Sunday, November 24, 2013

Rashmi bookmarks “Coraline”

As I read more books by Neil Gaiman, I realize I really do like him a lot! My latest read, Coraline, is the horror/fantasy story of Coraline Jones and the events that transpire when her family moves into an old house that has been divided into individual apartments.

An ordinary brick wall that separates their apartment and the one adjacent to theirs miraculously disappears the day Coraline opens the door unaccompanied by anyone else. That mysterious doorway then becomes the entry point to a parallel universe - with a twisted version of the exact same people in her life: retired stage actresses Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, Mr. Bobo and his circus mice, and her Other Mother and Other Father.

Where the terror of buttons sewn into eyes drives her back to her own world, the “Help Us” scrawled on the glass takes her back on a heroic journey through the creepy “Other World”, armed with but a lucky stone that has a hole in the centre.

Bravery isn’t the absence of fear - quite contrarily, it is being very afraid, and yet doing the right thing anyway. That is the heart-warming message that comes through as we follow Coraline’s terrifying rescue involving dead children, ghosts, dog bats, humans melted together in a cocoon … and of course, the evil Other Mother.

Another fantastic work by Gaiman, filled with that unapologetic surrender to unfettered fantasy that is, in my opinion, his trademark.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Happy 50th Birthday, Doctor Who!

I know this blog is dedicated to book reviews, but I just could not let this historic day go by without acknowledging the greatest creation that I have been fortunate enough to experience.

I have had many likes and many passions, but not to this life-altering degree, and so I say to all those brilliant hearts and minds that have come together to create this wonderful world: Happy Birthday! Thank you so much for taking me on this incredible journey through time and space and opening my mind to limitless possibilities.

One day, I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine.”

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Rashmi bookmarks “The Alchemyst”

The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel is the first novel in the six book fantasy fiction series ‘The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel’ by Michael Scott.

Before humans ever came into being, there existed the race of Elders. History calls them gods. From their time come the elements we all know - fire, earth, water, air - and a fifth element which is “the greatest of all the magics” … it is the battle for the stolen codex that brings together two ancient warring powers, Nicholas Flamel and John Dee, and forms the basis of this tale - a story that takes us from an ordinary street in San Francisco to the heart of Yggdrasill in a fantastic shadowrealm, weaving its way through the worlds of the Great Queen Morrigan and The Mistress of Air, the Witch of Endor.

Overall, I thought the concept of the story was brilliant - it was a really good fantasy story, with some truly memorable characters and moments. From the undead stone Golems that come marching in to the small bookshop where Josh Newman works, to Hekate’s house in the parallel universe of the shadowrealm where Sophie and Josh, Nicholas and Scathach take refuge, this was a fantastic world.

I also liked how the ancient myth in the story is constantly linked to actual history and legend that we are all aware of, thereby heightening the sense of credibility. To take an example, the earliest gods such as Anubis are said to have animal shapes because of the Toc clans that lived along with humans hundreds of years ago.

“The two that are one, the one that is all” … I thought that the prophecy in this story was awesome. In fact, it was a little disappointing that the second part of this prophecy, where there is confusion about the interpretation pertaining to saving or destroying the world, was not explored a little more. Josh’s introduction to necromancy serving as a nemesis to Sophie’s Awakening was barely touched upon before being abandoned hurriedly. Then again, this was the first book of a series; the subject may be broached later.

For me, where the book fell short of being truly memorable was in its telling. With the rich ideas that form its core, I feel a lot more could have been done with the narrative. The pace seemed to lag at times, making the reading quite boring. And when all was said and done, not a lot really happened - it really came down to a fight, a run to another place, another big fight, another escape, the end. A good story somehow missed the mark in its story telling.

Still, this was a good read, and I will definitely be checking out the next in the series!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Rashmi bookmarks “The Sentinel”

Arthur C. Clarke - who continues to be one of my top four favourite authors, and whom I consider the best science fiction writer of all time - once called science fiction “the only genuine consciousness expanding drug”. Every now and then, I revisit his work, and it truly enriches my mind and gives me a fresh shot of wonder and hope all over again!

From the advancement and resilience of humans in “Rescue Party” to the crime and drama of “Breaking Strain”, from the discovery of new life in “Jupiter V” to a startling discovery by a cyborg in “A Meeting with Medusa”, from a stowaway prince in “Refugee” to a race for survival with drastic results in “The Songs of Distant Earth”, the stories in this anthology wove through the farthest reaches of infinity to the deepest points in my mind.

My top three stories in this anthology were:

3. The Wind from the Sun
Imagine a spaceship - no, I really mean ‘ship’ - as in, a ship that sails on the sea - complete with sails and all. Now imagine a whole fleet of these - but in space! This story is about sun-yacht racing that starts in the Earth’s orbit, and continues in Space, pushed simply by the pressure of sunlight. The idea was fascinating enough on its own - what drew this story especially close to my heart was the final act by Merton - the kind of heroism that goes beyond the self in the name of science.

2. Guardian Angel
What happens when a much superior intelligence decides to colonize Earth? This story deals with the repercussions of such an alien invasion, including of course all the drama that comes with public opinion being invariably split between the followers and the rebels. For me, what added a final brilliant stroke to the story was the very brief glimpse of Karellen’s true form at the very end; it took the story from a world of futuristic science fiction to a distant past of myth and racial memories - a concept that is of course dealt with in more detail, in Childhood’s End.

1. The Sentinel
Although this is generally referred to as the story out of which 2001: A Space Odyssey emerged, I can see exactly why Clarke never liked that comparison. This story is about the discovery of an artefact on Earth’s Moon left behind eons ago by ancient aliens - and the alarm that that discovery triggers off. The feel of infinity in this story is matched only by the fearful brilliance of the reasoning behind the set up of the alarm.

Science fiction has always been my preferred genre, be it for reading books or watching movies; where Arthur C. Clarke touches my mind more than anyone else is in the sheer endlessness of his imagination, his unparalleled capability of taking you along with him on a journey to a far, far place you never would have imagined even existed, let alone experienced!

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Rashmi bookmarks “Heart-Shaped Box”

“The dead will drag the living down.”

This horror novel by Joe Hill is the story of aging rock star Judas Coyne and how his love of collecting weird, morbid and supernatural things leads him to buy a dead man’s suit … when the ghost attached to the funeral suit refuses to leave, it unleashes a reign of terror and unearths a series of horrific incidents.

As a child raised on a farm under the aegis of a very strict father, Justin Cowzynski’s adult life as a rocker is surrounded by everything from acid and suicide to heartbreak and murder. The unnatural death of one of his exes - Florida - becomes the basis of this tale of suspense and horror.

Like the ghost that cannot be rid of, the strongest feature of this story was the relentless sense of terror that never once lets up. Bound together by the eyes with the black marker scribbles - a fantastic imagery that runs throughout the story - no matter where Judas and Georgia run, the spirit constantly finds them out: in a song that suddenly comes on, in radio ads, in an inexplicable email, in a weird incident in the car in the garage, in a spooky call from Danny Wooten, in the diner with the electrolarynx…

What I also really liked about the story was that it was not just about horror for the sake of horror. This is a story of a dark past and a terrifying present; one that moves from a very creepy world to a very sordid one, climaxing with high drama at end, with an absolutely surreal ending that commences with the drive down the ‘night road’.

I also loved the characters of this story: each and every one of them - the sinister Craddock McDermott, the weird Judas Coyne, the tragic Florida, the sick Jessica, and, other main character, Georgia - who shows remarkable growth in her staunch and loyal support of the haunted Judas.

I am quite the newbie when it comes to reading horror, so it may well be that I know no better, but I have to say I really liked this story a lot - interspersed by scenes of violent horror as much as softened by allusions to sad pasts, the story not only carried a constant sense of fear, but was also filled with unbelievable plot turns, and these surprise twists made Heart-Shaped Box a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Postscript: A few minutes (literally) before posting this blog, I had a fantastic moment of startling revelation of my own - Joe Hill is apparently the son of Stephen King. HUH! … Especially shocking for me, as readers of my blog (all two of you) know exactly how I feel about Mr. King.