Reading In science-fiction mode by
By Salil | Issue No.2 Journeys | |

In science-fiction mode

Vivek Nayak

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A C Grayling’s famous words are worth citing, “To read is to fly: it is to soar to a point of vantage which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, ideas, shared experience and the fruits of many inquiries.” Encircled by phones, tablets, social networking, stereotypical movies and of course, the apparently multi-purpose ‘idiot box’, books have been pushed into a blind corner, a neglected niche. One hears many eloquent speeches on the “passion of reading” and the benefits of venturing into the cemetery-like library, And yet worldwide interest in the printed book seems to plummet by the second, especially among my young contemporaries. Generally, I would side with the goodies of technology but something in my childhood and upbringing brought me to another turning of the road. Quick pleasures may rule the roost, but a book in hand provides that familiar cosy sensation that nothing else can match. One comes to imagine that no equivalent can possibly be found for such happiness.

Reading fiction
As a child, one of the very first books I read was pure fiction, glanced through merely as a pastime, a checkbox on a long holiday to-do list. That one book (which, not incidentally, is one of the highest selling franchises of our time) sparked in me an obsession with submerging into the unfathomed worlds beyond. The Harry Potter series is still my favourite… there’s always something new to find even after a dozen readings. Quoting Haruki Murakami,”I go back to the reading room, where I sink down in the sofa and into the world of The Arabian Nights. Slowly, like a movie fadeout, the real world evaporates. I’m alone, inside the world of the story. My favourite feeling in the world.”
Science fiction, on the other hand, started charming me much later, at an age when fiction was too… fictional to read. Science, being more articulate, debarred the question: ‘How is that even possible?’ which is posed frequently when browsing through poorly written fantasy fiction. The Time Machine, Frankenstein and The Invisible Man followed steadily by Isaac Asimov’s legendary classics were now staple sources of holiday entertainment for me. Life in its mundane avatar, was ridiculously simple: go to school, come home, read, sleep and repeat. Fortunately there was also the world of dreams to explore. All I ever dreamed of were imaginary reconstructions of the books I read and all I wished for was more matter to dream about. Today, too, I’m at a loss for words when people ask me what I want to become and what I aim for. Ambition does not appeal to me. I simply do stuff spontaneously, merely because I feel impelled to do it.

The 21st century explosion of awe-inspiring, almost beautiful technology amazes me as it does everyone else. Seemingly impossible technology was now in everyone’s hands and the rate of change eclipsed that of cynicism about change. This phenomenon of rapid change illustrated that the world would alter beyond recognition in a couple of decades, maybe even less. We live in the impossibilities of yesterday! Influenced by trends, general observations and of course, Hollywood, I switched attention to techno-writings, to believable fantasies which might turn true in the days to come. By the time I was in the sixth standard, I lost interest in fantasy and turned to science fiction – Eoin Colfer, Christopher Paolini, Rick Riordan, Isaac Asimov, H G Wells, were my favourite authors.

Exploring writing
Around the age of 12, I drew up a mini-plot for a book that was never meant to be. A simple, bare thread connecting a chain of slightly stereotypical events: Questions began to arrive at my doorstep: exactly how much of advancement is too much? At what point are we supposed to reach the ‘pinnacle’ of human civilization? More basically, is there a pinnacle or only a slope that leads on and on forever? One fine day, I found my old journals stacked up in a dusty old drawer, chanced upon several ‘brilliant ideas’ among the meaningless doodles and proceeded to plagiarize my ‘works’ a million times over. The end product: an untidy mind-map with tiny paragraphs scribbled all over in miniscule handwriting. A plot which subconsciously reached out to me and set my pulse racing. There was something in that one page which made me feel like I was weaving with golden fibres rather than words.

Aware of the maddening effort required to write the whole book at one stretch, I chose to simply write a particular event to the best of my ability and then connected a bunch of happenings with cleverly crafted scenes. School life had developed into a tiresome ordeal, thanks to the inventions of afternoon classes and excessive homework, which cut drastically into my leisure time, that is, writing time. This escalated up to a point where I could only manage writing during holidays; a shame, because I would have to stay at home rather than go out and play. Another development ensued due to excessive usage of the QWERTY keypad. I could actually type faster than write. Thus, I decided that my entire book would be typed out as a paper-free venture. The notes required transformed into notepad files on the desktop, updated whenever I thought of something. Despite the fact that I was now spending a lot of time sitting before the computer, my parents did not object and I acknowledge them greatly for it (though they often reprimanded me for playing too many video games).

While reading excerpts of an interview with an author, one often hears of complex incidents resulting in the formation of a new character or a great masterstroke. Does it work this way for every writer? On my journey, every single twist to the tale and every character’s complexity required hours of lying down, eyes shut, light music playing on headphones and continuous pondering over possibilities and results. The only anecdotes I can clearly remember are the times when I suddenly thought of a brilliant detail and the urge to put it down somewhere before it dissipated entirely overrode every other instinct, resulting in forgotten homework, evaporated tea, etc. After writing a couple of chapters, the character complexity begins to emerge and the events are influenced by the constraints set earlier.

A labour of love
During the Herculean task of writing, there were stages when I was tempted to delete the whole file, forget about it and continue enjoying reading. Thankfully, I never gave up and these gaps actually brought in rejuvenating ideas into the book. When a fresh set of holidays began, I would start with a dozen new directions in my head resulting in fatal plot-related errors that required days of correction. I had to actually go through every single word already written to eliminate contradictions. Slow uphill work.

Within a year and a half, I had nearly 500 pages sitting neatly as a novel on my flash-drive and absolutely no one knew about it! Everyone was a bit restless on seeing me spending long hours typing at the computer. So I thought it wise to disclose the fact now. My parents wanted to get the book published and so did I. After a couple of meticulous readings to cleanse the material of grammatical, spelling and typecast errors, the final draft was ready.

The entire book is, in my view, a comment on the sense of humanity which plays a role in every situation of our lives. It brings forth a realization of the unique, hidden gift humans possess: a conscience, that one faculty which keeps us, if only by a fine strand, ‘human’. The word ‘inhuman’ was one of the many one-worded titles I thought of while writing the book. It turned out to be very apt in the end and I settled on that. Naming the second book was quite simple: ‘Chaos’ is the name of a character in the book.

Although I’d never visualized this, upon releasing the book, an inexplicable sense of relief coursed through me. The strange Inhuman was the result of undergoing the mental shredder numerous times to try to create a story that would be, not just publishable, but worth its price. Writing can be hard, yet I knew that I would still do it despite the frustrations. Therefore, the storyline of Inhuman was incomplete and I already had plans for a trilogy. For the first time, I knew exactly what I had to do next: finish the series.

After Inhuman, life turned out to be way simpler. Having truly undergone the time of my life getting a book published, the compulsion of writing the next one transformed itself into a veritable addiction. Having pre-planned a suitable plot to follow the first, writing Chaos proved to be as easy as inscribing my own initials over and over again. Within a year another novel of fair size had been completed and I was in as much awe at my own speed as anyone else. Never before had I thought it possible to actually complete a book within a year!

Referring to the two books I’ve published, people often ask me what I wish to become and they proceed to answer their own questions with the one clichéd word ‘Author’. To be honest, I haven’t decided yet. Writing shall be my watchword as long as ideas spark neurons in the brain. However, I have numerous academic interests I would love to follow. As an answer to the parroted question “What do you want to be in life?” the only sane answer that occurs to me, though quite cheeky, is “Happy”. I will write as long as it continues to make me happy!

As my last school year had already started, I did not consider it wise to start the third book as I would surely lose my threads of thought after all that endless studying. After publishing Chaos, I chose to abstain from writing and reading (a bit difficult, actually) and focus on my studies. So, it has been, for the last half-year and so it shall be until the summer vacations of 2013 begin. The third book is yet to be published and it shall conclude my story. Free from strenuous studying, I can visualize a grand plot to end the tale, as all conclusions should be.

Vivek Nayak’s first novel ‘Inhuman,’ written when the author was 14 years old, was published by Broadway Publishing House in October 2011, thus making him the youngest published science-fiction writer in India.

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