Monday, December 30, 2013

The Sirens of Titan

My first book of Kurt Vonnegut, acquired in a second hand bookshop with dusty papers smelling of mothballs had an alluring title. My crooked mind was partly influenced to pick up this book after a microsecond glimpse of the Tajmahal at the cover, and a thirty second mental imagination of the title.
I finished this book during a non-stop five hour plane journey, this book is not something that grips you with strong arms, it doesn't make you gasp or make you feel like you should kiss the author's hands because you got a momentary revelation of the sacred and the unknown.

Instead this book gently coaxes you as an angler who would casually wait with a hook which you can nibble at your own pace. The seeming casualness with which the entire story moves forward is mixed with deliberate randomness and misdirection.
Let that not fool you, this book is a gem, a forerunner for another gem†.

The book starts with the primary antagonist Niles Rumfoord and his loyal dog Kazak who become waves when they encountered chrono-synclastic infundibulum and as a result could only visit Earth once in 59 days. He is vehemently hated by his wife who never forgave his careless mistake of becoming a waveform without consulting her, and his materializations on earth vexes her much. The genial Rumfoord is honored as a valiant hero for getting caught in such a timeless error, but he brings upon a surprise marital invasion on Earth by his Machiavellian moves.

He silently kidnaps a lot of people to Mars, brainwashes them and organizes a stupid army to invade Earth. Then once the alien army is thoroughly destroyed, he establishes a new religion on Earth and becomes its God, without any public advertising.  He foretells parts of these events to his wife and a rich playboy Malachi Constant, and also tells them that they would be helpless to alter their future as they would be bred forcefully to give birth to a boy named Chrono in a colony in Mars. His final engineering brings his wife, Constant and their son Chrono to Titan, as Rumfoord ruminates on the purposelessness of all of his actions!

Without much pop and fizzle, the story continues on how Rumfoord was used as a pawn and by whom to what extent. Even if I were to narrate you the story from start to finish in this review, it would not be a spoiler alert! For this book is not about the story at all, it is rather the experience you get from reading this book. Characters refuse to be typecast, hero is not courageous and dashing, heroine is not seductive and the villain is not completely cruel. And there is no moral punched out when the story comes to an end, nor is there a 'they lived happily ever-after'.

I loved how the author painted a dystopian setting in humor which made it even more poignant, and questioned about the effects of free will when people are forced to follow it. And the best of all, it gives the reader a sense of peace to know that their mess, problems and screw-ups are just pin points when compared to the giant happenings around us.

It is said that Vonnegut completely put together this book, his second, over a single night because someone at a party requested him to!

† I was intrigued by the similarity in plot direction of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and this book. Douglas Adams has indeed mentioned that he was influenced by Sirens of Titan to question about the life, universe and everything!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Calcutta Chromosome

     Intriguing title, and a pretty fish on the cover made me pick this book from a second hand shop from Moore market in March. Story starts slowly at a unknown future date, but steady enough to look for what is coming next.? Antar, a data scientist of sorts discovers L.Murugan's notes refuting Sir Ronald Ross's brilliance.

Who's Ronald Ross?

   Sir Ronald Ross  (13 May 1857 – 16 September 1932) was a British doctor who received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1902 for his work on malaria. He discovered that malaria was transmitted through mosquitoes, and this discovery led to the ways of finding cure to Malaria.

    From the unknown future date, the story goes back to the end of twentieth century, enter Prof.L.Murugan, and the momentum pick-ups like an express train. The brashness, the wit, and the expletive laden dialogues of Prof.L Murugan gradually grow on the reader. I wanted to know more about why Prof.Murugan is ready to give his life and leave a cushy job to go to Calcutta. L.Murugan comes with a theory of an Indian hand in Sir Ronald Ross's discovery of malaria parasite. Who are those people? Why are they hiding behind Ronald? Ronald is just a tool, but who wields the tool?

   Murugan meets Urmila and Sonali at an award ceremony of a famous fictional Bengali writers in Calcutta. The two beautiful sari clad women, Urmila and Sonali are an integral part of the story, they are vivid, may be the vividness has lot more to do with my exposure to modern cinema than the authors caliber. And then the story goes to a narrative from the late 1890's, describing the time when Sir Ronald Ross came across malaria for the first time, his extraordinary Indian helper, and his insufficient knowledge about malaria. Pulling of three different times in a short book is not a mean task, but Amitav has done that with supreme clarity.

What I didn't like?

 Things I did n’t like has more to do with technical aspects than the plot or character development. The usage of  “suddenly” as a tool to bring twists in the narrative is never easy to carry along, especially if the author has a tendency to use it too often. It stands out, and makes the flow of story artificial. Of course fiction is made up of coincidences, but the charm of a good book is to paint a realistic tone to the coincidences.

   Instances of building climatic hype too often can fall flat at time, Amitav rises the hype too high, just to burst it in the end like a prick to a balloon. I felt like a fool for believing in the tension. Unless there is a very strong reason, it is never a good ploy to raise the tempo too high.

  May be it is a style thing, or a personal preference, I never liked too much of semicolons and colons- standing in the way of the rhythm of the words on the page. It is like humps on a road already filled with potholes. Far too many distractions in that aspect.

 In the end, The Calcutta chromosome falls into too many categories; thriller, science fiction, medical mystery, colonial history- a genre defying book. A decent read.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Full facts book of cold reading

Author: Ian Rowland

Haven’t you heard about that famous astrologer who can tell you everything that happened in the past? That man who can read your future on your palms? Or for that matter the man who can tell you things from your past life?  

A frequent topic of discussion is that of supernatural; Astrology, Palmistry and other psychic readings. I call it supernatural because all these systems have rules as flexible as the rubber band used to hold a pile of currency notes. It flexes to your whims with the money that it holds.  So do you want to know how the astrologer knew about that incident in your childhood? Do you want to know how the lady adept at Palmistry could predict your life partner? Or do you want to become an amateur psychic reader?You must pick up this book and test it for yourself. 

I did not become a skeptic after reading this book. I was already one. It just gave me a lot of information to persuade more people to become skeptical about such supernatural scams. Of course that author is an accomplished psychic reader helps a lot in understanding intricacies of the trade.  Yes, a trade just like any other. That requires certain skill, training and persistence to project that mysterious air around their workplace.  Armed with the content of the book, you can probably reason educated people who think that modern astrologists are a symbol of our rich tradition. In my opinion, it is a myth most often used to encourage monetary manipulations.

There may be learned men apart from the crooks and charlatans of this trade. But exceptions cannot be taken as examples. In fact by debunking fake psychic readers, the book is actually promoting real Psychics, of course if such a breed really exists. I like a good fight, and if you like them too, this book will not fail you.