fantasy · science fiction · Writing

Dare I call myself an Indian Speculative Fiction writer?

This article in Strange Horizons talks about Indian SF. It asks what Indian spec-fic is and what elements define it.

It strikes home, because I am Indian and I write fantasy. Yet I don’t know if that makes me an Indian speculative fiction writer.

Nine Indian writers try to answer this question. Some of them say Indian spec-fic is spec-fic that’s written by an Indian.

A lot of them talk about what it means. Do you have to be Indian? Do you have to live in India? Does it have to be published in India? Does it have to be set in India or inspired by India in some fashion? What if you are non-Indian living in India?

A lot of them couldn’t really say what elements make a particular work Indian spec-fic. Probably because there is so little of it, you can’t point to any single element and say: this makes it Indian spec-fic.

As for me, I am Indian. But I left India so young I remember hardly anything. Visits are infrequent. So I will likely never be published there. A few of my stories are inspired by Indian things –  folktales, music, movies – but no one has ever recognized the influence (too diluted, I suppose). But people invariably comment on the creativity of those stories, a lot more than my other stories.

I doubt that’s enough to call myself an Indian spec-fic writer. That’s odd. I’ve puzzled over the oddness for years, ever since I realized I want to write fantasy and there are hardly any Indian fantasy writers on the library shelves. I suspect there might be more SF set in India than there are Indian spec-fic writers. I’ve no words for how weird that makes me feel.

Then there’s the third question posed by the article. How does the audience (western/eastern) affect the style/content of a story? I tend to think of this as part of that are the usual world-building issues – what and how and when to describe something. The other part is using things like existing rituals or clothes or dance and things like that. I usually don’t use stuff like that, because I don’t want to devote the word-count to describe in the detail required to see the thing and doing less would be confusing. Also, because it isn’t important enough to the story to require lots and lots of description.

This last is probably the reason why even the Indian inspired stories don’t come off as Indian. The details that would make people think “Oh, Indian” are not present.

The thing is, if I knew my readers were Indian, I probably would put them in. Just a line or two, probably, as opposed to a paragraph or two.

So . . . I am editing details out. I have mixed feelings about that. It’s why the Strange Horizons article hit me so hard.

I am still not sure if I am right to do so. It finally depends on the needs of the story, yeah. But still. I don’t want to confuse anyone. I don’t want to use a hundred words to describe a minor, almost non-existent event. Especially when the story is less than thousand words long.