Kitaab’s Best Asian Speculative Fiction: ‘A significant milestone in the genre’

Recently, a review of Best Asian Speculative Fiction (2018) appeared in Southeast Asian Review of English positioning it as a unique collection groomed by editor, writer Rajat Chaudhuri, and series editor, Zafar Anjum, and set to mark a milestone within the genre. Read here a part of the review…


Anthologies of Asian speculative fiction are relatively few and far between and when one does get published, it marks a significant milestone in the genre itself. In addition, writers, editors and commentators tacitly recognize the  importance  of  underscoring  the  source  of  and  inspiration  for  such  works,  namely  Asia.  This,  in  turn, immediately prompts some questioning. Apart from its cultural and geographical setting, what distinguishes Asian speculative fiction from the rest? How different are the works in terms of themes, style, tropes, idiom compared with those from Europe or Africa or any other continent? Why Asian? Why now? Is there a tradition of speculative storytelling in Asia? What counts as speculative fiction in the Asian context?

These questions demand theoretical and critical responses, and this collection of speculative tales with its bold claim of being the best Asian speculative fiction for 2018 presents a singular opportunity for both the casual reader and the academic scholar to begin scrutinizing the text and, more importantly, enjoying the sheer diversity of voices and imaginings emanating from the Indian sub-continent, Southeast Asia and East Asia as well as the Asian diasporas. Both established and emerging writers regardless of whether they identify with the genre are  represented  in  this  carefully  curated  collection,  and  almost  all  the  works  were  written  specially  for  the volume.

The result is a collection that encompasses a wide repertoire of voices and tales and which is potentially at the cutting edge of the genre. In  his  helpful  introduction  to  the  volume,  editor  Rajat  Chaudhuri  describes  speculative  fiction  as  an “adorable, shape-shifting, slippery creature” (xiv), and true to this broad  and  inclusive  characterization,  this collection does not disappoint with its selection of science fiction, fantasy, horror, dystopia and the various offshoots and permutations of these forms. It is apparent that beyond the term’s provenance associated with and manifested in the works of Robert Heinlein and Margaret Atwood, that is, speculative seen in terms of ‘what if’ hypothetical  situations  and  of  what  could  happen  in  the  future  based  on  the  technology  that  already  exists ‘speculative’ has become a catch all term for works which challenge or extend our notions of reality and truth.

Whatever the case, in putting the volume together, the editors were guided by both the conventional definitions and the newer, evolving understandings of the term. The volume has its finger on the pulse of speculative writing as manifested in stories with titles like “Web,” “The Daughter That Bleeds,” “Falling Through the Labyrinth,” “How the Human ATM Lived Forever,” “The Collision of Parallels” and “Dante and theTumult Cards.” More importantly, though, a major motivation for the book’s editors is the desire to provide a platform for Asian voices who are underrepresented; as the editors point out, speculative fiction with  its pliable and porous boundaries  is exceptionally well-positioned to include the works of ‘others’ who speak their own speculative language. As far as themes go, as with all literature, these works of Asian speculative fiction are concerned with the human condition and its perennial issues; nevertheless, they do so by underscoring the post-human and post-natural condition and its implications for human and more-than-human –including supernatural –entities. As such, the stories  are  complex  juxtapositions  of  familiar  and  unfamiliar  elements:  love,  loss,  guilt,  identity,  cyborgs,  bio-power, alien life-forms, time and space travel, post-apocalypse, social decay, artificial intelligence, the afterlife, hubris, ageing, gender, sexuality, parallel universes, ghosts and the spirit-world, among others. Moreover, literary history shows that narratives are often shaped by crisis and historical circumstances. Arguably, speculative fiction in  general  is  itself  a  literature of  crisis  engaging  with  and  reacting  to  environmental  catastrophe,  scientific  and technological  ascendancy,  postmodern  thought,  spiritual  apathy,  political oppression  and  injustices  of  various kinds.

Click here to complete reading the review.


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