Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Hunger Games - Book Review

Another post-apocalyptic novel on survival and the all American theme of “discovering oneself”.

I got this one about two months ago, after having heard rave reviews on the net and from friends (Hell, they even got a movie out on this!!), but never got around to reading it until now. A relatively slim book, this was a pretty fast read.

It tells the tale of survival, of a young girl fighting for her life, in the distant future dystopian state where the government rule is oppressive and totalitarian. In the aftermath of some huge environmental chaos, thirteen districts arise, all governed by the central Capitol, known as Panem, the seat of the government. Set in an unspecified future, a bleak and dark one at that, every year the government organizes games, known as the “hunger games” where as a symbol of their total oppressive regime, the Capitol demands a “tribute” in the form of a young boy and girl, aged 12 to 18, to participate. There are no rules in the game. Except one. Winner gets to walk away ALIVE. 

The novel follows the fate of sixteen-year old Katniss Everdeen, who gets pulled into the brutal and vicious games and now has to make choices that questions her sanity and sense of humanity. Edgy topic, especially for a YA Novel. Naturally since the premise to this book is loaded with violence and yet aimed at a young impressionable audience, I was curious to how Collins is going to handle this topic. She does it with complete √©lan.  The games are aptly called “Hunger Games” reflecting the bleak gloomy nature of the lives led by the people from various districts, where food is almost a luxury; well, the absolute kicker is that the games are also telecast live on TV across the 12 districts! Imagine the whole nation watching you as you remorselessly bash in your opponents skull. And kill you must, in order to survive in this game.

A very interesting premise and so I was eager to get started. I was swept away as soon as I started reading, as Collins adeptly handles her world building and writes from ground up, intense and focused and furious. First person point of view as you get gathered up in Katniss’ life and misery. Beautifully sets up the main character for you, as you get to know her every strength and weakness and love and pet peeves. This approach works well as you proceed further into the games itself, giving you the feel that you are the one stuck in the arena, striving hard to live until next sun-down.

The book’s pace never lets you go until the last few chapters, where the author takes a decidedly slower approach and tarries. I hated this part. I was itching to go, to watch some blood spill and break open some skulls. However, Suzanne writes dispassionately. Am sure having to be within that YA-cordon has had this effect where she would have been holding back on scenes which definitely could have gone over the top. So the book missed that explosive climax that I would have loved the book to have. I could have thought of at least three different ways in which to end the book, but the author manages to pick the one that is like the most politically right one. Diplomatic. Tepid. Lame. So the last few chapters did the book in, for me at least. And I ended up  liking it lesser and lesser as I sped towards the end. Katniss of course gets maximum screen space; however one of the “Strong” characters who deserved much more, actually gets ignored on the sidewalk and lost to us readers. Maybe she brought “him” back in part 2 and 3. But I’m not very enthused after listening to reviews on those books.

A good book with a fantastic premise to it. However, I feel Suzanne has kept herself in tight check and this for me, spoiled the book. It could have been so much more fun! To get some “people” killed :D ( for those of you who have read it, you know whom I am talking about!)

Perhaps 2 and half on 5. The extra “half” purely for having given us a head-strong mature “girl on fire” heroine.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Snow white and the Huntsman - Visual Delight

Kindle Zindabad !!

Today I bought my first official book from the Amazon Kindle store and am soooo thrilled !!
Go ahead - Feast yourself on some blood and gore and fine piece of Fantasy writing by one of my newest hot favorites :

Heroes by Joe Abercrombie

Ah well, here's the KICKER - all for $1.99 :D Now I see your face light up, huh ?
I accept your heartfelt undying gratitude. Go for Guts. Go for Glory. Peace!!!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Review: Immortals of Meluha

I should generally have clung onto my resolve never to read conventional best-sellers in India. But no! I had to give into the hype and get sucked into the general euphoric whirlpool that surrounds me. 

“Immortals of Meluha” was one such book. It’s an accomplishment.
Understatement. Accomplishment would be de-meaning to say the least. It would have been an accomplishment if you’d told me that the author was perhaps, ten years old. Staggering for a ten-year old. But heck, no, it has been penned down by a management grad who’s also a part-time i-banker now. (Part-time, as of now because the books been on the best-seller stands for quite some time and every bookstore promptly/proudly displays the book on its glass-shelved windows! Oh beg pardon, last I heard he’s actually QUIT!)

Anyways coming back to the book – the protagonist is Shiva, a stoned Tibetan who loves his marijuana and makes outrageously bad jokes ( that even makes the P in PJ’s cringe)who decides to move his tribe to this paradise called Meluha ( set in Kashmir, welcome to India)and settle down here for good. Life’s good, you got good samples of weed, another addictive elixir called Somras (God’s drinks) which promises longevity and good health (apart from mild discomforts of giving him a blue-throat), princesses and hand-maidens ready to chase around trees. But alas! Good things don’t last forever. He finds himself to be the center of attention because of his blue-throat (some weird kind of super-power huh!) – He’s actually the deliverer from Evil for this whole kingdom they’ve been waiting for, for centuries.
You’re born into your destiny, you may run, you may hide but you can never escape.
Classic superhero stuff really. You get thrust into unlikely situations, with responsibility you never wanted thrust upon you and finally you come out trumps. Simple plan. And Amish sticks to this doggedly. Siva turns out to be the unlikely hero, gradually winning the hearts over, including that of stubborn sati (love-interest) and the egoistical general (Strong Paternal Father figure).
The plot flows. It never ebbs. Events unfolding one after the other. And it’s admirable how Amish has turned out mythological stories and given them a nice believable touch, weaving in countless folklores and characters from Hindu mythology into his narrative. He brings to life a lot of practices in the Indian culture that leaves a warm after glow.

Am afraid that is all that's the good stuff. His narrative is so jarring that I almost stopped in the middle. You don’t realize in the beginning, but as the story unfolds, you expect the jitters to settle down and the author to get to his own, telling an admirable story. But no. Amish writes like he is writing his school literature project (unguided at that!) the language is horrendous. ( blame me of course, I have been spoiled silly by the likes of Steven Erikson and G RR Martin, but I gave the guy enough rope to come up good!)
Set pieces and action scenes are abrupt; X pirouetting with a sword was the best move he came up with. Romantic interludes between Shiva and Sati left me cringing and diving for cover sometime. Sample this:
Why would I not want to touch Sati? I want to keep touching her in every possible way throughout my life!
Character development of Siva, was probably another of the saving graces. We see him grow throughout the book, finally accepting his destiny and growing into it. Side characters have been left right there. On the side-walk. Neglected and forlorn. He also weaves in an element of mystery with the help of “Old Pandits” who counsel and advice Siva whenever he’s lost. The “nagas” also was an interesting touch – let us see how he builds up on that promise though.
I am not sure, if I will risk another venture into the “happy zone of weed-loving Tibetan stoned Messiah” again though. I have heard Amish tries to go “Literary” in his second book by concentrating on his language rather than story. (Shudders!)

May the Force be with you. Or better said, May the Weeds be with you.
Two out of five. One for the myth. One for effort.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Top 100 SFF Books in History

Some three months ago, NPR published what is known as the Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books - voted by close to 60,000 people. Well, I sure wasn't one of them, but it's a pretty solid list. even though it be missing a few good books that has come out in the recent past, ( am a sucker for discovering kick-ass debuts, especially fantasy!) I still respect the list. Here goes - I am highlighting the ones I read, not too many from the looks :(

1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien
2. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
3. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert
5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin
6. 1984, by George Orwell
7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov
9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan
13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson
15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore
16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov
17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein
18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss
19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick
22. The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood
23. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King
24. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke
25. The Stand, by Stephen King
26. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
27. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury
28. Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
29. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman
30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein
32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams
33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein
35. A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller
36. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
37. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne
38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys
39. The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells
40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny
41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings
42. The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
43. The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson
44. Ringworld, by Larry Niven
45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin
46. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien
47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White
48. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
49. Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke
50. Contact, by Carl Sagan
51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons
52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
53. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
54. World War Z, by Max Brooks
55. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle
56. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
57. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett
58. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson
59. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold
60. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett
61. The Mote In God's Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
62. The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind
63. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
64. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist
67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks
68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard
69. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
70. The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
71. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne
73. The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore
74. Old Man's War, by John Scalzi
75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson
76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke
77. The Kushiel's Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey
78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin
79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire
81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson
82. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks
84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart
85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson
86. The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher
87. The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe
88. The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn
89. The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan
90. The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock
91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury
92. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley
93. A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge
94. The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov
95. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson
96. Lucifer's Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
98. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville
99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony
100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis

A mere handful. What do you think ? How many have you finished ?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Heart Shaped Box: Book Review

It has been a long time since a horror book scared me. I found this gem of a book, the debut of Joe Hill, son of one of my all-time favorite authors Stephen King, in a run-down second-hand bookstore in my wife's home-town. "Gem" would pretty much be the perfect adjective for this hard bound copy. I got hooked right away from page one. I actually found another one as well - "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" by Susanna Clarke; a hefty tome of a book which I saved for another rainy day to tackle. Coming back to Joe's debut horror story.

The book is about a retired rock-star, Jude Coyne who has a fetish to collect weird (bizzarre/gothic/pretty much disgusting) stuff and is renowned for this motley collection as well. He cannot resist when some stranger puts their father's ghost up for sale on an auction site. and thus begins his troubles. the ghost is really a ghost (duh! and not just inside his head!!) and it haunts Jude's life and hangs around his house- things go awry when the ghost decides to really up the ante and goes after Jude and his girlfriend with a wicked slasher knife.

Joe's a powerful writer. the spooks really come alive through his imagery that is visceral and imaginative. he doesn't hesitate to stoop down and explore the hidden depths that human psyche can stoop to. that's where the "darkness" element comes for his fantasy. I have not read a book in recent times set in contemporary America with a fantastical element to it. that is what made the book so scary and un-put-downable for me. Heart-racingly pacy and spooky, Joe is a magician with words. Every word that speaks true of the proud bloodline. A fruit that has not falleth far from the tree. ( Interestingly, I never found out this little trivia - it was my wife who started to read his second book, Horns, who found this out. I cannot wait to start on that one, if the debut is anything to go by!)

While the book has really nothing new by itself to offer to the horror genre, Joe draws us in through the strong characterization of his main protagonist, Judas the rock-star. Moody, erratic, genius, sarcastic, sensitive, loving. The man grows on you as you keep going; his multiple girlfriends, rockstar attitude, relationship with estranged father, the muse that comes back to haunt him – all these phases have been painted realistically by Joe and you can’t help feeling a wee bit sorry for the poor chap who’s going through his own purification in Joe Hill’s version of Hell. A nasty place indeed. While all ends are neatly tied up by the end, Joe brings back a glimmer of light in that dark place he has created. And that for me was the winner with this book. It is ultimately about slaying one’s ghosts of the past. Correcting the wrong-doings and sins of his past and coming clean. And how can I forget – the tribute to rock and metal. With a title itself that's a tribute to Nirvana, Joe’s woven in a lot of great tracks that form the backdrop to this story that races from wintry grey of New York all the way to the green country sides of Florida. A beautiful horror story that is also about re-inventing yourself, if I may call it so.

A full four stars. The boy has come of age. A man of his own reckoning, Joe Hill is here stay and has a long road ahead.