Indian Literature is really short on genres like fantasy and speculative fiction. This is my attempt to bring forth the work we have in these genres.
Samit Basu is the author of The Simoqin Prophecies, The Manticore’s Secret and The Unwaba Revelations, the three parts of The GameWorld Trilogy, a fantasy trilogy published by Penguin Books, India. He currently lives and works in Delhi, India.
The Simoqin Prophecies was written when Basu was 22 and published when he was 23, making him one of India’s youngest authors at the time. The Simoqin Prophecies, written in English, has been published in Swedish by Ordbilder, and German (from Piper Verlag). The subsequent volumes in the trilogy, The Manticore’s Secret and The Unwaba Revelations were released in 2005 and 2007 respectively. The GameWorld trilogy has been widely well reviewed and all three books have reached Indian bestseller lists but not made a significant impact on international markets. (From goodreads)
Folks, please welcome Samit.
- Thanks for taking the time to chat ! You marked an onset of fantasy stories/books in Modern Indian literature. What inspired you to write fantasy ?
You know, I didn’t really know I was writing fantasy when I started a decade ago – Indian bookstores didn’t have genre classified bookshelves then, and while I knew that SF and fantasy were categories, I really didn’t think it was important – the world of genre politics opened up to me after I was published. So the decision to write fantasy came from a love of old-fashioned epic storytelling, and admiration for writers like Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Roger Zelazny and, of course, Tolkien. Imagination was always the most important part of storytelling for me, and there’s no other kind of literature that allows your mind to run as free as fantasy does.
- You write comics, films and novels and short stories too. Tell us a bit about the transition from writing full length novel to comics to short stories – is it challenging, or easy breeze?
It was more challenging than I expected, but it was great fun. I’ve been writing for a living for a long time now, and no matter how much you love something, the experience can get a little stale from time to time. So transitioning between media is a great exercise – you get to celebrate the structures and constraints and strengths and weaknesses of each medium, and you learn something from everywhere. This has hopefully made my work better – it’s certainly made it tighter. In terms of sheer difficulty and technical constraints, writing comics is an exercise that I think every novelist should undertake. I’m not so sure about varied length, though – I’m not very comfortable writing short stories, because I think my stories tend to take a certain amount of time to breathe before they really get going. But working on comics and film scripts, where you really have to draw the reader in from the first page, has helped a lot with that.
- Tell us a bit about the GameWorld Trilogy. The world in your trilogy is peopled by different races and cultures from mythology and history. What made you use different cultures instead of one (which is usually the case in fantasy novels).
I always enjoy multicultural fantasy worlds – Pratchett, Zelazny, Moorcock, Gemmell, video games like Oblivion. One thing I was very clear about was that I didn’t want to write something set in an exclusively Indian setting – if you live in India, there’s so much regurgitated mythology around it can turn you off. In a sense, it was also a response to the (very little, I guiltily admit) fantasy I’d read before I started my first novel – The human races in Tolkien, for example, turned me off completely. If I was in those books, I’d clearly be some non-entity from Rhun or Harad and squarely on Sauron’s side, and that wasn’t something I was necessarily happy about. Even the easterners in the Discworld, for example, are more stereotypes than I’d ideally like, though of course Pratchett’s vision is far more sophisticated.
The Gameworld is simultaneously a world and a game, with a lot of gods sitting around it, like they did in the old Harryhausen movies. The gods don’t know that they’re being conned – the creator of this world is cheating, and wants to see what people would do if actually given free will. Which is possibly why the heroes on the ground, too, are constantly deviating from the epic/archetype paths you’d expect them to take. Apart from the various nations – each of which is based on a particular mythic culture (Norse, Indian-Vedic, Greek, Chinese, British, Arabian etc) – there’s also pretty much every type of monster/magical creature you’ve seen in myth and fantasy, and they’re all just people trying to get along – well, some aren’t trying to get along that hard.
- You have also written a super-hero novel Turbulence. Can you tell us a bit more about it ? How has the journey been from fantasy world to super-hero story ?
Everything you might want to know about Turbulence is here: http://samitbasu.com/turbulence/
It’s a superhero novel set in India, Pakistan and the UK. In 2009, passengers on a flight from London to Delhi discover, a few days later, that they each have strange physical abilities corresponding to their innermost desires. They can change the world. They have what, in a sense, they’d always wanted. It’s essentially a story of real people in a part of the world which needs radical change more than it needs saving discovering that they have the power to change it – and they’re also in terrible danger, because some of the people with powers want to use it for old-fashioned things like world conquest.
The transition wasn’t tough at all. Superhero stories are just another form of fantasy writing, with a different set of conventions, most of which I skipped anyway because they were more about comics tradition than what might actually happen if people got superpowers in the real world. What was most interesting was setting these fantastical sequences in places I’d actually been to, instead of an imaginary world.
- Which super-hero inspired Turbulence.Your favorite super heroes
It’s more favourite hero stories by favourite writers than favourite superheroes. Anything superhero-related by Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Neil Gaiman.
- Indian speculative fiction project on your blog. What is it about ? Can you give us more information ? And what books/stories do you recommend in Indian Speculative Fiction genre.
The project was essentially an overview of Indian spec-fic in English, for adults and children, across media, in 2006. I interviewed a few people in the field, and wrote a few essays. The scene’s changed since then, but not very much, so sadly a fair bit of it is still relevant!
There isn’t much work in the Indian speculative fiction arena and I don’t want to be self-pimpy here. Do definitely try out Samhita Arni, Vandana Singh, Anil Menon and Kuzhali Manickavel. And when you’re done, push them to write more!
- Your top 5 speculative fiction books? Also favorite graphic novels/comics ?
This is really tough. It’s like a favourite sports team – the lineup is constantly changing. At this point, I think it would be, in no particular order, Pratchett/Gaiman’s Good Omens, The Song of Ice and Fire, Patrick Rothfuss’s two books so far, Wicked by Gregory Maguire and the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch. But it might be an entirely different list tomorrow. Comics – same problem. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Garth Ennis’s Preacher, Warren Ellis’s Transmetropolitan, Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Brian Azzarello’s 100 Bullets.
- Which Indian books would you recommend to our reader ?
Anything by Vikram Seth, Amitav Ghosh, Mohammad Hanif (he’s Pakistani, I know) and Sarnath Banerjee. Spec-fic readers and cat lovers will enjoy Nilanjana Roy’s The Wildings.
- What are you working on at the moment? Do you have anything in the pipeline?
Many things. A Turbulence sequel, another book in my YA series, the Morningstar Agency (the first book was about Mowgli’s son solving a mystery on the Titanic), a couple of screenplays and two comics, one a zombie comedy and another a sitcom about monsters sharing a flat in Delhi.Thanks for having me on your site!