16 Feb

In Touch with the Untouchables

Sometimes solutions to writing problems show up unexpectedly. I was reading a chapter in Half The Sky (unless you’re a caveman, read Half The Sky–now–or especially if you’re a caveman, first world or otherwise) about sex trafficking in the slums of Nagpur, where members of the Dalit (Untouchable) class, especially women, have almost no social or legal rights or protection, other than those they create with the support or leadership of social activists. (I won’t go into details–read the book: it’s smart, easy to read, hard to take–even when you’re already aware of its subject matter–and almost impossible to put down.)

I have henchmen characters, the shamblers, in Sea of Tigers whose origin has always been a little vague–one of those problems I knew I’d eventually resolve, although hopefully not with clichés. As I read the chapter described above, a voice–you know the voice–whispered, “The shamblers are Untouchables.” I don’t always trust that voice, even if it’s right–it’s also impetuous, a trait it shares with me. But the whisperer is right. They are Untouchables, although not from a single culture, and their leader organizes and runs them according to her complex (but not opaque) moral agenda. They’re not role models, they’re more privateer than criminal, but they are sympathetic and, in their ragged way, are working for a better world.

The shamblers’ origin wasn’t nagging at me when I read Half The Sky–I hadn’t thought about their origin in months–but it was clear that deeper parts of my creative conscious–that black hole where most of the real work happens and from which things can escape–had not forgotten about them and was actively seeking solutions.

That’s the beauty of eureka–it never gets old, it never stops being a surprise, it’s almost always a gift. Even when it’s a curse.

03 Feb


Dear Western Writers of My Generation,

I’ve been reading Anil Menon’s The Beast with Nine Billion Feet (see here and here). It’s the intellectual SF adventure novel I would write if I had an encyclopedic brain and no day job, and an IQ that was at least 20 points higher. It’s both deliriously engaging and an exercise in sadomasochism (for the writer as reader). I don’t have enough years left to gather that much knowledge and synthesize it on the page and entertain readers at the same time. So I’m giving up–Anil has defeated me and, probably, a whole generation of writers. We need to stop his book from being published in the US now. Join me in my efforts at www.corralmenon.org. If we can keep him locked down on the subcontinent then generations of weaker minded western writers like me will have a chance.

Your’s in defeat,

~ Kurt

P.S. Seriously, if you think there’s no market for jam packed smarty pants SF for young and adult readers, get your hands on a copy. Publishers will have a hell of a time categorizing it (they already have in India, where it’s tagged “young reader”–but it’s no more young reader than LeGuin’s “YA” work. It’ll either wither in obscurity or, my bet, grow a long spidery set of legs.) I read Vandana Singh (her speculative fiction and other stories) and she shows me unique paths to tread. Then I add Anil Menon to the mix and the paths fork. We really need more SF writers of non-western origin who can write for multicultural audiences to provoke our expectations as readers and show us new ways to grow as writers (and, in my case, remove self-imposed limits). In the past, I’ve said a lot of nice things about Vandana’s work–partially out of encouragement, but mostly out of admiration born from exposure to new insights (or remembrance of insights I’d buried to properly mold my thinking). But never out of reverence. Not till she’s at least 90 and still churning out short stories, novellas, and someday the novel.