Calcutta Chromosome: Postcolonial Science Fiction? A look at James Thrall’s Article.

James H. Thrall’s article, “Postcolonial Science Fiction?: Science, Religion, and the Transformation of Genre in Amitav Ghosh’s The Calcutta Chromosome,” uses the novel, The Calcutta Chromosome: a novel of Fevers, Delirium & Discovery by Amitav Ghosh to support his argument that the boundaries of the science fiction genre need to be reconsidered because of the intertwining of religion and science in the novel.  Thrall suggests that there is a new subgenre of science fiction emerging called postcolonial science fiction. Thrall also suggests that Ghosh’s novel raises questions about the nature of knowledge.  The novel seems to reasonably unite Eastern “mysteries” with the standard influence of Western reason, which are usually opposing factors in colonialism. Thralls arguments of a new subgenre and of questioning the nature of knowledge go hand in hand: religion with Eastern “mysteries” and science with Western reason.  Ghosh’s novel, The Calcutta Chromosome unites science with religion and the East with the West creating a new take on science fiction and on postcolonial knowledge.

Thralls article helped me look at Calcutta Chromosome much differently than I had been looking at it while reading.  I didn’t pay much attention to the fact that this novel could be considered a postcolonial novel because even though the story was set in India, it felt like such a western read.  While I was reading I seemed to forget where the novel was even set in the first place.  I was so into the mystery and “detectiveness” of the novel that I also didn’t really consider it to be much of a sci fi type of book.  I would have called this novel a mystery and wouldn’t have even considered a new subgenre of science fiction.

I do agree with James Thralls argument.  After having read his article, it is very clear that this novel is a science fiction novel because of Ava the computer and with the idea of Malaria curing syphilis and all the other crazy stuff that goes on. Thrall is correct in saying that there is a lot of medical ideas in the novel that would be hard for a conventional scientist to accept. I also could not deny that this novel is postcolonial being set in India but also having a western presence because of Phulboni.  Although the ideas that Thrall gives about the east in the West seem a bit stereotypical they cannot be denied.  The East can be seen in this novel through all of the spirituality and mystery and silence etc.  The West is seen as well but by different means like technology and like Thrall continually says, rationality.  We cannot deny the West their spirituality but I would consider Eastern people to be much more spiritual.  I would agree that this novel could be considered a postcolonial science fiction because I wouldn’t just call it science fiction and I wouldn’t just call it postcolonial.

I liked this article after reading it three times.  I found that I had to look up the definition of every other word.  The article was extremely wordy and it took me a while to understand what the argument was.  Once I figured it out, it was very helpful because Calcutta Chromosome, although it is an easy read, it is extremely complex with its past, present, and future.  Thralls article was split into seven parts, which made each of his points a little easier to follow.  I have no reason to discount anything that Thrall argued.


Ghosh, Amitav.  The Calcutta Chromosome: A Novel of Fevers, Delirium & Discovery.

New York: Perennial, 2001.


Thrall, James H. “Postcolonial Science Fiction?: Science, Religion and the

Transformation of Genre in Amitav Ghosh’s The Calcutta Chromosome.”

Literature & Theology 23.3 (2009): 289-302.


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