Friday, June 16, 2006

Future tense

This week's Viewer Mail
Kathmandu, Nepal

Science fiction aficionado Darkhorse in Nashville (don't say Nashville, where? there is only one Nashville) writes:

Dear Siren:
Here's a review from the Washington Post of River of Gods by Hugo Award winning writer Ian McDonald.
India lovers are said to love it. - Yours truly, Darkhorse

Science Fiction and Fantasy: India's apocalyptic future

By Martin Morse
Tomorrow on the Subcontinent
Scan the shelves of the science fiction section at your local bookstore, and you'll find all sorts of novels about adventure in the distant future. But the book you're least likely to find is the novel that aims to show us what the future will be like in 25 or 50 years.(...)

Ian MacDonald, however, has not heard the news that no one wants to read about the near future any more. His River of Gods: August 15, 2047 -- Happy Birthday, India (Pyr, $25) is a bold, brave look at India on the eve of its centennial, 41 years from now.(...)

In River of Gods, the lives of nine characters, including a police officer, a journalist, an astronaut and the aide to a powerful politician, intertwine as India veers toward an apocalypse caused by a reckless search for cheap power. MacDonald predicts that India will be divided into several warring states, each with sophisticated robot armies. Gender switching -- and the abandonment of gender entirely -- will be commonplace. Artificial intelligence will be advanced enough so that machines will pass for humans most of the time.

MacDonald takes his readers from India's darkest depths to its most opulent heights, from rioting mobs and the devastated poor to high-level politicians and lavish parties. He handles his complex plot with flair and confidence and deftly shows how technological advances and social changes have subtly changed lives. River of Gods is a major achievement from a writer who is becoming one of the best Science Fiction novelists of our time.

Dear Darkhorse:
It' s nice that someone besides that shrill, one-note harpy Arundhati Roy is worried about India's future. From all the glowing masturbation and self-congratulation in the "lifestyle" Indian press you would think there was nothing but Blue Skies and Capuccino Forever on the increasingly crowded and polluted horizon. Anyone who points out evidence to the contrary is liable to be shunned into silence or run out a rail on grounds of anti-nationalist and overly realistic sentiment.

Free expression is under definite attack here. National Security (in its local form of "communal sensibilities") is the cause often named for silencing. No less than seven states in the so-called World's Largest Hypocrisy (OOPS, I mean, Democracy!) saw fit to ban the Da Vinci Code movie because it might offend someone, especially those who are too pious to go see it in the first place.

In the wake (literally) of the deadly Danish cartoon debacle, everyone wants to get in on Being Offended. Being Offended is a guaranteed way to gain political ground and silence your perceived enemies. If we can't cut the hands off of all offending artists, next the law will have us all ripping our eyeballs out prophylactically to prevent us from viewing something potentially harmful to our innocent sensibilities.

Of course, seeing limbless beggars and starving children working captive on garment industry looms is not deemed offensive enough to warrant a ban, or any legal action whatsoever. It's those movies and artists that are causing all the problems in society. For one thing, they cause young couples to hold hands in public (and no, it's not just "backward" places like Bihar where the moral police see fit to assault these kids).

But I digress. Returning to the book in question:

MacDonald has, at the very least, been reading the more relevant sections of the Indian newspapers; there is definitely a looming apocalypse thanks to the race for cheaper power. Several states (Karnataka vs. Tamil Nadu, for instance) are already at "war" over water.

And the summer headlines fairly scream "After 5000 years of sweating continuously, every single one of us deserves to have central air conditioning RIGHT NOW! How are we going to get it?!?! We don't care how many villagers we have to displace, goddamnit it, now that we can afford designer clothes, we shouldn't have to sweat anymore!!!!"

However, he is conspicuously wrong about the "sophisticated robot armies." Any machine requires maintainance. Machines here, even simple ones like light fixtures and credit card machines, often stay broken for years. Besides, we already have a sort of "robot army" to fight our battles and do our dirty work for us. It's called The Poor.

Gender switching is not necessary, since every Indian knows that sex officially does not exist. That's why there are a billion people. They were all created by our entirely chaste, virtuous sex-free culture, which has advocated propagation by fission since ancient Vedic times. Married men and women lie next to one another fully clothed and reproduction occurs. (The sexual poses you see in certain ancient Hindu temples were actually created by aliens, in order to defame and give a bad name to true, virtuous, sexless Indian culture.)

And rather than having machines that pass for humans, we prefer to just turn humans into machines. My friends in Delhi didn't even know the name of their maid who cooked their meals every day. Why bother? she's not a person, after all. A few weeks ago the Times of India ran a supposedly humourous column by a woman lamenting the "loss of her precious object." This priceless possession had been "stolen" from her, she wept, by a former friend. At the end of the column you realize she is talking about a servant formerly under her employ. I guess it never occurred to her that the servant was a person, capable of deciding where she wanted to work on her own. No, the servant was an object, to be given or taken at will.

Besides, machines mean efficiency. If we were efficient, something might get done; and if something got done, things might actually change.

And that can never, ever, be allowed to happen. Because India has no problems and is perfect the way it is.

So go away and leave us alone.

1 comment:

Shinu Mathew said...

Regarding the ban of Da Vinci Code, I wrote this some weeks back
Check It here
Good news from Kerala. The govt. Ban all forms of begging. Remember what we were talking about a few months back?
I have only one objection. The Narmada piece. Don't you think water-scarse Gujarat should get something at least? If few villagers need to be displaced, then so be it. They should get rehabilitated, but opposing a hugely beneficial project on some leaky ground as such is not advisable. I hate Medha patkar for all her deeds. She shamelessly seeking publicity, nothing else.