Sunday, December 21, 2008

Distances: A Novella by Vandana Singh

Last winter we released Vandana Singh’s Of Love and Other Monsters: A Novella, which appeared on Locus’s Recommended List for 2007 and Gardner Dozois included it in his Year’s Best Science Fiction anthology for 2007. This winter we are pleased to present Vandana’s Distances, a fascinating science fiction set in a desert city in the far future, where the green-skinned Anasuya, a geometer and immigrant from a very watery part of the world, works to solve a mathematical problem for off-planet visitors she comes to suspect of being driven by a hidden agenda. In the process of solving the problem, she creates powerful art in the pursuit of the mysterious muse who haunts her work.

Here is an excerpt from the book:

She was a rider like no other. Her function was to lie in an amnion that had been specially constructed for her, with her neck-slits open. The sap that was exuded by the feathery organs inside her neck-slits and by the undersides of her fingernails and the tips of her breasts --- the sap her people called vapasjal, that which is given back or returned --- contained microscopic organelles the chemists at the temple called spiroforms. The spiroforms tasted the molecules in the mixture; as they interacted with the chemical stew of the amnion, a space blossomed in her mind, the most abstract made-world there could be: the sthanas itself: the solution-space of the mathematics. The tiny, invisible machines that swam in the fluid recorded the chemical changes wrought by the spiroforms and transmitted to the Temple’s data banks a holographic representation of this inner space, brick by proverbial brick. Other holo-riders had to sit directly in front of a display that recorded the chemical reactions in the standard vats, and, through a complex science of interpretation and analysis, including trial and error and constant tinkering, they had to attempt to fill in the solution space of the given mathematics. For Anasuya this process was like a blind person’s mapping the contours of the world with a stick, and it horrified her because for her mathematics was experiential, a sixth sense that bared before her the harmonies, natural and artificial, that formed the sub-text of the world. Floating in the amnion, she entered unmapped territory; she was a speck, a ship lost in vastness, a rider on waves of maxima and minima, an explorer of a space that, but for her, would remain only guessed at. She entered this mathematical country as an explorer would enter a new land: she looked for singularities, skated over manifolds, sketched out the abstract, mountainous terrain of bizarre mathematical functions; she sought branch points and branch cuts and hidden territories bearing algebraic surprises. She took the esoteric world of the sthanas and made it her reality.

Distances is rich with the wonders of sharply contrasting worlds with fascinating social relations, all seen through the prism of Anasuya’s sensitive, intelligent outsider’s vision. The story takes Anasuya to the moral conflict at the heart of creative work for artists as well as scientists, a conflict full of contradictions and terrible costs. As both a physicist and a fiction writer, Vandana explores this territory with unflinching honesty and subtlety.

You can order Distances now from Aqueduct Press, here.

PS The cover of the book is actually red, not violet. For some mysterious reason, the colors of the image altered rather violently when I uploaded it. A truer representation of the color can be found on Aqueduct's front page.

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