Book Review on Sadhna Shanker’s Ascendance by Prof Shiv Sethi

Set  far  away  from  the  present    day  conundrum -stricken life  on  earth,      “Ascendance”      by      Sadhna  Shanker endeavours  to  explore  the  idea  of  new  social  constructs and  tries  to  imagine  life  in  remote  future.  The  author categorises the book as a literary science fiction which is a little   dystopian   in   temperament.   Unlike   conventional science books, “Ascendance”   does   not portray the conflict of human   beings   with   aliens and machines. The book skilfully depicts the eventual change brought in by science in the lives of  men  and  women  with  a tinge of   philosophy. It lays more   emphasis on the philosophical assessment rather  than  the  enthralling occurrences.  The  whodunit  factor  of  the  book  entices    a mystery loving brain and calls for more attention towards its  subject,  where  you  are  tempted  to  compare  the  world delineated in the novel to our Earth.

The story is set in the twenty third century on an alienated planet called “Elone” which can also be dubbed as ‘Alone’ as  we  gradually  begin  to  understand  the  word  play.  The planet  is  inhabited  by  antagonistic  species.  There  is  a boundary  on  the  planet  which  is  called  “fence”  that separates these inhabitants from one another . The author consciously represents both men and women independent of their needs. There are no strings attached and  the  otherwise  natural  reproductive  link  has  been brought  to  an  end.  Much  to  the  astonishment  of  the readers,  each  of  the  species  can  clone  their  offspring. However,  one  can  not  make  a  sweeping  statement  that the book is gender biased as it might apparently suggest. In  fact,  it  diligently  attempts  to  explore  the  possibility  of cloning and a change in gender roles that may take place in the times to come.

The book  starts  with  a  death  mystery  of  Seeni,  one  of  the inhabitants  of  “Elone”.  She  is  assumed  to  have  been ‘taken’  (dead).  Since  the  other  part  of  the  planet  is inhabited  by  other  species  called  men,  Seeni’s disappearance raises a lot of doubts among the people of her  own  clan.  She  is  believed  to  have  been  killed  by  the people on the other side of the ‘fence’. The actual cause of the  death  is  investigated  by  a  council  of  women.  The entire  story  revolves  around  the  murder  mystery  of  Seeni and each layer of secrets   pertaining to Seeni’s   death is peeled  off  in a gradual but meticulous manner.   We   are   introduced  to  a  brigade  of  characters  like  Maya,  Tioni, Tara,  Iwe,  Promly,  Ultur,  Seeni,Radul,Phatix,  Blum,  Odex, Durk  and  so  on.  Even  the  terminology  used  for  days  and time  on  Elone  is  quite  peculiar  and  distinctive  in  its  own way. For  instance,  we  are  introduced  with  the  terms  Nex, Lex,   Vihan,   Zacs   etc.   Though   the   use   of   difficult   to remember  names  and  a  rush   of  characters  does  not impress   the  readers  much  and  at  times  makes  them somewhat  uncomfortable  too  but  it  all  fits  quite  wellinto the  scheme  of  a  science  fiction.  However,  this  may  be because of the choice of the theme and the setting  of the book   that      makes   it   feasible   for   the   author   to   take recourse   to   such   unmanliness.   A   serious   reader   will spontaneously but slowly be able to connect the dots and assimilate    all    the    relationships    in    their    profundity. Imagination is  the epicentre of this science fiction and the writer  seems  to  be  blessed  with  the  faculty  of  rich  and fecund  imagination.  She   picks  a  planet  beyond  the  planet earth.  Life  on  Elone  is  quite  in  contrast  and  contradiction in the life we experience on this earth. The denizens of this planet  are  two  species:  men  and  women.  They  look  upon each  other  as  enemies.  Elone  is  the  brain  child  of  Sadhna Shanker  and  she  successfully  and  skilfully    establishes  a link  with  earth  through  the  character  of  Maya.  The  music that  Seeni  used  to  listen  and  relish  is  the  music  that belongs to Maya who recounts the history of their people. People  of  Elone  do  not  die  unless  they  are  killed  which makes  them  almost  immortal  and  imperishable.  They  can also replace their organs with the help of “Nepo”. Women are much advanced in technology and they have found an alternative  called  “Amar”,  as  the  level  of  the  mineral  is waning. Men on the other hand have not been able to find any substitute for” Nepo”. Thus, they hatch a conspiracy to attack women in order to obtain the absolute control on the  planet.  Both  men  and  women  are  oblivious  of  their origin and therefore have no idea of their actual lineage.

The  author  gets  full  marks  for  weaving    a  strong  and gripping  plot.  She  dexterously  narrates  the  story  with  the efficiency  of  a  master  raconteur.  Every  scene  has  been craftily    designed  beyond  the  boundaries  of  the  chapters. The author  elaborates every episode  with minute details. For example, “in the window, the first  rays of sunlight made an appearance. Maya’s music continued  to play as dawn  broke  in  a  world  that  did  not  recognize  it,  but  was still enthralled by it.”  Besides, the author stunningly and scintillatingly  succeeds  in  maintaining  the  suspense  at every  step  of  the  story.  Sadhna’s  thought  process  is incredible  that  helps  her  achieve  a  tight  tone  in  the  novel in  which  the  Ideas  are  born  from  the  union  of  reason,  observation, imagination  and quest.  The  basis  of  these ingredients may change, but as these concepts are never-ending,  the  ideas  also  remain  intact  .  She  marvellously juggles  with  the words  and  thus   has  got full  control  over  her language and how  she delves deeper and deeper into the  innermost recesses of her characters reflects her skill and  knack    of  characterisation.    She  resorts  to  intelligible language   but   the   aesthetic   sense   of   the   book   is   not compromised  at  any  juncture.  She  has  used  names  and terms  that  would  probably  be  used  in  future.  She  also provides  glossary  at  the  end  of  the  book  in  order  to  help her  readers  understand  the  terminology  employed  in  the novel  and  to  make  them  feel  at  ease  while  journeying through   its   narrative.   The  fresh  and  original  storyline catches  the fancy of its readers. The mystery of Seeni’s death  is  revealed  at  the  end  of  the  novel.  Much  to  the amazement  of  the  readers,  she  is  actually  murdered  by her   own   people   only.   The   readers   though   gather   an impression  that  her  death  was  not  necessary  and  thus could  have  been  warded  off.  The  author  leaves  no  stone unturned to keep the flames of the interest of her readers smouldering throughout the entire book . The novel is the most  pertinent  commentary    on   the  position     of  the women  in  the  present  society.  She  also  does  justice  with the genre throughout the book. The terms like science and technology are spread all over the pages of the book. She is definitely at her best capturing the whole spirit of a real science  fiction  in  the  this  novel  which  is  replete with believable bizarreness.

About the author

Sadhna Shanker is an Indian author, blogger and civil servant. Ascendance is her fifth book and second fiction work after “Never a Disconnect’ in 2010. She has written for the International Herald Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Hindu, Indian Express, Huffington Post and The Wire. APh Din Economics, she is a passionate words mith and hasan avidinterestin books, movies and theatre. Shelives in New Delhi and is in the Indian Revenue Service. Prof.  Shiv  Sethi (Ph  D,  M  Phil,  four  times MA)  is  the  Head  of  the  Department  of  English  language and  Linguistics  at  Dev  Samaj  Post  Graduate  College  For Women Ferozepur for the last 17 years. His   research   articles   have   been   published   in   various journals  of  international  repute  including  The  Tribune, The   Hindu,   The   Hindustan   Times,   The   New   Indian Express,  The  Deccan  Herald,  The  Hitavada,  and  The  Daily post and  in several  newspapers  of  neighbouring countries like  Nepal  and  Pakistan.  He  has  presented  his  papers  at various universities in India and abroad. He is a guide for research scholars for M Phil thesis.

Title: Ascendance
Author: Sadhna Shanker
Publisher: Rupa Publications
Available: Amazon.

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