A new H2G2?

August 21st, 2009

In the recent past it was discussed that Eoin Coifer (of the Artemis Fowl series) would be writing an authorized sixth book to the ever-increasingly-misnamed trilogy in five parts that is better known as Douglas Adams’ The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

The book, And Another Thing, seems to be the greatest/worst thing since the discovery of DNA (if you don’t get the joke — Douglas Noel Adams was born in the same year that Watson and Crick discovered DNA). Most sequels to famous books/series end up being pale imitations of the originals, and in some cases just completely lousy. So I have been looking forward to this book with mixed anticipation and trepidation. I loved the Artemis Fowl series (the first three books — the later ones seems tacked on), but H2G2 is a tough act to follow. Wouldn’t it have been better to complete the third Dirk Gently book first?

In any case, Nicolas Botti was one of the (un?)lucky few who was given the opportunity to read the first half of the book — some three months before it is due to be released. His review states pretty much what I expected.

Is it funny? If you read Hitchhiker to have a good laugh, maybe you’re going to be disappointed. I didn’t find it very funny. There are some good funny moments (mainly at the beginning) but Colfer’s ideas being less original than Douglas’, you are less surprised. And he has not the same grip on comic timing than Douglas had.

However, he ends by saying that,

I don’t want to give the feeling that it is a bad book. It is not. But maybe I was expecting too much.

Still, I’m going to read it the day it hits the stands!

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Arthur C. Clarke – The Final Odyssey

March 19th, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke died today at his home in Sri Lanka aged 90. A gifted visionary, he believed that “At the present rate of progress, it is almost impossible to imagine any technical feat that cannot be achieved – if it can be achieved at all – within the next few hundred years.”

For those who haven’t read it yet, my favourite Clarke has to be Childhood’s End. Read it.

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Hornblower and the Art of Reading Old Naval Stories

March 15th, 2008

After many years, I am re-reading the Horatio Hornblower series by C.S. Forester. Hornblower, a fictional naval officer in the Royal Navy during the times of the Napoleonic Wars, is an immensely charismatic person. He is shown as very intelligent, but unwilling to accept that merely his intelligence could cause him to rise above other people, he pushes himself and his subordinates far harder than might be necessary. He earns a respect and admiration from his crew and his superiors and over time reaches the exalted position of Rear Admiral after starting from the lowly position of midshipman.

Set in the Age of Sail, the books also give the reader a vivid insight into the life of Naval officers during the turn of the 19th Century. Problems almost incomprehensible today, like delays of months before news reaches another part of the world, are detailed in the chronicles of this wonderfully etched out character.

Read the books if you like naval or historical fiction. I’m sure you’ll enjoy them.

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The Pulp Templar

March 25th, 2006

What is it with the Templars and bestsellers? Currently three out of the top ten hardcover fiction works on the New York Times bestseller list have to do with the Templars. Heading the list is of course The Da Vinci Code followed in sixth and eight places by The Templar Legacy and The Last Templar respectively.

Most of us have heard about the Knight’s Templar. We’ve read about them in school and we’ve seen books and movies either denigrating them (remember Ivanhoe?) or making them objects of intense curiosity, as in Dan Brown’s most famous book.

I seem to have been interested in the Templar worlds for as long as I can remember, well before the latest fad. (This may of course be largely due to my thirst for lots of bits of useless facts!) I had done my reading and one of my favourites was Umberto Eco’s brilliant tragic parody of the Templar legacy in Foucault’s Pendulum.

Short Recap about the Templars:

Here were these bunch of guys who went out around the world fighting the enemies of civilization (read: Christian Church). Now, the thing is, although these guys were supposedly monastic, they decided to accumulate a whole lot of wealth. They took money from Kings to fight the Arabs; they took money from the church because they were upholding Christianity in a Pagan part of the world; the took money from traders, priest and other sundries to protect them while they travelled to the Holy Land. And then they became the world’s first truly international bankers. Give them some money, they’d look after it, and give it back to you when and where you wanted, for a fee.

Now, King Philip IV of France wanted some of the Templar’s money, so, he said that they didn’t believe in Christ and were guilty of a dozen odd crimes against the Lord and his Church and he had them all rounded up and tortured.

Of course he never found the money. The then Grand Master Jaques Molay was burnt at the stake apparently not having breathed a word as to the whereabouts of the great wealth of the Templars (which also supposedly included the Holy Grail – another topic of great literary value – also included in DVC!).

End Recap!

The big thing among writers nowadays is the great treasure hunt. Find the pot of gold at the end of the Templar rainbow!

But it doesn’t exist!!!! That’s my point.

Ok. Assume that there were a few million gold coins or whatever among the remaining Templars. They needed to live, so they spent a few. So over the centuries there’d be a hundred thousand less left. And you’ve forgotten inflation. The equivalent of 1 gold coin in the 15th century might be equal to 1 US Dollar (though unlikely – far less to buy beyond food and clothes!) but look around you today. Even if there were half a billion gold coins (highly unlikely to start off with) there are enough people with far more than that nowadays. And that money had to be split up among the few templars! So it has almost no value today!

But coming back to the books themselves. Ok, fine, you’ve got yourself some sort of idea as to how to go about finding the money. If your idea was really practical, would you spend five years writing it into a book that other people would read? No. You’d get on the next flight to Israel and dig up the money with your grubby little hands and tell as few people as possible!

Unless you know that your ideas are a crock of s**t. So you put them down somehow into a 500 page or more page-turner (hopefully) and send it out to the publishers to earn your 10% per book royalty! That’s the good way to make the money.

The only people who suffer are the long-suffering readers. On one hand you’ve got those who buy the book as a way to pass time in hotel airports. This kind of book is okay for them because it’s better than staring at the blank airport walls or at TV screens filled with people speaking in a language you don’t understand. The second kind is the people who read pulp. Whether they read only pulp or whether they also read pulp is besides the point. They know that what they’re reading ain’t exactly literature. So it’s time-pass (as we Indians say!).

The third kind of reader comes into this thinking – Wow! A LITERARY thriller! Now I can boast to all my friends about my LITERARY reading habits. I can talk about the HOLY GRAIL and the KNIGHTS TEMPLAR and can be well read like that show-offy Aditya down the hall!

These are the people I feel sorry for. Because these books are junk. Pure and simple. Da Vinci Code was passable as a thriller, but had nothing great style-wise. The Templar Legacy, which I have the good(?) fortune to be reading now, isn’t even that good. In fact the writing is so bad it’s hard to not put down.

In the second chapter of the book, a bookseller is being questioned at gun point:
He picked up his mug and savored another gulp of beer.

I mean who savors their beer when they are afraid of being shot? And does anyone savor anything when you gulp it down? Wow!

One of the main protagonists, Stephanie, is supposedly someone high up in the US Justice Department. But she is so stupid, that she never listens to any advice, always manages to get into trouble, depends on the help of the man (Malone) she never listens to, and is rude to people she meets even without having met them before!

Also, the classic bad pulp elements are there- two sets of bad guys, or rather one bad guy out to get the money and one bad/good guy out to save the church, the supposedly clever but actually dumb heroine, the ex-SAS type hero who always forgets just the one important thing which would compress the story into just 40 pages, the rich helpful friend, the dying master and the helpful servant.

And the events are so unimaginative themselves. I’ve got to a point in the book where the hero and the heroine are asking the rich for information at his isolated house in Europe. He lives austerely and has few servants. There is no guard at the gate. The bad guys just walk into his compund and start listening to their conversation through the window. Sounds familiar?

Of course I am going to finish the book, if for no other reason than the fact that I’m travelling on work and prefer reading crap to staring at blank hotel walls in the middle of the night.

But unless you are like me, or have a good understanding that this is not even good pulp, I really suggest that you don’t read it. Read Eco instead, or if you don’t want something so heavy, Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown is far more entertaining.

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