Ambiguity Machines


South Asian edition published by Zubaan Books, click on image to see

Physicist and SF author Singh’s first collection for U.S. readers is a spectacular assembly of work and not to be missed by fans of cutting-edge SF with a deeply human sensibility…
Review in Publishers Weekly

Publishers Introduction

Vandana Singh’s deep humanism interplays with her scientific background in stories that explore and celebrate this world and others and characters who are trying to make sense of the people they meet, what they see, and the challenges they face. An eleventh century poet wakes to find he is as an artificially intelligent companion on a starship. A woman of no account has the ability to look into the past. In “Requiem,” a major new novella, a woman goes to Alaska to try and make sense of her aunt’s disappearance.

Vandana Singh’s poetic collection Ambiguity Machines: And Other Stories is as ambitious and cerebral as the various experiments her scientist characters embark on. The stories are full of the musings of these scientist-philosophers as they navigate relationships, grief and the space-time continuum — fitting, as Singh herself is a physicist. “A Handful of Rice,” told in the cadence of a biblical tale, explores the friendship of two men after one becomes a powerful king. “Are You Sannata 3159?” is like the darkest “Black Mirror” plot, about a young boy who follows his hunch that the new slaughterhouse that has brought jobs and food into town is more than it seems. “Ruminations of an Alien Tongue” is a trippy look at how people are connected across time and universes, how they remain familiar even as they change. There’s a wonderful discordance between the cool, reflective quality of Singh’s prose and the colorful imagery and powerful longing in her narratives. Singh’s final novella — exclusive to this collection — has no finality to it. It’s a new beginning.
Review in Washington Post

For all the book’s diversity, though, a few signal traits stand out. Like Ursula K. Le Guin, Ms. Singh is drawn to scientists, and her speculative worlds are often fleshed out through field reports and research abstracts. . . . The capstone to this hopeful, enriching collection is the small masterpiece ‘Requiem,’ set in Alaska in a future scarred by climate change and dominated by massive tech corporations. A university student named Varsha has gone to a polar outpost to collect the effects of her aunt Rima, a brilliant scientist and engineer who died while researching whales. There Varsha witnesses a whale migration herself, and it’s this miraculous encounter amid the increasingly artificial world that reaffirms the ‘tenuous, temporal bridge between being and being.’ The more mechanized our future, Ms. Singh suggests, the more precious our connections with the living will be.
Sam Sacks at Wall Street Journal

The novella original to the collection, ‘Requiem,’ comes at the question of life, connection, and the near-future of our planet by putting Indian and Native Alaskan cultures into conversation among the backdrop of a rising tide of White Nationalism in America. Singh’s story of a woman coming to retrieve her much-beloved aunt’s personal and research materials from a far-north research facility is rich, dense, and balanced in its handling of grief as well as its argument about whales, humans, and the languages that can connect us all
Review BY Brit MAndelo in TOR.COM

There is immense beauty and aching longing to be found in these stories. Singh’s gorgeous prose and high-concept ideas clasp hands like perfectly compatible lovers, putting her on par with some of our finest living writers of SFF and “literary” cross-genre short fiction, such as Ted Chiang and Carmen Maria Machado.”
Indrapramit Das in The Scroll

The stories include a fair share of spaceships, slaughterhouses, nanoplagues and alien races, but with each one the author is trying to create an ambiguity machine that defies and blurs the usual narrative and genre structures. The messiness of the term experimentation doesn’t properly define what Singh has done with these stories. There’s a specificity to her genre bending that garners the readers trust. She is also a master of the captivating first sentence, a talent that caused those feelings of love reported above, who trusts her audience to follow her fierce imagination with minimal expository guideposts. As a teacher of physics she is undoubtedly adept at communicating big ideas with ease and clarity, but how she does so in prose is a wonder. Aspiring writers should consider this collection a conceptual space they need to map and dissect to improve their craft.
Don Kelly in Spectrum Culture

Singh is laying the groundwork attempt to re-write the plots of Chosen Ones, dystopian governments, and self-actualizing hero tropes common to Western literature, where the quest for “the meaning of life” is often seeking a single endpoint, an origin. Singh’s characters wish only to know for the sake of knowing. Life isn’t defined by linear time, it is the richness of experience.”
— Aditya Desai at The Aerogram

Singh often makes even weird science concepts sound like beautiful poetry. The most engaging aspect of this book is her own widely-ranging and visionary imagination, where she merges eastern and western tropes and traditions and even blurs the lines between genres and narrative styles.

Jenny Bhatt in Pop Matters

Singh’s compassionate imagination and storytelling talents are here clearly on display…

Alvaro Zinos-Amaro in Inter Galactic Medicine Show

Exhibiting Ursula K. Le Guin’s prescription for hard times, the voice of this visionary writer explores alternative ways to live and offers hope, joining other ‘realists of a larger reality.’ The takeaway from Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories is: We are all story. Vandana Singh underscores the ultimate point that stories make the world and the universe has a place for all of them.
Lanie Tankard in The Woven Tale

A delicate touch and passionately humanist sensibilities sweep through this magnificent collection, which ranges from the near future of our world to eras far away in space and time. Highlights include “With Fate Conspire,” in which Gargi, taken from slum life because of her ability to use a device which lets her look through time, has more power to influence history than the scientists around her suspect; “Somadeva: A Sky River Sutra,” about an 11th-century Indian poet who has become the companion of a spacefaring folklorist; and “Ambiguity Machines: An Examination,” a story in the form of a test that pushes the limits of narrative by trying to define what is not possible rather than what is. The short piece “Indra’s Web” is more interested in depicting its solar-powered utopia than in plot or characterization, but in general this collection is full of risky experiments that turn out beautifully: colorful, emotionally resonant, and consistently entertaining. Refreshingly for this flavor of SF, the protagonists are often bright, passionate women in middle life, driven by some kind of art or science or cause and in no way defined by their relationships with men. Those not familiar with physicist and SF author Singh (Younguncle Comes to Town) will find this a perfect introduction to her work.
Publishers Weekly

In ‘Wake Rider,’ a young woman faces death in different forms as she also contemplates the possibilities of her life. In ‘Oblivion: A Journey,’ a long-held need for revenge keeps the protagonist striving for life beyond death until the realization sets in that mortality may be the only relief. The heroine of ‘Requiem’ travels to Alaska a year after her aunt’s disappearance, seeking answers. All of the stories here feature characters who are trying to discover the nature of their existence and how their lives connect others. VERDICT Rising star Singh draws on her Indian roots and physics background to bring her first North American collection to readers. Admirers of literary sf will want to read this.
— Library Journal

The best science fiction requires a protagonist who normalizes the fantastic to tell their story. Vandana Singh’s Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories achieves this and more, with a bold collection of stories about fate, worth, and inner magic. . . . From plot to setting to payoff, Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories is a marked achievement in science fiction.
— Foreword Reviews

Interview in March 2018 on the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy, as featured on