Mithila is a glorious kingdom ruled by philosopher kings in the Sanskrit epic Ramayana. Millennia later, say in an alternate universe, it’s a decolonized terrain beset with intolerance and violence, a symbol of a civilization in decline.
Science fiction and fantasy that draws its power from actual science and history—a scientific spirit based on evidence, logic and rationality—could be a fluid and powerful language of protest in the new era of demagogues; science fiction could be a new language of awakening and enlightenment in the post-truth world. This was the core belief around which Ajapa and I built Mithila Review, a new kind of open journal with an inherently global bent in an increasing privatized and closed world.
Mithila Review grew out of our innermost fears, needs and concerns. We wanted to counter the growing climate of hate and injustice that surround us, and we knew we couldn’t do it alone, from an invisible, electrified patch of our planet. From the beginning, it was self-evident that we couldn’t hope to win against our enemy—the ideology of segregation and hate—without recognizing, addressing, or overcoming the many differences within and outside SF communities.
We chose to stubbornly believe that Mithila, as a referent, could speak to the times when we have felt that we don’t quite belong; when we liberated our anger and pain in ways that have fed the creative river within us. It’s been deeply gratifying to see that we were not wrong in our belief. Flash-forward a year, Mithila Review is a beautiful example of what we can accomplish together; it’s the result of a global mindset and collective effort. With contributors from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas, Mithila Review has evolved into a global platform for a spectacular gamut of humanity—not a single language, gender or race, its singular tribes or colorful nationalities.
Science fiction and fantasy can educate and inform us about the world and the ways that we live today; it can prepare us for the incremental advances and interventions to come in personal, social, economic, political and technological spheres. As a student of science fiction and genre cinema, I have always felt an acute need for a responsive and nurturing market for readers and writers of this exciting form of literature in South Asia. Despite our rich heritage, there is a feeling that original science fiction and fantasy is absent from our mainstream culture, its literary and cinematic landscapes.
Mithila Review helped me come out of a phase of idleness, a sabbatical that lasted for almost two years. I’ve often felt out of place, emotionally and intellectually, in the regressive world, and I consider myself extremely lucky to have found a home in the genre. Over the years I’ve drawn immense joy, inspiration and insight from classic and contemporary speculative fiction. And I feel we’re only beginning to realize how a collaborative literary project like Mithila Review could fill a literary and artistic void in the lives of our readers, editors and contributors.
Mithila Review is first and foremost an international community movement. Our Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy group on Facebook includes prominent writers, editors and publishers from around the world, or those with a meaningful connection to the region. As a global community of readers, writers and scholars in the field, we consider ourselves lucky to be able to have some of the world’s best minds on our platform.
Science fiction has always inspired and captivated many generations of scientists and innovators in the West. Today China is the biggest market for science fiction and fantasy, and Chinese scientists are making their presence felt in the world. As an editor and indie publisher, I sincerely hope that Mithila Review attracts, entertains and inspires a new generation of outliers, thinkers and innovators in days to come, one excellent issue at a time.
In our first year of publication, Mithila Review published fiction, poetry, non-fiction or interviews from several award-winning and emerging authors from around the world. With the exception of a few first-time or emerging poets and writers, most of our contributors are “professionals,” each with an impressive, critical and significant body of work. I can’t tell how much I value their contribution and support; I’ll remain forever grateful to each one of them for their excellent work.
Every month we receive hundreds of submissions from around the world. Our average response time was about a week, but it’s increasing now due to the volume of submissions. As I am returning to a full-time career soon, we’re seeking volunteers to help our small team—which is comprised of Ajapa Sharma, Isha Karki and me at the moment—with many aspects of running a high-quality literary journal.
There isn’t a single moment when I am not hyperaware that we are taking more from this community than we could give it back right now. And we desperately want to strike a balance by raising funds to pay semi to pro rates defined by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association of America (SFWA). I don’t think we can lay a strong foundation for a vibrant literary culture in any part of the world without being highly professional and up-to-date in how we work and collaborate. Any new publication that enters the field must find ways to match the professional pay rates enjoyed by contributors to the speculative journals in America to ensure they get high-quality, excellent submissions.
Starting with Issue 7, which came out in January 2017, we are paying some of our contributors with the limited funding we have. While we’re still far from reaching our Patreon goal, we are energized by the slow but steady show of support from our readers and patrons. Unfortunately, we couldn’t pay our contributors for the first six issues, but we are now paying semi-pro to pro rates for original fiction and poetry thanks to our Patreon supporters. (We’ve had to turn down funding from established regional publishers since we didn’t want to lock Mithila Review behind a pay wall.)
We want excellent, powerful, personal stories with real science and magic. And we often publish stories from minority or underrepresented groups within the field—all of which go through a rigorous editing process. The best way to get a sense of what we publish is to read our existing issues—they are available to read online. American science fiction magazines rely on readers’ patronage to provide access to great content to world citizens, and we don’t want to be any different.
Work published in Mithila Review has been mentioned, excerpted or reviewed by leading writers and editors in the field at diverse venues such as Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld Magazine, Apex Magazine, Kirkus and Wired. As a niche magazine, we attract a lot of science, history and technology nerds from within and outside the academia. Most of our readers come from United States—the center of SF publishing—closely followed by India and the U.K.. China, Russia, Canada, Germany, Singapore, Australia and Nepal are other countries where we are beginning to gain traction.
The best part of my job as an editor is reading submissions from young writers around the world. They are not even sixteen and already so ambitious! I find that very inspiring, and try my best to guide them with personal feedback and encouragement whenever I can. Science fiction is the literature of the future, and we strive to learn daily how to encourage these young and discerning readers from the leading editors in the field.
Starting Mithila Review and the journey so far has been a labor of love, a year of great humility. As indie publishers and editors, we can only do our part and do it well, and pray that the love, encouragement and support we receive from our readers, contributors and patrons grows stronger with time. Magic happens when we are busy reading slush, editing, or creating a new story, designing the next issue. And if we manage to somehow give our readers hope and strength to survive the onslaught of history, its immoral and heinous transgressions, its super villains, then, as a young editor and indie publisher, that’s a rare payoff that I have come to value immensely.
You can read all issues of Mithila Review online for free: http://mithilareview.
Please consider supporting us if you can on Patreon: http://patreon.com/MithilaReview.
Many thanks to Alvaro Zinos-Amaro and the Locus team for having us here!
About the Author
Salik Shah is the founding editor of Mithila Review. His fiction, poetry and non-fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Strange Horizons, Asimov’s and Juggernaut, among other publications. You can find him on Twitter: @salik. Website: salikshah.com