Sunday, May 25, 2014

Rashmi bookmarks “A Fall of Moondust”

Well. This was new. This novel by Arthur C. Clarke is about one of the popular tourist attractions on the Moon: a cruise across Sea of Thirst, a lunar sea filled with an extremely fine dust, which almost flows like water. A Fall of Moondust follows the ill-fated Selene, which becomes victim to a moonquake and is trapped underneath the moon's surface.

I found this book very different from the normal Clarke fare in its concentration on the element of human drama as the 22 passengers aboard the cruise ship struggle to stay alive. As they engage in a variety of activities from poker sessions to book readings to mock court cases, the story progressively brings out such a rich display of characters. From Mr. Harding's innocent questions that strike a deep nerve of anger and regret in Myra Schuster, to Radley's final "confession"; from the rescue operations of the brilliant Chief Engineer Lawrence, to Father Vincent Ferraro, who believes in man and god, to astronomer Dr. Thomas Lawson who believes in neither, this was a very well crafted portrait of human nature.

Of course this angle also had its negative side. Every time the melodrama of Captain Pat Harris and his chief stewardess Sue Wilkins (are they together or are they not?) reared its boring head, I tended to skip a few lines.

What was also really interesting about this story was its detailed attention to actual facts; Wikipedia tells me it is called "hard science fiction" (as opposed to soft sci fi). While there was no limit to the imagination as far as the setting was concerned, the storytelling did not cross the limit of scientific possibility. That peculiar feature of the sand which results in Selene's sinking without a trace, in blocking all attempts at communication with the outside world, as well as in creating a blanket that generates life draining heat … a rescue mission plan that includes drilling a hole into the ship and has drastic results including dangerous cave-ins, fires and  CO2 poisoning … the situation was fantastic, the solutions were real.

This was a very interesting read; although to be very honest, I can get good drama from other sources, but the kind of untouched sci fi genius that Clarke has, I can't - and I missed that in this book.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Rashmi bookmarks “Fortunately, the milk”

Once upon a time, the mother of this family had to go out of town on a business meeting. She left some ‘to do’ notes and lots of food in the fridge. Oh and they were out of milk, so she asked the father to get some. Come next morning, and as the children sat down to their breakfast, they realized that their best option might be to have cereal with orange juice. Dad dashes off to the store and comes back with the milk … much, much, much … later.

Well, it couldn’t be helped. You see, between the store and the home, he got swept away on an incredible adventure that had everything from an alien abduction, to a meeting with the Queen of Pirates, to a ride on a hot air balloon (I mean, a “Floaty-Ball-Person-Carrier”) operated by a stegosaurus, and a Time-defying meeting with an ancient people following the prophecy of the eye of Splod. (I have to say, the time travel forward to the distant future was awesome; the time travel to a few minutes in the past to announce the ‘prophecy’ that they were to fulfill in the near future, was hilarious!)

Adding a dash of magic to the already extraordinary world of Neil Gaiman are illustrations by Skottie Young, who really manages to capture the wonder of storytelling so perfectly.

As always, a thoroughly enjoyable read. Gaiman continues to fascinate me :)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Rashmi bookmarks “The Broken Ones”

Stephen M. Irwin tells the story of one Wednesday, September 10, when the Earth’s polarity switched, causing planes to drop out of the sky, communication satellites to go bust and the world’s economy to crash and burn. ‘Grey Wednesday’ also marked the day every human being got a personal and constant companion - a ghost.

What a unique concept.

And what a way to waste a good concept.

Not that I disliked the book - there were some really good parts throughout - what was really disappointing was how a good idea slid into a mediocre story, because the writer did not take any arc to its natural conclusion and presented a story that belonged to no genre at all, with no payoff whatsoever.

Detective Oscar Mariani and Neve de Rossa represent the Personal Sightings Act or Nine-Ten Act (named so after September 10), a newly created department to manage all criminal activity borne of the claim, “the ghost made me do it”. As they get called in to investigate murders, each new crime forms a new link in an old chain of murder and mystery.

The greatest issue with the storytelling was its pace - fast and exciting at times, but lagging so dreadfully at others, that interest often waned.

The other problem I had with this story was the fact that the author seemed undecided about what kind of story he wanted to write. Irwin starts off with science fiction and creates a post apocalyptic world, full of filth and litter and the smell of sex everywhere, with junkies and panhandlers and children younger than eight years old hooking. Abruptly he shifts gears and goes into full blown horror mode, replete with gory murders including cigarette burns and images carved on bodies to intimate parts brutally carved out and victims thrown into industrial motor fans. Then he decides to go into the crime and mystery genre - and actually does create an interesting angle, especially in the slow reveal of links that existed between seemingly random people such as Penelope Roth and Megan McAuliffe. Then, quite out of the blue, the story enters fantasy mode with some giant bird chasing the detective (a section that was probably the sketchiest of the lot).

About two-thirds into the book there is a mention of Grey Wednesday and for a moment I was trying to recollect where I had heard that term before … I had actually forgotten all about it. At the end, I was left feeling like this was an average story with great potential, nothing more, nothing less.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Rashmi bookmarks “The City and the Stars”

One billion years in the future. Earth so old that it only has desert land and one city, Diaspar. Run by the Central Computer, this enclosed city is made up of people put together in the Hall of Creation. And a replica of the entire city is saved in the Council Hall, so that changes can be made and the city modified as needed.

A rewrite of his first novella, Against the Fall of Night, The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke is the story of a time when humanity, just like a couch or a house or a city, is created - its memories deleted or saved in the Memory Banks for all of eternity. Into this world, where everyone is a recycled creation, Alvin is born. This is the story of the quest of the first child to be born on earth for at least 10 million years.

As always, Clarke presents ideas that have never been explored before. What also emerges in this tale about history’s greatest scientific achievement: the creation of an incorporeal intellect is the question of Religion. What happened to the Galactic Empire at the end of the Dawn Ages? What really happened at Shalmirane? … As Alvin and his companion Hilvar journey together beyond the stars and start to uncover bits of history, the true story of the Religion of the Great Ones, led by the Master, unravels and subsequently uncovers the disastrous results of imposing limitations on something as limitless as the human mind.

I have to say I was a little disappointed by Alvin’s final decision, especially given the fantastic story that Vanamonde revealed, incomplete though it may have been. Still, here is yet another foray into that limitless Space that surrounds us all; a foray that only Arthur C. Clarke can effortlessly and convincingly make.