In 2018, New Worlds Weekly completed two years of its run, crossed the 100th edition milestone, and is now well into its third season as India’s longest running weekly SF column. As we move forward into a new year here’s a recap of some of the best #NWWonFD pieces.
One does not really need a reason to celebrate the fabulous and fantastic women writers of India who’ve enriched science fiction – taking it in new directions with each tale they tell. Their stories are reason enough.
The past few years have truly seen a global renaissance of fresh and original SF, and leading from the front have been the women writers, and the same holds true for India as well.
Not surprising, when you consider the fact that it was an Indian lady who, over a century ago, wrote what is amongst the first pieces of feminist science fiction: Begum Rokeya Shakawat Hossain who in 1905 wrote Sultana’s Dream, with its portrayal of the feminist utopia of Ladyland, a full decade before Charlotte Gilman’s Herland.
And just as it was then, so it is now, with Indian women writers pushing the possibilities of the genre with their stories, which – while being rooted in our culture – have transcended borders, winning the hearts and minds of readers across the world with their universal appeal.
His Twitter bio says that he is ‘One of the better-known Bruce Sterlings’. But for readers of science fiction, the tech community, people interested in knowing how culture and technology interact, intersect & impact humanity, and geeks at large, he is THE Bruce Sterling.
Multiple-award-winning science fiction author, cyber-guru and technopundit, Bruce Sterling is one of the founders, and chief architects of the cyberpunk genre, with his novels and the genre’s defining anthology Mirrorshades edited by him being essential for an understanding of cyberpunk. Along with William Gibson, he helped establish many of the conventions of another genre, steampunk, with the highly influential book, The Difference Engine.
Quizzing enthusiasts know him also to be the person featured on the cover of the very first issue of Wired (with the headline, ‘Bruce Sterling Has Seen the Future of War’), a magazine that to this day hosts his popular blog, Beyond the Beyond….And the Indian connection? Bruce Sterling lived – and travelled – in India during his teens and keenly follows India, not least Bollywood. An outspoken commentator on the state of affairs of (almost) everything, Bruce Sterling is also a futurist, a proponent of design fiction, a much sought-after speaker, amongst many other things.
Aristocracy. Autocracy. Plutocracy. Theocracy. Noocracy. Lottocracy. Particracy. Gerontocracy. There’s no end to the many forms of government that have been proposed and/or tried at some point in history. But the one form that has survived the longest, and currently the one we see predominantly worldwide – in one form or the other is Democracy.
One amongst the many reasons behind democracy’s longevity is its ability to change and evolve, but the one thing that has not changed, and is at the heart of it everywhere, irrespective of what form of democracy is followed, is the Election. Now, science fiction authors have never been ones to shy away from talking about power and politics, but a story that revolves around the process of democracy in an age of technology, and data – while proposing its own variant of the system – and set in an election year is a rare find. I can only think of two. The first is not a novel, but a short story, 1955’s Franchise by Isaac Asimov, and then too, the way it goes, the election itself is avoided, so to speak. The second is a 2016 novel called Infomocracy by Malka Older.
If you’re someone with a passing interest in science fiction who’d like to know the genre better or would like to experience all the many splendours it has to offer without having to read 300-page novels, one of the best ways is through an anthology. If you’re a hardcore science fiction reader who wants to discover new authors or get deeper into the genre’s history and trends, one of the best ways is through an anthology.
Here then, are five essential science fiction anthologies that will appeal to – and are recommended for – both, the seasoned sci-fi fan, and the casual reader who’d really like to know what the big fuss about science fiction really is. Whatever it is that you’re looking for – spaceships and robots, interstellar travel or the future of humankind, feminist stories, swashbuckling adventures, stories about love and loss, funny stories, stories to make you ponder, about politics, economics, about culture(s), stories about the future that are really a commentary on our present, stories about technology done right, of technology gone wrong – they’re all in here, and then some.
‘…the last true science fiction writer’ were the words the writer and critic, Damien Walter used to describe Adam Roberts in 2013 in his review of Roberts’ 13th novel, Jack Glass. Adam Roberts has since written four more since then, with his 18th book – since his debut with Salt in 2000 – By The Pricking of Her Thumb, expected to be out later this year. But by day, he is the Professor of English Literature, and also teaches creative writing at Royal Holloway, University of London.
Apart from writing science fiction novels, Adam Roberts is also a historian of the genre having written a pretty comprehensive critical history of SF, The History of Science Fiction as part of the Palgrave Histories of Literature series, as also Science Fiction (The New Critical Idiom). On the lighter side of the genre, he has – in his A.R.R.R. Roberts avatar – written parodies as well, such as The McAtrix Decoded, The Sellamillion, Doctor Whom, and Star Warped. And for people who want to become SF writers, he has written a book, Getting Started In: Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. All of this is apart from his many novellas and short stories. He is also currently writing the literary biography of one of the fathers of modern science fiction, H.G. Wells…So, who better then to grace the one hundredth, yes the 100th, edition of India’s longest-running weekly science fiction column – New Worlds Weekly – than Adam Roberts…
For those that don’t know much about him, here’s a brief biography from Norman Spinrad’s The Iron Dream: “Adolf Hitler was born in Austria on April 20, 1889. As a young man, he migrated to Germany and served in the German army during the Great War. After the war, he dabbled briefly in radical politics in Munich before finally immigrating to New York in 1919. While learning English, he eked out a precarious existence as a sidewalk artist and occasional translator in New York’s bohemian haven, Greenwich Village. After several years of this freewheeling life, he began to pick up odd jobs as a magazine and comic illustrator. He did his first interior illustration for the science-fiction magazine Amazing in 1930. By 1932, he was a regular illustrator for the science-fiction magazines, and, by 1935, he had enough confidence in his English to make his debut as a science-fiction writer. He devoted the rest of his life to the science-fiction genre as a writer, illustrator, and fanzine editor.
Although best known to present-day SF fans for his novels and stories. Hitler was a popular illustrator during the Golden Age of the thirties, edited several anthologies, wrote lively reviews, and published a popular fanzine. Storm, for nearly ten years. He won a posthumous Hugo at the 1955 World Science-Fiction Convention for Lord of the Swastika, which was completed just before his death in 1953. For many years, he had been a popular figure at SF conventions, widely known in science-fiction fandom as a wit and nonstop raconteur. Ever since the book’s publication, the colourful costumes he created in Lord of the Swastika have been favourite themes at convention masquerades. Hitler died in 1953, but the stories and novels he left behind remain as a legacy to all science-fiction enthusiasts.”
A scientist. The history of true science fiction in India starts with a pioneering scientist. The great Jagadish Chandra Bose, who in 1896 wrote a story of how a ‘cyclone that was about to put the heart of the British empire in danger’ was tamed with hair oil. The story was called Niruddesher Kahini (Story of the Untraceable) and would earn him the title, ‘Father of Bengali Science Fiction’. But while JC Bose might’ve written this sci-fi story to win a competition, and promote Kuntalin hair oil, it was done without compromising on hard scientific principles. To that, the later generations of Indian scientists who’ve followed in his footsteps in writing science fiction would add another layer of purpose – that of getting people to think about science. After all, stories are one of the primary ways humans learn.
Science via science fiction. Entertainment intermingled with education. Tales of imagination told well while being rooted in scientific principles and technological possibilities. Seen from this perspective, the term that best suits the kind of stories our scientists have written is “Scientifiction”. A term coined by pioneering sci-fi editor Hugo Gernsback who defined it thus, “By ‘scientifiction’ I mean the Jules Verne, HG Wells…type of a story—a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact …Not only do these amazing tales make tremendously interesting reading—they are always instructive. They supply knowledge that we might not otherwise obtain—and they supply it in a very palatable form. For the best of these modern writers of scientifiction have the knack of imparting knowledge, and even inspiration, without once making us aware that we are being taught.”
Ram V is not a name that is unfamiliar to Indian comic book fans or to the readers of this column. In the case of the former, it would likely be due to the popular series that he wrote, Aghori, amongst the finest comics from the Indian comics publisher Holy Cow Entertainment. New Worlds Weekly readers would, of course, be familiar with him as the writer of the post-apocalyptic science fiction series from Image Comics, Paradiso which was reviewed in this column earlier. A chemical engineer by qualification, Ram V is also known for the acclaimed ‘noir’ comic Black Mumba, that was published as a result of a highly successful Kickstarter project. Originally from Mumbai, but currently based in London, Ram V is also a part of White Noise Collective, a group of London-based artists and writers, as also the writer of These Savage shores and the Brigands series.
Batman. Everyone knows Batman. But perhaps what not everyone knows is that with Batman Secret Files – helmed, and with a framing narrative given, by Tom King and Mikel Janin – Ram V has become the first Indian author to write an official Batman story. So, to talk about all of this and much more, I reached out to Ram V for an interview.
Earth. Mid-22nd Century (2144 to be exact). The nation-state is a thing of the past. The world is divided into economic zones controlled by big pharma companies. Human rights have been replaced with private contracts and indentured servitude has contributed in no small part to building the world economy. It has been almost a century since artificial intelligence gained sentience, and robots – indistinguishable from humans – are in a constant struggle with humans for jobs and resources. And jobs are pay-to-play because the other option is slavery. Because once the powers-that-be realised that if human-equivalent beings i.e. sentient robots could be indentured (ostensibly to offset the price of building them), so could human beings themselves. People and robots, manufactured products and ideas are all property, mere economic assets. And the only law that’s very actively enforced by the powerful International Property Coalition (IPC) is patent law. Welcome to the world of Autonomous, the debut science fiction novel by i09 founder editor, science writer and journalist, Annalee Newitz.
“The future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed,” said William Gibson famously, and truly. If the future is about how easy it will would be to ‘hack minds’ and manipulate people by controlling their digital feed, about mega-corporations vying for that scarce resource – your attention, about companies as powerful as governments that profit from exploiting an Earth forever changed by global heating, then one could say it’s already here, albeit ‘unevenly distributed’. It is these trends that are at the heart of Eliot Peper’s Bandwidth, in which he extrapolates them by taking them to the extreme by asking ‘what if this goes on?’ to arrive at one vision of a possible future that awaits us.
A bestselling author of books such as Cumulus, and the Uncommon series that explore the intersection of technology and society, Eliot Peper is a strategist with a background in VC firms and start-ups, consultant and as an Editor at Scout.ai leads their Incoming Transmissions series that highlights big ideas from books that ‘illuminate the present by examining the future’. And Bandwidth fits that description quite well.
Now, tell us which New Worlds Weekly piece from 2018 YOU think is the best and why, and you could be one of 3 winners who gets to choose their prize. Details at the end of this NWW piece. All the best!
Design: Rajesh Subramanian