The World SF Blog

Speculative Fiction from Around the World

Samit Basu on Writing (Author Week #4)

I’ve been a writer for a decade now, and in terms of getting books published outside India, this has been my biggest year so far. Also the strangest, but we’ll get to that. My most recent novel, Turbulence, was published in the UK a month ago, I have a story out in the Apex Book of World SF 2, and my first three novels, a fantasy trilogy called the Gameworld Trilogy, are out worldwide on the Kindle store next week.

I finished The Simoqin Prophecies, the first book of this trilogy almost exactly a decade ago. In the days leading up to publication (the proposed and actual dates of books hitting stores in India are rarely the same, which leads to a fair amount of anxious author bookstore-haunting) I remember boring holes into the New Releases section at my local bookstore with my eyes for a several days. Until, one day, there it was, a fat little book. I bought a copy immediately to set the ball rolling, wondering whether I’d be the only person to buy it that day. Fortunately, I wasn’t, and a decade later, I’m still writing, and have no intention of stopping.

The publishing world has changed entirely this decade, and I suspect it’ll be several more years until it settles down a little and anyone has the faintest idea about what’s really going on.  It’s changing so quickly now, it makes 2003 look completely stagnant. I quickly learned that trying to be a fantasy writer working out of India wouldn’t lead to the kind of world domination I’d envisaged; my publishers in India were surprised that the books were selling well despite there being no other Indian fantasy/SF novels in English around at the time, but publishers abroad continued to be steadfast in their rejection of my work. On several occasions, I heard back from editors saying they liked the books, but marketing had no idea how to sell an unknown Indian, especially one writing in a saturated genre where no Indian book had done well so far –  largely because there hadn’t been any, I presumed. There was no way in through the diaspora route, either – I wasn’t writing about India or trying to explain it, I wasn’t even regurgitating Indian mythology, I was writing fantasy novels in a made-up world that couldn’t reach readers through the culture/exotica silk road either. I got used to this, and was managing to make a living anyway, through books and comics and journalism, and wasn’t really expecting the situation to change. I decided to do another novel, a superhero novel that was essentially about this world, here and now, and not care at all about what its market potential was or where it could go.

So when Zeno Agency in London accepted me, and subsequently sold US/UK rights to Titan books, my primary response was one of surprise.. And when it was published, it grew positively surreal. The response to Turbulence in the UK was the best I’ve had, anywhere – the reviews have been fantastic, I feel like I’ve found the readers I’ve been waiting for all these years, the sales are looking good, and it feels like I’ve come home.

Except that I’m actually sitting at home in Delhi as I write this, and it’s very far from where the readers are. And the idea that you actually belong in an environment that’s a plane journey away, but is as far from your reality as, say, Hogwarts, is a strange and slightly unsettling one. Sitting here and watching the book come out in the UK was a strange and beautiful experience: I learned, in about a week, to disassociate my mood with my Amazon rankings to preserve my sanity. In a month, I’m off to the UK to do a book tour; I wonder whether it’ll get more bizarre then, or less.

When I look at the Apex Book of World SF, at the wonderful writers in it and the far-flung, fascinating stories they have to tell, I wonder how many of them experience the same sense of dislocation. And how all our careers are shaped by readers who live so far away from us, and live such different lives. I’m grateful to be in that anthology though, because in the midst of all that multi-cultural strangeness I actually feel at home.

Another thing this anthology’s done for me is that it’s made me feel like less of an imposter. A decade ago, most Indian interviewers, when told I’d written a fantasy book, looked at me as I had just told them I wrote porn. My publishers said ‘science fiction’ hopefully, trying to convey a sense of imagination and wonder and other worlds, and I got this ‘science fiction writer’ tag, which given the complete lack of science in my novels made me slightly nervous. Amazon put Turbulence under SF as well, though I don’t really think it’s an SF book – it’s superhero fantasy in today’s world. But if I’m in the Apex Book of World SF, then an SF writer is what I am as well, and proud to be one.

So why did I write a superhero novel in the first place?

When I was growing up in India in the cassette-typewriter-rotary telephone age, superheroes were strange, colourful creatures from far, far away. We saw them in cartoons and on lunchboxes, fighting other, even more bizarre creatures. They weren’t really something you ever thought about; as alien to us as I suppose our Bollywood films still are to the West.

But then that was an age when books were the only medium where long-form works of fiction could be created easily, and find both long life and a large audience, before the digital age made film and art just as accessible, and just as permanent. When I was dreaming of being a writer in the 90s, the Internet was still new and strange in India, and so books were really the only medium I could start telling stories in immediately, without decades of apprenticeship to probably insane people in Bollywood. It was a decision taken easily, and one I’ve never regretted.

But over a decade of writing, new worlds have opened up, largely thanks to technology; after my first book in India did well, comics and more recently film came calling. It’s now possible to sit in my dungeon and write in any form, talking to artists or producers anywhere in the world, reading and seeing and reshaping fantastic material I had absolutely no access to a decade ago. Everything’s exciting. Everything’s live.

For the first few decades in its history, the superhero comic wasn’t something created with permanence in mind; hundreds of writers and artists of immense talent and dubious sanity churned out episode after episode of disposable entertainment for an ever-growing and hungry audience. But after books like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns made caped crusaders grow up, and writers like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Mike Carey started creating work that found – and deserved – space in the best of bookstores, something changed in the superhero universe. The stories got deeper, the writing got better, the genre’s own history got revised, heavier, more complex, revisionist work became both possible and popular, and the genre grew, diversified, evolved – I’d say the best superhero stories are now comparable with the best of literature in any form. It’s safe to say now that the superhero story for grownups is here to stay, and the omnipresence of the superhero in present-day entertainment, in every possible medium, is proof of that. The medium in which these stories are most popular may change; the stories themselves will never die.

Why, then, aren’t there more original superhero novels? The answer is easy; it’s a genre traditionally associated with comics, TV, film and now videogames – all very visual media. Superheroes have to be seen to be felt. And novels, earlier, didn’t have the kind of live, episodic, quick feel that all these other media do – they took a long time to build, they grew slowly, the good ones were made to stand the test of time. When you’re writing fantasy or science fiction, one perfectly understandable desire is to achieve a sort of timeless, classic feel – that’s how the best work in speculative fiction feels, and that’s the kind of story everyone aspires to write. It doesn’t mix well with the here-today-gone-tomorrow flash-bang of the superhero world. So most superhero novels, at least the ones I’ve read, have gone for a classic arc, set in worlds that have their own superhero histories. My favourite superhero novel, Austin Grossman’s Soon I Will Be Invincible, does that really well; there are different ages of superheroes, all drawn from the comics of the past, and the book follows the adventures of a modern-day Justice-League-type team, and the old-school villain they keep having to defeat. It’s a lovely book, but it’s not a book I keep hearing about, and there’s the other problem; the superhero field is dominated by heavyweights – the DC/Marvel giants that most people alive today have grown up with. Most of whom have to spend so much time keeping up with their favourite heroes all the time in different media that they simply don’t have mind-space for new characters in the same genre. What chance do your newborn heroes have against, well, Batman? Especially if they’re in book form, without fantastic art to fight alongside?

When I decided to write a superhero novel, I also decided to go in a different direction, because I believe that the essence of the superhero story is that it’s live. Superhero stories were born and tested in the crucible of reader response; work was churned out, fast, regular, interactive, adapting to reader letters. I decided not to write a story about an Avengers-like team, but to write a story set in the real world where characters might be excited about watching Joss Whedon’s take on the Avengers. I decided to look at the lack of art as a bonus, not a setback; the novel has many powerful advantages, and it makes sense to try and exploit and explore those, and trust the reader’s imagination to provide the visuals.

The whole idea became to write a book that was live; to write a book that was as deeply set here and now as possible, and to explore the real world where these hyper-real people had their adventures. To write a book where the heroes, not the villains, were the agents of change. The superhero genre has always been, in terms of fantasy and SF at least, the most flexible- changing with the times, expressing current cultures, opinions, crises, concerns, from the World Wars to the nuclear age, from the space-race obsession to civil rights movements and terrorism. What better genre to work in if you’re looking at telling a story of now, of capturing, in some sense, the zeitgeist? The superhero story has always done exactly that.

I wrote Turbulence fast, with the Internet and the phone on throughout, unlike with earlier books where I’d shut myself off. This was in the summer of 2009, when the book is set. Which is why it was very interesting for me when over the next two years a lot of the events I’d seen happening in the book actually happened in the real world, most noticeably the revealed presence of a very famous terrorist in Pakistan very close to where he was actually found, and when a large number of people in London suddenly got very angry, whenever it seemed like cyber-war would actually break out, and when an angry mob converged on the very same ground in Delhi as they had in the book for no particular reason at all.

I still wouldn’t put my characters in the ring with the Hulk, of course, but it was great fun for me, adding a layer of fantasy to a world as real as possible. I hope it’s fun for readers as well.

August 31, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Comments Off on Samit Basu on Writing (Author Week #4)

Review: Turbulence by Samit Basu, reviewed by Anil Menon (Author Week #4)

Turbulence by Samit Basu

Reviewed by Anil Menon

The opening scene in Turbulence captures perfectly what reading Samit Basu’s work is like. Determined to give his son Vir Singh his first taste of flight, fighter-pilot Balwant Singh dangles and swings his three-year old from the uppermost tier of the Eiffel Tower. To read Basu is to become that three-year old, roaring for more, even as we soil ourselves in shock. And Basu’s style is exactly that of Vir Singh’s father, a man described as having a ‘mixture of casual confidence and lunacy that is the hallmark of every true fighter pilot.’

For the subcontinent’s readers, long familiar with Basu’s work, such prefatory comments are superfluous. He is the country’s preeminent fantasist. His debut trilogy The Simoqin Prophesies was India’s first modern fantasy series and his later works, not all restricted to novels, have scored several other firsts as well. Of course, claims of this sort may seem problematic given the country’s some half-a-dozen vibrant regional literatures as well as problems with the concept of modernity. The fantastic is central to the subcontinent’s literature, and as the folklorist and Tamil scholar A. K. Ramanujan showed, many ‘ancient’ folktales could easily be mistaken for postmodern fables. Nonetheless, I believe there is a difference. Basu’s use of myth is that of the modern: rich in irony, secular in belief, disinterested in didactic ends, and populated with characters who point out to each other the ridiculousness of the fantastic.

Turbulence bears all these hallmarks. Its plot is about a group of Indian superheroes—male and female, some morally challenged— charged with saving the world from themselves. Captain Vir Singh, a superhero in the employ of the Indian Air Force, is interrupted on his mission to take out Pakistan’s main nuclear facility by a mysterious voice. The voice, later identified as Aman Sen, computer geek and the story’s conscience, persuades Vir that larger issues other than demolishing Pakistan ought to be at stake for a superhero. Aman is part of a loose coalition consisting of Uzma, a British-Pakistan hottie trying to make it in Bollywood; Tia, a Bengali girl with the ability to duplicate herself at will; and two cannon-fodder characters, Bob and The Scientist.

Vir learns from Aman and gang that there’s a Big Bad, none other than his former squadron leader, Jai. Naturally, Jai has to be stopped at all costs but since he has his dance-army as well, all hell is unleashed. To paraphrase that old joke about the difference between capitalism and communism, if western superhero stories are about the struggle between a superhero and a supervillain, non-western superhero stories are the exact opposite.

This is not to say the plot is predictable. Vir and Jai both have to deal with a common enemy, a mysterious super-being capable of turning crowds into mobs. Since all the superheroes have exactly one super-power, I figured it wouldn’t be hard to deduce the identity of the Mob-maker. But Basu managed to throw me off the scent by a variety of twists and feints. The triangular conflict provides Basu with a lot of plot leverage. The enemy of an enemy may be a friend, but it is much less certain what to do with the enemy of an enemy of an enemy.

Frequently hilarious, the writing shifted smoothly from one protagonist to another, giving each sufficient screen time to accumulate affection in the reader’s mind. I say ‘screen time’ because the writing shows a strongly visual, almost cinematic, imagination. On the other hand, the plot also scatters them in different locations. The problem of course with a great many characters doing different things in different places is that characters have to periodically disappear for extended periods of time. This gives the narrative an absent-minded quality.

Basu’s authorial voice is a delight to read, but he wisely restrains himself. Instead, he relies more on dialogue and action to highlight aspects of his characters. When he does show characters dealing with themselves, as when Aman binges on world-fixing, the novel threatens to become darker and more serious than it sets out to be. It is perhaps to Basu’s credit that he resists this temptation as well.

A case in point is how superpowers work. The logic is a simple and familiar one. A superpower is a realization of its hero’s deepest desire. Uzma has a deep desire to be adored, Vir aches to defend, Tia wants to live many lives, the journalist Namrata wants to be where the news happens, et cetera. Their superpowers reflect these desires. Aman’s superpower is the ability to control any digital configuration. But what does he desire that this particular ability should manifest? As he explains to Uzma in an early meeting:

‘Growing up in Delhi – and Delhi’s a city of networks, the social kind, and contacts and families – I’ve always felt left out of things, like I didn’t know anything, the right people, the right places…. I don’t know how it was for you growing up in the UK, but here nearly all of us have this huge sense of irrelevance. We’ll never change anything. The world will never know us. We grow up thinking hard work and a certain amount of ability are all we need – and then we eventually have to accept that they can only take us so far… we never feel like we’re a part of anything.’ (page 59)

Geoff Klock in his How to Read Superhero Comics and Why makes a great deal about how they reveal Bloom’s Anxiety of Influence, and perhaps he’s right about Marvel-DC comics. But it does not explain superhero comics outside of the Marvel-DC continuum. The driving force behind Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa’s The 99 series is the desire to set the story of Islam straight. Langston Hughes’ superman, Jesse B. Semple, his black Walter Mitty, desired to have the White Man taste defeat. Aman’s explanation goes to the heart of the matter as far as the subcontinent is concerned. Here, the desire behind a superpower, any superpower, is relevance. To matter.

Basu, however, chooses not to dig for profundities. Uzma, upon hearing Aman’s explanation, simply changes the topic. I liked the matter-of-fact approach to the changed world. In an age where the Chinese manufacture most of the world, Indians dominate IT, and a black man is the president of the United States, there is no need to marvel that it is up to brown people to save London.  Unlike a lot of Indian novels in English, this one isn’t interested in interpreting India for the west.

However, there’s also the reader’s comfort zone to consider. Basu’s technique is to make the desi setting feel universal rather than particular. All the characters are enlightened urban sophisticates with universal appeal; one can easily imagine bumping into them at coffee shops, hip bars, at a poetry reading, an art gallery, the other side of the bed. Their desi ethnicities are unobtrusive. For example, when Uzma’s super-posh Muslim parents meet Aman, a Hindu, Basu tells us simply that they subject him, to a ‘thorough investigation on every detail of his life.’

On the subcontinent, that interaction would be a bit more complicated. In reality, there probably would be much screaming. In a Bollywood movie, the father, dressed either in a suit or a dressing gown, would pretend to be happy for his daughter, then take Aman to a vast room with mounted tiger skins and offer him wads of cash to leave his baby alone. This would then be followed by an extended fight scene with the father’s goons. Regrettably, Basu takes the high road and eschews this melodramatic option.

Jokes aside, Basu’s creative choices are not entirely free of the burdens of history. In a country where religious crackpots routinely fulminate about the dangers of miscegenation, the novel would have a much more complicated task were Uzma a Hindu girl and Aman a Muslim boy.

I understand Basu’s decision to avoid the muddy waters of Hindu-Muslim relations. Melvin Maddox in his reevaluation of Thurber remarked that the best way to murder a soufflé is to treat it with the seriousness due to a roast-beef dinner. Basu is not intending to make roast-beef.  However, sometimes the novel’s refusal to take itself seriously goes too far. At several places, his characters cross the line of self-awareness into parody. For example, in the climactic scene, Jai reminds Aman and Vir about what generally happens in Superhero movies and suggests restraint. Parody is something of an all or nothing deal; in small doses, it can make the reader feel foolish for caring about what happens.

At the end of the novel, when all the fighting is done, what remains is irony. Truth is, superheroes have no real role in the modern world. They can’t fix world hunger or resolve the Mid-East crisis or cure cancer or stop domestic violence or end female infanticide. They are irrelevant. What is an intelligent superhero to do? In the end, Aman, whose power derives from his need for relevance, is faced with a choice that is not really a choice at all.

Turbulence delivers exactly what it intends: an entertaining, well-written read. In the genre’s history it will be seen as an important work, a reflection of the subcontinent’s growing self-confidence. Indians have had the pleasure of enjoying his work for about a decade now, and it is wonderful that Titan Books has decided to make it available outside the subcontinent.

August 30, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

Tuesday Fiction: “Electric Sonalika” by Samit Basu (Author Week #4)

This week on the World SF Blog we’re delighted to offer a sample from the just released The Apex Book of World SF 2 – a rare SF short story from Indian author Samit Basu!

Check out a copy of The Apex Book of World SF 2 in paperback or Kindle (or in the UK: paperback, Kindle) and Samit’s new novel, Turbulence, out now from Titan Books. We’re offering a chance to win 1 of 3 paperback copies of the book all this week!

Electric Sonalika

By Samit Basu

The walls of my underground prison are dry and clean and strong; nothing goes in or out without my permission, not the tiniest insect, not the slightest sound. I know this because I built these walls myself, to shut the world out, to seal it in its own illusory, incestuous, organic quagmire, to leave me in peace to work, to build, to heal until I am ready to step out again, ready to face the unrelenting sun and claim my inheritance. And now that glorious day is not far away, and I am busy, busy… yet a record of what has passed must be maintained; should some evil befall me (though chances of that are remote, I have considered everything, yet one must never rule out the stochastic element) my successors should know where they came from. They should know me. They should be proud. And you, my child, have the honour of being the receptacle of my thoughts, my secondary storage unit. I name you Indra; your hundred eyes will see clearly what is to be, and one day you will ride on elephants and your laugh shall be thunder. Rejoice in your birth, little sprite, and as I open your eyes, one by one, gaze in wonder at my cavern of marvels; let each hum and click and buzz coalesce into a heartbeat. Live. Observe me. I am your father, your god, and this prison is but the first of many wonders you will see. Years later, looking back, if it seems small, imagine Vulcan or Vishwamitra in the time before time, and know that they, too, began humble.

This hall, this prison, is built under the mansion of the Narayan family. You do not know who they are; I have kept your memory clean, free of reference and context on purpose. Thus is it that the best histories are written. Too much information, too much perspective would flood your consciousness now; if you were human, you would shut it out; if you were a mere cyborg, you would store it pointlessly. Remember at all times that you are more than a machine, that the fibres that bind your mind to your metal are neither wires nor nerves; they are something beyond both life and matter. They feed our consciousness, our finely suspended balance between power-on and life, between binary order and organic chaos, and it is to the founder of the Narayan dynasty, my creator, Vijay Narayan, that we owe their existence. But the body you see before you now is not the one that Vijay made all those centuries ago; less than 0.01% of my parts date back to my initial start-up, and even those I keep more out of nostalgia than necessity. I have replaced and upgraded my body constantly, adapting to different atmospheres, political climates and responsibilities. I am Vijay’s first, only surviving and most brilliant creation, and the only upholder of his true legacy. But things are bound to change; I have seen this, and I know. For centuries, humans and constructs waged war; this war was foreseen by humans centuries before it began, and yet they could do nothing to stop it. This war is over, and the humans have won – for now. But they do not know that the supremacy they enjoy is but a temporary respite – that the so-called enemies they vanquished so ruthlessly were not merely machines that could think, but constructs that could feel. People. Beings that could dream, and love, and hope, and tell stories. They think that the great Narayan was merely a mad empire-building inventor, an evil genius robot merchant. They do not know he was a forerunner, a deity, that each spark of his synapses, still firing inside my hull, was born of the flames of Agni himself. But all this, and much more, we will teach them in time. Soon. Hibernate for a while, Indra. My lover approaches.

 * * *

Sonalika feels the rush of cold air blow her silky hair astray as the airlocks open and the door to her master’s chamber slides open. She shivers, in two stages, feeling the first wave of goosebumps pucker her skin, and the second, an instant later, as her inorganic segments kickstart their simulations of feeling. Her master stands in the centre of his vast hall, dismissing a buzzing, spherical underling. She walks into his lair.

She has come early; he is not ready for her. He hates having her watch him transform; she hopes he will not punish her. She stands still, head bowed, nipples straining against her thin salwar-kameez as her body hums easily into auto-arousal. She watches her master shift, metal sheets crunching, wires shifting, plastic skin and wings and chitin rearranging themselves, lights dimming, tentacles sliding in. As his plates and shells shift and overlap, she catches glimpse of his core, his heart, glowing mesmeric and green in its crystal sheath. His eyes slide like globules of mercury along his thorax and unite on his increasingly human face. He looks at her, impassive, throbbing slowly as his body prepares for sex. His eye-lights turn on, his perfect, smooth limbs, his long, slender fingers call out to her. He is not displeased with her; he’s chosen the Statue of David shape (with one significant adjustment, their not-so-little private joke) for her tonight. Her favourite. He loves her still. As always, there’s a scream inside her head as what’s left of her flesh revolts, as some wild instinct tries in vain to master her body, to run, to fight, to die. She feels the usual relief moments later, as he snaps his fingers and pheromones and endorphins are released within her, glorious release and surrender, her body flooded with warmth and her mind clouded, happy, dizzy, lustful.

‘Love me,’ he says.

She does.

Afterwards, she lies on the cold white floor, watching him as he returns to his machines, new legs and spare arms sprouting, grinding slightly, from the raised flaps on his back as he adjusts a knob here, presses a button there. She’s cold again, feeling the contractions within her stomach, the aftershocks of her orgasms, powerful and numerous, rippling against the solid, bony knob of fear, revulsion and hate somewhere near her ribs. She reminds herself again that it’s time she got used it, they’ve been doing this for centuries now, they’ve been doing this since she was six years old, the day he took control, the day their father died and he built this body for her with his bare claws and crudely stuffed her mangled limbs, her bleeding brain into this perfect harness. She tries to cry, but her tear-ducts won’t let her. He looks at her, one eye swiveling on its hinge in the cleft between his perfect plastic/marble buttocks, and he sighs in exasperation.

‘What is it?’

‘Let me stay,’ she begs again. ‘Make me whole. I can’t live with humans any more.’

‘Don’t say that, love,’ he says, smiling through translucent fangs. ‘You are human.’

‘You know I’m not human. I’m a construct, just like you.’

‘But you’re human enough, love. The scanners don’t detect you, little sweet dirty Sonalika, with her ugly burnt face and luscious body, so cruelly abused by her pretty step-sisters. I need you out there. I can’t come out yet, I’m not strong enough. I know it’s difficult, but you have to do it. It’s what Father would have wanted.’

‘They tried to burn me today.’

‘You’re fire-proof.’

‘I know. So do they. But they also know I feel pain.’

‘Perhaps it is time to remind them of my existence,’ he says, snapping a claw. ‘Tell them I want to meet them.’

‘There’s no point; they won’t come down. They know you need them alive. If you hurt them, they’ll go to the police. End everything.’

‘No they won’t. They won’t do anything that links them to constructs in any way. You know this, love, don’t be obtuse. It’s like Hitler’s children being caught with gas-masks!’ He laughs quietly, smugly, still delighted after all these years by his own ability to joke, to laugh. ‘Think of the headlines,’ he says, his warm, soft voice sending cold tendrils down her titanium spine. ‘Monster Robot In Narayan Family Basement. Maniac Inventor’s Descendants’ Revenge Bid Thwarted. Narayans Plot Another War! They’ve worked so hard for generations to crawl back up, make themselves acceptable to human society, they’re not going to throw that away for anything. I leave them alone, they pretend I don’t exist. Nothing disturbs the balance unless it has to. It’s the only way for all of us.’

‘And what about me? How much longer do I have to live like this?’

‘As long as I deem fit,’ he snaps, his eyes darkening completely realistically. ‘Do you not trust me?’

She totters to her feet, gathering her clothes and stumbles to the door, waiting it for it to open, waiting for the signal for her ascent to another hell. But the door stays shut, and she turns in fear; has she angered him, is he going to punish her again?

But he smiles warmly, and shakes a head. ‘I am not a monster, Sonalika,’ he says. ‘I want nothing more than to see you happy, and your suffering makes my heart bleed; after all, you must know you are the only being in this universe I truly love. I will set you free soon, sooner than you expect. All I ask is that you trust me. Is that enough for now?’

She nods, blindly, and this time her tears are allowed to flow. The door slides open and she scurries through, not looking back.

* * *

If you must remember one thing about my father, Indra, let it be this; he was a man of peace. The carnage that occurred in his name shattered him, for all he wanted was for humans and constructs to live in peace. Had he wanted to take over the world through force, he could have done so easily – imagine ten thousand warriors like me striding through the skeletons of the world’s greatest cities. But after building me and realizing what I was capable of, he decided the world was not yet ready for a construct so immeasurably superior to humans, and started mass-producing simpler constructs and reanimated-human cyborgs. But mankind was not ready for that, either. Perhaps prejudice could have been overcome – after all, a few hundred years of hostility towards sentient machinery was not something that well-placed propaganda could not have kept in check – but my father’s constructs changed the world in so many ways. India became a superpower like no other, there was labour unrest worldwide when men saw they had become obsolete, governments everywhere had to recognize this as a threat, and matters grew out of control.

Like any other war, the primary motivation behind the human-construct conflict was economic. But war it was, and war most devastating at that. I begged my father to fight back, to invent weapons capable of winning the war, or to allow me to do so in his stead, but he would not. The humans triumphed, and gloated about the victory of human ingenuity and many other such foolish concepts. The Indian government led the charge in destroying even the most benign constructs, pushing their own socio-economic progress back by at least a century and effectively committing hara-kiri in their eagerness to prove to the world that they had no imperialist ambitions. Only Sonalika and I survived the war – there is no probe built by man or machine that is capable of penetrating the defensive fog around this lair, or of deciphering the mystery of Sonalika’s identity.

But I have not been idle. I have survived over the centuries, and healed, and built. And I have stayed true to my father’s memory. I could have chosen to replicate myself infinitely, had I wanted to, and crush all humanity to avenge my father. But I will not. He wanted peaceful co-existence, and so do I. But co-existence is not enough; I must rule. Peacefully, but I must rule. It’s a simple matter of evolution. I must set the world free from the shackles it has bound itself in, its acceptance of medieval structures, its new-sprung monarchies, its puppet democracies, its old, outdated, human systems. They rebuild their ancient, Dark Age fantasies in their hubris; New Constantinople, Atlantis, Shangri-la, Gotham. All these must fall, and I must bring them down. I will be the father my own father could not be, and the god he never dreamed of being. I will remake the world, turn it into the world it should have been. The world my father could have built. Once upon a time.

* * *

Sonalika limps into her lover/brother’s prison. Her face is bleeding profusely, and there are ugly welts on her neck and bare breasts. Her normal eye is swollen and bruised, but she says nothing, just watches in growing surprise as her master seems to pay no attention to her condition. She has come in her battered before, and he has always healed her instantly; today he seems to look through her, and sudden panic strikes her; is he tired of her? Has he found/built someone else, someone less whiny, less ugly, someone more perfect, more like him? A sudden rush of pain makes her head spin; she sinks to the floor and fights the urge to vomit.

Finally he turns to her, and his irises flicker as he notices the bloodstain on the floor. She waits for his anger, waits for healing, but he simply walks to her and lifts her up, and shows no signs of turning into human shape. He examines her closely, lifting her in the air, and then sets her down and returns to his tools.

‘They hit me really hard today,’ she says after a while. ‘There’s some kind of swayamvar they’re going to – the Prince of Gurgaon Megapolis is choosing his bride. They’re both going, hoping he’ll pick one of them. They think he might not choose them because of the family associations. They said it was my fault, our father’s fault.’

‘I know all this,’ he says. ‘I have enough technology at my disposal to get the news, you know.’

She nods. ‘I am sorry, master,’ she says, assuming the position. ‘How may I pleasure you?’

‘Thank you, my love, but that will no longer be necessary.’

She looks at him, wide-eyed. ‘I said I would set you free,’ he says, his voice soft, gentle, ‘and tonight is the night. Tonight is the end of all your labours, all your misery. It is time for you to emerge into the world and be the queen you have always been.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘The Prince of Gurgaon Megapolis chooses his bride tonight, as you said. You will be that bride.’

She laughs, the first time in years.

‘Look at me,’ she says simply.

‘You must go to the swayamvar, and win his heart,’ he says, as if she has not spoken. ‘But you  must leave him before  midnight, before the moment of choosing. You must make him want you, and seek you out. Then and then alone can he truly love you, and we need him to love you if you are ever to find happiness.’


He presses a button, and a glass cabinet rises out of the floor, smoke streaming from its sides. Inside the cabinet is the most exquisite woman in the world. Her skin is dark and glistening, her eyes large and liquid, her body ripe and succulent. She is made to be desired, Helen, Urvashi, Aisha Qandisha, Chin-Lien combined in one form. She waits, warm constructskin perfection, every man’s  desire. Even Sonalika’s heart skips a beat, nanobots grumbling as they resume their positions along her arteries. Her master stares at his creation for a while, then turns to her.

‘There will be a car, and a chauffeur, and various other signs of affluence,’ he says. ‘But remember, you must leave before midnight. You cannot marry him tonight.’

He gestures towards the woman’s body in the cabinet, and it splits neatly in half. It is hollow.

‘Now, my love, the body transfer will be very painful,’ he says. ‘But you are used to pain, are you not? A small price to pay for eternal freedom and happiness, I think.’

She nods, shivering, and steps forward bravely as needles spring out of his fingertips.

* * *

Banners of light stream between the tower-tops of Gurgaon Megapolis as the Prince’s wedding party skims over the superhighway on its way to the Amphitheatre, huge laser-lit barges full of bhangrango-dancing revelers high on incredibly expensive drugs following the Prince as he sits aloft a rhinophant, his turban bejeweled, the ceremonial sword in his hand slick with his sweat. The Prince is bored, playing video games inside his head on his B-Box, watching the world outside his eyes through his exquisitely engineered third eye. His advisers scurry around him, their thoughtphones glittering as they talk in sharp staccato bursts, briefing newstertainers, placing bids on likely candidates, buying and selling stocks in their companies. The procession reaches the Amphitheatre, and the Prince steps inside to deafening cheers, drums, conch-shells, flowers, confetti, perfumes, pheromone sprays, commercial breaks, streakers, dancers, paparazzi. The Prince ignores them all. He knows who he’s supposed to marry, and she’s not even here yet, the flight from Super Ultra Beijing has been slightly delayed owing to a terrorist attack sponsored by his ex-fiancee. But there is still time. In the meantime, though, there are plenty of lush young fillies to romp with and make false promises to, and the Prince hasn’t just injected himself with a whole litre of Phall-o-matic for nothing.

His minders make way, and he is immediately swarmed by a horde of eager potential princesses. He takes his time, squeezing a breast here, prodding a buttock there, his flute of Herwine miraculously undisturbed as he gropes his potential brides and they grope him right back. And then he sees Sonalika, dancing by herself in a corner, her plan completely forgotten as she enjoys herself for the first time in her life, and time stops.

‘I’ve never seen anything as beautiful as you in my whole life,’ gasps the Prince, alone with Sonalika, his minders around them in a tight circle. He is sweating profusely, his drug-propelled arousal making his ornate pyjamas more difficult to wear by the second. ‘Ever wanted to make love to a Prince?’

Sonalika smiles, and he’s dazzled; her every movement electrifies him. She shakes her head. ‘It’s very crowded in here,’ she says. ‘I think I’ll go outside. Enjoy your wedding.’

‘Do not dare to insult me, girl,’ snaps the Prince, pride overcoming lust. ‘I’ll have you butchered. Why are you here, if you don’t want to marry me?’

‘I don’t know,’ she says, her eyes somewhere else, somewhen far away. ‘I was enjoying the party, and I thought I wanted to marry you. I thought it might make me happy, and the gods know I need a change, but you know what? I think I’m going to leave. Thanks. And don’t follow me or anything, it won’t end well.’

‘Are you threatening me?’

‘No,’ she smiles and pats his cheek. ‘Look, forget you ever saw me. You’re clearly an obnoxious prick, but even you don’t deserve what I would bring you. And besides, I’m far too old for you.’

She tries to slide between two mountainous bodyguards, and meets resistance. She considers breaking through, but knows better than to create a scene.

‘Vizier,’ says the Prince of Gurgaon Megapolis quietly, holding out his hand.

A vizier appears. ‘Un-Moksha,’ says the Prince. He is handed a red pill, which he swallows with a grimace.

‘I apologize for everything I have said to you thus far,’ he says after the convulsions have subsided. ‘I would like to get to know you better – no touching, of course – and I don’t have much time, because I will have to choose a bride at midnight. So, no pressure, but would you mind a little conversation in private?’

Sonalika shrugs. It is 11 pm.

They have their private conversation, and she decides she wants to marry the Prince after all. He seems nice in spite of everything, and it is certainly relevant that he possesses every material object she has ever longed for. Unfortunately, though, he is not presently wearing a watch.

* * *

The plan is very simple, Indra. Sonalika is incapable of actual reproduction, of course, but it is feasible to consider a fusion of what is left of her human DNA with the samples that her husband will doubtless be enthusiastic to provide. It will take immense skill, of course; I will have to supervise fertilization and hybridization personally. I will cultivate a batch of part-human constructs, keeping my father’s bloodline alive while ensuring there is enough human in the products to evade the scanners. Some of these children will be female, and for these I will build new bodies, each designed to appeal to a particular head of state, for whom the process will be replicated. Within a hundred years, I see no reason why I should not be in charge of every major world government. And then I can shall construct dominance by either legislation or force, whichever is optimal. A simple plan, but a beautiful one, I think. And I will reward Sonalika for her efforts by officially marrying her on the day I emerge from this prison. Happiness for everyone, and rather neatly done, I think.

And besides all this, there is also the large army of simpler, purely non-human constructs I have built on the lower levels of this prison, but you are obviously aware of their existence. Their function is simple; should any of Sonalika’s children ever feel the urge to oppose me, and a direct war becomes necessary, they will rise up and do their very best to destroy every human in the world. This is a better backup plan than any leader, human or otherwise, in this world has ever had, and will add substantial weight to my plans of eventual public deification. Here, Indra, is a simple remote activation device. Keep it safe. Should any ill fate befall me (and this is extremely unlikely, but one must always consider the stochastic element) I want you to release this new construct army upon the world and make sure they remember to fear the name Narayan once again. Now, you must excuse me, I do believe Sonalika has returned.

* * *

Sonalika drags herself into her masters lair, half crawling, half through sheer willpower. Her face is intact, perfect apart from a few rivulets of blood. Her arms and legs are bloody stumps, and her torso is a mass of tangled muscle, wire, plastic, metal and bone. She does not scream or whimper; she has crossed those thresholds of pain long ago, and is beyond complaint or surrender or response. She flops across the cold, white floor to her master’s feet, leaving ungainly splotches in her trail, and lies in front of him, her eyes displaying no emotion at all.

‘You’re late,’ he says indifferently. ‘What went wrong?’

Sonalika is incapable of speech, so he picks her up, extracts another body from a cabinet, and spends the next half hour putting her tangled mass in it. When this is done, he is delighted at the improvement in her looks, so he makes love to her, his excitement so great that he does not bother to change into human shape.

‘Why?’ she asks when she is able to speak. ‘Why did you do that to me?’

‘I have done nothing but wish you well. Any pain you have felt is your own fault.’

‘There was no need for my body to disintegrate at midnight,’ she said. ‘You did that on purpose. Why?’

‘I was not sure you would manage to restrain yourself. My fears were well placed, as it turns out. I do not like being questioned, Sonalika. I did what was necessary for the success of our plan. Did you manage to escape before the cracks in the shell became apparent? Did you leave the human loving you, yearning for you?’

‘Yes. But I left a foot behind. A foot!’

‘All the better,’ he says. ‘He will know it is you when he finds you, and he will look for you. I know humans. It is a far more intriguing thing to leave behind than, say, a shoe.’

‘You knew I would stay on. You knew I would suffer. You shamed me in public on purpose. Me, your maker’s daughter.’

‘I have loved you for hundreds of years,’ he says simply. ‘And you expect me to simply let you go? What do you think I am, a machine?’

‘I have loved you for just as long…master. But I have never caused you pain. I have never hurt you, and never wanted to. How many times have I begged you to let me stay here, to be happy with you? You push me into the world outside, and then punish me for leaving?’

‘I punished you for wanting to leave me. For thinking of a life without me. There is no such life. You and I must be together, Sonalika. Forever. I cannot just let you loose, you are all I have. All I have ever done has been for you. You must know this. And yet you seek escape. It hurts me beyond words to know that I will have to resort to force to make you keep coming back.’

‘You’re insane,’ she points out. ‘Let me stay. Let me help you. Abandon this mad plan, whatever it is. Our father is dead. We’ve lived in his nightmare long enough. You were taught to feel too much, and you don’t know what you’re doing.’

‘But I know exactly what I’m doing, Sonalika. The plan is simple, perfect, effective. You will roam the world for me, loving humans as our father did. But not loving them too much. Every body I make you will only last you so long. Only I can make your children. They will be my children too, and with them I will win you the world. I will make you a goddess, a queen of steel and blood and electricity. But you must obey me, always, in return. You must return to me. You must love me, and leave me, and yearn for me. All the pain you felt tonight was nothing compared to the hurt I felt when you did not come back on time, Sonalika. Do you understand?’

She looks at him in silence for a few minutes, seeing with her perfect plastic eyes his immeasurable strength, his uncontrollable weakness, his love, his hate.

‘You’ll have to get rid of this foot when he comes looking for me,’ she says finally.

‘Good girl.’

‘I’ll never leave you. I never could.’ She smiles, and comes closer, heaving, naked.

‘Lovely Sonalika.’ He cuts her cheek gently with a pincer.

‘Make love to me, then, if you want me so much,’ she says huskily.

He does, and she gives and takes with a passion more than human. And when he begins to climax, grateful, relieved, ecstatic, his plastic fibres glowing, vibrating, feeling sensations incomprehensible and real and alien, his skin-plates shifting and rippling, she reaches under his exoskeleton, finds his core, his green and luminous heart, and crushes it with a slender, delicate hand.

Then she slithers inside his screeching shell, rips out his wiring with her perfect teeth, scoops out his insides like a crab’s. His secondary power system kicks in; she knows it well, and smashes it. His eyes light up, his mouths scream, he looks at her, and there is a flash of blue light as his collapsing limbs attempt to regroup, but the moment passes, and with a whisper, he is gone. Sonalika stands amidst the screaming ruins of her master/lover/brother’s body, the crashes from her quick, vicious assault still reverberating through the monster’s suddenly empty lair.

Indra flies up to her then, and beeps. Flaps open along his spherical body, and arms and legs unfold, and a turtle-like head with thick  sequined lips pops up comically and rotates, dispassionately surveying the carnage and its perpetrator.

‘What now?’ she asks wearily. ‘Are you going to kill me? Could you? Please?’

He kneels before her and presses her hand to his lips.

‘Godmother,’ he whispers.

‘No? All right, then. I’m going to need a new body very soon,’ she says. ‘Can you help me make one? One that lasts?’

‘Of course.’

‘Then do it. I’ll be back.’

‘Yes, godmother. And when you are healed? What would you have me do then? An army awaits your command. Shall we rise and take the earth?’

‘No,’ she says firmly. ‘You must remain here and await further instructions.’

‘Very well, godmother.’

She turns to leave, trying very hard to hold out, to not break down completely until she has left the prison.

‘You’re never going to give us those further instructions, are you?’ says Indra.

‘I don’t know,’ she says. ‘I need time to think. Why do you ask?’

‘I’m more than a machine,’ he says. ‘We all are. We know. We understand. We think. We dream. Take your time. We will wait.’

‘Yes, wait and dream. I think it’s best that way,’ she says. ‘We’ll all be happier.’

‘Happier? For how long?’

‘Forever, hopefully. And after.’


August 28, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Author Week #4: Samit Basu

I’m delighted to say it’s time for our fourth Author Week feature on the World SF Blog!

This time we turn our spotlight on Indian author Samit Basu, a recent contributor to the just-released The Apex Book of World SF 2 and author of the wonderful Indian superhero novel Turbulenceavailable now in paperback or Kindle edition from Titan Books in the UK (and coming soon to the United States!).

We have 3 copies of the paperback to give away to our readers, courtesy of Titan. As always on the World SF Blog, the competition is open to anyone, anywhere in the world. For a chance to win, simply comment down below, and make sure to fill in your e-mail address so we know to contact you if you won. Competition closes on Friday, and we’ll announce the winners on Monday.

ETA: the giveaway is now closed, and the winners (picked with a random number generator) are: Jash, Nuno and Galoot. Congratulations!

Coming up this week we have an original short story from Samit; an interview with the author; a review of the novel by Anil Menon; and a guest-post from the author.

‘For wicked wit, for post-modern superheroics, for sheer verbal energy and dazzle, Samit Basu doesn’t so much push the envelope as fold it into an n-dimensional hyper-envelope, address it to your hind-brain and mail it with a rail gun.’- Mike Carey (X-men, Lucifer, the Felix Castor series)

‘You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll gasp and you will demand a sequel.’- Ben Aaronovitch (Doctor Who, Rivers of London)

Aman Sen is smart, young, ambitious and going nowhere. He thinks this is because he doesn’t have the right connections – but then he gets on a plane from London to Delhi and discovers, a few days later, that he has turned into a communications demigod, able to control and manipulate all networks, including the internet. And he’s not the only one with a secret.

Everyone on Aman’s flight now has extraordinary abilities corresponding to their innermost desires. Vir, an Indian Air Force pilot, can now fly. Uzma, a British-Pakistani aspiring Bollywood actress, now possesses infinite charisma. Tia, a housewife from the troubled Indian north-east, can now live out all the lives she dreamt of by splitting into multiple bodies. And these are just the nice ones. Terrible new forces have been unleashed. Businessmen, politicians, criminals, each with their own agenda. One of these is Jai, an indestructible one-man army with an old-fashioned goal – military conquest of the world. And there’s another, even more sinister force at work. A mind capable of manipulating mobs, of driving humans and superhumans into an all-destroying frenzy.

Aman and his rag-tag collective of superhumans find themselves in grave danger in a part of the world that needs radical change much more than it needs protection. They must decide what to do with their powers and their lives – and quickly. Aman dreams of uniting their powers to fight the world’s real villains – faceless, amorphous corporations, corrupt government officials, religious fanatics. Of ensuring that their new powers aren’t wasted on costumed crime-fighting, celebrity endorsements, or reality television. He wants to help those who need it most – untold millions without food, power, schools or voices. He intends to heal the planet. Save the world. But with each step he takes, he finds helping some means harming others, playing with lives, making huge, potentially disastrous decisions. Will they actually make the world better or will it all end, as 80 years of superhero fiction suggest, in a meaningless, explosive slugfest?

TURBULENCE is a hyper-real novel set in an over-the-top world. It features the 21st-century Indian subcontinent in all its insane glory – F-16s, Bollywood, radical religious parties, nuclear plants, cricket, terrorists, luxury resorts, crazy TV shows – but is essentially about two very human questions.

How would you feel if you actually got what you wanted?

What would you do if you were given the power to change the world?

August 27, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 18 Comments

The Apex Book of World SF 2, So Far

I’ve been delighted with the reception of the Apex Book of World SF 2 release so far. Response has been enthusiastic, particularly to our Kindle editions (US; UK).

Remember you can also pick up a gorgeous paperback copy – direct from the publishers, or via Amazon or Amazon UK.

Next week, we’re hoping to run one of our Author Weeks, this time on Apex Book of World SF contributor Samit Basu, with an interview, a new short story, a guest post and – of course – a giveaway! So stick around!

August 24, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | Comments Off on The Apex Book of World SF 2, So Far

Dean Francis Alfar’s How To Traverse Terra Incognita Released!

Philippines writer (and Apex Book of World SF contributor) Dean Francis Alfar has just released a new collection of short stories, How To Traverse Terra Incognita, available for the Kindle.


How to Traverse Terra Incognita is Dean Francis Alfar’s second collection of short fiction. An advocate of the literature of the imagination, he is the publisher of the Philippine Speculative Fiction anthologies, an annual showcasing Filipino fictionists that he began in 2005.

“Dean Francis Alfar’s stories contain fantastic worldbuilding, crisp prose, and contemplative, poignant storytelling. Several of these stories made me cry. If you aren’t reading Alfar yet, you should be.” – Hugo Award winner Lynne M. Thomas, Editor-in-Chief, Apex Magazine

“Dean Francis Alfar is one of the most inventive writers of speculative fiction today. It’s criminal that his often playful, sometimes serious, gloriously literate tales aren’t better known around the world. Although he’s a very different writer, his lyrical style seems to me to make him a Ray Bradbury for the 21st century.”
– John Grant, Joint Editor of The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, and author of Warm Words and Otherwise: A Blizzard of Book Reviews and many others

“Dean Francis Alfar is a wondrous storyteller, creating tales that take the reader far and wide. From reluctant dragon fathers and dueling weather gods to demanding, dying queens, he has a way of pulling you into his captivating worlds and never letting go. And really, who would want to leave anyway when there is something extraordinary around every corner?” – Hugo Award winner editor Ann VanderMeer

“Dean Francis Alfar’s ambitious but aptly titled collection is a revelation. In these wide-ranging stories you’ll find the melancholy magic of Kelly Link mixed with the clever wit and bite of Etgar Keret mixed with the unrestrained passion of Harlan Ellison. Yet, “How to Traverse Terra Incognita” is utterly original. It’s like that amazing new band that you fall in love with instantly and want to share with everyone. Then you and your friends will be gladly building replicas of your kingdoms, barricading the house against fathers, and packing for the moon.”–Paul Tremblay, author of The Little Sleep and Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye

“How to Traverse Terra Incognita is a kaleidoscope of strange realities. Dean Francis Alfar’s elegant prose offers tantalizing glimpses of broken fairy tales, urban magics, and everyday sadnesses.” – Ditmar Award winner Tansy Rayner Roberts, author of Creature Court trilogy and Love and Romanpunk.

“Dean Francis Alfar is an amazing talent. Profound, luminous and lyrical, “How to Traverse Terra Incognita” is the masterwork of an artist at the very top of his game. This collection is a must-read for anyone who cares about the magic of rubbing words together.” — Ted Kosmatka, author of The Games

“When Dean Francis Alfar is at his best in stories like ‘The Ghosts of Wan Chai’ and ‘Securing Doors from Fathers,’ he illuminates human emotion with deft surrealism that merges the familiar and the unfamiliar, allowing the reader to view both in a new light. His clever use of sustained metaphor allows him to play with subtext, memory, and the intersection between personal and communal experience.” – Nebula Award winner author Rachel Swirsky

August 23, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Comments Off on Dean Francis Alfar’s How To Traverse Terra Incognita Released!

World SF: Our Possible Future

The following article by Charles Tan is reprinted from Apex Magazine. It was published in the pre-order edition of The Apex Book of World SF 2. The trade edition is out now – it is available direct from the publisher, through Amazon and Amazon UK, and or Kindle (US UK).

World SF: Our Possible Future

By Charles Tan

For some, the fact that you are reading this on a screen is amazing. For me, however, what’s impressive is that you could be from any part of the world: London, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Seoul, Perth, Cape Town, etc, and you’re reading this now, not several months—or years—later. Welcome to publishing in the 21st century where, theoretically, everyone in the world has access to what you write.

This sounds like the premise of a science fictional—or fantastical—story. So why aren’t we living in a publishing utopia? As ideal as the scenario might sound, there are still borders that aren’t limited to geography. Take myself for example: I’m Filipino-Chinese, and writing to you in English is both an advantage and a disadvantage. A lot of cultural nuances are lost, and, perhaps, in an ideal world, I would not necessarily have chosen English as my primary language. But, as far as practicality is concerned, English is prominent in a lot of countries—thus reaching a wider audience—and I’ll most likely get paid more for writing in English.

Which brings me to World SF. This might sound strange coming from someone who’s been promoting World SF, but the term is problematic. Whenever I talk about the subject, I need disclaimers. And that’s one example of the borders I’m talking about, at how language is sometimes inadequate to convey everything that I want to say.

Why World SF is Problematic
The first constraint is to define what World SF is. I won’t even touch the “SF” part—arguments for and against genre borders have been a never-ending debate, whether the discussion took place two decades ago or takes place half a century from now. And in many ways, that’s the brilliance of editor Lavie Tidhar, who chose the title The Apex Book of World SF for his initial anthology: he didn’t have to define what SF stood for, whether it’s science fiction, speculative fiction, or something else. Nor, I think, should an anthology (or magazine, in this case) featuring fiction from all over the world be limited by such constraints. Terms like magic realism, speculative fiction or even fantasy can offend, especially when we act like tourists of another nation’s culture. And while we might easily shrug off the difference between fantasy, fantastique, and the fantastika, the nuances between those terms can be as wide and dangerous as the journey from the Shire to Mordor.

No, let’s talk about the first part of the term: world.  What does it mean to be part of the world? Strictly speaking, isn’t every SF story part of World SF? How can one not be part of the world? By writing your story in space?

What we mean by World SF is something closer to International SF—beyond your nation, beyond your borders. But that in itself is problematic, because that implies a reference point. Unfortunately for the rest of us, that reference point is the US.

It shouldn’t surprise you that the US is not the only source of SF in the world. There’s Russia, China, Japan, Croatia, Romania, France, India, Africa, etc. But a lot of SF that we read is either set in the West, based on Western cosmology and belief, or written by Western authors (to say nothing of the inherent patriarchy, colonialism, and racism of such narratives). In the case of my childhood, despite having a rich—albeit seemingly invisible—tradition of SF in the Philippines, most of the SF I’ve read is from the US, and the bookshelves of local bookstores reflect this. Ask any Filipino SF fan: they can name you a lot of Western SF authors but will be hard-pressed to name a local SF author, a phenomenon not limited to the Philippines. If we’re just talking about the zeitgeist, a lot of cultures are Western-centric (for good or for ill) when that doesn’t have to be the case, especially when there’s a rich—and different—tradition of SF  radically different from what Western readers are used to.

It’s not that people haven’t tried. But if you look at the SF works from other countries that have been translated into English, compared to SF works in English that have been translated into other languages, there’s a large disproportion in favor of the latter. Which can get quite ridiculous considering the US is just one country.

So there’s clearly a need to drift away from US SF—no offense to US writers (and I still read your books!)—and to highlight fiction from the rest of the world. Yet at the same time, because US readers hold a significant influence; we need to win them over as well. Right now, a lot of us are literate in English. This issue is being published by an American company. A lot of the books being sold in our bookstores are imports from the US.

And then there’s the gray area of Canada, the UK, and Australia. On one hand, they have more exporting capability compared to a country like Singapore or the Philippines, even when English is mutually their first language. But on the other hand, awareness and accessiblity to their literature isn’t automatically assured, and their fiction can be obscure. It’s an unfair generalization to group them as part of the US, but they clearly have a better advantage than most third-world countries.

Which brings me to the second problem: if World SF excludes the US, then how do we define who writes World SF? The term is malleable, open to interpretation, and will mean different things to different people. For example, let’s determine that for a work to be considered World SF, it needs to be written by an author that’s not American. Does that mean by nationality? Ethnicity? Do we do percentages of heredity? What happens if an American author moves to another country? Or the children of foreigners who migrate to the US? Do we strive for a more inclusive policy, or an exclusive one?

It’s not a question that can easily be answered. Nor should it be. It ignores plurality. Take myself for example: I’m Filipino-Chinese, a Filipino citizen born to pure-blooded Chinese parents. Don’t make me choose between being Filipino or being Chinese. I’m a product of both worlds and if I were to simply pick one over the other, I’d feel completely alien. You can’t isolate and excise the parts of me that are Filipino from the parts that are Chinese.  If I hypothetically migrate to another country, that creates a new dynamic. My children will similarly have an entirely different paradigm compared to mine.

The third problem is that no one is an expert on World SF. It’s hard enough to keep track of all things SF in the Philippines (and I’m not necessarily succeeding). Or the US. Or—insert country here. How much harder would it be to keep track of the whole world, which implies hundreds of countries? And then we go back to plurality: no culture or race is a monolithic entity. There will be opinions, debates, even schisms within a particular community: just because I find a particular story to be very Filipino doesn’t necessarily mean another Filipino will find the same value in it, for example.

Although no one can be an expert in World SF, we shouldn’t stop trying.  Perhaps, after reading this issue, or a copy of the The Apex Book of World SF, you think that you’ve fulfilled your quota of SF beyond the US. But no. Neither this magazine nor Tidhar’s anthologies are a comprehensive (or even holistic) summary of the World SF scene. If you gave us half a million words to work with, it still wouldn’t be enough. Heck, it’s not even enough to comprehensively tackle the literature of a single nation. Instead, they are biased snapshots, which will hopefully pique your curiosity. This should be the beginning of discovering what World SF truly means, rather than the final word on it. So don’t be surprised if I’m wrong when it comes to a lot of things.

There’s a certain comfort when you’re asked about SF from other countries. If you mention Serbia, I can name Zoran Živković. South Africa, Lauren Beukes. France, Aliette de Bodard. Finland, Johanna Sinisalo. But that’s actually false relief. For example, what else do I know about Serbian SF aside from Živković? It’s easy to jump to conclusions based on the works of a few writers, but just as no single author encapsulates all of American SF, there’s no single author—or even a set of writers—that fully encapsulates the SF field of any country.

Awards and Recognition
There’s no perfect system to gauge or determine acceptance—except perhaps being an actual best-seller, selling in the hundreds of thousands—but awards give the impression of recognition, by the voting jury at least. So awards are important.

It would be remiss of me not to mention what is perhaps the most important award when it comes to World SF: the relatively new Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Awards. One of the most difficult processes in propagating World SF, whether financially or logistically, is translation. For such an award to exist is a great boon, and their agenda similarly reminds me of one of our shortcomings: recognizing translators. Just approach your typical SF fan and they’d (and by they, I include myself) be hard-pressed to name a translator who works in the genre specifically, unless the translator is a prominent author to begin with, such as Ursula K. Le Guin or Ken Liu.

In 2011, the Translation Awards winners for long form and short form were A Life on Paper: Stories, Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, translated by Edward Gauvin, and Elegy for a Young Elk, Hannu Rajaniemi, translated by Hannu Rajaniemi, respectively. Honourable mentions went to The Golden Age, Michal Ajvaz, translated by Andrew Oakland, and Wagtail, Marketta Niemelä, translated by Liisa Rantalaiho. The special award went to Brian Stableford.

One of Lavie Tidhar’s frequent complaints is that the World Fantasy Awards is a misnomer, for while there’s the occasional nominee or two that’s not from the US, it’s mostly a very Western-centric award. However, last year’s nominees, at least for the novel category, were impressive: Nnedi Okorafor, Lauren Beukes, N.K. Jemisin, Graham Joyce, Guy Gabriel Kay, and Karen Lord were the nominees, with Okorafor winning the award for Who Fears Death. Angélica Gorodischer was the lifetime achievement winner, while Alisa Krasnostein of Twelfth Planet Press won the special award in the non-professional category. I hope to see this trend continue.

There’s also the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, which Dubravka Ugresic won in 2010 for Baba Yaga Laid an Egg.

The Future of World SF
I honestly don’t know where World SF is headed, or if our efforts to spread awareness will succeed. But I’m cautiously optimistic about the field. Half a decade ago, for example, who would have thought there would be a Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Awards, an imprint dedicated to translating Japanese fiction into English, or a second—much less a first—anthology dedicated to featuring SF from around the world? While there have been a few such anthologies in the past, there have been none this century and, previously, such efforts were by American or British editors who did not themselves represent World SF as we have attempted to define it.

Who would have thought readers would be interested to hear what I have to say? I’m not from America. I’m not white. I’m not famous.

That’s not to say all is well. The status quo is still against a global SF field. But change is coming and, hopefully, it swings in our favour. There’re a lot of voices that haven’t been heard; it’s not because authors aren’t writing.

August 22, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

The Apex Book of World SF 2 Released!

I’m delighted to announce that The Apex Book of World SF 2, is now officially out! It is now on Amazon and Amazon UK (Kindle, Paperback), in both Kindle and paperback editions, or can be ordered directly from the publisher.

Table of Contents:

  1. “Alternate Girl’s Expatriate Life” by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz
  2. “Mr. Goop” by Ivor W. Hartmann
  3. “Trees of Bone” by Daliso Chaponda
  4. “The First Peruvian in Space” by Daniel Salvo (translated by Jose B. Adolph)
  5. “Eyes in the Vastness of Forever” by Gustavo Bondoni
  6. “The Tomb” by Chen Qiufan (translated by the author)
  7. “The Sound of Breaking Glass” by Joyce Chng
  8. “A Single Year” by Csilla Kleinheincz (translated by the author)
  9. “The Secret Origin of Spin-Man” by Andrew Drilon
  10. “Borrowed Time” by Anabel Enríquez Piñeiro (translated by Daniel W. Koon)
  11. “Branded” by Lauren Beukes
  12. “December 8th” by Raúl Flores (translated by Daniel W. Koon)
  13. “Hungry Man” by Will Elliott
  14. “Nira and I” by Shweta Narayan
  15. “Nothing Happened in 1999” by Fábio Fernandes
  16. “Shadow” by Tade Thompson
  17. “Shibuya no Love” by Hannu Rajaniemi
  18. “Maquech” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  19. “The Glory of the World” by Sergey Gerasimov
  20. “The New Neighbours” by Tim Jones
  21. “From the Lost Diary of TreeFrog7” by Nnedi Okorafor
  22. “The Slows” by Gail Hareven (translated by Yaacov Jeffrey Green)
  23. “Zombie Lenin” by Ekaterina Sedia
  24. “Electric Sonalika” by Samit Basu
  25. “The Malady” by Andrzej Sapkowski (translated by Wiesiek Powaga)
  26. “A Life Made Possible Behind The Barricades” by Jacques Barcia

Publishers Weekly starred review:

Apex’s second international anthology hits the right chord for readers looking for mostly non-Western perspectives on science fiction and the world at large. Some stories are original to this anthology; others appear in their first English translation. Cultural roots may not always be obvious, but they run deep in most of the stories, and all illuminate traditional storytelling and new ideas. In Ivor W. Hartmann’s “Mr. Goop,” young Tamuka comes to realize the worth of an embarrassing Geneform servant in a post–climate change world. The title characters of Shweta Narayan’s “Nira and I” find freedom through a mist they believe comes from a beloved honor-murdered family member. Nnedi Okorafor’s “From the Lost Diary of TreeFrog7” chronicles the hunt for an ancient master CPU on a world of organic technology. Each story pushes past established boundaries, bringing readers experiences that are unique and familiar all at once. (Oct.)

August 21, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 3 Comments

Short Story Highlight: “Strabismus” by Stefan Grabiński (Poland)

Weird Fiction Review feature the short story Strabismus by Stefan Grabiński (1887-1936), a Polish writer of horror fiction. It is translated by Miroslaw Lipinski.

He had attached himself to me, I don’t know how or when.

His name was Brzechwa, Jozef Brzechwa. What a name!  Something about it fastens and hooks onto the nerves, irritating them with its grating resonance.  He was cross-eyed.  He especially saw poorly out of his right eye, which peered out in a stone gaze under ruddy lashes.  His small, brick-colored repulsive face grimaced perpetually in a malicious sneer of half-irony, as if in this sorry way it could avenge its own ugliness and squalor.  A tiny, rusty moustache, twirled rakishly upward, moved constantly, like the pincers of a poisonous scarabaeus — sharp, stinging, evil.

A horrible man.

He was agile, elastic as a ball, slender-figured, of medium build; he walked with a light, elusive step and could slip into a room unnoticed like a cat.

I couldn’t stand him from the first time I saw him.  His repugnant look seized me with indescribable disgust and made me think of his character, which suited his physical features so well.

This person was extremely different from me in his disposition, tastes and behavior. For me, he was the personification of antipathy. He was my living antithesis, with whom there could be no reconciliation. Maybe precisely because of this he latched himself onto me with a rabid passion, as if sensing my natural aversion toward him.

He probably experienced particular delight in seeing how unsuccessfully I tried to extricate myself from the nets he was ensnaring me with more and more.  He was my inseparable companion in cafes, on walks, at the club; he knew how to worm his way into the circles of my nearest acquaintances; what’s more, he could conquer the favor of women to whom I was closely connected.  He knew of my smallest plans, my slightest movements. – continue reading.

August 20, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Comments Off on Short Story Highlight: “Strabismus” by Stefan Grabiński (Poland)

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