Tales from a Grim Future | Books


THE GOLLANCZ BOOK OF SOUTH ASIAN SCIENCE FICTION edited by Tarun K. Saint (Hachette) Rs 599; 424 pages.

There is scant science in the Gollancz Book of South Asian Science Fiction, something the editor, Tarun K. Saint, acknowledges in the introduction. Genre fiction in India has always been sidelined by those who do not consider it serious literature and bookstores that don’t know how to shelve them. It was perhaps a prudent decision to name the anthology Science Fiction’ in the interest of cognition versus naming it Speculative Fiction with the Occasional Alien Invasion’. Science fiction has a dedicated, if small, readership in India. As does fantasy. But the anthology entirely eschews that genre. Speculative fiction, on the other hand, has only a few esoteric takers, although the Gollancz book is precisely that.

Propelling itself 70 years into the future, the anthology never lets go of the present political moment in India and, in some cases, America, and the stories imagine totalitarian futures with grim humour. Cow vigilantism expands to buffaloes (who are sent on a lunar trip), a successor of the current prime minister kills the last tiger days after it is spotted, in a moment of PR hubris, and corporations give up pretensions of being distinct from the government. Several distinct contributors to the book appear preoccupied with the same newspaper headlines, not without cause, but not always to the stories’ advantage.

Stories with less specific contexts expand themselves to occupy the human condition itself as in the case of the unassuming South Indian man who, much to everyone’s frustration, is the only person who can speak to an invasion of shimmery aliens with no known motive. One woman is set to embark on a journey to Mars to escape the guilt of her past. Two young girls find themselves refugees in a strictly segregated society where obedience is a bio-chip.

A certain melancholy permeates the book. Barring a couple of stories, no imaginings of the future look to it with any cheer. Humans, living in despotic societies, are predictably lonely, watching the world fall apart due to climate change, alien invasions or simply human nature. Atwood-esque dystopias are inevitable entrants but appropriately nuanced.

The anthology comes at a time when speculation is perhaps the best form of engaging with the present and its futuristic implications. With Vandana Singh’s Ambiguity Machines last year and Prayaag Akbar’s Leila the year before, this genre in India is gradually moving beyond the children’s section to claim a space of its own.


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