WELCOME to the wild ride that is Flash! Future! One of the many things I love about Fire&Ice/Flash! Friday is the privilege of meeting writers from so many parts of the world. We’ve introduced a number of these to you via our Flash! Past and Spotlight features, through whom we’ve gotten to know still more writers. Take for example our conversations with the lyrical Firdaus Parvez, who highlighted for us celebrated Indian writers like R.K. Narayan, Anita Desai, Ruskin Bond, and many others (read her most recent interview with us here).
For today’s Flash! Future we’re taking a return trip to India for a (massively inadequate) peek at the world of speculative fiction, and all the complicated things that title alone engenders.
We’re starting with a 2018 two-part article by Mimi Mondal at Tor.com for a sweeping perspective/overview. From there we step back in time to a lively 2013 Strange Horizons panel discussion of “Indian speculative fiction,” and we’ll finish with a return to 2018 and a different take on the same topic. I hope today’s writers and their rich works and conversations will send you through glorious portals from which, like me, you will not return unchanged. ♥
Name: Mimi Mondal
About SFF in India: (A fascinating & deeply informative historical survey of SFF in India via Tor.com in 2018—both parts are a must-read):
(Mondal:) Hinduism is one of the four major world religions, with more than 15% of the world’s population adhering to it. Many of them are faithful and like to write about their beliefs. It pains me to find Western readers regularly conflating such works with fantasy. To think of other people’s actual faith as speculative fiction is a fairly heinous act of racism. Don’t be that person…
As science fiction became more distinctly recognizable as a genre in the West through the twentieth century, the language that most directly caught the influence was Bengali. The original center of Bengali SFF was Calcutta, and this tradition has remained. I am from Calcutta—I grew up reading SFF and horror in Bengali and was deeply entrenched in genre culture. Every prominent Bengali author has written speculative fiction in some parts of their career—stories that are widely read, loved, and often included in school syllabi—since the speculative imagination is inseparable from realism in the Bengali literary culture. Many Indian SFF writers, even now, come from Calcutta, though not all of us write in Bengali.
(Mondal:) The first distinctly genre fantasy writer in India was Samit Basu, whose Gameworld trilogy was published by Penguin India beginning in 2004, much to the delight of a new generation of SFF fans who read primarily in English, and were only reading SFF by white writers until then. (I was in high school in 2004, and this group included me.) The earliest immigrant Indian writers of SFF from this period are Vandana Singh and Anil Menon. Their short fiction has been published widely in American magazines and anthologies. They also have works published exclusively in India. Speculative fiction in India is also becoming rapidly lucrative, with Netflix recently announcing an original series based on Prayaag Akbar’s novel Leila.
Best known works:
- His Footsteps, Through Darkness and Light (Tor.com, 2019)
- Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler (Twelfth Planet Press, 2017)
- Majestic Oriental Circus series
Also known for:
- Editorial/sensitivity work (projects include N.K. Jemisin’s The City We Became)
- Former Poetry/reprint editor at Uncanny Magazine
- Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler (Locus Award winner, Best Nonfiction, 2018; Hugo Nominated, Best Related Work 2018; British Fantasy Award Non-Fiction Nominated, 2018)
- His Footsteps, Through Darkness and Light (Nebula shortlisted 2020)
Name: Gautam Bhatia
About reading & writing SFF:
A conversation on science fiction and fantasy between the two Indian nominees for the Hugo Awards (conversation between Mimi Mondal and Gautam Bhatia, 2018)
(Bhatia:) Strange Horizons has taught me a lot. I grew up reading Asimov, Clarke, Zelazny and the like, and my canon was limited (I now know) to a bunch of dead white men. Literally within a month of joining Strange Horizons, I was hearing names like Nalo Hopkinson, Nnedi Okrafor, and my own personal favourite now, the Cuban punk-rocker SFF-author Yoss. Strange Horizons not only broadened my horizons about the genre, it exploded them, and exposed me to just how rich, varied, and beautifully diverse it all is.
Best known work:
- The Wall (HarperCollins India, August 2020)
Also known for:
- Editor at Strange Horizons magazine
Panel Discussion: back in 2013 Strange Horizons hosted a panel on “Splitting the Difference: A Discussion About Indian Speculative Fiction”: Part I and Part II. Worth the read, my goodness, for a dip into the complexities of the topic itself, and for troves and troves of gorgeous reading recs.
Name: Salik Shah
About writing SFF:
Why Indian science fiction? Because we are human. Stories make us human. Because we can & we must tell our stories in our own words. Because stories rooted in science can help us make sense of the world around, within & beyond us, and bring about a change we thought impossible. (Salik Shah, Twitter, March 15, 2018)
- “Remaking the Difference: A Discussion About Indian Speculative Fiction” (conversation with Salik Shah and others, hosted by Gautam Bhatia in 2018)
(Shah:) As a writer, I want to be in control and break new ground. Mythological characters are like superstars. You can cast them but it’s difficult to make them your own. There are more than three hundred Ramayanas, and I suspect that most writers secretly nurture the ambition to tackle The Big Book, adapt and somehow make it their own…
Anyone who grows up bilingual, trilingual, or multilingual in Asia has to come to terms with the history and legacy of colonialism and the tyranny of English language. We are marked by anxieties and doubts—how we came to acquire this language which we call our own is often an unresolved question that we learn to avoid. What is the place of Indian writers in English language? Who are our readers? You can find hints to a never-ending struggle to resolve these questions especially in my poetry.
Best known for:
- Founder, Mithila Review (international speculative fiction)
- “The Architecture of Loss” (L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Honorable Mention, 2nd Quarter 2020)
- “Khas Pidgin” (Poetry collection; Nominated Elgin Award 2018)