Books

Six Reasons 2018 Was a Game-Changer for Indian Speculative Fiction

Much of the great work done in the genre this year came from women.

Typically, when people talk about the success of Indian or South Asian speculative fiction, they’re about to namedrop some myths-ploitation novel written by an Amish or an Ashok. This is a mistake for two reasons. First, those books are mostly terrible. Second – do we really need a second?

Instead, here are six reasons why 2018 was a huge year for Indian speculative fiction – and none of them involve Mahabharata fan fiction.

1. Probably the biggest thing to happen this year was Mimi Mondal winning a Locus award and being nominated for a Hugo, a British Fantasy award, as well as the William Atheling Jr. Award for her book, Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler.

© Mimi Mondal

Working with senior editor Alexandra Pierce, Mondal put together a moving tribute and testament to Octavia Butler’s enduring legacy in the book by collecting essays and letters from more than 50 contemporary writers. Born in Kolkata, Mondal lives and works as an editor in New York.

In many ways, this flurry of nominations for her first book has made her the face for Indian speculative fiction in the world and honestly, we couldn’t have hoped for anyone better!

2. And there were so many new books.

Vandana Singh published a new collection of short stories, Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories, that came out both in the US (from the stellar Small Beer Press) and in India (from Zubaan).

Tasha Suri, a British-Indian writer, published her epic fantasy novel, Empire of Sand, set in an era influenced heavily by the Mughal Empire. While there’s no Indian release yet sadly, it’s available on all online bookstores.

Other highlights included Shweta Taneja’s Rakta Queen, the third book in the Anantya Tantrist series, and Sultanpur Chronicles, a debut novel by Achala Upendran.

3. The first issue is technically only out on January 1, 2019, but it’s never too early to celebrate the launch of a new print magazine. Goobe’s Book Republic, a bookshop in Bangalore, announced a new quarterly of speculative fiction called Otherworldly.

Also read: Of Dogs and Men: An Assamese Anthology Explores the Many Representations of Canines

It will come out under the careful stewardship of the Mimi Mondal and Indra Das, author of The Devourers, a post-colonial novel about werewolves in Calcutta that came out in 2016.

With the first edition containing stories from Anjum Hasan, Manjula Padmanabhan, S.B. Divya and Vajra Chandrasekara, it promises to be the magazine that Indian readers have been waiting for.

4. This year also brought us a new anthology of YA stories, Strange Worlds, Strange Times. It’s edited by Vinayak Verma and features stories by Jerry Pinto and Srinath Perur, among other luminaries. It contains stories of robots and extra dimensions but this time, it’s cities like Chennai and New Delhi that are being threatened with total destruction. Progress!

5. This will probably be a surprise to most readers, but this was a standout year for Indian comic books.

Apupen released a new graphic novel The Snake and the Lotus, a return to the bleak landscape of Halahala, and his satirical web comic Rashtraman continued elbowing the right-wing in the ribs.

But while Apupen might be a familiar name, it’s the work of Ram V that really marks this year. His graphic novel about growing up in Bombay, Grafity’s Wall, came out from Unbound with beautiful art from Anand RK.

His new series These Savage Shores, illustrated gorgeously by Sumit Kumar, is a violent fairy tale of vampires and colonisation in British-ruled India. Apart from being illustrated, both these books are also lettered in India by Aditya Bidikar. Ram V also wrote a story about Batman (yes, Batman!) for the first issue of Batman: Secret Files!

6. Prayaag Akbar’s Leila was picked up by streaming giant Netflix as a six-episode mini-series. After the success of Sacred Games, Netflix announced a slew of new Indian titles. Leila is the story of an alternate future India where ghettoised cities are sharply segregated on religious and caste lines.

The series will air in 2019 and will star Huma Qureshi as Shalini, a mother searching for her missing daughter. It is produced by Deepa Mehta, the award-winning director of the Earth/Fire/Water trilogy.

Also read: ‘In Some Ways, All Sci-fi and Fantasy Is an Act of Negotiating the Other’

It’s a small victory that so much of the great work done in the genre this year came from women. Much to its detriment, speculative fiction has always skewed male, globally and in India. Hopefully we’re seeing the end of that.

It was also a year where the genre got much more mainstream coverage, mostly due to Mimi Mondal’s awards. But it’s nice to see these names outside Gautham Shenoy’s New Worlds Weekly, which is one of the few spaces dedicated to Indian speculative fiction (and it crossed its 100th edition this year). This can only help boost readership and lead to even better years in the future. Your move, 2019!

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