REVIEW: “Contingency Plans for the Apocalypse” by S. B. Divya

Review of S. B. Divya’s, “Contingency Plans for the Apocalypse”, Uncanny Magazine Volume, 20 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Jodie Baker.

“Contingency Plans for the Apocalypse” is set in a dystopian Arizona where abortion has been criminalised. The narrator and their partner, Chula, have stayed in this dangerous territory with their two children in order to help women recieve safe abortions. The couple fully expect to be found by the law one day, and to have to run, but the narrator, who is disabled, does not expect they will make it out alive. All of their scenarios for the future involve Chula, the woman who is ‘a four-time triathlete, perfect eyesight, no injuries’, getting their children to a safe house. However, everything changes when Chula is killed by a bullet aimed at the narrator. From then on, the narrator has to be the one to survive in order to keep their children alive.

I’ve seen several discussions from disabled commentators about disability and dystopia, and “Contingency Plans for the Apocalypse” definitely feels like it’s in conversation with those discussions. This story adopts a multi-layered approach to depicting a disabled person’s life when the world is in crisis and they’re being chased by the authorities. S. B. Divya shows the practical issues of surviving in a dystopia when you have various disabilities. She allows her narrator to voice genuine concerns about their ability to survive, and to be less than positive about their situation. The fact that the narrator never offers up their name, and is never asked for it, is a subtle reminder that disabled people often don’t exist in dystopian stories.

At the same time, Divya challenges this lack of surviving, disabled characters in mainstream dystopian stories (or just the lack of disabled protagonists in mainstream dystopian stories). This story pushes back against the idea that there’s no place for disabled people in this genre by centring a disabled narrator, writing the story in their first person voice, giving them the tools to save their children, and sending them home alive, and a minor resistance hero. “Contingency Plans for the Apocalypse” creates some much needed space for disability while also providing an action-packed story which comments on the erosion of women’s rights. Try it out if you enjoyed Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” or “Flow” by Marissa Lingen.

REVIEW: “An Unexpected Boon” by S.B. Divya

Review of S.B. Divya, “An Unexpected Boon”, Apex Magazine 102: Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Wow. I loved this story. It has a wonderfully realized non-western setting (this one takes place in Vedic era India), two well-rounded main characters whose points of view complement and add to each other, and a nuanced, sympathetic take on mental illness.

The story has two point-of-view characters, First is Kalyani, a twelve year old girl who struggles with compulsions and has trouble reading people. I read her autistic, due to her frequent over-stimulation, dislike of being touched, and difficulty reading other peoples intentions and emotions, but I could be wrong. Next is her older brother, Aruni, who loves her but is also frustrated by her inability to fit in. I appreciated how warmly Kalyani was portrayed — autistic characters are often portrayed as cold or alien, but she came across as very sympathetic. She is engaged with the world, yet seems distant to others because her engagement does not quite mirror their own. Her relationship with her brother felt very real to me. He defends her against others and worries about her ability to survive in the world, but also resents her to a certain extent. By the end, they come to understand each other in a new way.

The boon referred to in the title offers Kalyani a way to engage with the world more easily, but does not change who she is, because she isn’t broken. When her brother says that he hoped the boon would make her normal, she replies “I will always be myself,” which is a touching message for all of us, but has particular resonance if we assume she is autistic.

This is a beautiful, engaging story that I highly recommend. Being neurotypical, I can not speak to the accuracy of the representation, but I thought it was deftly handled.