New Worlds Weekly’s ‘Best Indian SF reads of 2018’

Gautham Shenoy December 1, 2018 6 min

It’s that time of the year again when we look back at the months that passed and pick out memorable highlights. And 2018 had a fair share of those from the perspective of Indian SF, including Indians getting nominated for the Hugo Awards and finally an Indian writer getting to pen a Batman story for DC Comics.

When it comes to books, unfortunately, they were nearly not as enough highlights as I’d have hoped for in terms of English books published in India by Indian authors. The year to come looks promising – with Krishna Udayasankar’s latest novel, Beast, an anthology of feminist fantasy tales edited by Sukanya Venkatraghavan called Magical Women, a climate fiction novel, Gun Island by Amitav Ghosh, just to mention a few – all set to come out in 2019. But that’s tomorrow.

Today, we look at four notable Indian SF books that stood out from amongst the ones I read and which you can win in this edition’s NWW giveaway. Details at the end of this piece. So without further ado, here they are.

Vandana Singh – Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories (Zubaan Books)

Vandana Singh’s second collection, Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories, weaves together the past and the future, technology and culture, history, science and myth with 14 stories that span a gamut of genres – from steampunk and space opera to climate fiction and alternate history. A collection that cements her place as one of the finest writers of short fiction in any genre, this book is a must-read for any fan of good science fiction. Read the full New Worlds Weekly review here.

Also read: The Best Indian SF Reads of 2017: A New Worlds Weekly List

Shweta Taneja – The Rakta Queen (HarperCollins India)

Anantya Tantrist, the sassy supernatural detective returns for her third mystery in Shweta Taneja’s The Rakta Queen. And as always, she’s the first and last line of defence against dark occult forces hell-bent upon wreaking havoc upon this world. And to save the world, Anantya must go up against and deal with tantriks and sorcerors, chandaalis and jinns, aghoris, gods, goddesses, a dark queen and grapple with her own legacy and lineage in what is perhaps her most dangerous and personal adventure yet. Shweta Taneja combines her knowledge of India’s folklore, occult traditions and mythology with observations on feminism today, democracy, freedom & authoritarianism in a book sprinkled liberally with humour to tell a riveting tale.

Also read: Classics that belong on every bookshelf: The New Worlds Weekly Recap

Achala Upendran – The Sultanpur Chronicles: Shadowed City (Hachette India)

The author of India’s first English fantasy novel, Samit Basu blurbs on the cover of the book: ‘Indian fantasy has its new star’. And once you read it, you can see why he would say so. The Sultanpur Chronicles: Shadowed City is truly a stellar debut by Achala Upendran.

The Sultanpuri empire – which came into being after the Human-Rakshas Wars – has seen almost 300 years of peace between its various constituents, kept in place by the Imperial Family which rules the land with absolute authority. But it’s a peace that’s now tenuous, with chaos simmering just beneath the surface when the kingdom is at its most prosperous. The rakshasas are not just banished, it’s forbidden to even talk about them and magic that was once for everyone is now restricted to a few. So it comes to be that a scribe at the capital city’s prime tabloid, the Sultanpurian, when given a chance to write a story about a member of the Imperial power circle ends up unleashing a chain of events that threatens the very existence of the empire as old grudges are resurrected and forgotten ways threaten to overwhelm the present. The story follows many engaging threads – from a princess trying to do what she thinks is right and to save the empire from collapsing, a rakshashi unleased, to a genie who wants to save her family from it all to renegade mages and of course the scribe who finds himself in the of it all – all of which converge at the end of a gripping narrative. With this book, Achala Upendran has created a well-crafted and richly detailed & internally consistent world, complete with magic lamps and magical carpets, but with a treatment that feels contemporary in tone and is compelling in its storytelling that makes one wish there was already another book set in this world that one could turn to after the last page of the Shadowed City is turned.

Also read: The fabulous women writers who’ve enlivened – and are enriching – Indian SF

Appupen – The Snake and The Lotus

After Moonward, Legends of Halahala and Aspyrus, George Mathan aka Appupen returns to the universe of Halahala with The Snake and The Lotus which portrays a dystopian world in which the humans are subservient to the machines they themselves created and are now sustained, yet dulled into numbness, by lotus milk fed to them by an all-powerful AI. Not so much a book to be read but a sequential visual narrative – driven by Appupen’s art and his hand-drawn typeface – to be seen and experienced, The Snake and The Lotus tells the story at the same time being a commentary on the times we live in (for the metaphor of the Lotus will not be lost on anyone reading this), on caste and consumerism, on freedom and on hopes and dreams and what it means and takes to be a hero, in which sense it could be seen as a take on the superhero genre as well, against the backdrop of the dawn of a new age in Halahala.

And now for something not totally different – the New Worlds Weekly giveaway. In this edition’s giveaway, three winners get to choose any of the books mentioned above as their prize. To enter the giveaway, all you have to do is tell us which New Worlds Weekly piece from 2018 you think is the best and why. Tweet your entries – with the link to the piece in question – with the hashtag #NWWonFD before the midnight of December 31st, 2018. You can also submit your entries on Facebook as well, with the same tag, or comment below. All entries that meet the aforementioned criteria will go into a lucky draw and winners announced in the first week of January 2019. On that note, I leave it to you to go through the NWW articles that were published in 2018 to see which one you liked most, and bid you goodbye until next weekend, when I hope to see you back here again on FactorDaily as we explore more SF together. Live long and prosper!


Disclosure: FactorDaily is owned by SourceCode Media, which counts Accel Partners, Blume Ventures, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Jay Vijayan and Girish Mathrubootham among its investors. Accel Partners and Blume Ventures are venture capital firms with investments in several companies. Vijay Shekhar Sharma is the founder of Paytm. Jay Vijayan and Girish Mathrubootham are entrepreneurs and angel investors. None of FactorDaily’s investors has any influence on its reporting about India’s technology and startup ecosystem.