21 April 2011

Reviews, reviews, reviews

Geek Nation has been out for about six weeks now in the UK and a couple of weeks in India, where it has hit number one in the bestseller lists. And the reviews are still coming in. One of the nicest arrived in my inbox today from Mumbai's Business Standard: "She’s not starry-eyed, doesn’t mind burning a few formidable bridges for the sake of truth and always takes facts with a fistful of salt... At a time when science writing is beset by arid literature, Saini’s writing gives her already interesting premise a masterful and penetrating feel." Meanwhile, The Hindu, which is one of my favourite Indian newspapers, wrote (along with a really embarrassing photo of me looking sweaty and pink): "In these days of quick reading and one-dimensional plots, Geek Nation comes as a breath of fresh air. It's a combination of substance and style, of fact, fiction and storytelling to make for some wonderful reading."

In the past I've blogged about stories in the brilliant E&T Magazine, so I was thrilled that they also gave Geek Nation a rave review: "In a pithy, engaging and radiant style, Saini synthesises the various cultural, historical, psychological factors which in part explains India's resurgence as a centre of engineering and scientific excellence." Finally, Wanderlust magazine, which is for adventurous travelling types, has reviewed both my book and Brian Clegg's brilliantly fascinating Inflight Science and given us both four stars. Plus if you buy the latest issue or enter online, you can win one of five copies of Geek Nation.

If you'd like to see some of the other reviews and coverage then keep an eye on the books page of my website. And also feel free to leave comments and pictures on the Facebook group (326 fans and counting). I love seeing your messages!

(The photograph above is from the beautiful blog of Akeela Bhattay)

Science fiction's new world

I love the show dearly, but one thing that has always bothered me about Star Trek is why the Federation is so American. If it's set in the future, wouldn't it make more sense for it to be overwhelmingly Chinese? Of course this reflects how much of a tight grip Hollywood has on our cultural visions of the future... but it looks as though that's already changing. Jonathan Wright has written an eye-opening piece for The Independent today about how an increasing number of science fiction novels are being based in emerging nations, including Zoo City by Lauren Beukes (South Africa) and The Dervish House (Turkey) by Ian McDonald.

Jonathan included an interview with me for the story, partly because Geek Nation looks at the future of Indian science but also because some of the technologies I describe in the book are particularly weird and occasionally dystopian (in other words, potential science fiction fodder). There are, for example, Hindu scholars trying to prove that interplanetary flying machines existed thousands of years ago, a private company building a city of the future in the remote Western Ghats, and a renegade engineer who claims to have built a truth machine.

Interestingly, while on tour last week I did notice that science fiction and fantasy by Indian authors seems to be attracting more readers than ever. New novel, The Immortals of Melhua by Amish Tripathi, is a bestseller, and Samit Basu's recent book about technological superheroes, Turbulence, was also a hit. Graphic novels are already so popular that India is hosting its second annual Comic Con next February (by the way, if the organisers are reading this, I would love an invite). Maybe one day we may even see a movie with an Asian woman at the helm of a starship... Bollywood, can you hear me?

(The picture above is of Indian superstar Rajinikanth in last year's hit Tamil sci-fi film, The Robot)

20 April 2011

Want to be a science writer?

When I wanted to become a journalist, it was still a good time to be a journalist. Newspapers and broadcasters were hiring, and I was very lucky to get a paid traineeship with ITN that launched me on the road to professional happiness. Sadly, we don't live in those golden times anymore. If you want to get a job as a reporter these days, you need to stand out from the crowd.

That's why I encourage all aspiring science writers who are trapped in a lab or lecture room somewhere to enter a new competition launched by The Guardian, The Observer and Wellcome Trust, which asks you to write an 800-word article on almost any scientific topic you like. There are some tips on how to get started on the Guardian Science blog. It's open to anyone who isn't already a published writer and winning entries will appear in the paper. It's a brilliant opportunity. The deadline is 20 May, so get writing!

17 April 2011

Bengaluru and Hyderabad

Well, the India book tour is over. Sad though I am, it has been a really tiring couple of weeks. And now, nine events, dozens of press interviews and gazillions of signed books later, I'm back off to London tomorrow.

Bengaluru was the big one on my itinerary because it features so heavily in Geek Nation. I gave two talks to the staff at the enormous offices of Tata Consultancy Services (they have 28,000 employees in the city!), followed by a packed-out event at the British Library that featured me in conversation with the fabulously geeky Samhita Arni (a real-life child prodigy, who wrote her first book at the age of twelve). I know I shouldn't have, but I used the opportunity to vent about a particularly sexist reporter from The Week magazine who had told me last week that I had "the profile of a chick-lit author" (not sure whether that's because of my engineering degree or my years as a serious journalist...). On the whole, though, reporters here have been lovely, and if you'd like to see some of the brilliant coverage and reviews check out my website.

Last night took me to Hyderabad for a book event at the Saptaparni Theatre in Banjara Hills (picture above). It's a beautiful spot but, unluckily for me, it was also outdoors... which meant a feasting session for the mosquitoes. I was in conversation with the famous Indian bioscientist, Dr P M Bhargava and the writer Chandana Chakrabarti, who once both co-authored a book about post-Independence science in India, which is now out of print. This is the first time I've been able to get the reaction of the Indian science elite, and so it came as a relief that they loved Geek Nation. Chandana said she managed to zip through two-thirds of it in a day. But to be honest, I was so busy scratching my leg that I missed a lot of what else happened.

So finally, thanks to all of you who came out to see me over the last fortnight. I've had a blast, and am so happy to see Geek Nation appearing on bestseller lists across India. I promise I'll be back soon! If you would like to stay updated on other events around the world, please join the Facebook group (315 fans and counting).

14 April 2011

Geek Nation in Kolkata

I'm halfway through my mammoth book tour of India and the latest stop was the magnificently old-world city of Kolkata. Bengalis are famous for being philosophical, literary types, but we wanted to nerd things up a bit so the Geek Nation launch was held last night in the Birla Planetarium, which is India's first and largest planetarium. We had around a hundred people turn up to hear me in conversation with science fiction fan and academic Rimi Chatterjee, including the UK's Deputy High Commissioner. Again, loads of great questions and kind comments. I've been particularly happy at how many women geeks have been turning up to all the events, especially doctors. If you want to know more, there's a nice account of the evening in The Telegraph.

I have fallen in love with this city. But no literary visit to Kolkata would be complete without a walk down College Street... a madcap corner filled with book stalls and hole-in-the-wall publishers, mainly selling science textbooks. Meanwhile at the classier end of town, I was a little weirded out by a cardboard cutout of me right in the entrance of the plush Crossword bookstore. Head there if you'd like an autographed copy and don't forget to say hello to the two-dimensional Angela (the three-dimensional Angela will thank you later).

The next stop is Bengaluru. Yes, dork central. I'll be giving talks at Tata Consultancy Services and one for the public at the British Library at 7pm on Friday 15th April. See you there!

10 April 2011

Getting geeky in Chennai

Chennai has to be on my list of all-time favourite cities: lush green, billboard-free and architecture that takes your breath away. And as stop two on the Geek Nation tour of India, it gave me a welcome I didn't expect. The Chennai Superkings were playing in a big IPL match on Friday night and yet we managed to pack out the room for the book launch, above. The comments were fabulous and the questions were clever. I was also very lucky to be interviewed for an hour on India's only radio book show on 104.8FM ChennaiLive and also for the books show on NDTV Hindu (tune in on Sunday for this one, and that's me with the lovely presenter Anuradha Ananth below, or watch the video on YouTube).

On Saturday night I spoke to the members of the Madras Club, which is a beautiful old building next to the river. Sadly, the microphones made me sound like a robot and the mosquitoes took full advantage of my bare ankles. Other than that, the cheese toast was great and the club gave me a book voucher.

There have been some lovely reviews of Geek Nation out this week too, in The Sunday Indian and Mumbai Boss. Next stop is Kolkata. If you happen to be in the vicinity of the Birla Planetarium on Wednesday evening at 6.30pm then you can hear more about the book and meet little ole me.

7 April 2011

Geek Nation launches in Delhi

Last night saw the big launch of Geek Nation in India, hosted by the British Council in New Delhi and my wonderful publishers here, Hachette India. Spirits were high because the book has been on the bestseller charts for two weeks already, based on pre-orders, and is the book of the month at Crossword stores. And spirits were even higher because I was in conversation with the wonderfully sharp yet sometimes controversial journalist and onetime maths geek, Hartosh Singh Bal (fortunately for me, he really did enjoy the book). If you're curious for more details, there was a write-up of the event in The Sunday Indian.

It has been amazing to return to Delhi after the Commonwealth Games. The city looks beautifully clean, the roads wide open again and Connaught Place is polished up like a groom on his wedding day. I've spent the last week doing interviews with the press, visiting bookstores (I bumped into Lord Meghnad Desai at Bahrisons in Khan Market, who told me he had already bought my book... see the photo above!) and being weirded out by cardboard cutouts of myself which have been strategically placed in bookish locations all over the city. I was also very lucky to give a talk to the brilliant students of the British School in Chanakyapuri, who donned masks in the shape of the spectacle machine on the Geek Nation cover. To see pictures of this and all the other happenings so far, you'll have to join the Facebook group, where they will go up tomorrow.

I have to sleep now because I'm up bright and early in the morning to catch a flight to the next stop on the tour, Chennai.

1 April 2011

Geek Nation in The Independent

There is a wonderful review of Geek Nation in The Independent newspaper today by the historian Chandak Sengoopta. The highlights: "Saini has produced an eye-opening survey of scientists in today's India. It shows in meticulous detail that, pockets of excellence notwithstanding, the overall state of Indian science and technology continues to be dispiriting... Engagingly written and remarkably objective, Geek Nation shatters many myths while not discouraging guarded optimism."

If you'd like to check out other reviews and recent press coverage, travel to my website. Plus, don't forget that Geek Nation is available on Kindle as well as traditional old paper (a friend of mine sent me a picture of himself holding his copy, above). And please, readers, keep your feedback coming. I love to get your nerdy emails!