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  • Indian Science Fiction: Patterns, History and Hybridity by Suparno Banerjee
  • Barnita Bagchi
Suparno Banerjee. Indian Science Fiction: Patterns, History and Hybridity.
Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2020. xiii + 256 pp. E-book, ISBN 9781786836670.

Suparno Banerjee’s monograph examines science fiction (henceforth SF) from India, a country that has a rich and fascinating tradition of SF. This is a book that will be of interest and value to scholars and students in higher education of utopia, dystopia, and speculative fiction, and to readers across disciplines interested in SF as a mode. It is quite clear today that Darko Suvin’s canonical definition of SF as cognitive estrangement, an interplay between the familiar and the strange, and its emphasis on the novum that is created in SF, has been enriched with further attention to context, including postcolonial contexts. Whose familiarity in cognition are we speaking about, and what happens when contexts are not necessarily hegemonic Anglo-American or Western ones? Indeed, even in Western contexts, science is not a given, but an element that always has political, historical, and ideological overtones. The novum, too, as with the term utopia, is moored in the contexts of the text.

Banerjee’s book is one among several excellent monographs on Indian SF that have been published in the 2020s: Sami Ahmad Khan’s Star Warriors of the Modern Raj: Materiality, Mythology and Technology of Indian Science Fiction (2021) and Upamanyu Pablo Mukherjee’s Final Frontiers: Science Fiction and Techno-Science in Non-Aligned India (2020) come to mind. Khan adopts a refreshing fan’s guide to Indian SF register in his monograph, discussing mythology, materiality, ideology, and technology, and he coins the abbreviation TransMIT to capture his approach. Mukherjee’s book examines how Indian SF syncs with or questions the technological and scientific paradigms of India under Nehru and the Non-Aligned Movement; arguing that Indian SF needs to be seen as semiperipheral, the book also applies concepts from energy humanities [End Page 586] to Indian SF in an arresting way. Suparno Banerjee’s monograph is a solidly grounded work in its clearly explained choice of corpus, and a methodology that elicits particularly generative insights in a number of areas, including the epistemological status of science in Indian SF, the importance of SF written in bhasha or non-English Indian languages, the interplay between past and future in Indian SF, analysis of how Indian SF imaginatively represents the Other, and attention to Indian women writers of SF.

Banerjee offers a lucid and useful chronology of Indian SF in four historical periods: 1835–1905, 1905–47, 1947–95, and 1995–2019. The period from 1835 to 1905 offers the first specimens of Indian SF, primarily in the form of future histories that question colonialism, in the utopian mode, and adventure tales and stories with scientific and technological elements. The establishment of a British education system, starting in the 1820s, gave an impetus to the birth of Indian SF. Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain’s “Sultana’s Dream” was published in 1905, a year that heralds the second period lasting until Indian independence. In this period, SF starts appearing not just in the English, Bengali, and Hindi languages, as in the first period, but also in a number of other Indian languages, such as Assamese, Marathi, and Tamil. Children’s and youth magazines develop from the 1920s, spaces where science writing and SF both appear. Nationalist, anticolonial stances emerge, challenging western hegemony, in the 1940s. In the early post-Independence period, the nationalistic elements become even stronger, and SF interacts quite strongly with older forms of fantastic writing such as myths, fairytales, and ghost stories. This third period, Banerjee argues, is the golden age of bhasha SF. From the 1990s English-language SF again becomes very prominent in India and its diaspora, though SF in bhashas continues to flourish.

Banerjee examines fiction not just from post-Independence India, but also from colonial British India, and diasporic Indian writing. SF written primarily in Bengali, English, Hindi, and Marathi is examined and, when possible, the book also brings into its ambit of analysis SF written in the languages Assamese, Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada. Reflexivity about the corpus of...