Archive for the SF Category

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Posted in SF, YA on June 24, 2011 by Ishrath Farhana

I find myself drawn to the Teens section of the library these days for the sheer amount of genre-busting, edgy writing.

While I’d always leaned towards SF, The Hunger Games is no ordinary dystopia because of the sheer grit and emotional resonance of its central characters. I was sucked right in from the first few pages, and spent a blissful day devouring this tale. The plot is pitch perfect, the characters are heartbreaking.

Believe the hype.

The Calcutta Chromosome by Amitav Ghosh

Posted in Action / Thriller, Amitav Ghosh, India / Indian, Mystery, Science, SF, Southeast Asia, Supernatural, Suspense on February 7, 2008 by Ishrath Farhana

Let’s admit that the railroad incident was the creepiest thing I ever read. The lumps of clay shaped like rudimentary pigeons were also bizarre, and the rituals and secret worshippers of colonial India were entirely, chillingly, plausible. Yet that alone does not a great novel make, and how this book won the Arthur C Clarke award for SF is beyond me.

Sure, it has a great start, some interesting ideas, is fast paced, has a shadowy secret society, a conspiracy – but it is convoluted and confusing. By the last page, you have run smack into a brick wall.

Antar, a low-level data analyst comes upon the lost and battered I.D. card of a man he once knew, a man who vanished without a trace somewhere in the teeming excess of Calcutta. Strangely compelled, Antar initiates a search into the facts behind the disappearance of L. Murugan, and is drawn into a bizarre alternate history of medical science.

Leaping backward in time we join Murugan in Calcutta as he follows the twisted threads of science, counter-science and ritual, back a hundred years further to the laboratory of Ronald Ross, the British scientist who discovered how malaria is transmitted to humans. It seems the real-life Ross wasn’t trained in medicine, yet his independent research led to a Nobel prize.

Obsessed with the weird, fortuitous coincidences that led to Ross’ groundbreaking discovery, Murugan has stumbled upon evidence of an impossible ongoing experiment in controlled destiny, protected by a powerful unseen society that moves the world in secret and in silence. This shadowy cabal seeks to use the malaria virus in their schemes – to what end?

The atmosphere is surreal and Ghosh is a good writer, but The Calcutta Chromosome ends up as a mishmash of fever, delirium and some discovery, but I am not entirely certain of what.

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

Posted in Asimov, SF, Short Stories on July 28, 2007 by Ishrath Farhana

He is credited with coining the word “robotics”.  This is the first ever volume of robot stories that Asimov wrote. For SF afficionados, Asimov’s formulation of the Three Laws of Robotics is practically canon.  The Three Laws, famously, are

A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

And now this well-loved volume is available in audio format.  My contention with this cd was the cover, which misleadingly uses Will Smith in the lead role of a movie which is a spin-off loosely based on one of Asimov’s robot stories. In fact, I thought I was picking up the audio version of the movie. The original dustjacket illustration is presented here on the left, and on the right is the cover on the paperback edition. 

The stories themselves were vaguely familiar. The problem was that I had read many other robot stories in Asimov’s collections and several anthologies, and I seemed to remember different endings to some stories. In some cases, I was sure that other stories were supposed to be included here, which weren’t.

Mort

Posted in Fantasy, Humor, SF on March 21, 2007 by Ishrath Farhana

Death comes to us all. When he came to Mort, he offered him a job. After being assured that being dead was not compulsory, Mort accepted. However, he soon found that romantic longings did not mix easily with the responsibilities of being Death’s apprentice…

The blurb says it all. And to digress, the footnote:

The only things known to go faster than ordinary light is monarchy, according to the philosopher Ly Tin Weedle. He reasoned like this: you can’t have more than one king, and tradition demands that there is no gap between kings, so when a king dies the succession must therefore pass to the heir instantaneously. Presumably, he said, there must be some elementary particles — kingons, or possibly queons — that do this job, but of course succession sometimes fails if, in mid-flight, they strike an anti-particle, or republicon. His ambitious plans to use his discovery to send messages, involving the careful torturing of a small king in order to modulate the signal, were never fully expanded because, at that point, the bar closed.

God must have intended mankind to have loads of fun, or He wouldn’t have invented Terry Pratchett.

Shadow of the Giant

Posted in SF on February 21, 2007 by Ishrath Farhana

Orson Scott Card published his first short story, “Ender’s Game,” in 1977. He later expanded the story into a Hugo and Nebula Award winning novel and turned his attention to sequels. Now, twenty-eight years after “Ender’s Game” first appeared, Card has published the eighth novel about Ender and his companions, Shadow of the Giant.

The Ender books all follow a group of very gifted children who were sent at an extremely young age to an orbiting Battle School and trained for military command, in hopes they would find a way to defeat mankind’s powerful alien enemies the Buggers. Ender Wiggin, Battle School’s top student, was the star of the first four novels in the series. The four subsequent novels have focused on Bean, a.k.a Julian Delphiki, Ender’s friend and lieutenant at Battle School.

An excellent review by Steven H Silver does full justice to Card’s book. I enjoyed the audio cds far more than I might have enjoyed the book, because while the story zips about from Brazil to Rotterdam to Damascus to Hyderabad, it’s not driven by action, but long speeches upon the condition of the world, and the interplay of forces between the superpowers headed by the heroes of Ender’s Jeesh. 

A great deal unfolds as a slow-boiling wrestling match amongst competing interests. Bean and Petra are desperate to recover their brood of kidnapped in vitro fetuses. Caliph Alai, reluctant leader of all Islam, hopes beyond hope to discover a way to rescue intolerant Islam from itself. The living Hindu goddess Virlomi, follows in the footsteps of Gandhi to liberate her nation. The space-bound International Fleet, forbidden to interfere in Earthly affairs, is nonetheless pursuing a long-view strategy aimed at guaranteeing the survival of the human race and finding happiness for their Battle School children.

Above it all is Peter, the much-misunderstood Hegemon, hoping to find a way to grow humanity beyond the need for war. The novel is vividly rendered by a cast of a half dozen talented readers.

The Night Watch

Posted in Action / Thriller, Fantasy, Horror, SF, Translation on January 8, 2007 by Ishrath Farhana

Night Watch

by Sergei Lukyanenko

Translated from Russian by Andrew Bromfield

489 pages

$16.95

Anchor Canada – Random House

***

All That Stands Between Light And Darkness Is The Night Watch. With a tagline like that, this series is poised to become a phenomenon.

Hipper than hip and cooler than cool, it has all the elements of a great epic. A centuries old war between Dark and Light, good and evil, the Others with supernatural powers who can slip into another Twilight dimension. Their war could annihilate the world, so the two sides coexist in an uneasy truce. A Treaty outlines the terms, and each side swears to leave the human race alone. The Dark Others keep the Day Watch, the Light ones guard the Night Watch, and they monitor each others’ activities and enforce the conditions of the Treaty.

And yet, things are not simply Light and Dark, but a large and undefined boundary exists – the twilight of the soul, so to speak. Anton Gorodetsky, the protagonist and young Night Watch agent, is very much haunted by this grey area. The plot revolves around Anton’s struggle to protect a young Other with tremendous power and an undecided destiny, and help Svetlana, a woman with a powerful curse hanging over her head, a black vortex with the magnitude and ferocity of an inferno.

There is something primal about its themes of Light and Dark, like a rollicking good comic series meets Star Wars meets Harry Potter in Gorky Park. All speculative fiction deals  with the idea that there is something more just under the skin of the world that we don’t encounter in our day to day existence. The Twilight is an extension of this, and it is an exquisitely detailed and powerful environment. I was completely fascinated with this book – the pages didn’t just keep turning, but I even forgot to blink for large stretches.

Rejoice – it is only the first domino from the quartet. Nochnoi Dozor, the film, is said to be the highest grossing film from Russia to date claiming more at the box office than even The Return Of The King. The only thing I am howling for now are the sequels – lucky for me, they’re on their way. And don’t forget to watch this trailer.

Going Postal

Posted in Fantasy, Humor, SF on December 25, 2006 by Ishrath Farhana

Terry’s loyal guild of fans and disciples needs no introduction to the Discworld. Going Postal is performed by Stephen Briggs.

In Going Postal, an enterprising conman Moist von Lipvig finds himself first hanged (to half an inch of his life) and then coming round in Lord Vetinari’s office. Vetinari is Ankh-Morpork’s Patrician, described by some as a tyrant. Others simply question his parentage. He is also incredibly resourceful, fantastically well-informed and a graduate of the Guild of Assassins. He knows Moist’s real name, his profession and has identified Moist as a fraudster by vocation, a habitual liar and totally untrustworthy. As such, Vetinari has realised that Moist is ideally suited for a job in government and offers him the position of Postmaster General.

Moist could turn the job down; the decision would only cost him his life. However, largely because he doesn’t fully realise what he’s letting himself in for, he accepts the job offer. Although Moist would rather disappear under another false name, Vetinari has wisely appointed a parole officer to him – a very determined golem called Mr. Pump. Neither Moist nor Mr. Pump are going to have an easy time in their new positions – for a start, the Post Office is a mess. There hasn’t been a letter delivered in twenty years – all of them are still in the building, leaving very little room for people and golems inside.

Moist only has two members of staff – an ancient Junior Postman called Groat and Apprentice Postman Stanley (a little odd, though an expert on pins). Mr. Pump indirectly leads Moist to Adora Bell Dearheart, a tall dark-haired woman who works for the Golem’s Trust. She dresses severely, chain-smokes and, and by her own admission, is utterly lacking in a sense of humor.

Moist’s biggest problem is going to be the Grand Trunk Semaphore Company and its new Board of Directors. The Grand Trunk provide a high-speed communication service, better known as the clacks – the Discworld’s version of telegrams. It’s pretty clear the new board have cheated, embezzled and stolen their way to the company, are mistreating the workforce and are generally running things into the ground. Although represented by Mr. Slant (not only a zombie, but also a lawyer), the most dislikeable and dangerous member of the board is Reacher Gilt. Like Moist, he’s obviously a very gifted con-artist. However, it’s his willingness to use buzzwords that really send shivers down the spine. Anyone who has been at a meeting and heard phrases like “core competencies”, “synergistically” and “striving for excellence” will know.

This is not a reading – it is a performance. And it is a tour de force of a performance by Stephen Briggs. It needs a strong constitution to not fall on the floor in gales of mirth when the quavering voice of the geriatric Junior Postman Groat pipes up “I shall leap sir, leap into action, sir.” However, Briggs’ genius finds its pinnacle in the upper-crust tones of Lord Vetinari.