2010年12月21日 星期二

Q & A (a.k.a. "Slumdog Millionaire") by Vikas Swarup


A few months ago I read Rohinton Mistry's "A Fine Balance," which was probably one of the most depressing books I've ever read. Not only is it a book full of lepers, murders, and corruption, but the main character decides that the only answer to all of these lepers, murders, and corruption is a swift and nearly inexplicable suicide at the local train station.

I'm happy to say that Vikas Swarup's "Q & A" isn't even half as depressing as "A Fine Balance." Mr. Swarup does an excellent job of balancing the depressing bits against humorous moments, and this book closes on a high note.

It's not much like the movie though, so if you're looking for a repeat of the film Slumdog Millionaire you might be disappointed. The movie is more of a love story, while the novel is more a series of interconnected stories, loosely arranged around the questions that Ram has to answer on the quiz show.

I love both the movie and the book. Danny Boyle's film is an inspired look at poverty in India, while Vikas Swarup's book could be read as the triumph of an orphan (not always poor), against circumstances which would have destroyed someone of a less philosophical frame of mind.

Q & A is also genuinely funny, and it's hard to find books that are genuinely funny these days. My favorite part of the book has to be the "Tragedy Queen" chapter, which details the last days of an aging actress as seen from Ram's point of view. The actress in question is indeed a tragic, lonely figure, but several of Ram's observations during this chapter had me laughing out loud.

I liked this book a lot. I'd give it 9 stars out of 10.

2010年12月12日 星期日

"The Scorpio Illusion" by Robert Ludlum


Robert Ludlum wrote 25 novels in his lifetime, and this is saying a lot, considering that he didn't get one published until he was well over 40. A lot of his novels have also been adapted into films and televesion miniseries, the most famous examples being "The Bourne Identity," "The Bourne Ultimatum," and "The Bourne Supremacy."

Naturally, spy stories written so long before their film adapations - as is definitely the case with the Matt Damon films - bear only a superficial resemblence to the movies they inspired. When Ludlum wrote the first of the Bourne novels, he could only dream of gadgets that Matt Damon's Jason Bourne took for granted, and of course the political events that shaped the original novels were very, very different from those we can relate to today.

So if I were you, I wouldn't judge Robert Ludlum by the Bourne movies. If you do, you are probably going to be disappointed. Events unfold a lot more gradually in Ludlum's novels, and even though the novels are - when compared to other novels - quite face-paced, they demand a level of patience that big-budget Hollywood films would never expect from you or I.

"The Scorpio Illusion" has never been adapted for either film or television, but it's not a bad book. Every chapter ends with a new mystery, and even though some of the plot "twists" are a bit predictable, it's still a solid work of fiction. It's not Moby Dick, mind you, and comparing Ludlum to Tom Clancy is a lot like comparing apples to... well, apples, but it's worth a read.

The story concerns itself with a retired Commander of Naval Intelligence, and his hunt for a terrorist known as Bajaratt. The terrorist in question is attempting to murder the U.S. President, and is doing so with the assistance of a secret organization called "The Scorpios." Everyone is compromised, the hero never knows which way to turn, and the bodies pile up with increasing frequency.

Some of the chronology in the beginning seems a bit confused, some of the more interesting characters could have been used to greater effect, and I think painting the terrost as the quintessence of evil took something away from what might have been a better book. I think that if Ludlum had shown her in a more sympathetic light - and perhaps also cut down the number of characters - it would have made the book far better.

I would give this book 5 stars out of 10. I'm sure he wrote better.

2010年12月1日 星期三

"The Color of Light" by William Goldman


Have you heard of William Goldman? Probably not. He stopped writing novels around 1985, and since then he has been writing screenplays for movies. Both the Princess Bride and Marathon Man were based on screenplays he wrote.

The dust jacket of this book led me to believe that The Color of Light was a mystery novel, which turns out not to be the case. It is, instead, a rather serious piece of literature, written by a man who was probably growing very frustrated with the process of writing books.

The Color of Light follows the early years of Chub Fuller, a young man who decides that writing is his passion. An early success with a book of short stories proves too much for him, however, and instead of rocketing to stardom he finds himself sinking into a quicksand of self-pity and substance abuse. The dust jacket adds "a murder" to this list of troubles, but for some reason I couldn't locate a single murder within the plot.

I liked the dialogue in this book, and it never bored me. All of the characters were interesting, and there was nothing in the story that struck me as unrealistic or pretentious. I cannot stand authors who try to draw morals out of their stories, and Mr. Goldman never does that. Even though the plot resembles countless other books, the situations found therein are often unique and their reactions to what they encounter seem genuine.

I'd give this book 9 stars out of 10. It's worth seeking out.

"The Redemption of Althalus" by David and Leah Eddings


Both of the people who wrote this book are deceased. David Eddings was from Spokane, Washington, and he and his wife both ended their days living in Carson City, Nevada. It is worth noting that somewhere between Spokane and Carson City Mr. Eddings accidentally burned all of his old manuscripts - and the garage of his house - after he unwisely tested the flammability of a pool within said garage by using a lighted match.

I'd like to thank him for that, wherever he is. This has surely limited the number of "lost" manuscripts that are bound to resurface in the wake of his passing.

The Redemption of Althalus is one of the worst books I have ever read. The plot makes no sense. The characters are irritating. Nothing about the books encourages a suspension of disbelief or any kind of emotional response. To make things even worse, the book is really, really long.

It might be considered disrespectful on my part to criticize the work of two dead people. I, for my part, consider their ever having written this book to be an act of disrespect. The more I read about Mr. and Mrs. Eddings, the more apparent it became that they only wrote fantasy books for the money. This, combined with the overwhelmingly derivative nature of this book makes for some excruciating reading.

I would give this book 1 star out of 10. It only gets that single star because it wasn't longer. For that, at least, I thank Mr. and Mrs. Eddings.

"Krondor the Betrayal" by Raymond E. Feist


I just started this one, so keep in mind that I'm only three chapters in.

I'm surprised at how much I like this book. The day before yesterday, I finished off David and Leah Eddings's "The Redemption of Althalus," and that book had me wondering if there were any good fantasy writers left out there.

Which is not to say that Feist is the next Tolkein, or that Krondor the Betrayal is a work of art. It's a solidly written book, staying securely within the confines of the genre. It reads like a role-playing game, which makes sense because Feist got his start writing scenarios for a certain RPG.

As a fair representation of the fantasy genre, I'd give the book 8 stars out of 10. It's not a work of genius, it's of course not Lord of the Rings, but I have to admire Feist's ability to map out plot elements and remain consistent from chapter to chapter. It helps that he has the preconceived "Midkemia" universe to draw from, but then again the story is surprisingly complex and the characters are convincing.

As just a book - and not just as a representation of the fantasy genre - I'd have to give it 5 stars out of 10. I am, after all, not a frequent reader of fantasy novels.