The 9th National Science Fiction Conference was held December 8-9, 2007 at Pondicherry University in Puducherry, India. Vignyan Prasar (an organization for the popularization and propagation of science & technology, and an autonomous body under the Department of Science & Technology in the Indian government) and the Department of English at Pondicherry University joined with the Indian Association for Science Fiction Studies (IASFS) in organizing the conference. More than 200 delegates from various parts of India, students of the University, and two Americans representing NakedLaw.org actively took part during the sessions. The inaugural function was followed by eight sessions of 28 paper presentations with themes including “Science in Science Fiction”, “Science Fiction Today”, “Science Fiction Theme: Time”, “Science Fiction: The Human Aspect”, a story reading session, a replay of a video conference featuring James Gunn, “Science Today”, “Science Fiction in Vernacular Languages”, and a concluding valedictory function.
After the traditional Indian invocation ceremony, Dr. Natarajan Professor (head of the Department of English) welcomed the distinguished guests and delegates. Dr. Clement S. Lourdes, coordinator of the program, explained the scope of the conference. While reading the Annual Report, Dr. Srinarahari (the General Secretary of IASFS) thanked the editors and publishers around the world for publishing reports on previous conference proceedings in Locus, Concatenation.org, Emerald City, SFS.org; for the full-length articles by Andrew Sawyer and James Gunn; and for the publication of articles in German and Spanish by Nova and Axxon respectively. In addition, he thanked the National Book Trust, various Indian Universities, and other public and private organizations for conducting SF sessions and special lectures, promoting research, and instituting awards for Indian SF authors.
In his address, IASFS President Dr. Purushothaman said SF is important because it can change the attitudes of people. Quoting Isaac Asimov’s observation about rational man in an irrational world, he spoke on the concept of the unification of minds. In his inaugural speech, Dr. Kannan (the Honorable Vice Chancellor of Thiruvalluvar University, Tamil Nadu) expressed his happiness in inaugurating the conference. As a scientist, he stated that SF provides authenticity and develops scientific spirit and temper. He said the conference was a turning point, and expressed his concern that though most of the people write, there is lack of readership. He called on the younger generation to read and write extensively. Showing immense concern about future science ventures, he said, “Though the sea is beautiful and bountiful, marine plants and animals are endangered. Little work has been done in the area of marine biology. Therefore, exploration of the possibilities of preserving and developing research in the unexplored vast regions of the undersea world is the need of the hour.”
In his keynote address, Dr. Balaswamy, a retired professor of English, recalled that in the previous conference the theme was “Grain”, and spoke on the relevance of the focus on Science in Science Fiction. He said students should learn about the second law of thermodynamics at the same time they’re learning about Shakespeare, and that there should be a culmination of science and fiction. SF is predictive genre, and a literature of change, and hence it explores “what if…” He concluded by saying humanity is software and science is hardware, and there should be a marriage between the two.
Dr. Subodh Mohanti spoke about the organization Vignyan Prasar and explained its goal of fostering the spirit of science and technology at various levels in the country. In popularizing science, the projects should reach the rural India. He expressed his wish that vernacular languages should produce qualitative and quantitative literary works — one of the aims of Vignyan Prasar is to encourage young writers. Since readers and writers are humans, SF must stress the human angle.
The IASFS publication division published Understanding Science Fiction by Drs. Srinarahari & Purushothaman. Concise and comprehensive, the book combines a brief account of the origin, history, concepts, forms, and themes of the genre with an exhaustive bibliography. Dr. Panneer Selvam explained the book is useful for students, teachers, research scholars, and to readers new to SF.
The following sessions were held during the two-day conference:
“Science in Science Fiction”, chaired by Dr. Sujatha Vijayaraghavan, included the following programs: “Dreams Come True” by Dr. Srinarahari; “Hindi Science Fiction: An Overview” by Mr. Manish Mohan Gore; “Material vs Immaterial: Time Travel in Octavia Butler’s Kindred and Gibson’s ‘The Gernsback Continuum'” by Dr. Kalpana H; and “Fictionalizing Christ: A Study of Gore Vidal’s Live from Golgotha by Dr. Binu Zachariah.
“Science Fiction Today”, chaired by Professor Palanivel R, included: “Science Fiction Today: Introductory Note” by Dr. Mukherjee PK; “Ecological Nightmares in Science Fiction” by Ms. Zahirah Banu; and “Scientific Humanism: A Study of the SF Indian film Krrish” by Ms.Zuligah.
“Story Reading by SF Writers” was chaired by Dr. N Natarajan and featured Dr. Deshponde YH, Professor Bhoosanurmutt, Dr. Panneer Selvam, and Dr. Srinarahari.
The fourth session was a replay of a video conference. Before switching on the video, the Honorable Vice Chancellor of Pondicherry University Dr. JAK Tareen expressed the concern that, though man can reach the outer world, not much progress is seen in the area of Earth science. He expressed his happiness over the present conference and wished to provide support in the days to come. The video conference was recorded last year and was replayed for the benefit of the delegates in this part of the country. Professor James Gunn, director of the Center for Science Fiction Studies at the University of Kansas, was interviewed by Mr. Deshponde AP, Dr. Bal Phondke and Dr. Deshponde YH. Dr. Gunn spoke about the genre and his earlier interaction with Indian Scholars on the development of Indian Science Fiction.
“Science Today” was chaired by Dr. Deshponde YH and included: “The Contribution to Indian Science by Azim Premji Foundation” by Mr. Surendranath Banarjee; “The Highlights of Science in P. Tejaswi’s Karvalo” by Manoj CR; “Scientific Fantasy and Reality” by Ms. Prashanth Kumari, and “Science in Asimov’s Foundation Triology” by Dr. Panneer Selvam.
“Science Fiction Theme: Time”, chaired by Dr. Murali S, had: “H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine as a Science Fiction” by Ms. Muneera TR; “Scientific Romance in H.G. Wells’s ‘The Truth about Pyecraft'” by Mr. Arun C; “H.G. Wells’s Conscious, Artistic Envisionment of the Prospective Future of Humankind” by Ms. Lily Sharmila; and “The Time Machine: The Truncated Epic Novel in SF” by Mr. Umashankar S.
“Science Fiction: The Human Aspect” was chaired by Dr. Subodh Mohanti and featured these presentations: “Aliens as Humans” by Mr. Ram Kumar; “Science Fiction as Autobiography” by Mr. Mugundan; “The Thematic Study of Gibson’s ‘Burning Chrome'” by Mr. Shanmugavel P; and “Quest for a Genderless World in Le Guin’s The Dispossessed” by Ms. Parimala M.
“Science Fiction: The Human Aspect (Continued)” was chaired by Dr. Babu Abraham and included: “Man as Prey: The Disastrous Consequences of Namnotechnology — An Analysis of Michael Crichton’s Prey” by Dr. Rashmi; “Adventure as Escape: A study of Jules Verne’s 20000 Leagues Under the Sea and Michael Crichton’s Congo” by Mr. Raju Parghi; “Promise or Peril: Fear of Machine in Asimov’s The Caves of Steel and Jayanth Narlikar’s Waman Didn’t Return” by Mr. Vishnu Patil; “Science Fiction and Fantasy” by Dr. Michael Vishwamitr; and “Science Fiction in Vernacular Language — ‘Tamil Science Fiction'” by Dr. Arivunambi.
Dr. VC Thomas Dean, School of Humanities of the University, gave the valedictory address, the felicitation lecture was given by Dr. Bapu Abraham and Dr. Purushothaman presided over the function. Dr. Natarajan and Dr. Mohanti were on the dais. Professor R Bhosnurmutt proposed the vote of thanks, and the conference closed with a singing of The National Anthem. The Tenth National Science Fiction Conference is proposed to be held during October — November 2008 at Varanasi, Uttara Pradesh near New Delhi.