Lots of good news in the year since my last post. Most recently, McSweeney’s Grand 50th Issue will feature my short story “Forty-two Reasons Your Girlfriend Works for the FBI, NSA, ICE, S.H.I.E.L.D., Fringe Division, Men in Black, or Cylon Overlords,” alongside works by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Jonathan Lethem, Sherman Alexie, Patton Oswalt, Lydia Davis, Heidi Julavits, and more. I’m reading from the story at the NY launch on Sept. 12. This momentous issue of McSweeney’s comes out Aug. 29, but pre-order it now – I hear it’s running out. The story is winner of the McSweeney’s Student Short Story contest and first appeared in Buffalo Almanack, where it won the Inkslinger Award for best of the Dec. 2015 Issue.
At Poet’s Country, my essay “Property, Power, and Law in ‘the New Dimension,” appears opposite an interview with Judith Butler by Sam O’Hana in the July 2017 issue. My piece is a critical essay on space law and global economic equality, pointing policymakers and academics toward the importance of legal history in resolving contemporary legal quandaries.
My first peer-reviewed publication, “Space Law, Shariʿa, and the Legal Place of a Scientific Enterprise: The Case for a Parallel Challenge of Sovereignty,” appeared in Comparative Islamic Studies. The article is on space law, shari’a, and global governance in public international law. I suspect it’s more provocative (read: entertaining [read: titillating]) than academically rigorous. This was based on research related to shari’a with Wael Hallaq at Columbia’s Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies Department and my attendance at the 2nd Manfred Lachs Conference on Global Space Governance at McGill, where I was delighted and surprised to find questions about sovereignty that resonated with concerns surrounding shari’a‘s modern context. I’m also satisfied with my critique of legal pluralism and of naysayers of Hallaq’s contentions. I hope, if the rest of the paper is merely titillating, this perspective, and its implications for thinking about global, religious, and technological questions in law, will serve some future use. But feel free to critique my claims.
I published an essay, “Hal: Delayed Reflections on Jim Jarmusch and Talal Asad,” in The New Inquiry, on political solutionism, Foucault’s heterotopia, and vampires. This followed a brief reflection, “Waking Up in Trump’s America,” in which The New Inquiry asked writers and friends to share their reactions to election night 2016, and The New Inquiry‘s coverage of a PEN America event, “The Changing Faces of Science Fiction and Fantasy,” with Deji Bryce Olukotun and Maria Dahvana Headley (also covered at Black Nerd Problems). I later wrote an essay on Medium about PEN America, “Sleepless in Trumptopia: PEN America, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Anders Breivik & the Left’s Freedom to Hate,” which Aisha Ghani now teaches in her course, “The Muslim Other: A History of Orientalism from Antiquity to the 2016 U.S. Elections,” at Stanford University’s Anthropology Department.
I presented a paper, “God, secularism, and terminology in the letters between al-Biruni and Ibn Sina: a case in the historiography and history of ‘Islamic science’” (Cambridge MPhil research), at Columbia University’s 2017 MESAAS Graduate Conference, with discussant Najam Haider, student moderator Aseel Najib, and panelists Ossama Obdelgawwad and Sadegh Ansari. The paper was based on M.Phil. research in History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge, under the supervision of Liba Taub and Tony Street.
In other academic news, Cambridge sociologist Peter Dickens cites my Cambridge M.Phil. dissertation in History and Philosophy of Science (Space Crystals and “Outer Window on the World”, under the supervision of Richard Staley) in his article, “Astronauts at Work: The Social Relations of Space Travel” in Monthly Review, the longest continuously published socialist in the magazine in the U.S. (previous authors include Albert Einstein, W.E.B. Du Bois, Isabel Allende, Tariq Ali). And Tracy Tiemeier teaches my debut book Technologies of the Self in her theology course, “The Sacred, Sinister, and Strange,” at Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts-Loyola University.
At Skin Deep, Lina Abushouk interviewed me about writing assholes, Muslim protagonists, Talal Asad, and space demons. Skin Deep also republished my short story “Jedi Night” in their “Imagining 2043” issue. The story previously appeared in The Best Teen Writing of 2011. I have another interview with Nadia Eldemerdash at Creative Quibble.
My essay, “Why Science Fiction Matters to Life in the Postcolony,” was republished by Out-Spoken Press in From the Lines of Dissent, a collection of Media Diversified‘s most popular essays. Christina Scholz cited the essay in her paper presentation, “Ariekene Socio-Psycholinguistics and Postcolonial Awareness in China Miéville’s Embassytown,” at Lancaster University’s 2016 Global Fantastika Conference.
My novelette Champollion’s Foot just appeared in the April-June 2017 issue of Mithila Review. It’s a far future space opera about failed rebels from a planet of Dominican Muslims who discover alien shit (not a colloquialism) in deep space, with jinn. It is told from 11 perspectives and draws from Feynman’s Lectures on Physics, George Saliba’s work in history of science and ramblings about psychological colonization, and Islamic theology.
I need to thank the mentors, friends, and colleagues without whom Champollion’s Foot would never have seen the light of day; their constructive criticism and unbridled passion for the story gave me the drive to persevere with the story, weirdness and all. First and foremost, I am insurmountably grateful to John Crowley for his sage and irreplaceable guidance and for his abundant enthusiasm for the project, pushing me in ways beyond even the story itself. As I struggled to refine and publish it, John remained steadfast, telling me: “It’s a story and a world that deserves to be read.” I also need to thank Ryan Tyler for his comments on early drafts and for memorable words of encouragement that kept me going. Chris Owen and Will Waller for their generosity in reviewing later drafts and for their confidence in the story. James Hannaham for his valuable critiques on early drafts and for defending the plausibility of a far future society of Dominican Muslims against some of my peers’ confusion about how such a thing could come to be (Dominican Muslims?! In space?! What in the universe?!). My fellow workshoppers at the 2013 Yale Writers Conference (Hia Chakraborty, Michelle Pucci Giles, Meghan McLeroy, Natasha Patel, and more; also, Taimur T. Malik for recommending that I apply) and at the Columbia Creative Writing Department (Katy Olson, Andrea García-Vargas, and more). Priom Ahmed, Sauleha Kamal, Aneem Talukder, and Maliha Tariq for comments on other versions of the piece. Usman Malik for his advice on placing the story. And last but not least, Salik Shah for his sharp editing and passionate curation; hat-tip to Champollion in space with side-eye (damn those French imperialists!). I also need to thank friends for lending me their invaluable technical expertise: Mansur Ghani and Jihad Jabban for our long correspondences working out the (inorganic) biochemistry of the titular “disease” in the contexts of inorganic biology, Feynman’s ruminations on left-handed alanines, and ice XI. And Muneeb Alam for our correspondences on the physics of dark matter, debris, and interstellar travel.
I also spoke at NYU for the Third Annual Indo-American Arts Festival, on “Family Dynamics,” with Sriram Balasubramaniam and Veena Talwar Oldenburg. In anticipation of the festival, India Abroad published an excerpt from Technologies of the Self. After my talk, one of the organizers approached me and told me that, a few days ago, while apartment hunting, she happened to meet a Dominican man. She soon discovered that he was married to an Indian woman. They had a daughter. Later, the organizer and the man began to part their separate ways. And then, suddenly remembering, she ran back to him and told him about my book. She got his contact and sent him info about it. He was ecstatic and ordered it for his kid. The organizer told me she hopes that, for that man’s daughter, reading a story with someone like her as the protagonist will shape her outlook on the world and her confidence in herself and her indentity(-ies) as she grows up. … This was the first time I have gotten a response like this about the book. I am never quite sure who my audience will be, but it is for moments like this that I write. I encourage other writers not to despair – don’t write a universal story. Write your story. Someone out there will dig it.