Sunday, January 19, 2014

Rashmi bookmarks “The Woman in White”

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins is the story of Walter Hartright, his accidental meeting with a mysterious woman dressed in white, and the series of events following his brief stint as drawing master for Laura Fairlie and Marian Halcombe at Limmeridge House.

The most impressive feature of this story was its storytelling; I really liked the idea of the story being narrated by different characters as they came in and out of the story, mirroring the presentation of a court case by several witnesses personally touched by the events. This also gave each narrative a unique touch, as a lawyer does not tell the story - or even have the same perspective - as, say, a painter.

I also thought that the story consisted of some very rich and varied characters - in some cases, beautifully described in one effective sentence - example, when Hartright says of Mrs. Vesey: “Some of us rush through life, and some of us saunter through life. Mrs. Vesey SAT through life.” I can’t say that I liked Laura Fairlie very much - I’m not a big fan of the delicate, pretty, sad heroines of yore, which is an inextricable part of novels of a certain time period (this book was written in 1859!) - however, considering the year, it is even more impressive to meet someone like Marian Halcombe - as decisive as she was intelligent. Also, just for the sheer humour value, I enjoyed reading all the parts involving Frederick Fairlie; while he may have been utterly useless to the other characters within the story, I thought his permanent ‘health issues’ and his dramatic reactions to the slightest puff of movement or tiniest whiff of sound, were just so funny!

While I did think that there were large sections of the book where the story really slowed down (some of Marian’s narratives did not advance the story much), from the time we get to Walter’s interview with Mrs. Clements and his subsequent meeting with Mrs. Catherick, to the final dénouement at the church in Knowlesbury, the story was really exciting. And while I had harboured some suspicions from early on, the final reveal involving Lady Glyde and Anne Catherick and the “Secret” involving Sir Percival Glyde and Count Fosco, was something I did not see coming at all.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Rashmi bookmarks “Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick” - Conclusion

Ok, so I finished reading this collection of 21 short stories by PKD, and after a huge internal strife (which to pick and which to drop: always such an intense debate when one is dealing with such genius) here are my top five favourites from the second half of the book:

5. A Little Something for Us Tempunauts
In a world beyond just astronauts and space travel, three tempunauts are sent into the future, and return to the news of their death during re-entry. Chrononaut Addison Doug realizes that they have been caught in a time loop. Does this realization give them ‘fore’ knowledge to avoid their own death? Or is that just the kind of time paradox one can never get out of?

4. The Electric Ant
Hospitalized after a car crash, Garson Poole wakes up to the shocking discovery that he is an ‘electric ant’ - an organic robot. Poole’s experimenting with the micro-punched tape in his chest cavity challenged Reality in such a brilliant way. The ending left me in as much fear as awe.

3. The Minority Report
John Anderton, creator of Precrime - a system created to foresee crime and punish people before they commit it - gets a report from his three ‘precogs’ that names him as a murderer in the near future. What follows is a great crime/mystery, made more complicated by the existence of multiple timelines in the future.

2. Rautavaara’s Case
I love stories that present an existing fact and question the concept to its very core, and this short story about three earth people stranded in space really shed new light on a centuries-old belief system. A rescue team from Proxima Centauri, comprising of a race of plasma beings that exist only in the form of intellectual consciousness, brings Agneta Rautavaara back to “life”. While monitoring her thoughts - which involve questions of the afterlife - the beings decide to alter her vision of Christ, and introduce their version of God … Would you be horrified by a Christ that eats a human, flesh and blood and all? Or does this ritual sound familiar? And if one is acceptable, can the other not be honourable?

1. Precious Artifact
Such sorrow. Such hopelessness. I was really moved by this story of the complete destruction of Earth in the aftermath of a war between Terrans and Proxmen. Milt Biskle is one of the many terraforming engineers who have been tasked with the job of making Mars habitable for humans. Suspicious about the outcome of the war, he decides to go to Earth. Facade after facade breaks down, and the great illusion is revealed for what it is… Even the one final act of kindness is not all that it seems.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Rashmi bookmarks “Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick”

This is probably the year I declare Philip K. Dick to be more than “a writer whose works I love” and call him one of my favourite writers of all time. (And can I also say, is anyone else boggled by the sheer volume of one man’s works that has been made into movies?) I am actually still in the midst of reading this collection, so I decided to split this review into two blogs. Based on a reading of the first 10 stories, here’s my top five:

5. Roog
I picked this story for the very unique perspective it presented - I love stories that not only give me a ‘never thought of it that way’ moment, but also inspire me to create wildly different things. This story about a mundane garbage pick-up truck on its routine, and a dog with possible alien encounters, did just that.

4. Upon the Dull Earth
Using ancient rituals, Silvia can summon “angels” whom she believes she is destined to join. When one day she does go over to the other side in a horrific clash with the creatures, her boyfriend Rick goes on a mission to bring her back. The results of his efforts raised this weird tale of God and Time and Existence to horror story, from which there is no escape.

3. Paycheck
Why does Jennings not remember the last two years of his life at Rethrick Construction? Why is he being paid the inordinate amount of 50,000 credits? And at the end of the day, what prompted him to exchange that sum for 7 apparently useless trinkets such as a piece of wire, a strip of cloth and a parcel receipt? This story brilliantly fused elements of crime, mystery and science fiction.

2. Adjustment Team
Is it Reality that we see all around us? Are we really who we think we are? Are there really men in black? In a bizarre tale set in Sector T137, we meet a Clerk, a Summoner, an omnipotent Old Man, and the world they create (or un-create as need be). At a very inopportune moment, in walks the unsuspecting Ed Fletcher, and witnesses what no one was ever meant to. From sudden and complete darkness to empty husks of a once-familiar world, this story was such a brilliant example of unadulterated Science Fiction!

1. Second Variety
I chose this one as my best read thus far, for the sheer finesse with which a lot of themes - sci-fi, drama, mystery and horror - were woven together to form one seamless story. Set in the brutal aftermath of a nuclear war between Russia and the United Nations, the story is about the ultimate terror borne of man and machine thrown into the same war. From the terrifying yet basic “claws”, comes the David and the Wounded Soldier, and that shocking finale involving Major Joseph Hendricks and Tasso.

Happy New Year everyone … here’s to a whole new year of reading and writing :)