In season two of Arcx, our literary podcast mini-series, host Anjali Alappat talks to eight South Asian sci-fi, fantasy, and speculative fiction writers. We talk about the stories that influenced and inspired them; delve into their recent work; explore their writing processes; and discuss the tales they want to tell in the future.

episode 8

Vajra Chandrasekera

In episode eight, host Anjali Alappat chats with short story writer, editor and novelist, Vajra Chandrasekera.

Vajra’s work is largely in the realm of speculative fiction, and he has published over a hundred pieces since 2012 in various formats. Notably, his work has been featured in Analog, Clarkesworld, West Branch, and The Los Angeles Times. He has also been nominated for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for his short story, The Translator, at Low Tide. Additionally, he was also nominated for the British Science Fiction Association award for Best Non-fiction. His debut novel, The Saint of Bright Doors was released in July 2023. 

His short stories have been featured in several anthologies including The Best Science Fiction of the Year, The Apex Book of World SF, and Transcendent: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction

Vajra was also part of the editorial team at Strange Horizons, and in his role as fiction editor, worked closely with several writers from all over the world. During his time there, they were awarded the inaugural Ignyte Community Award for Outstanding Efforts in Service of Inclusion and Equitable Practice in Genre and a British Fantasy Award for Best Magazine. The team was also nominated for multiple Hugo Awards during that period. 

Vajra also helped organise and facilitate the Dream Foundry Writing Contest for Beginning Writers. He’s also passionate about initiatives that protect the political and artistic freedoms of Sri Lankan writers and artists who have been censored and imprisoned by the state. 

In this episode, we sit down to discuss some classic desi themes: colonialism, intergenerational trauma, and overblown family drama. We also touch on destiny, friendships, revolution, and terrible science fiction adaptations. 

You can follow Vajra on Twitter at @_vajra and on his website

Read Vajra’s Work:

Authors, books and media referenced in this episode:

  • The Iron Dragon’s Daughter by Michael Swanwick
  • The works of Isaac Asimov
  • The works of Arthur C. Clarke
  • The works of William Ford Gibson
  • The works of Bruce Sterling
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? By Philip K. Dick
  • Bladerunner (film)

episode 7

Usman T. Malik

In episode seven, host Anjali Alappat chats with doctor and speculative fiction writer Usman T. Malik. 

Usman’s work has been published extensively, and featured in platforms such as Strange Horizons,, Black Static, and Nightmare.  

In 2014, he became the first Pakistani to win the Bram Stoker Award for Short Fiction for his work The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family. He also won a British Fantasy Award in 2016 for The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn. The story was also nominated for Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy awards. He has also received Locus award nominations for his stories In the Ruins of Mohenjo-Daro and The Fortune of Sparrows. In 2018, he received another Stoker nomination for Dead Lovers on Each Blade, Hung. 

In this episode, we discuss the importance of accurate history, authentic storytelling, the often missed nuances of desi stories, and the horror of everyday realities.  

You can follow Usman on Twitter @usmantm 

Read Usman’s Work: 

  • Midnight Doorways (collection of short stories) 
  • Resurrection Points 
  • The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family 
  • The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn 
  • Emperors of Jinn from the anthology The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories 
  • Folie à Deux, or the Ticking Hourglass from the anthology Final Cuts: New Tales of Hollywood Horror and Other Spectacles. 

Authors, books and media referenced in this episode: 

  • The Eternal Enemy by Christopher Pike 
  • The works of Stephen King
  • The works of R.L. Stine 
  • Choose Your Own Adventure books 
  • The writings of Abdul Majid Sheikh 
  • The short stories of Naiyer Masud 
  • The poetry of Amir Hamza Khan Shinwari 
  • The poetry of Mirza Ghalib 
  • The Imran Series by Ibn-e-Safi 
  • The works of Ismat Chughtai 

episode 6

Payal Dhar

In episode 6 of the new season of Arcx, host Anjali Alappat talks to journalist, editor, and author Payal Dhar.

Payal Dhar primarily writes for middle grade and young adult audiences, and her extensive catalogue of work includes Satin: A Stitch in Time, Slightly Burnt, Hit for a Six, There’s a Ghost in My PC, and It Has No Name. More recently, Payal has published two books in the Sands of Time series: The Prophecy and The Key.

Payal’s work has also been featured in anthologies like Shockwave! and Other Cyber Stories, Year’s Best Young Adult Speculative Fiction 2014, and Music of the Stars and other Love Stories. Payal also edited Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean, a collection of short stories by Indian and Australian writers.

In this episode we chat about retelling and redefining stories, the difficulties of being the chosen one, found family and the dynamics of those relationships, and physics of world building.

You can follow Payal on Instagram at @Payal.dhar

Read Payal’s Work:

  • Satin: A Stitch in Time
  • Slightly Burnt
  • Hit for a Six
  • There’s a Ghost in My PC
  • It Has No Name
  • A Helping Hand
  • The Prophecy
  • The Key

Authors, books and media referenced in this episode:

  • Famous Five series by Enid Blyton
  • The work of James Herriot
  • The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan
  • The Game of Thrones series by George R. R. Martin

episode 5

Saad Z. Hossain

In episode five, host Anjali Alappat speaks with Saad Z. Hossain, the author of the best-selling Djinn series, which includes Djinn City, The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday, Kundo Wakes Up and Cyber Mage

His debut novel, Escape from Baghdad! was a finalist at the Grand Prix de L’imaginaire in 2018. The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday also received critical acclaim and was a finalist at the Locus Awards and the IGNYTE awards in 2020. 

Kundo Wakes Up, the sequel to The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday, was published in 2022, and made it to the Locus list of Best Novellas for 2022. It was also longlisted for the British Science Fiction Association Awards that year. 

In this episode, we discuss classic literature, writing for fun, the importance of a snarky protagonist, Jane Eyre vs. Jane Austen, A.I in developing countries, philosophy, broken people, and of course, djinn.

You can follow Saad on Twitter @saadzhossain

Read Saad’s Work:

  • Escape from Baghdad!
  • Djinn City
  • Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday
  • Cyber Mage
  • Kundo Wakes Up

Authors, books and media referenced in this episode:

  • The Far Pavilions by M. M. Kaye
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
  • Persuasion by Jane Austen
  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

episode 4

Shweta Taneja

In episode four, host Anjali Alappat chats with author and editor, Shweta Taneja. Shweta is best known for her urban fantasy Anantya Tantrist series, but has also received recognition for her work in children’s books. Her non-fiction book—They Found What?/ They Made What? was a national best-seller. She also recently published a new sci-fi novel for kids called Kungfu Aunty vs Garbage Monsters. 

Additionally, Shweta’s short story, The Daughter That Bleeds, was nominated for the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire in France in 2020. She also won the Editor’s Choice Award for Best Asian Science Fiction (2018) in Singapore for the piece. 

Her book They Made What? They Found What? Earned her the Publishing Next Award in 2021 and nominations for the Valley of Words Awards and the AutHer awards. She was also honoured with the Best Writer Award at ComicCon India in 2013 for her graphic novel, The Skull Rosary

In this episode, we discuss world-building, dark humour, writing urban fantasy for an Indian audience, Tantrism, patriarchal power structures, and forging your own destiny. 

You can follow Shweta on Twitter @shwetawrites

Read Shweta’s Work:

  • The Rakta Queen
  • The Matsya Curse
  • Cult of Chaos
  • They Made What? They Found What?
  • Kungfu Aunty vs Garbage Monsters
  • The Skull Rosary
  • Krishna, Defender of Dharma
  • The Ghost Hunters of Kurseong

Authors, books and media referenced in this episode:

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  • Going Postal by Terry Pratchett
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer

episode 3

Yudhanjaya Wijeratne

In episode three, host Anjali Alappat talks to Yudhanjaya Wijeratne, Science Fiction author, data scientist, and researcher. Yudhanjaya is the author of The Slow Sad Suicide of Rohan Wijeratne, Numbercaste, The Inhuman Peace, The Inhuman Race, and The Salvage Crew

More recently he was awarded the Gratiaen Prize for Literature for his yet-to-be published book The Wretched and the Damned. Yudhanjaya was nominated for a Nebula award in 2022, and in 2021, he was featured in Forbes’ 30 under 30 list. 

Yudhanjaya is also the co-founder of Watchdog, a fact-checking organisation created to counteract misinformation and propaganda in Sri Lanka. 

In this episode, we discuss A.I, his non-traditional road to publication, how real life can be as absurd as fiction, colonialism, space economics, the horrors of reality TV, poetry, and the importance of forging connections. 

You can follow Yudhanjaya on Twitter @yudhanjaya

Read Yudhanjaya’s work:

Authors, books and media referenced in this episode:

  • The Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
  • The Dark Tower series by Stephen King
  • Dark Souls
  • BioShock
  • System Shock
  • Final Fantasy 7
  • Ulysses by Alfred Tennyson
  • The Saint of Steel series by T. Kingfisher

episode 2

Tashan Mehta

In episode two, host Anjali Alappat speaks with author and editor Tashan Mehta. Her debut novel, The Liar’s Weave, is a wonderful mix of myth and magic, chronicling the exploits of a teenage boy in 1920s India who has tremendous power and poor judgement — a potent mix. We discuss relearning how to write, plurality in storytelling, astrology taken very seriously, the desire to shape your own destiny, the complexity of sibling relationships, and the power of lies. 

We also touch upon her soon-to-be released book, Mad Sisters of Esi, an epic story that includes god machines, a festival of madness, a museum of collective memory, a whale of Babel, and of course, sisters. 

Tashan was shortlisted for the inaugural Prabha Khaitan Woman’s Voice Award for The Liar’s Weave. She was a Sangam House International Writers’ Residency (India) fellow in both 2015 and 2021. Additionally, in 2018 she was the British Council Writer-in-Residence at Anglia Ruskin University (UK). Her short stories have been featured in several anthologies including the Gollancz Book of South Asian Science Fiction Volume 2 and Magical Women

You can follow Tashan on Twitter @TashanMehta

Read Tashan’s work:

  • The Liar’s Weave
  • Mad Sisters of Esi
  • ‘Rulebook for Creating a Universe’ from the anthology Mad Women
  • ‘The Traveller’ from the anthology The Gollancz Book of South Asian Science Fiction, Volume 2

Books and media referenced in this episode:

  • Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton
  • If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino
  • Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

episode 1

Gautam Bhatia

In the first episode of season two of Arcx, host Anjali Alappat chats with author, editor, lawyer and critic Gautam Bhatia. 

Gautam’s debut novel, The Wall (2020), and its sequel, The Horizon (2021), are filled with fascinating world building, complex characters, and fabulously convoluted plotlines. If you love twists and turns, beautiful prose, and some good old fashioned anti-establishment thinking, these are the books for you. 

Locus Magazine featured The Wall and The Horizon (in 2021 and 2022) as part of their annual SF recommendations list. Gautam was also long-listed for the Astounding Award for Best New Writer at the Hugo Awards in 2021 and 2022. 

Additionally, Gautam is part of the editorial team at Strange Horizons magazine, and his work with them has resulted in several award nominations. His writing has also featured in publications like Interzone Magazine, Mint, British Science Fiction Association Magazine,, The Caravan, and more. 

In this episode, we discuss how all fiction is political, unlikable protagonists, urban revolution, the foibles of human nature, betrayal, and origin myths. 

You can follow Gautam on Twitter @gautambhatia88

Read Gautam’s Work:

  • The Wall
  • The Horizon
  • Orumai’s Choice
  • The List from the anthology The Gollancz Book of South Asian Science Fiction, Volume 2

Books and media referenced in this episode:

  • Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
  • The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
  • The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
  • Foundation by Isaac Asimov
  • Nightfall by Isaac Asimov
  • The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien
  • Night Watch by Terry Pratchett
  • Paradise Lost by John Milton