Fantasy literature

Why speculative fiction may be the best way to depict reality

The form exposes society and our lives in places that realistic fiction can’t touch.

In 2001, while receiving the Carnegie Medal for his children’s book The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, author Terry Pratchett said, “We categorise too much on the basis of unreliable assumption. A literary novel written by Brian Aldiss must be science fiction, because he is a known science fiction writer; a science fiction novel by Margaret Attwood is literature because she is a literary novelist. Recent Discworld books have spun on such concerns as the nature of belief, politics and even of journalistic freedom, but put in one lousy dragon and they call you a fantasy writer.”

Pratchett was England’s most popular author in the 1990s (before yet another fantasy author took over with her saga of a boy who knew magic), having sold over 85 million books worldwide in 37 languages. The Amazing Maurice is the tale of a cat and a group of rats fighting monsters and two-legged humans in a quest for their survival, and defies any categories – be it a metaphor, a children’s book or even a fantasy fiction.

For most of us, it’s the dragons who breathe fire, immortal vampires with icy smooches and marble skins, and werewolves and robots and faeries and artificial intelligence who want to take over the world – these are the things that take us back again and again to the speculative genre. We live in these make-believe worlds, we see them through the dragon’s eyes, through the wizard’s adventure, through the superhero’s flight in the sky. For those few hours a day, swashbucklers we, slay with our Valyrian swords, dashing away from the Nazgul, and facing the worst tormentors by becoming Jedi masters. For fantasy, be it in gaming or books or movies, is perceived by the majority as escapism and a desire to live in alternate realities.

A mirror to society

But for many authors like Pratchett, the purpose of fantasy is not to immerse yourself in another world so as to forget your own, but to reflect on your own society, to gaze into its gaping holes. In the same speech, Pratchett says, “Far more beguiling than the idea that evil can be destroyed by throwing a piece of expensive jewellery into a volcano is the possibility that evil can be defused by talking. The fantasy of justice is more interesting that the fantasy of fairies, and more truly fantastic. In the book the rats go to war, which is, I hope, gripping. But then they make peace, which is astonishing.”

And the skilled writer that he is, he manages to reflect our society’s political and social milieu through satire, mirroring international bickering on climate change, the modern day obsession with television, ambitious politicians who force war in the name of justice, and even the disruptive role that everyday greed and cowardice play, all through a bunch of monsters and wizards.

In the same way, author Douglas Adams’s explosive Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979) starts with a house being razed by authorities in a shire in England and parallels it to Earth being razed by an apathetic race of Vogons who follow processes, just like our administration. It makes us laugh out loud and then, perhaps, makes us think, reflecting on things like houses, towels and processes and filing systems that fill our lives.

In 1969, when The Left Hand of Darkness flipped the testosterone-seeped, thrill-seeking science fiction in the USA by exploring our preconceived notions on gender, author Ursula Le Guin had to actually write an introduction to the book to explain what she was trying to do. The novel explores a human race on an alien planet, which doesn’t have a fixed sexuality, changing genders month after month. In the introduction, Le Guin famously wrote that all artists are liars and so, “Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth.” In the same marvellous introduction, she also touches up how we believe in these packs of lies created in a make-believe world.

“In reading a novel, any novel, we have to know perfectly well that the whole thing is nonsense, and then, while reading, believe every word of it. Finally, when we're done with it, we may find – if it's a good novel – that we're a bit different from what we were before we read it, that we have been changed a little, as if by having met a new face, crossed a street we never crossed before. But it's very hard to say just what we learned, how we were changed.”

Perhaps without realising it at first, Le Guin wrote on the power of stories and how inverting society in them changes both the writer and the reader and the world around them a little bit. With their work now codified as a sub-genre of science fiction, feminist authors try to look away from spaceship adventures, exploring society’s rigid gender, social and caste perceptions. For many have realised the power of stories to restructure and reinvent societies.

And it didn’t start in the West. I was able to find a short story, The Sultana’s Dream , written in 1905 and first published in The In, ian Ladies Magazine of Madras. Written by a Bengali woman Roquia Sakhawat Hussain, the story created a gender-reversed world where women run everything and men are secluded and in purdah. Imagine that power of this story on a teenage girl or boy in that era (or even now for that matter).

Subverting hierarchies 

Be it gender, caste or social hierarchies, there’s nothing better than speculative fiction to invert and reflect on your own society. For it is through delving into these false worlds and alternative realities, subverting the morals and values of society, exploring, extrapolating, and crawling through the dark seepages of the subconscious mind, that truth can be reached.

For me as a woman who has grown up within the contours of middle class morality in India, struggling with restrictions and biologically nonsensical rules, and dealing with aggression from males, writing and creating the fiction of Anantya Trantrist and her world, set me personally on the path of freedom in understanding and expressing my own personal body and gender. Which is how I could imagine to some extent what authors like Le Guin – and, before her, writes who touched on gender issues through SFF, such Mary Shelley (Frankenstien, 1818), Charlotte Perkins Gilman (Herland, 1915) or Joanna Russ (The Female Man, 1970) – felt when they inverted their patriarchal worlds.

Speculative fiction gives you that space, to break the world as you see it into pieces, and put them into a kaleidoscope, so you might be able to reimagine and rebuild another world, another society, created with lies and fiction but a truthful reflection of your own world. And through the journey, change bits and pieces of your own self and society.

Shweta Taneja is an author with a weakness for the occult, the eccentric and the oral traditions of Indian myths. Her latest book Cult of Chaos is a tantrik fantasy based in Delhi. 

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The next Industrial Revolution is here – driven by the digitalization of manufacturing processes

Technologies such as Industry 4.0, IoT, robotics and Big Data analytics are transforming the manufacturing industry in a big way.

The manufacturing industry across the world is seeing major changes, driven by globalization and increasing consumer demand. As per a report by the World Economic Forum and Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd on the future of manufacturing, the ability to innovate at a quicker pace will be the major differentiating factor in the success of companies and countries.

This is substantiated by a PWC research which shows that across industries, the most innovative companies in the manufacturing sector grew 38% (2013 - 2016), about 11% year on year, while the least innovative manufacturers posted only a 10% growth over the same period.

Along with innovation in products, the transformation of manufacturing processes will also be essential for companies to remain competitive and maintain their profitability. This is where digital technologies can act as a potential game changer.

The digitalization of the manufacturing industry involves the integration of digital technologies in manufacturing processes across the value chain. Also referred to as Industry 4.0, digitalization is poised to reshape all aspects of the manufacturing industry and is being hailed as the next Industrial Revolution. Integral to Industry 4.0 is the ‘smart factory’, where devices are inter-connected, and processes are streamlined, thus ensuring greater productivity across the value chain, from design and development, to engineering and manufacturing and finally to service and logistics.

Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, artificial intelligence and Big Data analytics are some of the key technologies powering Industry 4.0. According to a report, Industry 4.0 will prompt manufacturers globally to invest $267 billion in technologies like IoT by 2020. Investments in digitalization can lead to excellent returns. Companies that have implemented digitalization solutions have almost halved their manufacturing cycle time through more efficient use of their production lines. With a single line now able to produce more than double the number of product variants as three lines in the conventional model, end to end digitalization has led to an almost 20% jump in productivity.

Digitalization and the Indian manufacturing industry

The Make in India program aims to increase the contribution of the manufacturing industry to the country’s GDP from 16% to 25% by 2022. India’s manufacturing sector could also potentially touch $1 trillion by 2025. However, to achieve these goals and for the industry to reach its potential, it must overcome the several internal and external obstacles that impede its growth. These include competition from other Asian countries, infrastructural deficiencies and lack of skilled manpower.

There is a common sentiment across big manufacturers that India lacks the eco-system for making sophisticated components. According to FICCI’s report on the readiness of Indian manufacturing to adopt advanced manufacturing trends, only 10% of companies have adopted new technologies for manufacturing, while 80% plan to adopt the same by 2020. This indicates a significant gap between the potential and the reality of India’s manufacturing industry.

The ‘Make in India’ vision of positioning India as a global manufacturing hub requires the industry to adopt innovative technologies. Digitalization can give the Indian industry an impetus to deliver products and services that match global standards, thereby getting access to global markets.

The policy, thus far, has received a favourable response as global tech giants have either set up or are in the process of setting up hi-tech manufacturing plants in India. Siemens, for instance, is helping companies in India gain a competitive advantage by integrating industry-specific software applications that optimise performance across the entire value chain.

The Digital Enterprise is Siemens’ solution portfolio for the digitalization of industries. It comprises of powerful software and future-proof automation solutions for industries and companies of all sizes. For the discrete industries, the Digital Enterprise Suite offers software and hardware solutions to seamlessly integrate and digitalize their entire value chain – including suppliers – from product design to service, all based on one data model. The result of this is a perfect digital copy of the value chain: the digital twin. This enables companies to perform simulation, testing, and optimization in a completely virtual environment.

The process industries benefit from Integrated Engineering to Integrated Operations by utilizing a continuous data model of the entire lifecycle of a plant that helps to increase flexibility and efficiency. Both offerings can be easily customized to meet the individual requirements of each sector and company, like specific simulation software for machines or entire plants.

Siemens has identified projects across industries and plans to upgrade these industries by connecting hardware, software and data. This seamless integration of state-of-the-art digital technologies to provide sustainable growth that benefits everyone is what Siemens calls ‘Ingenuity for Life’.

Case studies for technology-led changes

An example of the implementation of digitalization solutions from Siemens can be seen in the case of pharma major Cipla Ltd’s Kurkumbh factory.

Cipla needed a robust and flexible distributed control system to dispense and manage solvents for the manufacture of its APIs (active pharmaceutical ingredients used in many medicines). As part of the project, Siemens partnered with Cipla to install the DCS-SIMATIC PCS 7 control system and migrate from batch manufacturing to continuous manufacturing. By establishing the first ever flow Chemistry based API production system in India, Siemens has helped Cipla in significantly lowering floor space, time, wastage, energy and utility costs. This has also improved safety and product quality.

In yet another example, technology provided by Siemens helped a cement plant maximise its production capacity. Wonder Cement, a greenfield project set up by RK Marbles in Rajasthan, needed an automated system to improve productivity. Siemens’ solution called CEMAT used actual plant data to make precise predictions for quality parameters which were previously manually entered by operators. As a result, production efficiency was increased and operators were also freed up to work on other critical tasks. Additionally, emissions and energy consumption were lowered – a significant achievement for a typically energy intensive cement plant.

In the case of automobile major, Mahindra & Mahindra, Siemens’ involvement involved digitalizing the whole product development system. Siemens has partnered with the manufacturer to provide a holistic solution across the entire value chain, from design and planning to engineering and execution. This includes design and software solutions for Product Lifecycle Management, Siemens Technology for Powertrain (STP) and Integrated Automation. For Powertrain, the solutions include SINUMERIK, SINAMICS, SIMOTICS and SIMATIC controls and drives, besides CNC and PLC-controlled machines linked via the Profinet interface.

The above solutions helped the company puts its entire product lifecycle on a digital platform. This has led to multi-fold benefits – better time optimization, higher productivity, improved vehicle performance and quicker response to market requirements.

Siemens is using its global expertise to guide Indian industries through their digital transformation. With the right technologies in place, India can see a significant improvement in design and engineering, cutting product development time by as much as 30%. Besides, digital technologies driven by ‘Ingenuity for Life’ can help Indian manufacturers achieve energy efficiency and ensure variety and flexibility in their product offerings while maintaining quality.


The above examples of successful implementation of digitalization are just some of the examples of ‘Ingenuity for Life’ in action. To learn more about Siemens’ push to digitalize India’s manufacturing sector, see here.

This article was produced on behalf of Siemens by the marketing team and not by the editorial staff.