The way I see it, there are two ways we can go about our business. As is tradition, the first option is less likeable, presented so that the latter option may merely shimmer to blind us. It begs a metaphor in my head—one of medieval sailors shunting short eyepieces to look for immediate threats in the fog and governors with pudgy hands rubbing them in anticipation of hidden treasures. Such might be the editor-writer relationship, one of mission control and financing. ‘Go look for South Asian science fiction and fantasy,’ we say, ‘and the one who brings us Truth shall be handsomely rewarded (in print).’ And if the sailors come back with salt, not gold, we hold our potbellies and laugh and laugh.
Not to mention that our experiments with a prior conception of science fiction, of fantasy, of South Asian cultures were no less than what a close friend once called mosquito walk: wandering non-deliberately and changing course when one hits imaginary walls. Not to mention that medieval governors were not involved in linguistically fancy swashbucklin’, those adventures which characterized the essences of life and literature of which we emphatically want to be a part. These are but symptoms of a process that understands culture as closed, as therefore ready for objective inspection, of competition between sailor-writers to acquire cultural motifs that might appear most valuable to us, and of the immanent political relationship this assumes.
The alternative is a relationship of dialogue and literary practice.
When we say South Asian SFF, we have set ourselves a goal of not just showcasing a geography or its ‘pre-occupations’, or a miscarriage of our identity on the global platform; it is, rather, a culture set in a history of dialogue, of constant relationship with its world. In that sense, what is South Asian may be found in what are the white, arid landscapes of the poles, open to the sledge marks of wolfish adventurers. It may be found in dark trenches on the ocean floor, where water itself may lie still. And it may be found in stars and the deep, deep space of alien encounters. What is South Asian is at once global.
But what is South Asian is also at once localized. The world as a playground does not enter our doorsteps with the invitation of guests pined for. It sometimes tempts us in our dreams, sometimes barges in with guns and steel and sometimes just appears. South Asian science fiction and fantasy, then, is a process of engagement with these myriad ways so that the emergence of a consciousness can be studied in its dynamism, in the circumnavigating shadows our continent casts upon the world as the sun revolves around it.
The stories in this issue have been picked via this process of dialogue. The stories may be propelled by acute readers in ways they deem fit to contribute to this conversation. As an editor, my role is to initiate collaboration between people of a certain history orienting themselves along this process. It is to ask questions and not seek tailormade answers. It is to shout `All hands on deck’ and raise mine first. It is of immersion in the work of writers, of their imaginations, in the hopes of making it better, perhaps.
It is customary to introduce the stories in the issue. Emma Bider brings us Stargazer, a story whose focus on the `gaze’ I found compelling. Marina’s relationship with the star counterposes two kinds of seeing—one through the refractive lenses of the objective, scientific telescope and the other through seeing a subjective, supposedly irrational, dream. Which gaze is true, the story seems to ask: the telescope which does strange things with distance, or the dream which does strange things with physicality? Strange, perhaps, is what the story repeatedly offers us. Strange, perhaps, is what fixes our engagement.
Christopher Keene writes The Devil’s Luck, superficially a fast-paced, action-packed, edge-of-the-seat, deceptive action thriller. Deceptive because it is deep, because if you get carried away by the surface currents like I did, the result will be a sense of distress at the end. Graf is a hero, understood as the character to identify with, introduced only with the elements that Keene wants you to identify. This reduction is important, both for the ensuing subversion and its broader question: what makes us? The distress against a reduction, against the perils it poses for our answer, drives dialogue with the piece.
To be fair, neither story offers us South Asian SFF in a final form—that is a task spanning multiple issues, multiple efforts like ours. The claim of stories we include is not that they offer a definitive thrust to our search but that on our arrival at a milestone, we may trace our way back to touch these pieces again. They form a future history, an archive of textual connections that props us up, and in so doing helps us arrive closer to our intended conception.
This indicates that we need to modify our claim slightly. The stories are not merely selected by the process of dialogue but also because they incorporate our discriminating principle. Stories which open up rather than clamp down, stories which unsettle basic notions of being, of knowing and of moving about in the world, stories that help us reformulate and hence `reform’. It is in these bursts of estrangement that Suvin perhaps finds his definition of science fiction; it is these very bursts that we would like to pick from an ocean of texts.