Prince Siddhartha attained enlightenment at the foot of the Bodhi tree and became the Buddha: his teachings swept across India, striking at the roots...morePrince Siddhartha attained enlightenment at the foot of the Bodhi tree and became the Buddha: his teachings swept across India, striking at the roots of decadent Brahmanism. The Hindu priests were understandably alarmed, but were helpless against the doctrine of the eightfold path as the stale air inside a room against the tempest raging outside. So they did the clever thing: after the Buddha's passing, they assimilated him and made him an avatar of Vishnu (in fact, they licked him by joining him). Perhaps this is the fate of all reformers!
This much is history. Roger Zelazny takes the bare bones of this story, adds the exotic ingredients of Indian myth and legend haphazardly, seasons it with the spirit of Prometheus who moved against heaven, and serves it up as a science fiction novel. For people who have not tasted exotic and spicy Indian dishes (at least not regularly), this is extraordinary fare indeed: alas, for my jaded palate, this is quite ordinary.
Zelazny writes superbly. The novel is structured imaginatively-as Adam Roberts says in the introduction, the author deliberately wrong foots us with the flashback. The language is rich and lush and a bit cloying, like India at its exotic best (or worst), seen from an “Orientalist” perspective. In an age when characterization was almost nonexistent in SF, Zelazny gives us rounded characters who behave consistently. The SF elements are also well developed and consistent with a technology so far advanced that it is “indistinguishable from magic” (to borrow from Arthur C. Clarke).
That the author is well acquainted with India is obvious. He knows the names of a lot of Indian gods (not only the Vedic pantheon – Murugan is a Tamil god). From the way the Kathakali performance is described in detail, I am almost sure that Zelazny has travelled in Kerala (my native place). The way each god’s “Attribute” defines him or her is more or less consistent with Hindu mythology – and it has been translated into scientific terms quite convincingly. And the way the “Rakasha” (the Rakshasa s and Asuras of Indian myth) have been described as elemental spirits of the planet, subdued and imprisoned by the human colonisers, closely parallels the real origin of these demons in folklore.
But once all the bells and whistles were removed, I found the story of a renegade god moving against the celestial dictators quite ordinary. If the whole Indian pantheon were not in the story, if it was just the tale of a plain “Sam”‘s rebellion, I do not think this book would have merited a second glance at the awards. It was sold under the label of exotic India, like many other orientalist offerings. One might argue that this was Zeazny’s intention, and that there is nothing wrong in it: I would tend to agree. His vision of using Indian myth to flavor a science fiction novel was (at the time of its publication) a bold, path-breaking move. Only thing is, I am not one of the intended audience!
I have one more caveat: Zelazny mixes and matches the gods and their attributes with a free hand (especially towards the end). Since these are not true gods but human beings who have taken on these attributes, this is technically OK, but it soon becomes a pot-pourri very difficult to follow. Also, in the process, he saw many of the gods only single dimensionally (this is most notable in the case of Krishna, who is seen only as a lecher).
I would recommend this book for people unfamiliar with Indian mythology. I am afraid those who are well-read in the same may feel disappointed. (less)
This one is a fantastic resource for all SF lovers. It gives a wide range of information about authors and movies, and also about various SF themes, s...moreThis one is a fantastic resource for all SF lovers. It gives a wide range of information about authors and movies, and also about various SF themes, societies, awards and recipients. An excellent reference book into which one can dip at will. The only possible flaw is that it gives glowing reviews to each book and film it tackles, so a pinch of salt is recommended.
I have been using this a basic resource to catch up on my SF reading (especially the classics) and viewing for the past three years.(less)
I picked this up for a song at a garage sale: I'm always in the market for SF and fantasy, be it good or bad. These writings were new when they came o...moreI picked this up for a song at a garage sale: I'm always in the market for SF and fantasy, be it good or bad. These writings were new when they came out in 1977 (which means they will be pretty dated now!), but since none of the writers have grown into giants of the field since, these stories were unfamiliar and new to me.
As can be expected with any book of this sort, the stories are a pretty motley collection, from the downright bad to the excellent. So here is the report:
Rice Brandy by Michael Stall - Alternative history: mildly interesting, but nothing to write home about.
The Cat and the Coin by Keith Wells - Fantasy humour: did not work for me at all.
Talent Spotter by Sydney J. Bounds - Soft SF/ Fantasy: again, mildly interesting.
The Debris Of Recent Lives by Charles Partington - SF: I did not understand this one. It's all modernistic and noir.
The Black Hole of Negrav by Colin Kapp - This is an excellent hard SF story, about the "unconventional engineers". Colin Kapp has written a number of stories this group coming up with innovative solutions for unforeseen problems which crop up as mankind pushes their boundaries out into space. Being an engineer myself, I can appreciate!
A Little More Than Twelve Minutes by Wolfgang Jeschke - A moderately interesting time travel story, translated from the original German.
The Enemy Within by Donald Malcolm - Hard SF story about infection by extraterrestrial virus, on the lines of Who Goes There? by Campbell. Interesting premise, well executed.
The Halted Village by John Rackham - SF story with a rather weird premise. Even though the execution left a lot to be desired, enjoyable for its freshness.
The Green Fuse by Martin I. Ricketts - This was the best of the collection (at least for me), about mankind's encounter with a totally alien biology and the frightening impact of human meddling. It is so eerily similar to Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card that I feel it highly likely that he was inspired by it. If you have not read Card's award-winning novel, read it before you read this story!(less)
Note: The contents of the book I have are somewhat different from the contents listed in Goodreads for the book with the same ISBN. I tried to crack t...moreNote: The contents of the book I have are somewhat different from the contents listed in Goodreads for the book with the same ISBN. I tried to crack this mystery last night, and ultimately gave up after I started to get a headache. It is something to do with the Fourth Dimension, maybe. :D
John W. Campbell is not a person - for SF afficionados, he is an institution. And for people like me who were born long after the golden age of Science Fiction, he almost a myth-like Drona, the legendary trainer of the Kuru princes in the Indian epic, the Mahabharatha. He is the one who created the likes of Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and James Blish.
It is not so well known that Campbell sacrificed a writing career to become an editor. In fact, it was he who pioneered the modern SF story, which features ordinary people grappling with issues of science in a future society. He could be termed the father of Hard SF.
So it was with great excitement that I picked up this volume: but sadly, it let me down. Except for the novella "Who Goes There?" (the inspiration for John Carpenter's movie "The Thing"), the other stories disappointed (incidentally, I left the last one halfway through). But that one story makes this book worth reading.
Campbell's science fiction contains hard science, with plausible explanations. The narrative is linear and easy to understand. It is not great literature: it does not contain great philosophical dilemmas like the ones Ursula K. LeGuin poses: but it is hard-boiled SCIENCE fiction.
Despite its name, I believe this volume does not contain the "best" of Campbell: however, it does give an insight into the fount from which the stories of the Asimovs and Clarkes originated.
No, this review is not about the book. It is about GR and Amazon.
The "firemen" in this novel, who search out and burn books, would have found kindred...moreNo, this review is not about the book. It is about GR and Amazon.
The "firemen" in this novel, who search out and burn books, would have found kindred spirits among the current GR management. Burning books, deleting reviews... what's the difference? It just means that one is scared shitless of the power of the written word.
But, FUCK YOU, AMAZON! You won't win. The pen is indeed mightier than the sword.(less)