Rati Mehrotra Talks about “Markswoman”, Math, and the Mahabharata
Speculative fiction has long imagined dystopias and post-apocalyptic worlds where the ruins of long-gone civilizations mingle with everyday elements of life that we more readily recognize. Today’s interview is with Rati Mehrotra, the author of Markswoman, a novel that takes these SFnal elements and plays with them in new ways.
Most notably, Markswoman takes place in a post-apocalyptic version of Central and South Asia. I’ve written about other books set in similar locations, but Mehrotra’s debut — the first book in a YA duology — takes readers down a road that may be less familiar than others.
Today’s interview, which was conducted over email, gives us a taste of the book and discusses her creative process. Markswoman was released by Harper Voyager on January 23, 2018.
Me: Can you give a quick summary of what Markswoman is about, for the uninitiated? What themes in the book resonate to you the most?
Rati Mehrotra: Markswoman is set in an alternative, post-apocalyptic version of Asia, 850 years after a Great War has destroyed a very advanced civilization. The only remnants of that civilization are the Transport Hubs, and the lore of the Ones — aliens that came to Earth and left, long before the war. Against this backdrop is the story of Kyra and Rustan: elite warriors tasked with upholding the peace and meteing out justice.
Me: What was the seed that inspired the story?
RM: Markswoman was born of my fascination with stories of the Goddess Kali. What if there was a group of women devoted to her worship, women who wielded the power of life and death over others in a post-apocalyptic world? And thinking of this, I had my world and my main character — Kyra Veer, the youngest Markswoman in the Order of Kali, an orphan with a burning need for revenge.
Me: In a recent article published on Unbound Worlds, you talked about how the Ramayana and Mahabharata contain elements that today would be considered very SFnal, or predictive of today’s technology. How has that influenced the technology shown in Markswoman? For example, do the katari blades have a basis in Hindu lore?
RM: Not particularly. In form and shape, the kataris are inspired by the Jamdhar Katari of the Hindukush. The kalashiks are inspired by Kalashnikovs, the most common assault rifle in Asia. As for their being sentient, I have no clue where that came from. The world, as I have built it, reflects my multiple loves and influences — mythology, science fiction, secondary world fantasy, and post-apocalyptic literature.
That said, the Goddess Kali is almost always depicted with sword and dagger. The central cavern of the caves of Kali (home of the Order of Kali) is covered with ancient paintings of the Goddess vanquishing demons with various weapons. Hatha kala, the style of fighting unique to the Order, was inspired by these depictions.
Me: What was your path to publication like? Can you tell me more about the editorial team that you worked with?
RM: My path to publication was long and hard. I started writing this book eight years ago. While I knew my world and characters quite intimately, I did not yet know my craft. I revised my manuscript over and over again, based on feedback received from beta readers. At the same time, I started writing short fiction and joined a writing group. This helped me improve my writing no end. I queried many agents, and was rejected by dozens, before I found Mary C. Moore, who got me my book deal with Harper Voyager. They asked me to submit a revised version of Markswoman and turn my proposed trilogy into a duology. I then made significant changes based on feedback from my editor at Harper Voyager, Priyanka Krishnan, and all of them have made the book much stronger.
Me: I love the fact that math plays a role in Markswoman, particularly the use of prime numbers. What was the origin of that element in the story? Hell, where did you manage to find such a lovely set of prime numbers for your pyramid?
RM: Primes — numbers that are only divisible by 1 and themselves – are the most fundamental numbers. They are the building blocks of number theory. Every number greater than one can be expressed as a product of primes. Primality is independent of the numbering system, and mathematics is the universal language of the universe. My theory is that the Ones used Primes for their codes long before they came to Asiana. On Earth, they adapted to the numbering system used by humans – base of 10 – and our writing conventions.
I found the pyramid of primes at http://primes.utm.edu/ – a fascinating site run by Professor Chris Caldwell. He advised me that the correct reference is: G. L. Honaker, Jr. and C. Caldwell, “Palindromic prime pyramids,” J. Recreational Math., 30:3 (1999-2000)”
Me: What would you say is your favourite moment in the book, either to write or to read aloud?
RM: My favorite moment is when Kyra finally confronts Tamsyn. A lot of different threads come together at this point. I deeply enjoyed writing it. But I never read it aloud, because it comes near the end of the book and would be a total spoiler.
Me: You’ve mentioned elsewhere that the Asiana books are a duology, What can readers expect in the sequel?
RM: Readers can expect their most burning questions to be answered! And some new surprises…
Way to leave us on a cliffhanger, Rati! Markswoman is available online as an eBook and in stores now.