Thursday, December 1, 2016

Islamicates: Volume I, edited by Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad

Islamicates: Volume I
Anthology of Science Fiction short stories inspired from Muslim Cultures
Edited by Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad
2016, available for free here
236 pages, speculative

Personal note: 

It seems appropriate that my first post after the election concerns a book inspired by Islam and Islamic cultures. Among the many, many evils that have been drawn out of the woodwork by the new president-elect's policies, I am the most worried about the marked increase in Islamophobia. 

This freely available book presents many different perspectives on Islamic people and societies. In some stories, religion is outlawed and people must fight to continue following their beliefs. In others, religion is the problem that people are fighting against. But in all of them, Muslims are shown as they truly are: people trying to make their way in the world, fighting against circumstances outside of their control, just like everyone else. Many of these stories draw upon events that are currently happening: the war in Syria, the Refugee Crisis. Some reverse the flow of migration so that Europeans become the migrant workers. All of them speak to parts of Islamic society that many people in the West are unaware of. 

I encourage everyone to read through some of the stories in this collection, and to share them with friends who might have doubts about this religion and the people who follow it. At this historical moment more than ever, I consider it a moral duty to spread diverse literature in order to combat the prejudices, xenophobia, and, yes, White supremacy that is growing like a cancer in many parts of the world. Please join me by supporting works that combat stereotypes about People of Color and other minorities. 

In this collection published by the excellent website Islam and Science Fiction, authors from around the world have created science fiction short stories inspired by Islamic cultures. The works presented are the 12 best of those submitted for the first Islamicate Short Story contest run by the same website.

Since there are so many stories, I will only provide an analysis of the ones that really spoke to me. However, I highly encourage you to read the others as well.

“Calligraphy” by Alex Kreis (USA)

After a rivalry between two tile makers turns dark, the remaining one laments his actions.

This story uses the formal and slightly stilted language of Victorian translations from Arabic, which I quite enjoyed. Unlike the rest of the stories in this collection, it is set in the past. On the first reading I was confused about its inclusion in this collection, since it didn't seem very much like science fiction. But then it struck me that it taps into the history of scientific exploration and discovery in the Muslim world during the medieval period. The narrator sees something that he does not understand, but which was created through advanced scientific and artistic skills, and voila: a fascinating science fiction story set in the past.

“Insha’allah” by R.F. Dunham (USA)

It seems like a normal state of affairs - an adult child is more comfortable with a new technology than her parent is - but in this case the technology allows one to know the future, and the father Khafid is the inventor who has since forsworn his creation.

This story deals with the lack of intergenerational communication that can happen based on the life experiences of older family members, as well as whether all inventions are necessary. What criteria would make a technology bad (not evil, just extremely misguided)? After much reflection, Khafid has decided that his invention was a bad idea for several reasons, not least because of his faith, but he has trouble expressing that to his daughter in a way she would understand. Anyway, his daughter refuses to listen and has instead decided to improve the device by increasing its temporal range. As you can probably guess, this is a bad idea.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Ajjiit: Dark Dreams of the Ancient Arctic by Sean A. Tinsley and Rachel A. Qitsualik

Ajjiit: Dark Dreams of the Ancient Arctic
Sean A. Tinsley and Rachel A. Qitsualik
Illustrated by Andrew Trabbold
191 pages, speculative fiction, indigenous

Many thanks to Inhabit Media for providing a review copy of this book, and to my mother for sending it to India as a Christmas present last year! 

This collection includes nine innovative speculative fiction stories that are inspired by traditional Inuit society and folklore.
To a degree, our point, in crafting these fantasy stories, was to draw upon Inuit culture and lore, writing original fiction utilizing the unique creatures and concepts that Inuit once (and, in some cases still do) fear or revere [sic]. Our main purpose, however, was to illustrate a sort of cosmological thinking particular to Inuit culture - a mystic tradition, if you will, that is not unlike the Arctic itself: barren to the superficial eye, yet filled with riches for those willing to fix a deep and non-judgemental stare. - Authors' introduction


Pigliq, one of the Humble Folk, is a poor sleeper – he can’t fall asleep properly, and his friend has to dream clothes for him. This leads to ridicule and complaints. But when his people awake from their latest slumber to find a terrifying new threat, it’s up to Pigliq to save them all.

Besides tapping into a fantastically unique race of humanoid beings from Inuit mythology, Pigliq’s unique plight – not being able to sleep, and therefore to dream – is compelling. He is considered disabled and is bullied for his differences from his peers, but in the end his "disability" is what allows him to fight when no one else can.

“The Qallupiluq Forgiven”

The Qallupiluq is a terrifying shapeshifter from Inuit mythology, who has the prerogative to kidnap and eat anyone who says its name.

This story was one of my favorites in Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Anthology Vol. I.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Praktan, directed by Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee

India (Bengali), 2016
143 min, drama
Directed by Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee
Starring Rituparna Sengupta, Aparajita Auddy, and Prosenjit Chatterjee

Content Warning: Discussion of Emotional and Physical Abuse

Ten years ago, Sudipa and Ujaan divorced after a difficult marriage. Today, Sudipa finds herself in a first-class train carriage from Mumbai to Kolkata with Malini, Ujaan’s new wife, and their daughter. During the course of the two-night train journey, Sudipa finally deals with the pain from years before.

Meanwhile, we see the stories of people in other rooms in the same carriage. Four famous Bengali musicians (Surojit Chatterjee, Anindya Chatterjee, Upal Sengupta, and Anupam Roy, playing themselves) serenade each other with new compositions. An elderly couple returns from Mumbai after seeing their son off to the US. And last but not least, a couple of newlyweds put the trip in a private cabin to good use.

Both an intimate story of pain, heartbreak, and healing, and a glance at the things that happen in first class, this is a new, great train movie from West Bengal. However, the ending left a bad taste in my mouth.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett

A. Igoni Barrett
2015, I read PDF review copy
304 pages, social satire, speculative

Many thanks to Kachifo Limited for providing a review copy of this novel. 

Furo Wariboko awoke this morning to find that dreams can lose their way and turn up on the wrong side of sleep. He was lying nude in bed, and when he raised his head a fraction, he could see his alabaster belly, and his pale legs beyond, covered with fuzz that glinted bronze in the cold daylight pouring in through the open window…. His hands were not black but white… same as his legs, his belly, all of him.

Thus begins this Kafkaesque satire about race relations in Nigeria. Furo wakes on the morning of a big job interview to find that he has suddenly turned White – complete with red hair and blue eyes. Escaping from his house, he turns up at the job interview and, as a White man, finds that not only his job prospects, but every other aspect of his life has significantly improved.

Being White in a post-colonial society

Furo encounters all of the things that I, myself, have experienced or witnessed as a White person living in a post-colonial society (in my case India). Using the same qualifications that had lost him numerous opportunities in the past, as a White man he is immediately offered a good job. People trust him enough to give him money within two minutes of meeting him.

He also receives intense stares everywhere he goes:
Lone white face in a sea of black, Furo learned fast. To walk with his shoulders up and his steps steady. To keep his gaze lowered and his face blank. To ignore the fixed stares, the pointed whispers, the blatant curiosity. And he learnt how it felt to be seen as a freak: exposed to wonder, invisible to comprehension.
As a White man, Furo is expected to act a certain way; when he doesn’t fulfill people’s expectations they become surprised and start to question him. When he tries to eat in a roadside restaurant, for example, people stare and ask why he is there. To escape the stares, he goes into one of the city's fancy shopping malls (which he has never previously entered), and fakes casualness while drinking an incredibly expensive coffee. As a White person, he is not only expected to have a lot of money, but also to fit naturally into high society.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

In Memorium: Parthasarathi Neogi

My father-in-law, Parthasarathi Neogi, died suddenly last Friday night, September 23, 2016. After a day spent visiting old friends, he had a sudden stroke and died within a few minutes.

My husband Tintin and I were in Kerala, and were woken up at 11 PM by a phone call from his mom. We flew home on the first flight at 5:30 AM, and completed the funeral by that evening. We just finished the last of the rituals to give him peace.

I called him Baba, the Bengali word for father.

I couldn't have asked for a better father-in-law; he truly loved me. He would do small things to show his love, such as bring big chocolate bars to have on hand whenever I came. I was supposed to come to Kolkata (alone) on October 12th, and he had offered to pick me up from the airport. He had also, I discovered when I came, bought three new bedsheets for me to use while I was here.

These may sound like very small things, but when put together they added up to a very good man who loved me very much. And I miss him.

I will be in Kolkata for the next few months to take care of affairs while Tintin returns to Kerala for work. It will be hard to be separated for such a long time, but it is necessary right now.

Rest in Peace 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Kickstart These: La Raza, Moonshot Vol. II

There are two excellent, diverse comic anthologies waiting for funding on Kickstarter right now.

La Raza Anthology: Unidos y Fuertes

A collection of comics by Latinx creators! Pledges start at US $2, and you can get a copy of the book for $15(ebook)/$25(hardcopy).

I love the artwork.
The last day to pledge is September 29, 2016.

Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection, Vol. 2

I loved the first volume of this series of comics by Native American artists, mostly from Canada. You can read my review here. The second volume promises more of the same excellent work. In fact, 
Each of the 15 short stories included in this c.200 page Volume will be based on a tradition from the author's own tribe/community. These stories highlight present-day traditions, and diversity, in indigenous peoples today.
 As always, the artwork looks absolutely breathtaking, and you can get prints as a backer award.

Pledges start at $5 CAD, and you can get a copy of the book for $10(ebook)/$20(hardcopy). 

The last day to pledge is September 30, 2016

Go get your copies before time runs out! 

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Timehrian by Andrew Jefferson-Miles

The Timehrian
Andrew Jefferson-Miles
110 pages, post-modern, speculative

Thank you to Peepal Tree Press for providing a review copy of this book. 

After awaking from a six-year madness, Leon-Battista Mondaal writes to his cousin in an attempt to express what he has experienced. The result is this poetic novel that can never tell a straight story, but nevertheless reaches toward the truth - of Guyana’s colonial and post-colonial past, of ethnographic practice, and of the relationships between people.

This book is essentially a prose poem, for better or for worse. At times, it becomes almost incomprehensible, such as:

The tidal wave that swept all away possessed a sort of hybrid vigour that reached over our best attempts at correction. It exhibited an evenhanded kind of intervention in our affairs, entangling and suborning layers and institutions and environments. Former legacies are converted into new bodies whilst old shapes enter the squall and masquerade of memory, whose disguises enact majestic instability in our conception of ourselves. It is a complex, a charged phenomenology of practice and custom intensifying communities diverse in their origins, orientations, dictions.

I don’t usually enjoy reading poetry, but I will try my best to pull out what I understood from this text.

Colonialism and ethnography

Immediately before the tidal wave that caused Leon-Battista’s descent into madness, he was working with an ethnographic team recording the traditional Christmas masquerade in a Guyanese coastal village. However, he seems to be uncomfortable with the whole process, and especially with the functionalist and colonial attitude of Laban, the group’s leader and a renowned anthropologist.

Part of what Leon-Battista points out is a common critique of early forms of anthropology (before the “reflexive turn”). As he notes,

Conventional epistemes for the study of man (social relativism in anthropology, ethnolology, ethnography) tend to benefit least those about whom the study is made. Those about whom the study is made rarely get to participate in it. 

As a discipline, anthropology now recognizes these issues and does its best to rectify them (or at least to be aware of them and their effects on a study) through participative modes of ethnography and research.

However, it seems that Leon-Battista is also referring to the colonial attitudes of some ethnographers, who treat the people they study as a way to produce knowledge, nothing more. Laban is a “native anthropologist:” originally from Guyana, he has returned as a celebrated academic to study his “native” culture. Despite this apparent belonging, he still treats his research participants as subjects of study rather than real, three-dimensional people.


Another issue that Leon-Battista brings out is the complicated history of the area, from both an ecological and cultural standpoint. Apart from the colonists that came from Europe, the people in the area are also the descendants of African slaves, Indian indentured servants, and the Amerindian inhabitants of the area. As all of these groups have combined to form the society of present-day Guyana, so has the environment of the country changed under their influence.

Overall, I did not enjoy reading this book. It was only after I finished it that I realized how thought-provoking it is. If you enjoy reading poetry and/or are interested in experimental writing, you might want to give this one a try.

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