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A 'real' superhero book

Samit Basu has dared to veer away from the 'India social novel' genre to explore fantasy in his books. After taking readers on a mythological voyage with his fantasy trilogy, the young author is ready to create disorder with his sci-fi novel - Turbulence.

books Updated: Oct 21, 2010 14:22 IST
Sonakshi Babbar

Samit Basu has dared to veer away from the 'India social novel' genre to explore fantasy and mythology in his books. After taking readers on mythological voyage with his fantasy trilogy, the young author is back with a sci-fi novel - Turbulence.

Not an attempt to create 'turbulence', the book is just an attempt at something new. "While a lot of my previous work involved bringing together other stories and making something new, in this book I wanted to move away from fantasy and sci-fi and wanted to write the kind of book that Indian writers are supposed to write i.e. - set in India and about contemporary realities. In the process I figured out the madness and chaos of reality faced by twenty-something's figuring out what to do with their lives," he says.

Tackling the quarter life crisis
Considered a rebel for dropping out of the 'prestigious' IIT, Basu's aim was to "increase the volume up" of problems and dilemmas faced by everyone in their quarter life crisis, "Problems of the youth would seem fairly petty and insignificant compared to the madness of their background, but I wanted to make their problems significant so that their actions have a definite impact, so that they could actually change the world. This is something young people want to do but don't really know how to", he says.

A superhero novel set in India, Pakistan, England, the book explores the lives of a group of people who suddenly find themselves endowed with superhero qualities. With his book, having not one but many superheroes, Basu explains the concept of a superhero, "Superhero is a person who's given abilities beyond ordinary people and who tries to deal with society. In many cases it's a particular crime, but in this case it's people with extraordinary abilities in a completely normal setting."

Not just a superhero tale
Denying that it's just another superhero tale, he says, "it avoids the superhero tropes like villains, costumes, secret identity, and nice catchy name. In fact it's just a bunch of people who suddenly find themselves endowed with superhero powers and are trying to react to extremely stressful and trying circumstances. They are on their own with no convenient explanations, trying to deal with amplified problems and new responsibilities. Though given supernatural powers linked to their innermost desires, they are still left with the same dilemmas - What would you do if you got what you wanted? What would you do if you could change the world?"

SamitWith Spiderman, Batman and Superhuman becoming a part of modern psychology, superhero tales have broken the shackles of genres to emerge as mainstream. "After writing about fantasy and speculative fiction, this isn't a genre book, because culture is changing around us even as we speak, people might not know fantasy tropes but everyone knows superheroes. And superheroes are mainstream now. It needs no explanation." he says.

As a young writer he makes it clear that 'he doesn't preach'. "People who are setting out to be social commentators through fiction never achieve their aim. I wanted to write about people in real world with real problems but it turned into a superhero book."

No moral lessons
As superheroes get involved in a slugfest, readers might expect another battle royale of good vs evil, but Basu is quick to clarify that the book doesn't have a utopian ending, "There're no moral lines in the book, there's no Gandalf figure telling the characters to save the world. The characters are normal people confronted with the same problems. Whenever any character has tried to change anything there have been consequences. There're no absolutes here, like real life everything is muddled, at the end of the book it's not clear whether the world has been made better by the efforts of these characters. There are no magical answers, which provide clarity. At the end of the book I want people to look at utopias possible and ask themselves whether they might be worth it."

Indian writing has offered all kinds of novels, but sci-fi has been an unexplored genre. "There are people in India who write SF, it's just a question of more sci-fi literature catching attention as a particular genre. India has a completely different readership of fantasy, unlike the west where fantasy is written for the dorky males."

As he sees women picking up his novels, he's pleasantly surprised. "In India we don't have prejudices against fantasy and therefore, no established set of readers for this genre," he explains.

Graphic novel with Mike Carey
Speculative fiction, fantasy and superhero stories are not the only areas of prowess for Basu. He has written scripts for movies and will be out with a graphic novel Untouchables, written in collaboration with Mike Carey (X-me, Lucifer, the Felix castor series) will be out soon in India. Talking about the experience of co-writing with his idol, he gushes, "I was given responsibility of rewriting some parts of the book already written by Mike, but you don't want to mess with you idol's writing! Co-writing is fun and I would love to do more such projects. In fact my next work is also graphic novel about India and monsters."