AM­BI­GU­ITY MA­CHINES

And Other Sto­ries

Foreword Reviews - - Foresight Writers Of Color - —DANNY GARD­NER

Van­dana Singh, Small Beer Press (FE­BRU­ARY) Soft­cover $16 (288pp), 978-1-61873-143-2

The best science fic­tion re­quires a pro­tag­o­nist who nor­mal­izes the fan­tas­tic to tell their story. Van­dana Singh’s Am­bi­gu­ity Ma­chines: And Other Sto­ries achieves this and more, with a bold col­lec­tion of sto­ries about fate, worth, and in­ner magic.

“When Fates Con­spire,” set in fu­ture In­dia, finds that a caste of sci­en­tists has de­vel­oped a ma­chine that peers into the past. His­tory and time con­trol each other, and the weight of his­tory is what de­ter­mines which time streams con­nect.

Gargi, a poor refugee of del­uge-rid­den Siri­danga, is the only per­son who can op­er­ate the ma­chine. The sci­en­tists— her cap­tors—seek to as­suage her with food and lux­u­ri­ous con­ve­niences, but Gargi knows she is a bird in a gilded cage: “I may be un­e­d­u­cated but I am not stupid. They’re hid­ing some­thing from me.” Gargi prefers to use her time in the ma­chine to ob­serve a young house­wife, Ras­sun­dari, who is ed­u­cated al­though her lit­er­acy is for­bid­den. Gargi is also ob­li­gated to watch Wa­jid Ali Shah, a poet of es­teem who lived dur­ing the same era as Ras­sun­dari. Her keep­ers de­mand in­tel on his writ­ing.

Un­der pres­sure, Gargi makes up her own verses. This is all com­pli­cated by her dreams of a spirit who “floats above the delta of the river of time.” The ghost’s con­nec­tion to the ma­chine be­comes clear as Gargi claims more and more free­dom, em­bold­ened by her aware­ness that she is the linch­pin in a far grander scheme. Gargi’s role as seer through time be­gins to read less like science fic­tion and more like a self-love story, with stun­ningly tragic prose that is sim­ply beau­ti­ful.

From plot to set­ting to pay­off, Am­bi­gu­ity Ma­chines and Other Sto­ries is a marked achieve­ment in science fic­tion.

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