ok, let’s do this.

July 8, 2007

Hey. I am back. Sort of. But probably not for long. I have stopped being the guy who can choose to post regularly. Take a cue from this post that from now on, I will update only when I feel it is really needed. I am struck down by heavy load of work, or disinterest.

Anyways, lots of life passed through these months. And a lot of prose too. Mostly the kind I like. Science fiction and fantasy.  I discovered Neil Gaiman. Finished two books, Anansi boys, Smoke and Mirrors and am eagerly waiting to get my hands on his masterpiece the American Gods. His writing is sort of fairy tale-ish for adults and I found it very interesting. Very calming in a sense. Anansi boys is a good fantasy story in which the hero, after his father’s funeral, discovers that he was really a God. Called Anansi. (The west African spider god, the internet says.) And he was a trickster God too, very clever. I will not spoil it one bit by explaining any further. It is beautifully written, is funny and interesting to read. If you liked the stories your grandmother once told you when you were a kid, you will probably like it. If you were not that lucky enough, you could start by trying the other book, Smoke and mirrors. It is a very nice short story collection which contains a lot of such fairy tales as well as other fantasy stories. I liked the were-wolf/Cthulhu ones a lot and by the way, I also happened to read H.P. Lovecraft. (Just before this one..) You could read the online version of his new story How to talk to girls at parties too. But it’s sort of more scifi than usual. But good and funny.

Lovecraft stories are a must read, as any respectable weird fiction/horror fan will tell you. He also reminded me of the poetic Ray Bradbury whose Martian chronicles is a huge hit in my tiny collection of books. I am yet to read the Dunwich Horror or others by H.P.L, though the one I read, “The doom that came to Sarnath and other stories” has some lovely stories like the one in the title, and his prose poems “Memory” and “Ex Oblivione” are price catches. Most of his stories are available on the net at wikisource. He is really a true genius at what he does. Bring out that deep fear of the unknown ancient. (I have read this a long time back, my previous posts talk about this..) Though not really nightmare material for today’s kids, there is an elegance in the way he puts out his ideas. Some paragraphs have a special lyrical quality to them like Ray Bradbury’s writing. Where as the most Bradbury I have read evoke a sense of loneliness and sadness, Lovecraft’s word invoke eeriness and insane irrational fear. Helplessness. The magnificence of the enemy.

Happened to stumble upon another author called China Mieville.  The book is titled The Iron Council. Terrific use of fantasy worlds and races. Imagine the worlds like those of LOTR used up cleverly to write more interesting stories. Economics. How would things run on the middle earth? what kind of relationships do the races have with each other? The sort of worlds that make other normal fantasy ones look silly. There is sciences, economics, politics, racism, revolution,  his world is amazingly rich and real. And the descriptions, they are the real catch here. They are really beautiful and easily slow down your otherwise furious pace of reading. The story revolves around the city-nation called New Crobuzon where plenty of races like humans, the cactus men, the remade (sort of steam punk cyborgs), vodyanoi (frogmen) and countless others live in a state of uneasy equilibrium for having to interact with each other. It is not a normal fantasy story at all. Infact the author almost hates Tolkien’s definition of what fantasy is. It is not a world where you escape to. It is a very clever and crafted version of our own, spiced up magnificently with loads of creativity and imagination. It is at least not about saving the world. Again, you have to read it on your own. I found it very interesting and have bought another one called The Scar. (His first book Perdido Street Station, I just can’t find it anywhere in B’lore. Do give me an indication if you found it somewhere..)

Then comes the true classic which I finished in just four days. (This rarely happens, I am a slow reader and usually take my time with books.) Ender series always have fascinated me, just because the stories are extremely cleverly crafted by the author Orson Scott Card and he usually enjoys throwing good morally conflicting questions at the reader. You can easily read through this delicious higher level ideas because the underlying stories are usually fantastic. I liked the Ender’s Game very much. I read Xenocide later (3rd book) and it was even more impressive. I read the in-between book The Speaker for the Dead earlier this week. It is the in-between book in the series, and is truly fantastic. Ender’s Saga remains amongst my favourite trilogies closer to Asimov’s foundation, Clarke’s Space Odyssey. I usually hype some of my favourites amongst my close friends. And they usually ignore it till the books somehow manage to reach them through some other channel 🙂 And then they go nuts about them 😉 Terry Pratchett, Foundation series they all come under this list. Guess this is one of the series they have most endured me about, with out reading. So I will patiently wait till someone else asks them to read it. Because it isn’t fun to not to be able to discuss how cool something really is. I mean, the enjoyment is not complete for me, unless I see someone else also enjoying it as much.

I am currently reading The Martian Timeslip by PKD. A small number on the back of it says it is number 13 in the list of SF Masterworks. I usually enjoy PKD, though let’s see how it holds up.

Books again!

January 2, 2007

1. Happy new year to all.

2. 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 Its already an interesting start!

3.  A glorious Horror streak, as I read the legendary “The Call of the Cthulhu” over the weekend. This short story is regarded as a genre defining creation. While I was not overwhelmed by horrible nightmares during nights, I immensely liked the language and the narration style. The story will invoke in the reader the ancient fear that is probably inscribed in our racial memories. What happened on Earth before humanity rose? Were there any other beings who ruled over like we do now? Is there any of it left which is waiting anxiously to take over the territory once lost? Were we once so dumb to be their slaves? In our hectic race to mastery on Earth’s resources did we forget that we were once slaves?

Most of H.P Lovecraft stories evoke such fear in the reader’s mind. Cthulhu, or the great old one as he/it is known became so popular that it became a pop-culture phenomenon in itself.

So if you are ready for some horror, maybe you can start with this masterpiece. And hey, I have something else for you, if you cannot find a book. The Horla which is an old short story (originally in French) which is said to have inspired Cthulhu.  And then, when you come back from reading the Call, you can maybe visit this interesting short called I, Cthulhu, written by Neil Gaiman. *

And I am relieved to be back among some books.

4. 6 ! by the time I was writing this post. Awesome Max!

5. Bob Dylan! I am finally starting to like his songs. 🙂 Starting with “Like a rolling stone” and “Desolation row”.  Really strong lyrics for the former. But Desolation row, now, that is a very interesting song. The song forms an interesting mental picture, involving a number of interesting characters (some of which I don’t know about) and interesting situations in a place called Desolation row. If anyone finds out what exactly the song is about, please tell me. 🙂

6. Had a remarkable time with friends on the first day of the year.  It will be cherished for a long time.

* These are horror stories. Except maybe for the Gaiman short story. Approach them if you are comfortable with the genre. 🙂 (In other words, you are warned)

Slaughterhouse Five

May 18, 2006

by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

One of the strongest anti-war novel I have read. Catch-22 comes in first whenever I hear about anti-war novels. It must be the epitome of how to pull off a plot of stark contrast and irony. Mix and match dreadful conditions with silliness and humour, mock bravery with cold fear, death and insanity with life on the edge. And in the end, the protagonist escapes somehow.. (Or I hope he does so safely).

Slaughterhouse Five sets things straight. Sometimes in war, there is not even hope left. There is nothing but misery and death and pain. Desperation and severe mental trauma drives our protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, into dreaming up time-travel and alien worlds to which he often escapes.

The book is primarily about the Bombing of Dresden, which killed more people than the Hiroshima bomb, and destroyed almost all of the German City. The author himself was present as a prisoner of war in the city at the time of the bombing. (He appears in the novel as himself at times). The story is about how Billy Pilgrim, in the most terriblest of these consequences comes unstuck in time. That is being able to travel back and forth in time, essentially moving around in his own life time. He mentions that he is in a constant state of stage fright as he is not sure which part of his life he will have to play out next :).

Later he meets beings from Alien planet called Trafalmadore, who are beings of four dimensions. That is, they can look at their timelines and move along it, as we can look at a long mountain range. They find it interesting that, in all the inhabited planets, only on Earth, there is talk about free-will :D. We are all ants stuck on amber according to them, unable to change the past-present-future. Since they can move along their time line, the concept of death is not something final to them, and they are immortal. Interestingly, at the planet, he has to spend time 'mating' in their 'zoo' along with an erotic movie star from Earth.

Upon return to Earth, he spreads this philosophy among people giving them peace, and becomes famous. The book also gives us glimpses to parts of Billy's life from where his fantasy life elements might have come from.

The story threads between the war-time, his life on trafalmadore, and his later life. Since this plot involves time-travel, the author could beautifully skip across Billy's life at wish, providing us much relief because the true continuous account of the war is unbearable. The book does not glorify war at any point of time (which is mentioned as a primary objective in the first chapter). Beautiful book, totally worth the time spent.

Rendezvous with Rama (First in the series)
Arthur C Clarke has indeed gone above in my popularity charts for science fiction authors. There is simply more to read, and he writes the proverbial science fiction when it comes to space. Also, I have felt them as extremely light to read. Take for instance, the first book in the Rama series.

Rama

In a not so distant future, when humans have started living in Moon, Mars, Mercury and some moons of Jupiter and Saturn, an unnatural asteroid arcs across the solar system. Having run out of Roman and Greek names, it is christened Rama, and suddenly becomes the hot topic of the worlds when it is discovered to be a spaceship built by an alien race. The book explores the mystery of this huge spaceship which in itself is small world. But the reader must be warned that, the book is no thriller. One must read it for the pure fun of the prospect of stepping into unknown and unpredictable territory. It is simply filled with the thrill of exploration, and that which is unique to space exploration. Imho, the book ends in a very satisfying fashion and is closed in itself. But it does leave a lot of questions unanswered. They are addressed later in the series.

Seven Samurai

Seven Samurai is referred to as the best movie by renowned director Akira Kurasova.

Six of The Seven Samurai.  From left to right, Katsushiro, Kikuchiyo, Shichiroji, Kyuzo, Heihachi, and Kambei.

Rashomon was directed by the same director, which is the other movie that I have seen from this Great Master.

Seven Samurai is a classical mixture of the popular and art movie genres. Some poor miserable farmers employ seven jobless samurai to defend themselves from bandits. Extremely enjoyable and long. The interactions between the farmers and the Samurai, the effects of Samurai’s arrival at the village, the fight sequences and some very good acting, all these will capture the viewer’s heart. Most of the issues addressed are really thought provoking. Even then, I will only put it second to Rashomon in my list, which is simply the best I have seen. I so wish, I knew Japanese and was transported back to the ’50s just to watch these movies on the big screen 🙂

Finally, let me point you towards www.nanowrimo.org, where people are celebrating the Novel Writing Month. The point is to write 50k words within November end. (and if you can still think it holds good as a novel, you win). It is crazy adventure and I am in. (And it is still 3 days with zero word count 🙂 ). Let us see what happens.

(Images from wikipedia. easily captured and blogged using flock.)

Dune Saga

August 16, 2005

Dune Saga

Finished the first Trilogy of the Dune Saga.

Reading these books has been a great stress to me. They have sapped all my attention and time these days. The one word description for these books would be “Grand”. Frank Herbert has an extremely grand way of telling a story. Everything in the story is just epic proportional, and you can say the same about the reading pleasure you derive from it. Almost all sentences are worth reading twice. And that is exactly what I did.

Dune’s world is one of the most complicated universes I have read. Asimov’s Foundation world is much like ours,it is driven by science & technology, but minus all religions. The big difference being the curious science of psycho-history which predicts the behaviour of huge populations very effectively. Extremely enjoyable plots arise from this setup making Foundation series much enjoyable. A.C Clarke’s universe is almost the present cleverly extrapolated( Odyssey series). Reading Odyssey is extremely enjoyable because I almost could believe all those things happened. Dune’s world unlike these two is extremely cleverly and comprehensively crafted. Science and technology still plays important roles, but not as important as the people running the show. Religion is again brilliantly used to conjure the required plots. Utmost importance is given to people and their skills and their decisions, so that beautiful drama is derived from strange and fascinating situations. You can describe it as some sort of futuristic politics.

Spoiler warning (next three paras)!!

It is set in a far away future, where men have already fought a great war with thinking machines and won. It is now taboo to build a machine in the likeness of men. People have diverged out to fill up the gaps. A mentat can function as the greatest computer analysing logical data from real people-involving situations and provide you with brilliant answers. The Spacing guild has grown to monopolize space travel in such a way that all inter-stellar travel and even satellite monitoring is dependent on them. Shields have been developed to thwart projectile attacks. Result: people have to rely on poison, hand to hand combat with blades. Society has split to wealthy and powerful families known as the Major/Minor houses and those who serve them (their army). The world is still run by an Emperor and the houses have formed the Lansraad council to balance his power. Behind all these actors is the Bene Gesserit school of witches – highly trained women, brilliant, powerful, seductive and completely loyal to their common cause: to bring forth the Kwasich Haderach or the male Bene Gesserit. B.Gesserit Reverand mothers can turn back and recollect the lives of all their female ancestors, but not male. This K.H. superman can look backwards into both lines of creation as well as see the future through prescient visions. Hence, this school of women is conducting in secret, a great breeding program on all the humanity to produce this superman. Religion, superstition, politics, etc are used to achieve this. There are still more groups of stranger people who make interesting appearances in the books.

All of this complex world is somehow centered on the spice melanche produced from the planet Dune. Spice is what drives this world. Spice gives longer life to normal humans and can affect each of the above groups in a specific way. Everyone in this world is utterly dependent on it.

On this crafted world, the author has set a great struggle for power, which unfolds into the grandest drama ever. If you have the patience and are ready for some serious prose, you will enjoy reading those brilliant sentences again and again. The author has used the concepts of religion in a very effective way.

I have heard that the later books are slightly less interesting than these three. But they are said to provide a nice completion to the questions raised by the first three books. I hope to catch up with them at a later point, since it is almost impossible to read these books continuosly.

Dune Messiah

July 13, 2005

Finished book 2 of Dune trilogy.

Dune has science fiction, drama, unmatchable set of characters, brilliant plots, excellent literature. Read it. That’s all I can say. I will write more about Dune when I am through with the Children of Dune. Frank Herbert is a genius.

I am back after another usual break of illness. Somehow Bangalore’s food has always been cruel to me. However, when I comeback from illness, I am somewhat happier than before. This is the time, I just relish feeling normal and free.

That reminds me that there is a lot left to read. Actually, it’s been a long time since I visited bookshops. I guess it’s time to make some corrections.

In other news, Charles Stross has released a novel using creative commons Licence: Read it here: Accelerando

I have been reading quite a bit lately. But quietly.

Work had managed to kill everything else for about a month. Work gives me infinite peace of mind, but it also manages to completely exhaust me of energy after it is done. I don’t even feel like watching a movie at times. Consider that, at all other times I have an infinite appetite for movies, even for the silly or boring kind.

This time, I just managed to scroll through some books and some other online reading. I just felt that I should mention something about the latter. Embracing-the-New was suggested to me by my roommate. It is a beautifully crafted piece of work by Benjamin Rosenbaum. It is also a clever piece of writing. In its core, it asks me how much of Me exactly is present in myself. We are products of our past, our context and a small bit of pure original ourselves. How much of this original is right now left in you? Are you enslaved to your past? This is applicable to the whole of Humanity as well. Is our ways of thinking bound by our history, language etc? My room-mate actually suggested this story as a comment on my blog entry about the “Protector”, in which a human being transforms into a higher intelligence being called the Protector. The first thing that comes to his mind is “I have been very Stupid!”. 🙂
The story makes a delightful reading even if you don’t think much over it. It is about a race called GodCarvers, who can actually live for ever, as all their memories can be passed on to others through a “Ghennung”. Saying anything more might be spoiling the fun.

Another story I read was Cory Doctorow’s I, Robot. Does the name ring a bell? Yes, I, Robot is still the famous collection of robot stories by Isaac Asimov. I read somewhere that Cory wrote this one purposefully borrowing a lot of ideas from Asimov’s Robot world and the nightmarish dystopian world of 1984 by George Orwell. He did it in protest of Ray Bradbury’s remarks against Michael Moore. (Moore’s recent movie “Farenheit 911” has borrowed its name from Bradbury’s classic “Farenheit 451”) I read it just for the fun of pure fiction. It reads much like a Hollywood movie. It is very interesting how he manages to merge the greatness of both worlds, yet develops a completely different plot successfully.

Another foray was The Witch’s Hand by Patrick O’Leary. It is a very simple and short story which might make you smile at the end. (It made me smile, anyway) The latter two are featured at Infinite Matrix, which is a place I lurk in search of good online short stories.

And, Sorry for not posting regularly. I wish there is more will to write.

Ender’s Game

January 30, 2005

“There is no teacher but the enemy.”

A brilliant book by Orson Scott Card. No wonder readers rate this among the top five works of fiction. Beautifully crafted in a future human world threatened by an alien race known as the buggers.

There has already been two bloody wars with the buggers. Human civilization is frantically getting ready for a third one, amassing all it can in terms of weaponry and technology. At some point of time, they have realized that the greatest weapon they can have against anyone in a war is a brilliant leader, a war general. And they can only hope that Mother Earth can produce one brilliant enough.

Ender Wiggin is a ‘third’; a third child; when parents in the world are forced to have only two children legally. He is allowed to be born because the International Fleet thinks he may suit their needs perfectly, unlike his kins who are near perfect, but lack some crucial qualities.

The story is very intense at times, mostly because, one can easily identify with Ender. Ender is put under tremendous stress for his training, which brings about the best in him. You are sure to enjoy the parts of the training at the famous Battle School. The story runs in parallel with the stories of his brother Peter and sister Valentine, who are just as brilliant as Ender. There are a lot of remarkable characters along the way like Bean, Bonzo and Alai. The character of Bean is later developed into the books “Ender’s Shadow”, “Shadow of the Hegemon” and “Shadow Puppets”.

The fiction will hit you hard when you will understand these characters are all just children, and all are parallely battling loss of their childhood. This darkness/sadness and tension is always present when reading the book. Ender does not hate his enemies. All he hates is winning. But unfortunately he is created for not losing. All he wants to do is to ‘end’ the problems forever. The best way to understand this rant is to read the book.

The book ends with a brilliant chapter called the The Speaker for the Dead. Most ideas in his mind are beautifully consolidated in this. The sequel for this book goes by the same name.

(I suggest, you visit the next two links posted after reading the book due to spoilers without warning)
Here’s what some writeup in e2 says about the book “Ender’s Game is one of the best SF books ever written. If you are looking for a good book to start reading science fiction, then give this one a try. Also recommended for those who don’t believe that SF can be literature.”

After you have read the book you can check out this short story which the author wrote before developing it into the book. I got the last minute push to buy the book when I saw this book at the top at this book-list

Mort

January 16, 2005

Another brilliant Discworld novel.

Was by far, the most funniest discworld novel I read, but you can never say. Color of Magic was too good, and its a close fight.

‘Death’ who travels around in a horse named Binky, and carries a scythe, is taking an apprentice. Apparently the victim is a totally clueless young man called Mort. Hilarity ensues when he falls in love with a princess who is to be killed off. And doesnot kill her. Meanwhile Death has gone off in search of what humans call pleasure.
It becomes a total Hindi movie when Death’s foster daugher, falls in love with Mort, and completes the Love Triangle.

This book is simply terrific, and the mood is light, unlike books like Monstrous Regiment. Delicious, I will say.

The Protector

January 5, 2005

Larry Niven.

“Every human protector must wake this way. A Pak wakes sentient for the first time. A human protector has human memories. He wakes clear-headed, and remembers, and thinks with a certain amount of embarrassment: I’ve been stupid.”

Protector speaks the tale of an extraordinary species called the Pak. The species has an interesting life cycle, apart from being immortal (or lets say, no aging). The pak child grows into a pak breeder and then into the protector phase of its life. The protector is where it grows into very high intelligence (more than human) , and loses all other purpose in life except for protecting its blood line of breeders. As soon as its blood line is extinct, the protector loses its wish to eat (live) and hence dies of starvation. But at some point of time, a protector can come to accept that the survival of the whole pak race as its purpose in life.

After a bloody war in the Pak home planet and with the species facing extinction, Phssthpok Pak, heads out towards a bleak yellow star in the outer arms of galaxy, in search of a Pak expedition sent out 3 million years before.

The book is filled with references to complicated and exciting weapons/gadgets which the author as usual extrapolated from the radical ideas at the time of writing the book. Also one more thing the author gently reminds us of the style of warfare at future times. One can be assured that there may never be short range warfare, and all of the warfare that would be there will be at high Gs. You can probably detect enemy ships at light years and when your weapons are the likes of a lazer cannon, it is going to be rather interesting with warfare requiring years of planning ahead. (But again, this could be boring for some who still enjoy a good dog-fight with frigate ships and interceptors in space… which feels as dumb as sound of explosion in space warfare in startrek, starwars, etc when you read it here) . I will admit that a lot of stuff in the book, like bussard ramjet, etc I had to google for them, so that I can enjoy the book better. But I did enjoy it thoroughly.