Interview: Samit Basu, author of Turbulence

Please welcome Samit Basu to the blog! Samit’s new book, TURBULENCE, just came out, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about the book, his writing, and more!

SAMIT BASUYour brand new book, Turbulence, just dropped here in the US! Will you tell us a bit about it and what inspired you to write it?
In Turbulence, passengers on a flight from London to Delhi discover, a few days later, that they all have strange physical abilities that correspond to their innermost desires: a third-generation Air Force can now fly, a British-Pakistani aspiring Bollywood actress finds everyone loves her. But there are darker forces at work too; other supers with incredible powers who want to do old-fashioned things like take over the world and kill the competition. So a band of rag-tag heroes with very 21st-century powers must figure out a way to survive, and find a way to change things in a part of the world that needs fixing more than it needs protection.

I wanted to write a book set completely in the present-day world, a book about here and now, and a bunch of people who actually got what they really wanted and discovered they had the ability to change the world, that their every action could have huge consequences. Because in our times you can’t suddenly acquire physics-defying powers without comparing yourself to the superheroes that dominate global pop culture, it turned into a superhero novel.

Will you tell us a bit about your heroes, Aman Sen, Vir, Uzma, and Jai, and why we should root for them?
Aman’s in his mid-twenties, very bright, capable of both thought and action, but unsure what to do with himself because he doesn’t have any connections, or any real awareness of the way the world works. He suddenly finds he can control all communications networks; any information in the world that exists in a network can be accessed and manipulated. His chief concern is that this sudden explosion of superheroes shouldn’t end up in meaningless brawls and power-contests and have no impact on the many things in our world that need to be made better.

Vir’s a third-generation Indian Air Force officer, very patriotic, very upstanding and noble, sort of classic superhero material if your superhero story is set a few decades ago. But this is the 21st century, and while super-strength and flight are incredible powers, their ability to effect large-scale change is limited, and he struggles with this.

Uzma’s a British-Pakistani aspiring Bollywood actress who just thinks everyone in India is incredibly warm and nice and cooperative until she’s told she possesses infinite charisma. She struggles to deal with this as this changes her life completely; she doesn’t see why she should alter her well-laid plans and become some sort of social worker, but her heart’s in the right place, so you’ll see what happens.

Jai, on the other hand, I’m not so sure you should root for. He’s another military man, and he essentially becomes the ultimate warrior; strong, fast, pretty much indestructible. Unfortunately, this allows him to plan old-school world domination in the style of people he admires: Alexander, Genghis Khan, you know the type.

turbulenceYou have a background in comics and published your first novel when you were only 23! Will you tell us a bit more about yourself and how you came to be a writer?
I’ve been a writer for a decade now, and it seems like a long time ago that I made this decision. I used to be a very Good Indian Boy, and was good at exams, so was set to be some sort of banker or doctor or something else that was very worthy and respectable.

Unfortunately, about a month into business school I was sure I hated it, and finally had an idea that I thought I could turn into a book, so I went home and wrote it and that’s been my life since.

The comics happened because an international company came to India looking for Indian writers who could do fantasy/SF properly and I was pretty much the only one around. I loved the experience of learning to write in a new medium and create work in collaboration: I worked with some fantastic artists, but the best experience there was co-writing a comic with Mike Carey. You work with an incredible writer who’s also a really generous human being, you learn a lot about not just the craft, but also how to deal with the life you’ve chosen.

I started writing films as well, a couple of years ago. But those are nearly all for Bollywood, which is crazy at every level, so I’m most interested in seeing how that’ll turn out. The novels are finally going out across the world, thanks to the good folks at Titan and the Internet, so the future looks most investigation-worthy at this point: I feel lucky.

What, or who, are some of the biggest influences on your writing?
There are really too many to list: I’ve always been a big reader, and over the last ten years I’ve added comics and films and TV and video games to the addictions list, so it’s really hard to keep up. So all influence lists come mostly out of the top of my head and the list might change in a week, but let’s give it a go: Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Haruki Murakami, Mike Carey, Ben Aaronovitch, Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Goscinny and Uderzo, Bill Watterson, China Mieville, David Mitchell, Lev Grossman, Brian K Vaughan, Charlie Kaufman, Sue Townsend, Joseph Heller, Gail Simone, I should stop.

Will you take us through your writing process a bit? Are you a plotter or do you fly by the seat of your pants?
I’m a plotter. I tend to work out a plot before I write, but give myself a lot of room to build the characters as I write them. I do a lot of research, a lot of which goes into building random details that I use to flesh out the world. I like to know where the story’s going before I start, because I’m terrified I’ll lose my way and get stuck: I am a skilled procrastinator and don’t want to give myself any real excuses. But once I’ve started, usually what happens is that the characters become people and don’t want to follow the destinies I’ve charted out for them, and refuse to do plot-relevant things like die, or shut up. So then revisions need to be made, but I like having a map before I start so I can know how far I’ve wandered off it.

1q84In Turbulence, its setting in India is almost a character unto itself! How would you say India has changed the most, for you, since you were a child?
It’s one of those everything’s-changed-but-nothing-has scenarios. On the surface, it’s become a lot more glitzy and connected and smart. Underneath that, none of the old problems have gone away. It’s messy and chaotic and I don’t understand it and I don’t think anyone can. It’s always interesting, but not as often in a good way as I’d like. What I enjoy about it as a writer is the incredible number of people, the many worlds that lie overlapping one another, packed into this chaotic tin: there’s never any lack of drama or excitement or completely unexpected things popping up. Part of the desire to write Turbulence was to give faces and names to the India-as-a-rising-superpower myth; after three 500-page books set in imaginary worlds I wanted to look at the places I’d actually been to and lived in, and see what sort of imaginary Augmented Reality layer they inspired.

In your bio, it says that you divide your time between Delhi and Mumbai. In each place, if someone were to visit you there for the first time, where would you take them?
It depends on what they’d like to see. If it were people, I’d take them to a big Delhi book launch or a Bollywood event. If it were places, I’d take them to the emperor Humayun’s tomb in Delhi, or to Marine Drive in Mumbai, which has this lovely arcing seafront. If they were from the West and wanted to feel a sort of familiar buzz as a gateway drug into urban India, I’d take them to places where they’d feel at home immediately, like Hauz Khas Village in Delhi or Bandra West, Mumbai, where I’ve seen a lot of expats tend to gravitate. They’re a bit hipster for me, but I’m a willing host.

What would you like readers to take away from Turbulence?
The urge to read on! I always think what people take from a book depends as much on the reader as the text, and I didn’t write Turbulence with any kind of clear message or agenda, so all I’m hoping for, really, is that people think it’s interesting, enjoy the world it creates and want to know more. There are a lot of strong viewpoints in there, but they belong to the characters. I share some of them, but I wouldn’t want to impose them on the reader. That’s not what the book is about.

What’s next for you, this year and beyond?
RESISTANCE , the sequel, set in 2020 in a world dominated by superpeople, is out this year in the UK and next year in the US from Titan Books. I’m doing a lot of other work, in comics, children’s books and film, so I think there’s going to be a steady stream of work coming out over the next few years at least. I’m also doing a lot of research for a really intense historical fantasy book: it’s one of those things where the research might be endless, though, so I really don’t know when I’ll manage to whip that into some kind of real shape.

Keep up with Samit Basu: Website | Twitter

turbulenceAbout TURBULENCE:
Aman Sen is smart, young, ambitious and going nowhere. He thinks this is because he doesn’t have the right connections–but then he gets off a plane from London to Delhi and discovers that he has turned into a communications demigod. Indeed, everyone on Aman’s flight now has extraordinary abilities corresponding to their innermost desires.

Vir, a pilot, can now fly.

Uzma, an aspiring Bollywood actress, now possesses infinite charisma.

And then there’s Jai, an indestructible one-man army with a good old-fashioned goal — to rule the world!

Aman wants to ensure that their new powers aren’t wasted on costumed crime-fighting, celebrity endorsements, or reality television. He wants to heal the planet but with each step he takes, he finds helping some means harming others. Will it all end, as 80 years of superhero fiction suggest, in a meaningless, explosive slugfest?

Turbulence features the 21st-century Indian subcontinent in all its insane glory–F-16s, Bollywood, radical religious parties, nuclear plants, cricket, terrorists, luxury resorts, crazy TV shows — but it is essentially about two very human questions. How would you feel if you actually got what you wanted? And what would you do if you could really change the world?

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