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.

10 thoughts on “Dare I call myself an Indian Speculative Fiction writer?

  1. That was an interesting post Sonia. I think wherever one has grown up that that is really what influences the flavour of our writing. I was born in England and lived there for 31 years – all my formative years and even though I now live in Australia my stories do have an ‘English’ flavour – still I wonder is it necessary to label oneself as English spec. fic. or Australian or Indian aren’t we all just fiction writers living in different parts of the world?

  2. Flash is like a sketch, in many ways. Just like someone viewing a sketch sees a few lines come together to make a face, or even a scene, flash fiction has to depend on the reader to fill in those little details that make it work. So you have to target an audience. Things that Indians would get right away might leave us Westerners scratching our heads and going, “hunh?” Or you could work with our highly imperfect conceptions of karma and the Hindu “pantheon,” and come up with a story that we would recognize as outside our culture but still “get.”

    In a longer story, perhaps anything over 10,000 words, you could include explicit detail to “paint the scene” as it were. Just watch out for the Infodump Beast. 🙂

    1. I am not sure I want to touch the hindu gods, but the rest is something to think about. 🙂

      Yeah, infodumps have a way taking over. Always have to be wary.

  3. I say it’s spec fic written by an Indian, with Indian settings, no matter where the author resides. I read a book a while back called “Tantra” by Adi. It’s set in India and I can’t remember what kind of description went into the setting, but it added flavor and an exotic setting that I enjoyed. So if you have a story that calls for it, I say use it 🙂 Non-Indians will enjoy it for being exotic and not know whether your setting is accurate but other Indians will know and maybe pay closer attention to your details.

    1. Thanks Madison! I’ve never had a novel-length idea like that, but maybe one day. I haven’t heard of that book. Sounds interesting.

  4. This kind of essentialism usually bothers me, and bothers me here, because it demands there be one kind of speculative fiction written by Indians. We know Americans and Europeans don’t write only one kind, always including certain elements. Why must Indian SpecFic do that? And if it makes you feel like your identity is challenged or taken from you, then what benefit does it offer in exchange? Does it even have the right to make that exchange?

    But you were born in India, and sometimes your fiction draws on that heritage. Anything you want to be Indian SpecFic can be.

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