Tuesday, December 11, 2007

After watching Star Trek Voyager Seasons 1 - 4 continously over a period of weeks...

...I've decided that the album I'm going to release if I ever become a DJ would have tracks with the following names
  • Energize!
  • How do you know that? We Are Borg!
  • Akuchi Moya - the midnight remix
  • Warp 8, Mr Paris.
  • Modular bipolar cellular protobionic alphanumeric hemispherical cortical encapsulator. In other words, your head.
  • M-Class (M-Class, M-Class, M-Class goes the chorus)
  • Ridged forehead fetish

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Indian Science Fiction, this week

To start with, the Indian Association of Science Fiction Studies' annual conference starts tomorrow, 9th and goes on to the next day 10th, in Pondicherry, India.

Tehelka has a story on Indian science fiction in regional languages. The same issue also mentions writer Vandana Singh's upcoming book, The Woman Who Thought She was a Planet.

A snippet from the UK Times Online where Brian Aldiss shares a little bit of history explaining why Salman Rushdie's Grimus was withdrawn from the nominations for a science fiction award (which one, I wonder?).

Personally, I got a copy of an old Hindi movie called 'Wahan Ke Log'. The title literally translates as 'The People from There'. Haven't watched it yet, but the cover says 'Were they really from Mars?', complete with saucer shaped UFOs and a dial-and-button console.

All of you have a nice weekend, too.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Mindmapping Books

Mind Mapping is a visual modelling concept where related ideas and tasks are arranged around a central idea.

I often come across people talking about using mindmaps for the books they read. It makes more sense for non fiction books of course, and is a great way to summarize the book. The summarization can be done to any level of detail - the more fine grained you are, the more nodes your mind map will have.

I tried it on a book I read recently - Edward Luce's In Spite of the Gods. I did not have the patience to go to a very fine level of detail, so it's very very brief. Nevertheless, creating one is a good way to keep the central ideas of the book in focus.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


Buying books from discarded/used book sales has the drawback of the buyer being at the receiving end of the decision of what he or she can buy, and the advantage of buying a lot of books. Buying new books from bookstores has the drawback of having to shell out quite a lot of money for a book, and the advantage of the grand feeling of possessing a brand, shiny book you want immediately, among other things.

My recent buying trend has seen an increase in buying a lot from bookstores, of course whenever I can spare the money. For certain books the reasons are manifold - I would rather possess and read them now than wait for 5 years in the hope of it turning up in some used book sale. And new books feeeeel good :D

Walden (a well stocked bookstore in Hyderabad) had this anniversary sale recently - the discounts didn't go beyond 15%, but I did pick up

Bollywood - A history - by Mihir Bose. This one saddened and irritated me. It is really well researched, but the loads and loads of spelling and grammar mistakes take your attention off the content. Commas seem to be having a field day, while fullstops are an endangered species. True, books printed in India do look better than they used to 10 years back if you look at the glitzy jackets and binding. What has deteriorated (yes) is the quality of editing. I say this at the risk of being accused of sweeping generalizations. It only takes a few rotten apples. As I mentioned before, even young readers' books suffer.

and, Nyagrodha - by Kalpish Ratna. I always wondered who Kalpish Ratna was, having seen it on some book spine in some bookshop - the name sounded like it could belong to an ancient Indian philosopher.Here's the funda from the back flap of the book jacket -
"Ishrat Syed and Kalpana Swaminathan write together as Kalpish Ratna, a near anagram of their names. The pseudonym translates, in a piquant meld of Persian and Sanskrit, as 'the pleasures of imagination.'"

Bought The Idea of India and India Unbound - both at the Calcutta airport - I bought the second one because the first one got me interested enough in the rise of the Indian economy.

And finally, Shonkushomogro - the complete collection of Professor Shonku stories (in the original Bengali) - the enigmatic scientist character created by Satyajit Ray.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The joys of book shopping in Hyderabad

Just opposite my office building M.R. Book Stall have set up one of their monthly marathon sales. About twice every day (ok, not so often these days) I go and stand and look out of the darkened glass wall of my office. BOOK SALE. It says in huge red letters.

Let me describe this marathon sale phenomenon in more detail. (Marathon is a term applied by yours truly, perhaps more aptly suited to the way some people go to such sales and buy books rather than to the sale itself). There are some booksellers here in Hyderabad who specialize in old/discarded/surplus/used/new books of all sorts. They have a number of branches throughout the city. The most well known are Best Bookstore and M.R. Book Stall. From time to time they set up camp in some old unfinished building in some corner of the city. Rows and rows of shelves, still unorganized if you land up there on the first week, tarpaulin covered tables of book piles. If you peek under the tarpaulin you'll find more unopened boxes. After it's organized and if you are a bibliophile, you just need to go with a gunny sack, identify your shelves (for me it's sf) and fill your sack.

Prices mostly range from Rs. 30-50 for paperbacks. Rs. 60-120 for hardcovers. If they know something is sought-after (they sometimes do) they'll automatically ramp up the price. Of course old timers get additional discounts :D

These guys also have their permanent stores. After the initial visits to these, during which you'll probably try to soak it all up, you need to be either lucky or be a frequent visitor to pick up that rare first edition or that space opera by the Thai sf author you never thought you'd find so easily. There's no lack of collectors.

It's monsoon now, so the Sunday book market at Abids is a little dampened, but not so much. It's entirely on the footpaths, beginning from the Abid's bus stop till MPM Mall, and the road running perpendicular to it as well. Abids has it's own charm.

Of course apart from these there are the big glitzy bookstores. But that's another story.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Arrival and a doubt

The Arrival (1996) is a fast paced alien invasion movie.
It does not have presidents preaching patriotic feelgood early in the morning, no laser beams causing widespread mayhem, no tentacled monsters.
It does have conspiracy, complete with men in black (actually gray overalls), black speakers going bdddrrrrrp in an observatory, huge radio antenna arrays, a geeky astronomer not afraid to follow his instincts and a satisfying ending.

It is midway between two extremes.

What would I personally like an alien invasion movie to be like? Quiet
real terror mixed with the paranoia of Philip K Dick novels, real hard-sf technology - no blinking-lights-ray-guns, and a potent dose of wonder, all splashed on a canvas of a start studded night sky. A galaxy spanning plot.

Zane Zaminski (played by Charlie Sheen) has this uncanny resemblance to Dr. Freeman of the famed game Half-Life, but the situations don't really match much.

A thought on the aliens' structure. They are humanoid, but their knees bend the other way. Like kangaroos. Like all quadrupeds. The hind legs of a kangaroo or a cheetah are extremely powerful. For running, while catching prey or while avoiding being caught as one. That's how they have evolved. Which brings me to my question. Let's forget about the scientific validity of the movie for a moment. Would any naturally evolved beings develop such hind legs and still be bipeds? and vice versa? Or am I missing something here?

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Books I bought over the weekend

A brand new copy of The Algebraist - Iain M Banks - I was seduced by reading the back cover blurb.
The Third Culture - John Brockman
The Shockwave Rider - John Brunner (at last! and just 20 bucks! AND hardcover! at the Sunday Book Market at Abids - where else?). Update - 06 Jul 2007 - Just discovered it's the first edition. Hm!
Centuries - A A Attanasio
Fire upon the Earth - The Story of the Christian Church - Norman A Langford - bought this on a whim
The West End Horror - Nicholas Meyer
A Light in the Attic - Shel Silverstein - this has been apparently banned from some libraries because it 'encourages bad behaviour' in children.
A well worn copy of Atlas Shrugged.
Dayworld - Philip Jose Farmer
The Dark Beyond the Stars - Frank M Robinson
The Seeds of Time - John Wyndham
Heavy Weather - Bruce Sterling - this looks to be as good as Distraction.
and some pulp.

Apart from this, bought a 4 DVD pack of Rajinikanth movies - I was looking for Baasha - a movie I had watched a long time back in Vellore, Tamil Nadu, when I had gone there with my dad. I quite enjoyed it at that time, and it was the same yesterday. Thanks to Satya for the tip on where to get the DVD.

Finishing A Good Old Fashioned Future (Bruce Sterling) right now. Enjoyable, except for 'Big Jelly'.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


I just remembered that the deadline for the short story competition of IASFS (that's the Indian Association of Science Fiction Studies), in Douglas Adam's words, whooshed bye on June 1st.

The last and first time I wrote a story and won a prize for it was in school - a short detective story contest sponsored by The Assam Tribune. I borrowed part of the hero's name from the hero of Jatayu's books - Jatayu being a fictional character who's himself a writer in Satyajit Ray's superb Feluda series.

Speaking of short stories, last year Wired magazine asked leading writers to come up with the shortest stories they can think of. Some of the best are here.

Then there's the Asimov edited anthology of really short sf stories - not able to find my copy right now. The ones in that were not one-liners, but mostly one-paragraphers and one-pagers.

Coming back to short stories of 'normal' length, my favourite ones in the sf genre remain
  • One-Face - Larry Niven
  • Chrysalis - Robert Reed (more like a novella)
  • Most of ones in Stephen Baxter's Vacuum Diagrams
  • Most of the ones in The Collected Stories of Greg Bear

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Some news, albeit a bit old

The 9th annual conference of the Indian Association of Science Fiction studies is in Pondicherry, 9-11th November 2007.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


Have been thinking of getting another bookshelf, or maybe clear out some of the racks I'm currently using for keeping other stuff. And hopefully, with the Dekoh Books app , start a cataloging process :D.

Also need to store them sorted - or atleast, in a reasonably sorted manner, so that I don't end up getting multiple copies of the same book. Wondering when Dekoh books is gonna support barcode scanning.

Some more of my treasury ..hehe..it's good to gloat, sometimes.

Saturday, April 21, 2007


Spent my reading time last week reading a juvenile - Payal Dhar's A Shadow in Eternity. (Reading time is whatever I can squeeze out from my day for curling up with a book. Sigh.). Payal Dhar is one of the new breed of Indian fantasy writers, one of the prominent among them being Samit Basu.
Shadow is enjoyable, but what put me off was the shoddy editing - spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes - can't blame the author for them of course, but one would have expected better quality from a brand like Puffin. And children's literature surely deserves more attention to these things, doesn't it?
Other than that, the climax gave me a bout of deja vu - Basu's Simoqin Prophecies has more or less the same concept -

***********Spoiler warning**************
there's a prophecy, that an evil lord will rise, and that in the end the (good) hero/ine finds out s/he is one who's in the prophecy, and is the evil lord.
***********End spoiler*****************

There's a massive book sale in YMCA Secunderabad - not much sf :(. But loads and loads of those big reference books. Reader's Digest. McGrawHill. Yumm! Other than the usual stuff, got a one volume edition of The Golden Bough.
And The Mammoth Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, edited by George Mann. Does not look so mammoth, though.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Filling the last two inches of my bedroom shelf

Earth - Final Conflict - Heritage
T2 Infiltrator - S M Stirling
Voyage - Stephen Baxter
Chronocules - D G Compton
The Demons at Rainbow Bridge - Jack L Chalker
The Star Trek Encyclopedia (50 bucks :D)
Star Trek Chronology
Star Trek DS9 (peekchure book)
Cemetery World - Clifford D Simak
Earthclan - David Brin
The Day of their Return - Poul Anderson
The Crystal Memory - Stephen Leigh
The World of Tiers - 1 - Philip Jose Farmer (I think I already have that)
A Thunder on Neptune - Gordon Eklund (ditto)
A Touch of Strange - Theodore Sturgeon
The Delikon - H M Hoover

That's the sunday book market stuff. From back home I got (non sf)
In the Meadows of Gold. Not what I expected it to be, with most of the book taken up by the translations of the buranjis (histories).
Atmojibonir Proyax - Dinesh Ch. Goswami - semi-autobiographical work by the writer known as the doyen of Assamese science fiction. (Pronouncing the 'X' in Assamese)
and some others.

The secret revealed

Just back from the vacation. Finished The Manticore's Secret by Samit Basu. It's the second in the GameWorld trilogy, the first being The Simoqin Prophecies. Some disclaimers before I say anything more
1. I don't read much fantasy
2. Whatever fantasy I choosily, occasionally read I usually like
3. I don't like the terms science fiction and fantasy being clubbed together, viewed as one and the same genre, or works being described as SFF (science fiction/fantasy).

Overall I like the book in a way, because I think it's in a class of it's own. I'm tempted to say that the series was conjured up to bank on the success of the Potter books/LOTR movies, just like Five Point Someone led to a horde of such books. TMS does borrow from wildly dispersed sources, as the back cover blurb itself says, but it does it in a way which is enjoyable and unique. That again does not imply that it's just a goulash of borrowed ideas - but the borrowed ideas are cheekily and enjoyably parodied. Maybe the author could have made it a little less obvious by not having a 'Dark Tower' a la LOTR.

The idea of a "GameWorld" and the justification for the name is actually developed in this volume. Even though the first volume had the trilogy name on the spine but it failed to mention anything which would explain the reasoning behind the name. (Hm on second thoughts better check the first volume again in case I missed it).

The propensity of the author to take well known names from mythology/the current real world and use them reversed to name his characters/locations is such that you'll end up checking every unusual name against this theory even though most of them do not fit this.
The gods-in-the-sky routine pops up every few pages towards the end. A little tiresome, that. And evidently the book is bolder in it's treatment of "racy" scenes as compared to Part One.
My favourite aspect, however, remains the alternate world, or should I say the alternate Indian subcontinent. I think that's why I've stuck to the books.

Currently reading The Legends of Pensam, a gift from my cousin. A beautiful book, that's all I can say right now.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Am off on a weeklong vacation tomorrow - going home, that's Guwahati, and also to drop off my sister there for her exams. The idea of no work for 7 days seems fabulous. Thinking of reading a lot - in fact that's what I do whenever I'm home. Taking along Samit Basu's The Manticore's Secret (second in the trilogy) and The Dreams our Stuff is made of. Will hunt around for some Assamese science fiction works I've been looking for, this time.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


The Complete Robot - Asimov
TWG UFO and Alien Encounters
Alien Contact - Timothy Good
Metamagical Themad - Douglas R. Hofstadter
What's become of screwloose - Ron Goulat
Isaac Asimov Presents - Antibodies
The Moon and the Face - Patricia McKillip
The Berkley Showcase - 2
Soulcatcher - Frank Herbert
Downbelow Station - C. J. Cherryh
Winter in Eden - Harry Harrison
The Green Brain - Frank Herbert
Nimisha's Ship - Anne Mc Caffrey
Cold Allies - Patricia Anthony
Pegasus in Space - Anne Mc Caffrey
Lucky Starr and the big sun of Mercury
Tales from the white hart - Clarke
Begone Godmen - Abraham Kovoor (I remember Gods, Demons and Spirits in school - so just picked this up)

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Just a few

P.D. James - Children of Men
Eastern Love
A Little Princess - Frances Hodgson Burnett (One of those books which you buy because it feels so good to hold them in your hands)
Faces of the Future - The Lessons of Science Fiction - Brian Ash

Friday, March 02, 2007

Down the memory wormhole

When I think about it, my fascination with science fiction began as a fascination with space when I was a 7-8 year old kid. The earliest memories I have are of a scifi series called Space City Sigma, broadcast every Sunday morning back in those days (mid 80s) when the only TV channel you could get in India was Doordarshan. But I was lucky enough to have a dad who was posted in a remote place near the Indo-Bangladesh border (if you can call that lucky) and the Bangladesh tv signals were stronger than Delhi's. Needless to say, BTV was filled with Hollywood movies and tv series.
But I digress. I remember very little of SCS, because what really filled me with that oft-mentioned sense-of-wonder was another series called Indradhanush. Same channel, same day, but later (or was it earlier?) Briefly, it involved a boy who manages to build a computer from scrap and it actually turns out to be an alien intelligence from the Andromeda nebula. Juvenile stuff? Yes, and it was the kind of stuff which inspires, fills a young boy's mind with the vastness of the universe, makes him want to roam the cosmos in a ship of his own.

That boyhood desire of roaming in a ship of my own has still stayed with me - it manifests itself now with my obsession with space/flight simulations, where there is no predetermined objective or path, but you're free to fly around as you wish. Hm...that also explains my occasional dabbling with OpenGL. Self discovery can be revealing :).

A starship command deck, made out of matchboxes and face-cream boxes covered with white paper. The care I lavished upon it! Gluing and regluing, adding consoles, screens for tracing the starship's destination, pasting white paper over the parts where it would get dirty...

My dad had piles and piles of Reader's Digests, dating back from the 70's. Those used to be my staple diet. And there used to be really good articles on space exploration. Banal stuff about the solar system's planets' atmospheres can be of no interest to a 7 year old boy, but the sheer thrill of just reading about it was enough.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Halfway through watching 'Final Days of Planet Earth'. A lunar mission beings back an alien insect race to earth. That immediately conjures up images of what the movie would be like - but they're off the mark this time. It's wonderfully restrained as far as the giant-monstrous-insects-destroying-cities-killing-people-and-generally-causing havoc angle is concerned. In fact, the story completely focuses on the conspiracy angle - authorities versus a small group of people.
Bought 'The dreams our stuff is made of' - Thomas M. Disch.
Currently reading The Weapon Makers (van Vogt) and The God Delusion (Dawkins).
Gotta get back to the movie.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins
The Ancestor's Tale - Richard Dawkins
The Manticore's Secret - Samit Basu
Sultana's Dream - Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain
and around 60 other sfs. Yeah.