I need books to stay alive. In fact, it’s second only to the biological necessities. Ever since I returned to India in the second week of January, I’ve gone through a series of books all of which have, surprisingly, disappointed me. Was I just accustomed to reading better books when I was in Dubai? I don’t think so; such a question doesn’t even make sense. Books in Dubai are horribly over-priced (just like their medicines) and will sell only if the author’s promised to beat around the bush (e.g. Alvin Toffler). In comparison, even the non-bestsellers in India are better by the proverbial orders of magnitude. Or, I now realize, they ought to be. Has my taste deteriorated? I don’t think so. In fact, given how far my writing’s come, it should’ve improved. Anyway, after this set of books, I’m going to take a break and go after the authors long-listed for each of the literary prizes, discarding the short-listed nominees in their favour. Let’s see if that yields anything.
Peter F. Hamilton
If you’re a sci-fi fan like I am, pick up this guy’s books only if you think you could tolerate hundreds of pages of worthless descriptions of speculative sci-fi concepts. After reading three of his books, I feel like a real jackass; more importantly, I feel drained. In his Pandora’s Star, Hamilton has dedicated nearly 400 pages to plot devices, expostulations, remonstrations and irrelevant (and fake) concepts that had nothing to do with the then-persistent sub-plot, albeit the main thread of events. It takes away from the strength of the rest of the book, especially considering the “span” of his work is just as sagacious as some of Arthur C. Clarke’s. His characters are interesting (just like the many works of art which have had epochs dedicated to them because the artist picked interesting viewpoints), his conviction in the fortitude of the plot is carried forth (although in fits and starts) smoothly to the reader, and his assessment of each situation shows no proclivity towards the end having to be “happily ever after” (which I demand of every work seeking recognition).
His Cat’s Cradle is unforgettable for the notorious fictitious compound ice-9 that serves only as the namesake of deep-seated concerns amongst a post-World-War-II people and the technological, anthropological and religious issues they faced in a life that prominently featured a Catch-22 arms race. However, Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan is nowhere close to being as insightful or profound; in fact, in contrast to the credibility he was marked with after its release, the book seems to serve as a bashful precursor to the resilient pertinence of Cat’s Cradle, a literary excursion undertaken with the sole of aim of exploring the purposes of human history. However, I must say the book is not bad at all if not for the expectations: in a move that I had seen pulled off to perfection only once before by Orhan Pamuk in his My Name is Red, Vonnegut makes the book suddenly relevant in the end, so seamlessly done as to render the previous 300 or so pages seem like a retrospection on identity.
His Wheel of Time, epic as it is, consists of 12 books (and counting) of magic that immediately registers itself as postmodern and drab when compared to the simple incredibility of Tolkien or the delectably complex magic of Erikson, of plot threads that, when stripped down, are only prolonged bouts of bravery, chivalry, cowardice and romance, of characters who read like a reincarnation of the unimpeachable knights of yore, like the living embodiment of evil frozen inside a block of ice-cold evil painted with the black hues of evil, or like the hesitant precursors of villains turning over a new leaf and dying as martyrs in service of the greater good. In other words, there is very flexing of the poetic muscle, if at all. Where are the Elrics? The Kalams, the Faramirs, the Covenants? Even the Dumbledores?
I will quote Wikipedia here.
The novel is about a low-key unemployed man, Toru Okada, whose cat runs away. A chain of events follow that prove that his seemingly mundane boring life is much more complicated than it appears.
That sums up The Wind-up Bird Chronicle – not extravagantly, not penuriously, but perfectly. Although a juxtaposition with Japan’s grizzly aggression during World War II would yield an intention to emotionally transmogrify the Japanese man into a softer and more passive version, the book is one half east-meets-west and irrefutably postmodern the other. The endless series of characters allude to the vacuity of human emotions, most importantly (and prosaically) love, while the narrative itself is slow, sparse and makes for an excellent choice when you want something to read at an altitude of 20,000 ft. with a beer in the other hand.
I do feel bad that I think one of this guy’s books is on this list but, when some plots get repetitive, it has to be done. Moist Von Lipwig’s duties in both Going Postal and Making Money are boringly similar, thus the plots too, and the same goes for the rise of Sam Vimes in Night Watch and the rise of William de Worde in The Truth. In all four books, Lord Havelock Vetinari continues to rule Ankh-Morpork with the same liberal grip that a blacksmith holds a sledgehammer with, the wizards of Unseen University continue to maintain a pall of condescending disregard toward the world outside their offices, the dwarves and the trolls continue to remember the Koom Valley Accord between their races to keep their armored fists from landing on the nose they’ve aimed at, the protagonists continue to battle both dissension-in-the-ranks and foes that pop up like bullets fired from a Chekhov’s gun, damsels-in-distress are a far cry from their tags and are instead each a Joan of Arc, and villains are… well, shady. The inventive wit of Pratchett fades quickly on the memory, I must say.
This chap, together with his mentor and his student, helped lay down the foundations of Western philosophy. He might have been brilliant, but his Laws, which addressed the perspectives that differentiated laws from amongst the pool of policies required for ideal governance and the systems of thought required to supplant decisions made therewith, could have been laid in a much simpler format – a format that comprised of simpler writing, simpler examples and simpler ideas (which could then be strung together) – much unlike this paragraph. Sun Tzu did it.
Books that almost made it:
- Olympos, Dan Simmons
- The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker
And… that’s about it. Jarring start to a year in all honesty. Hopefully, my picks in the future will make up for this bout of bad books.