SH Flashback: “Somadeva: A Sky River Sutra,” by Vandana Singh

A new (belated) entry in my weekly Strange Horizons retrospective:

Somadeva: A Sky River Sutra,” by Vandana Singh
A lovely multilayered story about the power of storytelling; about what stories mean; about narrators; about things breaking apart and about fragments coming together to form a whole. (Published in 2010.) (5,400 words.)

In all this, I have drawn on ancient Indic tradition, in which the author is a compiler, an embellisher, an arranger of stories, some written, some told. He fragments his consciousness into the various fictional narrators in order to be a conduit for their tales.

In most ancient works, the author goes a step further: he walks himself whole into the story, like an actor onto the stage.

This is one way I have broken from tradition. I am not, myself, a participant in the stories of the Kathāsaritsāgara. And Isha wants to know why.

(See also the full list of Flashback stories.)

(I meant this to be the Flashback story for two weeks ago, but time got away from me. I hope to catch up soon.)




I've always loved self-reference, and stories that describe themselves, and stories about Story and about storytelling, and narrators who insert themselves into stories, and I think this story does an unusually good job with all of those things. (For example, I was waiting for, and was very pleased by, Vandana's brief insertion of herself or at least her own name into the story.)

I'm also always pleased by stories that point out that, as this one puts it, “These old stories have as many meanings as there are stars in the sky. To assign one single interpretation to them is to miss the point.” And I think this story as a whole also intentionally resists a single interpretation; not only in the uncertainty about which of the narrative strands is “real” to the narrator and which is fiction, but also in the ways that the various fragments of the story can be interpreted in various ways—as physics-based descriptions of reality, as folktales, as reflections of a theme about pieces of things forming larger entities and breaking apart and re-forming, as discussions of relationships among people and the ways that people form connections. I particularly liked this line in that regard:

And so when light falls on water, or a man shoots an arrow at another man, or a mother picks up a child, That Which Was Once Nameless answers a very small part of the question: Who Am I?

So, yes, in the end “[p]erhaps the Kiha are right: stories make the world.”

2 Responses to “SH Flashback: “Somadeva: A Sky River Sutra,” by Vandana Singh”

  1. Vardibidian

    Thank you! I really enjoyed that.

    I have recently found myself wondering, particularly in regard to plays, what sort of thing do I like? That is, there are lots of plays that don’t particularly appeal to me, and others that do, and are there patterns there, such that I might have some sort of sense, when someone tells me about a play, whether I will like it or not. And two of the things that I think I like are (1) plays about stories and storytelling, and (b) plays that admit of a variety of interpretations (by which I mean options for performance, mostly, rather than audience interpretations). Interesting use of language is another, of course. So what I say, this one is pretty much my sweet spot.



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