This story celebrates the diverse everyperson, the type of character whose voice we want to hear while they save the world from things like a growing Vortal. What was the inspiration behind both this story and the heroine that saves the day?
Thanks! To me the main character of a story is as important as, if not more important than, the story itself. A Pakistani Muslim immigrant who also happens to be a lesbian is not a typical protagonist for an SF story, as we all know. For me a story has to not only work as a story but also be relevant now, in these crazy times. With white supremacists in the White House and racial aggression and bigotry raising their white hoods across the country, it felt much more meaningful to put a character like Susan at the heart of the story and see how her identity shapes the story itself. Susan is American now, no matter what the bigots and racists may think.
These are the true heroes who are at the cutting edge of the fight for democracy. Trans people, LGBT+ persons, Persons of Color, Muslims, immigrants, refugees, marginalised persons of all persuasions and backgrounds—these are the real faces in the mosaic of America. They are the first line of defense for the American dream and the first to get picked on, bullied, marginalised, banned, abused, attacked. We’ve read thousands of SF stories with white men saving the world. It got old fifty years ago. White women were a welcome change but oddly enough, even SF authors and editors who championed white female protagonists never expanded their inclusivity to intersectional acceptance. Why was that? Perhaps because even feminists can be racist? Whatever the reason, the truth is that SF has ignored almost every group of heroes except the white male or female ones, and that’s just unbelievable in a country where more than half the children being born are non-white. SF has to be realistic and reflect the real world; the real America is colourful, transgender, lesbian, Muslim, immigrant and beautifully diverse. You can retire all those white SF heroes now: they can pick up their social welfare checks from the local VA every month and stay home griping about the way it used to be, while their sad, rabid puppies nip at their ears. America is wonderful and real and the Susan Khans of the world are its true heroes.
The Vortal, when looking at it from a different perspective, brings people together. Is the Vortal—and whatever lies on The Other Side—meant to be this entity that brings people of diverse backgrounds together? Or is it a cold, nondiscriminatory, and unfeeling presence that I suspect it might be?
The Vortal appears in at least one novel and several other short stories. It’s a multiverse concept with one simple, inflexible rule called The Balance: Every time a person is flipped through the Vortal to another parallel universe, another person must be flipped back into the world they left. The Balance must be maintained. You can control which world you go to, if you have the right equipment, but you cannot control the person or being that is flipped into your world in your place. In that sense the Vortal is cold, nondiscriminatory and unfeeling as you rightly suggested. It is nature at its most primal and atavistic. In this story, we don’t know who opened the Vortal into midtown Manhattan, but you can be sure it was done for the purpose of crossing into our world. So when Susan and Jenny leave our world and flip into the other one, some must cross over into our world. Who? Why? Where? Those are questions I’ve left unanswered—and unasked. For now.
What are some things about “A Vortal in Midtown” that you’d like your readers to know about?
Just the fact that the story is only one part in a series. While Susan and, by extension, Jenny, are heroes for saving our world, and in our sense of the term they are “dead,” the scientific nature of the Vortal means that they have travelled to a parallel world. Which one? Why? What happens to them there? And who replaces them, if anyone does so, in our world? Those are questions for the next story. But you can be sure, their sacrifice and struggle—and their adventures—have only just begun!
What other projects are coming up for you?
Am just finishing up my YA debut The Rise Trilogy. The first book, Rise As One, will be out by end 2018 from Delacorte (Random House). I’ve also finished Upon A Burning Throne, the first in the Burning Throne series coming from John Joseph Adams Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) in late 2018 or early 2019. I’m also working on a Middle Grade Fantasy series called Pax Gandhi, Sorcerer Supreme, and another fantasy series titled The Broken Gods, both of which will go to my agent in a few months and hopefully find publishers. In India, of course, I have a whole other publishing career. Apart from my ongoing mythological and historical fiction series there, I’m especially proud of my new superhero fantasy trilogy which began with Awaken, and the upcoming My Father Drank My Lover & Other Stories, both from Pan Macmillan.
Spread the word!