the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘India

Someone on twitter (thank you, whoever you were!)  recommended Vandana Singh’s short story “Ambiguity Machines: An Examination”, and offered a link to the story on Tor.com.  I gave it a whirl, and was immediately hooked. In reminded me of Ken Liu’s short story “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species”, and I recognized my favorite method of story telling, which at first glance can seem to be stories that dance around a plot and characters while resolutely refusing to be trapped by said plot. And yet, so much is communicated about what is happening and sometimes why those thing happen, and what those things mean to the people they are happening to.

 

I guess it’s more like a fantastical story telling version of future archaeology?

 

Let me unpack that a little.

 

In Liu’s short story, there is no plot, there is no characters, there is no conflict. If you’re zipping through the story, you won’t recognize the beginning, middle, or end, but if you read a little closer, it’s all there. It’s just a story that gives a few paragraphs about a bunch of space-faring alien civilizations, and how they make books – how they ensure others can access their stories and their thoughts.  Within the story, there are no human interactions with the aliens, no earthly judgements of  their societies. It is as if to put a human character in would a barrier between the reader and the records of these cultures.    Singh’s “Ambiguity Machine’s” felt like that too – no barrier between the records of events and the reader, no “main character” to pass judgement or offer opinions,  just records of what had happened, along with a request that someone interpret the records.

 

For my brain, these two stories, read 8 years apart from each other, were like hearing two pieces of music that were different, but seemed to be talking to each other, even though they had never met. (yes, I know I’m weird) (and i don’t know, maybe Signh and Lui are good friends? I have no idea)

 

Suffice to say, after reading Signh’s story,  I immediately ordered a paperback copy of her collection, Ambiguity Machines and Other Select Stories. And when the book arrived, the first words out of my mouth were “oh, shit”.

 

 

You see, I like to read before bed.  Usually, i’m already half asleep when I crawl into bed, so I’m looking to read something that if I find myself reading the same paragraph 5 times, or fall asleep halfway through, it won’t matter too much.   A short-ish story, something 5-10 pages, out of an anthology or collection is perfect for this.

 

None of the stories in the Singh collection were short, and none of them looked like “easy reads”. As I got further into the collection I realized these were not stories to drift away to, while falling asleep at night, these were stories to read in the morning, with strong coffee, and to spend the day absorbing and thinking about them, so as to then dream about them at night.

 

Everything I have read so far in this collection has been heart achingly beautiful,  each story requiring me some time afterwards to come back to myself. These stories are vistas.

 

(I feel really bad for whatever I read next. No matter how good it is, I fear it will be mediocre in comparison to this collection)

 

I’m going to tell you about “Ambiguity Machines: An Examination”, and about “Somadeva: A Sky River Sutra”,  even though I have more favorites.  Those others will have to wait for another blog post, I supposed.   “Ambiguity Machines” had me globetrotting via googlemaps, and “Somadeva” had me falling down the world’s best internet rabbit hole.

 

Ambiguity Machines was original published at tor.com in 2015, here’s the link:

https://www.tor.com/2015/04/29/ambiguity-machines-an-examination-vandana-singh/

Somadeva: A Sky River Sutra was originally published in 2010 at Strange Horizons, here’s the link:

http://strangehorizons.com/fiction/somadeva-a-sky-river-sutra/

 

warning, if I interpreted something correctly, there are major spoilers ahead for “Ambiguity Machines: An Examination”, and I guess maybe spoilers also for Somadeva? so hey, click on those links and enjoy some gorgeous fiction before reading the rest of this blog post.  😉

Read the rest of this entry »

I discovered this wonderful short story in The Big Book of Science Fiction, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer.  I did some research on the author, and learned about her incredible legacy. Read the story because it’s fun,  learn about Rokheya Shekhawat Hossein (also known as Begum Rokheya) because she’s freaking amazing.

 

 

One of the many wonderful things about fiction that’s older than 100 years old, is that you can often read  it for free, online.  If a fifty pound anthology isn’t for you,  you can read “Sultana’s Dream” at Strange Horizons, where they reprinted the story as part of a series on Utopias.

 

Because all science fiction (and a lot of art) is a reaction and reflection of the time in which it was written,  here are a few contextual things you might want to know before you read “Sultana’s Dream”.

  • Begum Rokheya was born in 1880,  in what is now known as Bangladesh, and at the time was British India
  • She is considered the pioneer feminist of Bengal
  • She was raised in an intellectual, multi-lingual home that was wealthy but also very traditional.  This combination meant that she learned Arabic and Urdu, and then English and Bengali.
  • You may want to understand what purdah is. (or not. up to you)

 

Reading this story sent me down a google rabbit hole of the phrase “gender-flip”.  That term has to be fairly new, right?  hahahaha, NO.    I love that gender-flipping has been having a moment for the last, oh, 20 years,  but the concept has been around for quite a while.   My brain is also going down the rabbit hole of “what was social media way back when?”  more on that at the end of this post.

 

“Sultana’s Dream” plays with gender flipping (and women’s rights!),  with the idea that in this Indian Utopia,  the women run the country and the men are kept in seclusion.

 

The plot goes like this:   Sultana is drowsing away the afternoon,  when a woman walks into her room and invites her out for a walk.   Sultana at first thinks the woman is her friend Sister Sara,  but later realizes the woman is a stranger.   Upon leaving Sultana’s home, they end up where not-Sister Sara lives,  and Sultana states that  she feels weird walking around in public unveiled, as she is a purdahnishin.

 

The rest of the story  is not-Sister Sara explaining to Sultana how her women-run world, called Ladyland, came to be.  A young Queen insisted that all women in the country have access to education,  thus women’s universities were started.   The women’s universities used their discoveries and inventions for the good of the whole community, while the men stayed focused on military might.  The men insisted that the inventions that came out of the women’s university’s were nice, but nothing compared to the value or importance of military strength and other men’s work.

 

When the country finds themselves on the losing side of a war,  the Queen and her female advisors come up with a plan, which I won’t spoil.   They win the war, and in the process transform the country into one where women can be in public unveiled, and the men are kept in seclusion.  When the men ask to be let out of seclusion, the Queen’s response is “if their services should ever be needed, they would be sent for, and that in the meanwhile they would remain where they were”.

Read the rest of this entry »

I am out of  bookshelves, and there are now stacks of books next to the shelves, stacks that grow taller by the week and are threatening to fall over. I may have to start hiding books under the bed. There is a book cull in my future, that is for sure.

So of course I couldn’t help myself, and bought some more books!

At book club last week, instead of having the whole group read the same book, the club’s organizer put a stack of Hugo award winning authors on the table and told us each to pick something that looked interesting.  I grabbed The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Leguin. I may have read this when I was a kid? But if I did I was too young to understand it.

Over the weekend, I went to one of Michigan’s largest used bookstores (not the largest, but it’s pretty big!!) with a friend, and although I wanted to buy everything, I came home with just a few items. And yes, I got lost in the bookstore.

from the non-fiction rooms

Maximum City is about Mumbai, and the Carl Sagan book is, I’m not 100% sure what it covers but it is sure to be enlightening.  I hope that while I read it I hear Sagan’s comforting voice.

 

And now for the scifi!

Connie Willis is one of those authors I keep meaning to read more from, as I recommend her Doomsday Book novel to anyone who will listen.  I’ve been meaning to read Blackout forever. As for Venus on the Halfshell, I’ve been a Vonnegut since high school. If the book is as entertaining as the opening biographical sketch of Trout, you’ll be hearing me laughing from miles away. For those of you not familiar with Kilgore Trout, I’ll just leave this here.

 

Happy Reading!

Turbulence by Samit Basu

published in 2012

where I got it: acquired a used copy

.

.

.

I describe myself as someone who doesn’t like Superhero stories, and then I read one and have a blast.  I think what I don’t like is the majority of american style Marvel/DC Superhero movies, which is an entirely different blog post, and also an entirely different thing from superhero novels and short stories.

 

Back in 2014, I had the pleasure of interviewing Samit Basu for SFSignal, and his books have been in the back of my mind ever since.

 

People in India are waking up with superpowers. It seems that everyone on a particular London-Delhi flight ended up with the special powers of their dreams.  One person could fly, another became an amazing inventor, another was able to control the weather, another could create multiple copies of themself, etc.  A lot of the “look what I can do!”  is ripped directly from American style comics, and there’s actually a lot of purposeful joking about superhero names, X-men style powers, and fourth wall poking.  Not only is Turbulence a hella fun story, it’s also a love letter to superhero stories.  I really can’t say enough good things about this novel. It’s fun, funny, kept my attention, and thanks to Basu’s writing style I was instantly and continuously invested in the characters.

 

The first “superhero” we really get to know is Uzma.  She’s  moved from London to Mumbai to become a Bollywood actress.  Beautiful and graceful, everyone likes Uzma, and she was my favorite character.  Overstaying her welcome with her cousin, Uzma answers an ad to rent a room in a big old house, only to learn that everyone who lives there is weird or crazy. The owner of the house, Aman, has figured out that something strange happened on that flight, and he tells Uzma he contacted her because she is powered, and he wants the powered people to stick together which is why when he finds powered people he lets them stay in this huge house for free. What he doesn’t tell her is that people who were on that flight are being systematically kidnapped or murdered, and he hopes by staying together they can protect themselves.

Read the rest of this entry »


Follow me on Twitter!

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,536 other followers

Follow the Little Red Reviewer on WordPress.com

Archives

Categories

FTC Stuff

some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.