The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

Gopuji tore away the blanket. His shirt was drenched in sweat. He dragged himself out of bed. When he foamed toothpaste in his mouth, he heard it again. It seemed to be a classical tune of great melancholy, of Western origin rather than a Hindustani one. It flooded his ears. His temples throbbed. Sudden chills in the forty-degree Mumbai heat and humidity. He remembered last night’s dream of feathered attacks. Yes, that was what it was. Wet wings slapping at him as if they would murder him in a pond or lake … hard forceps-like things clutching his neck … a thick fleecy rope winding around his neck … tighter and tighter, claws gripping him and tearing his flesh.

Even the memory of it sent streams of sweat down his body as he showered and got ready for work. The lilt lingered into his hearing.

Gopuji was accustomed to background music. In fact, he was more used to it than most average people. He was a filmmaker. How many times, while making films, had he ardently wished for a personal background score? A score that would act like lyrical second thoughts, drizzling around him, making his life more meaningful and understood by those around. Was it this wish that followed him now? This principle that if you wished for something strongly into the Universe it was bestowed upon you?

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

The only thing I could do for him was take his picture. So I heaved my DSLR up—it had to be bulky, to give that touch of authenticity—and peered through the viewfinder, focusing on his face.

Not that I needed to. The camera was perfectly capable of capturing the shot on its own. But this was art, and I, the artist. I had to at least appear to work for my fee.

Through the unforgiving lens, Harun Shamsuddin looked even worse. Despite being powdered over with makeup, his pale, papery skin seemed like it would shred at the slightest touch. The luxuriant wig perched on his scalp made the deep furrows on his forehead look more pronounced. He was dressed in his old lawyer’s robes, now billowing over his shrunken frame.

“You can Photoshop the tubes out, right?” his daughter Mimi asked over my shoulder. I lowered the camera and studied the tubes affixed to him intently, giving the impression of great concentration. There were fewer than most of my other subjects: just one going into his nose, and another dangling out of his arm. The others were all concealed beneath the robe.

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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.

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

“Sometimes,” said Sternmeyer, “I get into that gym and I just sweat.” And then he shone his successful face at them. Everything about Sternmeyer was successful—the titanium watch, the oiled trekking shoes, the clear tan skin; everything shouted—I have never lost!

“What does he want with the likes of us?” Willet wondered.

“He’s bored,” was Hudson’s explanation. “You get these people with trust funds, and they’ve got all the stuff.”

Sternmeyer, then, was bored of stuff. Incredibly to Willet, he was bored of his condo-with-a-pool and his Italian clothes and his German car. He wanted experience.

The day before, sitting on plastic stools drawn up to a noodle cart, Hudson had waved his chopsticks at the fragility and squalor of the small border settlement—the semi-naked children heedless in the mud, the haze of flies worrying at the fish heads and banana skins rotting in the open drains, the pats of buffalo dung hardening in the road, and waiting in the gathering clouds, the tropical rain that would whisper down all night, making more red mud that would have dried into red dust by late afternoon. He said, “To him all this is exotic.”

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

She patted the baby to sleep. The baby was restless and so was she. It was the patter of the incessant rain on the tin roof of their shanty that kept breaking into the little one’s half formed dreams, bringing him wailing back into the discomfort of the world outside the womb. It was almost past midnight now, her husband wasn’t home yet. It worried her, the odd hours he kept. This morning he’d walked off towards the main road where his taxi was parked, saying he’d be back home early. “Make lauki ke koftey,” he’d yelled, without turning his head back. She’d left the baby with a neighbour that morning, and run out to buy the lauki he’d demanded. Dudhi it was called here, in Mumbai. It took some getting used to, the different terms that were used for common vegetables. Alu pyaaz was kaanda batata. She’d begun to make do by pointing out to things with her finger, and then negotiating the rate.

It was a regular day, he would drive to Pune and come back. He was normally back by nine in the night most days, and would want his dinner immediately—piping hot rotis rolled out as he ate, sitting on the squat wooden plank on the floor of the little shanty. He’d finally managed to put together the funds for the rent deposit. This was his castle, she knew, and she was his queen.

Reviewed by Amalia Clarice Mora

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Title: The Delicate Balance of Little Lives

Author: Jessica Faleiro

Self-Published, 2018 (supported through a grant from the Government of Goa’s Directorate of Art and Culture)

 

The Delicate Balance of Little Lives is a short story collection by Jessica Faleiro, the award-winning Goan author of the Afterlife: Ghost Stories from Goa.

This collection offers a glimpse into defining moments of five women whose lives intersect. The proximity of defeat is a central theme in all the stories; the women are close to falling off the edge of their lives but, somehow, never do. Instead, they navigate through the solemn and unexpected and even the catastrophic (rather than overcoming “triumphantly”). They enjoy the small mercies and secrets that prevent them from losing their hold on stability, but which are also the reason they have to cling so desperately to this stability in the first place.

There is Suzanne, a once well-known concert pianist whose fame and musical confidence have waned with age.  Alcoholism is her stealth, insidious disease, but alcohol is also an elixir that provides her with the confidence to play at her only gig as a hotel lobby musician. Liquor dulls “the sharp edges of her feelings”, the cruelty of a lover who keeps her at bay, and the memory of a past lover, Rohan, who had asked her to quit the drinking — and the piano playing that necessitated it — but who was unwilling to give up a vice of his own.

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

But I won’t give this up for I have worked tirelessly for months to become a Patangi. Because I have come to believe in their war. Because I need the money.

Night after night I have scrubbed my Jashn with neem laced fireflies, said a prayer over her tiny head and bundled her off into the Sleep Shield which I smuggled in when we moved here—my secret within the whole secret of The Tower where anything with extreme cryogenics is forbidden. Our early days here were overwhelming. We found an empty flat in one extreme corner of the thirty-fourth floor. The windows were broken. I slept on the floor. Jashn slept inside the Shield. I kept her there for as long as possible, sometimes waking her up only for the sparse meals. What else was there to do? Other than wait and survive in this cold, torn up and seemingly hostile place. New refugees came in droves. The stench of homelessness grew. Yet in the thrum of humanity and suffering I kept warm. And there was hope in those early days. That he would come.

By Shreya Gupta

 

kiara_rishi_shreyaguptaThe doorbell interrupted Kiara’s flow of thoughts. She moved towards the door and looked through the peephole. Instantly she had a smile on her face. She opened the door halfway to see Rishi in his business suit holding his laptop bag and a takeaway package which she knew contained her favourite sandwiches from a stall near his office.

They shared a glance as he entered. Kiara took the package from his hand and went into the kitchen. Meanwhile, Rishi kept his bag down and took out an envelope and  placed it on the table.

Kiara offered him water and kept the plate with sandwiches on the table.

“Look what I received today,” he said passing the envelope to Kiara.

He drank water while she opened the envelope.

“You remember Piyush, my chachu’s (father’s younger brother’s) son. He is getting married in two weeks from now.”

“Oh! that is nice,” Kiara skimmed through the invitation.

“Yes, it is. Now, Let’s eat fast. I need to get back home early today to book our tickets,” said Rishi, taking another bite into the sandwich.

 

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

“Brother, you’re the man of the hour!” Sardar Singh whacked Asim on his shoulder, making him stagger and cough. “What luck, yaar. Seven daughters I’ve had, seven expensive bitches. My Lalli is one fertile mare but no, not even one has taken on her and shed a drop of blood, but you, bull’s eye with the first one, eh? You lucky rogue!” Sardar winked. Asim looked around suspiciously, desperately hoping no one had heard. Just when his luck had turned he managed to bump into the biggest gossip from his district.

“How did you—” Asim stopped himself. He took out his neatly folded, embroidered handkerchief and wiped off his sweaty brow, fingering his hair back into their gelled shape and inching away from his boisterous districter. “Look, not here, please.”

Sardar pulled Asim in a corner, taking them out of the gurgling sea of humanity that lined up to enter the fertility market.