Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Mithila Review #15 (2021)

Mithila Review, ed. Salik Shah. Issue 15 (March 2021). Online at mithilareview.com.

Reviewed by Christina De La Rocha

Mithila Review, founded in 2015, is a science fiction and fantasy magazine based in India but international in scope. This is a promise Mithila absolutely delivers on, for not only does it contain stories from all over, the magazine’s own gaze looks firmly out from its non-Western corner of the world and this is a wonderful thing. About half of the stories in the magazine are told from an Indian perspective and it’s a delight to read the stories that look out at the future and the effects of global events through the eyes, hearts, and experiences of people and places many of us are not used to inhabiting in fiction, given the Anglosphere’s publishing industry’s gatekeeping in favor of white, Western authors. It helps that the stories, articles, and poems in Mithila Review lean into the literary and are written handsomely and at times in an English that is perfect yet non-Western in tone. This deepens the flavor of these works and befits a magazine that is named for a distinct geographic, cultural, and linguistic region with ancient roots that is now split by the border between India and Nepal and grappling with attempts at political control and cultural and linguistic assimilation from two different countries.

Issue 15 of Mithila, which came out in 2021, contains six works of fiction, six poems, two reviews, and two interviews. The issue centers on the experience of alienation, from oneself, for instance, or one’s own people or country. To run through just the fiction, some of the stories—such as “Arisudan” by Rimi B. Chatterjee and “Of Castles and Oceans” by Nicole Tanquary—feature a protagonist battling their way through an Earth suddenly foreign, hostile, and strange. Two of the stories, “Children Between the Lines” by Soham Guha and “The Knowing” by Neelu Singh, deal with being outcast, either because you have embraced your identity or because that’s what happens when you’re the only one who can see through the emperor’s new clothes. Two of the stories are about language and war. In “Our Bodies Sing the Stars,” by Carlos Norcia, singing is the weapon that unites a weary people and defeats authoritarianism, bringing an end to war. Lastly, “Different Shores,” by David Heckman, dreams of a California where the natives assimilated Old World tongues and technologies, banded together, and used them to repel the Spanish invasion.

Here I need to lodge a brief complaint. Although “Different Shores” meant well, the criticism (almost certain unintentionally) implied by this too simple solution to a complex history bothered me. “Different Shores” was probably meant to be just an entertaining story, a “wouldn’t it have been great if it had happened this way” type of tale, but to me it felt like an unintentional rebuke, as if the story was saying that this is what the Indigenous people of the Americas could have done to save themselves, but didn’t. This also struck me as unfair. In real life some Native American groups tried all of these things: learning the language of their invaders, adopting some of their technologies, and uniting in fighting back. But it could never have been enough to stem the tide of soldiers and settlers flowing over from a massively populated Europe.

But there were three pieces in this issue that I especially enjoyed. One was the review of The Best of Richard Matheson that written by Prashanth Gopalan. Not to write a review of a review, but Gopalan makes a compelling case for these unjustly overlooked (and yet famous!) tales of alienation wherein the main characters face a sudden shift of the world into the strange and confusing. I definitely want to read this book now.

The other piece I loved was Rimi B. Chatterjee’s novella “Arisudan.” Like many of us, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about climate change and the catastrophes it brings—but from the perspective of the countries that, due to the economic gains related to being the countries most responsible for causing climate change, are the countries most capable of coping with it. So, it was a bracing kick in the pants to read a climate change tale told through the eyes and experiences of people in India and Southeast Asia. For all of its seriousness, “Arisudan” is a fun read, a richly woven page-turner following the fate of the commanding officer of an Indian submarine and his best friend as they struggle to survive the destruction of civilization by a company that has weaponized everything from climate change to reproductive medicine. Almost literally everything happens in this story, from seawater gushing up over so much of the land as Antarctica fairly instantly totally “de-ices” to orbiting holiday facilities attacking the Earth with smart missiles because the financial elite of India intends to purge the Earth of riff-raff, allowing them to reclaim the world as entirely their own. I have to say, I’m not normally a fan of so much plot. All the catastrophes, characters, twists, and turns could have easily been too much. But in “Arisudan” they flow together through some truly impressive world-building, carrying you entertainingly through to the end, where you will wish there was still more story to read.

The third piece I loved was the poem “Harvest,” by Sandi Leibowitz, which is the story of the majesty and yet the loneliness of the love between two beings who belong to separate worlds. In just a few words, it touched upon the essence of deep, fierce love and how it can alienate you from your own people while simultaneously inciting a quiet envy in their hearts. While all of the poems looked into the feeling of otherness, “Harvest” was the one that made me feel it.

All told, Issue #15 of Mithila is worth pouring over for the different voices with which it speaks, and for the different perspectives from which it speaks from. It is definitely a worthy exploration of existing—be it in the future, the past, or in the now in a here real or impossible—where you no longer feel entirely welcome in your own land or with your own people.

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