January 18, 2009
November 7, 2008
The Stuff Nations Are Made Of
I just finished reading PTerry‘s Nation last night and it was quite the experience. Shakespeare, in As You Like It if I’m not mistaken, says that there are seven ages to man. There seems to have been, at least so far, three stages to PTerry’s writing 🙂
First there was the the spoofing PTerry, the one who made fun of fantasy clichés and parodied pop culture. Then there was the PTerry from around Small Gods who (or was it later, when Vimes began transmogrifying from a regular character into something different?) wrote much more thoughtful novels; in fact, he might just have moved from spoof to satire around this point. Of course, this is just my opinion, others might think differently 🙂
But with Nation, you have a new PTerry, or the third age of PTerry, where the tone is more serious. The usual PTerry humour is there but the tone of the novel is not of parody or satire, it’s about telling a story and it’s a story of ideas. Little ideas which can set big ideas rolling and big ideas which can move entire worlds. In fact, the whole novel is chockablock with ideas packed tight like sardines in a can 🙂
But the thread underlying it all is simple. It’s about the concept of a nation. When you are one person all alone in the world, there’s just you. But when you have two people facing all that may come there way, you have a nation. When a small child creates an imaginary friend, he’s creating his own nation that will let him be all that he wants to be. When an adult creates an alter ego that does heroic things when he can’t, he’s creating a nation that lets him cope with the world. We all rely on nations, whether consciously or subconsciously. But Nation takes the concept and shows us all that goes with being part of a nation.
There’s more to the story than that of course. But why should I spoil the joy of discovering these things for anybody? There’s a lot going on and given that I read the novel rather quickly, it seemed to all happen so fast. But it works and it works well.
About the only thing that didn’t work for me was the ending. And that has nothing to do with PTerry’s writing. There are two children at the end of the novel who ask somebody who’s telling them the story that was the story of Nation, why it couldn’t have ended differently. They don’t want a happy ending for nations, they are not interested in the bigger picture. They wanted a happy ending for individuals. I am like those children.
I can understand that reality is different, that you don’t always get the happy ending you wanted. I can also understand that when you look at how things turn out overall, that it was a happy ending for all of humanity perhaps. But still, I yearn for the happy ending that I wanted. Perhaps it’s because I’m like those children, I still haven’t grown up. But then again, I don’t want to grow up if it means that I have to give up my hopes for happy endings :p
On the other hand, I have enjoyed every bit of PTerry’s writing that I’ve come across over the years. While I found some of them were profound, they were still like a good dinner that you enjoyed a lot but forgot about after a few days – you take the idea with you but the details get lost as time passes. But Nation is like that one enjoyable dinner where you swallowed a fish bone by mistake and even after the dinner is forgotten, you remember the fish bone. Perhaps that’s why this particular ending is there – you remember it when all else is forgotten.
Overall, I think this is the best PTerry novel so far and while I probably would prefer that he goes back to the good dinners of the Discworld, I wouldn’t mind a fishbone-included-dinner like Nation every once in a while 🙂
November 5, 2008
Finding the Foundation
I have been reading Isaac Asimov‘s Foundation series lately though I have taken a break to quickly finish Terry Pratchett‘s Nation before getting back to the next novel in the Foundation series. (Yes, I know, I should have read the Foundation series a long time ago! But I was waiting till I had all the books in the series and then I did have the books but didn’t have the time … and you know how it goes …)
The Foundation series started sometime way back in 1942 and the first novel in the series, Foundation, was actually a collection of short stories which was later published as a novel in 1951. The other two books in the original trilogy, Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation, were similarly combinations of short stories and were published as novels in 1952 and 1953 respectively. You do have to keep these facts in mind for what follows 🙂
Basically, while I found the books in the original trilogy enjoyable, I did find them also slightly dated 🙂 See, I don’t recall noticing so many inconsistencies and implausibilities when I read Gordon R. Dickson‘s Dorsai!, and that was written in 1959. Of course, this might simply mean that I wasn’t as critical when I last read Dorsai! or that a lot changed between 1951 and 1959 🙂
Whatever the case, there are things which bug me about the early Foundation novels. For instance, you have a galactic civilization which spans from one end of the galaxy to the other but which still relies on paper! Communications are sent via capsules which contains thin strips of paper, paper is used in all reports, and they have what are called book projectors which seem to indicate that it’s some sort of machine which throws an image of a book on to the wall. Rather primitive when you consider that these people are also supposed to have hyperspatial travel and can go from one star to another in a few days, if not hours!
This perhaps can be attributed to the level of technology existent at the time Asimov wrote the books since there is no mention of computers either. Such an advanced galactic civilization appears to do all their navigational calculations by hand 🙂 And I found that rather funny. But at the same time, given that we have taken computers for granted, I am not sure if I can try to imagine if it would have been possible to imagine back then how ubiquitous computers would become a mere 50 years later.
Plus, I find myself wondering if I were to write a novel of the future and included handheld computers which are the equivalent of the super-computers of today, whether somebody 50 years from now would find that reference charmingly antiquated because technology had moved on in a completely different direction and electronic computers are as outdated as paper 🙂 That I guess is part of the joys of science fiction, trying to anticipate (and sometimes succeeding but also failing at times) how technology will change …
Of course, Asimov corrects these issues in his later Foundation novels 🙂 He returned to the Foundation series after a hiatus of about 30 years and so, the next novel in the series, Foundation’s Edge, was written in 1982. This book does not mention paper very much at all and everybody uses computers. In fact, they have computers which can be controlled via the human mind! So that was quite interesting in how changes in technology changed how a fictional universe worked in under about 200 years according to that universe’s timeline.
I have read only up to Foundation’s Edge and so have no idea if technology would change further in the novels. Additionally, I’m curious as to if Asimov’s Foundation prequels, which were written even later, would include computers and so change the history of the original novels or not. I have read the prequels before but I wasn’t paying attention to technology at that time. So it will be interesting to find out … 🙂
May 30, 2008
The Expectations of Imagination
I just finished reading King of Foxes, the second book in Raymond E. Feist‘s Conclave of Shadows series. I woke up in the morning thinking of something that I had first thought on reading the first book in the series, Talon of the Silver Hawk. So what was I thinking? I was thinking that it ruins the magic of an imagined world when the author takes shortcuts 🙂
Of course, I must start off with the disclaimer that Raymond E. Feist is a successful author and I cannot claim to be anywhere even remotely close to his level as a writer, in terms of success. However, I’m not writing as a writer but as a reader and all a reader needs to criticise a book is the fact that they didn’t enjoy it thoroughly 🙂
Now in the case of Raymond E. Feist, I can’t say I haven’t enjoyed his writing. in fact, quite the reverse. However, the more I read his work, the more I realize that he tends to use shortcuts in building his world and this tends to disappoint me. I expect a completely new world springing forth from the author’s imagination when I read a novel which is set in another world, not a pale imitation of our own clothed in slightly different trappings to hide the fact.
I don’t know if I was aware of the similarity to Japanese culture in Feist’s Tsurani when I first read his Magician and the other two novels in the series. But then again, that was close to 20 years ago. However, when I read Talon of the Silver Hawk, I was immediately aware that his Orosini were lifted wholesale from various North American Indian (or Native Americans or First Nation or whatever they are called today …) tribes. Then I woke up today with the realization that the continent on the other side of Midkemia, the world that Fiest’s stories take place on, is called Novindus. Nov + Indus as in New India, get it? Like Columbus thought America, the continent on the other side of our own world, was India. (Then again, apparently Novindus is supposed to be shaped like India and so it is actually India since the known world in Midkemia might be the Americas …)
There probably are other races and other places modeled after our world in Feist’s novels. And I’m not saying a writer has no right to do that, it’s a writer’s prerogative to write their story (and build their world) in any fashion they choose. But as far as I’m concerned, when somebody copies stuff from the world we know simply because it’s easy, it takes something away from the overall story. Now Terry Pratchett copies countries and people from our world in his Discworld series but that’s for satirical effect, there is a purpose to it. Not to mention that PTerry’s copies are never exact copies 🙂
But I see no real purpose to Feist’s wholesale copying of nations and peoples except that it’s easier to do that than to create something completely new. Perhaps I am mistaken and am assigning incorrect motives to Feist, Perhaps he did have a reason for creating these parallels. But if so, I can’t see that reason. All that it’s done for me is to slightly dilute the enjoyment of reading his work. And I don’t think any writer wants that ….
May 20, 2008
OK, the results are in – at my current level, the purchase of one book appears to bump me up about 3,000+ places on the Lulu sales rankings. I was at 50,227 last month when my friend Ginosion was kind enough to purchase a copy of my book, Honest, the Martian Ate Your Dog. Today I discovered that my Lulu sales ranking had jumped up to 47,063!
Well, there you have the results of the not-so-empirical evidence. Of course, now the question is, is the jump in rankings consistent if another book is purchased? 😀 To find out, somebody else will have to buy a copy of the book though. Any takers? :p
May 12, 2008
Dresden, Files not China
I’m feeling much better than I have in almost a week 🙂 Give me a couple more days (or weeks …) and I should hopefully be completely back to normal.
While I was sick, I finished reading the (currently) last book in the Dresden Files series. It made me wonder why I had never talked about the books here because the more I read from this absorbing series by Jim Butcher, the more I like it 🙂 And now that I’ve reached the end of the series, I can’t wait for the rest of the books in the series to make their appearance. With 20+ projected books in the series, and only 10 written so far, there’s a long time to go before I can complete the series, and the anticipation is killing me 😀
I didn’t even know of Jim Butcher or his books till I picked up the DVD boxed set for the Sci-Fi channel series by the same name. At that time, I found the similarities between a wizard named Harry living amongst normal humans who are oblivious to the existence of magic, and another young wizard named Harry living amongst muggles, a bit too comical. The show wasn’t all that great and was too full of inconsistencies and plot holes to make it very appealing. However, the show did its job in getting me to read the books …
I read the first book and liked it. The second book wasn’t so good, in my opinion but this was mostly because the plot for the second book was given away by an episode of the TV series. I liked how the book handled werewolves much better than the clichés the TV series used but I couldn’t enjoy the book fully. By the time I read the third book, my interest was back. The fourth book, I was hooked! And since then I’ve been rushing through one book after another, always eager to find out what happens next.
The best thing about the Dresden Files is how intricately they are plotted. While each book is a story in its own right, it also advances a much bigger, overall story arc. This wasn’t as evident in the early books but now into the middle of the series with book ten, it is well-and firmly established that these things are all leading up to what we hope will be a very satisfying culmination.
The other thing I’ve noticed is that each and every book seems to pit Harry against bigger and more stronger opponents than before. It’s almost as if Harry is being trained to go up against the biggest opponent you can think of in the final book and these are simply to get him trained both mentally and physically to meet that challenge.
And of course, Harry’s friends are a topic unto itself. Each character has been fleshed out and expanded upon over the course of several books. Some of them have started out as really negative characters who have over the course of time have become much more morally ambiguous. Others have always been what they started out as but have still managed to show different facets as the journey progressed. And that probably is the biggest reason for enjoying the books – the journey itself, the things you learn about people (and about yourself) as you read these books.
If you’re into fantasy or crime noir (or both), the Dresden Files will prove to be well worth the read if you stick with it past book four or five 🙂
April 25, 2008
First There Was Weird Science …
… And now there’s Lulu-science 🙂 Laurie invented the term yesterday when talking about my curiosity to know how many places you are bumped up the ranks with one book sale on Lulu.
Thanks to my friend Ginosion, who bought a copy of Honest, the Martian Ate Your Dog, we are well on the way to learning what the impact of one book sale is on Lulu rankings 🙂 Of course, the thing is, we probably have to wait a month for the next tabulation of rankings and so it’ll be a while before the next update on Lulu-science, but I will be sure to keep everybody posted as to how things go. (Of course, don’t let that stop you from buying a copy of my book, if you’ve been considering it 😀 Or simply download the free e-book version, see what you think of it and if you like it, then go buy the printed version …)
In other news, I am back to posting more regularly. I don’t know if this has anything to do with the switch back to WordPress or if I simply had been too tired of blogging, but I do find that I want to blog again. I do wonder if the WordPress interface has something to do with it though because in using it, I seem to find the WordPress control panel easier and more responsive than the MovableType one. Of course, this is not empirical data, just subject opinion …
April 24, 2008
“Honest, the Martian Ate Your Dog” Jumps 10,000+ Places in Lulu Sales Rankings!
I kid you not 🙂 My book, Honest, the Martian Ate Your Dog, has jumped over 10,000 places in the Lulu sales ranks. Last week when I checked the rankings, I was somewhere around 61,729 or something similar. I check today and I am at 50,227 🙂
OK, I’ll let you in on a little secret (and you probably knew this already if you know anything about self-publishing, Lulu etc.) – I only sold three books (as far as I know) for that huge jump in sales rankings :p
The thing that confuses me though is the fact that this jump in rankings did not take place for over a month after the sales occurred. But then again, that’s probably how the Lulu sales-ranking system works. Now that I think about it, if they have a return policy, that also probably allows them to take returns into account when calculating the sales rank.
Anyway, a month or so ago, I had sold two books within a short period of time and that’s when I thought about sales rankings. So I began checking the sales rankings to see if they changed. They didn’t as far as I could tell. Then I sold another book. I checked the sales rankings again. Still no change. So I thought that perhaps three books weren’t enough to make a dent in the sales rankings and gave up checking on them. Then today I happened to check the book page (as I normally do occasionally :p) and noticed that the sales rank had changed … and how! I guess it just takes a while for the rankings to change …
My question now is, how much more will my rankings go up if one more book is purchased? Anybody wanna give it a try? 😀
March 28, 2007
Honestly, it’s free!
As some of you might know, I’ve been talking about re-writing "Honest, the Martian Ate Your Dog" for a while now. But I never seem to find the time since real-life has a nasty habit of intruding :p Currently, I’m busy writing but it’s not fiction – it’s a set of user manuals for a customer. I wish I was able to type away a page here and a paragraph there like some other writers but I can’t. I need to set myself goals and do a set amount of pages (or words a day) if I’m to work and at the moment, that’s not going to be a possibility 🙁
So, while I’m aware that I might rewrite "Honest" at some point in the future, I don’t know when (if?) it will happen. If it does happen, then it will be a completely different story than the current one since the re-write is supposed to be a complete change in direction. Except for broad plot outlines and a few characters from the current novel, nothing will be the same.
However, I’ve had people who’ve read the current version of the novel comment favourably on it. There’s one guy who raves about it and keeps telling me that I shouldn’t cut such and such portion out of a re-write when I do it. This leads me to believe that it’s possible that some people might enjoy this novel even in its current format. Of course, it looks as if agents or publishers (at least the ones I’ve tried) are definitely not interested in the current version :p
I hate wasting anything and since the novel is already written, it seems a waste to throw away the current version entirely. So, I’ve put up the whole thing as a free download on Lulu 🙂 I would have made the print version free as well but unfortunately, Lulu doesn’t allow that. So that one still has a price-tag attached to it but you can download the e-book for free. So if you’re interested, go ahead and take a look. And let me know if you enjoy it 🙂
September 6, 2006
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Books and serendipity
Simon and I were discussing Sir Arthur C. Clarke yesterday and in the process he happened to mention that he thought ACC had shared lodgings with William F. Temple a long, long time ago. Who is William F. Temple you ask? Well, I only learnt of Temple through Simon’s page about his search for Temple’s Martin Magnus books. (It’s an interesting story, you should take a look :))
But the mention of Simon’s hunt for Martin Magnus books made me consider what my most serendipitous book discovery had been. I believe it’s the Apprentice Adept series by Piers Anthony 🙂 (Yes, I know that some people turn their noses up at Piers and say that he writes as if books were going out of style tomorrow :p But I liked his early work and still consider myself a fan though I haven’t read any of his recent stuff.)
I think I first discovered Piers Anthony quite unexpectedly. I saw this book with an interesting cover in the local library called "Castle Roogna". I took it home and read it and was enchanted by the puns and the world he created where plants had pies growing from them and everybody had a magical talent. In case, you’re not really familiar with "Castle Roogna", it’s part of Anthony’s famous (or is it infamous?) Xanth series. I hear that the later novels (the series runs to 30 books or more and is still going I believe) weren’t as good but the early novels were quite interesting.
So, hooked by "Castle Roogna", I went back to the library and searched high and low for any other books by Piers. The only other book I found was "A Spell for Chameleon", which if I recall correctly, was the first book in the Xanth series. I devoured that book as fast as I could but I wanted more. But unfortunately, this being Sri Lanka and it being the early 80’s, it wasn’t easy to come by books. Especially books by a specific author. I scoured the second-hand bookshops (the best source for good science fiction and fantasy those days) but for the longest time, I could not find anything by Piers Anthony.
Of course, being consumed by the need to read more of Xanth, I kept scouring the bookstores each time I went there and finally, I discovered a copy of "Source of Magic" (another book in the Xanth series) and "Split Infinity" – a new series. Now "Split Infinity" was interesting in that it was a book which combined fantasy and science fiction – it was a story about two worlds. In one world, science reigned and in the other, magic. I liked the concept and the whole thing about the main character, Stile, being able to move between the two worlds. Of course, it wasn’t a stand-alone book. Stile’s story wasn’t completely resolved by the end of "Split Infinity" and I wanted to read more! And of course, there were no more Piers books to be found 🙁
I searched for years but didn’t find any of the other books in the Apprentice Adept series. Then, sometime in 1993, I went to India on a short trip with a cousin. I was walking along the street in Bombay when I saw a second-hand bookstore and never being one to pass a second-hand bookstore, I went in. You could have knocked me down with the owner’s feather duster when I discovered not one but both the other two books in the Apprentice Adept series! I grabbed them immediately and held on tightly all the way back to the hotel 🙂
So now I had the complete Apprentice Adept series (or so I thought) and I was happy as a clam. I knew what happened to Stile at the end of the series and I went my merry way confident in the knowledge that I had completed another fantasy series. Then sometime in 1997 or so, I was browsing through the shelves in a secondhand bookstore in Georgia (where I was working at the time) and what do I see but more books by Piers Anthony in the Apprentice Adept series! I was stunned. The dastard! He had gone and written more books and I hadn’t known all this time :p But the good news was that the store had all four books that continued the series and so, I was once again up to speed on the Apprentice Adept series and I was happy. Of course, given Mr. Anthony’s habit of extending a series, there is always the possibility that the Apprentice Adept series will get more books added on later. But for the moment, I’m happy in the knowledge that I have read the full series 🙂