bookspluslife

December 20, 2013

Book: Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 1:11 pm

imageThis is a science fiction that was very popular and spawned a series based on its success.
The story is like Star Wars set up. However, this book fundamentally seems to be a set of stories, with a common character in each (the evil villain, metal kind of thing, Shrike). The technique to weave together all these individual stories together is to have a diverse group of team members assigned to a common voyage tell the stories of what happened to them with Shrike and why they are here. That way, this book is a collection of short stories, each with a twist at the end.

 

The Council has asked the commander to go back to Hyperion. All Things has approved it.  Commander wakes up in the tree ship – an interesting analogy. Reminds one of Aliens or other Science Fiction movies.

 

There are six, chosen, who go to Hyperion. An oddball assortment, headed by Hans Matadeen the leader of the people. Each one is from a different profession, and, as already said, each has been chosen because they have had an encounter with the Shrike and has survived. There seems to be a revisit of Shrike in Hyperion and they are sent to stop further damage.

 

First is Father Hoyt, a priest, who goes in to find a missing father who found an ancient tribe who belong to the cross. He finds a cave full of crosses and a huge cross to boot and a cross is placed on his father which grows inside him and refuses to move. The twist? He himself has one and is still in pain. They discover this about him after he finished the story.

 

The next is a soldier called Kalahad, who has fought armies but in training finds a great girl in love with him. When he goes to fight Ousters and escapes, Shrike comes to help him and the girl he is in love with turns out to be a she Shrike with metal for body and all. Guaranteed twist is supplied!

 

Then there is a poet Silenus, who has lost everything and memory in a travel and, later,  gets it all back. Finds fame writing about Dying Earth and is a multi millionaire but his real works do not sell at all. He needs a muse to rekindle his imagination. Who is the muse? It is Shrike. Finally Sad King Billy (don’t ask) sacrifices self and burns all docs of Silenus, with Shrike helping. Silenus has another copy (remade) before he joins the motley crew. There is Benares, Parvati, also a lot of Judaism and Islam thrown in (New Mecca or Riyadh, I forget)

 

Then Sol Weinstein whose daughter, Rachel is caught in the Time Tide inside the tombs and starts growing younger (Like the Curious Case of Benjamin Button). Heavily Jewish and his angry conversations with God are a joke. Rachel regresses into childhood and his wife dies in an accident and so Sol is out on a Pilgrimage to the Hyperion Shrike Shrine. What is the twist? The child he always carried with him turns out to be Rachel herself!

 

The investigator is a girl – Brawn Lemna who has a Cybrid (John Keats) as a client and tries to determine who has tried to kill him. Discovers, after travelling into the datumplane with the help of hacker Bobo – who dies –  that  the web is not keen on Keats cancelling his trip to Hyperion. They hide from the world and also make love to each other several times. The cybrid gets killed but downloads all his info onto a bionic chip in her and she also discovers she is pregnant. Cybrid gets killed in an attempt to go to Shrike temple and it is indeed the Hegemony that is trying to “erase” the Cybrid. (Hegemony is the Council of Wise Men)

 

Finally comes the Consul’s own story. Consul time travels and meets with a girl in an outer world he is forbidden to go to . The girl’s name is Siri and he meets her in various ages, seventy at the end, when he is still very young due to time travel. It is interesting that the first time he meets her she is barely eighteen and they fall in love. Later she matures into a woman and grows old before his own eyes, while he stays the same age. He is still as deeply in love with her till the end. You get the story, but then the descriptions of their meetings and reunions is very confusing and not clearly laid out, in my opinion.

 

The Consul’s story has multiple twists like a labyrinth of crooked alleys that make your head spin. First, the man in the story, who you assumed was the Consul – because everyone else is narrating his or her own story – was not him at all but his grandfather. In an unrelated twist, shortly after, you find that the Consul is a double or triple agent, working also for the violent villain group called the Ousters. But wait, maybe not. He is playing the bad guy to get into the good graces of Ousters. Wait, what? I do not know!

 

The ending is abrupt and, in my opinion, bad. It kind of negates all your expectations set at the outset and you feel as if the storybook  you were reading was plucked away from you by someone abruptly before you could finish it.

I will give this one a  5/10

 

–        – Krishna

 

 

 

 

Movie : Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Filed under: Movies — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 12:41 pm

imageWatching an old movie much later can have an issue. What seems funny and conventional then looks insipid and juvenile about seventeen years later. Some movies, though, transcend time and you can still watch it after a long while and be enthralled. Unfortunately, this movie is definitely not one of them.

It feels and looks something like the comedy attempted in Home Alone. There is no child here but the teenager, Ferris, around whom the story is centred has a mental age of a ten year old child. The principal who tries to track him with a single minded obsession to catch him in the act definitely reminds you of the clownish thieves who try to enter the house in the Home Alone movie. And as stupid and irritating.

There are some unexpected actors you meet, which makes you raise your eyebrows and say  ‘What? Is this really this actor?’ All of them are cameos. First, there is Ben Stein of the TV show who shows up as an economics teacher. Then, towards the end, we have Charlie Sheen showing up.

The story is stupid but this. Ferris feigns illness to bunk school for a day with two friends – one of them his girlfriend who has a single expression throughout the movie – amused admiration for his ingenuity. He has technical wizardry to fool any peeping parents to see him ‘sleeping’ or visitors who may come looking. But does he go quietly to enjoy the day? No, he makes himself as conspicuous as possible, and his friends nod saying that due to phenomenal luck, he will not be caught, even if caught on TV singing on a platform and the whole city sees him.

The movie is old and it shows. There is some equipment that kids today would not even recognize. For example, if you saw the movie, did you look at the computer in Principal’s office? Monochrome screen and as ugly as it can get in looks. Even  I almost forgot what computers used to look like in the eighties! And the long dot matrix printout that the school officials are looking at? How many people will even know what the hell that is? Scanning through a printed report of hundreds of pages to look for information.

Have I mentioned that the story is insipid? The Ferris Bueller role is played terribly with horrible intonation by Mathew Broderick. The gags are so juvenile that you are irritated rather than amused.

Also Ferris is not even a genius planner. He goes wherever and cavorts in front of the principal in thin disguise but no one catches him. Don’t even get me started on the principal. He is home-invading during school hours to catch Ferris in his lies and gets knocked down by the sister of Ferris, another whiny character played by Jennifer Grey to boredom. Maybe because the whole city is populated by imbeciles, Ferris can get away with what he does. That kind of makes sense!

It is supposed to be funny. The only character who looks like he is even trying to play the role assigned to him is Alan Ruck, who plays Cameron, the best friend of Ferris.

It is a series of what seems to be clever tricks. A dummy with chest moving to fool the doting mother of Ferris that he is in bed when he is out having fun. A Porche borrowed by Cameron from his dad without his dad’s knowledge, a recorded message for any doorbells asking them to go away because Ferris is sick and so on. And after they have all recovered without much damage to egos or persons, for no reason at all, the car gets trashed and Cameron decides to ‘man up’. Whatever.

Stupid comedy, if you do not have the patience for it. I did not. Let us say 2/10

 

–        – Krishna

 

 

 

 

 

December 10, 2013

Book: Aztec by Gary Jennings

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 5:05 pm

imageIt was a pleasant surprise to read this book. The story simply flows, is interesting, and there are enough twists and also a lot of humour to keep you glued to this book till the end. You get to invest in the characters and feel their progress and adventures all the way along and root for them, which is nice. It also has moments of pathos. If a book carries you along, surely it is a well written book.

 

It is not an intellectually challenging book, just a story, whose purpose is to entertain rather than inform, and I think it does it well. The setting is Aztec and I think that some of the surprising facts that happen to our protagonist is historically accurate – in the sense that Aztec life involved such events – and to that extent, you do get to understand the Aztec lifestyle and background along with the story. But the prime aim is to give a darn good yarn that will keep you turning the pages.

 

The story has a kind of a parallel preface that is very amusing. The story comes about because Don Carlos, the King of Spain, the Supreme Ruler, the Emperor of all Spanish domains, asks the bishop in his dominion for the history of the place via the story of a famous slave. The place? Mexico.  The bishop, Juan De Zamarraga, has a man who can comply and commands him to tell his story as the King commands.

 

And this humble, poor man starts his life story. It goes in installments with a preface written by the bishop to kind of give his opinion of the extract. The story from the slave is so vile and derogatory to Spain that the Bishop grovels each time, asking the King for permission to stop hearing and writing further installments. Each time the permission is denied.

 

The narrator (slave) is called Seven Flower: he was born and like all babies, dumped into cold water the moment he was born. His sister was Nine Reed. The umbilical cords were buried, as per common custom,  in battlefield and hearth respectively for the boy and the girl. The boy sees his first human sacrifice when he is four. Mother is harsh and the girl is punished for playing with herself.

 

Red Heron is a benevolent ruler but his son is a brat.

 

Tlatli and Chamali are friends of the narrator who longs to leave the backwaters of Xaltocan to the splendors of the capital Tenochtitlan. Seven Flower was nicknamed Mixtli in short. The real name, given only when he is seven (Seven Flower was kind of a placeholder!)  is too long to mention here.  Stands for Severn Flower Dark Cloud. But since he lost his eyesight at a young age, he is commonly referred to as a Mole (Mixtli in the local language)

 

Mixtli tries to train as a soldier like all the boys are expected to. But he cannot due to eyesight problems. We learn that there was no concept of conquest in those days in Mexico, though there were wars. The losing side simply acknowledged the supremacy of the winner and paid a tithe.

 

. His sister goes wayward, first having incest with her brother, seducing him first. He loves her dearly. She even plans to elope with him to unknown parts of the country where they can claim to be man and wife.

Mixtli, having failed as a ruler, tries to read and write, learning it by himself. Reading was such a rare skill that only a handful of people were able to, in those times. In one of his wanderings in the dusk (against the wishes of his father not to wander during dangerous twilight times), he meets a stranger, who finds that he is trying to read all by himself, and then departs. The stranger was an old man, full of dust, bent out of shape and mysterious.

 

Next thing he knows, he gets summons from the ruler of a neighbouring country. He goes and learns that the ruler is a benevolent  man, and offers to educate Mixtli with his own son’s tutor, along with the prince. But his wife is a 16 year old princess who is evil. She learns Mixtli can draw well (He seems to have been some sort of a Forrest Gump without the stupidity and excels in many things). She commands Mixtli to draw the young men he meets, and then has someone bring them to her for illicit sex. He complies, being blackmailed by the princess into submission.

 

I do not want to give away the whole story but the above is just a fraction of it, and should give you a sense of the story and the complexities. We are not surprised when we learn that the old traveler was the neighbouring King himself but there are amazing surprises in the story. For instance, how his sister gets unmasked as having had premarital sex and what happens to her is a big surprise and a bit sad. What really happens to her comes up much later, and it is even more of a bombshell. These are the kind of twists that keep one reading and pausing to wonder at the next twist.

 

The enmity of Chamali and Mixtli, and the legitimate reasons for them are very interesting. (Chamali could not help at a critical juncture to save Mixtli’s sister’s life and Mixtli thought that he would not – not could not. He was gay and so refused to marry Nine Reed to save her. Mixtli could not forgive this and traps them, with the evil queen, and gets them all killed except Chamali). Chamali goes berserk with grief (his lover and friend, who was also a mutual friend to Mixtli, gets killed) and vows lifetime vengeance on Mixtli.

 

Mixli barely leaves with his life after the misadventure with the Queen. Being exiled, he joins the army for a pardon and captures, purely by fluke, the greatest warrior of the enemy. He is pardoned and becomes a trader.

 

Filled with incest, sex with castrated boys, all kinds of cruel dismemberment, it is told with verve, humour (the pained pleas of the bishop to their king to not ask for more from this savage who has no respect for Christian customs) and is vastly interesting.

 

The human sacrifice in thousands is really told very well. Forget about the context, the story is very long and is really gripping, take my word for it.

 

There is cruelty, there is a smart maneuvering, there is twists galore and a lot more interesting characters including the identical sisters, one of whom Mixtli marries and the other, after his wife’s death, tries to show in a million different ways that she always loved him and he is blind and indifferently cruel to her, misreading her every cue and unfeelingly exploiting her ruthlessly. You tend to hate your hero at that time. When he at last realizes the sacrifices she has made, it is a bit too late for remedies and atonements. Really heartrending.

 

Also it tells of how the Spanish were able to capture this warrior race through sheer accident and treachery and how they could have easily been repelled but for the weakness and vacillation of the king who inherited the empire.

 

 

Very touching, surely a great read, and you would be entertained, guaranteed

 

It deserves a 8/10

 

 

– Krishna

December 6, 2013

Book: The Eagle and The Raven by James Michener

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:37 am

imageFor Michener, this is a very short book. I did not think he was capable of writing short ones!

But all becomes clear in the introduction, which in itself is interesting. Originally, this story was supposed to be part of another of his regular books (I think it was The Caribbean). He had to cut these out since the other book was too long already and this was a stand alone piece that did not diminish the original story for its removal. When the publishers suggested that the cut out material be expanded a bit and made into its own book, he agreed, and the result of that work is this book. The only thing that was a little bit jarring in the introduction is James Michener’s tone of patting himself in the back for doing great work, generally speaking. True, he does, and is outstanding both in his research and narration, but I have never heard before how publishers think he is great and how his books are such a success and so the tone is very different from the author’s usual style.

Interestingly, there is a book called The Eagle and the Raven by Pauline Gedge, but that is a very different story altogether. Now, on to the story of this book.

The Raven is a man Sam Houston, who deals with the Indians, lived with them, and is so absorbed in their customs that he annoyed the superior officer even though he got results in talks with them. He earned the enmity of the secretary of war John C Calhoun and friendship of General Andrew Jackson and was lifelong foe of Calhoun in politics always.

The Eagle is a Spanish man Santa Anna,  who learnt ruthlessness in the hands of a great warrior from Spain called General Arredondo and treated rebellion as something to be ruthlessly squashed and was not squeamish with burning down whole villages if he suspected that one or two there housed known agitators.

He does not hesitate to join the rebels, support “Emperor” Iturbide, and join the Republican side and see the “emperor” slain, later. Then he becomes ‘a shining beacon for democracy, liberal views, and state emancipation’! A political chameleon, who will change sides depending not on ideology but which side is on the ascendancy at any particular moment.

 

He walked in and out of presidency 11 times at whim, supporting emperors, turning against them, supporting democracy, turning against that system, and so on.

When he lost his leg, he had it buried with state honours of a national hero – and this,  many years after he lost it in a battle. Was sent in disgrace to exile and died in penury, an old man, with a remarkably loyal younger wife.

 

Earlier, the two meet (as destined to, which is the main crux of the story) in a battle in Texas where Sam not only defeats but also captures Santa Anna. He became very famous after the victory and and released him later. He then rose rapidly in politics and  became a president of Texas. After Texas became part of USA, he became a senator and, later, its governor.

 

Exiled himself when Texas chose the Confederacy and lived quietly with his second wife.

 

Not bad. The style of our man Michener is all there. The narrative excellence is there. Just the volume is missing. A good story.

 

I will award this 6/10

 

–          – Krishna

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