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What I’ve Been Reading: ‘Pirate Latitudes’, ‘Things My Girlfriend…’, ‘Bad Science’

By on Jul 17, 2010 in Reviews | 4 comments

Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton Rating: 5 / 10 When Michael Crichton died in 2008 it was a sad moment for all of his fans. I expressed concern back then that his estate might try to go down the Robert Ludlum path of churning out ghostwritten novels. That seems to be a real possibility now. I got my (hardcover) copy dirt cheap – for just £4 – at a sale at WH Smith. That’s insanely cheap; cheaper than even on Amazon or the Kindle ebook version. Pirate Latitudes isn’t a ghostwritten novel, at least, that’s what HarperCollins tells us. It was a ‘finished’ novel found on Michael Crichton’s computer by his assistant / agents after his death, and it was decided that it would be published posthumously. It’s a period novel, set in 17th century Jamaica – an English colony at the time. The plot is of a band of ‘privateers’ who scheme to plunder a damaged Spanish galleon that’s stranded on an island to enrich English coffers. Here’s the thing – when you read a Michael Crichton novel, you expect a journey teeming with information melting effortlessly into breakneck speed action. Crichton accomplished that effect in every novel of his so far – and thus, Pirate Latitudes feels like an unfinished, hastily edited novel. It feels like the first draft of a novel, with a straightforward (not typical Crichton) narrative and depthless characters. I still remember reading his novel Eaters of the Dead (another pseudo-historical novel) and I was completely blown away by it. Eaters of the Dead was inspired by Beowulf, one my favourite among the classic epics, and was exquisitely crafted to match the tone of a traveller from distant lands fighting alongside Vikings. Pirate Latitudes, on the other hand, is an equally long novel but strangely unsatisfying. ****** Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About by Mil Millington Rating: 9 / 10 Mil Millington gained a cult following on the Internet with his website thingsmygirlfriendandihavearguedabout.com, talking about crazy anecdotes of arguments he’s had with his girlfriend. The book isn’t a collection of those anecdotes; it’s a novel with a proper story along the same premise as his website. Mil Millington’s alter-ego Pel Dalton is a confused university library employee who tries to comes to grips with a control-freak German partner (and her unstable understanding of British culture) while dealing with ancient graves, buried nerve gas, and international crime syndicates at work. This novel is every bit as crazy as it sounds and there are guaranteed laughs every step of the way. ****** Bad Science by Ben Goldacre Rating: 6 / 10 The title might lead you to believe this book discusses ‘bad science’ in general. It doesn’t. The Guardian columnist Ben Goldacre sticks to what he does best – tearing apart the frauds in the British medical industry methodically using statistical analysis and scientific reasoning. Think Freakonomics for medicine. Nevertheless, if you got mislead by the title you might end up disappointed. There’s one chapter everyone should read, which couldn’t go into the first edition of the book. That chapter has since been released in full for free download. The chapter is about how the South African government systematically denied that HIV causes AIDS, went to great measures to stop AIDS awareness (going as far as saying anti-retroviral drugs were actually causing AIDS), and suggested afflicted patients to eat African herbs as a ‘cure’. Chilling how in this day and age, things such as this can...

‘Buried Alive’ by Roy Hallums

By on Mar 14, 2010 in Reviews | 2 comments

My rating of Buried Alive by Roy Hallums: 7 / 10 Buried Alive is the story of Roy Hallums, an American civilian (albeit ex-military) contractor who was kidnapped while working in Iraq and spent almost two years in captivity. The very material that is covered means that you will be reading about a unique experience. How many people can claim to have been kidnapped by Iraqi insurgents, and lived to tell the tale? Reading the book is a breeze; I wrapped this up within a few hours. The narrative is in first person and flows quite easily. Hallums stays away from any sort of political commentary and focuses solely on his experience – which makes it so much more engaging for the common reader. It does feel at times that this conversational style of narrating events get in the way by becoming too wordy, but on the whole I felt that it makes the book better. I think though that the book has not been written by Hallums himself, as it mentions a ‘Audrey Hudson’ – so there’s a possibility that the book might be ghostwritten. The resilience of Hallums is beyond question though, for someone to be able to endure so much for such a long period. Hallums speaks of the work that we was doing in Iraq, how he came about to be kidnapped and then about his time in captivity. At times, the narrative switches to how his family coped with the crisis. With these sections, you understand the pain of a family that is left in limbo – but at the same time the rational part of you understand why, for instance, media outlets did not give as much coverage as families in that situation would want, or why the government would’ve tried to kept things secret. The only part that I felt lacking was the conclusion, which I feel was a bit rushed compared to the amount of print dedicated the events before rescue. Maybe it’s because of the timing of the book or a personal call on part of the author, but reading about how he coped post-event would have been interesting. A unique book and a quick read. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part...

And Another…review

By on Dec 29, 2009 in Reviews | 0 comments

My rating of And Another Thing… by Eoin Colfer: 6 / 10 Publisher: Penguin Books ‘Twas inevitable. I should never have got my hopes up. I know I said I’d be attending Hitchcon 09, but when I finally landed here I also realized that if it took me two hours to go to some place practically next door right here in Guildford, then there was no chance in hell of me finding the venue to Hitchcon in a big city like London. That, and none of the bastards from the Sci-Fi Society at University of Surrey wanted to go there or had even heard of Hitchcon. Utter bastards. Vogons. May they have poetry read to them. I did wake up early morning on the day of the book release and went to the local Waterstone’s store – at 8am. This was a bit of an overreaction since the shop was scheduled to open at 10am, and to be frank there wasn’t any huge line outside it. Still, as a fanboi I expected Douglas Adams would want at least this much as a sacrifice – if not going to Hitchcon. I got my copy that very day, from WH Smith (Waterstone’s was slightly more expensive). That was way back in October. You’d have expected me to give a review of the book soon after buying it. I’d expect that too. Curiously however, I didn’t finish reading the book until yesterday. I’ve been trying to brush this off saying “I’ve been too busy”, but now I realize the real reason – I’ve been too scared so far to read it, in case the book wasn’t a worthy successor to the legacy Douglas Adams left behind. Eventually I decided enough was enough and get it over with. Eoin Colfer, with people who turned up for Hitchcon This authorized sequel to Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s series is written by Eoin (pronounced ‘Owen’) Colfer, best known for is Artemis Fowl books. Damn, this introduction must have been used SO many times by so many people when describing this book. And therein lies the crux of the matter – whenever a book (or movie) has to resort to saying “…also written by this author”, it usually translates to ‘recipe for disaster’. This is despite the fact that I’ve heard a lot of praise for the Artemis books (I’ve never read them). Image by visitmanchester via Flickr And Another Thing… is not a bad book per se. Colfer puts in his best effort, but I agree with this review on io9 that it seems he’s “trying much too hard and also not quite trying hard enough”. When I look back at the time I spent yesterday reading the book, there was only one instance when I laughed-out-loud (“Focus, President Steatopygic. Focus.”). One. I did force a chuckle now and then but then that’s precisely how all the jokes feel – forced. Most of the jokes are done via the medium of half-hearted footnote-style ‘Guide notes’, about what the Guide would have to say on certain topics. What happens is that very quickly, this style of joke becomes monotonous. “It’s funny”, you realize in an almost clinical way, but then it doesn’t surprise you like the real Douglas Adams did. As I mentioned earlier, reading Douglas Adams is a bit like falling in love. Colfer plays it safe throughout the book. He doesn’t introduce any major new characters, concepts or locations; drawing instead on the various colourful people and locales DNA cooked up. In this regard, Eoin borrows from the radio series at places in the novel too. Whatever new bits he’s introduced are the bare minimum required to keep the story ticking. I can guess that this was done not to tick off ardent fans of DNA, but then for a lot of us that is what defined Adams’s work – quirky, unusual characters and each page brimming with caustic wit. On a more general note, the humour doesn’t always work because it’s ‘typically British’. I’ll speak more about this in the future in an epic blog post I’m penning down, tentatively titled Surely You Jest, Good Sir to discuss British catchphrases and their sense of humour. There are passages in the book which seem as if it’s Adams’s work channelled via Colfer as the medium, but those are few and far between. I also expected some sort of fusion between Hitchhiker’s and Dirk Gently storylines, given the amount of focus Thor has received in this book – that certainly would have been a bold move to make – but that was not to be. I won’t say And Another Thing… is a disaster, but it serves as a reminder that nobody can step into the shoes of the literary genius that was Douglas Noel Adams. Read it for the sake of entirety of the series…but it will probably leave you with a feeling of emptiness. PS – I miss Marvin! I miss Zem, the mattress! PPS – “Resistance is useless!” Related articles by Zemanta Colfer’s Hitchhiker’s Guide Sequel Will Be His Last (wired.com) Eoin Colfer interview: on The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (telegraph.co.uk) Tackling The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: An Interview with Eoin Colfer about “And Another Thing…” (omnivoracious.com) Don’t Panic! (news.bbc.co.uk) Hitchhiker at 30...

2 States – The story of a miserable book

By on Dec 22, 2009 in Reviews | 15 comments

A note to my new readers from UK: This is the first in the long line of posts that you’ll face over the next few years which you’ll probably not ‘get’, because they’ll make more sense to an Indian reader. Do not be disheartened, brave reader. Go discuss the weather with your mates or pay homage to the Queen, and come back a few days later. If you still want to soldier on, I suggest you find out about people who read “lulz ntn odr dan ncert buks n chetan bahgat novels”. If you’ve been living under a rock (read ‘not on Twitter’), then you might have missed the brouhaha over #chetanblocks. Chetan Bhagat was in his period and he went all cranky by blocking people on Twitter. (It started off with a discussion about his books being pirated.) Hilarity ensued as everyone picked up on this made jokes about ‘the new kid on the block’. Chetan Bhagat then wrote a whole blog post split into 140-character sentences and posted it on his Twitter profile. Apparently, he hasn’t heard of his own blog. Anyway. Moving on to his latest book, 2 States – The Story of My Marriage. I was relieved that being in the UK now would mean that I would no longer have to read his books. Surely Amazon – or any other sensible book retailer – wouldn’t bother to ship his trash this far? Oh bollocks, never mind. I weep for humanity. So when someone I follow on Twitter mentioned that she had an ebook of his latest book, I couldn’t help pissing off Chetan Bhagat by including him in this piracy-involving conversation to exchange the ebook. Yes, I have a goal in life now – get blocked by Chetan Bhagat on Twitter before I die. My rating of 2 States by Chetan Bhagat: 0.01 / 10 Publisher: Rupa Underwear & Co Cost: Priceless Worthless This book supposedly picks up from where Five Point Someone left. There are nudge-nudge-wink-wink references to ‘being involved with an IIT professor’s daughter’, ‘wearing his shirt’, ‘missing academic records’, ‘disciplinary issues’ and whatnot. Um, so why exactly has the protagonist’s name changed from Hari to Krish? Was the earlier name not superhero-ic enough for Chetan Bhagat, just in case this book got made into a movie? Or does he not read his own books. Surely IIT professors’ daughters getting fucked by people from the institution can’t be that common, bundled with all the shenanigans in the first book. As I mentioned in my Chetan Bhagat plot generator, any story needs to have a ‘strong’ female character; said biatch being defined as someone who doesn’t cover her face and make chapattis all day. This fact is established in the story by having lead female protagonist Ananya pick up a fight with the hostel caterers at IIM Ahmedabad. And picking up fights at restaurant as to why beer wasn’t on the menu. And eating chicken despite being a ‘Tam Bram, or Tamil Brahmin’. OH NOEZ!!1 In Chetan Bhagat land, she surely must be a succubus. Chetan’s favourite plot device is ‘tuitions’. How should we make the story progress by making Krish and Ananya hook up? Why, he’ll give her tuitions of course. (Hint – notice any similarities with his previous book?) Initially they are just ‘fraands’ when BAM POOF BOOM they start having sex. HOLY SHITZ!!1 she also wears shorts! In the process, the ones who get the worst of it are pillows. Yes folks, pillows. I’ve lost count of how many times they ‘throw a pillow’ each other. They graduate from IIM-A and get a job in Chennai. The monotonous part of the book is that it is composed entirely of dialogue between two characters, with filler material from racially stereotypical characters. In the oh-so-many pages leading up to their eventual wedding, we are subjected to Hindu-reading mustachioed South Indian father, marble-loving Punjabi mother, drinking coffee at ‘Barsaat‘, bad South Indian food in Chennai, almost getting arrested by a cop, obnoxiously rude relatives you’d never find in real life (who refer to people in their face as ‘gori Madrasin‘). How does Krish try to win the approval of Ananya’s family? By giving ‘IIT tuitions’ to her younger brother of course. If only more people in our country gave each tuitions we’d have solved, at the very least, hunger and poverty. We even have the groom Krish catching an autorickshaw and running away in the middle of his wedding while wearing Mickey Mouse underwear visible through a ‘translucent lungi‘. True story. Also, when their kids are born Krish, Ananya and the medial staff are surprised by the fact that she’s given birth to twins. The conclusion that we can draw from this is that India got cellphones even before it had medical ultrasound facilities, made scarier by the fact that an ultrasound was not performed before a C-section. No wonder infant mortality rate is high in India. But here’s the thing – I don’t think the novel refers to enough ‘Indian problems’. Compared to his earlier work, which “reflects the ethos and pathos of an entire generation“ this book is filled with characters whose lives are strangely uneventful. At least at the climax of the book – during the wedding – you’d expect terrorists to hijack the wedding, and then get beaten to death by John McClane (who had been invited by Krish...

Dan Brown’s ‘The Lost Symbol’

By on Sep 21, 2009 in Reviews | 1 comment

My rating of The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown: 5.5 / 10 Publisher: Transworld (India / UK), Doubleday (US) Price: Rs 699 Love him, hate him, you just can’t ignore him. Dan Brown is back…with his new novel The Lost Symbol. Initially titled The Solomon Key, the book was finally released on 15th September 2009. You intuitively know this book was going to smash a few records when you find a PDF ebook torrent of the book within hours of release (probably made easier by the fact that is was released as an ebook for the Amazon Kindle). The first few comments on such highly anticipated book releases are always from retards who shout “Fake!” without even bothering to check. I prowled around torrent sites for “You are a retard, <username of first commenter>” comments to pour in, and then got on to downloading the book once the I knew for sure this was the real thing. The hysteria has already started – The Lost Symbol has already broken the one-day adult fiction sales record and Washington tourism board has launched a special microsite dedicated to the novel. Heavens have mercy on us all. Watch a news report about the launch of Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol In a way, Dan Brown is like the George Lucas of the publishing industry – he can make mega-hit books by the minute, but years down the line everyone will acknowledge his works as a piece of shit. Just like dear ol’ Chetan Bhagat. Here’s the ‘official’ description for The Lost Symbol: As the story opens, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned unexpectedly to deliver an evening lecture in the U.S. Capitol Building. Within minutes of his arrival, however, the night takes a bizarre turn. A disturbing object–artfully encoded with five symbols–is discovered in the Capitol Building. Langdon recognizes the object as an ancient invitation . . . one meant to usher its recipient into a long-lost world of esoteric wisdom. When Langdon’s beloved mentor, Peter Solomon–a prominent Mason and philanthropist–is brutally kidnapped, Langdon realizes his only hope of saving Peter is to accept this mystical invitation and follow wherever it leads him. Langdon is instantly plunged into a clandestine world of Masonic secrets, hidden history, and never-before-seen locations–all of which seem to be dragging him toward a single, inconceivable truth. You know what this reminded me of? The interactive Dan Brown plot generator. I’m not kidding. While I was reading the book, I was truly irritated by how Dan Brown kept following the template of Mickey Mouse watch wearing professor + chick-and-professor-rolled-into-one love interest for Langdon + an assassin + secret society. He repeats Langdon’s backstory as to why he wears the watch, has claustrophobia, does laps of the Harvard swimming pool, etc etc every 30 pages – just to ensure that if you start flipping through the book somewhere in the middle, you have a ‘deep understanding’ of Robert Langdon’s character. I’ll keep the review spoiler-free. Watch The Making of The Lost Symbol, the book with a five million print run Thing is, Dan Brown’s formula has worn down by now. After The Da Vinci Code this simply seems to be a half-hearted attempt to fulfill a publisher’s contract. Despite being riddled with plot holes, Dan Brown’s previous novels worked because they were fast-paced and exciting on their own accord. In The Lost Symbol, he tries to overdo this by making lame attempts to insert cliffhangers at the end of every five paragraphs. It’s not a compulsive page-turner. Another irritating bit is the overuse of italics. Every second line is in italics. This is done to ‘speak out’ the internal thoughts of a character. We readers love that, man, but for Christ’s sake don’t overdo it man. There is no need to emphasise everything. Certain phrases are repeated way too often in the book. The number of times something ‘dawns’ on Langdon will make you think he’s orbiting the Earth in a space shuttle rather than moseying around in Washington DC. (Astronauts on a space shuttle see a new ‘sunrise’ / ‘sunset’ every 45 minutes, approximately the same time-frame in which some ‘startling revelation’ ‘dawns upon’ Robert Langdon.) Every time one of these ‘dawning’ epiphanies happens, Langdon becomes a walking-talking Wikipedia entry on said topic which caused of ‘revelation’. Poor Isaac Newton is once again dragged into yet another secret society (this time it’s the Invisible College) and becomes party to fiendish conspiracies. Between being the Grand Poobah of the Royal Order of Water Buffaloes, Freemasons, Invisible College, Priory of Sion, and whichever ‘secret society’ Dan Brown cooks up in his next novel I wonder when did Newton get the time to work out the laws of gravity. Dan Brown does a volte-face to his attitude towards religion compared to his previous novels. Angels & Demons (the book, not the movie) had reasonably balanced Science vs Religion philosophical discourses. The Da Vinci Code came across as anti-Vatican despite not intending to. The Lost Symbol marks the complete surrender of Dan Brown to religion. The Bible, which was described in The Da Vinci Code as “The greatest story ever sold, rathe than the greatest story ever told“, metamorphoses into Dan Brown’s version of The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. He does mention Koran, the Bhagvad Gita, Zohar et al too, but more in the tone of extras – bouncers...