By Bishakh Som. Published by The Feminist Press at the City University of New York.
Softcover, 250 pages, Monochrome and Colour, 2020.
Winner of the 2020 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Graphic Novel
Winner of the 2021 Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ Comics
Finalist for the 2021 Ferro-Grumley Literary Award for LGBTQ Fiction
The eight delightfully eerie stories in Apsara Engine are a subtle intervention into everyday reality: a woman drowns herself in a past affair, a tourist chases another guest into an unforeseen past, and a nonbinary academic researches postcolonial cartography. Imagining diverse futures and rewriting old mythologies, these comics delve into strange architectures, fetishism, and heartbreak.
Painted in rich sepia-toned watercolors, Apsara Engine is Bishakh Som's highly anticipated debut work of fiction. Showcasing a series of fraught, darkly humorous, and seemingly alien worlds—which ring all too familiar—Som captures the weight of twenty-first-century life as we hurl ourselves forward into the unknown.
"Som's imagination is science-fictiony, without being particularly technological, mythic without being particularly traditional, and humanistic without cherishing any particular assumptions about where we, as a species, are headed. . . . Evading standard categories and unsettling familiar narrative patterns, the book is a testament to how trans experiences can teach us entirely new ways of imagining our humanity." —NPR.org
"In ways that should be obvious by now, queer people, trans people, need lives that look and feel unlike the lives we grew up knowing: we need lives whose geographies, whose economies, permit us to become ourselves. . . . Apsara Engine begins to envision them." —The Georgia Review
“Much like a map, Som’s novel opens up a portal and lets us imagine all the places it could take us to.” —Hyperallergic
"Provocative. . . . Som is a master of pacing, letting the emotion of her scenes churn and roil in the reader; her debut heralds the rise of new talent to watch." —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Richly hued, gorgeously lettered, and often exquisitely detailed, Som's work, the writing as well the art, presents a brave new world of diverse women—talking, dancing, dreaming, plotting—living among friends, lovers, and chimerical creatures, in familiar cities and faraway landscapes, balancing the expectantly mundane with the utterly fantastical." —Booklist, starred review
“Som has created a collection of short stories that dance between genres and identities, moving from incisive descriptions of modern social realities to poetic ruminations on the future. This anthology by an up-and-coming comics superstar, which centers queer and trans South Asian narratives, is precisely what we need right now.” —them.
"It would be too simple to call these stories utopian or surreal or culturally critical or a triumph of imagination. They are all these things, and a challenge to established understandings of space, on page and in person, as well. Apsara Engine is a gorgeous graphic novel, but it is more than that too—it is an imagination of an expansive future recorded in expansive pages." —Rain Taxi
“Bishakh Som’s debut graphic story collection. . . . conjures up shape-shifting global cities, erupting with queer intimacies and witty banter in eight eerie and tender stories.” —The Rumpus
“One of visual literature’s most sublime scribes.” —HiLobrow
"An astonishing collection of stories that expand and pulse into galaxy-sized moments of strangeness and wonder." —Kelly Link, author of Get in Trouble
"Imaginative and poetic, Apsara Engine is powered by a fiercely complex heart. Bishakh Som builds a world in which queer and trans South Asians not only survive, but map the very future. Som is lighting the way forward with a stunning blend of mythology, futurity, and courageous tenderness." —Franny Choi, author of Soft Science
“A sweet mix of late nineteenth-century morals upended by early twenty-first-century juxtapositions, Apsara Engine is a set of uncanny shorts full of uniquely camouflaged and slow-moving yet effective trapdoors. Wish fulfillment is the book's true engine but—as in ancient tales—wishes are fulfilled in unhappy or muted or at least prickly fashion. Dichotomies—particularly those of gender, or of the global north and south—get less subverted than softly imploded. A welcome blueprint for a side entrance into an only recently imagined utopia.” —Eugene Lim, author of Dear Cyborgs
“Bishakh Som’s comics astonish me with beauty and invention; Apsara Engine opens up the medium to possibilities never before imagined. Luckily, Som has enough imagination for all of us.” —Jason Adam Katzenstein, illustrator of Camp Midnight
“The eight pieces here sprawl far larger than the 200-odd pages that contain them. They slip in and out of time and telling; conversation, seduction, and the fantastic are their method, their object the elusive connections between people. Apsara Engine opens a new comics universe, one painted in the blood of someone incisive and hilarious and warm and intense and brilliant: say yes to it.” —Jeanne Thornton, author of The Black Emerald
"This remarkable book does something rare and exhilarating: the stories the words tell are individual, familiar, and meaningful, but the images take the reader to situations and worlds that are alien, strange, dark, or numinous. Stories like these reveal the limits of what we consider 'realism'—and perhaps more, they remind us that the world is not always what we think it is." —Rachel Pollack, author of The Beatrix Gates