Report: Giant pandas at the Hugo Awards and other WorldCon updates

Last month, I was part of an invited delegation to Chengdu, China for the Worldcon. Played a dual role there. I was an author from India talking on panels about Indian science fiction. I also represented Locus Magazine (I work there, btw) covering the event, working on partnerships and selling t-shirts and pins at the stall.  

This is my second Worldcon and can I say, I’m hooked! This one was very different from the Dublin one that I attended. It was the first where a majority of the attendees didn’t speak English and the organisers provided translation devices and live translators to the audience. Here’s one example.

It was a glamorous event that made TV stars of all science fiction authors who attended (me included – I was interviewed multiple times by local news channels). There’s me with Meng, a local journalist from Go Chengdu channel who became a friend. I gave her a signed copy of Anantya Tantrist Mysteries.

As China had invited delegates from across the world, it felt truly global. It came with young, energetic attendees excited about everything science fiction.  A M A Z I N G! I’m working on a longer essay for the Locus magazine about how China’s worldcon might have shown the way to Worldcons are done. Leaving you all with some photos of authors, publishers and editors I met, hugged and saw giant pandas with – from around the world.

The glitzy Hugo Awards at WorldCon

Firstly, the glamourous Hugo Awards evening! Loved the stage, the performance of a talented Chinese fusion rock band and the enthusiastic audience. The local mayor of the city welcomed everyone. Quite liked the fact that politicians came on time, gave short speeches, were women, and moved on.

That’s me at the Hugo After Party. For some reason, only limited people were invited there and a lot of author friends couldn’t join us. The After Party also had a kungfu tea ceremony and dances. No photos though. Was too busy having fun.

Here am I with legendary Sheree Renee Thomas a writer/editor, and now I’m happy to say, a friend too. Below that is the sweet Neil Clarke, the editor-in-chief of Clarkesworld, who won the best magazine Hugo. That’s Vincent Docherty, a committee member of Glasgow Worldcon. He wore the tartan at the event to welcome everyone to Glasgow. It took him 40 minutes to get the dress up. (I asked.) Loved his attire.

The hectic mornings / afternoons and…

My mornings and afternoons were jam packed. Between travelling to locations as a tourist, to being at the WorldCon venue to woman the Locus stall, and meeting authors and delegations from across the world. It was wonderful, busy, mad. And evenings had some event or other. Again some photos as I want to write a detailed report after this. Starting with the absolute highlight of the event: its young, energetic fans. The WorldCon was kind of a mix between a ComicCon and the more literary (and older) WorldCon in the West. A trade show with literary panels on the side.

…the panda trips I squeezed in the middle

Chendgu is known for its giant pandas. Upon landing, I realised the organisers had already completed a panda tour. I couldn’t leave the city without seeing these lazy, amazing animals. So I found the tour operator, asked for other authors who wanted to see the giant panda and organised a new trip. Made a lot of friends thanks to my jugaad 🙂 And became ‘the author in yellow jacket with panda ears’. Here are some touristy photos of me. The second one with author/editor Mimi Mondal (who I finally met after years of chatting online) and an amazing artist from Italy.

Everywhere we went as tourists, we were followed by local paparazzi. I took a few photos of the hard workers who made us celebrities.

Chengdu was warm, friendly, and a lovely city. Such a surprise, considering I didn’t know much about it when I landed. I loved the people, their honesty, and their politeness. And I did go around on my own to test these things out. Also, tea! Did I mention tea ceremonies?

Guess the book above? Meanwhile, I’m signing off and am going to write that essay about Worldcons and how China has changed them forever. Wish me luck, peeps!

Announcing a wacky ecopunk for kids. And it’s hilarious!

Science fiction for kids

I’m terribly, awesomely excited to announce my new novel for kids! It’s a wacky ecopunk, sci-fi adventure and a book that’s so close to my heart. The idea of the book came as I made Lego garbage monsters with my nephew (then eight years old, now going 14. That’s how long books take to be made).

Two siblings take help from their mother’s cranky, wacky robot to fight against all freaks of the waste. It’s a whizzing, fizzing sci-fi climate adventure which will inspire kids (and adults) of all ages to become climate warriors, innovate and protect our environment. In stocks in your favourite indie store in 2-3 weeks.

At that time, it was just this amazingly cool dirt-fighting robot versus all those garbage monsters. But as I wrote it, the book also became a sibling story – of an older brother who wants to play by the rules and his younger sister who is a rebel. Even though they’re so different, Lila and Kabir remain together till the end. The book’s about fighting climate challenges together, as a family, a community, a people. I loved writing it and I hope it gives us hope and courage to face climate challenges head on.

Preorder now on Amazon and help this wacky sci-fi book become a bestseller. Or wait for your local indie bookseller to stock it and support them! Either way, do get it into the hands of a climate warrior.

What the ecopunk?

Wondering what’s ecopunk? It’s a new genre for a new generation of readers that combines environmentalism, science fiction and the punk culture. The stories written in the genre explore climate change, sustainability and human impact on the planet but emphasize on the resilience and determination of characters to create positive change and restore balance to the environment and save the planet. It’s optimistic climate fiction!

A wacky ecopunk sci-fi novel for kids

Pretty City is no longer pretty. Can Kungfu Aunty save it from the evil garbage monsters that rule it?

Trash Rajah, the dictator of Pretty City, has declared there should be piles of stinking garbage, unending pollution, foaming lakes and disgusting noxious creations everywhere. Trash Rajah and his garbage army need an endless supply of garbage to keep them alive—and the humans of Pretty City have to provide it.

But when their only playground is taken over by garbage monsters, Kabir and Lila decide enough is enough. With the help of their mother’s cranky creation, Kungfu Aunty, and armed with an array of cleaning weapons, they plan a rebellion against all freaks of the waste.

Will the siblings be able to save their playground and their city from the noxious armies of Trash Rajah? Find out in this whizzing, fizzing, exciting adventure story.

Order now on Amazon

Two stories, two translations: Kannada and Italian

Very happy to announce that my work has been translated to two different languages close to my heart. One is Kannada, spoken in the state I have been living in since the last decade (Karnataka, for readers who might not know) and the second is Italian, spoken in a shoe-shaped country obsessed like Indians with food.

Chuffed about my first translation to Kannada!

Bhaisaab’s Bespoke Brides Boutique is a hilarious short story where an Indian family goes to buy a custom-made, robotic bride. It was published in Kutuhali, a digital SF magazine by folks at Vigyan Prasar. Read in English on online magazine Antonym. For the Kannada version, go here.

Story translated for Italian anthology Kalicalypse

My award-winning short story The Daughter That Bleeds has been translated to Italian and will soon be published in an Italian-English anthology, Kalicalypse. Kalicalypse brings together recent stories of SF writers from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.

The Daughter That Bleeds the story of a man who goes to a market to sell his fertile daughter. I thought it was rather funny when I wrote it, but since then, I think it’s also hard hitting in ways I hadn’t imagined.

The spectacular cover of Kalicalypse.

A literary festival with students, book signing, pals and drumming

Last week, I was invited to the Alliance Literature Festival at the Alliance University. In any festival, it’s the conversation with people – readers, authors, attendees that remain with me.

At #ALF2022, I had a long-drawn conversation with fellow panellist and art historian Alka Pande, a softly spoken, reflective personality who told me how she started the India Habitat Centre’s art gallery. I have spent many an afternoon in that gallery and remember artwork that made me wonder and dream. So kudos and thanks, Alka, for all that hard work.

Comics and drums

I also hung out with exuberant graphic artist Pinaki De for the first time. A Kolkata maverick, the first thing he did was gave me a signed copy of his latest anthology #Longform which ensured that I’ll be a sworn loyalist to him. (Books are the best gifts folks!) Unfortunately, I had none for him. Pinaki and I were on a super-fun panel on comics with the witty George Mathen (popularly known by his pen name Appupen) where we discussed (how, gulp…) comics are an art form. It went well, considering half of the school kids left in the middle and the rest clapped after each sentence.

With Pinaki De and Appupen in one of the best panels I’ve been part of

If you don’t know by now, I’m a fangirl for Appupen’s work. Not only is he kind and witty – great, entertaining company – he’s also one of the best fantastical graphic artists in the country. I met him eight years ago after seeing marvellous frescoes in a Bangalore pub and chased him till he drew the covers for my Anantya Tantrist Mystery series. Those covers remain special for me still.

Backwards goes the buggy in literary festival

In the alleys of the festival and in a buggy, I hung out with two Mumbai-friends – ever supportive and prolific Kiran Manral and book debutant Anindita Ghose – both of whom are talented media women I’ve known online and about for years. The media buggy was completed with the formidable journalist Barkha Dutt who I shook hands with, quite formally I must say.

Kiran Manral,

Among the Bangalore literati crowd, quick hugs were given to many old friends with whom I didn’t take photos with. What’s the proof I hung out with them?

Festival Lesson: Make some friends.

Science book won the Publishing Next Awards 2021

Eeeks! Last month it rained awards and I forgot to write about it here. My science book They Made What? They Found What? which shares stories of Indian inventions and discoveries, has won the Publishing Next Industry Awards 2021 for best book in children’s category. The eighth edition of the annual Awards were announced last month. The Awards were presented in 10 categories.

The same week that this book won an award, it was also a finalist in the Auther Awards 2022 (See the glamourous award night photographs here).

Children’s science book on Indian scientists won the Publishing Next Industry Awards 2021

About the book

In ‘They Made What?’, kids meet India’s brightest scientists and read all about their incredible, groundbreaking inventions in this first-of-its-kind book. Whereas, in ‘They Found What’, they are introduced to India’s brightest scientists and read about their incredible, groundbreaking discoveries. It’s a marvellous, fun to read, fact-filled science flipbook. Buy on Amazon.

About the award

Established in 2011, Publishing Next was conceived as a Goa-based conference where publishing professionals could come together and discuss threadbare the issues that they face at work, or in the industry they worked in. The Publishing Next Industry Awards were established in 2014, the only ones of their kind in India, were presented in 11 categories in 2020, and seek to reward innovation and leadership in the Indian book trade.

Finalist In AutHER Award 2022 For Children Lit

Very happy to announce that my book on Indian scientists, They Made What? They Found What? made it to the shortlist of AutHer Award 2022. It’s in the children literature category.

The award was announced at a glamorous evening in Taj Palace in Delhi. It was amazing to attend an event physically and meet and hug people whose work I had read and admired.

Put faces to names, say hello to old faces from my earlier life as a journalist in Delhi. I’m a writer who needs her own space, but I also love the energy and spark that meeting other people gives me. So here’s to physical events again!

I’d like to thank all the scientists who shared their stories with me and to all the fellow nominees at the #AutHerAwards function: Shabnam Minwalla (who won the award! congrats!), Paro Anand (such a hoot to be with!), Devika Rangachari, and Devika Cariappa (a fellow Bengalurean). Here’s a quirky video I made of the award night. Photos below. Have a laugh folks!

Shweta presents a quirkly video of the award night.

If you can’t see it, head to the Instagram post here and connect with me while there!

About the book

In ‘They Made What?’, kids meet India’s brightest scientists and read all about their incredible, groundbreaking inventions in this first-of-its-kind book. Whereas, in ‘They Found What’, they are introduced to India’s brightest scientists and read about their incredible, groundbreaking discoveries. It’s a marvellous, fun to read, fact-filled science flipbook. Buy on Amazon.

About the award

The AutHer Awards – a joint venture between JK Paper and The Times of India – is a celebration of women authors who have added value and creativity to the literary space. The jury considered books by women published in India between December 2020 and November 2021.

The chairs for the AutHer Awards jury consisted of poet, author, and lyricist Prasoon Joshi (Fiction), author, columnist, and former Indian diplomat Rajiv Dogra (Non-Fiction), translator Arunava Sinha (Debut), and author and poet Jerry Pinto (Children’s books).

Leaving you with some photos and media of the event (Scroll down)

AutHer Award 2021 was covered in all Times of India editions of Delhi and NCR

Coverage in the Times of India’s Delhi edition
Shweta Taneja and Jerry Pintoat the AutHer Awards 2022
All grins with author and judge Jerry Pinto (He was so entertaining on stage) at the AutHer Awards 2022
Grinning again with fellow nominee Paro Anand at the AutHer Awards 2022
Screen shot of the big screen at the event

Release: New SF short on buying a robotic bride

Thrilled to announce the release of a weird new short science-fiction story written by me. Read Bhaisaab’s Bespoke Brides Boutique, a hilarious futuristic satire about a family going to a store to buy a custom-made robotic bride.

The story was inspired by a Delhi-based shop keeper and published in USA-based webzine, The Antonym.

An excerpt: How to select a robotic bride

“This is DesiBot Version 56.7, an advanced bot,” he looked at the father meaningfully, “of the one you have, sir.” The bride gleamed in a sari covered with silk sequins and dazzling glowpins. Mr Tripatti squinted.

“Pavitronic brain with a six-quad memory, knows all the religious texts by heart, is capable of making 5,000 plus ancient recipes and has a pleasing, accepting, adjustable personality.”

“What about her build?” asked Mr Tripatti.

“Same, sir, only updated. Titanium, rust-proof body, with thinner epidermis for humanskin-like touch.”

“What skin have you used for her breasts, womb and legs? Anything that my son touches needs to be desi,” interjected Mrs Tripatti.

“It’s pure like cow’s ghee only, madam,” Bhaisaab said, showing his teeth. He’d recently paid for an expensive set of teeth which copied the award-winning grin of Bollywood star Smiley Khan.

“Of course in this limited budget, you won’t be able to get a complete layer of desi epidermis-” His voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper, “-now if your family’s budget was to go up…”

Read the complete story, for free, here.

Liked what you read? Check out my other short stories, some of which you can read online. Or head to free reads on my website for excerpts from my works.

Dealing with Covid-19 and starting a letter of hope

Welcome! Dear Penpal is a fortnightly newsletter by me, Shweta Taneja, to support you in your creative journey with tips, opportunities, insights and inspirations. Subscribe or read the archives here.

Dear Penpal,

It’s been a tough month for all of us. For me too.

I heard the news that all my family, six of them, in Delhi were covid-19 positive. I wanted to go to them, help out with food, logistics, hugs, anything really. However, covid-19 is such a creature that it builds walls around all of us, closing us down in worrisome loneliness.

The same week, my spouse also tested positive. Now I was a caregiver, saving up millions of advice and emergency contacts from the online world. I was heartbroken, suffocating, panicked, and unwell too. I vented online, vented to friends, worried and perhaps added to the chaos.

Then I called up my mother

My mother, who was going through the infectious disease, dealing with breathlessness and extreme body pain. I called her instinctively as I always call her when I’m stressed and need assurance. You know what she said?

“So what?“ she said. Her voice was weak, but her spirit, oh her spirit vibrated with power. “Now that we have it, we will see how it goes,” she said. “Whatever will happen, will happen. You worrying for it won’t change a thing.”

She was suffering physically as she said it, and I knew she was suffering, but the sheer mental strength of her approach to her body’s suffering, brought me out of my piteous wallowing.

Why do we always think of the worse given a stress situation? And cloak this thinking, this panicking and worrying as being realistic? And this is not limited to reality. It’s a habit. It’s a habit that I’ve decided to consciously break out by starting this newsletter.

My mother gave me strength in that five-minute phone call. I decided not to ponder on the worse. I consciously, with a lot of effort, to take the most positive, most hopeful route in the logical turn of events in my head.

That all of us will come out of it in a few months.

That it would be all okay.

Letters of hope, support and writing by Shweta Taneja

A newsletter of hope when everything is dark?

I decided to channel my frustration, my sadness into writing these letters to you.

Use the medium I love – of writing – to tell you about what I’m going through. Use these letters, as a process of collective, creative healing, for you and me both.

This is about encouraging you to make the best of your life and ambitions, as a creative person, a writer or a reader or a prodigy whose time hasn’t come. We are all together, struggling, and I want to struggle and hope and cope with you.

These letters are about optimism and delight in living our lives. About not allowing our fears to become definitions of who we are. I’ll use all my emotions and skills to fill these letters with stories that make you and me feel good.

I’ll talk about the art of writing, things that inspire me, of living life to the fullest and capturing these moments through my art. And I hope to encourage you to do the same.
I’ll be there for you all, my dear readers, through your ups and downs. We will together become our best, most joyous creative selves.

For we all need that little optimism when we’re low. And we all need – more and more – those friends who can listen without scrolling us into a void.

I’ve committed to you, fortnightly on alternate Sundays, and I’m hoping to keep that up. If you don’t get a letter from me (for I’m known to break promises), you’re most welcome to write to me and demand one. I would try to not miss one, though!

Award-winning author of science and fiction

Some of my latest releases in books, articles and stories

All of 2020, my publishing plans, as with all writers, went haywire. Even though our world continues to be up and down and all the rollercoaster in between, I’m happy to say that I have had five cool things in latest releases out with different publishers in the last few months.

What I love about the collection of my recent releases is that there is NOTHING in common between any of them (except for the plant in the pink pot). They’re writings about all kinds of things, released in all kinds of geographies and meant for all kinds of people. I love #diversity in writing and even though it’s hard (it’s so much better to put you in a nice, pretty box, if you’re a romance writer or a science writer or a science fiction writer or write for adults or kids or young people or animals!) and confusing to algorithms online, I’m gleed and proud and thrilled!

Latest releases from the desk of Shweta Taneja

Drumroll, my latest releases:

  • 1. and 4. They Made What / They Found What: A flipbook for kids on Indian science and scientists. Out with @hachette_india
  • 2: Non-fiction article on exciting debut voices of India in Locus magazine.
  • 3: A #solarpunk short story about dolphins taking over the world with a new technology. Out now in #MultispeciesCities by World Weaver Press. (Buy here)
  • 5: Les Chants que L’Humanité abandonna aux (French version of the dolpins taking over the world with a new technology) published in Galaxies No 66
  • 6: Spunky Salma takes over the 1920s cantonment, Bangalore in this short historical fiction for kids which is part of Eleven Stops to the Present: Stories of Bengaluru by Intach Bangalore

What kind of a writer are you?

A linear, single genre one, easily defined and categorized by bots or a vague, flipflop one who scribbles everything and anything? Tell me in comments below.

Release: New Solarpunk short story on evil dolphins

What happens when dolphins take over the world? Create a technology that humans have no understanding of? I’m thrilled to announce the release of my new solarpunk tale, The Songs That Humanity Lost Reluctantly To Dolphins.

It’s part of an upcoming anthology on imagining an optimistic future by World Weaver Press, an independent publisher based in the USA. The anthology is called Multispecies Cities and is a collection of richly imagined tales by storytellers from the Asia-Pacific and beyond. Head to the Multispecies Cities page on the publisher website to find your favourite retailer.

Each story is on how future cities will look like, taking the positive route rather than the dystopian one that we SF writers so prefer.

Hope and science fiction?

That’s solarpunk for you. It’s positive, it’s optimistic and it’s quite hard to write in current times. When Rajat and Sarena the editors of Multispecies Cities approached me to write a story for this anthology, I sat with nothing for weeks. For I had not thought positively about the future in my SF writings. How could you, in the midst of a pandemic and a cagey nationalism wave?

Then one day, I sat on my desk, reimagining not only future cities, but science fiction as a genre that imagines these cities, I remembered how I keep wondering why science fiction imaginations of our future are so metallic and materialistic. They’re about wars and spaceships and human desires. There’s not much about other organisms (unless they’re evil aliens), though it’s a sub-genre that is now being explored.

Solarpunk the future!

I decided to reimagine future technology itself, make it organic in nature, make it something that was not created by humans or even understood by them but by another species on the planet – not an alien. A technology that will completely disrupt our metallic, materialistic way of life and replace it with something organic, like fungus or a song of empathy.

In a gist, that’s what The Songs That Humanity Lost Reluctantly To Dolphins is about. It explores what happens to us when an alternate lifestyle, that puts empathy first, erupts in future cities. When the children take to it, adapt to it, but us, adults, just cannot adapt. First we rage, then we bomb but our hearts break as fungus becomes one with our children and all the other species of the planet become one. When the next generation does not remain ours, what happens? We determinedly try to connect to the empathy songs that the dolphins have created.

This story itself is a sad song of change that is forced upon us. I suffered with helpless parents, with governments that could do nothing as their economies crashed. But this dramatic change transforms into a beautiful, new, positive future.

Continue reading “Release: New Solarpunk short story on evil dolphins”