Vandana Singh’s 2018 Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories is a short story collection. As promised on the tin.
With Fate Conspire • (2013) • novelette
Kajori is recruited by desperate scientists who are determined to exploit her rare ability to interface with a time-viewing device. She uses her access for an agenda all her own.
“A Handful of Rice” • (2012) • short fiction
Healer Vishnumitra had steeled himself to avenge his student’s death at the hands of Mughal King Akbar Khan. This ruler was responsible for desperately needed modernization — but also for the suppression of some kinds of knowledge. Vishnumitra assumed Akbar Khan was Akbar Khan; he was not prepared to learn that another man had taken his place.
“Peripeteia” • (2013) • short story
A physicist struggles to come to terms with a sudden phase change in her life.
“Lifepod” • short story
To come to terms with the person she hoped was her son, the traveller would have to come to terms with the person she believed was herself.
“Oblivion: A Journey” • (2008) • short story
A life devoted to doling out vengeance for terrible crimes is unrewarded by fame and legend.
“Somadeva: A Sky River Sutra” • (2010) • short story
The great storyteller Somadeva is brought across centuries and forced to accompany a story-collecting traveller.
“Are You Sannata3159?” • (2010) • short story
A would-be reformer makes the terrible mistake of trusting allies whose livelihood depends on the status quo. Despite impending doom, he does all in his power to oppose or at least mitigate evil.
“Indra’s Web” • (2011) • short story
A scientist struggles to discover the cause of a solar power grid’s baffling behavior.
“Ruminations in an Alien Tongue” • (2012) • short story
A scholar invests decades trying to master an alien machine. She only belatedly comprehends its potential.
Sailing the Antarsa • (2013) • novelette
She abandoned her homeworld to sail rivers in space. She has lost much, but is rewarded by wondrous discoveries.
Cry of the Kharchal • (2013) • novelette
Guided by the shade of a long dead woman, a man does his best to ensure that other people’s lives proceed in a narratively pleasing manner.
“Wake-Rider” • (2014) • short story
The dead generation ship delivered the hope of freedom. The hope demanded payment in terrible coin.
Ambiguity Machines: An Examination • (2015) • novelette
Forced to forge weapons, the inventor instead used his skills to escape. The device at the heart of his flight may prove a greater threat than any weapon he might have made.
Requiem • novella
A young woman visits Alaska in hope of discovering the truth behind her aunt’s disappearance at sea.
Authors unable to fit a complete plot and rounded characters into 900 pages might want to take lessons from Singh. They might also learn something from her delicious prose.
Ambiguity is an appropriate word for this collection’s title, as Singh ignores rigid genre boundaries. Singh has the background to write echt hard-SF1, but refrains. Her stories to waver from hard science to effervescent fantasy as the logic of the story demands. Some readers may prefer stories that hew to strict genre norms (water flowing down a concrete culvert); they would be missing the delights of braided genres (natural waterways, looping, dividing, combining).
The stories are often melancholy, obsessed with pasts beyond change and change that proves unsatisfactory … but not always. Hope is not always an illusion and loss is sometimes the first step to something new.
1: Unless one holds to the belief that all the “hard SF” label indicates is affiliation with a specific group of American West Coast authors, in which case I fear it’s very unlikely she would be permitted to join.