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Mon, 29 Sep 2008:

But that's actually okay, because I will not satisfy a woman, either". And that's how Sex Drugs & Cocoa Puffs kicks into action, to embark upon a Low Culture manifesto, exploring the deeply superficial phenomenon that modern culture has turned into. Exactly the kind of trash literature you can only find in the otherwise bare shelves of an airport bookshop. And I guess it was that phrase that made me pick it up from LAX.

There are two ways of look at this book. Actually there are thousands of ways, but the preface said there were only two that me & the author might have in common. The first and of course, the less popular view is that everything's a product of chaos and inherently independent of everything else. On the other hand, everything pretty much stays the same and everything's bound in a chain of causality in an inherently holistic big-picture. And yes, reading each essay of the book somehow emphasizes both the views in some strange paradoxical sense. Completely random thoughs & events, but from a single man's perspective.

There's no semblance of order or even pretence of continuity about this book. But there is a certain domino effect to the essays as they dove-tail into a impressionist masterpeice, but one which exists merely to demonstrate the ever broadening palette of culture.

Porn: Nothing's more representative of the dark side of modern humanity than porn. He's done to porn what Andy Warhol did to a humble soup can. He has framed the entire trend of internet porn, which has acquired a certain Marxism to it, into - "when you don't have to be Lenny Kravitz to know how Lisa Bonet looks like in a shower. You don't even need hemp pants.". And the comfortable knowledge that your wife and Gwent Stefani have more in common than you would admit in the first place. Essentially stealing back the power we lent to celebrities, their privacy (or lack there of) & their exclusivity, as a sort of a price to be paid for fame.

There's more to it than just that. More on that later. My thoughts, which are inextricably weaved into his ideas, probably deserve blog posts of their own.

Do not write below this line.

posted at: 01:01 | path: /books | permalink | Tags: ,

Sun, 04 May 2008:

Flaws are inherent in the makings of a hero. For a perfect canditate for heroic tasks would be a man made out of stone - cruel, rational and unemotional. But only cruel to be kind, rational to the core and unstirred by emotional pulls. But who would want to call him a hero?

Over the last two days, I slowly trawled my way through the twelve issue paperback of Watchmen. It has proven to be an interesting comic to peruse.

The book is a continous dismantling of the word "hero". More appropriately, of the super-hero genre - the take-no-lives, nobody-got-hurt-but-the-criminals world of the original heroes. But having accepted collateral damage as a way of life, for the super hero, the question remains - how far will you go to save humanity?.

For your own good: More interesting is the dissection of the purpose of authority. The question hangs in the air - "Who are we protecting them from?". And only the comedian dares answer, but with mirth - "From themselves". Is a nice concept, that few will suffer for the good of many. But that line having been crossed, decisions get mired in a subjective quagmire of the value of a life against another. And it evades the other question - what happens to those who dispense with justice?

quis custodiet ipsos custodes: Ah, but who will watch the watchmen. And even if benevolent they be, what if they take the path piled with corpses. The entire book is a critque on the hypocrisy of authority, the few who are not accountable to any. After all, as I've noticed, in a fair world intentions do not matter.

The book leaves you doubtful how to interpret the shades of grey in people. But at least that's why Rorschach has only black or white - never any gray, on his face. Perhaps to him, it's all black'nwhite.

Perhaps, the real hero is a monster who's cruel to be kind. Amen.

God instructs the heart, not by ideas, but by pains and contradictions.
                -- De Caussade

posted at: 00:01 | path: /books | permalink | Tags: ,

Sat, 15 Dec 2007:

A sad day it is for all Terry Pratchett fans (like yours truly).

The master of discworld has gone a bit Bursar - more accurately, he's just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. As someone who's enjoyed his books immensely, I'm glad he wrote them down as he did, in such profuse quantities.

I just finished reading Wintersmith a few weeks ago - didn't like it enough to write a review about it though. But on reading this news, the only thought was to boycott the series if some greedy publisher tries to push it forward with a ghost writer. Considering what happened to Pern (Dragon's Kin? Gimme a break) or Dune (*bleh* on Chapterhouse Dune) - I'd hate to see that happen to Discworld.

Truly, Alzheimer's is a sad sad way to lose a mind - to fade away, while the body remains.


Personal sn't the same as important.
        -- Terry Pratchett, "Men At Arms"

posted at: 06:20 | path: /books | permalink | Tags: , ,

Mon, 23 Jul 2007:

I just spent the last eight hours reading Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows. Feeling totally underwhelmed about the book in itself - even though it is not as disappointing as the Order of the Phoenix was, it still has too many rough edges. The story is perhaps a bit too predictable and the other characters beyond Harry are marginalized into conversation peices. Not to mention the multiple dead ends in narration which do not serve as credible plot twists. Read on if you like spoilers.

What's the deal with the whole fuzzing the wand thingy ? I can totally understand the one true wand (*cough*) deathstick theory, but the wandlore rule-bending requires some extra suspension of disbelief. The list of characters acting out of character is also irritating - I mean, why would Kreacher do an about-face on the mudblood attitude or Percy drop back into the Weasleys ? Seems too convenient to me. And then there were the people dying pointlessly. Except for Mad-eye (and maybe Dobby), nobody had a death which was even a blip in the plot line. Maybe there's a certain realism in killing off random characters.

There are even bigger plot holes. But it would have been more compelling to not put words into Dumbledore's mouth after his death. Especially the part about Snape being on Dumbledore's side, shows him up as a puppet master extraordinare rather than the benevolent wizard that we saw in the previous books. And what's with Gryffindor's sword ? First it gets stolen by Griphook and suddenly it falls out of the sorting hat again ? And it is not exactly Gryffindor's sword to begin with ? As someone who liked Harry Potter in his initial adventures, this book feels too weak and watered down.

My advice ? This is a book to be borrowed rather than bought.

The covers of this book are too far apart.
                -- Ambrose Bierce

posted at: 07:53 | path: /books | permalink | Tags: ,

Mon, 18 Jun 2007:

As Friday wound down, my sore body was resigning itself to a weekend to be spent mainly in bed. But what to feed the beast that roams within ? Out I went to Strand, to hunt for something cerebral, to stimulate thought and induce sleep (when consumed in excessive doses). An unsuccessful hour later, I emerged carrying a copy of Games Indians Play.

Somehow in the back of my mind, I was expecting an Indian re-run of Games People Play. But maybe I was setting the bar too high. The book begins rather uncomfortably, by stating a few prerequisites, right from the depths of disillusionment.

There are three points that the readers must be ready to acknowledge
as prerequisites: 

one, that there is indeed something wrong with us;

two, that there are aspects that do not seem to sit well in modern
civilized society; 

and three, that merely because other modern and civilized societies, 
also suffer from many ills, it does not make our own ills more 

Indeed, the book does tend to critique at a rather personal level than would be necessary. The following four chapters were a visible re-hash of nearly all literature on the subject in the last forty years. The basic systems by which selfish individuals coalesce into a mesh of cooperation explained by game theory principles. For someone who's been on Axelrod for two years, it hardly holds any interest. Except for one particular analogy.

Both India and Pakistan argue exactly as the two prisoners cited in the 
prisoner's dillemma, and arrive the 'rational and well reasoned' decision
to go nuclear - to defect - resulting in the two countries forgoing
the opportunity to save millions of rupees which could have been used

The book somewhat redeems itself, by then attacking the concept of fairness. Reading through it, I somehow seemed to recall the famed lines from Animal Farm - All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. But it rather rambles along into the lack of self-regulation and the inherent disregard for others doing the same (as lunatech keeps saying: lesson #1: the universe isn't fair). Eventually to come to rest at the way Indians measure the importance of a person - purely by how many rules he can bend.

But to fulfil its initial promises, it hasn't gone far enough into the depth of the issue. Rather than discuss selection pressures which reward the behaviour that we observe, it merely presents the facts and leaves a rather dissapointed reader behind. And while the book doesn't even try to tackle the vast agrarian belt of India - it still does not understand that there's more of sub-urban India outside the big cities and inside houses. For something like the state of Kerala - a middle class majority, left-leaning socialist governments and high literacy rates seem to have alleviated at least some of the ills mentioned.

Rather than a cutting root cause analysis of the systemic problems that exist, the book seems to be written in half-disgust about the myopia of present day urban India, with game theory to back it up. Not to disagree with some of his conclusions, but the linking logic seems to from real life into game theory rather than the other way around - leaving me nothing to test his theories with. And there is just a subtle hint of silent reverence towards occidental cultures - a completely apples to oranges comparison (you eat both, right ?). The author desperately needs to read The Human Zoo, before judging the Indian concrete jungles by theories transplanted from university towns (Ithaca or wherever).

In one short phrase, the book talks more about "How/What we are ?" than rationalizing it with Why ? - an outsider's objective analysis which puts you (if you were Indian) in the same frame of mind as the emperor with the new clothes.

Along with this, I'd also picked up Just Wait Till You Have Children of Your Own!. Drains me of all bitterness, that book does. :)

The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization.
                -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

posted at: 06:48 | path: /books | permalink | Tags: ,

Wed, 30 May 2007:

Last night, I picked up a book. And when I say a book, I mean two books. One was new and the other old; one's silver and other gold. After nearly a decade, I read Shooting an Elephant again. The essential pathos of someone trapped in a system not of their making, whose identity and behaviour is dictated by unspoken rules, is palpable through out the story. I never got the message with the clarity that I do now - but I was a teenager then.

To see Orwell as merely the author of 1984 and Animal Farm is to do him injustice. Reading through his essays, especially the Lion and the Unicorn throws new light at his ability to communicate adeptly and adequately. Without turning any flowery phrases, he manages to paint a vivid picture of England at war. The part one starts off very directly with "As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.", before attacking the essential rationalization of patriotism. But even more cynically, the second part is titled Shopkeepers at War, talking about the private economy's reaction to war (Lend to Defend; Drink Guinness).

I was half-way through "Prevention of Literature", when I switched to the other book. In one of those lapses of judgement (you know the kind), I had bought a copy of Salmon of Doubt. If not for the essays liberally sprinkled throughout the book, I would have regretted that decision. Unfinished books are not meant to be read - for instance, I have read every P.G Wodehouse novel/short-story except for Sunset at Blandings. Hidden in the pages of Salmon of Doubt, between articles for boys' weeklies and random musings about technology is a transcript of an extempore speech.

The speech is titled Is there an Artificial God?. The speech, just like all of his works, is splattered with inconsequential references. For instance, it gets on its way with the following phrase.

I just want to mention one thing, which is completely meaningless,
but I am terribly proud of - I was born in Cambridge in 1952 and 
my initials are D N A!

But it soon settles down into an exploration of man's progress and perhaps for a bit, the lack of it. The ages of sand sequence points out the cornerstones of the last four centuries of human progress - telescopes, microscopes, silicon chips and fibre optics. A quick dip into a quantum universe and back to challenging religious dogmas. To climb out of that argument only to throw in a strawman of money being a completely fictious entity. Eventually concluding that we humans live in a world mainly of our creation - inside our heads or outside.

Reading somehow does not seem to be quite the one-way process most people imagine it to be.

The possession of a book becomes a substitute for reading it.
                -- Anthony Burgess

posted at: 16:02 | path: /books | permalink | Tags: ,

Mon, 23 Apr 2007:

Poetry is not my forte. But even my prosaic soul was stirred up the caustic wit and wordplay of Dorothy Parker's poetry. My first run-in with her poetry is thanks to spo0nman, who showed a single verse about three months back - that one verse remains scrawled on the corner of my whiteboard to this day.

Drink and dance and laugh and lie,
 Love, the reeling midnight through,
For tomorrow we shall die!
 (But, alas, we never do.)

Ah, poetry like such has to be read again. The flash of brilliance on the last line, twisting everything said before into its opposite. To lead you down one path of thought, only to yell - Ha, you didn't see that coming is hard to do with poetry. Yet she does, but not without sacrificing brevity or any of the other flourishes that poets are wont to do.

There is a certain cynical poke at the foibles of mankind, of the ephemeral pains of the heart, of the dissolution of the soul, which says more between lines than the average page of a novel, yet compressed into verse. There is a certain bitterness in her work, but one not borne out of sadness, but of defiance at a world which disappoints. Yet somewhere, we see a hopeless paradise carved out of this world with knifes and daggers of cynicsim. And still, to give up sadness is not an easy sacrifice to make.

When I am old, and comforted,
 And done with this desire,
With Memory to share my bed
 And Peace to share my fire,


I'll forget the way of tears,
 And rock, and stir my tea.
But oh, I wish those blessed years
 Were further than they be.

But there is humour and fun in this hidden - but only for those whom it comes unbidden. It is not quite verse that I penned, but in my life worse I have sinned. Inspired me she did with her sorrow, but with an ounce of talent of hers to borrow (for it is a poor poet who does not inspire).

The themes are slightly odd for a contemporary of Wodehouse, verging on the suicidal, bittersweet and mordant. But the soul searching gives way to girlish glee in such twists that this reader is left speechless. The gift of repartee is unmatched except perhaps by Nancy Astor on the other side of the Atlantic pond.

Thankfully, a fair bit of her work was done before 1923 which means that the copyright restrictions no longer apply to the work. You can get a fairly large collection of her poems from Poem Hunter as a very convenient pdf file [650k]. Take a good close look at some poems in there like the Burned Child, Recurrence, The Evening Primrose or Surprise.

And it still echoes back But alas, we never do ...

Four be the things I am wiser to know:
Idleness, sorrow, a friend, and a foe.
          -- Dorothy Parker

posted at: 04:45 | path: /books | permalink | Tags: , ,

Fri, 17 Nov 2006:

I've been a great fan of Terry Pratchett ever since the day I started reading the Discworld novels. Rather than raw fiction, it is philosophy, social commentary and a sprinkling of cynicism, which makes his books so enjoyable. The last in the line of books is Thud! (read it to get the Him diamond quote) started to read the Science of Discworld and sort of looking around for Wintersmith. So just out of curiousity, I started counting the Pratchetts I've read and as it turns out, I've read 42 of them. Here's a quick list of what I've read (in no particular order). If you liked Douglas Adams and wanted him to be more Tolkien, while making fun of the modern world - pick up a Pratchett, any one.

Ach, crivens !, wish'e could squiggle a neece ending to all yen tales - ye ken ?.

[A Human] ... is merely a means for a book to create more books.
          -- Daniel Dennet

posted at: 04:42 | path: /books | permalink | Tags: , ,

Tue, 18 Jul 2006:

'Ti's a tale of original sin. Is mankind selfish and evil by nature and that civilization has tamed them or did the noble savage become corrupted by the evil influence of society ? The debate is not a new one, with Hobbes holding fort for one side and Rousseau cheering on the other. Matt Ridley rides both paths deep into the subject, but to realize that neither can explain our actions completely. For the fans of Dawkins and Selfish Gene, this book will serve as a good second volume of the story, devoted to the human animal.

In the first chapter of the book, the concept of the Greater Good is dissected and laid bare. The selfishness of the individual is not a direct consequence of selfish genes and yet an individual becomes less of a well oiled machine aimed at survival and reproduction. Then we examine the myth of self-sufficiency, and the advantages division of labour brings, which can serve for the maintenance of societies. More accurately, trade and skilled labour.

But before we get too much into the territory of hawks and doves, the semantics of benevolence is put to the test. Sympathetic responses carry with them an obvious emotional reward on satisfaction. If helping somebody did make you feel better, was that an act of true altruism ? But before we destroy the whole concept of altruism, we head back towards understanding why it feels good to do good.

Duty and the Feast: Why would a hunter hunt when most of his catch is shared out to males who didn't participate in the hunt ? The sharing of meat is prevalent while plant produce is hardly ever shared out. The answer seems to be that mankind were poor hunters to start with. We were completely unequipped to be carnivores and meat was mostly a matter of luck and providence. So sharing the meat meant that the risk of going hungry was spread out among more people. It is a very good way of reducing the risk without reducing overall supply. But what's to stop the idler from exploiting the hunter and not having to work for the meat ? In other words, who'll pay for the lighthouse when everybody gets light for free ?

There's the point to redefine yet another human concept - Prestige. No man can eat a whole mammoth, but by giving it out he can exchange the perishable good into something more durable - social status. The hunter who regularly brings in meat for the tribe is likely to end up with the best women (directly or indirectly) than the idler who sat by the trail picking his nose. The social marketplace repays meat with other favours, in some sort of indirect reciprocity.

But there are other more compelling reasons to give. Hunter gatherer societies seem to have achieved the zen of comfortable living. To live comfortably, aspire for moderate means and achieve them. Rather than go further into luxury and risk jealousy, they stop. In most of these societies, to be rich is to refuse to share. An eskimo caught hoarding can be killed. The taboo paves way for equality and eliminates the class struggle, which has been the cause of economic strife for most of the modern era (count the revolutions).

Morality is drawn into the equation in the next chapter, with the rationality of most of our behaviour questioned. Often we are turned away from the rational alternative of say, taking a bribe, embezzling money or murdering your neighbour, by simple fact that we have evolved a sense of Right and Wrong. Unconsciously or even sub-consciously, we are aware that trust in us by the rest is worth preserving. Trust is the coin of trade and we are eager to prove our capacity for altruism in order to gain it.

Hypocrite's Oath: We admire selflessness. We love the Mother Theresas of the world. But we do not let altruism rule our life directly. We simply do not practise what we preach. The more other people people practise altruism, the better for us. The more we follow self-interest, the better for us. So realistically, we should follow self-interest in private, yet encourage altruism in public. And that we do.

You and what army ? : Ridley, then goes on into the root of human conflict. The group warfare of mankind is not unique among species, but only we take it to a scale of complete destruction. The extreme nature of the armies of mankind rise from the built-in conformism which lends itself well to the organization of relatively homogeneous armies of vast numbers. Face it, we're not very strong individualists.

There were wars, trade and laws before civilization took root. So what did exactly civilization bring in ? The first man who fenced off a part of pasture and said 'Mine' and found people simple enough to accept it was its true founder. If only someone had realized how much misery and horror mankind would have been spared if not for that ...

Property is one of the corner stones of civilization. Without the concept of ownership, the common turns into what is known as the Tragedy of Commons. Give a man a desert to own, it shall become a garden in nine years, but give him lease of a garden for nine, it shall become a desert. Arthur Young was spot on in saying that the magic of property turns sand into gold. But as in the fable of the man running, property meant that you could always want more and indeed own more. With that crucial step, we had broken through the taboo of hoarding and the first steps into civilization had taken mankind away from the true and narrow path of contentment.

So all in all, we were built by selfish genes who found it more convenient to make us social, trustworthy and co-operative beings. The essential paradox contained in Man remains unresolved. We are not the blank slate on which civilization has written and yet we are no more our past selves than you were the kid in your baby pictures. We have changed, but we are yet the same.

We do good and we do bad, but truly we are neither.

In Nature there are neither rewards nor punishments, there are consequences.
               -- R.G. Ingersoll

posted at: 02:13 | path: /books | permalink | Tags: ,

Thu, 15 Jun 2006:

For almost two years, I've been trying to explore and understand the social situations which have slowly built up the strict roles assigned to the sexes. From the husband trying to bring home the bacon to the housewife packing lunches for their children, it has somehow always struck me as a social conformity rather than a natural state of affairs. But with every bit of new knowledge I gather, I have come to understand that this is merely a snapshot in the life of mankind (womankind too). With all that in context, I bought yet another book on genetics - Adam's Curse.

'To be born woman is to know
Although they do not talk of it at school
That we must labour to be beautiful.'
I said, "It's certain there is no fine thing
Since Adam's fall but needs much labouring.

                     -- Adam's Curse, Yeats

We are all born women. Until the sixth week, a foetus is developing identically for both sexes. But why do we men need to exist in the first place ? As it turns out, there are other genes that exist in our cells than the nuclear DNA that we commonly exchange and intermix during reproduction. The reason men exist is because when two normal haploid cells combine, the two cells' mitochondrial DNA end up fighting to their death. Somewhere in the dark distant past, the cells discovered that they could fix this match by depriving one cell of most of the cytoplasm. Those crippled cells, with a few mitochondria churning out O2 free radicals and literally burning themselves up ended up as representative of the male. And they basically fought the system by making up for that in numbers.

But that can't be the only reason to have all the rampaging testosterone fuelled men ? Well, it turns out that the mutation rate is much higher than in the other gamete and it all explodes into randomness. The Y-Chromosome is the only record of this chaos, since it does not recombine with any other and reduce the mutation damage done to it. It is on a slow but sure path to ending up as completely damaged junk DNA.

With the current population and extrapolating the mutation rate over the next 5000 years, the Y-chromosome would have to be exceptionally lucky to survive that many cell divisions. Unless our non-Junk segments of the gene pattern managed to cross over onto some other chromosome,the Adonis Chromosome according to Bryan Skyes, the future of men is a dead end.

We're merely a passing fad.

<he> Was it good for you ?
<she> Read my blog.

posted at: 16:47 | path: /books | permalink | Tags: ,

Wed, 07 Jun 2006:

As a huge fan of the Simpsons, when I saw the book Planet Simpson lying around in the Science section (whaa ?) of Landmark, I couldn't resist picking it up and having a browse through. Ended up with me going home with the book paid for and a resolution to read it through properly (for a 500 page book).

After reading the entire breadth and length of the book, I'm quite unimpressed. The book is really about Planet Earth and describing exactly where Simpsons interescts into this very down to earth place. The hypocritical clergy, the corrupt politicians, the town drunkard, the evil corporations, all picked out of the background and given their day in the sun. Even characters like Troy McLure (played by the late Phil Hartman) or Apu Nahasapemapettilon get their just analysis and are compared to the realworld celebrities and immigrants.

As thorough as the book is, it wastes quite a bit of time putting the episodes in their time & place, explaining the emergence of punk rock and grunge and how the social commentary carried into Simpsons came into being. The world of Simpsons suddenly isn't too different from ours, only carried a bit further into yellow skinned incredulity. After all it wasn't the planet of the apes and neither is it planet Simpson, it's merely home.

Now, I don't think I'd ever be satisifed by anything other than a hardbound snpp.com - but this book's pretty good at pointing out the show's golden age and when exactly it jumped the shark.

I'm happy that I read it, but I don't think I'll read it too often (unlike my Wodehouse, Douglas Adams or Pratchett collections). So I'd have rather borrowed this book than bought this eulogy to the simpsons. Next up for perusal are Nancy Cartwright's My Life As A 10-Year-Old Boy (aka Bart) and the Matt Groening guidebook to the Simpsons - One Step Beyond Forever. Maybe soon, maybe never.

"Me fail English? That's unpossible."
          -- Ralph Wiggum

posted at: 15:01 | path: /books | permalink |

Mon, 05 Jun 2006:

Most of the last weekend, I spent reading books in my bed. My latest acquisition is a hardbound by Jasper Fforde. Now, I first encountered this author in Rhys's posession, in a book called the The Eyre Affair and was basically recommended with 'It's absolutely crazy'. And it turned out to be exactly that, surreal to the extreme though you are left with a lingering doubt whether all this could really happen. There is just enough reality mixed in to make you wonder, just like the time you saw The Truman Show. The current tome under inspection is titled The Big Over Easy which does nothing to diminish my opinion.

The book tries to transcend reality by introducing nursery rhyme characters including the anthropomorphic animals and the usual fare of animated pastries, girls with 28 feet of hair and Solomon Grundy as an old man. But the beginning of the book starts with a trial of Three Little Pigs for pre-meditated murder of one Mr Wolff. The case hinged around the fact that the pot of water into which the 'Big Bad Wolf' fell in would have taken six hours to reach boiling which indicated premeditation. Since the pigs were tried by a jury of peers, that is a baker's dozen of pigs, they walked scot free. Then there are the detectives whose guild treats public approval as its currency and traces its history back to Sherlock Holmes (as if he's real). Each guild detective has an assigned Official Sidekick whose duties include writing out a passable entry for the mystery hungry magazines. So there's the grungy and bitter man stuck in a rut - Jack Spratt and the ambitious career detective Friedland Chymes. Both of whom started from the same humble beginning of the Nursery Crimes Division, but while Friedland was ranked #2 in popularity, Spratt wasn't even on the list.

And then the case comes up even more nuttier than a christmas fruit cake. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, but was he pushed ? Well, as it turns out his ex-wife shot someone else thinking it was Humpty, his current lover put poison in his coffee, his previous flame's (who happened to be Rapunzel) husband ordered him killed and then there was the part about him hatching. Anyway, we ended up with a conniving chiropodist, a golden goose, a geek who's obsessed with spelling (re: Unsfzpxkable) , an alien who loves filing and then there's the Jellyman. Not to mention that Jack has killed 4 giants before and cuts down a beanstalk to kill the monster.

The first thought to enter my head at the end of the book was What was this guy smoking ?.

Humpty Dumpty didn't fall, he was pushed.

posted at: 15:17 | path: /books | permalink | Tags: , ,

Sun, 14 May 2006:

I don't have a laptop and the hospital anyway doesn't allow any electronics inside anyway. So I ended up lugging a couple of dead trees conveniently pulped, flattened and printed on. The chosen few were from the Johnny Maxwell trilogy from Terry Pratchett - Johnny and the Bomb and Only You Can Save Mankind .

Both these books are classified as young adult fiction, but Pratchett's no Enid Blyton and doesn't try to replace her either. There is no Faraway Tree or Wishing Chairs in here, only a boy who can't filter out the wonders of this world and an old lady who's got time on her side. The total unreality of Johnny's world is different from the fairyland of the average adult fiction book.

The stereotypical gang in the books provide for some biting comments, especially on racism and female suffrage. For example the introductions are just too good to miss and is probably the best page on the book altogether. Here are the choice bits of it :-

The thing about all of us, Johnny thought, the sad thing is that
we're not very good. Actually that's not the worst part. The 
worst part is that we're not even much good at being not 
much good.

Take Yo-less. ... He was black. Technically. But he never said
'Yo', and only said  'check it out' at the supermarket ...
Yo-less said it was racial stereotyping to  say all black kids
acted like that but,however you looked at it Yo-less was born
with a defective cool.


'One of them was black'

Johnny nodded dismally at the phone. Yo-less had explained about
this sort of thing. He'd said that if one of his ancestors had 
joined Atilla the HUn's huge horde of millions of barbarians
and helped them raid Ancient Rome, people would've definitely
remembered that one of them was black.

For all that brilliant social commentary Pratchett is capable of, he just can't write out an ending to a book. Almost all good Discworld books were left hanging in status quo, which you can't do with a book like Johnny and the Bomb. There's a bit of closure missing in the book which sort of justifies its events with the ending rather than the other way around. Dark humor of Tom Holt too convey this disturbing sense of too many very convenient coincidences. Nobody but Wodehouse in Pearls,Girls and Monty Bodkin has written that perfect book where the audience is giggling away at the simple coincidences piling up to set up a ROTFL ending. But in that case, the twists were quite random and as surprising as the first time I read Oscar Wilde's Model Millionaire but multiplied many times over. Johnny and the Bomb doesn't even belong on the same shelves.

In other words, the book doesn't really keep you guessing. Only You Can Save Mankind on the other hand has a bit more material to it, especially if you put yourself in the early nineties with CNN broadcasting the Iraqi night sky with the Scuds, Patriots and AAA tracers flares included. The total disconnect a pilot feels between pressing a button and real people dying is palpable and carried into the book with clarity.

The initial messages from the alien spaceship and the very obvious absence of a Don't fire button are all digs at the guilt free violence that the war breeds in a real world, only here transported into a twelve year old's video game. The player respawns, but the enemies die forever which sort introduces the guilt factor while shooting down an enemy fighter.

Also buried in there are prods at the allied forces about the Geneva Convention and similar codified rules of war. The requirements of similar treatments for POWs as well as a blatant disregard for civilian collateral damage were highlighted in the game but the suggestions go a lot further than what just happened on your screen. Remember Vietnam, Agent Orange and hot Napalm.

It is quite unfortunate to say that you had to be there (or at least put yourself back in the '90s) to actually read between the lines of this book. These books are for all those who sat by watching the bombs drop over Baghdad and witnessed the 'taking out' of several strategic hospitals and bunkers. A fourteen year old in 2006 will not find the irony or relive the horrors reading this book - he (or she) just doesn't have the context. The books paint a blood red sunset to the west and spotless hands of those who pressed the buttons. So to simplify - I liked the stuff between the lines, hated the ending and liked the characters (totally).

Reality is hard to live with - Unlike Johnny, we can't cope.

How do wars start ? Diplomats tell lies to journalists, and they believe what they read.
                -- Karl Kraus

posted at: 02:22 | path: /books | permalink | Tags: ,

Mon, 24 Apr 2006:

I spent the entire weekend sleeping. Well, that's not quite accurate. After sleeping on friday night, I woke up sometime around 3 AM (missed barcamp that way) on saturday night and started to look for something to do. So I started to finish reading Earth, Air, Fire and Custard. Maybe it was a bad idea to read through the final chapters about a deliberately flawed hero (as pointed out by the Fey) especially when I was in a really bad mood. But I speed read my way through this one.

The book is pretty interesting, though I suppose I should read the "The Portable Door " and "In Your Dreams" to actually make sense of the entire Sophie Pettingel situation. I think the word retro-continuity would be the right one, where the current events are related to the ones that happen afterwards which turn around our natural causation ideas of "before and after" on its head. But that is only a natural consequence in a universe that lets you travel across time.

The omniscience of Van Spee sort of drives itself on the old thread of physical determinism which, if you've read through Freedom Evolves, restricts all instants to only one physically possible future. Also revealing the fridge to be Laeritides sort of weakens the plot a bit, especially since he is the Godfather (that could be said with a space in between and an ampersand) to Paul Carpenter. The presence of such a cosmic policeman undercover indirectly implies that God isn't omipotent and throws in a few other philosophical paradoxes for the true believers.

Anyway, basically Paul is a loser. Tom Holt wastes no opportunity to make this clear and does it in a few hundred pages. Also he puts in a few interesting jabs about people's judgement. The part about love at first sight and all that is a clear dig at the basic human tendency to judge a book by its cover. Oh and to understand the title of this, please look at what the fridge says to Paul.

Despite the happy ending, it did nothing to improve my mood and I continued to sleep after I was done.

Oops, I always forget the purpose of competition is to divide people into winners and losers.
                -- Hobbes in a sarcastic mood

posted at: 20:01 | path: /books | permalink | Tags: ,

Wed, 19 Apr 2006:

I picked up Good Omens a while back. The reason I bought it was because I saw the twin pairs of the hardbounds and in a moment of book lust decided that I'd buy the paperback. And a few feet away, perched on top of a bookshelf was the cheap paperback edition. From desire to demand and satisfaction in five minutes.

The moment I opened the book and read the first three pages, I knew I needed this book. The last time I felt this pulled in by a book was when I read the this is not her story in H2G2. These are those fateful lines - read them and understand.

... and was able to announced triumphantly that the Earth was created
on Sunday the 21st of October, 4004 B.C, at exactly 9:00 AM, because
God liked to work done early in the morning while he was feeling fresh.

This too was incorrect. By almost a quarter of an hour.

Secondly,the Earth's a Libra.

LIBRA. 24 September-23 October.
   You may be feeling run down and always in the 
   same old daily round. 

The basic idea of antichrist as being neither good or bad, but merely a mass of potential was interesting. Especially interesting are the side jokes, like Death's comments about Elvis or the hell hound transformed into a mongrel. Also there are the philosophical question of an angel and a demon co-operating as is observed between solidiers who have more in common with each other than with their superiors. Side references to the uncertainity of the result of Doomsday also raise questions about religion without directly denying the omnipotence of God. A lot of interesting things compressed into a paperback, and that's why I like it.

Also got my hands on the The Truth, which is quite in the league of Going Postal. Quite enjoyable, except for the portrayal of Sachrissa which could've been a little toned down (bosoms and black dresses, y'know). And quite an interesting insight into the world of Unorganized crime in Ankhmorpork. That book was hard to put down but when you're through you're through. The typos in the news paper motto was funny - the truth shall set you fret and the Worde family motto - mot juste.

Now, I have Thud left to read. I guess I'll wait for the paperback to come out.

<OldMonk> in india, we do not think... we know

posted at: 19:40 | path: /books | permalink | Tags: , ,

Mon, 13 Mar 2006:

Ever since November, I've read through over 18 Terry Pratchett novels. Recently, I've pushed my way through The Monstrous Regiment. It is a pretty nice book which touches the gender discrimination topic, pushed up to a social crisis like a war. There is also a slightly atheistic touch to the theme with a prohibitive God. Even through it all, there are still the jokes, like the vampire who is addicted to coffee. There is still a small thread of believability to the story that makes Pratchett's fantasy enjoyable.

Read through the Night Watch as well. That proved to be a much different story. Except for the villain and the revolution the entire story is just artificial. Though as much as I'd like the Trousers of Time explanation to multiple presents, the story is littered with platitudes such as - It is right, because I'm doing it. But readable and gripping anyway.

Also got my hands on the Bromeliad Trilogy - truckers, diggers, wings from f3ew. That is more of a child fantasy story which I'd rank below, much below something like the Carpet People. The clan names in the store make for some amusement, but you're not likely to read the book again for it. Though I must say I read the last sentence in Wings about 10 times. Bought a hardbound version for myself after I finished reading the paperbacks.

Interesting Times and Maskerade proved to be good reading. The reintroduction of Twoflower from Light Fantastic, sort of brings closure to where the Wizzard chronicles ended up as far as the tourist is concerned. Also parodies of imperial china in terms of names (Lord Hong) as well as the Forbidden City were pushed in late, because the original TwoFlower was never hinted as being such. Also the terracotta soliders rising out of the ground, sort of reminds you of the Qin Terracotta Soldiers. Maskerade had some good ideas, like the fact that people identify the ghost by the mask and that there could be more than one mask wearer. Also it is quite interesting to see why the Three Witches works out - Maiden, Mother and Crone covers women of all ages except for about nine months somewhere in the middle. Not to mention the birth of Perdita who in Carpe Jugulum is the variable X. Inside every fat woman, there's a thin girl trying to escape - thus Agnes had Perdita.

Also, while browsing in Landmark's book piles I noticed two books which had cover images which looked the same. It could be a coincidence, because I was looking for the second book and was taken aback when I recognized the cover as something I read a while back.

I guess good artwork is getting harder to find :)

It's hard to be religious when certain people aren't incinerated by lightning from above.

posted at: 20:01 | path: /books | permalink | Tags: ,