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Book Review: The Neutrinos Are Coming and Other Stories: Sci-Fi or Sci-Phi?

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Book: “The Neutrinos Are Coming and Other Stories”

Author: Dinker Charak

Publisher: NotionPress

Type: Sci-fi Anthology

Reviewer: Ravindra Bhaiwal

Most science fiction starts with a question: “What if…?” Typically this means some extreme case of scientific phenomenon. Sometimes this extrapolation takes us into fantasy land, where science becomes indistinguishable from magic. Personally, I am not a fan of such science fantasy.

In contrast, there is something that likes to call itself “Hard Sci-fi”, which boasts of having strong fidelity with accurate science. Then there are some softer sci-fi stories, which use Science quite cursorily but are excellent stories from a human or social angle. Notwithstanding the literary quality, it is debatable whether to call them ‘real’ science fiction.

But then, there are some sci-fi stories that stand out from the crowd by their quality of making the reader pause and think. The question “What if…?” is asked from a new perspective, and the answers are least expected. Dinker Charak’s new anthology of sci-fi, “The Neutrinos are Coming” comes under this category. It raises many “What if…” questions and addresses some philosophical topics in such a refreshing way that I am tempted to call this story “sci-phi” where science gets married to philosophy.

But before you get put off by my reference to philosophy, let me hastily add here that Dinker has a very refreshing style. He writes his stories with such a subtle sense of humour that makes us visualize him having his tongue firmly in his cheek while writing. His credentials, given at the end of the book, are quite impressive, but I believe it misses out on his most important quality of being a humorist. Great humour has a firm foundation in philosophy, and Dinker excels in both these aspects.

The title story, “The Neutrinos are Coming” has a backdrop of pseudo-political conflict, sprinkled with wry humour that somehow reminded me of S’aadat Hassan Munto. Crisp, episodic style of narration is best demonstrated in stories in this anthology.

A sci-fi anthology is almost always incomplete without time travel. But here the time travel comes with a twist. What if you could “save a state” of your life in a way that you can always come back to the best moment of your life and start living again? People, who habitually image or ‘ghost’ their hard disk so that whenever the operating system becomes unstable, they can recover the best-saved state of their computer, will relate to this story. And then comes the philosophical question: “Would you want to save your current state of life to return to in future?” The answer must be explored through the eyes of the protagonist.

The story “Disability?” is a sort of mystery that needs unravelling. When a special child is brought by his aunt to a doctor, the doctor slowly understands the nature of a special disability, or ability indeed, in a shocking, but quite a scientific manner.

The next story, “Not always in a bathtub” asks the most profound philosophical questions about human consciousness. Is it just a Dimensional Orientation? If you wonder about its meaning, go read the story. I am sure it will make you ponder on this question for a long time.

In a similar vein, the story “The murmurs of the dawn” raises another philosophical question: “What is awareness?” It does not do so in a dry philosophical manner, but it takes the help of the popular sci-fi theme: “What if machines gained self-awareness?” But in Dinker’s world, you will find that the answer is quite unconventional, to put it mildly.

‘First contact with aliens’ is a commonly used theme in many, many sci-fi stories. A sci-fi anthology might even be considered incomplete without aliens. Dinker’s next story “One-Three-Seven” brings a solid twist to the first alien contact. It starts somewhat on a geopolitical note, brings us to a young, pretty scientist who accidentally achieves a breakthrough in an important riddle, describes lucidly what the title of the story means… and just when we about to think that we have seen the end of the story, it brings us to another profound philosophical question involving energy-matter duality. This takes the story to a whole new level.

The next story “A Sprute’s Discovery” is almost portrayed like a movie. It has drama and heart-wrenching emotions, at the same time helping us witness the breathtaking spectacle of a sizzle zone around a black hole. The science behind this is a little complex, but Dinker makes it effortless. This story is a model of how good sci-fi, involving tough science, should be narrated.

The last story of the collection, “Absolute and None” again ventures on a profound question: “What if there is a mathematics that counts everything starting from infinity and subsequently subtracting each number from it?” This would be exactly the reverse of how our mathematics works, but will still be possible and still be as rigorous. This is more of a mathematical, philosophical story, narrated in a quite easy, entertaining way.

This style of Dinker can be called his USP. No matter what he is describing or conveying, he never lets go of his lighter side and sprinkling of very human humour. That makes these heavyweight sci-fi stories firmly rooted in the ground.

Overall, a refreshing reading, whether or not you are a fan of science fiction.

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