Rishi Raj participated in our Science Fiction writing competition ‘Spin your Experience’, which was organized as part of India Science Festival, 2022. Read this article to know about Rishi’s experience!

I had always been interested in science-fiction as a child, owing, in part, to cartoons like Swat Kats and Captain Planet I would watch with my dad, but mostly because of a constant supply of books my parents provided me. After getting my hands on whatever books my dad would bring from his office library, I would also find myself hunting down audiobooks and e-books so that I can read at my leisure. And any given I would be reading about steampunk submariners in the 19th century, to dramatic millennia-long space operas.

While in college, Being part of the literary society got me a few opportunities to write a few short stories. I wrote a total of two stories; one about an old man relieving his last few moments in the human body before being uploaded into a digital consciousness, and another about sentient plant life taking over a planet. Looking back at the stories, I’m not
super proud of them but they made for a good read. But while I continued to read e-books during college, and books from Blossom’s bookstore when I moved to Bangalore for work, my interest in writing waned and I did not write again, for about seven years.

That is, however, until I came across a tweet by a fellow sci-fi enthusiast, Gautham Shenoy, who posted about the India Science Festival and its flagship Spin Your Science writing competition. What piqued my interest at first was its ‘small’ word count (I would soon find it would give me some trouble on its own) and a month-and-a-half long deadline.

I began by writing a few first-draft story ideas. The way I thought about it was, if I could complete it in that time, great. If not, I can always hunt for the seven-year old Google Doc in my drive that contained the two stories from my college days, and rework them a bit. But inspiration soon struck; due my interest in artificial intelligence and NLP, and hearing
about recent attempts at using AI for creating deep fakes for creating and propagating misinformation, I began forming an idea in my head and began putting it into paper (or Word doc, as it was). Combining elements from zombie horrors and mind-virus stories like Snow Crash, I began to write my story.

“As the story progressed, I soon found that for all I wanted to write about, I was quickly running into the word count I was previously so happy about. But with help from a few sci-fi enthusiast friends, I managed to edit it down to the right count and brevity.”

A few days after I submitted, I got an email from Shruti from ISF; my story had been selected as one of ten finalists in the competition! ISF posted our stories on their Facebook and Instagram pages, where I got to read and appreciate other finalists’ works. In addition, we would get the opportunity to talk to filmmaker Arati Kadav, and novelist Shiv Ramdas in the form of writing workshops, and an expert panel would then review our stories and hand out top-three prizes! I was beyond thrilled.

While I could only attend Shiv Ramdas’ workshop, his inputs on worldbuilding and walking through the “ashtray paradigm”: fleshing the depth of the story’s setting by adding just a few details, really stuck with me. The other finalists asking questions to Shiv and exchanging ideas with each other made for an incredibly engaging experience.

The workshops, judge feedback and prizes aside, the most valuable contribution I’d like to thank Spin Your Science for, was providing me another jumpstart into (re)trying my hand in writing small sci-fi short-stories. I hope to keep that energy going and to work on even cooler ideas in the future!