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…

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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.

Compiled by Mitali Chakravarty

 

And there’s a hand, my trusty fere!
And gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right gude-willie waught,
For auld lang syne.

Auld Lang Syne, Robert Burns,1788

 

It is that time of the year again when we bid adieu to the old and party to welcome the new. And this year it is not just an old year but the old decade that ends – this new year we start the third decade of the second millennia. With much goodwill, as the poet Burns says, we asked some writers who have featured on our pages to contribute two of their favourite reads from this year and they obliged… A huge thanks to all these fantastic writers who share what their favourite books have been this year.

51otYV5ZqEL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_We start with Suzanne Kamata, an award winning writer from Japan, who has been a part of our magazine and the first Best Asian Short Stories in 2017. This is what Suzanne wrote: “One book which particularly impressed me was Under the Broken Sky, a novel-in-verse by Mariko Nagai, about a Japanese girl stranded in Soviet-occupied Manchuria. Although we often hear and read about the atrocities committed by the Japanese Army in Asia, we rarely hear the voices of the innocent bystanders, like children. Nagai manages to distill complicated and difficult events into crystalline free verse. Although this book was written with middle grade readers in mind, I would recommend it to adults as well. 

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Title: Beast

Author: Krishna Udayasankar

Publisher: Penguin SEA

Year of publication: 2019

Pages: 320

Price: SGD 20.90

Links : Penguin Random House

About: When mythical creatures commit a real crime, who gets to be the judge? It was always the same dream, a dream that began with darkness and blood. When Assistant Commissioner of Police Aditi Kashyap is called upon to solve a gruesome triple homicide, she is dragged into the terrifying world of the Saimhas — werelions — who have lived alongside humans, hiding amongst them, since ancient times.

 

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Title: Boys from Good Families

Author: Usha K R

Publisher: Speaking Tiger

Year of publication: 2019

Pages: 472

Price: Rs. 599/-

Links: Speaking Tiger

 About:  Thippy, the beautiful ‘girl from the outhouse’. Ashwath, only son of a feudal family of landowners. A love that could never be blessed by Destiny.

Disillusioned by his family’s rejection of his love for Thippy, stifled by its traditions and conservative ways, Ashwath leaves Bangalore for a university town in America’s Midwest. It is 1981, and the American economy is booming. Ashwath enjoys the three C’s of success: a condominium, a car and a credit card. But a decade later, when the market crashes, he sees the other side of the American dream—joblessness, dingy one-room tenements, and loneliness.

Casting its shadow over it all is Neel Kamal, his family home in Bangalore, now a piece of prime real estate. Ashwath is compelled to return after twenty-five years to lay claim to his inheritance. He finds that he has returned to a city changed unrecognisably by new wealth, a family who are strangers to each other, and a home that is now a contested piece of real estate, valuable enough to kill for. His childhood love has been transformed into the reigning deity of a new age ashram. His attempts to meet her lead to a violent spiral of events.

Book Review by Koi Kye Lee

No Illusions Front Cover

Title: No Illusions in Xanadu

Author: Ruby Gupta

Publisher: Bloomsbury India (2019)

No Illusions in Xanadu is a murder mystery novel by Ruby Gupta, a professor working in Dehradun Institute of Technology, India. This is her eighth book, having published seven others comprising of fiction and non-fiction books. No Illusions in Xanadu is the second book in her mystery and crime series featuring a dapper detective, Professor Shantanu Bose.

Life in Mumbai came to a standstill when the handsome, charming and legendary Bollywood superstar Rajvir Kapoor was found dead in his study room. He was shot to death on the 30th floor of his swanky new home, Xanadu, named after the hi-tech home of Mandrake the Magician, one of the first super-heroes of the early twentieth century popularised by comic strips of the same name.

Rajvir’s body was discovered by his domestic help, Rose, who then called his wife Pallavi. A popular television host, Pallavi was at a meeting discussing her new talk show with India TV channel when she was informed of her husband’s death. Masking her shock after the telephone call, Pallavi quickly excused herself and rushed home. As she regained control and composure in her luxury car, Pallavi remained skeptical as she had seen Rajvir alive a few hours ago. Both of them had hosted the grandest party in Xanadu where the country’s elite – celebrities, business associates, family and friends – were in attendance. Xanadu, compared by the author to the Ambani home, was the place to be!

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Title:  Coming Back to the City, Mumbai Stories

Author: Anuradha Kumar

Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books

Year of publication: 2019

Links if any: Speaking Tiger 

 

 

Pooja: The Evening of the Immersion

The bulldozer moved over the uneven road, lurching over potholes, and scattering the broken stones. Pooja heard the sound fleetingly, muffled by the rain drumming outside. It was a bit after twelve.

Pooja stood in the darkness thinking over her recent conversation with Gauri Tai. Tai had been hesitating, as if she was trying to hide some anxiety.

‘Pooja?’

‘Tai.’ The stove near Pooja sizzled.

‘Do you know where Mahesh is, Pooja?’

‘Mahesh?’ Pooja felt a blankness descend on her. For some days now Mahesh had become someone she didn’t know and now Pooja found she couldn’t conjure up his face at all. All that came to her, almost with the force of the blinding sun, was her shock at seeing that gun under his pillow. There it lay, a neat brown-black thing, its imprint marked on the sheets and still warm from the pillow over it. The gun had seethed with menace and all those secrets she had never wanted to know about Mahesh.

By A. Jessie Michael

Of all the major festivals in the world, none I think is more universally celebrated than Christmas. There is something in the air in December that reaches far and wide.

When I arrived in China in 2012 to teach, I found a dismal artificial, Christmas tree with tangled streamers, in my classroom, in March of all months! The students who had put it up had no notion of the origins or the meaning of Christmas (or any other religious festival) except that it was universally fashionable to celebrate this thing called Christmas, in December, with a tree. It did not occur to them that it should have been taken down in January. It was in Florida and Australia that I discovered the Christmas Shops. I could not imagine that they stayed open all year round. At Christmas, Floridians have Santa Clause, sleigh, reindeer, and lights and whatnots on their rooftops, down the driveway and all around the garden. Sydney lights up the city and has amazing light displays of the nativity on the outside walls of a Church. Singapore lights up Orchard road and makes it a tourist attraction. No city is spared this dressing up.

In the Gardens Mall in Kuala Lumpur near where I live, this year it is a White Christmas! There were white trees laden with white cotton and white streamers; there were white swans, still, on a glassy lake and deer motionless under cotton laden trees. There were even polar bears in mid-prowl on snow. Outside it was 33 degrees Celsius. The hotel lobbies in the city are even more beautifully done up. When our children were small, we used to take them hotel-lobbies just to view the decorations.

The origins of Christmas are religious and holy but always seen as a time for joy for everyone.  Over the years with the advent of Santa clause with his legendary beginnings and his multiple selves, followed by Rudolph and his red nose competing with the Baby Jesus, Christmas has taken on two separate lives, the sacred and the secular. The first sings of the Child in the manger and the other of jingle bells and chestnuts on the fire. The sacred is Middle-Eastern, the secular is undeniably Western what with snowflakes and sleighs- bells. Yet there is no tension between the two. Somewhere in between, the twain do meet. The droves of people at the Mall with their children and cameras seem genuinely happy. The mood is infectious. I know for a fact that many non-Christians and total non-believers put up trees and exchange gifts just not to miss out in this season of goodwill.

91RK0gVPWQL.jpgFor believers in my city and in other towns in Malaysia, I know the churches will overflow at every service — the Christmas eve services and the morning ones. It is always the case.  The giving-trees are up where one can hang gifts for orphans. Christmas choir performances are on full swing if you care to check your events page on Facebook. At the same time, embassies are running their Christmas charity bazaars. There are the untold tales of those who celebrate with almsgiving. They visit the prisons, the homeless, the orphans or the aged with food, gifts and cheer. It is the season of giving and prayer and the season of joy, one in which even the saddest of hearts will smile a little and the hardest of hearts will melt a little. Everybody is in the mood, even the naysayers, who, like Scrooge, stomp their foot and  say — “Bah! Humbug!” Scrooge then did a volte face.

Charles Dickens  had captured the essence of the season beautifully in his novel written in 1843, A Christmas Carol — that charity, compassion and love reign supreme in this holy season.

Ronny Noor

Born in Dhaka, Bangladesh and educated in Germany and the United States, Ronny Noor is now an English professor at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, U.S.A. His poems, stories, and essays have appeared in The Toronto Review, Palo Alto Review, South Asian Review, Short Story, Taj Mahal Review, FreeXpresSion, The Weekend Independent, The Ghazal Page, The Daily Star, Kokako, and Contemporary Literary Review India. He is also the author of Snake Dance in Berlin (a novel), Slice of Heaven and Other Essays (a collection), and Where Heaven Spreads Wide & Other Stories (a collection). 

Book review by Gracy Samjetsabam

RESET S Swamy

Title: RESET Regaining India’s Economic Legacy

Author: Subramanian Swamy

Publisher: Rupa (2019)  

Subramanian Swamy is a well-known Indian politician, economist, and statistician. He is a Member of the Parliament in Rajya Sabha. A founding member of the Janata Party, he served as its president till 2013. He has also served as a member of the Planning Commission of India, has been a Cabinet Minister in the PM Chandra Shekhar government, and also been a Chairman of the Commission on Labour Standards and International Trade in the PM Narasimha Rao government. He has made contributions on India’s relations with China, Israel, Sri Lanka, and the USA and is considered as one of the most prominent voices in Indian foreign policy and diplomatic relations. He has a number of books, research papers and journals to his credit. He has written more than 20 books. Some of his most read books include: Economic Growth in China and India 1952–70 (1973), India’s Economic Performance And Reforms: A Perspective for The New Millennium (2000), India’s China Perspective (2001), Financial Architecture and Economic Development in China and India (2006), Hindus Under Siege: The Way Out (2006), Rama Setu: Symbol of National Unity (2008), 2G Spectrum Scam (2011). RESET: Regaining India’s Economic Legacy (2019) is his latest book.

In 1939, Dr. Swamy was born in Chennai, Tamil Nadu and brought up in New Delhi, where he completed his graduation in Mathematics from Hindu College, University of Delhi. He attended Harvard University as a Rockefeller Scholar and under the guidance of Nobel laureate Simon Kuznets received a PhD in economics, on the thesis titled “Economic Growth and Income Distribution in a Developing Nation” in 1965. He returned to India to pursue a career in academics. However, his interest in market economy at a time when the government of the day was tilted more towards the Nehru brand of socialism and command economy pushed him to change path and move towards a political career.

Subramanian Swamy was one of the masterminds in presenting a Swadeshi Plan in 1970, amongst other Jan Sangh leaders that included Jagannathrao Joshi and Nanaji Deshmukh. The monograph vocally directed that socialism be replaced with a competitive market economic system to ensure India’s economic growth at 10 per cent to overtake China by 2030, achieve self-reliance, full employment and produce nuclear weaponry. The plan was deemed “dangerous” by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and was dismissed. This sets the premises for the book RESET: Regaining India’s Economic Legacy. Fifty years hence, this seminal work provides a fresh look into his pioneering ideas on India-specific economic development.

By Saurav Ranjan Datta

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The old timepiece struck eight right at the moment when Arpita was about to yank her mouth open for a long-drawn yawn. She started at the sudden commotion caused by the gong while waiting at the Doon Railway Station. On a public holiday, the place was deserted and the long shadows of the dark night created a mystical halo around the suspicious nooks and crannies of the colonial building. She was waiting for the Mussoorie Express that started at 10pm for Delhi. Passing the time was becoming a burden for her. She had got a free ride from her guest house at six in the evening and, hence, arrived at the station much earlier. She had not taken into consideration the long wait. Most of the passengers would probably arrive only around 9.30pm on that chilly December night.

Arpita wrapped her shawl tightly once again but the wind continued shivering through her bones. She was otherwise a strongly built girl, a regular visitor to the gym.  Arpita was wondering if she had securely locked all her belongings back in her room at the guest house. Of late, ever since the arrival of her new roommate, Satarupa, things had suddenly started disappearing. Small things — but even the smallest toiletries are frightfully expensive nowadays. At first, Arpita thought she had lost them at work. Being a media presenter, her life was an endless stream of hustle and bustle from one place to another. But soon, she realised that they went missing at home. However, it would be extremely rude to ask a two-month-old room-mate if she has taken any of her things.

While countrywide protests wrack India over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and writer Shireen Dalvi  and Yakoob Yawar returned their state level Sahitya Akademi awards, a Hong Kong poet empathetic of the student protest caused distress within the family, one of who also happens to be a high profile government official.

IMG_2454.jpgDalvi was given an award in 2011 by the state of Maharashtra. From the media, she tweeted, “I am saddened and shocked by the news that the BJP led government has passed CAB ( Citizen amendment Bill), an attack on our constitution and secularism and in protest against this inhuman law I am announcing that I would return my State Sahitya Akademi Award…”

Yawar, 67, returned the Uttar Pradesh award state for translation saying in a report, “I have been scared watching the parliamentary debate. As an old man what else can I do about this Bill that is creating such unrest? I decided to return this award and do my duty.”