Posts tagged Arunn
Posts tagged Arunn
Blindness is tragic, deafness is comic. That is the premise Deaf Sentence, the latest by the British author David Lodge, begins with. The first few chapters explores this perspective through Desmond, a likable character, spending his early retirement as professor of linguistics from the English department, but still in academic setting and company continuing with his research (or purporting so). He has accepted his deaf state and its mostly comic and tragicomic flailing in stride, without indulging in self-pity (David Lodge acknowledges his growing deafness for the authenticity of the portrayal of the protagonist). Through him we learn of the (non) workings of hearing aids, what is Lombard reflex and how deafness saves one from that, why TV is a good companion (close captioned) for the deaf than the movie halls, of ‘quiet coaches’ in England trains, of Beethoven’s despair and how his reclusive character is a put-on to cover-up his growing deafness (as he explains in his letters), how Francis Goya’s deafness could have enhanced his concentration to do better paintings in his later years and several such interesting deaf stuff. These sections are peppered with word play and dead-pan humour
One of the strongest curses in English language is ‘Damn your eyes!’ (much stronger than ‘Fuck you!’ and definitely more satisfying) […] “Damn your ears!” doesn’t cut it. Or imagine if the poet had written, ‘Drink to me only with thine ear…; It’s actually no more illogical than saying drink with thine eyes […] Nor would ‘Smoke gets in your ears’ be a very catchy refrain for a song […] ‘There’s more in this than meets the ear’ is something Inspector Clouseau might say, not Poirot.
The novel moves on from that relatively light premise to a ‘deafness is tragic’ premise for few chapters and ends with chapters that conclude ‘deafness is not tragic, only death is’. The plight of a geriatric parent, living separately in London, and refusing to move ‘up North’ near to his son (Desmond) and daughter-in-law, and the doting deaf son’s inadequacy in convincing either his dad or his wife for a ‘move in’ solution is only familiar to most of us in such a state in our lives. A less familiar track, perhaps to readers who are not ‘academics’, is the episodes between Desmond and Alex Loom, an attractive but unhinged PhD student who is only too aware of her charms and doubly eager to use them for getting her research and laundry done by someone else capable. The despair felt by a bright professor (not Desmond) beguiled by Alex, the dread he and Desmond feel when a suicide was threatened by her, the associated academic quibbles, jealousies and integrity, are all portions of the novel I could lap with sympathetic unease. In the end Desmond gets lucky — not with Alex, but with his integrity.
Apart from Desmond, his ageing dad is given enough coverage and care in character depth (again, David Lodge acknowledges his personal life for this). Next comes his asserting and business savvy wife Winfred. The character of Alex Loom is also given some flesh and detail. The rest don’t have a major role of impact in the novel. This perhaps is deliberate as the novel unfolds from the perspective of Desmond and the rest of the characters are discussed and detailed only to the extent he knows of them. The novel has several anecdotes that are original and amusing if not LOL-type funny, while engaging in wry observations about familiar human relationships.
Given the scope the deafness tempts, thankfully, the novel is not bitter, kept mostly upbeat, if not cheerful. The writing as one expects from David Lodge, is elegant and taut. The narration moves between first and third person, an exercise Desmond is fond of giving to his students. That and long paragraphs often spanning two pages, with long sentences that use the language and written form to its potential (with parenthetic contrary observations appearing in the middle of the already long sentences, a style that I have observed to annoy several non-British English language readers, particularly non-native-English speakers), a writing style that demands undivided attention from the reader in return for the assured enjoyment.
Book: Deaf Sentence
Author: David Lodge
Year of Publication: 2007
London based publishers Prion have sometime now been re-publishing most of the classics from around fifty to hundred years back, from the stiff-upper-lip-Brit humour (notice the ‘u’) to the more unabashed slap-the-back American ones. Authors include (complete list) E. F. Benson, Saki, Jerome K. Jerome, Max Beerbohm to Anita Loos, James Thurber, Mark Twain, S. J. Perelman across the pond to the relatively obscure E. M. Delafield (Diary of a Provincial Lady). I picked a relative unknown for me, How to Travel Incognito written by Ludwig Bemelmans.
Ludwig Bemelmans, born in Austrian Tyrol in 1898 and a colorful personality in his times, was raised by his uncle who was a successful hotelier. The book has a nice introduction by Robert Warnick on Bemelman’s real-life adventures — shot a staff in his Uncle’s hotel and ran off to America by 16 with two pistols to “fend off hostile Indians”. Bemelmans is not exactly obscure, for he is a popular author for children and has written more than fifty books, most of them light-hearted and humorous. How to… is also written in similar style. It is a collection of easy adventures by the protagonist, semi-autobiographical, set in 1950s France.
Monsieur Le Comte de St. Cucuface is an aristocrat fallen on hard times, with his head and appetite held high, living on parties. He convinces our protagonist, Ludwig, to travel ‘incognito’ with him, as the Prince of Bavaria and join the fun. And so the adventures begin in post-war France, gallivanting from one hotel to another buffet through bar-rooms, gobbling gastronomic delights to gaffes, from one castle to another party via train journey that gets misdirected. Each sojourn is spruced with a story of local color, some interesting others plainly boring. And in the end, all misadventures along with the adventurers come to a happy tepid ending.
Here is a sample from the whacky prose to prick your interest:
“The painter Dali once told me that turtles are very useful. They make excellent ashtrays,” said St. Cucuface. “The way to do it is simple: you take a turtle of medium size, a young one, preferably between fifty and seventy-five years of age, and you have a jeweller attach a metal rod to its shell. On the top of that an ashtray is put, a detachable ashtray that you may take off in order to have it cleaned. The advantage is that since the turtle always tries to get under something, it will always be next to a couch or an easy chair where you want the ashtray.”
“Very practical,” said the Princess.
“And besides,” added St. Cucuface, “when you leave, you can say to the housekeeper - ‘Good-by, and don’t forget to feed the ashtray.”
Such passages and a re-working of Sleeping Beauty into a really wacky story, slipped in as part of an adventure, are the high-points. The book entirely is not that way, interspersed with several un-interesting passages that tested my resolve not to skip, saved only by occasional one-liners that promised more and the contextual line-drawings by the author. I am reminded of an observation on the music of Richard Wagner that goes something like: His music has beautiful moments and awful quarter-hours. But then, I would always complete reading such honest books than feeling lost and guilty over certain literary-tomes.
Author: Ludwig Bemelmans
Year of (Re-)Publication: 2003
The Humorist, P. G. Wodehouse has written over a hundred books, most of which have remained popular crossing three generations, even today. It is surprising that one of the verbose Tamil critics I read found PGW less appealing, after ‘going through’ two of his books. Wrong books coupled with a lack of appreciation for excellent English, I should say in my kinder moods, instead of wondering in prose on the misfortune of creators having to cast pearls among pigs. If one wonders where to begin to bask in the sunlit prose of those cataloged hundreds and laugh oneself to tears, Leave it to Psmith is a recommended place. You may then move on to The Code of the Woosters or Right Ho Jeeves, available for download at the gutenberg.
Indignant and harmless, effacing and enlightening, light-hearted and lilting, complex sentences of creative elegance, careening the plot into chaos, only to be unraveled like a quipu with no loose ends, the story revolves around a happy-go-lucky chap Psmith (p silent), endeavoring to purloin the necklace of Lady Constance Keeble, at the behest of her nephew Freddie, only to redouble his efforts for benefiting his friend Mike and his wife Phyllis, who is the step daughter of the Lady with the necklace. And re-triple his efforts in the guise of Ralston McTodd — the poet who originally got invited to Blandings Castle by the Lady’s brother the Lord Emsworth, but absconded — having realized that Eve Halliday, a friend of Phyllis and on whom he got love-struck the first sight, is also going to Blandings Castle as a cataloger. The plot is more complex than I have described, but the eliciting prose is of supreme clarity I wish I could write a few sentences that way in English, in my lifetime.
Here are two samples to get you going:
Are you really broke?
As broke as the Ten Commandments.
and the next
Planting his foot firmly on a golf-ball which the Hon. Freddie Threepwood, who had been practicing putting in the corridor before retiring to bed, had left in his casual fashion just where the steps began, he took the entire staircase in one majestic, volplaning sweep. There were eleven starirs in all separating his landing from the landing below, and the only ones he hit were the third and tenth. He came to rest with a squattering thud on the lower landing, and for a moment or two the fever of the chase left him.
Book: Leave it to Psmith
Author: P. G. Wodehouse
Year of Publication: 1923 (reprint 2008)
I like essays. Even the entirely fictional ones. I like the most, essays that blur the difference between fiction and non-fiction. They are the creative ones that shape your thought through the unease they suffuse through their fine mix of facts and fantasy. Finding such essays, leave alone finding such essayists, is hard. It is an endeavor. In Tamil, several essays/short-stories by Nanjil Nadan repeatedly define this standard with ease. Recent collections titled “kAvalan kAvAn enin” and “sUdiya pU sUdarka” (that won him the sAhithya akAdemy award) are treasures that demand your thinking and action. Discussing these books is for another note.
While on a recent splurge at a local bookstore for such essay collections in English, along with the relative heavy-weights like “The Collected Essays” of A. K. Ramanujan, “Patriots and Partisans” by Ramachandra Guha, “Selected Essays” of G. K. Chesterton, “Readings” by Michael Dirda, “Inventing the Enemy” by Umberto Eco, “Some Remarks” by Neal Stephenson, I also picked “My Husband and Other Animals” by Janaki Lenin with a prompting from my dame and on a lark, Never Push When It Says Pull by a guy named Guy Browning, a relative unknown to me. But that is one reason we read books, don’t we — to meet over a course of their printed discourse made available for a price, strangers whom you could become life-long friends with.
Never Push When It Says Pull is a collection of 800 word long (short?) essays with titles beginning with a “How to…” discussing everyday topics. The essays are segregated under ten categories ranging from “Out and About” to “Reading and Writing” to “Shopping and Spending” to “Lying and Swearing”. Intended as humorous asides peppered with unintended profundities, on several occasions they fall between sarcastic observations and ignorant hyperbole. The prose with distinctly understated British humor reminds one of those “How to Be…” books by George Mikes, popular from several decades back. But then, George Mikes was an emigrant (Hungarian) who ‘became’ a Brit.
Several of the first sentences of these essays are deadly. Sample these: You don’t realize how important your dignity is until you suddenly lose it (How to…embarrass yourself); The golden rule of healthy living is to make sure you keep your total units of alcohol below your total number of cigarettes (How to…live cleanly); Singing is what you do when you want to make a noise but haven’t got anything much to say (How to…sing); Things are very like people in that at any given moment one tenth of them are poorly (How to…fix things); Having too many choices leads to moral obesity (How to…choose); tourists are people who spend their life savings travelling many thousands of miles in order to stand directly in front of you when you are trying to get somewhere in a hurry (How to…be a tourist). One does feel some of the essays in this collection shouldn’t have been written beyond such first sentences.
Science is the religion for people who can’t cope with religion. That is the first sentence of “How to…be scientific”. If the humorous intent is kept aside, that first sentence only exposes the ignorance of the writer about science. In fact, many of the observations on science in this essay, if not taken as humorous observations, are either confused or wrong or both. But then, in the next essay on art, he observes:
Impressionism was the world seen through a couple of glasses of vin rouge. Expressionism was impressionism after the whole bottle. Vorticism was when the room started spinning and modern conceptual art is the throwing-up stage
Humorous and barbarous, respectively, for those who don’t know and know about art/paintings.
Like any short story or essay collection or even the omnibus of an author, this is a book not to be read in one go. It should be visited periodically, if not often, like chatting with our beer-buddy or meeting the town wise-counsel. Else the humor would begin to appear cynical, the reflections would appear judgmental and before long, the wry would turn dry. That is when the prose of such essays would settle into boring fiction or bland facts.
Author: Guy Browning
Year of publication: 2005 (paperback, 2010)
Buy at Amazon
Ruskin Bond is one of the Indian authors who writes in English; well. His English is not strained and doesn’t read ‘translated’ from a native Indian tongue — especially when writing the thoughts and emotions of Indians. Another writer with such language ease is R. K. Narayan (I wouldn’t put a Salman Rushdie in this league, not because he lacks skills in English — far from it — but his would often read pompous and ‘high-browed’). Ruskin Bond lives as a bachelor, away from the cities and on the hills, not mingling with the ‘literary crowd’ and their intellectual cocktail parties (“The cocktails usually run away with the intellect”). But he has prevailed and been prolific with an impressive profile, decked with the Sahithya Akademi to Padmashree honors. Penguin India is re-releasing some of his earlier titles and I bought a bunch.
When Darkness Falls and Other Stories is a collection of stories written by him around 2001. The book is less than hundred pages and takes an hour to complete. Most of the stories are set in and around his hometown Dehra Dun, at a time when he was young and forming. The first story, which lends the name to the book title, is also the best. It describes the life of Markham, the man with a scary face — result of an army-term accident — who no one wants to engage or endure. Put up by his longtime friend, Markham dwells in a forgotten corner of the dilapidated Empire hotel in his hometown, rotting along with the furniture through the changing times. A lifetime of resigned acceptance and dormant frustrations manifest one day (rather, night) unexpectedly, irrevocably, and an era passes in an inferno. I liked this story because it didn’t pretend to be a story; just events and experience and the rest is upto the reader.
There are other lighthearted stories like The Writer’s Bar (supposedly visited by great writers like Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham… to boost the sales) or the Monkey Trouble (Ruskin’s younger self describing the enjoyable childhood phase with a grandfather who loves to keep pets, much to the chagrin of the grandmother). The ‘ghost stories’ are the driest in content and charm, predictable and bland. But then, as one of the character says, “People can’t live without stories”. These are stories from a corner of India, events and experience told with a personal touch, in simple language. When Darkness Falls… is not the best by Ruskin Bond, but his regular is a better read than the self-professed nine-point someones in the market.
Author: Ruskin Bond
Year of Publication: 2001
How to go about prolific publishing in academia? If prolific writing can be learnt through profligate reading, here is a book on the topic: Write to the Top!: How to Become a Prolific Academic by W. Brad Johnson and Carol A. Mullen. As the book title suggests, it provides tips, advice and suggestions on how to become a prolific writer in academia; to write better non-fiction like research publications, books and book chapters on technical topics, grant proposals. Non-fiction is our intent in such writing, not necessarily their final content.
In all sincerity, there are sixty four elaborate tips segregated into relevant chapters, on how to become prolific. Beginning with how to establish a well honed writing habit, the book discusses pertinent issues like systematic writing from start to finish, when to collaborate and when to cut losses, tackling thoughts and emotions that block productivity and so on up to cautionary remarks on how not to lose perspective about our life in our pursuit for being prolific; You are the writer, writing is not you.
Although most of the academic publishing aspects mentioned in the book (how to fumble with, write, edit, edit and edit a research paper, how to submit, peer review polemics, dealing with rejection and success etc.) were apprenticed from an excellent adviser, I did enjoy reading this book. It provides a comprehensive, and at times inspiring, reminder about academic writing, its purpose and prominent-but-not-pervading place in a balanced academic life. The book is not set in a lighter tone, if you are looking for such sugar to make you read the medicine, but meets its goal, which is fine with me.
From one of the tip, here are some “scholarly irrationality” in academic writing
There is no such thing as good luck in research publication. Painstaking work, coupled with careful risk taking, is required for success. Success, mind it. Not necessarily — as the above “scholarly irrationality” warn us — significance. According to the authors, if you are in academia and cannot relate to any of the above then you perhaps are either unproductive or too far on the wrong side of tenure.
Author(s): W. Brad Johnson and Carol A. Mullen
British writer Conn Iggulden is known for his historical mysteries. He took a break perhaps, with this one released in the Kindle Singles format. This novella is a send up of James Bond type of spy stories. A ‘light’ story, tightly plotted, fast paced to suit the genre and format, The Quantum of Tweed features the exploits of a super spy — (in)appropriately named, Albert Rossi — who is everything a James Bond is not. Although tagged ‘00’ by a mysterious voice over telephone and licensed to kill, Albert manages to keep the license fresh, and yet strikes havoc and gold and eventually gets away rich. Even as he plans and tries to assassinate the adversaries, they get eliminated without his ‘service’, first by happenstance, then by coincidence and finally by enemy action (remember Goldfinger?).
The book is not exactly hilarious and no single line is LOL type funny, but throughout its short span (took my slow reading self, less than an hour to complete) holds your smile and attention in place. There are no ‘Bond girls’, no BMWs (but our man has a Nissan Micra), no gadgets or Walther PPKs (our man favors a Colt), but the plot has enough twists and action. As expected, there aren’t any character development or sub-plots, or for that matter an intricate main plot. But it doesn’t get as nonsensical and absurd as the ‘detective story’ from the Nonsense Novels of Stephen Leacock either. This is a story that mocks at spy thrillers and mafioso don-corleone-ish stuff in a stiff upper lip Brit way.
A quick and thrill read that leaves you stirred but not shaken.
Book: The Quantum of Tweed
Author: Conn Iggulden
Year of Publication: 2012
Men may come and men may go, as Basil Rathbone had come before and Robert Downey Jr. came later, but for me, Sherlock Holmes in tinsel life means Jeremy Brett. He is the one who lived the character faithful to what Doyle had constructed (Just as Hercule Poirot = David Suchet, although the delectable Peter Ustinov had made a valiant effort earlier). With such a staunch bias to the original, even when depicted in another media (cinema instead of the written word), I shouldn’t have attempted reading the written word involving Sherlock Holmes and Watson, by a writer whose name is not Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I did. Only out of overwhelming urge to stroll through the swirling mists of Baker’s Street one more time, to rest and rejoice in a fresh set of mysteries laid out by, hopefully, an author who raises to our exacting expectation. To my credit, I carefully chose a book, out of the myriad available, that had Jeremy Brett posing as the detective on the wrapper. The Chronicles of Sherlock Holmes by Paul Gilbert. The book started promising in that the language was sufficiently Victorian to transport us back to the early 1900s and I slouched further in the couch with the Kindle DX firmly rested on my tummy with only the right thumb capable of any physical action. The game is afoot.
Each of the story in the book is an “untold mystery” by Watson in the original; cases that were solved spectacularly by Holmes, whose time hasn’t come then for public consumption. For instance, “The Affair of the Aluminium Crutch”, the third story here, was mentioned in the introductory passages of “The Musgrave Ritual”. That ploy, while regaling the reader, unfortunately also sets his expectation high. Premonitory came when I read in the first story titled Baron Maupertuis, a sentence “There is certainly more likelihood of picking up Moriarty’s trail again if we take up Lady Beasant’s consultation, than if we sit here sucking pipes.” Sucking pipes? That usage should have given the game away that the author is belabored to put on this writing style that does not come natural for him. But I am nit-picking; so I thought and I persisted my reading. All the usual suspects from Prof. James Moriarty to esoteric Spaniards were there. But the stories, one after another, came with an original title by Doyle, and gloriously fell flat. Even an introduction of a uni-sex character (Watson, there are many other forms of attachment between two men), with a reference to the “esteemed and now infamous Mr. Wilde”, couldn’t save the book. If these are the stories that go with the titles mentioned in passing as “untold mysteries” in the originals by Doyle, by writing them, Paul Gilbert provides now a good reason why they deserve to remain untold.
Having bitten once, I should have shied. I picked another book of similar purpose, a more recent “Between the Thames and the Tiber: Further Adventures by Sherlock Holmes” by Ted Riccardi. I gave up midway through the third story in this collection, which thankfully, also had ‘original titles’. There is no additional cause for dislike in this case. Seriously, what these ‘stories’ — for, I wouldn’t dare anoint them ‘mysteries’ — uniformly lack in plump is the fine art of deduction that Doyle originated and enunciated so well through his Sherlock to unravel a seemingly unsolvable mystery through logical appraisal of clues and facts that were at times merely over the top but neither impossible nor implausible. There are more such attempts to write ‘Sherlock Holmes mysteries’ by other authors (counted seven). I only hope some of those stories pass muster in the mystery and deduction department. Because, with no real talent in English writing, even I can construct Sherlockian sentences (the only thing going right for these books). Like this: After having brought on my undivided attention to bear upon some of the purported mysteries, delivered in wads of accentuated Victorian text, in two manuscripts by seemingly different authors, nevertheless bereft of any real mystery or deduction whatsoever, I could only throw up my arms now in remonstrance and ejaculate, “Catastrophe.”
Author: Paul Gilbert
Year of Publication: 2009
Author: Ted Riccardi
Year of Publication: 2011
Post-Harry-Potter English fiction, particularly, page-turning-unputdownable three-hundred-paged ‘entertainers’, is of a certain mould. For instance, it must cater to ‘young adult’ and so, all elements in the book should be PG13. The dialogues should be singularly constructed out of simple words with fewer syllables and ample um ah and yu knows strewn around to pad up for the rest of the human consciousness. All old and experienced humans and non-humans will and must listen, obey and follow the ‘young adult’ protagonist, who will be brave in soul and weak in flesh, but always with a ‘vision’ that is gifted for his/her virtuous inexperience, a vision or mission or goal that is superlative, indefatigable and unfathomable by any adult in the story. Either that or such development demands effort from the writer and distracts the reader from the ‘main narrative’. The story must have some fantastic element, magic by default; it should show off gizmodons and geekery as ‘futuristic science ideas’ but should always explain them as meta-magic spawned via agarbathi smoke and glabaderifst spells. The story should have non-human lifeforms, vampires by default, preferably succubus, fantastic creatures of fright and delight, always submissive to the protagonists (if for adult, amorous in all its fangs and tendrils) and takes orders in English, preferably teenspeak. And the girls should be in (malnutrition-ed) form-fitting leathers wielding swords as weapons, while the gents are clad in somersault-friendly, shapeless robes. And importantly, none of the characters must be developed to any level of maturity or depth — All the World is a Stage, hence, all ephemeral Stage-fests must thrive only in the all-pervading now. All of which is OK, but who gets to decide on how dumb the readers should be — the writer or the reader? With minor exceptions in plot elements and one neat idea notwithstanding, Railsea the latest by China Mieville, a talented author at that, fits snugly into the above category.
Railsea has one neat idea. <SPOILER> What if our railroads become in a near-enough future, a sea, a maze of crisscrossing never-ending rails laid on a terrain of ‘dangerous Earth’. Railsea as a symbolism for uncontrolled industrialization and associated deprecation. And mankind train-travels on Railsea as voyages on ships commandeered by noble captains bloodthirsty for Railsea monsters as life-ambitions (all domestic and gentle animals of our times have become megasize Railsea ‘man-eaters’), as philosophies; </SPOILER> to far-off forgotten lands, salvaging washing machine wrecks of the ‘past’; consulting charts and maps to sunken treasures… Pirates of the Carribean (all four parts) meets Treasure Island meets Mobydick yielding a sum of the parts that is way less than each of the parts.
Railsea is an adventure tale, i.e. an attempt at that. Its target readers age mentally somewhere between a tween and an adult, too old to rejoice in a Treasure Island and too young to enjoy a Sense of an Ending (Julian Barnes); too modern for the directness of a Mobydick too impatient for the relaid Ulysses (James Joyce), too distracted to comprehend a Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco). The narration has all the elements tailor made for the genre: short dialogues interspersed with narrative that is also short, peppered with bombastic words perhaps to keep the needle of Fog Index reasonably above comprehension, all sectioned in short chapters of length between a page and five; Oh, BTW, the ‘and’ is printed throughout as &, with an original, lame, idea that reasons its form with rails (China, ayyoo!). Railsea is science fiction, i.e. an attempt at that. A silly idea taken seriously, way too seriously by the author. Yes, there will be fans who will take it even more seriously, rave on, to interpret and infuse meanings into the copious blandness of a story that chugchugs sedately with blips of action frenzy, to the most predictable of endings even a P. G. Wodehouse could better. The book is a telegraph pre-script for an inevitable screen-script of a mega summer action blockbuster. Brace self, it could become one; such writing doesn’t deserve anything better. Pools of joy and waves of sorrow are drifting through my annoyed mind…get the drift, ‘young adult’?
Christopher Priest in a recent criticism of the 2012 ACClarke Award nominees had this to say on China Mieville and his Embassytown (I am selectively quoting portions, without traducing Priest but to drive my point):
Miéville has already won the Clarke Award three times – which is not his fault[…] However, a fourth award to this writer would send out a misleading and damaging message to the world at large: it suggests that not only is Mr Miéville the best the SF world can offer at the moment, he is shown to be more or less the only writer worth reading.[…] Although Miéville is clearly talented, he does not work hard enough.[…] He also uses far too many neologisms or SF nonce-words, which drive home the fact that he is defined and limited by the expectations of a genre audience.[…] A better writer would find a more effective way of suggesting strangeness or an alien environment than by just ramming words together. Resorting to wordplay is lazy writing. […] I also find Miéville’s lack of characterization a sign of author indifference […] unless he is told in clear terms that he is under-achieving, that he is restricting his art by depending too heavily on genre commonplaces, he will never write the great novels that many people say he is capable of. In the short term, to imply that this (Embassytown) is the best science fiction novel of the current year by giving it a prize, or even shortlisting it for one, is just plain wrong.
After reading Railsea, I agree with Mr.Priest — whether a Mr. Scalzi agrees or not. I will not pre-order another book by China for some years.
Author: China Mieville
Year of Publication: 2012
Timequake is an event where the Universe, due to some quirk, incurs a glitch in its spacetime and decides to ‘relive’ ten Earth years of its existence. Ten years to be relived exactly as in the first run, by every human on Earth and elsewhere, with full knowledge of what is going on as their accrued ‘memory’ cannot be undone due to the timequake. They should relive ten years, experiencing the consequences of their follies, of their mistakes and lost opportunities. But Timequake is not only this. Timequake is a much maligned book, at least in the writing circle I frequent. One popular Tamil writer, while praising Timequake as a science fiction (which it could be), cited the blurb (about the ten year re-run) and mentioned the book is about the consequences of that event. Having read it, I am now convinced that Tamil writer hasn’t.
Timequake is an autobiography. An autobiography can be told only as a ‘timequake’, a set of events that cannot be altered to suit our convenience and comfort. It has to include all the mistakes, wrong turns and consequences. Timequake is also a fiction. Fiction, as a fertile imagination of the mind of the writer (even as he plays the autobiographer in the same book), is not affected by any ‘timequake’. Fiction lives many a life in the mind of the author, even as he relives his life in a timequake. Kurt Vonnegut is the autobigrapher. Kilgore Trout is the writer - an alter ego of Kurt. They both recount their stories and life, through ‘time quake’ and before and after. They even meet, rejoice, relive as they recount. Timequake (1998) is one of the later writings of Kurt Vonnegut (passed away in 2007), is also the most moving of his books, if not the most disturbing (thankfully). The Kurt and Kilgore of Timequake did remind me of the haunting lines of Paul Simon, “Old friends, old friends, sat on their park bench like bookends…. how terribly strange to be seventy…” They do bring out that sigh but they were also uplifting.
If you are getting introduced to the writings of Kurt Vonnegut through this book, be prepared for an exasperation that should turn into fulfillment only as you finish reading the book. For veteran fans of Kurt this feeling is neither new nor artificial. I got introduced to Kurt through Breakfast of Champions, a whacky, funny and seemingly pointless collection of loosely tied up events, sometimes bizzare and sometimes poignant, narrated presumably by the same guy. After going through Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat’s Cradle, Bagombo Snuff Box, Welcome to the Monkey House… I have come to expect the exasperation and fulfillment. Books of Kurt works at least in two layers; as individual events, funny and reflective, frivolous and poignant and as a collection with a thread of common message: we, humans, are made of this (war) and this (peace).
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Year of Publication: 1998