“Somadeva: A Sky River Sutra,” by Verdana Singh introduces us to Somadeva, who collected many stories into the Kathāsaritsāgara, or Ocean of Stream of Stories. I like these sort of nested stories, with layers upon narrative layers, like the Arabian Nights, or the Saragossa Manuscript. Somadeva tells us that he collected the Kathāsaritsāgara to divert his queen Sūryavati long ago. Now, in this story, he is a ghost in a box, telling stories to Isha in the distant future. Like the traditional collections, “Somadeva” is loosely woven, but instead of layers, it’s more like a pair of nets, one from the future, one from the past, each casting out into the sea of stories and trying to pull the other in. For a while, it seems equally possible that Somadeva is both telling Isha about Sūryavati and Sūryavati about Isha.
There are moments of beauty, and wonderful little stories that Isha collects in her net, as she travels from world to world between the stars. One of them even coins a term that describes exactly how this sort of story tends to run into trouble. There’s too many elements competing for your comprehension, too many self-referential arrows pointing at each other. I enjoyed reading it, and had fun thinking about how all the parts interact, but they never quite settle down. It’s a collection of stories drawn together only by threads of narrative, caught forever in the moment just before it gels into a solid whole.
Installment Two in this year’s Torque Control short story club. (I punted on Installment One.)