A candid conversation of Ian McDonald, an award-winning Science Fiction author with Gautham Shenoy.
Getting straight into it, Gautham asked Ian about his book ‘River of Gods’ released in 2004 which talks about India in the year 2047, a century after its independence from Britain. He wanted to understand, now that we are approaching 2020, what did Ian think he had gotten right in his book. Ian responded by saying that people were not doing enough about climate change and they were still thinking that it’s a cause for the future whereas it is happening now. He spoke passionately about how India with the abundance of sunshine that it receives could become a fully solar-powered country in another 20 years if it took the cause up seriously. Ian further added that the state of a nation is always temporary. He felt that India is going through major technological changes and that the Western cliché of India being a call-centre hub was untrue on various levels.
Gautham then asked about the mention of the 3rd, 4th and even 5th gender or something called the neutral gender in Ian’s books. Ian said that he believed that writing science fiction was about taking something, any idea, and pushing it to its absolute limit. And that’s what he did in his exploration of gender in his book by creating something called the neutral gender. He said he wanted to explore what Indians call the Hijra community and find out about their lives and build on that further.
The discussion then proceeded towards what the future for India would look like if there is at all a definition of a single future or are there multiple futures possible. Interestingly, Ian was of the view that following various different threads would lead to a different version of the future. He added that we could have a dystopian or even a utopian world and that the way things are changing rapidly we could even be looking at an ecological collapse.
The discussion then shifted to talk about social media, personal data and how the government was watching us and to what extent. Ian remarked- “It is like Big Brother meets Big Data”. He said that what we are looking at is a technocratic India and we best consider ourselves lucky that we don’t have to deal with social credits like China, at least not yet.
Bringing the discussion to a conclusion Ian spoke about how we should support our local Science-Fiction writers. He added that while it is our choice whether to believe in a dystopian world or a utopian one we best be prepared because the state of our nation and the world at large is constantly changing. He reiterated his concerns about climate change before signing off thus bringing the discussion of Science and Fiction to an interesting closure.