INTERVIEW: RESISTANCE Author Samit Basu Talks Superheroes, Indian Speculative Fiction, and More!

Samit Basu is a writer of books, films and comics. His first novel, The Simoqin Prophecies, published by Penguin India in 2003, when Samit was 23, was the first book in the bestselling Gameworld Trilogy and marked the beginning of Indian English fantasy writing.

Samit’s other novels include Turbulence, Resistance, Stoob, and Terror on the Titanic. Turbulence was published in the UK in 2012 and in the US in 2013 to rave reviews. It won Wired‘s Goldenbot Award as one of the books of 2012 and was superheronovels.com’s Book of the Year for 2013. All five of Basu’s novels have been Indian bestsellers.

Samit was born in Calcutta, educated in Calcutta and London, and currently divides his time between Delhi and Mumbai. He can be found on Twitter, @samitbasu, and at samitbasu.com.

Samit was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about his new novels, being a trendsetter within Indian publishing, and more!


Andrea Johnson: Your newest novel, Resistance, is a sequel to your 2012 novel Turbulence. Going into Resistance, what’s the story so far? Can readers jump in right at this point, or should they be sure to read Turbulence first?

Samit Basu: It’s best to read Turbulence first. Most of the characters made it to the sequel, and some of the story arcs are concluded in Resistance. That said, Resistance is its own story, and it should be possible to read it standalone. I’m really the worst possible person to ask. Now that you’ve asked this question, I’m looking forward to hearing from readers who read Resistance first, and find out whether that made them go back and read the first book. Warning, though: there aren’t as many kaiju and giant robots and insect swarms in Turbulence, which was set firmly in the world as we knew it in 2009.

AJ: How many books do you have planned for this series? Can you let us know any teasers for future adventures with these characters?

SB: I’d planned Turbulence as a standalone book, but really wanted to take the story forward as I spent time with the characters. The plan for Resistance came after I figured out what the right story would be, which was a few years later. I’ve written a series before where each book followed the other immediately, and planned that as a series, but this was different. Resistance is set 11 years after Turbulence, which was set in the summer of 2009. So I don’t know when I’ll take the series forward, but I do know I want to. As soon as I figure out what I want that book to say. Therefore, no teasers – in fact, what I’m leaning towards now is a few stories that happen between Turbulence and Resistance, perhaps even in comic-book form, and follow some of the characters that the pace of the books doesn’t allow time to linger on. But I don’t know yet.

AJ: What were some of your inspirations for Turbulence and Resistance?

SB: To oversimplify greatly, Turbulence was a Superman book and Resistance is a Batman book. Turbulence was about imagining what would happen if a group of people got the ability to do whatever they most wanted – in a part of the world where people’s wants and needs are quite different from those in countries where superhero fiction is mostly read. In Resistance, though, 11 years later, superheroes mostly run the world, and normal humans are facing irrelevance, and aren’t too pleased about it. It’s the difference between changing the world, and actually living in the new one.

If you’re talking about writers who inspired me, too many to mention, really. But here’s a random list of writers – Warren Ellis, Alan Moore, Lev Grossman, Mike Carey, Ben Aaronovitch, Gail Simone, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Nick Harkaway, Joss Whedon, Brian K Vaughan, Patrick Rothfuss, Neil Gaiman… I should stop.

AJ: Not only was The Simoquin Prophecies a game changer in Indian Fantasy, but it was your very first novel. What was it like, to set a new trend for publishing in India, and to do so so early in your career?

SB: It’s a decade ago now, but it was amazing. I was 23 and India wasn’t as media-saturated then, so Simoqin got a fair bit of attention. The idea of fantasy literature was new, but Harry Potter and the LOTR movies were everywhere, so there was a shorthand explanation. Writing and publishing your first book is always very special – the world is full of possibilities and endless promise, the idea that other people want to read your work is fascinating and thrilling. Simoqin got really good reviews, and sold really well too, and it was clear that I wanted to keep doing this. I realize now that I was very lucky. It’s much more difficult for an unknown person with no knowledge about the realities of publishing – and some kind of business plan – to get anywhere now

AJ: What is your writing process like? Do you outline everything, or just start writing and see where it goes?

SB: I outline everything so I have a map. So there’s no excuse to stop moving forward because I don’t know what happens next. There’s a magic moment that happens at some point where your characters become people and start making their own choices, so then you start wandering off the map, or changing the map as you go. But I don’t start writing until I have an initial outline, so I have clear idea about where I could go back to if I get lost. Rewrites are much more of a float-in-and-out job – adding a link here, cutting some dead weight there. It’s so addictive and so much fun, this whole writing thing.

AJ: You’re also quite experienced with graphic novels. What are some of your favorite graphic novel projects that you’ve worked on?

SB: I’m definitely a book writer first, but graphic novels are great fun. They teach you structure and discipline better than any other form of writing. A couple of years ago I did an edit on my first three books before they went online, and those books were all 500-page monsters. I think I cut about 40,000 words in total.

I haven’t done very much in the graphic novel space, but my fondest memories are of collaborations – I cowrote a historical fantasy some years ago with Mike Carey, who’s always been an idol. And obviously I learnt a lot from him craft-wise but the strongest memory is of what a really generous and kind person he is. There was also a Grant Morrison collaboration last year, and comics with Terry Gilliam and Duran Duran which unfortunately never saw the light of day as the company shut down. But I’ve done a range of strange comics, from a zombie comedy set in Delhi to epic drama set in an alternate multiverse.

AJ: I couldn’t help but chuckle when I saw the cover art you posted on your blog for your new children’s book, Stoob. What can you tell us about this new book?

SB: It’s a children’s book, set in a school, with a ten-year-old protagonist. I have a wonderful illustrator, and it was a welcome change from all the world-is-at-stake big-theme high-drama big-setpiece work I’d been doing. It’s a very Indian book, though – I’d been curious for years about how Indian readers would react to a sort of book they were familiar with, as opposed to SF/fantasy, which are not only more demanding in themselves but also unfamiliar ground for most readers here. With Stoob I’ll find out.

AJ: In 2006, you did a series of interviews with SFF authors from all over the world, all of which are now archived on your website. How did this project get started? Which was your favorite interview?

SB: There’s a very cool cultural foundation in Delhi called Sarai who’d wanted me to do a project for them, and this was it. I think this was just after my second book. I don’t know if I have a favourite interview, but everyone was very kind and responded very quickly, even people really far away to whom I was a complete stranger. But they all acquired a lifelong admirer – I feel so proud when I read news of Jeff VanderMeer and Cheryl Morgan winning things at festivals I so wish I could be at. I have to say here that I’ve met, over the years, on the Internet and on visits to London and New York, some really great SF/F people, and in a few short meetings have found a sense of community that I’ve honestly not experienced in India at all – there are plenty of wonderful people in the literary world here, of course, but work-wise I’m usually that one who does those sorts of books but seems otherwise all right.

AJ: Thanks, Samit!


Interested in buying Resistance, Turbulence, Stoob, or Basu’s other titles? Click here for his Amazon page.