As things change rapidly in the world, as wars break out, new strains of viruses are unearthed, and news of heatwaves and floods headline the internet, real life looks a lot like pre-apocalyptic dystopia. In such an atmosphere, a bibliophile might seek some solace in fiction.
Speculative fiction—a genre that encompasses sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and climate fiction—interrogates the events of our time and answers the biggest question: What If? What if we could access each other’s dreams? What if we could write our own fates? And what if there was a solution to the paroxysm of climate disasters happening right now?
There are several amazing books by South Asian women that jump down rabbitholes of what-ifs and create fantastic worlds that are not just enjoyable to read about, but act as handbooks for reckoning with the future of the world as it is today. Here are 5 we recommend.
The mysterious tiles in a church make an artist and a mathematician meet, separate, and reunite continuously; a captive engineer builds a machine to recall the face of his beloved. An eleventh-century poet wakes to find he is an artificially intelligent companion on a starship. These are just a couple of the characters we meet in Ambiguity Machines. With its distinct imaginative plots and peculiar characters placed in strange and unconventional settings, this book of stories (including a novella) is one of award-winning author and physicist Vandana Singh’s finest.
Vauhini Vara’s debut novel, the Immortal King Rao, tells many stories. One is of Rao, once a highly intelligent Dalit child growing up on a coconut plantation who goes on to become a technocrat in the US. Another is of his daughter, Athena, who, armed with access to his memories, reckons with his legacy. All this while climate change roiling in the background. This debut novel deals with interconnecting themes such as technology, globalisation, patriarchy and climate change. (Read SEEMA’s interview with Vauhini Vara here.)
Edited by Sukanya Venkatraghavan, this anthology of Indian fantasy fiction comprises stories from fourteen of the most vital voices in Indian women’s speculative fiction including Tashan Mehta, whose book we’ve featured in this list. Placed in distinct fantastical settings, the stories are riveting windows into themes of love, rage, rebellion, and more.
Shortlisted for Prabha Khaitan Women’s Voice Award, this phenomenal debut is set in a world where birth charts are real, and one’s life is mapped in the stars. It follows the journey of Zahan Merchant, a Parsi boy born without a future but possessing a unique power. He can change reality with his lies. As Zahan garners the attention of the hatadaiva (the unfortunate), his power becomes dangerous both to him and the people he loves.The book takes the readers to the familiar early 20th century Bombay in colonial India and the imaginary outskirts of Vidroha, a forest of misfits.
Analog/Virtual introduces us to a special brand of dystopia known as a Meritocratic Technarchy. Here, technology is the key to survival, productivity is power, and the self must be engineered for the only noble goal in life: success. If one fails, they are labelled analog and deported to a place without electricity, running water or their humanity. This brilliant debut forces us to reckon with a future that we may be close to inheriting.