Archive for September, 2006

Angels and Demons

Posted in Action / Thriller on September 30, 2006 by Ishrath Farhana

Much is said about Dan Brown’s work –  amateurish, moronic in the factual mistakes he makes, one-dimensional characters and  implausible plots. However, I have enjoyed both Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code. The former introduces Robert Langdon, the Harvard symbologist, who is also the main character in the latter. Angels & Demons is also the first novel credited to have used ambigrams.

Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is shocked to find proof that the legendary secret society, the Illuminati – dedicated since the time of Galileo to promoting the interests of science and condemning the blind faith of Catholicism – is alive, well, and murderously active. Brilliant physicist Leonardo Vetra has been murdered, his eyes plucked out, and the society’s ancient symbol branded upon his chest. His final discovery, antimatter, the most powerful and dangerous energy source known to man, has disappeared – only to be hidden somewhere beneath Vatican City on the eve of the election of a new pope. Langdon and Vittoria, Vetra’s daughter and colleague, embark on a frantic hunt through the streets, churches, and catacombs of Rome, following a 400-year-old trail to the lair of the Illuminati, to prevent the incineration of civilization.

In spite of their macabre purpose in the novel, I enjoyed the ambigrams. Even if geographically inaccurate, many will enjoy visiting Rome through this book. The the conclave that was held after death of Pope John Paul II last year also echoed through the book, and I found myself fascinated by the inner workings of the Vatican.


The Well of Lost Plots

Posted in Fantasy, Humor on September 30, 2006 by Ishrath Farhana

It’s hard to imagine why the Thursday Next quartet is not universally known, because it rivals the breadth of creative imagination of the Harry Potter books, with the advantage that it’s amazingly funny! This is the 3rd book in the series, but unfortunately my first, so the story came to me in disjointed bits and I was unable to fully appreciate the many returning characters.

Thursday Next is a literary seluth and agent in training for JurisFiction, and Miss Havisham is her mentor and coach. Pregnant and anxious for a rest, she decides to go with her dodo Pickwick to visit the Well of Lost Plots, where all book characters, plots, and settings reside until they are chosen for novels. Living inside an unpublished crime thriller, Thursday explores the Great Library, where the Cheshire Cat is librarian, sees the workshop for backstories, meets generics [human canvases without paint] and orals [nursery rhyme characters], tours available settings [high-capped mountains, arched stone bridges, ruined castles], and watches as Miss Havisham joyrides in “Chitty Bang Bang.”

Holesmiths work there fixing holes in narratives, grammatacists try to prevent grammacites [gerunds] and mispeling vyruses from infecting novels, and pace-setters, moodmongers, and plot speculators work on new creations. As the Well considers installing the UltraWord operating system, which will expand the basic eight-plot architecture into thirty-two plots, Thursday tries to preserve the memory of Landen [her eradicated husband] fight against her enemies, and win her trial for a fiction infraction.

While Thursday’s role is not always clear, the book frees our imagination and keeps us involved in the literary world with its myriad possibilities. Full of satire, parody, puns, literary jokes and word play, this one provided hours of delight.

The Wee Free Men

Posted in Fantasy, SF on September 29, 2006 by Ishrath Farhana

Miss Perspicacia Tick, a witch of some renown, is worried about a ripple in the walls of the universe – probably another world making contact. Not Good. This errant activity is centred on some chalk country, where traditionally good witches simply do not grow well. Fortunately, Miss Tiffany Aching of Home Farm on The Chalk, 9 years old, misunderstood and yearning for excitement, wants to be a witch and has just proved herself to be of great potential by whacking a big Green Monster from the river with a huge frying pan while using her annoying younger brother as bait. Miss Tick is impressed. So, after travelling to the chalky downs at once and dispensing some stop-gap advice to Tiffany about holding the fort until she gets back with more help, Miss Tick is off.

Any hesitation Tiffany may have had about the seriousness of the situation expires when the Queen of the Fairies kidnaps her brother. Tiffany sets out to rescue her kin with the help of a talking frog loaned by Miss Tick, and an army of thieving, warmongering, nippy, boozy Wee Free Men called the Nac Mac Feegle. They used to work for the Queen but rebelled. Nac Mac Feegle! The Wee Free Men! Nae king! Nae quin! Nae laird! We willna be fooled again! They are the head-banging, hard-drinking, rough-tough pictsies. Pratchett populates the Discworld with the most memorable characters. The talking toad that attaches himself to Tiffany doesn’t say “Follow the yellow sick toad,” but many people have thought it did apparently.

‘Salem’s Lot

Posted in Horror on September 28, 2006 by Ishrath Farhana

 Usually, Stephen King is not too scary, because his stories so often fall in the slasher genre. This one afforded a few less-than-cheap thrills. A vampire takes over a small town in Maine, and evil spreads quickly. It borrows its chill from the power that the Dracula myth has on our collective unconscious. I found it too convenient that the vampires could be subdued by the crucifix, but Father Callahan’s fate was an interesting twist – and one I would have given much to follow to the end. This is one book which I feel would make a better movie and in fact, it did.

Oryx and Crake

Posted in Canada eh?, SF on September 27, 2006 by Ishrath Farhana

Every science fiction author tries his hand at the theme of catastrophe – The Day Afters, as they are known to the initiatiates. Atwood does it inimitably chillingly. Doff your hats folks, you are in the presence of greatness. Margaret Atwood has woven a cautionary tale of a world that could well be tomorrow morning’s headlines.

Snowman sleeps in a tree by night and wanders through a wasteland and his botched memory by day. He might be the only human left on our devastated planet watching over a new crop of genetically engineered “children” – humanoid creatures called the Children of Crake. Jimmy the Snowman’s recollections piece the story of how Crake wiped out mankind with a toxin concealed in a drug for sex-enhancement, and let loose a batch of genetically modified humanoids as inheritors of the earth.

Without some restraint, without some imposition of common sense it is all too likely that a devastating epidemic will be launched as part of a Spring Break biotech aphrodisiac or new wrinkle free facial. When genetics research is being privately funded by the mass sales of irresistibly appealing pharmaceuticals and therapeutic biotechnology, anything is possible.

Oryx and Crake demonstrates the power of individuals to impose their own values, standards, biases and whims upon the future of a whole race and planet. It reminds one of the first atomic bomb test, when they thought there was a 20% or more chance that the first bomb test would ignite and burn away the atmosphere. They figured it was worth the risk. That’s the kind of arrogance that self-determined greed can bare.

3. The High Druid of Shannara – Straken

Posted in Fantasy on September 26, 2006 by Ishrath Farhana

The thundering end of the trilogy. Pen goes forth into the Forbidding with the aid of the tanequil darkwand, and unwittingly unleashes his legacy of the Wishsong magic to rescue his aunt. They return and vanquish Shadea a’Ru with some timely help from Pen’s parents, and his friends. Goodness triumphs and vice is defeated.

Even though it was formulaic and threadbare, I did enjoy reading this more than the preceding two, partly because Brooks spent so much time setting up the obstacles that you have to rush through to see how the protagonists achieve their impossible goals. However, it is hard not to feel cheated by a couple of [non]resolutions. Grianne escapes from the Straken Lord far too easily. And her guide through the Forbidding, the sorry little Ulk Bog just goes poof and vanishes. I also felt that Grianne’s reversion to the Ilse Witch was promising, and should have been explored.

The latest Shannara trilogy is a comforting read, with a pot of tea, over a couple of rainy afternoons. 

2. The High Druid of Shannara – Tanequil

Posted in Fantasy on September 26, 2006 by Ishrath Farhana

In Tanequil, Pen continues his adventure accompanied by the trusty dwarf Tagwen, the adolescent elf Khyber, and a blind Rover girl Cinnaminson who Pen is in love with. War threatens the Four Lands unless Pen restores his aunt to her rightful position as Ardh Rhys. The rebel druids of Shadea a’Ru are in hot pursuit of the band, along with Aphasia Wye, a malevolent assassin. Pen must find the mystical tree, Tanequil, which must then be persuaded to surrender a living limb to craft a wand.