Indra’s Web by Vandana Singh

Avatar. Contemporary Indian Science Fiction
Avatar. Contemporary Indian Science Fiction

The short story “Indra’s Web” by Vandana Singh was published for the first time in 2011.

Mahua is involved in the development of Suryanet, a major project that is inspired by a myconet, a fungal network that connects the plants of the forest. The result of the project is supposed to be a revolutionary energy grid but something isn’t working properly putting the whole project at risk. As if that weren’t enough, Mahua’s thoughts are more focused on her grandmother, in the hospital after a stroke.

Vandana Singh is a writer of speculative fiction stories, as her works go beyond science fiction. At the same time, she has a college-level career as she works at Framingham State University, Massachusetts, where she’s an Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Physics and Earth Science. In short, she’s also a scientist and this can be seen in stories like “Indra’s Web”, in which the protagonist is a scientist who tries to solve a crucial problem in the development of a new type of energy grid.

“Indra’s Web” is set in India, where Vandana Singh was born and grew up, but the ideas expressed in the project in which Mahua participates have global importance. The basic idea is that a solution to energy problems and therefore to the environmental damage caused by the use of fossil fuels can be inspired by natural processes.

There’s fantasy in the concepts used in this short story but the author shows her knowledge of real processes such as those at the foundations of natural communication networks. What in the story is a network that connects the plants of the forest is inspired by real biochemical signals passed from one plant to another. Of course, the science fiction extrapolation is remarkable but is interesting also because it’s built on some concepts that are the subject of scientific research.

I found the story particularly intriguing because Vandana Singh brings together elements that are superficially even antithetical. The rigorous scientific work Mahua conducts in developing and solving the project’s problem she works on is carried out relying heavily on intuition. Technological advances arrive inspired by nature and modernity goes hand in hand with tradition, a synthesis that for the author is the correct way for humanity to have a future on a livable Earth.

The protagonist’s search for patterns and connections and her analysis to verify which are real and which are only apparent is very interesting from a scientific point of view. It represents the synthesis between rigorous research and intuition but also between fantasy and the story’s plausibility. The result is also a hope for a better future, another reason why I found “Indra’s Web” terrific and I recommend reading it. This short story is also available within the anthology “Avatar. Contemporary Indian Science Fiction”.

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