a story based on a Hindu myth, you are writing about a living religion, not a dead one. Granted Hindus have a thousand different stories about any one thing, but when is it right for a Westerner and a non-Hindu to pick up a thread or two and use it for a story? And where do you draw the line between imaginative borrowing and appropriation? These are difficult but important questions.
Frankly I am all for Western writers making an honest attempt to understand and write about another culture — even at the risk of making a mistake — because part of what SFF writers should do is to stand in the shoes of the aliens from our own planet. But I also want to point out that Western writers writing about India, say, cannot substitute for Indian writers writing about India.
How has your physics background influenced your writing?
Intimately. Physics is a way of viewing the world, and it is one of my most important lenses. One of the most exciting things about science is that it reveals the sub-text of the physical world. In other words surface reality isn’t all there is, the world is full of hidden stories, connections, patterns, and the scientific as well as the literary and psychological aspects of this multi-textured reality are, to me, fascinating. So even though science may not be an overt factor in some of my stories, it is an influence, an approach. And there are also stories in which it does play a more overt role, where I can have fun playing — science is full of the most gorgeous literary metaphors!
In your opinion, what role does science fiction play in affecting science?
This sounds like a question that one would have to answer by writing a Ph.D thesis, but I can think of three ways in which science fiction could affect science.
One, by turning people on to science so that they grow up to be scientists (I am one of them).
Two, by coming up with scientific ideas and technologies that scientists and engineers later bring into being. For instance Arthur C. Clarke is famous for the ideas of the geostationary satellite and the space elevator.
Three — and I don’t know if this is actually true or ever will be — by challenging the culture and nature of how science is practiced, in service of war and industry rather than that old, now unfashionable thing, truth — and perhaps eventually changing it. That is my hope anyway.
You mention that you’re more interested in the ideas of science as opposed to technology. Could you expound on the difference between the two, and why the former appeals to you?
Well, the ideas of science are like, say, Newton’s law of gravitation, or Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. Or that most powerful and beautiful fact of Nature, the law of conservation of energy. I love these great, sweeping ideas that are so deep and fraught with meaning! However the pursuit of science has also produced technology, which is fine. I’ve nothing against it in principle, for the most part. But it doesn’t excite me the way these great abstractions do. Maybe I’m a sort of luddite, because new gizmos and gadgets don’t really do much for me, unless they help reveal some wonderful, underlying scientific truth. I don’t have the slightest desire to own an iphone… but a neutron spectrometer, that is another matter. My training is in theoretical physics, but even theoreticians can sometimes desire a piece of technology!
In any case this bias shows up in my fiction. A lot of science fiction is technological fiction because it is less concerned with the ideas of science. Not my stuff. I’ve got this fat novella in first draft stage sitting on the shelf for five years, waiting to be revised. It is about the search for scientific truth in a rather strange, far future setting. It has to do with science ideas, not gizmos, although I do have a few gizmos around. One of these days I’ll finish working on it. In the meantime there is my latest novella from Aqueduct Press, Distances, which also brings out this bias very clearly, I think.
How did your involvement in the 2009 Indian SF Workshop At IIT-K come about?
The workshop was an idea that had been tossed around in email conversations with fellow writer Anil Menon and our Delhi-based friend in publishing, Jaya Bhattacharji. It began to crystallize thanks to Anil and a fourth person joining us, Suchitra Mathur, who is an English professor at IIT-K. Anil and Suchitra did most of the organizing, with Suchitra doing all the ground work at the IIT end. It was a three-week session that was mindblowingly good for all concerned.
What is the Indian speculative fiction field like?
Very exciting at the moment. To begin with, spec fic is a part of our literary heritage, so much so that it doesn’t even really exist as a separate literary category (I’m exaggerating and oversimplifying just a bit). Its more recent offspring, science fiction, had its beginnings in India in the late 1800’s in Bengali, and indeed today there are lively science fictional traditions in several Indian languages like Bengali and Tamil and Marathi. Among Indians writing in English there are Manjula Padmanabhan, Samit Basu, Priya Sarukkai Chhabria, Payal Dhar, Anshumani Ruddra, Anil Menon, to name just a few. And, as my IIT-K experience proved, there is plenty of amazing new talent as well.
In your opinion, how does the rest of the world perceive Indian speculative fiction? What needs to change and what’s positive right now?
I really can’t say for sure. My impression based on my limited experience is that the original notion: that there is no such thing as Indian spec fic — held by some people here in America, is changing. I think people know there are folks with funny names from remote parts of the world having their way with speculative fiction. Lack of exposure to the work and the existence of stereotypes are, I think, major barriers to a clearer and more widespread understanding of Indian speculative fiction. However I think that is bound to change.
How is the Internet and other emerging technologies affecting the industry?
This is outside my realm of knowledge. If you mean the Indian spec fic industry, well, I don’t really know either. I know there are online venues to get published and for people to get in touch with each other, and some wonderful critical blogs, but that’s about it. Oh, and the fact that you can order my book The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet and Other Stories from my New Delhi publisher, Zubaan, via the internet! This means Indian spec fic in English and English translation is more easily available.
For unfamiliar readers, who are the Indian authors that we should be looking out for?
Of the classic ones, Premendra Mitra’s Ghanada stories, translated from the Bengali (dating from the 1940’s). There’s a great translation from Penguin India called Mosquito and Other Stories. Of the current ones in English, check out Manjula Padmanabhan’s new novel, Escape, and her now-famous play, Harvest. Or Priya Sarukkai Chhabria’s novel Generation 14. Samit Basu’s fantastical trilogy The Simoqin Prophecies, Anil Menon’s new YA novel, The Beast With Nine Billion Feet.
How about your own work, where can readers find more information about you and your stories?