bookspluslife

February 26, 2017

Book: Desert God by Wilbur Smith

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:27 pm

imageThis is the second installment in the successful Ancient Egyptian stories from Wilbur Smith featuring the ‘I-am-so-good-at-everything’ Taita. This follows the first book, River God.

Taita is playing a bao board game with a friend and fellow strategist Aton. We learn that the Hyskos, who were vanquished in the original River God by him and Queen Lostris are regrouping and gaining strength. Taita comes up with a clever plan to break up the alliance forming between Hyskos and King Mintos. He takes an army disguised as Hyskos and plunders another king, thereby forcing him to consider Hyskos as the common enemy and enter into an alliance instead with Egypt.

 

If you have forgotten that Taita can do it all (superhuman, super intelligent, super musical and so on) he reminds you of this a million times until it becomes mildly irritating. He however finds that there are galleys with silver bars – untold wealth, being transported into a heavily fortified fort, which looks impregnable. Taita has of course an ingenious plan. He breaks the only bridge from the castle by going in a boat.

He successfully plunders not only unimaginable amount of treasure but also arms, releases some Egyptians captured and turned into slaves, and returns via the Nile, ramming into the Minoan emperor’s boat on the way. He kills the emperor too.

 

He now hatches a plan to give both his beloved girls (sisters of the Pharoah) to the womanizing Supreme Minos as a gift to get an alliance with Crete.

 

I realized while reading this that Taita is to Wilbur Smith what Odd Thomas is to Dean Koontz. The same tone of self-congratulation, the same idea that the person, though defective in some way (autism like behaviour in Odd Thomas and castration in Taita) have superhuman skills in almost all walks of life. And the mildly boastful tone that permeates all their stories – which, to me, spoils the story a bit – that results takes away from total enjoyment of the story.

 

He finds that the elder princess may have been kidnapped by an unknown intruder where they stayed. He follows and conquers Al Hawawi the Bedouin pirate but not before Zaras is grievously wounded.

 

Taita is in his element. He invents surgery, “mentally” copulates with a goddess, discovers that he is a demi god and excels in everything including self praise, all the while saying that he is embarrassed to praise himself.

 

He discovers that the Hyksos are preventing his plan to unite the kings against them and are trying to ambush him but they are of course they are no match for him. He ambushes them and takes them as slave. When a pirate ship attacks them, he reforms the pirate captain and enlists him to get him more ships for the impending war with Hyksos.

 

When he reaches Crete, he finds the king weird and the people weirder. He is attached by an Auroch and is saved by his stable boy who gives his own life to save Taita. The princesses were whisked away to be consorts of the king.

 

He meets and kills an Auroch, having his servant killed in the process. When he learns of Hyksos amassing chariots and guarding with too few people, Taita goes to surprise them in an attack but is in turn ambushed. Nakati helps him and warns of treachery that caused this.

 

They win over the Hyksos after nearly being defeated.

 

In addition, Loxias meets Taita and says strange happenings in the Supreme Minos and his harem. Forty women were sent to the king on the day of the earthquake but never seen again. We the readers can put together what happened but the suspense is revealed only much later in the book.

 

They rush back to the aid of the princesses in the midst of a roaring volcano (the wrath of Cronas) that seems to have destroyed Minoa. They reach just as the princesses are about to be sacrificed to an auroch.

 

This piece has its action pieces but overall I think this Taita book leaves a lot to be desired. Not up to his earlier standards in the first book.

 

5/10

–  – Krishna

Movie: Arrival (2016)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:12 pm

imageI don’t know what to make of this movie. In one sense, it is not like many other alien movies, especially those of yesteryears (and some current movies) where the aliens are definitely humanoid and the problem in the earlier years could be really solved by having people wear suits. Done. And mostly the aliens speak English (or fudged by the statement that they communicate at a mental level, which seems like English to us humans).

 

As long as we are diverging in this preamble, I may also add that the one movie that was extremely impressive from yesteryears, based on Carl Sagan’s story, called Contact that came out in 1997, also sidestepped the issue of what aliens look like. The movie is beautiful in its own right, and if you have not seen it, I urge you to do so when you have a chance.

 

I am not claiming that this is this is the first movie I have seen that recognizes the fact that the aliens may not even look like us, not even a little bit, and their way of communication may be completely incomprehensible to us. Anyone who has seen the Aliens series can vouch for that. However, this takes the item in a different light. In Aliens series, for instance, people were not trying to understand what they were saying. In this one they do, and kudos to the team for that. Evolution can wreak wonders even in an isolated island in this world (witness the unique species in Australia and Madagascar, to name but two) and who knows what it would have wrought in other planets?

 

The reason for their arrival (the title of the film) is really interesting as well. The story is about Dr Louise Banks who is a language professor. We learn that she and her husband are separated and a daughter who grew up got a incurable disease and dies early. Seems unrelated to the main movie, because then you see her invited to help US when a spacecraft lands in US (and in many other parts of the world as well) since she is the best language expert in the world, but keep it in the back of your mind because it all connects later. She meets a theoretical physicist called Ian Donnelly.

 

The spacecraft is huge, oval, and seems flat as a cardboard and yet they all can get in and explore. The theories of language where they try to parse the alien speak is phenomenal. The daring Louise trying new things to understand the really strange beings is phenomenal and her exceptional gift, which is slowly revealed and that also helps in averting a catastrophe of epic proportions (when China refuses to listen to the aliens or make contact with them but threatens to nuke the spaceship that landed in their territory) is amazing.

 

The movie can be a bit confusing but all in all, it stands together, very intelligently crafted and the new emphasis on taking you backwards and forwards in time works well again in this movie.

Amy Banks and Jeremy Runner do a credible job in their roles.

 

To tell more would be to give away some of the interesting things about the movie.

 

I think it definitely is a 7/ 10

– – Krishna

February 25, 2017

Book: The Lords Of The North by Bernard Cornwell

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:33 pm

imageThe Lords of the North is the third in the Anglo Saxon series and follows The Last Kingdom, and The Pale Horseman. This continues the story via Uhtred, the central but invented character.

 

Uhtred buries his treasure because he has to leave for Babbenburg, his childhood home.  He reaches the place and goes to see the king, pretending to be another man in Alfred’s army. He is however exposed by the priest and realizes that he is among his old enemies, unmasked.

 

Based on the propaganda by priests that Saint Cuthbert himself had come to the aid of Alfred, the king of Babbenberg has the Danes slaughtered when the Danish army was away and now, fearing a massacre at the hands of the returning Danish forces, Uhtred just wants to get out of that place. When he makes a deal with a merchant to escort him and his family, he falls into the hands of his ancient enemy Sven. He covers his face and pretends to be a leper. He humiliates Sven and escapes with the merchant. In the same event, he meets Guthred, also called the Slave King, who is another Dane.

 

Guthred is crowned King of Northumbria by the priests, after a brief moment of confusion where Uhtred is confused for the king. He is captured by the men of Kartjan the Cruel who pretend that they have come to join his army and he gets saved in the last minute. He takes revenge on all of them except Kjartan’s bastard son and takes him into his fold when the latter declares an oath of fealty to Uhtred.

 

They go to expand the empire and capture the next kingdom without any resistance. However, Kjartan refuses to surrender and Guthred’s sister Gisel, who hoped to marry Uhtred, is dismayed by what she saw in the runes.

 

He finds out what it is when Guthrum sells him into slavery as a part of the deal and he is branded and manacled and made to row the oar of Trader, a slave galley. He gets saved by Ragnar and Steapa and pledges a second oath to Alfred and goes back to Guthred with Steapa as an emissary from Alfred.

 

He finds Guthred trapped and rescues him and his beloved Gisela. Then with Ragnar, he attempts an attack on Kjartan’s fortress Dunholm. How they fare in their attempt to capture Dunholm is exhilerating, with stealth, cunning plan and fortunes swinging constantly one way and then the other with stunning twists when they think all is lost… This is perhaps the best sequence so far in the series.

 

I thought that after such a climactic scene it would be time to end the story but the story continues. And keeps its tension till the very end. Brilliantly told, especially how Ivarr, the Danish king opposed to both Ragnar and Alfred, meets his end.

 

Excellent read, and I repeat: the best in this series so far.

 

8/10

– – Krishna

Movie : Moana (2016)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:15 pm

imageDisney has figured out the magic formula to make hits. In 2016, according to the trade magazines, all top six hits were from the Disney stable. It of course takes a lot of money, especially in an animated movie like this.

 

This time they have gone to Polynesian culture for inspiration and the plot, really, is very simple. A Pacific Island nation has withdrawn into itself and has forgotten, and even fears, to do what should naturally come to them : go out into the sea on boats. Why? That is indeed the story.

 

The way the story unfolds is amazing. Moana, the young girl from the tribe seems to be unafraid of the sea and the water, unlike everyone else, with the exception of the crazy old grandmother.  The island of Te Fiti (What? No I did not say Tahiti, I said Te Fiti.) lost its “heart”, a stone with the spiral shape, to the arrogant and greedy demi-god called Maui. (What? No, not the island Maui, the demi-god Maui.)

 

When the desolation that this created threatens to overwhelm even the island where Moana lives, she wants to go after Maui and persuade him to return the heart to the island. In true Disney’s style, Maui can become any creature, a hawk, a lizard or himself and he uses all these to spectacular effort when he steals the heart of Te Fiti.

 

The other cute thing is that all of his life experiences become tattoos on his body and sometimes the tattoos move to tell the story.

 

Here in the movie, the sea (water) is a living thing that protects Moana and is an ally.

 

Like I said, the story itself is simplistic. She goes and meets the arrogant Maui and forces him to understand (and respect) her. We are introduced to his past and why he is what he is. The final confrontation with the fire breathing monster Te Ka and who that really is are good twists in the movie.

 

But where the movie really sparkles is in the animation. The worlds that it brings in front of you is fascinating, the images are brilliant and the dialog, though in my mind not as brilliant, supports the story and moves it along. The scene where baby Moana plays with the sea (water) is brilliant. She also gets a stone with the spiral heart in it from the sea. (We do not know what it is at this point in the movie.)

 

She goes on the inevitable voyage and the obligatory dumb animal (In this picture it is Heihei, a dumb rooster). She meets Maui and he reluctantly goes with her, arguing and wanting to quit all the way. There are also diversions like the cute Kakamora, tiny coconut shell wearing creatures.

 

A good entertainment, and brings to live Pacific Islander’s culture. Just don’t look for deep meaning in the story or any educational aspects.

 

6/ 10

– – Krishna

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