7 Indian science fiction books to distract you from the terrible sci-fi movie we're living through
Take a trip through space and time from the comfort of home
Science fiction books draw you in, with the same intensity of Reddit threads that keep you up at 3am debating the likelihood of alien life in New Mexico. The dystopian settings, crazy technology and gadgets, talking robots and flying cars (Elon Musk’s ego will get Tesla there soon enough).
Sci-fi novels have taken the top spots on bestseller lists on multiple occasions. Think Dune by Frank Herbert, Hyperion by Dan Simmons and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
Niruddesher Kahini by Jagdish Chandra Bose is considered as one of the first works of Indian science fiction and while the indigenous club is comparatively smaller that its international counterpart, it has grown considerably.
We’ve got stalwart filmmaker Satyajit Ray who delighted us with his Professor Shonku series (and wrote The Alien story that we’ve all watched as E.T. before Spielberg sent him home, allegedly), and a whole younger generation of Indian science fiction writers who have made the genre their own.
Sifting through the fine lines of science fiction, fantasy and modern mythological re-telling, we’ve put together some of our favourites from the world of Indian science fiction.
Whether you’re a seasoned sci-fi geek or a lover of romantic and feel-good tomes exploring new waters, you’ll find something to pique your interest.
Indian science fiction to keep you up at night
Chosen Spirits by Samit Basu
He rejects the tag but Samit Basu is a leading name among the modern sci-fi writers of India. His books have been celebrated around the world and translated into multiple languages.
He calls the latest addition to his oeuvre, Chosen Spirits, an anti-dystopian novel, maybe because once you peel through the layers of the narrative, you see how eerily close to our reality it is.
The book’s protagonist Joey is a Reality Controller living in New Delhi in the not-so-distant future. Her job is to control the live stream or ‘Flow’ of popular and controversial influencers or ‘Flowstars’ as they’re known in this story.
She’s dealing with their new reality — all the social media lives, VR meetings through avatars, total surveillance through ‘Smartatts’ tattoos, and parents living in denial. Smog clogs the air and riots over water scarcity are part of the daily routine.
Joey reconnects with an old friend Rudra and a series of events unfold that throw them in the crosshairs of deception, rebellions and hidden agendas.
Leila by Prayaag Akbar
This novel became a highly controversial Netflix series. The story on the surface follows a mother’s search for her lost daughter, but you get to examine so much more than that.
Nandini’s privileged life is turned upside down when her inter-faith marriage comes under fire. Her daughter is lost to the bureaucracy as she hunts for her, navigating garbage, smog, thugs and high walls.
It’s a world where people live in different sectors, separated and judged on a rigid concept of ‘purity’. Water is rationed unless you’re among the elite who can easily get it and high surveillance makes mobility among communities a tough task.
The Return of Vaman by Jayant V Narlikar
Translated into English from its Marathi original Vaman Parat Na Ala, this story is among the most popular of astrophysicist Jayant V. Narlikar’s writings.
He had a clear purpose in his science fiction work, to use the narratives to educate the masses about scientific concepts and advances.
The Return of Vaman collection also features a witty short story titled The Rare Idol of Ganesha, but we’re going to focus on the second science-fiction thriller.
The story follows a group of scientists who stumble across an alien container that is unearthed in Gauribidanur, Karnataka. It holds within it objects that could have incredible consequences on science.
News of these alien materials reaches unsavoury characters, throwing smugglers and criminals into the mix.
The Beast With Nine Billion Feet by Anil Menon
The protagonists Tara, and her brother Aditya are like most teenagers you’d meet today — worrying about school, homework and friends. They also carry the baggage of their father Sivan — a celebrated geneticist now on the run.
Tara befriends her new neighbours, siblings Ria and Francis, who have just moved into the neighbourhood with their mother Mandira.
This is a world of liquid computers, virtual reality and illusion pods. There are many unanswered questions in their seemingly boring lives that they have to resolve. Is their father really a terrorist? Why does Mandira have such an interest in Aditya and his genetic makeup?
Set in Pune, India, the leads may be teenagers but this isn’t just a Young Adult book. Exploring ideas of complex technologies, genetic engineering, transhumanism and philosophy, it’ll capture the imagination of teens and adults alike.
Aliens in Delhi by Sami Ahmad Khan
Sami Ahmad Khan gets straight to the point in his novel. After observing Earth for many years, a reptile-like alien race known as the Qa’haQ decides to invade.
Their mode of attack is to take over smartphones and turn people into reptiles. Multiple characters come together to save the human race — an ISI agent, RAW, a German journalist, the Prime Minister’s office, ISRO, and more.
The story reveals secrets behind the Chandrayaan II mission, the origin of who or what Osama Bin Laden is and an Illuminati-like cult. There are plenty of twists and turns, making it a gripping read.
Escape by Manjula Padmanabhan
Padmanabhan’s works are uncomfortable for some because of the themes she explores but they’re still hard to put down. Escape imagines a woman-less world where the last remaining female is little Meiji.
She’s protected by three uncles, Eldest, Middle and Youngest who have raised her in secrecy. Vicious generals rule the world and Boy Soldiers wander the desolate land, and as Meiji enters puberty, her ageing uncles realise they can’t protect her much longer.
Youngest must travel across through this brutal reality with Meiji and take her to safety on the edge of the world. Through the story, we witness Meiji’s coming of age, an exploration of her womanhood and what that means in a world where women have been exterminated.
Youngest must help Meiji escape capture while struggling to explain to her what it means to be a woman in that world, and his own attraction to her as the last living human of the opposite sex.
It’s an adventure with its ups and downs and complex characters you can’t decide whether you love or hate.
Of Love and Other Monsters by Vandana Singh
Among the leading writers of science fiction and fantasy, Vandana Singh’s novella follows Arun, whose memories and identity are lost after a fire. What he does realise is that he has the unique ability to sense, manipulate and “weave” people’s minds. He falls in love with people’s minds, not genders, backgrounds or histories.
His search for an identity and origin make him contemplate his alienation from a society where he feels like a perpetual outsider. Is he really an alien?
It’s a poignant story which leaves you pondering over notions of connection, love, gender and otherness.