Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Racism in SF: Two Articles

October 20, 2009

The first article is a great interview over at WorldSF: Charles Tan interviews the provocative Ashok Banker who had the gall (bless the man) to turn down a NYT interview on matters of principle.  Ashok says a lot of interesting things that need to be said, without pulling any punches whatsoever.  I don’t agree with him on everything but the man’s experience is different from mine, and who am I to deny his experience?  For instance he accuses big publishers in SF of pretty overt racism.  If that’s his experience, that is not to be denied.  I’ve had a pretty mixed experience of bias (mostly of the subtle kind) but I’ve also had the good fortune of coming across fellow writers and editors here in the US who are genuinely interested in listening to what I have to say through my stories.  But I have no doubt that a sort of institutionalized racism does exist here in America and therefore in the SF world, which, without its vocal POC critics, probably wouldn’t spend too much time in self-examination.

The other article I’d like to point to is one by Anil Menon about Simpson’s Paradox in the Slush Pile, as he so elegantly states it.  This is the sort of article I love because it shows us how careful we have to be in a) backing what we have to say with data and b) interpreting it correctly.  I do have a response to it below, which will make sense after you read the article.



September 27, 2009

I’ve lately been so busy and exhausted that I feel as though I’ve been run over by a succession of trucks — but of course, that is just Life. Since I have neither the brain power nor the energy at the moment to write a properly thought-out and coherent blog post, I’m going to, instead, commit a few disjointed paragraphs to the screen. They mostly have to do with the thoughts jostling about in my head and are by construction somewhat random. For which I ask the forgiveness of discerning readers.


Some Links

August 8, 2009

While I’m embroiled in other things, not least of which is getting ready for the fall semester and not being at Worldcon (boo hoo), here are some links.

First, Anil Menon, co-conspirator, has two very interesting posts on the SF Workshop at IIT-Kanpur.  Read Part 1 and Part 2.

 Second, here is an account of a protest in India against a coal-fired power plant — the largest such protest — what I hope is the tip of the iceberg of the Indian climate movement.

Third, when I was in Delhi recently there was a song going around that got into my head and shows no signs of getting out.  It was being sung over radio stations, by (as far as I could tell) taxi drivers and roadside loafers as well as folks in the family including my 3.5-year-old niece.  It’s from the movie Delhi 6 and is obviously folk-song-derived and has a great beat.  It’s called Genda Phool and I’ve been singing it around the house like there’s no tomorrow.  Here’s the youtube trailer of the song.  Enjoy! 

I’ll add more links as I come across/remember them.

Being the Change: Badlaav 2009

July 13, 2009

Quick Note: I’m preparing Part II of my impressions of the Kanpur Workshop but may not have time to post it until after I return (I leave tonight for the US).  The same goes for comments folks have posted, to which I promise a reply when I’m back.  But I HAD to shout this out from my rooftop:

Badlaav 2009!  Check it out! 

In India

June 27, 2009

I am currently in India with family.  The family has moved from Delhi to one of its satellite towns.  Although it feels strange not to be in Delhi proper, this area has its advantages. 

I have been sick with an awful cold but am recovering and slowly feeling vaguely human.  It is unbelievably hot, hotter than I remember Delhi summers to be.  In the day the sunlight at the bottom edge of the window curtains is a white hot line like the edge of a furnace.  It is impossible to go out in the day because of the loo, the mad, hot wind that can make you sick.  All this is familiar but the degree of heat for days on end is not.  The power outages are familiar too, occuring several times a day.  The inverters save us by powering ceiling fans and lights in key rooms when the electricity fails. 

Despite the heat, early mornings are full of birds yelling and singing lustily.  I have seen some old friends.  The red-wattled lapwings in the area cry out all morning.  I suspect some of them are demented enough to want to nest in he empty field in front of the house, and they seem to be complaining about the cricket-playing kids, the pariah dogs and the cats that prowl the area.  Lapwings are ground nesters, which is nuts to begin with. 

There are also peacocks on rooftops uttering their cat-like miaows and flocks of Brahminy mynahs shrieking like cheeky schoolboys in the verandah.  But most exciting for me was that I actually saw a koel.  I’ve always loved their melodious voices but they are supposed to be very shy birds.  I think I’ve only seen one once before in all my life.  This morning when I heard one call very close by, I went to the front gate and peered up at the trees.  There was a black bird hidden in the leaves, scratching its head with its foot.  It paused, called out a long, beautiful note, and then resumed scratching.  I was thrilled!

The monsoons are supposed to be late and mild this year, which is really bad news for the crops. 

Yesterday I was able to venture out to a bookstore with family.  Got a collection of stories by Ismat Chughtai (in Hindi) and (among other things) Manjula Padmanabhan’s new SF novel, Escape.  I’m looking forward to some good reading.

Talking of good reading my sanity was saved during my sickness by two detective stories by Marcia Muller and the remarkable new fantasy: The Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert V.S. Redick.  I really enjoyed the book — the complexity, the inventiveness, the world-building, the action scenes — although I have the vague notion that I enjoyed the first two-thirds or so more than the last third of the book.  Still I am really keen to read the next book in the trilogy.

More updates soon.

An Essay on Drowning

May 22, 2009

Since I am too lazy at the moment to edit my two draft posts waiting in the wings, I am going to post an essay I wrote some years ago about language.  I wrote it as a blog post during an early and mostly unsuccessful experience with blogging, at a time when my stories were just starting to be published.  I still stand by what it says, although it is somewhat fancifully written. 

I’m posting it because I have been thinking of SF written in India in different languages and the tension between English and other Indian languages (and yes, by now English is an Indian language) and the nastiness of language politics often obscuring the real issues — all this partly as a result of an email conversation with SF Hindi writer and fan Dr. Arvind Mishra (who also very kindly directed me to a marvelous device: the Google Hindi transliteration tool जिसकी सहायता से मुझे अब हिंदी में लिखने का  मौका मिल रहा है).

While I ponder the implications of that conversation I thought it might be fun to post the aforementioned essay (very minimally edited).  It appeared some years ago in a very interesting Indian ezine (will post link when I remember what it was called).  So here goes. (more…)

Reflections on a Rainy Saturday

April 11, 2009

It is raining and because I’m feeling a bit under the weather I can excuse myself (temporarily) from marking a tottering pile of papers.  The rain is drizzly and half-hearted and cold, and I try to follow a raindrop from as high up as I can see from the window.  Imagine being a water molecule up in the clouds, coalescing with others like yourself (bless the hydrogen bond!) until you are gravid, liquid, falling.  Falling through the heights, faster and faster, but decelerating until you coast down at a constant speed, like a feather.   I try to “eyeball” whether the raindrops are actually falling at a fixed speed, a condition identical to staying still — but it is hard.  Even in a thin, slow rain I find the raindrops’ trajectory difficult to follow.  

Idly watching the rain was a favorite pastime of mine as a kid, although the kind of rain I remember best is the monsoon.  Monsoon rain is loud, making you feel like you live under a waterfall, like some kind of aquatic hobbit.  It is dramatic, with violent flashes of lightning and great rolls of thunder.  In my mind it is inextricably connected with hot cups of sweet, milky chai and samosas.  Which is what I’d like right now…

But all this is also reminding me of something I read in a recent issue of New Scientist.  There is a controversial new theory about how coastal forests might act like moisture pumps, lowering air pressure above them and pulling the moist sea air many miles inland.  This draws wet weather much further inland than it would normally go, so that as the forests spread inland the moisture pump effect is magnified.  This, according to the theory, allows the existence of forests that might span a whole continent, like the Amazon.  Thus, the authors sat, coastal forests are key to the existence of inland forests and therefore should be protected.

What I like about this idea is that if it is true it might allow us to re-green the dustbowls that human activity has created, such as the interior of Australia, and the Sahara.  It probably did not take much coastal forest destruction to turn off the moisture pump and disturb normal rainfall patterns.  I think the theory is exciting and worth studying.  Regrowing forests (slow as the process is) might help turn global warming around decades or centuries after we are gone.

All this gives me a feeling of helpless urgency at the same time because of the rate at which the Amazon is being cut down.  I believe that although phytoplankton in the oceans provide much of the Earth’s atmospheric oxygen, the Amazon by itself provides a substantial amount, somewhere between 10 and 20 %.  The thought of that literal green lung vanishing makes me feel positively asphyxiated.

So I’m taking a few deliberate deep breaths and staring out at the slow fall of rain and enjoying the sight of birds at the feeder.  The bird feeders have been a blessing.  We set them up last year and all winter we’ve been rewarded with birdsong.  It’s been heartening to hear birdsong in the dead of winter, with snow and bare branches and leaden sky.  But it got us through. 

I saw a film at my college this past week that I’m not quite ready to talk about, but among other things it was about the emotional lives of animals.  I’m really interested in that because I’m in general interested in the so-called Other, in ways that are both science-fictional and not.  It is ironic to me that we search the skies for alien signals and have all this angst about possibly being alone in the universe, when all the time we are surrounded by creatures that feel and communicate, whose “language” we don’t deign to give attention to because we assume they are saying nothing, or nothing that’s important to us. 

I want to learn that language.  I’d like to have a glimpse into what it would be like to be something else. 

Like a redwood tree.  Or a giant squid.  Or a sparrow.   Or a man.  J

Talk about an alien experience!



Hello multiverse!

March 14, 2009

My family and friends finally persuaded me to start a blog.  So here I am, emerging from my nice, comfortable rock to peer out at the universe.  I don’t know how well this is going to work: I think of it as an experiment.  I’m going to be posting, hopefully regularly, on writing, science, and pretty much everything under, inside and on the other side of the sun.

Who am I?  Depending on context, I’m a writer, a scientist, an animal of the species homo sapiens, a female and an Earthling.  You can read about my writing at my website. Currently:  I’m trying to finish two short stories, grade a towering mountain of papers, and get back into exercising, while attempting to do my part to save the world.

For those who are  curious: Antariksh Yatra translates from the Hindi into (more or less) Journey Through the Cosmos.  For those who like details: “Antariksh,” which means Cosmos, has only short vowels, and the accent, like so many Hindi words, is distributed equally over all the syllables.  “Yatra,” which means journey, has both a’s long, and accent about equal too.

I’d like to thank my daughter for helping me (a semi-luddite) set this up.

Best, Vandana