Tag Archives: speculative fiction

Short Story: The Grave by Samim Ahmed

Translated by Abhisek Sarkar

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

Chhabi has expired.

Chhabila died close to day break. She had been choked to death. Her one year old child Etim, following his usual morning practice, is trying quite hard to suck some milk out of one of her breasts.

Patuki has no inkling about who killed Chhabi. Although it is not unknown to him that this is not a natural death, he is yet to discover that the man he spotted approaching Chhabi’s house early in the morning was the killer. But the very next night Patuki would come to know who killed Chhabila. The one who would be his source of information is the most reliable of all. The rich and the poor, thieves and thugs, the good and the bad, all have respect for him. It is only Patuki who he speaks with. But the day is still young and he has to wait long for nightfall. How long will he have to cope with this hubble-bubble in his stomach, with this uncanny sensation running through his veins?

The man who visited Chhabila at dawn had also been seen coming out of her house late in the night. Patuki spends the whole of the night at the southern bank of the pond behind dense bushes, fishing pole in hand. Long aerial roots of a great banyan tree surround this place. These bushes entice him. The night has its own allure. Only Allah knows why people waste these hours sleeping. Patuki does not sleep; he cannot. The long fishing line of Patuki does not have a hook hence the float also is redundant. He has seen people climbing up his fishing thread from the water— many of them. They climb throughout the night and bless Patuki. Then they climb up those roots of the banyan tree. Now they turn into fireflies and fly around the Banyan pir. Read more

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. Read more

Is eco literature our future?


Nicanor Parra … courtesy Arteaga

With protests staged by environmentalists of different ages in many parts of the world, one is left wondering if this is not a major issue that needs to be addressed by the literary community over other issues as it links to our basic survival. These lines by Nicannor Parra, the famous Chilean poet, say it all.

The mistake we made was in thinking

that the earth belonged to us

when the fact of the matter is

we’re the ones who belong to the earth.

He redefined himself as an eco poet in the latter part of his career and said: “The eco-poet also works with contradiction, he defends nature, but he cannot fall into the trap of a new dogmatism. So there are some eco-poems which are apparently anti-ecological, like the following: ‘I don’t see the need for all this fuss, we all know the world is at its end.’ It must be kept in mind that any type of dogmatism, including ecological dogmatism, produces a hardening of the soul. To avoid this hardening, this new dictatorship, this new central committee, one has to denounce even ecological dogmatism. Paradoxically, this is also the soul regulating itself. The man who only affirms runs the risk of freezing up inside. Constant movement, vital motion is crucially important for me.”

So, what is eco literature? Is it the same as cli- fi ?Is it in the genre of speculative fiction or science fiction? Read more

Short Story: The English Garden by Bae Suah

Translated by Janet Hong

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

“I think that’s how I found the way to the English garden,” Kyeong-hui said to me that day.

“I think I played on the swing.”

“Pardon me?” I asked, not understanding.

“There were so many things … inside and outside the wall … A swing, a cherry tree, and flowers … So I forgot to go home.”

“Pardon me?”

“I think the same will happen to you.”

“Pardon me?”

“I think you went to the English garden and played on the swing too.”

Kyeong-hui was the first person forbidden to me. She lived with us, but no one talked about her. No one called her or mentioned her name. No one even looked at her. If we happened to cross paths, my family acted as if she were invisible, though she rarely emerged from her small room. We weren’t allowed to touch her, to make eye contact with her, or to gaze at her as if she were real. The only thing we were allowed to do was move out of the way so that she could pass, or so that her body wouldn’t brush against ours. Naturally Kyeong-hui never joined us at the table, not for a single meal.

Oddly, my parents expected us to adhere strictly to their rules regarding Kyeong-hui, but gave us no direct orders or warnings. Not once were we told that talking to her, or about her, was forbidden. If we ever pointed towards her corner room on the second floor or thoughtlessly uttered her name, we merely received a sharp “Shh!” which flicked like a whip from their mouths. Read more

Short Story: How the Human ATM Lived Forever by Carlo C. Flordeliza

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

It had been forty-two days since the incident. Pulling money out of his body became a daily routine. He had no choice. When he ignored the piece of paper sticking out, the side of his body ached, he became nauseated, forcing him to vomit. And so, every morning, he would lock himself inside the bathroom, turn on the shower, and pull out money from his body.

The first few days were challenging. He told his parents that he had a particularly bad case of the flu. He forced himself to cough hoarsely. When someone entered his bedroom, he hid under the covers, shivering, trying his best to impersonate someone who had the chills. He had hoped that his condition would pass after several days, much like the disease he pretended to have. He went online and searched for anything about humans that made money using their bodies. He found stories and interviews about prostitution. He found porno videos of Asian hookers who specialised in fetishes, from BDSM to peeing on the face of their customers. He found articles and posts about modern day slavery. He found Reddit threads filled with people who desperately hope that they could shit money, fish it out of the toilet, and purchase everything they have ever wanted. However, there was nothing about any medical condition that made a person biologically manufacture actual money. It was unnatural. He was officially a mutant, an aberration, a freak of nature. On his third “sick day,” he decided to just ignore it, like what many teenagers had done once they find something growing on their body. Read more

Book review: Clone by Priya Sarukkai Chabria

Reviewed by Shikhandin


Title: Clone
Author: Priya Sarukkai Chabria
Publisher – Zubaan Books
Pages: Hard cover 285
Price: INR Rs 595 / $25 / £19

In 1897, the French artist Paul Gaugin, who had relocated to Tahiti some years earlier, painted his masterpiece – a wall sized fresco-like oil painting, in which flowed the summation of his ideas through the medium of sensuous Tahitian figures against lush Tahitian backdrop and motifs. He titled it in French, the English translation of which reads: ‘Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?’ These are existential questions, asked by humans down the centuries. Poets have asked through poetry, story tellers or minstrels have sung of those who cried out to the wheeling universe. Philosophers have pondered and mathematicians have tried to solve them through equations. Priya Sarukkai Chabria, in her richly textured novel, has written about one who seeks answers to similar questions. Her quester though, is a clone.

The subject of clones with heightened sensitivity has been treated in literature before, and also rendered into cinema.  Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, made into a movie of the same name later, is one of the most thought provoking and based on Earth. An earlier novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick in the late 1960s, renamed Blade Runner, was made into a movie by Ridley Scott in 1982. Other novels and movies too have dealt with clones, mostly in far off space colonies and space ships.

Sarukkai Chabria’s novel evokes luscious images, even as the narrative throws up unsettling theories of the future of humans. She comes across as a demanding writer, one who expects her readers to be informed and attentive. Her prose urges closer scrutiny, heavily embossed as it is with imageries culled from myths, legends and history. The reader has to know the sources, or at least be curious enough to find out, or else be left bereft of the contexts of her narrative. The extensive use of esotericism in her novel is both its strength and a weakness – the former as it adds layers and dimensions to the story; the latter, because the profusion of references and allusions, imageries and motifs, draws the reader in too deep into specific portions, slowing down the pace, and yet one must read on for the tale hasn’t ended, making the book exhausting at times. It is a relief therefore to know that the plot of Clone is fairly straightforward.

Read more

Short story: Slo-Glo by Priya Sarukkai Chabria

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

I know. I use Cooling Pods more than allowed. Cause of him I need to cool. I’m within its pistachio luminescence, enclosed by misty mucous membranes shaped like an eye, an eye with a chill lid that closes over you once you’re its pretend pupil, its twitching dark centre, its pupil being gently coaxed to calm down be composed, to glimmer less and less till Drowsy-Droopy and eyes shut.

I’m all gaze, I’m all gauze wrapping him from far off, a swell of lit synapses, a torch of feelers reaching out to him, covering cocooning cosseting him. My nerves tingle when his do. My heart lurches when he pauses, his rhythms of breathing are mine. In out in out in out come to me sweetheart, come to me comet burning too bright, come to me solitary star of night I’ll stop you from burning.

I’m watching wanting willing you not to reach The Limit. Kae Kuru Kae Kuru this is Koo your Empath Koo your Keeper. Love me Love me back I’m in your every cell stroking soothing spooning you, even before you do it I know you’ll stick a finger into your navel as you think harder for you want to connect to things that came before you and things yet to come, you seek safety as you invent, and trust me, I am that safety, Kae Kuru Kae Kuru sink into me.

Even when I’m cooling coddled in quiet I see you working. When you turn off I’m in your wild dream of hurtling black holes, your mind hurtling to capture its power, to train it tame it strain it steer it to feed larger black holes to feed us energy. That’s it. Energy. The want that censures controls condemns us. We the Profuges of the Planet of Ruo. Refugees from BlueGemm. That planet of long ago. The Once Dream. Our Once Mother. Our Once Twin. That flowered flourished faded finished in a time before The Limit was set. Those who lived there lived in an understanding of themselves as unbounded. They were our Ancestors.

We never pray to our Ancestors our Assassins. They blinded themselves betrayed themselves betrayed their progeny betrayed the future betrayed BlueGemm’s past betrayed us. We the Profuges of Ruo. Of Ruin. Ruination. But it doesn’t End here.

We are Profuges. Phoenix People who rose from waste, rose by want, by waiting waiting and changing ourselves, changing what was left of our world, we’re refugees fleeing our past, fleeing the ancient DNA that twisted us into being this, we are Profuges: we learnt how to twist our DNA so we never follow the path of our Ancestors our Assassins. We never pray to them.

In our orison meetings we use the language of the Bush People of the Kalahari from BlueGemm’s past, a language of clicks clacks cluttering as tongue and teeth clatter together, a language we don’t understand for we don’t want to be like our Ancestors our Assassins, we don’t want to pray for the same things even by mistake. But we need to pray to give thanks for what we have, what we’ve made of ourselves, we the Phoenix People of Ruo.

Read the complete story in The Best Asian Speculative Fiction 2018. Show your support for contemporary Asian voices. Order your copy now:

For Indian buyers: Flipkart & Amazon.in

For all buyers (except India): Kitaabstore 

Short story: Here I Am (for P.K. Leung 梁秉鈞 [Ye Si 也斯] in memoriam) by Xu Xi

He was not a zombie. Nor was he a ghoul, mummy, wraith, ambulatory skeleton or operatic phantom. He wasn’t even geong si, a dressed-to-the-nines Qing dynasty vampire that could at least do an approximation of the Lindy Hop, transcending time and culture into the Jazz Age. However, he was clearly dead, or undead if you parsed language to its core.

Jonnie Tang sauntered down the pathway of Southorn Playground, skirted the border of the court, waiting to be seen. His real name was Tang Chun-ying, or CY, but a little over a year ago, he had started going by Jonnie, not wanting to be ragged on for his English initials that were the same as the city’s Chief Executive. At least he used to be Jonnie Tang until 0555 hours. The idiot driver of that Bimmer M3 barrelling East on Hennessy, along the north border of the playground, had run the light and slammed into him. Asshole didn’t even have the balls to stop.

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

The force of impact had flung him into the plate glass window of the second floor hair salon above the Circle K. Shattering glass severed his vocal cords, and a large, jagged, blade-like shard almost decapitated him. Not a desirable angle of repose, to be unrecognisably swathed on a gurney, smeared in blood and faecal matter, like a chicken with its head chopped off. Even the emergency team paled. He was gruesome.

Next thing you knew, Jonnie was the corpse on TVB Jade’s 1830 hours evening news, being too late for the morning news at 0630 hours.

He could imagine his mother tsk-ing away at the radio news report later that morning. Those reckless 有錢 boys and their cars! Hate to death those have-money brats. They should be locked up and forced to clean public toilets as community service! His mother was tsk-ing about something else on the news, until the call came from the police, are you the family of Tang Chun-ying? Ma, he called across what he presumed to be an ethereal, omniscient panorama, I’m here, but his voice box was gone. He couldn’t even say before he disappeared that this wasn’t her fault and that she shouldn’t blame herself as he knew she would.

Except that he hadn’t disappeared, not really.

At Southorn, the gang was all there, waiting for him, calling out his mother’s cunt at his tardiness. It was a little past 0630 hours, their appointed time to shoot hoops each Tuesday morning, a ritual observed for the last five years.

Hey, he yelled at the gang, here I am. King-wah was dribbling the ball in a slow dance. Jonnie tried, but could not step over the painted white line on the ground that bordered the court. What was this weirdness of being, voiceless, invisible, movement-impaired? Uncertain of his new existence, other than the certainty that he was dead, he avoided touching or bumping into solid objects, afraid that he could not pass through them (or was he actually afraid that he could?). Would he disintegrate when the sun rose, assuming it wasn’t another rain-soaked morning? Did weather delay eternity?


Read the complete story in The Best Asian Speculative Fiction 2018. Show your support for contemporary Asian voices. Order your copy now:

For Indian buyers: Flipkart & Amazon.in

For all buyers (except India): Kitaabstore 

News: Apply now – Speculative fiction writing workshop on AI futures

From Digital Asia Hub

We’re thrilled to announce a 2-day event, aimed at generating ideas and pieces that explore the present and future of artificial intelligence (AI) and related technologies. Apply to join us!

Part of Digital Asia Hub’s ongoing series exploring “AI in Asia”, this regional workshop is supported by the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Initiative, a joint project of the MIT Media Lab and the Harvard Berkman-Klein Center for Internet and Society. It incubates a range of research, prototyping, and advocacy activities within these two anchor institutions and across the broader ecosystem of civil society.

The deadline for applications is 12 p.m on 5th December (Singapore time).

Background: Our goal is to expand current thinking around AI and related technologies. AI continues to develop rapidly. More and more we see the use of algorithmic, automated, and autonomous systems. These technologies are poised to have significant effects on people who did not participate in their creation—in some cases they’re already having such effects. We need more voices, minds, and experiences to articulate both real presents and possible futures.

For this project, we focus less on spectacles of utopia or dystopia and more on lived experience, relationship, and community. Of course, everyday life happens within complex social systems shaped by larger institutions of politics and commerce, so we’ll be speculating across scales. We expect this to be a very generative process—we’re excited to see where our collective imagination takes us!

Approach: The weekend’s sessions will be structured around speculative prompts and group work. We will write individually and collaboratively, in an environment of mutual respect and generosity of spirit. Drawing on the book sprint model, by the end of the weekend we expect to have finished writing our volume. We are aiming to launch the volume in early 2019, and have a design and production lined up to help us get there.

You don’t have to identify as a writer to participate. You don’t have to have previously participated in a book sprint. You don’t have to be a specialist in AI technologies. We’re seeking a variety of perspectives and a variety of levels of familiarity with technology, AI and otherwise. We’re seeking people who are excited to think creatively, critically, and collaboratively about the role of technology in human lives. We’re seeking people excited to engage in some serious play.

To apply: Submit your application online using this form. Successful applicants will be notified by 8th December.

The workshop will be facilitated by Dr. Amy Johnson and the Digital Asia Hub team. We are grateful to have the Jacaranda Agency as an event partner and collaborator.

About Amy Johnson:

Amy Johnson explores the use of speculative techniques in writing, research, teaching, and advocacy. A linguistic anthropologist and scholar of science, technology, and society (STS), Dr. Johnson is currently a research fellow at the Center for Humanistic Inquiry at Amherst College, United States and a research affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University, United States. Her research examines digital play, language politics, and government use of social media. She is a published writer of both fiction and nonfiction, and her screenplays have been honored in multiple international competitions. She received her PhD from MIT in 2017.

About Digital Asia Hub:

The Digital Asia Hub is an independent, non-profit Internet and society research think tank based in Hong Kong. Incubated by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University and a diverse group of academic, civil society, and private sector partners, the Hub provides a non-partisan, open, and collaborative platform for research, knowledge sharing and capacity building related to Internet and Society issues with focus on digital Asia. The Hub also aims to strengthen effective multi- stakeholder discourse, with both local and regional activities, and will contribute to – and itself serve as a node of – a larger network of academic organizations: the Global Network of Internet & Society Centers (the “NoC”).



Call for Submissions: The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

Kitaab is seeking high quality short stories for The Best Asian Speculative Fiction anthology to be published next year. We take a liberal approach towards defining the speculative and will look beyond popular categories of science-fiction, fantasy and horror though these are very much welcome. Our anthology editor is looking forward to reading a variety of stories which could include dystopian, apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, weird, utopian, alternate history, superhero and any permutations and combinations of these. But first and foremost your story should be engaging with attention to characterisation and plot.

Give us stellar tales that slip past the quotidian and the mundane, transporting your reader to the edges of the possible and realms further still. Whisk us away to Murakamiesque wonderlands or Huxleian cacotopias; indulge us with the outré, the outlandish, the uncanny. We are looking here for a whiff of the Asimovian imagination, a taste of Lovecraftian weird, a dash of Atwoodesque futures. Take us on journeys through chinks of space-time, fling us into situations of climate change horror. No fan fiction please. Give us mind-blowing originals.

The best three stories (decided by the editor) will get cash prizes or Amazon vouchers (worth $50 each)! All selected contributors will each receive 2 complimentary copies of the final publication. 

If you are interested to delve a little deeper into speculative fiction, here is an article by Annie Neugebauer. Read more

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