bookspluslife

September 4, 2017

Book: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:05 pm

imageThis is such a classic in fantasy fiction that Patrick Rothfuss is talked about in the same reverential tones as George RR Martin, the author of the superb and more famous series The Game of Thrones, which in reality is the series called The Song of Fire and Ice. (That series of books, The Game of Thrones, A Feast For Crows, A Storm of Swords, A Clash of Kings and A Dance With Dragons have all been reviewed here before)

This is also the first book in the series King Killer Chronicles.

The similarity does not end there. After making such a success of the story, both authors seem to find no time to complete their stories. After the fifth book, George RR Martin has not written any more of the series, though he published a separate story that happened 100 years earlier in the same fantasy land as the Hedge Knight. Similarly, after two superb books, Patrick has also stayed silent, now for a few years. What gives?

 

This is the first book. The story ends abruptly. If this is how the second volume ends, I can understand the readers’ frustrations in having to wait for the third installment that never seems to come.

 

The story has a beautiful start and pulls you in right away. A man seems just  to be waiting to die. No, he is not ill but he simply seems to have lived all he wants and wants to spend the rest of his life in quiet solitude. An inn where some stories are traded (that of blue fires on lamps denoting the arrival of the evil force for instance. )  A childhood friend meets a eyeless mouthless giant spider with razor legs called Scrael , kills it and brings to the inn. It is really good when you realize that Kote, the laconic bartender who watches everything impassively and seems totally a bystander is more than he seems when he is startled to see a Scrael displayed on the table. The style is infectious.

 

He goes out and saves the Chronicler from an attack of those deadly scraels but is persuaded by the latter to tell his own story to be chronicled against his own wishes. The Chronicler realizes that this unassuming bar owner Kote is really Kvothe of legendary fame. Bast is his assistant.

 

The Chronicler comes in to write Kvothe’s story. He describes his childhood with an acrobat and actor parents, his joining up with Ben who is a real alchemist. His lessons are fascinating where he learns how to bind two objects together and almost gets killed trying to bind the wind. Also the Chronicler turns out to be an arcaenist who knows the Name of Iron and traps Bast into revealing his true supernatural self. Fabulous.

 

The story continues to the point where Ben separates from them, having found a wife at one of the stops and at the next stop around, Kvothe goes to play in the woods, only to return and find his entire family and the show group all slaughtered in their camping site.

 

Then follows his struggles to survive as a homeless orphan, his struggles to find the next meal and his constant beatings in the hands of others… Very nicely narrated. The style pulls you in and totally mesmerizes you – yes, in the Game of Thrones style, even if the story is not so elaborate.

 

He then cleans up and decides to join the army. His transformation at the inn and also how he gets decent clothes etc are funny.

 

His interview at the University and admissions are told well. How he takes revenge on the arrogant Professor Master Hemme when the professor tries to humiliate him in front of the entire class makes gripping reading. He gets whipped for his trouble and makes an enemy of the Master.

 

Almost immediately in the Arcanum he makes an enemy of the rightful hair of a noble Lord, Ambrose, and gets himself banned from the library for life. He goes after a crazy teacher to learn the name of the wind but when the teacher asks him to jump, he does, breaking his ribs and is refused to be taken as a student  due to stupidity.

 

He duels other students and establishes a reputation in sympathy and binding. How he earns his pipes despite sabotage in the bar is fabulously told. This is a good story.

 

He goes, plays his lute in an elite club and wins his pipes, and money and also meets Deanna, whom he thinks of as his future wife. And cannot find her again.

 

Meanwhile, upset that Ambrose is sabotaging his future by campaigning among the nobles against him (and thereby denying him a patron) he and a friend compose the wildly popular ‘Jackass Jackass’ that makes fun of Ambrose without naming him. He gets kicked out of his inn and does not find another until he reaches an inn owner who is not afraid of Ambrose.

 

A fire in the lab is seemingly caused by Kvothe but he is a hero for saving Fela.

 

He meets Deanna again. And ditches her in the next event since he has an accident while dealing with dangerous chemicals. He then has Fela wrap a cloak and Deanna sees and misunderstands and disappears. Meanwhile, Ambrose sends hoodlums to kill Kvothe, where he narrowly escapes. When he hears that Chandrians have wreaked havoc on Trebean, he borrows more money from Devi for a horse and reaches there.

 

He hears of a survivor and goes to see that person and finds that it is Deanna. They go exploring and discover a pigherder who gives them vital information that the marriage was destroyed probably to keep an accidental find from being discovered or even spoken about. They also meet a vegetarian dragon or a draccus.

 

They realize that the draccus is addicted to a drug made from a resin. They discover the resin stash and also realize that now that the draccus is deprived of it, it will go mad and start destroying whole villages. They plan to kill it – one that is more or less made of iron and virtually apparently indestructible by most means.

 

The scene where that plan seems to fail and the draccus goes towards the city where there is a bonfire for the harvest festival and what Kvothe has to do to manage the situation is exhilerating.

 

The final interlude where a demonic man gets in and causes havoc is well told. And the ending is good too. All in all, a great book and if you liked The Song of Fire and Ice, you will love this one too.

 

8/ 10

– – Krishna

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August 13, 2017

Book: Remembering Babylon by David Malouf

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 8:50 pm

imageThis book is great in showing how someone who looks at things in the past people may misconstrue the importance of people and elevate some to sainthood while, when you look at what they did from a different angle, they themselves are floundering trying to make sense of mundane things.  Interesting? Yes. Unfortunately, entertaining, it is not. That is the issue. Let us look at the story.

 

Two girls and a boy in Australia, near Queensland. One of the girls is Janet. the elder of the two. The boy is Lachlan Beattie. He surprises a savage who claims that he is a British object. They bring the savage to their village outpost. He is a gibbering idiot and the explanation given was that he got lost in the unexplored parts of Australia (the story happens when Australia was being just colonized bit by bit) and he ‘lived with the blacks’. Interesting.

 

He remembers washing ashore, lying naked, and adopted by a group of naked aboriginal people. He is adopted by the new village, especially by the three kids who take upon themselves to ‘civilize’ him.

 

He causes fear and resentment by acting black, as that was how he was brought up from boyhood, and others are suspicious that he is a spy out to betray them in an ambush at night with this erstwhile tribe while the villagers slept.

 

The teacher in Australia was sent there by his patron, who paid for his education. The school teacher, Abbot is a character that comes and goes.

 

The suspicions of the white people and the extent to which some rowdy characters go to show animosity are all well told.

 

Gemmy, the native, remembers his past story in England where he was kept by a thug for collecting rats to sell for races and kept in pitiable conditions but offered protection from destitution at the same time.

 

But then it all goes down to the deep doldrums soon thereafter with the teacher and another young man trying to impress Leona, a young girl and Gemmy’s conviction that the magic squiggles (his life story as dictated to the teacher and written down) had sucked the life out of him and his attempts to get the papers back. Then he walks away.

 

The story moves a number of years where you see where the  three children are. As far as I can see, there was no point in it. Lachlan is a government minister and Janet is Sister Monica in an abbey.

 

Meh.

 

3/ 10

–   –  Krishna

Movie: Get Out (2017)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 8:40 pm

imageWhat an unorthodox movie! A movie that tackles race relations either goes down the serious path exploring the race question or is a film with all out African American characters and it just goes on with the story, sometimes in an exaggerated fashion. Here is one film that is refreshingly different. It is a horror but does not take itself seriously and just goes with the flow, with humour.

And this story has a punchline / twist that is extremely unusual. It bursts on you and I did not expect it at all because the twist is really a very unusual view on things and I bet you or at least 99% of you will not guess it either.

In addition to it they drop all kinds of clues on what is going on, with misdirection enough, like a finely crafted mystery thriller, which is what this is. I love the way they have developed the story, from the very first short scene to whet your interest to the final denouement.

Enough of a preamble? Let us see what the story is all about. First the small little preface I mentioned. An African American man called Dre is walking alone in the night. A car slowly follows him and he is creeped out. (Imagine this – an African American apparently stalked and spooked  From a stereotypical point of view, totally unexpected. See what I mean?) He then decides to change directions – it is a small street and the car cannot make a U turn.  After going several paces fast, he cannot resist turning back and seeing what happened to the car. It is now standing with the driver’s door open and a mediaeval knight has come out of it and is following him! (Yes, they mean a man in a knight’s costume). It is too late to run and he is attacked and his unconscious body is dragged into the car.

The main story is about photographer Chris Washington and Rose Armitage whose relationship has progressed to a point where Rose wants Chris to meet her parents. The problem is that Rose is white while Chris is black and he is very worried that her parents may not like it. Rose assures him that they are very liberal and would love him.  Even though he is the only black man she has dated so far, they will be  pretty cool with the idea.

He reluctantly agrees to go, against the advice of Rod Williams his closest friend who works for TSA not to go to ‘white people’s house’. He finds the family welcoming; if anything it is overly so. Strange things start happening to him slowly. The only black people he first meets are  servants in the house seem to be stiff and overly proper and look at him very strangely. He wonders if they are being kept under bondage but they do not seem to agree or is it that they do not want to confess?

And then there is the other black man who comes visiting. He seems to be married to a much older white woman and seems to have totally bought into the aristocratic life (never mind a white man’s life) with a hat and three piece suit at all times.

The father is all friendly. He is rich, a neurosurgeon but the mother strikes him as a bit cold. So when she offers to cure him of his smoking addiction through sheer hypnosis. He rejects it saying that he does not like people tooling around inside his head. Other friends of this family also seem very friendly.

When one of the maids behaves really oddly suddenly while pouring tea, the suspicions of Chris are aroused and then the other black gentleman who came to the party also “kind of goes crazy” when he was photographed by Chris. Chris is freaked out.  There are weird stuff like some of the friends admiring the “strength” of Chris and people praising the long distance runner Chris Owens showed up all those racist Nazis and beat out all the white folks in the Olympics.

 

Before he is aware of it, Chris is hypnotized by Rose’s mother, while he is still mocking the idea of hypnosis. Then the movie takes many scary turns and you watch Chris trapped, helpless and under every command of the family, losing consciousness.

He is freaked out when he finds his cell phone repeatedly unplugged when he is not in his own room. It is as if someone is trying to stop him from communicating outside.

When Chris and Rose agree that something weird is going on and that she should make up some excuse so that they can leave, we see an auction happening. The object of the auction? Chris himself. The auction is conducted by Rose’s dad, the neurosurgeon and the whole community seems to be bidding for him. For what?

If I tell you more, I will give it up. Trust me that the whole movie is one tense ride and you don’t relax for one little bit. And it all hangs together. Every little, weird, bit of it.

Daniel Kaluuya as Chris and his comic friend Rod played by LiRel Howery carry the whole movie well. But the real stars of this movie are the writers and the director, who present a splendidly crafted entertainer.

Don’t get me wrong. I did not say realistic; I did not say thought provoking; I said entertaining. If you keep your reasoning half of the brain quiet and just go along for the ride, there is not a boring moment.

The last line is phenomenally funny – when whatever is happening is all over.

 

8/ 10

–  –  Krishna

July 30, 2017

Book: A Cantile for Leibowitz by Walter M Miller Jr

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 6:10 pm

imageAn unusual book. Unusual does not mean good. Just unsual. Cannot figure out if it a science fiction or whether it is a funny book but it falls short on both counts. Story starts in a desert.

 

A novice priest, Father Francis meets a lonely girdled pilgrim in the middle of a desert. It is a world full of monsters, and he is worried that it is one.  When he notes that it is a pilgrim and when the pilgrim offers him bread, he weakens from his vow of fasting and takes it. He gets into a comical fight with the pilgrim when he drops the bread but the pilgrim inspects his shelter built out of stones for protection from the wolves and offers advice.

 

After the pilgrim left, Francis picks the stone that would be a “perfect match” for the missing piece for the shelter as the pilgrim had identified, and discovers an old room inside. We slowly discover that this is a post apocalyptic world where the survivors shun all technology, destroy all books and revert back to primitive living, turning to Latin as the common spoken language. They worship a saint called Leibowitz, who seems to be just a nuclear holocaust survivor.

 

When Francis discovers sacred documents by the great Liebowitz himself (a shopping list, and some mundane entries by the looks of it) he is overwhelmed. The abbot does not believe him and orders him back to the abbey – never mind completing the Lent silence and fasting.

 

Some parts are hilarious. Where the prior tries his utmost to get Francis to admit that the old man was a figment of the latter’s imagination and no such old man existed. Why? because the old man had simply disappeared (he went towards the abbey but never reached there), he looked and even wore clothes fitting the description of the Blessed Leibowitz himself who was dead aeons ago, and more important, the stone which he picked for Francis was carved with his initials in an arcane sign that Francis was not even aware of. Rumours and panic swirled across the abbey and the Father Abbot cannot have that, can he?

 

Francis the simpleton’s confessions and the pained experience the Prior goes through in hearing inane “sins” are very funny. He stays a novice for years because the abbot refuses to promote him into the order. Finally that happens when a representative of the Pope himself confirms that what Francis found may be very valuable and he is admitted into the order and asked to copy and illustrate (handwritten) books.

 

He seems to be copying a circuit diagram of a sort though he does not understand what it is.

 

His fame spreads and he is asked to take his illustration to the Pope and goes on an ass and is waylaid by robbers. Getting some money to pay them off, he returns with the Pope’s blessings but the story here abruptly ends and another story begins. This is of Marcus Apollo, who is convinced of the imminence of War.

 

His confidante is Brother Claret. There is Thon Taddeo, who is a scholar. The abbot now has a monk who is trying to rediscover lost science and has made a dynamo that powers a carbon bulb.

 

A scholar comes with armed men and there is intrigue and war going on – a lot of mixed up ideas like this pervade this part of the book. The old man that Francis met seems to be at least seven hundred years old and is a friend of the current abbot of the monastery, Dom Zerchi. Some parts of it are, frankly, boring.  The world seems to be repeatedly getting close to annihilation is the theme. There not one but two nuclear wars, the first one nearly wiping out all humanity and causing all knowledge to disappear, which is what we see in the beginning of the book and the latter starting down many centuries after Francis, now revered as Saint Francis of Utah, died.

 

This spans generations and has characters featured earlier referenced in a deified form or otherwise altered form later; in that this reminds you of Cloud Atlas. But then that is unfortunate because it tells you how lovely Cloud Atlas was, and how inadequate this is in comparison.

 

Father Derchi is trying to stop the doctor from recommending death to hopelessly fried victims of radiation. Understandable; but when the good doctor disobeys, he says ‘If I see you again I’m afraid of what I may do.’  I thought that was a bit odd, coming from a compassionate Father.

 

Anyway, he sends monks in an unscheduled spacecraft flight to a populated planet and then gets trapped in an explosion. A woman vendor of tomatoes has an extra head whom she calls Rachel that seems to hang uselessly by her side. There are some poignant moments but unfortunately they are few and far between and there are countless ramblings in the middle like the sample above. You get lost even trying to understand the purpose of the book.

 

2/10

–   – Krishna

Movie: Split (2016)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 5:49 pm

imageAnother movie from M Night Shyamalan. While his movies typically have a split at the end of the movie, in this case, you understand the twist much earlier. Still this movie is an above average Shyamalan movie.

As we have mentioned in our review of The Visit, an earlier movie by him, he is seen to be erratic. The last few movies, including The Visit, have been encouraging. I like to think that there is a genuine shift in making more entertaining movies and that the ‘improvement’ is not because our expectations about his movies has plummeted.

This movie is good. In fact, it takes off from the beginning altogether. There is a very lonely and non social kid called Casey, who has been invited to the party of her friend. Claire. When her dad takes them both on his car, along with another kid called Marcia who was in the party, he is overpowered by a  stranger, who also chloroforms all the kids and takes them over to an isolated house. The entire story happens in that house, with the three kids being prisoners of this man.

We learn that the man is Kevin. This character has been played by James McEvoy – yes, the same actor who comes as the young Professor Xavier in the X-Men movies. This is definitely a different role for him.

Through Kevin’s psychiatrist, the elderly Dr Karen Fletcher, we learn also that Kevin suffers from multiple personality syndrome, rather a very advanced form of it. Inside him are Hedwig, a kid, Barry, a sketch artist, a lady etc. There are actually 23 personalities there. The fun part is that the kids, and through them we, get to see many of them (all acted by McEvoy, for which, for a while there was a buzz that this may be an Oscar worthy performance – however, in the end, he did not even get a nomination).

Shyamalan makes a cameo as always as the assistant of the doctor but the main movie is about how Casey survives and we also learn why she was also so socially awkward. As a child, she suffered sexual abuse at the hand of an uncle, who ended up becoming her foster father when her father died prematurely.

Then Kevin reveals to his doctor that there is another identity called The Beast.

The entire movie is one of the indefatigable Casey planning to escape, nearly making it and either Kevin or Dennis or Barry catching up to them. Her persuading Hedwig, who is only ‘9 years old’ into helping her and then last minute, Kevin or Barry catching them at it.

Nice. There is also a pseudo science where it says that if the person believes that he is strong, the body adopts to become really strong and Karen quotes a ton of authentic looking studies to ‘prove that it is true’. You wonder why and it becomes clear towards the Climax where The Beast really comes in when all seems to be lost for Kevin.

Be as incredulous you like to be, this is a bit too much to swallow.

But if you keep your disbelief suspended and just enjoy it as a movie, it becomes then an interesting story, with an ending that holds together and keeps your interest until the end.

 

7/ 10

–  – Krishna

July 16, 2017

Book: The Wind Through The Keyhole by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:52 pm

imageWritten later than when the whole series was finished as an e book, the story is supposed to come between Volumes 4 & 5. This happens after Wizard And Glass in the story sequence. That book and some earlier books have been reviewed here before. 

Let me tell you right upfront. This is actually a collection of stories masquerading as a story in the series. Let me also tell you something else. This is one of the best if not the best books in the series!

Jake, Oye, Susannah, Eddie and Roland, following the path of the Beam and meet Bix, who agrees to take them on his raft along the river partway. They find that there is a starkburst (storm) brewing and take shelter. How to pass time? They tell stories to each other. So this is, rather like a couple of stories set in the Tower World. In addition, these are told as stories within stories, so that you come back to the outer story when the inner story is complete.

The first one is about Roland himself, after his mother’s death. He cares for Cort who is an invalid and is berated by Roland’s father for that.

He sends him to Debaria, where a supposed skin-man, who is a shape changer, is terrorizing the city. He gives as Roland’s companion Jamie DeCurrie. Both he and the coach attendant on his way warn them of Serenity, where young women pretty and deadly as the Sirens of  Homer’s Iliad reside. But he finds the Everxxx very cordial and she even knows his mom, Roland discovers.

 

He then travels to Debaria and meets the sheriff there, an old colleague of his dad, Steven Deschain. He learns that the skin changer, who, in the form of a massive bear, massacres a whole family has a tattoo on his leg in his human form, by a boy who survived by hiding in the stable.

 

The gunslinger, on the request of the surviving boy Bill, starts a story. This is a story (Roland and co) telling a story of himself, telling an imaginary story…

 

The new story called Wind through the Keyhole is about Tim, his mother Nell and father Big Ross (Jack Ross, really). Big Ross is killed by a dragon in the Ironwood forest, leaving Nell and Tim destitute, unable to pay taxes. Nell’s childhood friend Bern Kells who loved her and lost her to Ross without rancour, offers to take her in and marry her.

 

Kells turns out to be abusive, evil. He makes Tim work in the saw mill factory.  When Kell vacates his own home to move in with Nell and Tim, he brings a trunk that is always kept locked.

 

When the Covenant man comes for taxes, he quakes and gives away Nell’s money as taxes. They lost everything and Kells continually abuses both Tim and Nell and leaves. The Covenant man, before going away, gives Tim a magic key and asks Tim to meet him in the Ironwood Forest if he dares. After a particularly brutal beating by Kell of Nell and when he is gone on his drinking binges (which makes him even more violent), Tim opens the trunk and discovers his father’s chain and the lucky coin. The dragon fire should have singed it. Why has it not?

 

He decides to find out and goes to the Covenant Man, who shows Tim that Kell had murdered his father and even shows him the body under a stream. (With nice twists like flesh eating bugs in another part of the water and a very scary pooky – which is a large snake – waiting to sink its fangs into anyone who dares come that way). And to add to the intrigue, Nell tells Tim (earlier) that the Covenant Man has never aged in all the time she saw him.

 

When Tim discovers that Kell has come back, discovered the trunk open (Tim cannot lock it as the magic dies when the key is used once), he flows into a rage and brutalizes Nell who, in a trauma to her head, has lost the sight and is near death. He flies to her assistance but not before receiving his father’s special Axe from the Covenant Man. Tim’s teacher Widow Smack, who is always veiled due to disfigurement and is a close friend of Nell, warns Tim against Covenant Man and begs Tim not to believe in that man’s lies.  When he refuses to turn back from what he set out to do, she gives him a gun for his own protection.

 

There is a Tinkerbell like glowing sighe (“fairy”) who is in the employ of the Covenant Man. She leads him into the Ironwood Forest this time. She is evil and lands him on the head of a sleeping dragon. Tim manages to jump off but only to a small island and the dragon faces him, preparing to fry him. He also realizes that he was always in danger of being eaten by flesh eating fish which always followed him.

 

When he recognizes the treachery and is faced with certain death by carrion eating strange fish, he uses the gun and gains the admiration of the swamp people. What follows is fabulous. He is looking for Maerlyn and greatest wizard, who was in the court of Arthur Eld (sound familiar?) and instead meets a life threatening situation again – a castle whose doors are locked and the key and a keycard tied to the neck of a tiger, pacing in a cage and looking very hungry. In addition, the starkblast (a freezing storm that suddenly comes and kills everything in sight) approaches.

 

How he manages from there is a pure delightful narration until the very end of the story. Then the story focuses back to the skin changer. How they identify him and how they kill him is told wonderfully as well. All in all, a very satisfying book.

 

9/10

– – Krishna

 

Movie : Wreck It Ralph (2012)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:42 pm

imageCall me simplistic but I think I am easily pleased.

 

This movie in all rights should not appeal to me. It is a spin off on old 80’s game characters and the plot is a hackneyed one that has been written and told millions of times to young children. A bad character in a game who does not like being bad and wants to be good. Oh so old.

 

But, here is the thing. The movie appeals to me. The dialog, the sequences and the composition all blend seamlessly, and though it does not have the voice talents of A-list stars (with due apologies for John C Reilly and Sarah Silverman), the emotions and actions and dialog all hang together to create a pleasant experience.

 

Mind you, I say pleasant, not spectacular.

 

Ralph is jealous of Fix It Felix, the good guy in the game. He, Ralph, is always wrecking things and creating havoc whereas Felix is the epitome of the good guy, who can fix anything.

 

Ralph seeks help in Bad Anonymous, and explains how his self esteem is low after 30 years of being bad. He does not want to be bad anymore but other members advise him that he is designed to be bad, and if he turns good, he will wreck the game he inhabits.

 

He is determined to win a medal for heroism and thereby prove his good intentions and skills, Ralph sees a chance when he meets a soldier in a bar who is from the game Hero’s Duty whose nerves are shot hunting Bugs in the game. When Ralph hears that there is a medal at the end, he takes the soldier’s armor and his place in the game.

 

The story gets confusing from here. Ralph skips from game to game while in Fix It, they find that Ralph is missing. The game is frozen with an Out of Order sign and all the game characters are terrified that if Ralph does not come back, the plug will be (literally) pulled and that they will all lose their lives. They go in search of Ralph.

 

After a ton of cat and mouse chase, Ralph finally teams up with another character from a different game. She is Vanellope. They together get the medal from a racing game.

 

Well, there is a ton more that happens but it is all too episodic to narrate. Consider the release of the evil Cy-bugs in an accident and their getting into Candy Land and sugar rush makes them multiply – they have the capacity to wreck all games. Consider Vanellope being a glitch in the game herself and not part of the original game. Consider Felix on his hunt for Ralph, being imprisoned by the Mad King.

 

All said and done, Ralph finally appreciates that the work he does is very much appreciated and he does not have to be a good guy to get kudos.

 

Nicely told, better than it sounds here.  6/10

 

– – Krishna

 

 

July 7, 2017

Book: Empire of the Sun by J G Ballard

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:50 pm

imageA really different story from the normal fare I read.

 

Fair Warning : The story is brutal in its details and this review also has some stark and strong descriptions. If you cannot stomach that, please do not read further.

 

China – Shanghai – during the Second World War and the world of expat Brits. Jim, a boy is caught up in it. They describe the evacuation of the expats and Chinese alike. There is a whiff of colonialism in the narration : the ‘superior’ British vs the ‘inferior’ Chinese and Japanese, without using those specific words. The Sikh police nonchalantly whips the ‘natives’ to bring order in the street. Who is he? A traffic cop!

 

But J G Ballard is known for this brutal portrayal in both his science fiction and this fiction inspired by his own childhood events.

 

Initially it is shocking. Americans and Europeans seem to go to a scene of battle and seem to stroll around as if in picnic among the dead Chinese soldiers slaughtered by the Japanese as a part of the war.

 

Jim witnesses, through his hotel window, the attack of HMS Petrel by a Japanese military ship. His father and he are separated in a hospital in different floors and his pa is arrested by Japanese military. He escapes the sweep of arrests of all Britishers by accident and is left alone to fend for himself in the aftermath of the Japanese occupation of China.

 

Jim is chased by a crazed Chinese man, who is after his watch and coat in a crowded tram and manages to elude him. He finds that his parents have been arrested by the Japanese military (his mom too) and his house is deserted.

 

The book gets better thereafter. He is partly safe because he looks like the Germans and Italians, who are safe during the Japanese occupation but looks like a vagabond because he is living off of the streets. For a while, a Japanese group of soldiers ‘adopts’ him and feeds him scraps but that too stops shortly afterwards.

 

He falls into the clutches of Frank and Bessie, two unsavoury Americans. When they are about to abandon him, failing to sell him to anyone, they get captured along with him by the Japanese military and he goes to a POW camp as a seven year old boy.  The detention camp is for the hopeless cases which will die, and Jamie is put in there when he becomes very sick but survives and fights his way “into” the POW camp. The descriptions are stark and brutal.

 

The people are forever near death with flies feasting on their wounds and with little bladder control. The scene where Jamie is taken by a truck from prison camp to prison camp only to be told to ‘go away’ because there is no space there, is touching.

 

He adopts to the life in camp so much so that he is afraid to go back to England and home. He has forgotten the names of his parents and wants Japan to win the war actually. When Japan lost the rations were cut in the camp in revenge.

 

The images are stark and revealing – I know I have said this multiple times but if you are faint of heart, this book may not be for you. The prisoners, when advised of their freedom don’t know what to do with it. Their whole world has shrunk into just a  fight for food and worldly possessions. Many of them die due to disease and workload during starvation under the uncaring eyes of Japanese soldiers. They talk of the tittering of Chinese when terrified and a man, knowing he will be executed – beaten to death with paddles by the military – bursts into a song which goes higher in pitch the more he is hit until he is dead.

 

Dr Ransome, a camp physician and Mr Matthews who chivvies James up as he gave up several time despite the former’s total exhaustion are some of the characters that populate this. There is an imperious family of Mr and Mrs Pearce, who share a room with James with partitions made of old clothes.

 

When they are taken back to Shanghai camp, many of the camp mates cannot go on and simply sit down on the way, left behind for God knows what fate. There is a faint suggestion that they were killed rather than let go, but never explained fully.

 

The imagery is stark but the descriptions are lovely, including the similes. Consider this description of the Englishmen who lay down and died while walking to the camp out of pure exhaustion in all kinds of directions “as if they were dropped from the sky in random poses”. Or another group killed in a field with spent shells shining yellow “as if they had looted a treasury in the final moments before they were killed”.  A dead body’s mouth is open ‘as if he was waiting for the last morsel of food’. Nice.

 

The description is raw and gritty. If you are queasy, do not read the book. It talks about a lot of maggots, flies, rotting corpses. More gore needed? Also in supply. A dead body is discovered with the face mashed into a pulp because after the war a Japanese soldier was killed by ex-prisoners by repeatedly beating his head with a blunt weapon. A rotting corpse’s skull is exploded by running a car over its head.  J G Ballard is a fan of the gruesome alright.

 

The imagery stays with you. If this is anything like what the author himself suffered or saw when he was a child (in China, he was a prisoner of war with his parents during the Second World War and left for England after the war, just like Jim), the conditions were pitiable indeed for those Westerners caught in the conflict.

 

It looks like death repeatedly stares Jim in the face of death but manages to wriggle out just in time, not without pain and injuries in many instances.

 

A very different novel that describes war from a totally different angle but still brutally honest in descriptions for all that.

 

7/10

–  –  Krishna

 

 

 

Mega Mind (2010)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:38 pm

imageI know.  I know… the movie is an old one. I also know that I have not spelled the name as the producers spelled it, but I prefer this version.

What an interesting movie. I will be honest. I generally do not like the brand of comedy favoured by Will Farrell but this is one movie of his that I enjoyed. The reason is that it adopts an interesting trick that has been later followed in many other movies like Despicable Me, to quote only one example: it does not take itself very seriously and just provides a fun ride for you to go along with.

 

Consider this: An alien planet is being destroyed and two babies are saved in two spaceships – the two babies are all that survived from that planet. (This is not a logical movie so don’t ask why they did not send a bigger ship with more people or any of the hundred questions that may occur to you. Remember? Just go along for the ride). You would expect them to be identical in features etc, right? Wrong! One of them looks like a strong hunk, and is the superhero (called Metro Man). He is played by our own Hollywood Hunk Brad Pitt (ie after the baby grows up). The other baby is not strong in body, is blue with a bloated head and is not even good looking but a man with phenomenal mental powers. Since the shallow world of ours hated him and mistreated him almost from childhood, he turned into a Supervillain Mega Mind (Will Farrell)

 

They both reside in the same city. (Metro City, which if, of course, in America – where else?). Metro Mind is of course, adored and the city even opens a museum for him. Mega Mind has had enough. He gatecrashes into the opening ceremony, with the help of his assistant – well, it is a fish in a bowl bolted onto a robot’s body. As an aside, the assistant is called Minion. The most interesting thing is that Despicable Me (the original of the sequence) was released in 2010 and so was this movie. So is the name Minion chosen in both a true coincidence?

 

However, on with our tale. He came to get his revenge and lures Metro Man into a sealed lab by kidnapping Metro Man’s girlfriend Roxanne Ritchie (played by Tina Fay). He tries to destroy the entire museum and so kill Metro Man who has been his enemy and envy all his life but the stupid laser takes too long to heat up.  Just when he feared that Metro Man had escaped, Metro Man finds that the copper plating of the entire building prevents him from getting out and he gets burnt down to his skeleton. Roxanne escapes in the melee.

 

Mega Mind is thrilled. No one can save his victims in Metro City anymore. He has a free hand. But he finds that he has lost the will to torment. There is no fun in tormenting without a worthy opponent like, say, the Metro Man. It is sooo boring to be in charge of everything with nothing going wrong, no surprises whatever.  He mourns Metro Man’s death and goes to the museum to pay his respects. There he meets Roxanne (she did not see Mega Mind when he kidnapped her earlier) and posing as a curator of the museum, strikes up a friendship with her. Roxanne is bitter about “this Mega Mind” who destroyed Metro Man and hopes that a new hero will rise to take Metro Man’s place because ‘heroes are created, not born’. That gives Mega Mind a terrific idea. He uses Metro Man’s DNA to create a serum that will turn anyone into a super hero!

 

Meanwhile, Mega Mind finds Roxanne refreshing and begins to hope that he can leave the life of crime if there is a chance of a life with her. She is funny, charming and most amazingly, seems not to hate him! But he still needs to create a superhero with the serum before retiring.

 

When he is ready with it and pondering whom to turn to a super hero worthy of opposing, the serum accidentally is ingested by Hal Stewart, the most annoying photographic assistant of Roxanne, who has a crush on her to boot but is completely ignored by her. Mega Mind, seeing him ingest a serum, decides that he is The One and trains him (disguised as Space Dad).

 

When Minion leaves because he cannot comprehend that super villains wanting to be good people, and when Roxanne discovers who he really is and rejects him, the universe comes crashing down on Mega Mind and he goes on an evil rampage, true to his Super Villain form. He expects Titan to come to the rescue of the town but when he does not, goes to Titan’s home to find out why! Titan is bored of being good and wants to be a supervillain and almost kills Mega Mind when he protests.

 

Mega Mind remembers that copper was, so to speak,  Metro Man’s Kryptanite, and surrounds Titan with copper but it seems to have no effect on him. There is a new supervillain rampaging Metro City and there is no help at all to be found. He persuades Roxanne to take him to her ex boyfriend’s pod to see if they can glean any other clues to contain Titan when they discover a big twist regarding Metro Man.

 

The movie slowly makes you love Mega Mind and at the end, you rejoice when he finally vanquishes Titan and saves the city. (A small twist at the end can be revealed, though – he gets his own museum now!)

 

A lovely movie, well crafted, well animated, very intelligent and tugs all the right spots in your heart.

 

8/10

–  –  Krishna

June 11, 2017

Book: The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 12:08 am

imageA light hearted adventure in the tone of the Shannara series (We have reviewed The Sword of Shannara and The Elfstones of Shannra here before). Also, this book is very British in its outlook as the ones in the Shannara series, with people calling each other “old chap” and things. I thought in the beginning that it may be a bit childish but it grows on you. I remember having the same experience with those two books as well!  Towards the end, you even take a liking to the book as you did of those books as well.

 

This is the Pyrdain series and this is the first volume in the series. It talks about the coming of age of a young man called Taran, who is thrust into the midst of adventure when he least expected it.

 

Taran begs Coll to teach him how to make swords and also swordfight instead of making horseshoes as  there are no horses any more in their world. Their monkeying is stopped by Dalben, the wizard of the place.

 

Dalben tells of the land of the dead, Annuvin, ruled by Arawn, who has stolen mankind’s gold and jewellery for his own evil purpose. The Son of Don foiled him from becoming King. Now an evil and mysterious warlord called the Horned King – because he wears a crown of antlers –  has risen, threatening the peace that has been kept for eons.

 

Dalben wants them to stay far from all such troubles but when the animals start acting weird, he wants to get Hen Wen, the pig,  in safe custody, so that the Horned King, who is after Hen Wen cannot get it. Once the Horned King lays his hands on Hen Wen, the evil wins. (Yes, they explain why later, and the reason, when you learn of it later,  is logical if a bit lame).

 

The Book of Three is a chronicle of secrets being updated by Dalben is protected by a spell from being opened, as Taran finds to his discomfort and burning fingers. The book hardly figures further in the story, despite the whole story being titled after it. Strange, is it not?

 

Hen Wen runs away and Taran runs into the forest chasing a pig and is almost killed by the Horned King, only to be saved by a scraggy man who turns out to be Lord Gwydion. The Lord  informs him that the pig, Hen Wen, is the most important thing to defeat the Horned King and his evil master Arawn. Gwydion is on the horse Melyngyar and they go in search of Hen Wen.

 

The creature Gurgi whom they meet in their search for Hen Wen reminds you initially of Dobby of the Potter series but turns out to be a very different kind of character as the story proceeds. (Incidentally, this book was written way back in 1964 so Dobby was NOT the inspiration for this character! )

 

The gwaythaints, the winged spies of the evil enemy, reminds you of the winged messengers in the first book of the Sword of Shannara.

 

Taran and Gwydion get captured by the minions of Arawn and taken to Achren the impossibly beautiful but evil lady. Taran is stopped from being fooled by her by Gwydion, and Taran is knocked unconscious by a whip handle and wakes up in a prison cell. Alone.

 

He is rescued by a chatty little girl Eilonwy, who knows all the underground tunnels. She tells him that Gwydion and the horse Melyngyar are also rescued but Taran falls into a collapsed hole in the tunnel. Incidentally Eilonwy is a very delightful character that you grow to like from the very beginning, though she seems to be wisecracking through serious troubles.

 

The two find another way out.  But on reaching the outside, Taran finds that instead of Gwydion, the girl has rescued a bard called (No, I am not kidding) Fflewddur Fflam. They discover that he was indeed a king but likes a bard’s wandering life more. Gurgi joins them and they set out for a quest after looking ineffectually for Gwydion in a castle that seems to have collapsed when they were out. There are some cute touches like the harp strings breaking every time Fflewddur tells a lie. (Rather like Pinocchio with his nose)

 

They go in search of Hen Wen, assuming this is what Gwydion would have wanted. They are chased by the Cauldron Born, the undead minions of the witch. They escape and get lost and finally meet the famous wizard Medwyn.

 

He heals the wounded Gurgi and when they resume their journey, Taran leads them to captivity again, almost immediately. they get sucked under a pond and reach the kingdom of dwarfs of King Eiddileg. He comes across as a grouch but is really a softie (Yes, another British staple for characters) and sends them on their way with food, horses, a guide called Doli, and Hen Wen, who Gurgi discovers is with King Eiddileg.

 

On the way they meet the Horned King himself and when all seems to be lost, are saved miraculously by Gwydion whom they thought was dead.

 

The story ends on a positive and romantic note. A pleasant read. But really a fairytale story, lightweight. So, I give it a 5/10

 

–  – Krishna

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