Sunday, February 28, 2016

Book Review: “Along Came a Spider”

by James Patterson.

The first novel in the ‘Alex Cross’ series, this story follows the forensic psychologist as he works on two cases: that of a brutal murder of two women and a child, and a high profile kidnapping of two children from an exclusive private school. Totally unrelated at first, the story soon leads us to one common factor: the brilliantly psychotic Gary Soneji.

Other than the smooth reading, what kept my interest consistently alive was the fact that every time a mystery was solved or a plot point concluded, something new came up. Quite early on in the story, we are introduced to the perpetrator and his grand plans; and even while I was wondering what was left to read, the story revealed yet another dramatic turn of events.

I did not care for the two biggest relationships in this story - that of Alex Cross and his grandmother, and that of Alex Cross and Jezzie Flannagan, the head of the missing children's Secret Service detail. Both seemed to be written by someone who was not comfortable discussing relationships and had to resort to clichés to tell that part of the story. Only the fact that one of them is integral to the story, made me keep reading through those sections.

Other than that small hitch, this was a great story told really well - moving rapidly from morbid obsessions to brutal murders, from hypnosis sessions to unlikely witnesses ... with some really surprising twists.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Book Review: “I Sing the Body Electric! & Other Stories”

by Ray Bradbury.

While perhaps not in the same ilk as The Illustrated Man and The Martian Chronicles, this collection of short stories nevertheless showcases exactly why Bradbury is the master of presenting the most basic human emotions even in the most extra terrestrial settings, while all the time creating sheer poetry with his words.

For its pure awesome factor, "Tomorrow's Child" really impressed me. Malfunctioning birthing equipment leads a couple's baby to be born in a different dimension. All communication - and in fact their very images - become completely distorted in translation from one dimension to the other; the baby appears as a blue pyramid to its parents, while they appear no more than opaque whitish rectangles to the new-born. This is what a new family has to deal with, sitting on either side of the fence of two dimensions. This was in fact the only story where I badly wanted to know what happened after the story ended.

"Night Call, Collect" is a brilliant journey into a solitary human mind stranded in an empty town in Mars. A clever invention to ward off boredom quickly descends into madness, as a lonely old man comes into contact with innumerable versions of his younger self and each contact becomes a taunting reminder of all that was loved and lost. By the time the final denouement is presented, reality is no more a concrete concept.

As a reader, but even more as a writer, "Any Friend of Nicholas Nickleby's Is a Friend of Mine" touched me very deeply. This is the tale of a stranger who appears in a small town, and introduces himself as Charles Dickens. As he sets about "writing" the famous works of Dickens, he is - with the exception of a young boy - labelled a fraud by the entire town. What happened in his life that led him to assuming that name and that role? And what happened the day he met Emily Dickinson in a library?!

I also really liked "Downwind from Gettysburg", a brilliant take on the assassination of Lincoln, questioning the underlying motives behind some history-changing acts; "Punishment Without Crime" a superb expose on a society that cares so much about appearances, that a man is sentenced to death for play acting a murder; and "I Sing the Body Electric!", the story of a robotic grandmother who is assigned to a family that has recently lost a member in a tragic accident.

Bradbury's world may take place on a different planet or in a different dimension, but he always, always explores what it is to be lonely, to be afraid, to be eaten by guilt and consumed by regret ... to live from one moment to the other on the strength of hope alone.