Samit Basu's new book is a graphic novel. He talks about fantasy, zom-com, vampires and more.
Samit Basu is a game-changer. His The Simoqin Prophecies was hailed as India’s first fantasy. After the Gameworld trilogy, there was Terror on the Titanic, the first of the Morningstar Agency stories, and Turbulence, a superhero novel set in India. Now with Local Monsters (Westland, Rs. 495), he steps into the world of the graphic novel. The book tells the story of Latha, Bela, Tashi and Indira who need to navigate life in Delhi. That they are monsters doesn’t help matters. Excerpts from an interview:
When we last spoke, you said a zom-com graphic novel was in the pipeline. Did that morph into Local Monsters?
That’s sort of happening in sporadic episodes. It’s called UnHoli, and bits of it are online. There are so many monsters; I couldn’t fit them all into one book.
Why have you set the action in Delhi?
I live in Delhi. When we spoke earlier about Turbulence, it was part of a phase where I wanted to not just create new worlds but also set a fantastical overlay on the one we know; the one around us — augmented reality like Google Glasses instead of virtual reality like Second Life, if you will. The writing on Local Monsters happened in bursts between Turbulence and its sequel, Resistance. I wanted Turbulence to be this grand high-stakes story where the future of the planet was at stake. At the same time there were many local, very Indian pieces of commentary that wouldn’t necessarily travel well. So those found their way into Local Monsters.
With Turbulence, you spoke of your decision to set the novel in the here and now. Local Monsters is also set in the here and now. Does this mean goodbye to fantasy?
Not at all. Turbulence, Resistance and Local Monsters are essentially fantasy stories. They’re just set in our world instead of a new one. I don’t think I ever want to say goodbye to any genre or medium, but I do want to try new things.
Can you comment on the title?
The title is a pretty accurate description of what this book is about — people who are literally monsters, though they’re not monstrous people at all. And local because that’s the extent of what they want their lives to be — normal, happy, without any of that world-changing nonsense. Also, the problems and concerns that fill their days are local — daily, small, real-life problems. The rest they don’t want to engage with.
Is Local Monsters the first of a series?
I don’t know yet. There are plenty of stories to tell with these characters, but I’m working on at least five other things.
Your favourite of the four superheroes...
They’re definitely not superheroes. The characters want to live normal, sitcom lives; they don’t want to do any of that difficult hero nonsense. They definitely don’t want to get involved in global conspiracies. Of the four, the one I feel most fond of is Bela, the half-Bengali vampire. She’s a smart, quiet badass, and those are always my favourite people.
You spoke earlier of the difficulty of working on collaborative works like a graphic novel or a film rather than solitary pursuits like a novel. Did you enjoy this collaboration?
Yeah, I think Ghanshyam’s a very cool artist. All collaborations are trouble, especially if you start off as a novelist, where you really have control over your story, if nothing else. But they’re also lessons in getting over yourself and not being a megalomaniac. So I always enjoy collaboration.
Of all the media you have worked in, which is your favourite and why?
Each one has definite joys and limitations. Finishing a novel is the greatest.
Lots of things, many of which I’m not allowed to talk about yet. But Terror on the Titanic is out with a new edition towards the end of the year, with a new publisher, and a sequel coming. Resistance is out next year in the U.S. and the U.K. A school series, non-fantasy, starting early next year. Some interesting international anthologies, mostly sci-fi.
It’s been 10 years since Simoqin…
Simoqin feels like a lifetime ago! It’s been a wonderful decade, on the whole. A lot of it good, some of it bad, but none of it boring. I have to keep reminding myself to have an interesting life in reality, not just in fiction. But writing is still great fun, and the response to Turbulence internationally has been amazing, so there’s a new burst of energy happening right now.