A star is born

June 9, 2024

NN Jehangir’s debut re-imagines science fiction with South Asian flair

A star is born


t is not often that a South Asian, especially a Muslim-coded character, is given the central role —as a lost child, angry at a world designed to hate her for who and what she is and the character lays the foundations of a contemporary classic.

Sektor 47 is a stunning, multicultural universe with excellent world-building that expertly plays with multiple genres, weaving them together in a fantastic science fiction tour de force.

The characters are strongly written, memorable and diverse. Each of the main characters has their own agenda. This makes the debut novel a modern classic rather than a generic story. The readers get to meet deadly bounty hunters, enigmatic androids, colourful rogues and lovable scoundrels, as well as a refreshing new take on an imperialist superpower, the tyrannical Grand Design.

Writing hard-boiled science fiction is not easy. Past of the challenge is to immerse the readers in a story world that is entirely fantastical. Once the challenge has been overcome, the reward can be satisfying.

The story telling reflects Jehangir’s knowledge and love of the science fiction classics and masters like Isaac Asimov, Ursula Le Guin and HG Wells. The unique South Asian flavour the author adds to this wonderful story is the icing on the cake. The engaging plot also has other elements: a pinch of heist, a dash of street crime and a dollop of emotion.

Books like Sektor 47 shine on account of the author’s courage to break the mould. Not many South Asian writers have taken up the challenge of writing modern science fiction. NN Jehangir had made an admirable start. It appears that a lot can be expected from him over the coming days and years.

Sektor 47 tells the story of an orphaned child, Saida. This is one of the rare helpless orphans who grows into a hero. The narrative unfolds across two timelines: one featuring Saida growing around Uncle Abbas, and the other where Saida is trying to rescue Uncle Abbas. Saida’s world is cruel. It is ruled by the oppressive Redcloaks who control natives like Saida and Uncle Abbas using electric batons.

Sektor 47 is a stunning, multicultural universe with excellent world-building that expertly plays with multiple genres, weaving them together in a fantastic science fiction tour de force.

Oppression, poverty and hunger are common; human rights are not acknowledged, and the evil of colonisation is evident. This book doubles as a powerful critique of imperialism. Some readers might notice parallels with the Palestine-Israel dynamics. Fans of series like Firefly and Battlestar Galactica will enjoy the book for its Space Western theme. The characterisation is top-notch.

For fictional characters to be relatable, they have to be grounded in reality and believable. NN Jehangir has achieved this almost effortlessly.

What drives Saida is her love for Uncle Abbas. She is restless and single-minded in her resolution to find a way out for Uncle Abbas from their home planet. Building a story world that readers can understand and relate to is always important; for science fiction, it is absolutely essential. Without a convincing world, science fiction falls flat. The world that Saida inhabits is not only convincing but also compelling. This keeps the readers on the edge of their seats.

While the narrative alternates between past and present, Jehangir skillfully brings both narratives to a crescendo. There are so few science fiction/ fantasy writers in Pakistan that it is necessary for us to read and support them all.

Sektor 47 is a five-star read. I finished it in a single sitting.

Sektor 47

Author: NN Jehangir

Publisher: The Book Guild Publishing, 2024

Pages: 320

The reviewer is the author of In the Company of Strangers, No Honour and Someone Like Her

A star is born