Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Scian Contest

The results of the Scian short story contest are out. The first prize goes to Aditya Sudarshan's Asylum at Bergen, a short story that made me think wistfully of my (inherited) collection of the Pan Books of Horror Stories. And while Selva's put up the top 9 stories of the contest, all of which are worth a read (well, almost), let me put in a plug for Chetan Rao's Cell Death, which didn't really work for me as a story, but is a fascinating read otherwise (if you haven't figured this out already, I'm a sucker for graphs).

As one of the judges for the contest, I had fun reading through the 29 stories we received. It's interesting to see what people are influenced by - generous dollops of Asimov with dabs of Douglas Adams, sprinklings of the Da Vinci Code (or what I imagine was the Da Vinci Code, not having read it) and a light garnish of the Blade Runner. Enchanting stuff, though extremely raw for the most part.

I have to say, though, that there was a point around story number 14 when a liberal shot of vodka would have helped. I'm the last person to have the right to complain about pessimistic visions of the future, but it's fascinating how story after story imagines the future as dystopic and dark, a world where the forces of nature have been subverted and plot their revenge, where computers and machines have diminished the meaning of being human. What I missed, reading these stories, was that Verne-ian sense of wonder, the palpable excitement of exploration, the now almost subversive idea that science can help us discover, not just more about the world around us, but, more interestingly, more about who we are; how science can help us be more intensely ourselves [1]. At the heart of the scientific enterprise is the joy of discovery, of pushing the envelope of what is known, of boldly going where no man has gone before. Technology may destroy the soul, but it may also amplify it.

Don't misunderstand me. This is not a criticism of the authors who entered the contest. I suspect our increasing pessimism about the future science can create for us is the inevitable consequence of living in a nuclear world, and a telling comment on what science has come to mean to the popular imagination [2]. I can't help wondering, though, what someone like Hart Crane would have made of the world we now live in. This was a man whose masterwork is an ode to something as (relatively) stolid as the Brooklyn Bridge. What excesses of lyric poetry would he have found in the Internet, in the structure of DNA?


[1] I'm speaking here of the general trend, of course - there are certainly some notable exceptions among the 29 stories I read, some of which, for precisely that reason, are included in the top 9.

[2] The man vs. science divide may also reflect, I suspect, the humanities vs. science divide, so deeply ingrained in our education system, but that's a whole other post.


Anonymous said...

Fascinating read, eh? The story is incomplete. I reloaded the page several times, but it cuts off at the same point each time. Didn't come across any graphs yet.

Falstaff said...

witnwisdumb: ?! It works fine when I access it. I get the afterword, the graphs, the references - the complete works.

Anonymous said...

Oops. My mistake. Clearing the browser cache and reloading solved the problem.

Swathi Sambhani aka Chimera said...

as i started reading the first-prize winner, i was looking frantically for something written by u (without realizing that u were the judge...)