Summer Read #3: Vandana Singh’s Speculative Fiction

I love speculative fiction. It’s not only because I love to see a good story unfurl and to wonder at the imaginative power that crafted the tale but also because somehow reading science fiction and fantasy somehow seems to open up more doors and infuse new ideas and possibilities into our mundane daily reality.

In her concluding essay on the importance of speculative fiction, Vandana Singh, writer of speculative fiction talks about how stories helped our ancestors make sense of and connect to the wider world and it is mainly because we have stopped reading stories that we are also disconnected from nature and our surroundings (I paraphrase).

I’ve read a lot about early societies this year for my certificate course and one of the things I learnt was how humans in early societies (that were transitioning from small nomadic groups to larger settled villages) had to develop abstract concepts such as neighbourhood, society through shared practices (such as burials, other rituals). I’m sure that storytelling also played a key role in cementing these abstract concepts.

Stories are important to us. Not just the realist ones but the ones that push the envelope and bend possibilities. In this context, I highly recommend Vandana Singh’s collection of short stories ‘The woman who thought she was a planet and other stories’.

Although they are speculative fiction, Singh’s stories are mostly just about the individual. The protagonists are mostly women and the stories revolve around some of the angst and the challenges that they are trying to navigate. Some of the stories I really liked include ‘Delhi’, a story that weaves the past, present and future together with the character who is able to see and interact with people from various times throughout the city and a mysterious Pandit who is never seen but is working for the city and rescues people attempting suicide. I also liked the story ‘Infinities’ which probably features the most conceptual science and history of mathematical study around infinity. However, the story is ultimately about an old man, his unfulfilled potential and the turbulent reality around him. ‘Tetrahedron’ brings in the concept of higher dimensions that are not visible to us, and this reminded me of Cixin Liu’s ‘Ball Lightning’. But where Liu’s story is a lot of science, Singh’s story is essentially about Maya’s yearning for something new and her desire to leave behind a potentially stifling arranged marriage.

This is not the first collection of short stories by Vandana Singh that I have read. I had referred to her other (more recent) collection ‘Ambiguity Machines‘ a couple of years ago. Some of the stories from that book still make me think (definitely up for a re-read).

While rooting through the internet for context and more background, I also found out that Vandana Singh has written another collection of stories called ‘Utopias of the Third Kind’. I guess that’s definitely getting on my TBR list.

More about Vandana Singh:

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Lav says:

    Sounds really interesting adding to list

    1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

      I can lend you the book.

  2. I also love to read books that I can claim have some relevance for my university course – while neglecting the actual coursework. 😉

    1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

      Good luck! Though coursework does eventually tend to catch up

      1. I am currently working on a paper about the changing concept of work versus poverty since the Middle Ages, so I have an excuse to read all the Charles Dickens novels again. 🙂

      2. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

        Nice! I recently listened to Nicholas Nickelby and Little Dorrit on audible.

  3. Nirmala says:

    Seems interesting. Will try to read.

    1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

      Yes, let me know. I’ve got the book.

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