What kind of research did you do for Ascendance?
It took me five years to write this book. I did a lot of reading on the internet. Especially about cloning, the ethics of the rapid changes in biotechnology, the efforts towards Singularity, and life extension possibilities. I kept notes, printouts and roughly sketched out outlines of the two sides of Elone and each of the characters before I starting writing. I also tried to see all the sci-fi movies that were released while I was writing the book.
Sci-fi is a genre which has not been explored successfully by most Indian writers. How have you tried to make the content engaging?
Ascendance is literary science fiction. It does not have the human race battling alien species or machines. The theatre of the book is the change in the life of men and women that are driven by technology. It tries to imagine a world thousands of years in the future, where life is indefinitely extendable and the reproductive link between man and woman has been terminated, and each can clone their off-spring independently. The philosophical underpinnings of the story are layered on top by a whodunit. So you can read it as a murder mystery set in the future, or as a layered book. If you enjoy a well-told story, in crisp language that also makes you think then this is the book for you.
Novels like The Martian have tried to stay as close as possible to space research and science. Is that something you were conscious of?
I am not a science student by education, I left it way back in class X! Nor does my full-time work have anything to do with science! However, the two pillars of change on which the book stands – cloning and life-extension. I researched a lot, and adding a dash of imagination tried to keep it within the realm of possibility. Writing science fiction is both a challenge and an opportunity. Since one can imagine any kind of world, any kind of species, atmosphere, technology etc it is a huge canvas to pick from. However, there is nothing that one can draw from in terms of experience or day to day living. That for me was the biggest issue – keep it real, yet keep it different.
You have been extremely fair in your characterization of men and women characters in the novel. How was the process?
Am glad you say this. In most of the feedback I have got, even the reviews on Goodreads, readers feel that I have been a bit unfair to the men. The story of Ascendance is not about who wins – it is about a life that could be possible in the future. In all honesty, I tried to keep a balance between men and women and avoided any judgemental stereotypes. Their differences do not make one better or worse than the other. Either here or on Elone!
You are presenting something fresh to young readers who are currently inclined towards mythology. How has been the response so far?
Ascendance is aimed at people who are 18 plus. Whenever I read a review or comments about the book on various platforms I feel happy and energized. The perspectives of readers always fascinate me, because often readers find ideas and thoughts on what one writes, which are surprisingly fresh. Whether a fantasy rooted in the past or one sculpted in the future, a well-told story always has an audience.
You have talked about cloning in your book. In relation to humans, cloning has been a highly controversial subject. Do you see it becoming a norm in the near future?
Ascendance emerged over time within me. When I started out I had somewhat nebulous ideas about the potential of technology to transform our existence. As I researched for the book, my own ideas changed. We are moving towards a huge change in human life. I don’t have doubts about it anymore. The future will arrive much faster than we want to accept or can foresee.
What was the publishing process like for the book? How important is the writer-editor relationship?
I am thankful to Kapish Mehra of Rupa for taking on the challenge of publishing this different and off-beat book. Science fiction is not a common genre among Indian writers. The publication happened after three years of a long line of rejections.
The biggest learning – be open to what the editor suggests. More often than not, the suggestions enhance the book manifold. A good, sincere editor is your best friend in the rather tedious and often times painful editorial process.
About the Interviewee: Sadhna Shanker is an author, blogger and civil servant. A Ph.D. in Economics, she is a passionate wordsmith and has an avid interest in books, movies and theatre. An officer of the 1987 batch of the Indian Revenue Service, she has had a long and varied career in the Central Government. Currently, she is Principal Commissioner of Income Tax at Delhi. She is the author of Ascendance(2018),Catching Fireflies (2016),Never a Disconnect (2010) ,When the Parallels Meet (2007) and Ahlanwa-sahlan A Syrian Journey (2006).