The future is now: Review of Lavanya Lakshminarayan’s ‘Analog/Virtual: And Other Simulations of Your Future’

The futuristic world of the stories seems frighteningly real

May 02, 2020 04:00 pm | Updated 04:00 pm IST

A sense of foreboding overhangs Lavanya Lakshminarayan’s debut book. The interconnected stories march steadily towards you like an advancing army — with every word you read, the comfortable distance created by speculative fiction is slowly eroded and you feel exposed to possibilities that look all too real.

The book is in a Bengaluru of the future when it is called ‘Apex City’ — a world where the Bell Corporation has established ‘meritocratic technarcy’ to define the boundaries of life, literally and figuratively. You have the ‘Analogs’ of Apex City living outside the Carnatic Meridian, bearing the full brunt of a world that has succumbed to climate change, with barely any fresh food and water, and deprived of technology, while the ‘Virtuals’ live on the other side. There you have ClimaTech for simulated weather, OmniPorts and HoloTech for communication and interaction, bots as teachers, humble video games that assume larger-than-life proportions and the ‘vegetable farm’ where you can be ‘harvested’ should you slip down the ladder of merit — Lakshminarayan’s world-building is impeccable. Within this, characters come and go, some etched deeply, some lightly, but each one adding another layer of meaning.

The two stories that especially worked for me are ‘Études’, which sensitively portrays an adopted Analog’s journey in becoming a pianist without technology, and ‘The Be-Moji Project’, which envisions a future where words will become immaterial and holographic ‘emojis’ will take their place. Her stories, effortlessly criss-crossing between the poignant and the absurd, pulsate with solid life, like the deep thrum of a bass guitar that once caught in a song, cannot be released from memory again.

Despite the initial discomfort of not having a central character to invest in emotionally, the book works because of the assuredness with which it subverts ideas of class, power, dissent by showing what the world looks like when boundaries are closed.

We already know one version. Here is another one.

The reviewer edits an art magazine.

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