Today in Indian SF

This was a session of a different genre, with Gautham Shenoy, a Science Fiction (SF) columnist thanking Bangalore Literature Festival for giving a platform to have this conversation.

The panel comprised of Indrapramit Das (Indra), whose short fiction has appeared in publications including tor.com, Clarkesworld and Asimov’s Science Fiction, Sadhna Shanker, who has penned ‘Ascendance’, a science fiction novel and Sukanya Venkataraghavan, the author of ‘Dark Things’ and editor of ‘Magical Women’. These eminent authors were in conversation with Gautham Shenoy, an SF columnist (#IndianSF#scifi, #comics, #GGMU).

He introduced the panelists and went on to mention that 2019 has been an inflection point, an exceptional year for Indian science fiction. The panelists were optimistically looking forward to all the books coming up, especially the one by Samit Basu in April 2020. They evoke curiosity in the reader.

 

What is changing?

Sukanya gave the example of her journey from authoring Dark Things to Magical Women. When she wrote Dark Things, the question uppermost in her mind was, “Am I the only one writing fantasy?” Later, when she penned Magical Women, she had a community of writers supporting her and thus easing up the path.

 

Indra, having written 4 anthologies and a short future fiction series, spoke about the access to SF magazines and ease of submitting stories to them. He added on, however, that Indian SF has a long way to go before being considerably recognized by the Western world. The challenge is that, unlike other countries like China, there is not enough state support, nor is there is a press/medium dedicated to science fiction. He also felt that Indian publishers do not know how to tap into our audience.

 

Sadhna expressed more optimism on this aspect. “I’m here to stay”, she said. Science fiction just happened for her, and she felt fortunate to be in Bangalore, which is the hub and has a vibrant community. This is in stark contrast to Delhi, where the genre is not taken seriously, especially if it is a lady writing it.

 

Adding on to the optimism, Sukanya’s view was that science fiction is a genre that can generate a lot of interest, hence, properly tapped, it has a lot of potential to be very popular. Gautham responded to these perspectives with a satirical topic for an urban fantasy “Bangalore with pothole-free roads” and had the audience in splits.

 

Has the audience changed?

All the panelists agreed that the audience is gradually increasing, however, there needs to be more visibility to increase readership. Some points they gave are:

  • Publications, newspapers and magazines need to have exclusive columns
  • Writers should not just tweet only when their book comes out, but promote every book as a community
  • Reviewers need to do their bit as well; every review is a step in socializing a book
  • Readers can also write reviews on Amazon, as well as spread the word on social media

 

The audience was eager to know more about the last point, and sources of information about science fiction books. The panelists responded by mentioning #sff, #sciencefantasyfiction and #indiansf.

 

“Is India ready to bring out a Star Trek?” Gautham was ready with his response – it happened long ago; we have had series such as Antariksh, Space city Sigma. Also coming up is Cargo – a movie about the afterlife on a spaceship orbiting the earth, billed as India’s first ‘spaceship sci-fi movie’. The session ended with anticipation of 2020 and the promise of exciting times ahead!

 

 

 

About the Author: Usha Ramaswamy craves to get more creative in addition to being an avid reader, traveller, vlogger, marketer of events, mobile photographer. One day, she wants to write a book but for now, she pens her reflections at her blog and puts up photos on Instagram. She also works as a software process consultant and is a mother of two. She currently writes for TheSeer.

Advertisements

Satyajit Ray Sci-Fi

It is only fair that someone having as iconic a stature as Satyajit Ray also must have had a life full of equally iconic incidents. In 1962 Ray was all set to be the first ever Asian to venture out with the most ambitious science fiction project. Satyajit’s screenplay genius bowled the entire Hollywood industry and who’s who of America wanted to be associated with this film.

Shantanu Ray Chaudhari, an ardent Satyajit Ray fan, author and editor took the audience to a lesser known tragedy that India’s stellar filmmaker faced. Satyajit had come up with one of the best screenplays for a science fiction story set in rural Bengal. The story was about a poor, village boy and his tryst with an extra-terrestrial being that descends from a spaceship and the tender relationship that ensues. Sounds familiar? That is exactly what Satyajit felt when years later in 1977, during the Berlin film festival he happened to watch a Spielberg movie that was very similar to his much anticipated ambitious sci-fi project which for mysterious reasons had gotten shelved.

Shantanu during this session took the avatar of a storyteller enchanting the audience with the world of filmmaking and science fiction, describing the poignant tragedy of losing out on a chance in creating history in the filming world.

 

 

About the author: Monica Kamath is a curious being who strongly believes that a right time, right place and a right person can create wonders. True blue Bangalorean, a multi-linguist who can speak more than five Indian languages, love to understand people, dialects and cultures. Blog link – https://medium.com/@monicskamath. She currently writes for Bookstalkist

Life, the Universe and Everything: The Influence of SF on Society

Science fiction has been one that catapults the reader into a world of possibilities. Be it time travel, or the world of superheroes, there is always something for everyone. What we miss is, however, the impact it has on society. Is it a reflection of what is going on in the society, or is it the other way round? Gautam Shenoy, along with established Science Fiction (Sci-Fi or SF) writers Bruce Sterling, Krishna Udayasankar, and Samit Basu, examines the multiple facets of how Sci-Fi brings a part of it into the working of the society.

How each of the writers looks at writing Sci-Fi is different. Sterling uses the example of the classic Jules Verne and how his free-spirited writing became rigid and boring when he became a politician. Consciously writing to reflect the society may not necessarily bring about the changes that are desired, as much as the free-flowing ones do, he says. Krishna Udayasankar who writes with an inspiration from Indian Mythology, says that mythology is used as a lens through which socio-political impact is seen, along with looking at how it can change. Samit, on the other hand, uses time travel as one that helps him keep a safe distance from the controversies of today.

That brings us to the question of social engineering. Could science fiction also help in social engineering? Could it actually bring about changes in society? In regard to this, Shenoy recounts an incident from the past when a college Vice Chancellor accused an SF writer of slacking off, and not coming up with more otherworldly writings, and that lead to Project Hieroglyphic. Sterling accedes to the fact that SF writers are often expected to bring exaggerated ideas in a world where dystopian SF literature is assuming popularity. He also speaks about how he doesn’t want SF to lie, but be one which can use its brainpower to bring solutions.

As much as we speak of the society and it being influenced by SF, do works imbibe and reflect the fears and anxiety of the society, Shenoy ponders and provides examples of movements such the one on the Handmaid’s Tale. Samit denies; in a country such as India, it is very hard to internalize something on those lines given the existence of many realities, and the uniqueness of each of them. He mocks when half of what we read like the news itself is fictional, how would a fictional piece assume such impact? However, Krishna says that the power of the familiar is one that is largely important. It is enough to entertain the thought of an alternate possibility.

When speaking of sci-fi, can it also help teach science? When Shenoy quotes examples of many scientists writing sci-fi pieces, Sterling opines that the trend is not really a healthy one. It is an oxymoron to have scientists who propagate truths to go ahead and write fiction. Good science fiction comes from anthropologists who can indeed understand the culture of a society and therefore can write pieces that take back messages into the society its stems from.

Shenoy moves on to examine the superhero culture as well. A rather interesting set up of Superman fighting the Nazis or a Black Panther fighting the Ku Klux Klan, Shenoy indulges in a conversation with the writers to understand how they work in the backdrop of the society. Superheroes today are modern myths and the ideal immigrants. Their presence is rather live, and keep the story alive, they say. However, Basu jokes, a superhero in India is considered one only when he fights in the west!

This genre, however far and distant it may seem, is integral to the society, as society is to it. Science fiction writers have risen to a level where they have become advisors and their words have become ones that have considerable weightage.

 

 

About the Author: A believer in the subtlety of magic in everyday living, and Shobhana seeks the same from the books she reads, and the poetry she writes. Immerses herself in music, literature, art, and looking out the window with some coffee. She curates her poetry, and occasional verses in her blog Thinking; inking. She currently writes for Bookstalkist.