The Inhumans and Other Stories: A Collection of Bengali Science Fiction

MIT. (Radium Age). Mar. 2024. 188p. ed. by Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay. tr. from Bengali by Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay. ISBN 9780262547611. pap. $19.95. SF
The 14th book in MIT’s “Radium Age” series of early 20th-century science fiction serves up a curious mélange of tropes and genres in Chattopadhyay’s translation of Hemendra Kumar Roy’s adventure The Inhumans, together with English-language debuts of three other early Bengali science fantasies. Roy’s eclectic novella veers from subversive tales of the stereotypical savage beasts and superstitious natives in African jungles—some lifted verbatim from a rip-snorting British safari yarn of the day—to a topsy-turvy satiric fable highlighting the foibles of a lost race of boneless nonbinary shapeshifters who roll busily about in barrels. A more straightforward 1895 tale by Jagadananda Ray depicts the uneasy relationship between disparate dwellers of the dark and light sides of Venus, while other stories mix myth and science in strange and striking ways.
VERDICT Adopting yet subtly subverting the prevalent imperialist biases of their day, these popular tales offer a diverting glimpse of the cultural ferment and ambivalence of late colonial Bengal.
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