REVIEW: “Shikasta” by Vandana Singh

Review of Vandana Singh, “Shikasta”, in Visions, Ventures, Escape Velocities: A Collection of Space Futures, edited by Ed Finn and Joey Eschrich, (Center for Science and Imagination, Arizona State University, 2017): 207-240 — Download here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

This was one of the longest stories in the anthology, and it has one of the most distinct voices. It opens in the 2nd person — a narrative mode I often struggle with, but which works here because the reader is explicitly cued in to the fact that we are not the addressee, but rather Chirag’s dead cousin:

This is the first time I am speaking to you, aloud, since you died (207).

The narrative switches between Chirag, Kranti, and Annie, the three friends that remain of the four that met at university at Delhi and imagined what it would be like to crowdfound a space exploration project. Chirag’s cousin, though dead, is as present as anyone else in this story, as the narrative keeps circling back to a central question: What is life? What does it mean to be alive?

Like “Death of Mars”, earlier in the anthology (read the review), this is first and foremost a story about people, and only secondarily a story of space exploration; it reads more like a memoir than anything else. This is not to say that the science is in any way incidental, but rather that Singh focuses on the human aspects, and highlights that the human and the scientific need not be opposed to each other:

You taught me that a scientist could also be a poet (208).

This story, more than any of the others in the anthology, merges fiction and science in a way that shows how truly intertwined they are; how we cannot escape the need to create stories in order to understand facts. All of these factors came together so that this story really spoke to me.

REVIEW: “Conservation Laws” by Vandana Singh

Review of Vandana Singh’s, “Conservation Laws”, Uncanny Magazine Volume, 20 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Jodie Baker.

On a trip to the Lunar Geological Institute, Vikram, a young student currently living on the moon, meets Gyanendra Sahai; an explorer from an ill-fated mission to Mars. Delighted to discover that they are from the same state in India, Bihari, Vikram invites Gyanendra to move into Sinha Auntie’s boardinghouse where Vikram, and a small group of lively, intense students, reside. During one Saturday afternoon discussion, Gyanendra is finally drawn into relating what happened to him during his trip to Mars. His tale is remarkable.

Sometimes a story comes along that you just can’t make head or tail of, and unfortunately I couldn’t really connect with “Conservation Laws”. My confusion started when the students at the boardinghouse began a discussion about mirror universes, conservation laws, and ‘Universal Field equations’, none of which I have the scientific knowledge to grapple with. I quickly became lost. Then I had trouble imagining the shape of the fantastical science fiction objects, settings, and journey in Gyanendra’s story; again probably because I don’t have a reading background in technical SFF, or stories which deal with alien technology,. And finally, while the ending clearly had some significant connection to the mirror universes mentioned during the student’s discussion, I couldn’t work out what the significance was. I was left with a sense of foreboding as Gyanendra is ‘sorrowful’, but didn’t understand the full meaning of the ending; mostly because I hadn’t followed the initial discussion.

So, my difficulties with this story largely came down to a lack of personal context which kept me from putting all of the pieces of Vandana Singh’s story together. Not all stories are for everyone. However, I’d suggest maybe dipping your toe into this story just to see if it’s for you instead.