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7 Sci-fi Short Stories That Seem Disturbingly Real At Times

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By Surangya Kaur:

Science fiction is a genre which is often looked down upon as “lowbrow” literature; one which when shot to popularity was merely being cashed in on with poorly thought out pulp fiction. It is criticized as being dependent on space travel and faraway galaxies as a backdrop while having stories which could otherwise have been easily set on earth. We can choose to club all science fiction this way or we can think about C.S. Lewis’ argument defending it in his book An Experiment in Criticism where he notes that “books classified as “lowbrow”, such as science fiction, are also capable of inducing a passion to re-read and imparting experience which changes reader’s worldview.

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Science fiction, especially today, may play a crucial role in this regard as we advance ourselves relentlessly in technological fields, such as artificial intelligence, seldom putting any thought to its consequences.

Listed below are seven sci-fi short stories which while transporting you to the realms of fantasy, also strike as disturbingly possible in certain aspects.

1. The Last Question – Isaac Asimov
One of the most well known short stories by Isaac Asimov and deemed as one of his best by the author himself, The Last Question narrates the tale of a series of generations of human beings, shrouded in the mystery of the last unanswered question. It is one of the many loosely connected stories involving the fictional computer Multivac which was Asimov’s rendition of the trend towards centralization in computation technology which started in the 1950s.

The story begins in 2061 and continues over a period of trillions of years. It starts with Multivac having seemingly solved all conceivable problems of earth’s energy requirements by efficiently tapping into the energy of the sun and eliminating any need for thermal or nuclear energy. But the one question that still arises is what when the sun runs down? And the other stars? Can entropy be reversed? Read the story here to find out.

2. Ministering Angels — C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis, in this story, questions human instincts and needs and highlights how they are distinguished from other primordial life forms. In a short, sharp, thought provoking narrative, we are taken to a space station on the surface of Mars where we encounter an eclectic group of men on a three year long mission. Having deprived them of extensive human contact for so long, especially with the opposite sex, the authorities back on earth are concerned and expect them to be ravenous for any kind of satisfaction whatsoever. But are they? Know here.

3. The Machine Stops — E.M. Forster
Imagine, if you can, a small room, hexagonal in shape, like the cell of a bee. It is lighted neither by window nor by lamp, yet it is filled with a soft radiance. There are no apertures for ventilation, yet the air is fresh. There are no musical instruments, and yet, at the moment that my meditation opens, this room is throbbing with melodious sounds. An armchair is in the centre, by its side a reading-desk-that is all the furniture. And in the armchair there sits a swaddled lump of flesh-a woman, about five feet high, with a face as white as a fungus. It is to her that the little room belongs.

Thousands upon thousands of such cells, each inhabited by a single human, in an underground world where humans have isolated themselves from nature and from direct contact with each other! With no sense of time or space, humans have settled into a diurnal rhythm of monotonousness. They are afraid to venture out, to travel or to see their origins to the extent that the sight of a single star is unsettling. They live in the Machine and worship it with each aspect of their existence; completely dependent on it. But what if the Machine fails? Can humans be atavistic? Find out here.

4. A Sound of Thunder — Ray Bradbury
The story goes on to demonstrate how the smallest of our actions can have major implications. It is the year 2055 and the time machine has been invented. However, its use is still heavily regulated and limited since what consequence the most minor change in the past could have on the future is largely unknown. A hunter by the name of Eckels desires to go to the past and hunt dinosaurs. He contacts the company providing this service and voyages back with a couple of guides. The company only allows killing of animals which are about to die anyway and takes the strictest of measures to not disrupt anything else in the past. But when faced by an angry, rampaging T-Rex, who’s to say what could happen? It makes you think about how our thoughtless killing of the most seemingly trivial beings today could be carving our future in unimaginable ways. Read the story here.

5. 2BR02B — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
The painter pondered the mournful puzzle of life demanding to be born and, once born, demanding to be fruitful … to multiply and to live as long as possible–to do all that on a very small planet that would have to last forever.

Surely a world where population control is a reality should be a blissful one. The population of United States stands at an unchanging 40 million, a comfortable number, not too strenuous on the earth and its resources. A man waits with his head in his hands at a hospital for his wife to give birth to their triplets.

“All diseases were conquered. So was old age.
Death barring accidents, was an adventure for volunteers.”

How can three new people be accommodated in this world?

6. We Can Remember It for You Wholesale — Philip K. Dick
This story was adapted into the 1990 blockbuster film Total Recall starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. The protagonist, Douglas Quail, is a man consumed by the desire to visit Mars once in his lifetime as a secret agent for Interplan for an adventure and a relief from his humdrum life of a clerk. Well aware of the fact that he is incapable of attaining either, he makes an appointment with Rekal Incorporated where he is promised the memories of a trip to Mars he never made. An extra-factual memory, it’s promised that it will feel more real than the actual thing since it will be indelible. However, unforeseen complications arise while the procedure is being performed and false memories evoke real ones which were meant to be erased. Quail finally has the adventure he always wanted. But is worth all the trouble it costs? Read here.

7. Air Raid — John Varley
The basis for the novel and the movie Millennium, Air Raid is a fast paced story which follows the progress of an airline rescue mission. Or is it abduction? Written as a firsthand account of one of the missionaries, the story begins with the rescue team disguising themselves as humans of 1979. The reason why they need the disguise and why they are carrying out the operation in the first place isn’t revealed till the final pages of the story.

Well, that’s about it. For more such stories, you can check out the Science Fiction Century series by David G. Hartwell, an excellent compilation of some of the best tales in the genre by critically acclaimed authors.

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  1. Amrit

    The Last Question was also Asimov’s personal favourite, but I can never forget his delightful little piece- The Technician.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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