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Samit Basu, weaving fantasies galore
Jai Arjun Singh
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January 22, 2008

Samit Basu, popularly known as the Boy Wonder in literary circles, was barely 23 when he completed The Simoqin Prophecies, a cheeky, wonderfully imaginative book that was billed as India's first science fiction/fantasy (SFF) novel in English. It was the first in the Gameworld trilogy, followed by The Manticore's Secret (2005). The launch of The Unwaba Revelations earlier this week completes the trilogy, but Basu has no plans to take a breather...

What's an unwaba?

It's a chameleon -- borrowed from a similar creature in the Zulu tradition -- that performs a sutradhar role in my book, commenting on the action, telling the characters what's going to happen. It's a stand-in for all writers, really.

You've just turned 28, and you've already finished a trilogy of fantasy novels that runs to nearly 1,500 pages. Are you hung over?

Haven't had time to be. I finished this book eight months ago and since then I've been neck-deep in other projects, so I haven't even been able to think about how much I've written so far, the size of the trilogy or things like that. It's only at book launches where I see the three books piled up one on top of the other and think to myself, "I could kill people with these big fat things."

How satisfied are you with the trilogy now that it's finally over?

As an SFF fan, I've been disappointed with the third volume of almost any trilogy -- authors tend to use convenient escape routes and not to see things through. I've tried to avoid those pitfalls and on the whole I'm happy with the way it's ended. I probably had the least fun writing Unwaba (the first book was the most fun), but in my view the writing is better than in the early books. There's lots of stuff crammed in there, as you know -- battles, many different characters and types of characters -- and resolving all of it was difficult.

Has fantasy-writing in India changed since The Simoqin Prophecies was published in 2003? Any promising new writers in the genre?

The landscape has changed in that more publishers are looking at fantasy now -- the same way the graphic novels market opened up when Sarnath's (Banerjee) Corridor was published. The science fiction/fantasy writers I've seen seem to be following the traditional SFF route of doing short stories first, rather than jumping head-first into big books or series. But there is some very promising talent: I was editing a sci-fi anthology recently and was impressed by the stories submitted by Indrapramit Das and Swapna Kishore -- they'll both probably produce novels at some stage.

You're working on projects with Duran Duran (the popular 1980s band) and director Terry Gilliam (Brazil [Images], Twelve Monkeys). What are those about?

Those are comics I'm scripting for Virgin -- the Gilliam one was based on one of his many radical ideas that couldn't be filmed. I can't say too much about them at this stage -- they're nowhere near ready for publication -- but it's been a good learning process. Incidentally, I also want to start writing Bollywood films soon. And there's a book I'm doing for Tranquebar, but don't ask me about it.

How do you find the time and energy to work on so many projects simultaneously?

The multi-tasking has been fairly insane -- there have been long stretches of staying shut up in my room. But eventually I hope to clamber up to a platform where I can do one thing that I really want to do.

What is the most annoying question journalists ask you?

"What's your book's USP?" I mostly just splutter in reply. It's also amusing when people challenge me to say something that will convince them to read SFF. It's done in the campus-interview style -- "Sell yourself (and your genre) to me". The only answer I can possibly give is, "If you don't want to read fantasy, don't read it. I have no problem with that."

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