A Report of the 18th National Science Fiction Conference

Indian Association for Science Fiction Studies®, Bangalore (IASFS), Indian Science Fiction Writers Association, Ayodhya (ISFWA), Marathi Vidnyan Parishad, Mumbai (MVP), Marathwada Shikshan Prasarak Mandal, Aurangabad (MSP) and Deogiri Institute of Engineering and Management (DIEM) had joined together with the host Mukthananda College, Gangapur, Aurangabad District, in organizing the 18th Science Fiction Conference at Aurangabad, Maharashtra state, India on January 10 & 11, 2020.

The celebration of Isaac Asimov’s Birthday Centenary; video speech by Michael Brotherton, U of Wyoming, the USA; Paper reading by 130 scholars and researchers; story reading sessions; keynote address and plenary sessions by eminent personalities in the field; a magic show entitled “SF and Mentalism” are the highlights of the event.

Drs. Madhusudan N Sarnaik and Balaji A Navale the conveners of the conference welcomed the gathering. Dr.Srinarahari the Secretary-General of IASFS with a power point presentation displayed how the growth of SF has taken place after the second wave of Indian SF from the sixties of the twentieth century. Also, he pointed out how India has been able to appear on the map of SF producing countries. He briefed about the conference theme: Science and Science Fiction: Interdisciplinary and Multidisciplinary Perspective. Further, he highlighted how the genre has influenced other branches of knowledge in their futuristic vision and vice versa.

Dr. Pramod Yeole the honorable Vice-Chancellor of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University, Aurangabad inaugurated the Conference by lighting lamp. Speaking on the occasion the VC pointed out the positive impact of Science and Technology in the life of common man in the street. He highlighted how the mobile being a communication gadget has been providing multiple services for booking cabs, ordering food, and carrying on banking transaction. Being a Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences for thirty-two years, he cited a number of instances to explain how the theme was relevant in the current context to churn out solutions for many complex issues. He called for the translation of global works to the vernacular and regional languages to enable the local people to know the current trends in this direction.

Dr. Arvind Mishra the secretary of ISFWA spoke about the association and its activities explaining how the association could provide a platform for the Hindi writers to publish their works regularly in Vignyan Katha magazine.

Mr. Mohanrao Savant Member of the Executive Council, and Mr. Deshmukh  College Development Committee  of MSP joined the dignitaries while releasing the peer-reviewed – online and print version of  International Science Journal during the inaugural session.

While giving the keynote address Mr.AP Deshponde the honorary Secretary of MVP traced the development of the genre from the times of the Vedas, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. He traced the contributions of the British, and the boom in the growth of the genre in the American continent. He also pointed out how the MVP could conduct the short story writing competitions during the seventies and how the writers in Marathi could align themselves to the emerging trends of popularizing Science and Science Fiction along with the stalwarts like Jayanth Narlikar, Bal Phondke and others. Mr.Deshponde added that MVP has been conducting a number of short story writing workshop thereafter till date. He gave an account of the growth of the genre in other vernacular languages like Hindi, Bengali, Kannada, Malayalam, and Tamil. He stressed upon the point that the publication of It Happened Tomorrow (1993) edited by Bal Phondke is a proof to show how the authors of different locations in India could align with one voice and one India. The selection of Laxman Londhe’s “Einstein the Second” as the best Indian Science Fiction story from the sub-continent  by Dr.Srinarahari for its publication in The Road to Science Fiction edited by James E Gunn has brought a global flavor for the Indian SF works. The impact could be seen in the present day with 120 Marathi Science Fiction Writers publishing SF stories in 400 magazines during Deepavali (The festival of lights during October- November) every year.

Professor of astronomy at the University of Wyoming, the USA, Michael Brotherton who is a Science Fiction writer and editor of anthologies gave a video talk on the “Synergies of Science and Science Fiction”. He remarked that Science and SF are complementary to each other.  Quoting Carl Sagan he conveyed that Science is a way of thinking rather than a body of knowledge. Then he quoted Albert Einstein who said that imagination is more important than knowledge.  Quoting Bernard Baruch he said that the spirit of enquiry is essential as in the case of Newton alone who questioned why the apple falls. Citing the idea of flying cars, he demonstrated how telescope, spacecraft, and the time machine are interconnected. He drew conclusion that Science requires speculation as much as skepticism, Science Fiction can educate, inspire and entertain. Hence, he concluded that Science Fiction is the crucial imagination of Science.

During one of the plenary sessions Dr.Ashok Thorat the Director Center for Digital Humanities, Pune, India explained its concept, scope and highlighted how it can encompass the whole of humanities, Science and other branches of knowledge.  He brought out the point how Science Fiction and Digital Humanism go hand in hand in their methodology.

Arvind Mishra speaking on Indian SF scenario highlighted how the social media has provided a platform to unite every writer in the genre and interact over a particular topic in recent days. Also speaking about Asimov he recalled the “Park Avenue Pact” between Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke.

Dr. YH Deshponde brought out facts how the Science Fiction has its roots in Indian mythology right from the days of Veda Vyas the pioneer writer of the Mahabharata. Mr. Harish Yadav presented a paper on “Magic and Mentalism in Science Fiction”. He dealt with the definition of SF, magic, mentalism, and magic in SF in print and movies.

Speaking on the occasion of the birth centenary celebration of Isaac Asimov, Dr. Srinarahari drew out a few anecdotes from the life of Asimov. His long hours of stay at the candy stores, the expression of surprise of his father over his production of a few books, his acknowledgement of gratitude to his father for he who inspired for his writing as he “valued learning”; how excited they were when they could get a telephone connection to their home and an extension to the kitchen; returning to full time authorship like Jules Verne; described  space travel vividly being an acrophobic; considering reading news paper as a change of work in the hospital when he had heart surgery; creative writing and personal habits and aspirations. The speaker described Asimov’s writing his own biographies; authenticity of matter, appealing language, narration techniques, lucidity, and others.

The speaker on the occasion categorized Asimov’s four hundred works and focused on his Science Fiction works: He spoke about the foundation series and robot novels and their culmination in the novel Robots and Empire (1995). Dr.Srinarahari being an Asimovian scholar dealt with his structure, plot, characterization point of view, themes and others. He highlighted that Asimov is alive here with us because of his extra-ordinary ability to sketch the character of Susan Calvin, Kelden Amadiro, Gladia Solaria, Harry Seldon, Elijah Bailey, Robot Giskard, R. Daneel Olivaw and others.

In addition to the speaker’s address in the past dealing with the impact of Asimovian works on Indian SF and the “Indian Response to American Science Fiction”, he enlisted the following Indian scholars who have done research on Asimovian works for which the doctoral degrees were awarded by various Indian Universities. The theses and dissertation works which have focused on Asimov’s works are Prakash S. Rao’s “Isaac Asimov’s Works of 60’s and 70’s: A Study in Scientific Humanism”; Veena’s “Paradoxes of Order in the Fiction of Isaac Asimov”; S.Guruswamy’s “Asimov’s Vision of Utopia in Foundation’s Edge and Foundation and Earth.”Fiat Homo- Let There be Man – Apocalyptic Renewal in Asimov’s Foundation Series” by K.S.Purushothaman; Panneer Selvam’s “Credibility Criterion in Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy”; The Robotistic Works of Isaac Asimov: A Study” by the speaker and the recent contribution of Anand Arul Das who has applied the theory of Post humanism in the works of Isaac Asimov.

Concluding his talk the he explained that Indian Association for Science Fiction Studies®, Bangalore, India was established on the birth day of Isaac Asimov on January 2nd, 1998. Now, the institution is celebrating its 22nd year of its establishment. Asimovian topics were chosen by many scholars in presenting their papers during the last 18 Science Fiction Conferences held in India. Thus, it acknowledges a tribute to the great giant of Science Fiction.

Dr. Yeshwant Deshponde is often referred to as Indian Asimov. Coincidentally, his birth day was on the second day of the conference. Hence, it was celebrated with all pomp. The celebrity was honored by the organizers and participants.

Apart from the presentation of one hundred and thirty papers by the participants, there was a magic show entitled “SF & Mentalism” by Harish Yadav. There was a festive mood, a sense of thrill, a sense of achievement, contentment and gratification among the delegates, participants and the host. This conference has paved way for the scheduled 19th Science Fiction Conference in India which will be organized by Bangalore University in collaboration with IASFS, ISFWA and others on 5, 6 and 7th of October 2020 at Bangalore, Karnataka, India.

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