Welcome to June 2015’s edition of #SciFi Women Interviews! Today, I am happy to talk Science Fiction, women and cybercultures with Neelu Raut! I met this lovely lady during a conference in Oxford, during summer 2012.
Neelu Raut is faculty for P.G Courses in English Literature. Her areas of interest include Creative writing, various aspects of English Literature, Value Education through games, Counselling and Outbound learning. Concerned by the decline in interest in Humanities, she is also engaged in research for her Doctorate Degree in the area of innovative methodology of facilitating Language Learning but according to her, she indulges any opportunity that distracts her from its eventual conclusion!
She has taught the entire spectrum from KG (Kindergarten) to PG (Post Graduation). She has been recognised as an Examiner for Trinity College, London and conducts workshops for training the trainers as resource person for Orient Black Swan.
Consumed by wanderlust and passion for creative writing she is mostly freelancing these days, while working on various creative writing projects at the moment. Writing, compiling and editing, cover designs and various aspects of book creation consume her time. She maintains that having a finger in every pie lands her head in a big mess at times! Writing for her brings a catharsis as well as, draws into her reserves. Travelling, listening to music watching romantic comedies and spending time with the family helps recharge her batteries!
NG: How were you first introduced to science fiction?
NEELU: First of all Natacha, please allow me to thank you for having given me a chance to share my thoughts and feelings with a world beyond my own; I think every writer is a closet exhibitionist; we haven’t truly felt/written or expressed anything till at least one other person in this whole wide world hasn’t read it… And before we become the exhibitionist, we are the true voyeurs… We are readers!!!
My own introduction to the world of reading was very interesting. My mother had a reward system and we were two siblings, if either one of us were “good” during the week, we bought a book! This ensured a book per week sometimes even two …these books could be of our choice, gradually, we were introduced to any different genres from incredibly exciting graphic novels to honest to goodness classics. Science fiction also being one of them. On hind sight, what a smart way to get kids hooked on to reading!!!We were introduced to all the wonders of reading at a very thrilling young age.
Actually, even if there’s not much a parent can do to make a child wonder actively, reading ensures that the child gets images ….thanks for bringing back a deluge of happy memories.
NG: What are your top 3 favourites for Science Fiction books, TV shows and movies?
NEELU: Guess growing up in the 80’s ensures Star Trek as a pat first on my list… barely in the fourth and fifth grade, I think every girl had her favourite character for a crush… Personally I was always torn between Capt. Kirk and Dr. Mc Coy. Now I look at pictures of William Shatner and De Forest Kelly and wonder what was wrong with me… I was completely besotted by them! I always knew in my lil head that no matter what crisis befell upon the Star Ship Enterprise, they’d make it alright….yet the complications were interesting and constantly kept me on the edge of my seat, one very interesting episode had Mr Spock falling in love, it was scary and exciting at the same time!!!
Okay… The Sci-fi movie that I was in love with completely; was the one with the time machine, called Back to the Future, with Michael J. Fox. The idea that one could go back to one’s past and make the Future better. Think about how amazing the whole gambit was to a growing mind…so idealistic and uncompromising. How remarkable it was to be amazed!
I thought we could stop wars, and make our world a much better by avoiding the crazy mistakes and re – write history; assuage the demons that haunted our world…
Ok the book now; I think that would have to be, 1984 by George Orwell may be because he has an Indian connection. *laughs*
But seriously, it could easily have been 2084 and the tag of Sci Fi would have been redundant …it just missed the mark by some hundred years and was so sadly accurate .Ironically, the horrors of the dystopian 1984 when first released, are the ideas and concepts present in the society we live in today and have been so seriously subsumed by culture that many parts of the book that decades ago would have been horrendous invasions of privacy; simply detail what amount to the average day of life for a 2015 person.
NG: Which Science Fiction authors have been most inspiring to you?
NEELU: I can’t call him a strict writer of the genre but Richard Bach’s philosophy about the existence of life in alternate planes of reality that he brings about in his books such as One and A bridge across forever held amazing sense of possibilities to my young mind when I first stumbled upon his work ; in fact these kind of endless planes of existence are also supported by Quantum mechanics .The many-worlds interpretation that asserts and implies that all possible alternate histories and futures are real, each representing an actual “world”. I find that truly stimulating and knowing that science has supported such poetic likelihoods, makes me feel much validated. And to think that it’s not fiction at all!
That numerous potentialities lie about in any situation, makes me ache with joyous expectation.
Think about the Butterfly Effect, In Chaos theory, or The quantum-mechanical “Schrödinger’s cat” paradox….every step of the way in our journey of life, there’s a chance we might get again to make a change ,to acknowledge that we could have made another/better choices, that by trying again, we might have landed another totally real alternate reality!!!
What can be more inspiring?
But of course life and day to day reality cured me much like Bach of the concept of Soulmates (he divorced Leslie after all! )…but the fact that in another universe I co-exist with many of my own self-actualized versions… Wow! How enthralling is that…!!!
NG: Which influence does Science Fiction have on your writing?
NEELU: Mostly it gives my flight of fantasy greater horizons to take wing…I get to imagine scenarios which would otherwise be improbable and highly unconvincing .for instance, the Invisible Man is a fantasy every person has , observing people without being noticed, getting to know what they talk about when you’re not around, who will cry at your funeral? Just being the “Invisible Man” makes all that possible! Or how about going back and forth between time? Future and past and various parts of the present! Or the Curious case of Benjamin Button…begin your life old, keep getting younger and finally end up as a dream in someone’s eyes…
NG: Is Science Fiction popular in India?
NEELU: Yes, I would think so. Mostly because we are as ancient as we are young. If the older generation thrived on mythological tales which had flying monkeys and airborne transport; which ask us to believe in children born to famous parents by either consuming a certain fruit or memorizing a certain God. To my mind it’s all some or the other type of Sci-Fi. And just because they had no term to explain IVF these tales were perpetuated. The modern society has taken quite well to the genre too. Not only because many Indians have the access to the international trends and most books and movies are finding parallel releases, hence fan following ensues. To answer your question, yes, indeed Science Fiction is quite popular in India.
NG: What is Science Fiction’s responsibility in diverse and inclusive representation?
NEELU: Natacha, I am not sure whether or not avenues for creative expression should be made socially answerable or responsible since it’s these fora are the only meant for an individual’s personal expression. Like Walter Patter’s claim of “Art for Art’s sake”… Such discourses should not be held responsible for anything as serious as inclusive representation unless they are spreading malice and anarchy or are aimed at ethnic cleansing of some sort. It would take away the spontaneity of creation .
NG: Do you believe that Science Fiction is a genre welcoming to complex female characters?
NEELU: I’m afraid that I would sound like a stuck record again since I feel such a welcome or condemned state of female characters is cohesive with the writer’s personal sensitivity and sensibilities. However, I do think that patriarchal upbringing , questions a girl who makes ‘boy like’ choices , or likes the stereotype masculine products or even if she is good at Mathematics or has interest in science or Sci–Fi , by the same perfunctory we end up buying dolls for girls and GI Joes for boys.
There’s no denying that the token temptress for the titillation effect or the damsel in distress to appease the male protagonist’s ego still remains – the female character. The scenario can’t remain so dismal either, a diehard optimist that I am, tells me that the more female writers enter the foray of Sci-Fi, the greater would be the acceptability of such female subject positions which have been portrayed as positive role models and have a dynamic contribution towards the plot development and profundity of the subject matter. And you know this WILL happen, in our own life time; since truths inspire most fiction, the greater the number of women who will break various glass ceilings, the better roles they’d be accorded to in creative writing, including Sci-Fi!!!
To that let’s just say, “Amen!”
NG: What do you think of the evolution of cyberspace?
NEELU: I think that the evolution of cyberspace has been quite spectacular and remarkable!
Through the years we have heard sweeping statements about how everything of any significance was invented or discovered in the twentieth century. Including rail and airways, automobiles, other means of communication; it was only the internet applications which developed and pushed its boundaries in the twenty first century. Cyberspace has evolved as expansively as it has permeated deep.
There was a time when to make an outstation call you had to book one with the telephone department, only the very rich or the corner drug store even had a phone! Sending letters was way cheaper than calling. Within our lifetimes we have seen the opposite of that being true…
Had some one back then said that there will come a time when you could even see the person you called, and that instead of clearing your throat before answering the call you’d check if your hair was fine, it would have sounded like a scenario straight out of Sci-fi!
However, cyberspace has changed everything today with its all-pervading omnipresence. Come to think of it never before this age has everything in everyone’s life been so well documented with ocular proof at that!
Putting statuses about every moment of one’s life, has been quite unprecedented, wonder how much value addition it has to my life to know that my friend just go tout of the shower; but cyberspace has evolved such that the presence of other people in our lives which never leaves us truly alone.
*sigh* yet there are more lonely people today with several means of communication than there ever have been through the several centuries without such facilities… but that’s another digression where we’ll go another day. I’m sorry for taking your answer through that meandering stream of wondering aloud… But I constantly feel the need for fora that ought to discuss the effects of such a humongous human development in virtual spaces
NG: Do you believe that cyberspace is welcoming to women?
NEELU: Probably not!
For I think that women deal with similar situations in Cyberspace that we do in real life like those of unwanted attention or stalkers. Thankfully most Social networking sites do have means to shut out such elements.
For me Cyberspaces have also evolved from the anonymous chat rooms where But I still remember the rush of meeting someone I liked. My problem back then was also the same; women could not really express themselves freely in that anonymous space either; the moment they knew we were “f” (the introductions used to go m/27 or f/32 at times a location also was part of an oblique info)
The next they wanted to know was “bra-size?”
So, to feel interested in the communication one had to somehow avoid a/s/l questions and completely ban video chat!!!
Your question whether women are welcome in cyberspace?
I’d say only those who somehow fit the myogenic approval check lists are… a certain bra size that’s sometimes larger than the I.Qs of the people setting these rules…
NG: How can Science Fiction and cyberspaces be empowering for women?
NEELU: I think if more women work consciously towards eradicating the rampant internalised misogyny in their real lives, women empowerment would be our lived experience; as also in Cyberspace. If more women writers join forces to create a dynamic space for themselves then Science Fiction would definitely become a congregation of empowered women. For us to have more empowered cyberspaces we need to form our own safe havens where we can freely discuss our issues without the fear of judgement. Be it Spousal trouble or brittle nails, tuition issues of children or pre wedding blues, the crisis of nothing to wear or the trauma of existential superficiality, we need spaces of our own where to discuss our issues, just put our thoughts out in the sphere of expression. We might not even discuss our problems with the obvious goal of having to find a solution…just having articulated what we feel, rids us of the stress we have become masters at disguising.
NG: Thank you very much for this conversation, Neelu! I am certain my readers will enjoy reading it and learning more about you!