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Apsara Engine

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  243 ratings  ·  51 reviews
In turns both fantastical and familiar, this graphic short story collection with South Asian roots is immersed in questions of gender, the body, and existential conformity.

The eight delightfully eerie stories in Apsara Engine/i> are a subtle intervention into everyday reality. A woman drowns herself in a past affair, a tourist chases another guest into an unforeseen past,
Paperback, 250 pages
Published April 14th 2020 by The Feminist Press at CUNY
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Average rating 3.85  · 
Rating details
 ·  243 ratings  ·  51 reviews

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Jenny (Reading Envy)
This was astounding and incredibly moving - I was in tears at one point. All presented in graphic form, these short stories have some shared characters and themes but each is unique. Sometimes the stories don't quite match their images, but in the best way, making a kind of third story.

Relationships, time travel, mythological creatures (some more dangerous than others) that may or may not just be in the mind, queer and trans experience, architecture and this interesting element where there is o
Aug 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a beautiful, strange collection of short comic stories. Almost every one contains a sci-fi or fantasy twist somewhere in it. My favorites were the ones in which these fantastic elements took over the whole story by the end. In "Pleasure Palace", an older Southeast Asian woman on vacation tells a rude young American man a fairy tale, which may or may not be her own tragic past as a queen in exile from her own kingdom, and the death of her female lover. In "Swandive", a nonbinary master's ...more
Rod Brown
Sep 16, 2020 rated it it was ok
I just felt lost for much of this book. The stories are sort of sci-fi, sort of fantasy, but mostly take off in directions that I could not or did not wish to follow. And it's a shame because there were some interesting moments in the middle of several of the tales that had some insight into the human condition and transgender issues before twirling off into the whatever. At the end of almost every tale, I was left wondering either "What just happened?" or "What's the point then?"

I already have
Rep: queer women of color; trans and non-binary characters

Warnings: self-harm (bloodletting), body horror, mentions of transmisia, some nudity

Apsara Engine had me a bit interested from the first story, but most of the stories were too puzzling in what they wanted to portray that, overall, I came away from this book confused as to what exactly was the common thread through this anthology. The stories are too different from each other, and are too subtle in their metaphors, if there were any, to
Jul 27, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: sf-fantasy, comics
Strange short stories dealing with trans and queer desi identity, power in relationships, and architecture.
The artwork wasn't really to my taste, except in the story where an architect improvises the design of a utopian city. But there are some beguiling tales here, and Som has a delicate way with metaphor.
One of my favorites of the year so far! This collection of eight graphic stories is marvelous, sinister, winking, wry, full of swerves and shocks and queer disruptions. All of these stories are committed to proliferating representation of South Asian queer femininity and among other things use the weird/uncanny to slice through and/or expose the creepy banality of contemporary gentrified Brooklyn.
Hal Schrieve

If you like speculative fiction, brief but deeply enticing graphic novel short stories with their own detailed worldbuilding, gorgeous watercolor art, strange creatures, indictments of microagressions, visions of trans futures, narratives of gay love, and a commitment to dialogue and characters that are consistently fully realized even in the shortest scenes-- this is the book for you. I think its closest cousin that I've read is Jillian Tamaki's BOUNDLESS, but Som's archi
Oct 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
The absolutely stunning art on this book's cover really drew me to it. Most of the interior art isn't quite as fantastic but it's still unique, highly expressive, and beautiful in varied ways. The stories are the same. Some are of ordinary middle-class twenty- and thirty-something lives, usually with white and/or East Indian main characters. Others are fantasy, science fiction, or a marvelous combination of both. One of my favorite is the title story, "Apsara Engine," about a variety of people i ...more
Laura Sackton
This was strange and beautiful. There were a few stories I absolutely loved, full of so much creative and inventive storytelling. There were a few I felt totally meh about. So, pretty typical for a book of short stories. But overall I found this book so interesting and unique; I love graphic short stories, and the good ones in this were so good.
Oct 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Maybe the weirdest book I've read this year but 5-star for out-of-the-box ideas and characters. Plus, def 5-star for the drawing. ...more
Victoria Weston
Feb 15, 2021 rated it liked it
Each story left me with so many unanswered questions. Beautiful, very strange, and deeply unsatisfying.
If only there was a way to save comics panels in the way that I save quotes by writing them down or just copy/pasting. I mean I could take a photo but alas, I have no space on my phone.


With Apsara Engine, Bishakh Som brings forth a beautiful collection of stories that will keep the reader on their toes. Unflinchingly, Som challenges cultural and gender norms and opens up new worlds and possibilities in these stories, inviting the reader to expand the limits of their imagination. Throughout t
Apr 13, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: graphic-novels
An eye-opening whirlwind of intersectional stories.

The sepia-toned watercolor illustrations were inviting, and rather than an outsider watching, I felt included in these characters' worlds.

Sometimes these stories were a bit hard to follow, as they relied heavily on emotion and symbolism, and I had to read these tales in chunks (rather than devouring the compendium at once).

For the record... my favorite story in the collection was the first tale, Throat, about a dog with a woman’s head.

This book is so wonderful. The art is beautiful and there are some interesting stories in here. There's a story about a guy that talks to a woman's pet griffon thing, there's another about an intersectional cartographer planning a city with her own blood, and an interesting one where a woman meets a surprise guest at some one else's party. There are plenty of other great stories in here too.

I really like the art in this book. The shapes of the futuristic architecture is striking and I love how m
Lynne Nunyabidness
Dec 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: graphic-novel
I hadn’t been in the book group meeting where Apsara Engine was chosen, so I knew nothing when I started the book other than the publisher description on Based on the cover and the table of contents, I thought it was largely sci-fi themed. The artist has a very schematic, architectural style that came through in those initial pages. But most of the the stories took place in some version of our current world, with an eye toward interactions between two or three people. Almost all in ...more
I liked this and would like to read more from this author. The art is good, sometimes stunningly so. I liked some of the stories a lot. The thing that put me off most is...there are subcultures of people (many found in the NYC area, where some of the stories take place), who consider themselves smart and worldly and intellectual, but who tend to overthink things and are very self-absorbed, all of which makes me see them as pretentious. This book has quite a few of those people, and they annoy me ...more
May Day
May 11, 2021 rated it liked it
There was one chapter that I liked--Swandive. The concept of "intersectional cartography" and how it could relate to trans identities in a futuristic setting was fascinating, inspiring, and heartwarming, but I do wish we could have spent more time on the idea because most of what was discussed within it seemed to also be a metaphor for writing and creation in general. In fact, I wish that single chapter was expanded into a novel of its own because most of the other stories I found uninteresting ...more
Jan 12, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: staff-picks-jt
I heard the title of this book and wanted to read it. Then I saw the cover of this book and wanted to read it even more. Eventually I could not wait for my library to FINALLY get their copies in, and I just bought it. I figured I could pass it along to someone once I read it.

However, there will be no passing along because I love this book for the complicated pictures that tell a story that words never could. I love the crazy lines, and the circular stories, and the fact that I has to read this t
Sep 25, 2020 rated it liked it
This collection of stories was so intimate it almost felt borderline voyeuristic, but was thankfully abstracted enough to balance out against the intensity of the portrayal of the human experience. I don’t actually know if those are the right words for how it feels to read this. Regardless it's a great read, super unique vibes/10.
Swandive was easily my favourite of the bunch, it just makes me so happy to see queer south asian representation in stories.
An interesting collection of graphic short stories that often focus on intimate relationships and the weirdness that often interrupts them. I found a couple especially interesting as the text on the page did not describe what the illustrations were showing creating a third meaning when you read them, text and image, together. Ultimately an interesting collection of very gentle explorations of sex, gender, and human connection with strange fantastical twists.
I couldn't understand these graphic shorts, themes or plot, but it seems like it was just me. Whenever I was pulled along by a character or conversation, some new element was added that completely confused me.

Fantastical, dreamy, and dramatic artwork that I, for some of the stories, focused on completely and didn't try to follow the written plot. Which might've been one of the reasons I was often lost...

I'm still intrigued and would try another by the same artist.
Sheela Lal
Aug 23, 2020 rated it liked it
I dont know what to make of this collection. The review pull quotes made me feel like I was missing a critical link. I could not spot the specific South Asian cultural attributes for most of the stories, nor figure out the thread. Maybe this collection isnt intended for me, and that is completely okay too.
Jan 13, 2021 rated it it was ok
These stories had some interesting ideas, but these intriguing components felt underexplored. I also question the graphic format of many of these—in several stories, half (or more!) of the narrative involved characters sitting and talking, which means panels and panels of inaction. An oddly visualless choice for stories being told visually.

Jan 14, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This book is so beautiful! I borrowed it from the library but I may need a copy just to admire for myself. The watercolors are astounding. This book has mysterious, lovely and sometimes disturbing vignettes. Each one is small and perfect like a jewel. About transness, fitting and finding place, and the South Asian experience surrounded by whiteness in the US. Highly recommend.
Jan 18, 2021 rated it it was amazing
These (mostly) sci-fi and fantasy stories are lushly illustrated and will stick with you. They explore the uneasy aspects of human relationships in a way that reminded me of Adrian Tomine's work. And they illustrate a world where queer, trans and South Asian people are the main characters, free to live, die, love and dream. ...more
Jan 24, 2021 rated it really liked it
This is a really strange collection. I enjoyed it, but it's definitely not a book for everyone. Some of the stories were clear and pretty straightforward, and some of them left me thinking "what in the world did I just read?" I enjoyed those stories too, and the art is beautiful, but it's still not something I'd recommend to everyone. ...more
Mar 04, 2021 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars...beautiful artwork and thought-provoking short stories with interesting dialogue/character interactions...I'm not sure if I really got a lot of it (as I'm not the intended audience) and I was always left with wanting more, but the journey sure was eye-opening. Definitely worth a re-read. ...more
Jessica Brown
Apr 22, 2021 rated it it was ok
Shelves: why, adult, not-a-fan
Honestly? I think I’m just too stupid to understand this book. I read it and yet have no idea what I read for the vast majority of it. And by vast majority I mean everything I didn’t get explained to me in this here Goodreads blurb.
I enjoyed the artwork, though. That girl-bird and girl-dog? Don’t get it, super cool looking.
A gorgeous series of vignettes about relationships. Though the settings float from the mundane, to the mystical (and everywhere in between) the characters and conversations feel incredibly real. It flowed like a beautiful dream.
Liz Santiago
Dec 31, 2020 rated it liked it
There were a two or three of the stories that I really enjoyed and thought were thought provoking, but the others were less interesting or non-sensical. The choice of font for the text gave me a headache. It's ok. ...more
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Bishakh Som is the illustrator and coauthor of The Prefab Bathroom: An Architectural History, and her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Buzzfeed, and the Brooklyn Rail, among others. She has also been published in We're Still Here: An All-Trans Comics Anthology, Beyond II: The Queer Post-Apocalyptic & Urban Fantasy Comic Anthology, The Graphic Canon Volume 3, and many more. Som is currently bas ...more

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