Books

The Diamond Age: or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer

 Neal Stephenson

Snow Crash remains one of my favourite books in the genre, and it would only be a slight exaggeration to say that this book does for nanotechnology what the former did for the internet – give a fantastic perspective of the possibilities. I have to confess that Stephenson’s books are not the easiest to read- as anyone who has attempted The Baroque Cycle would agree to – but what I give him the most credit for is his scope of imagination. That matter compiler, (MC) which is one of the standard technologies in this book, is probably an advanced form of 3D printing, and this book was written in 1995!

From a plot perspective, there are at least two main protagonists. Nell, who escapes from domestic abuse with the help of her brother and gets a copy of the Primer, a book that adapts to the life conditions of the reader, and was originally made at the behest of an ‘Equity Lord’ for his granddaughter to propel her towards a more interesting life. (read subversive ideas) John Percival Hackworth, the architect of the Primer, who begins to be used by two separate forces to meet their own objectives. The story primarily focuses on Nell’s ‘evolution’ after she gets the Primer and Hackworth’s journey after he hands over the Primer. More

Frankly Spooking

Sriramana Muliya

I must first confess a little bias – I have known the author virtually for around a decade now, as Phatichar, his blogger handle.
He has tried at least two kinds of fiction genres here – sketch stories (or perhaps flash fiction) and short stories. The first kind does away with any setting or build up – they are just scenes or slices which begin and end abruptly. That’s not a problem, it’s the way it is supposed to work. :) The last five stories could be categorised as short stories – lengthier, with more complex plots and a more concrete narrative flow.

There are mainly three things I like about this book. The first is the simplicity of the language. I’m not sure if it’s a conscious effort or just a natural way of writing, but irrespective of that, it works very well. A big word or a complex sentence could have easily spoiled the gripping narratives. The second is the imagination – the sheer scale of scenarios, names, occupations, characters and their descriptions is admirable. Depending on your ‘palate’, you might consider some spooky, some scary and some as just a good story. That leads me to the last point – the structure of the book. More

And the Mountains Echoed

Khaled Hosseini 

Before I write about the book, I think a disclaimer that I haven’t read the earlier books by the author is necessary. Reviews tell me that there are patterns easily discernible in Khaled Hosseini’s works, so it’s probably good that I was introduced to the author with this book.

It’s been about five minutes since I finished the book, and my eyes are no longer moist. The thing is, I knew the ending. Pretty much everyone who reads the book and realises the intent of the story (within the story) that’s narrated by the siblings’ father at the very beginning of the novel- of a div who visits a village and takes away a child, of the father who braved odds in an attempt to win him back, and its ending, memories like ‘the tail end of a sad dream’ – can picture the frame in which the novel will end, or almost. Yet, like many other points in the novel, it did not fail to move me. That’s probably the defining character of this book – an unbearable sadness. More

The Seeds of War

Ashok Banker

The second in Banker’s MBA (Mahabharata) series. The book quickly moves through the progeny of Bharata, pausing only for characters who have a direct bearing on the final epic war. Kacha – Devayani, Yayati and Puru are such, with the latter also offering lessons on dharma.

The plot then moves on to the story of Shantanu and Ganga, and thus Devavrata, later to be known as Bhishma, after his terrible vow. The last few portions are focused on Shantanu’s second wife Satyavati and their offspring, and the continuation of the dynasty by Vyasa. More

Gods Without Men

Hari Kunzru

Fantastic! It’s one of those books which you either immediately connect to or switch off from. I wasn’t sure whether I’d like it because a few reviews said that the book leaves the reader hanging, and does not have a conclusive end. From a conventional perspective that’s probably true, but I felt that was precisely the point of the book – there are some things that will remain unknown. We need to acknowledge that in our lives and continue seeking or come to terms with it. It is that very human search for connection and meaning that made this book work for me. The other reason I was skeptical was because it was also described as an ‘American novel’, insinuating a deep cultural connect I feared I would miss out on. That fear proved unfounded since the work is nothing if not universal in its roots.

The action is mostly centred around the Pinnacles, a rock formation in the Californian desert, and the various intriguing happenings around it. Hari Kunzru has created a vast spectrum of characters, across several centuries. A British rock star, an Iraqi teenager, a family consisting of an Indian, an American and their son, believers of an alien worshiping cult, and so on. There is some immense imagination that is evident in the way the characters have been crafted – we can sense their back stories even when it’s not overtly mentioned. The narrative does not flow linearly, but I didn’t find it difficult to pick up the pieces of specific character plots or to identify their presence in others’ plots. More

The Accidental Apprentice

Vikas Swarup

If you’ve read Q&A (or seen its more famous screen adaptation) and Six Suspects, you’d recognise the narrative style in this as well – a series of sub plots driven by a connecting thread. In this case, an eccentric businessman sets a series of 7 tests for an initially reluctant young woman in order to prove herself capable of being the CEO of his conglomerate.

An ordinary person and her responses to circumstances that one would find familiar if one lived in India, that’s pretty much what the tale is. I finished the book in 2 days, would have finished it in one if not for a splitting headache. (not because of the book) That’s a testament to the pace of the narrative. Except for a slight lag towards the end, the plot is an edge-of-the-seat roller coaster. It also manages to showcase the various problems we face as a nation – from relatively small scale ones like khap diktats to large scale corruption. It also has characters whom one can easily map to real life popular personalities. That’s the good part. More

Best Kept Secret

Jeffrey Archer

The third volume of the Clifton Chronicles, which picks up right at the point where the second one ended – the House of Lords deciding the beneficiary of the Barrington fortune.

This one differs from the earlier volumes by almost ignoring the protagonist – Harry Clifton – altogether. There are plots around Giles, Emma and Sebastian, and they manage to take the story forward very well despite Harry remaining in the background most of the time. More

Mumbaistan

Piyush Jha

Piyush Jha’s Mumbaistan has “3 explosive crime thrillers’ as a descriptor, and a blurb from Ekta Kapoor that promises “entertainment, entertainment and entertainment.” All things considered, both sets of promises have been kept.

The first story – Bomb Day – has a set of stereotypes that one would associate with the subject – a prostitute, a cop, terrorists from across the border, a man with a past who is manipulated most of the time. To me, this was the slowest of the three novellas, but that’s only a relative measure, since you’d not be bored. The plot does keep moving, but there is a sense of predictability and cliches that seem to weigh it down. However, this is still a good “behind-the-scenes” look at the terrorists who hold a city to ransom and the law enforcers who try to prevent them from prevailing. More

Backseat

 Aditya Kripalani 

Judging by the date of publishing, this is probably the prequel to the school of writing (not genre, but language skills) that has one Mr.Tripathi as its patron saint now. The word skills are right up there – my favourite would have to be “help her bare the night” which, in the context of dance bars, was unintentionally very funny. There were enough bloopers around to indicate that the above was not clever wordplay.

The plot itself is fairly predictable except for patches, and the pace makes it bearable. The characters are uni-dimensional, though on a few occasions, they get out of their skin and go roaming randomly. The language is Marathinglish, and it’s possible you might pick up a few non-English phrases by the time you finish the book. More

Sons of Sita

 Ashok K Banker

The final book in Ashok Banker’s Ramayana series. It is also the concluding part of the Uttara Kaanda, and is set a decade after Rama banished Sita. Luv and Kush, her sons, grow up in the hermitage of Valmiki, and from the first page, set out, unwittingly, on a collision course with their father.

The author departs from the various versions I have read and puts a new spin on the events leading to the family reunion. I can’t be sure, but it would seem as though Banker’s version of Ayodhya is modeled after a superpower, complete with a political group called Republicans! Its acts of aggression, citing necessities that would seem selfish to an objective viewer, are easily comparable to what the US has been doing. Rama is portrayed as a king who takes on the mantle of an emperor on advice from a set of people motivated by their own vested interests. His relationship with his brothers has moved away from one of affection to more between that of a monarch and his vassals. More