Reclaiming Literature: Decolonising Sci-Fi and Fantasy through South Asian Authors

South Asian Writers Reimagine Fantasy

The first fantasy book I remember reading is Tolkien’s classic The Hobbit. Dragons, magic, dwarves, elves, kings, battles — there wasn’t much I didn’t love about it. It set me on a path to reading every kind of fantastical, weird and wonderful piece of literature I could find. It’s an experience many writers in South Asia identify with, something I realized when I interviewed them on my podcast, Arcx (for Dark ’n’ Light ezine). Reading Tolkien years later, even as a fan, is a different experience. These days I’m cognizant that the father of modern fantasy literature had some fairly skewed views about race. It’s also hard to ignore that The Lord of the Rings featured only three prominent female characters. Interrogating literature that you grew up consuming is an important part of being a storyteller. And as a result, many South Asian authors have been inspired to write books set in their own countries, featuring customs and characters that are true to their life experiences. For many of us, decolonization is an ongoing process, and it is increasingly apparent that the reclamation of stories is a big part of that.

Lakshminarayan’s Perspective on Tolkien

Author Lavanya Lakshminarayan, a Bengaluru-based writer, cites Tolkien as an early influence. The Hobbit prompted her first attempts at storytelling. She acknowledges the impact of Tolkien’s work on her formative years and expresses appreciation for the sense of wonder it instilled in her. However, she also notes the gaps in the narrative. Her own debut novel, Analog/Virtual: And Other Simulations of Your Future, published internationally as The Ten Percent Thief, moves the setting to Bengaluru of the future, with relatable characters and explores difficult topics such as abortion, fascism, the toxicity of hustle culture, the invasive reach of technology, and the creeping devastation of climate change.

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Influence of Samit Basu

Another influential figure for Lakshminarayan is Samit Basu, one of India’s best-known contemporary science fiction and fantasy authors. Basu’s work, including his book Chosen Spirits, portrays a grim yet believable future in Delhi, replete with social media influencers, oligarchies, and the stark realities afforded by class and privilege.

Hossain’s Unique Themes

Bangladeshi writer Saad Z. Hossain also highlights themes that are a recurring part of life in his world, such as corruption, institutional neglect, resistance, and societal resignation. His critically-acclaimed books, The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday, and Kundo Wakes Up, are set in cities such as Kathmandu and Dhaka, revealing the pinnacle and dregs of a dystopian society run entirely by a morally ambiguous AI.

Regional Specificity in Usman T. Malik’s Stories

Pakistani writer Usman T. Malik’s award-winning short story collection, Midnight Doorways, explores a vast range of uniquely Pakistani themes, from communal violence to historical horror and satirical fantasy.

Reflecting on Colonialism and Regional Balance

Yudhanjaya Wijeratne, a promising voice in South Asian science fiction from Sri Lanka, delves into his experience with colonialism, acknowledging the complexities it entails. He explores this thematic dimension in most of his books, offering an anti-colonial perspective.

Prominence of South Asian Authors in Change the Publishing Landscape

With a growing number of contemporary South Asian writers venturing into the breach, the publishing landscape is undeniably changing. Notable mentions include Vajra Chandrasekera, Tashan Mehta, Prashanth Srivatsa, Bina Shah, and Kritika H. Rao, whose works reflect the authenticity of South Asian stories at every reading level. While the prospect of Hollywood adaptations remains distant, the impact of these narratives is reshaping the literary scene.

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In conclusion, South Asian writers are reimagining the fantasy genre, addressing colonialism, and reflecting the realities of modern society in their work. Their unique perspectives and regional influences contribute to a transformative shift in the literary landscape, paving the way for authentic South Asian storytelling at every level.

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