The New Wave of South Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy

A range of flavors and concerns are noticeable in the South Asian SFF, which has been going through a mini-Renaissance in recent times. This overview aims to showcase some of the established and upcoming voices of the new wave of sub-continental SFFs that have made their presence felt since the 1990s.

As we will see, in the best of these futuristic fictions there is a keen awareness of momentous transitions taking place in the post-colonial world, with highly critical accounts of skewed development and modern techno-dystopias. Inevitably, these decolonizing visions of the present often approach the aftermath of colonial rule in a different way from Anglo-American SF, emphasizing the task of emerging from the shadow of modernity in its colonial guise.

Vandana Singh is an SFF physicist and author who grew up in Delhi, India, but now teaches and does research in the United States. His speculative fiction is marked by an incisive blend of science and environmental themes (most recently, climate change), in addition to the social ramifications of inequitable development. Her first collection The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet and Other Stories (2009) included a speculative manifesto that set the parameters for its own blend of SFF, which incorporates references to pre-modern cultural narratives and epics as well as cutting-edge scientific research. Ambiguity machines and other stories (2018) collected stories that further redefine genre boundaries, retaining the sense of wonder while emphasizing the importance of discovery and intellectual breakthrough in story form, a quality that Singh’s work shares with the writing of . ‘Indra’s Web’, for example, synthesizes ancient wisdom and recent discoveries in the . Protagonist Mahua seeks to decode the secret language of forests, a ‘myconet’, even as she designs a Suryanet, an energy grid to enable displaced refugees from Bangladesh’s drowned villages to transform a slum called Ashapur into a living space viable in the near future. Since then, incisive stories in the mode of climate fiction like “Widdam” and “Reunion” have been included in top anthologies of the year, while Singh was recently chosen as a Climate Imagination Fellow at Arizona State University. .

Pune-based writer Anil Menon started writing SF and cyberpunk style hard stories in various international magazines while working as a software engineer in the United States. He recently took on the role of editor-in-chief of the Bombay Literary Magazine. His novel YA The beast with nine billion feet was published in 2009, while his speculative novel Half of what I say was released in 2015. Meanwhile, Anil Menon and Vandana Singh co-edited Breaking the Bow: Speculative Fiction Inspired by the Ramayana in 2012, a groundbreaking collection focused on creative re-enactments of the Hindu epic that launched the writing careers of SFF writers like Indrapramit Das. Menon’s SF record “Paley’s Watch” has been included in Locus’ Recommended Playlist for 2021. In this story about the discovery of a mysterious artifact, Menon draws an extended analogy between scientific speculation and literary storytelling.

Manjula Padmanabhan was a pioneer in the Indian SF scene, and is a well-known graphic designer and playwright. His sci-fi game Harvest won the 1997 Onassis Prize for Drama. The novel premise underlying this piece was the harvesting of organs from Third World “donors” for First World recipients. His dystopian novels Escape (2008) and Island of the Lost Girls (2015) trace the perilous situation of Meiji, a young girl living in a future cloning-based society where girls have become extremely rare, as well as her eventual escape to a female-ruled island that has its own power hierarchies. The asymmetrical power relations and the imbalance of gender relations represented here make this projected trilogy a fascinating meditation on identity and difference.

Based in the United States SB Divya is an engineer by training and writes speculative fiction with a solid grounding in contemporary scientific research. His novel YA Durationincluded in his collection Contingency plans for the apocalypse and other possible situationswas nominated for a Nebula in 2016. More recently, her novel Machine cover (2021) depicted the tensions over the emergence of enhanced humans and sentient robots, continuing a debate on the ethical issues underlying the development of artificial intelligence that has raged since EM’s ‘The Machine Stops’ Forster (1909), here in the context of a demand economy.

Delhi resident Samit Basu has been publishing in various genres such as fantasy, science fiction and graphic novel since 2004. Recently, his anti-dystopian novel chosen spirits was released in India in 2020, and has now appeared in the United States as The city within, a Tordotcom publication. In this post-cyberpunk-style narrative with Indian moorings, the role of social media influencers is examined in Delhi ten years from now through the experiences of Bijoyini ‘Joey’ Roy, an associate reality checker in the stream, an amalgamation and a projection of recent social media. tendencies. Basu refers to events like the Shaheen Bagh protest movement by the Muslim minority in Delhi (2019-20) as an event existing only in memory, testifying to the rapid erasure of militant interventions from the public sphere these last time.

Usman T. Malik is a trained rheumatologist and author of Pakistani speculative novels. His award-winning work spans horror, fantasy and science fiction, while often drawing inspiration from the Middle Eastern tradition of fantasy and storytelling. Malik short story collection Gates of Midnight: Fables from Pakistan (2021) recently won the Crawford Prize and includes “Resurrection Points”. This powerful first-person tale depicts the vulnerabilities of the minority Christian community through the portrayal of the ability to reanimate the dead by the narrator, a young boy instructed in the use of resurrection points by his father (who tragically falls into sectarian violence).

Bina Shah is a media professional and writer from Karachi, Pakistan. She has written five novels and two collections of short stories. The feminist dystopian novel Before she sleeps (2018) made an impression with its description of a Middle Eastern state in which women have been largely decimated by a virus. As a result, women are forced to procreate by the authorities. A rebel group, Panah, provides a service to an elite clientele, women lulling men with their presence, a form of emotional compensation, for a price. As a variation on a theme explored by Margaret Atwood in The Handmaid’s Tale, this novel which takes place the day after an Indo-Pakistani nuclear exchange knows how to retain its particularity and its strangeness. A sequel is in sight.

Haris Durrani is an American speculative fiction writer of Pakistani-Dominican descent. Haris’s first book, Self Technologies, blending Latin and Islamic elements, won the 2015 Driftless Novella award. It brings its dual heritage into play with several allusions to ciguapas (shapeformed creatures of Dominican legend) and jinn (magical beings from Middle Eastern traditions) , delineated with particular attention to the genesis of these beings, as in his story ‘Champollion’s Le pied’. This story of xenocide (attempted extinction of a species) and erasure of the stories of the “other” takes up in an innovative and original way certain themes from the work of Octavia Butler.

Vajra Chandrasekera is a writer and editor from Colombo, Sri Lanka. He has published more than fifty stories in various magazines so far. Her first novel The saint of luminous doors will be published by Tordotcom Publishing in 2023. Vajra addressed the historic trauma of the Sri Lankan Civil War in his story “The Maker of Memorials”. In this story, an augmented human is given the task of building memorials to those who fall on the battlefield at the very moment of their death. This anti-war story debunks the idea of ​​instantly raising pedestals to heroic martyrs, perhaps a nod to Wilfred Owen’s World War I poem “Dulce et Decorum Est.” The tongue-in-cheek interpretation of such images of battlefield glory is heightened by references to a rehistory department, tasked with rewriting the past at the whims of the powers that be.

Based in Dhaka Saad Z. Hossain writes fantastic and speculative fiction underpinned by wry irony and dark humour. His first book, an anti-war satire, Escape from Baghdad! was released in 2015, followed by fantasy City Djinn in 2017 and the SF/fantasy hybrid The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday in 2019. cybermageFollowing City Djinnjust released in 2021, while Kundo wakes up released earlier this month with Tordotcom. His story “Bring Your Own Spoon” depicts an unemployed djinn in a future Bangladesh, rallied to the cause of the setbacks of the Fringe which he helps to set up a community kitchen with characteristic sub-continental flavors. The future society depicted here is not without its hazards, as benevolent nanites protect the well-to-do who live in a bubble from various diseases in water and air. The tragicomic tone of the story is a hallmark of Hossain’s style, as he confidently treads the permeable boundary between genres.


As we have seen, South Asian science fiction and fantasy can be savored for the diverse flavors and metaphors on offer, on par with the culinary variety of food preparations served in different corners of the subcontinent. On another level, one can see serious ethical engagement with pressing socio-political and ecological concerns in the best of recent writing, even as these differentiated collectives negotiate the challenges of postcolonial histories and civilizational memories in this geographic space. and cultural, with a renewed look. orientation towards a just and inclusive future.

Tarun K. Saint, scholar and freelance writer, was born in Kenya and has lived in India since 1972. His research interests include sheet music literature and science fiction. He is the author of Being a witness to the score: memory, history, fiction, based on his doctoral thesis. He edited Bruised Memories: Communal Violence and Writingr and co-edited (with Ravikant) Translate the sheet music. He also co-edited Retrospective: the partition of India, 70 years later, with Rakhshanda Jalil and Debjani Sengupta. He edited Gollancz’s Book of South Asian Science Fiction. The Bilingual Science Fiction Anthology (Indian-Italian) Avatar: Indian science fiction co-edited with Francesco Verso published in January 2020.

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