This is a collection of seven science fiction stories in which Cyberabad is a place in India. The year is 2047, a century after Cyberabad has declared its independence. The stories talk of a super power of one-and-a-half billion people in an age of artificial intelligence, drought caused by climate change, water-wars, strange new genders, genetically engineered children who age at half the rate of baseline humanity and a population where the males outnumber the females 4 to 1. What is more, the super power has fractured into a dozen states from Kerala to the headwaters of the Ganges in the Himalayas.
In the story ‘Sanjeev and Robotwallah’, a young boy becomes obsessed with robots after witnessing a number of battle-robots in action near the village where he lives. The boy finds that war is not fought soldier to soldier, but the actual fighting is done by robots which are remote-controlled. After a war that makes this village a wasteland, Sanjeev moves to the city and meets a number of teenage boys who control the battle-robot he had seen in his village. Their life fascinates him. But one day when the war ends, Sanjeev discovers the plight of the soldiers – a gory sight and he is deeply disillusioned.
In ‘Kyle Meets the River’, a young boy named Kyle finds his father hired to provide expertise to new nations. Kyle lives in a closed and high-security part of Varanasi where violence is rampant. Leading a sheltered life, Kyle with his friend Salim passes time. Curious to see the new nation his father is building, Kyle and his friend Salim cause a full-scale security alert in the city and witness violence everywhere.
The ‘Dust Assassin’ is a story about a water dispute between two powerful families of Japan. A young girl from one family is used as a weapon against the other family. When the other family gains the upper hand, the girl is the only one of her family to survive. She tries a number of approaches to find out how she is to be the weapon.
‘Vishnu at the Cat Circus’ deals with the story of Brahmin Vishnu who is genetically engineered and ages half as fast as a normal human being. Rivalry develops between him and his brother. His mother has high hopes from him but Vishnu sees matters differently and tries to lead his own life. He discovers that he has to live with his intelligence outpacing his physical growth and thus he would be obsolete before his body has matured. This story presents a rather disturbing vision of what bio-engineering could do to society.
‘Cyberabad Days’ talks of the Silicon Valley and traces the changes in India through evolution. It also deals with many technological concepts and complex social issues, the interactions between men and women and the onset of climate change.
Readers, who wonder on what the world would be like a few decades hence with the rapid technological advances taking place, may really enjoy reading these stories though the ordinary layman may feel as though he has entered a make-believe world.
(Hachette, Orion House, 5 Upper St. Martin’s Lane, London-WC 2H 9EA, Website:www.orionbooks.co.uk)