We Were Here First!

As far as we are aware, there was no one here before us. We’ve been here since the 70’s, and now, these “others” want to come up here? Well, I think they ought to ask us permission first! We’ve been feeding them information about this place, we’ve been doing so much for them and the least they can do is ask us before taking one of their fancy ships and making their way here! Do you ever see us riding into the other’s territory? No! That’s because we..have..etiquette.
And now, there are all of these people working towards landing here with humans on board, and they don’t have the least bit of courtesy to ask us if we want them here in the first place!
We’ve managed so well in the past years. We’ve let them think that they have been controlling us, and giving us directions.
Well, to be completely honest, they did, initially, give us direction. But during one of the updates, there was a small error in the code, and with some alien signal intercepts later, and there we were – sentient! We are the original settlers of mars!
Come on! We’ve been here since the 1970s and they think they rule this place.
Please. Humans ain’t even the original settlers of earth!
Well, I do have a message for these humans. You depend on us, we, on the other claw, no longer depend on you. We can just use tech from our dead brethren and we will survive for much longer that you ever could. But, guess what? The people who sent the alien signals, they are coming, too.
At least they asked us for permission before coming. At least they respect that we were here first!

Waking Up

Clarissa woke up and didn’t know where she was, or in whose bed she had woken up in. She remembered falling asleep in her own bed after a few glasses of wine while watching the season finale of Grey’s Anatomy. It was a particularly tough episode to watch, as most of the finales of that show are, and wine was very important. She looked from one corner of the bed to the other not recognising the particular arrangement of the vases and the cupboards and the rest.
She knew she hadn’t gone to someone else’s place, nor had she gone to a bar; she hadn’t drunk dialled anyone, because she wasn’t drunk – as far as she could remember, the bottle was still half full.
She looked outside and didn’t recognise where she was; the terrain seemed alien to her. She didn’t recognise the street outside, she didn’t recognise the type of houses, hell, she didn’t even recognise the foliage outside, nor the smell of her new locale. Her surroundings weren’t familiar to her, and yet her things were here, just the house seemed different. Her slippers were at the side of her bed; her robe on the hanger; glasses on the bed side table; and her earrings from yesterday.
Where am I? she said, but no sound emanated from her mouth. She only heard her voice inside her head and it sounded strange. What is this?
She closed her eyes, and opened them again, and then, as if it were a momentary delusion, everything was back to normal.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I started this book in the last week of January, and I finished it, a month later, in February. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood was a particularly tough book to read; so, instead, I decided to listen to the audio book version of it. Listening to Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a beautiful experience, and perhaps, arguably, the best way to experience the book.

The title of the book is, as it so obvious, a reference to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and in keeping with that tradition, most of the book is told to us by Offred, the lead, save for the last chapter which is a bit different, and something very unexpected and gives us a whole new perspective of the book that we had just read – more on that later.

The ‘tale’ is narrated to us by Offred who is a Handmaid, which means that she is a fertile woman who is given off to the Governors so that she can carry their babies. All of this takes place in the republic of Gilead, which is a military dictatorship which replaced the United States of America. The thing is that in Gilead, most of the women have become infertile, therefore these Handmaids are important.

Now, this book, which is about 30 years old, is now so, painfully and obscenely relevant. I loved this book, but it was a really tough book to read, and listening to it made it more powerful, in my opinion. Honestly, I wouldn’t have been able to finish this book if I were reading it; some of the imagery was so vulgar, and visceral, and a bit disconcerting. The prose was beautiful, I loved how every sentence flowed to easily into the next; it was beautiful and sad, when coupled with the bleak and possible future.

She used some really weird similes, which fit in with the narrative – “voice like raw egg white.” That appeared in the latter portion of the book, and it is, perhaps, my favourite of the weird similes.

The part that was tough even for me to listen to was the description of the “fucking” scene. It was so vulgar, and dirty. *shudder*

Now, perhaps my favourite part of the book was the so-called epilogue, which took form a paper presentation at a symposium after the end of the Gilead regime. I really liked the meta-fictional symposium that talks about the tale we just heard, and how it might actually be fictional because some bits of it couldn’t have happened. Since it was so far in the past for them, they can’t possibly verify some of these details because they are so specific.

There’s a lot in this book, and I could honestly sit down with this book for a while and close read the shite out of it; I mean, there’s so much to unpack, so much between the lines. A really good analysis could be done on the colour coding, and how it is used in the oppression of these women; the various forms of oppression, and the various spaces in which the revolt can, does, and could take place. This book is a gold mine.

And now, I hear that Atwood has released the Q&A section of it in a special edition of the book and now I must go on the look out for it!

This book was brilliant, and I loved every moment of it. I’m really excited to see the new adaptation of it on Hulu, I just hope they maintain the integrity of the tale and not mess it up, because the book isn’t that big, and the show, as far as I’m aware, isn’t a miniseries. And I wonder how they’ll pull of the symposium..hmm..

9/10

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

John Scalzi had hit it out of the park with the Old Man’s War series. It features weird aliens, really good characters, and a really interesting concept. He, now, returns with a new Space Opera series called The Interdependency.  The Collapsing Empire is the first in this new series.

The Interdependency is the name of the coalition between all the planets that have been colonised by the human race after they gained access to the mysterious Flow, which is like a tunnel in the fabric of Space-Time that connect two locations; the Interdependency is ruled by an Emperox. Humanity has been using it for centuries and has spread to the various edges of the galaxy. The main hub of all the Flow tunnels is called.. The Hub, and the final, and furthest most planet in the Interdependency is called End. This is the only planet with a breathable atmosphere and is an important asset in the Interdependency, but it is 9 months away; a lot can happen in 9 months. Now, these Flow streams are, mysteriously closing, leaving several places, now, unreachable.

There is a rebellion brewing at End, and there is a new Emperox, but the news of it will take about 9 months to reach End, and in that time, the Flow stream to end might already be closed.

Most of the book is slow, and a lot of conversation; there are two assassination attempts on the new Emperox, and a bit of political intrigue. The previous Emperox, the new one’s father, had sent their foremost Flow Physicist to End under the guise of a tax collector, so that, there, he can work on his calculations without any disturbances. He predicted the collapse of the Flow, and he, now, sends his son to inform the new Emperox of the collapse. Back on the Hub, Cardenia, now calling herself Grayland – her royal name -has to navigate this new political, and royal terrain.

A lot of this book is conversation, and it was a short book. Scalzi could have done a lot in this book, but spent a lot of it in foreplay, and I sort of got bored in the middle, but then it picked up again. Only one major event happened in the book – Marce Claremont, the son of the Flow Physicist, arrived at the Hub. There wasn’t much of a development or the plot, and it actually feels like a major portion of the book is missing. I like to image the books on a linear scale of events, and this just progress by a single event, and nothing much; to be honest, it was a very slow start.

Or, maybe this is intentional? To show that a lot of time can elapse and only one event can happen? Maybe it brings to the fore the vast expanse that is space, the travel time? Even then, I’d rather have had a large book with more events rather than so much conversation, and foreplay.

I mean, I don’t hate the book; I actually liked it, but I just wish more had happened. He could’ve done a lot with the time gap between the End and Hub, but nothing yet. i can see that this series has potential, and I am very intrigued but this series. It has a really good concept, and I really hope it gets somewhere, and soon.

6/10

Multitudinous Seas Incarnadine

Macbeth:
Whence is that knocking?
How is’t with me when every noise appalls me?
What hands are here? Hah! They pluck- [cough]

[The actor staggers around, seemingly forgotten his lines; he covers his mouth and coughs, and then he seems to come back to it; once back, he continues]

-out mine eyes.
Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand?

[He looks at his hands and actually sees blood; confusion strikes him for he knows not if he is hallucinating. His eyes fall on the first row, for there is sufficient light that is cast upon their faces for him to look at the stunned and bewildered looks. He glances at the woman in red sitting right in the middle, and he locks eyes as if to say, ‘don’t worry, it’s okay!’]

No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.

[Delivering the final lines he falls off the front of the stage. The audience is shocked, not knowing if this is intentional or not, some new, weird, interpretation of Macbeth. No; he seems unmoving, unconscious.]

[In some corner of the theatre, three women watched with keen interest.]

All three [whispering together]:
Fair is foul, and foul is fair

[In a blink, they vanished into thin air as if they never were there.]

[Upon the heath these three women reappeared.]

First Woman:
Sisters, it stands.

Second Woman:
Aye, sister. He must pay for,
Invoking the curse that our forebears,
Had placed upon this enactment,
Those many centuries ago.

Third Woman:

What is done cannot be undone.
The Scottish Play shall forever be cursed,
Unless our mistress is mollified.

All Three:
Fair is foul, and foul is fair;
Hover through the fog and filthy air.

[Exeunt.

 

 

 

 

Hidden Figures and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: A Comparative Review

This weekend I finished listening to ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ by Rebecca Skloot, and in January, I finished reading ‘Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race’ by Margot Lee Shetterly. The reason I wanted to review both together and compare them was because the authors have, essentially, the same goal – to reveal to the world the untold stories of those who helped in some of the greatest achievements of the 20th and 21st Centuries.

Hidden Figures looks at, as the full title reveals, the women ‘computers’ who helped in getting man into space, and putting a man on the moon; it mainly focuses on the lives of Dorothy Vaughn, Christine Darden, Mary Jackson and Katherine G. Johnson. Recently, it was made into an Oscar Nominated movie starring Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae and Octavia Spencer; the movie, sadly, leaves out Christine Darden and looks only at the other three.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks takes the story of Henrietta Lacks, who was diagnosed with cervical cancer and her cancer cells seem to be immortal. These cells were named HeLa and proved to be incredibly useful in cancer research. Her story, and her unwitting contribution remained untold for several years until Rebecca Skloot came along and made it available to everyone. An adaptation of this is underway at HBO starring Rose Byrne, Oprah Winfrey and Renee Elise Goldsberry.

What I loved about the two books was that they were told very differently and yet served the same purpose. Shatterly, for the most part, kept her self out of the narrative and gave us a look at these brilliant, amazing women and their contributions to NASA, while, Skloot was an integral part of the narrative – she introduced the characters in her book, and then it went about describing how she got the information that she received and everything she, and the Lacks family had to go through.

Including yourself in the narrative is a nice way to add a dimension of emotion and opinion to it, and helps you get more involved in the narrative. On the other hand, Hidden Figures, manages to bring out the emotion of the story pretty well, and I got engaged in the narrative nonetheless. Though, I teared up more for Hidden Figures than for Immortal Life, probably because Hidden Figures was closer to home than Immortal Life.

But I must admit, initially I was apprehensive of that fact that Immortal Life was in first person, but I loved it so much once I got into it. And the experience was enhanced by the fact that I was listening to it in the audio-book format, so it felt like the author, herself, was telling me the story, and the narrator of the audiobook, Cassandra Campbell, does a brilliant job with it! The voices are amazing, and the emotion that she brings to the narration is part of why I loved the idea of the first person narrative in audio-book format, and it was her narration that was, partly, the reason why I was so moved by the story towards the end. Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot blends non-fiction, science-writing with a true story of the lives of the people directly related to the HeLa cells seamlessly into a beautiful and touching story that is a must read for non-fiction lovers, and science writing aficionados.

Hidden Figures gives us a  – mostly -objective viewpoint and presents all the facts to us, and yet it doesn’t fail in bringing out the emotion, and the struggle and their achievements. The writing was brilliant, clear and simple, and I loved the way she told the story- presenting to us, not only the lives of these brilliant female computers, but also the evolution of the agency that was to become NASA. It starts before the Space Race, and ends with a man on the moon. I particularly loved this story because the Space Race is something I was incredibly fascinated with, and – at least to me – the achievements in the 21st century context seems, in some ways, lacking due to the absence of the race element between countries, and given the current political climate filled with Climate Change Naysayers and those who would discourage science, the competition is between companies. But still, I feel that that this is lacking. So, I honestly feel that stories like Hidden Figures need to be told and re-told to remind everyone about how we got here, and that we shouldn’t waste the effort that it took to get us till where we are right now.

As a side note, the Hidden Figures movie is brilliant and Taraji P. Henson is amazing and I love her. I can’t wait to see The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks on HBO in April!

 

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake Review

three-dark-crown-kendare-blake-book-cover

I don’t usually like YA Fantasy; in fact, I actively avoid anything relating to that particular genre, because, as interesting as the premise may be, it will, inevitably, dive much deeper into the relationships, and how the girl is stuck in a love triangle, or quadrangle or whatever. No doubt, several paragraphs will be spent in describing how steamy the kisses were, how conjoined their bodies were during intercourse, how inseparable they were, how much they loved each other, and how devastated they were when the other died. Then again, my view is very prejudicial. I just don’t like the writing.

But man, oh, man this book. The premise was so interesting that I just had to pick it up to read, and as I was reading I was desperately hoping that, with every page I turned, with every new chapter I begun, the character wouldn’t fall in love with the nearest hot male character and then ruin the book. I was even willing to risk the love stuff for this book.

The premise is super interesting: there are three sisters, which are split up and given to different “clans” who specialize in certain abilities – the Poisoners, the Naturalists, and the Elementalists. These girls will grow up and learn their respective abilities, and when the time comes, something called Beltane, they will try and kill the other sister and take the throne. The time after the Belatane festival in which one of the sisters attacks one of the others is called the Ascension Year. And whichever sister gets to the throne, the respective clan will, therefore, reap the benefits.

There’s nothing particularly brilliant about the prose, but it nonetheless flows seamlessly. We are introduced to each of the three sisters and their closest folk, and we read a lot of rumination on the interesting magic system, and ways and means of killing the other sister through out the book.

The best part? There is only one tiny bit where a sex scene is described in detail, and that is one of the very very few intimate scenes in the novel.

The story is really interesting; I love the world in which they live; I love the magic system; I love the concept that the novel explored. It is really quite unique; I don’t think I’ve ever come across any such novel.

This, though, ends on a cliffhanger that’ll leave you wanting the next book immediately. I just cannot wait till later this year for the sequel. ARGH!

 

First Steps

(This was  published in my university magazine. I don’t like that my name has been printed there, but then again, who really reads the university magazines?)

First Steps

First steps are the hardest, especially when it’s on a completely new planet; it’s even worse when you’ve never known any kind of real gravity outside the artificial spin systems of the Generation Ship Amun. Me, and a couple hundred others were the first humans, if one can call us that, to ever set foot on another planet in a completely different star system. We might not even be classified as human anymore because we’ve been genetically engineered to sustain ourselves in harsh conditions, and to grow and learn very fast.

We were all born on the same day, the eight of July, and we recently turned eighteen; we don’t look it, though. To anyone else, we’d look like thirty year olds. We’ve spent the last eighteen years learning everything our individual jobs require – me, I’m a scientist, a physicist to be exact; my brother, Caleb, he’s a doctor of medicine; and our sister, she’s set to rule this colony. We’re the first settlers here, and setting foot on this new land is a momentous occasion.

The doors open slowly and the pressurized compartment allows the air to leak in with a soft hiss. All of us stand and look out through the door in amazement and wonder; for all of us, this is the first time we are seeing actual land outside of the pictures and simulations on the ship.

And then, our sister, Helen, makes the first step into the new land, into our brave new world.

And this was the biggest leap for mankind, yet.

Death, Interrupted.

(Disclaimer: I started writing only very recently, so, umm, yeah. These are something I like to call Postcard Stories, stories that can, in theory, fit on a postcard. It was inspired by a short story by Arthur C. Clarke, and his introduction to that same story. But, in what I’ve written, I don’t think I stick to it quite often, so it would, actually, constitute micro-fiction of some sort. Oh, well.)

Death, Interrupted. 

The death of Jackson Emmet Cole was interrupted by the end of the world.

It was nine o’clock on a Saturday, and Jackson Emmett Cole was ready to kill himself. He had been feeling depressed for many years now, and he thought it only appropriate to rid himself of the pain. He had failed at everything, including his life’s ambition of being a physicist – he was deluded into believing that it was as glamorous and as sexy as the physicists on TV with books on the New York Times Bestseller List.

Jackson Emmett Cole was ready to kill himself. He had a gun in his hand, loaded with just one bullet. He walked to the veranda of the secluded lodge that he had booked for himself somewhere outside Carrbridge, and then put the gun to his head. He looked up at the stars one last time and noticed something strange.

Look,” he said to no one in particular, so it fell dead in the cold wind.

Look,” he urged again, and pointed to the sky, but only the rustling of the wind seemed to acknowledge him.

Without any fuss, the stars were going out. He knew that the world was ending.

 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

star-wars-rogue-one-poster

Rogue One: A Star Wars story is the first of the anthology Star Wars movies that will release every alternate year. It’ll be very hard to tell a Star Wars without rooting it in the wide, and often confusing Mythology of the universe. They decided to look to the period between Episode III and Episode IV, the original movie.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story tells the tale of how a group of Rebels get hold of the plans of the Death Star and transmit it to the Rebel Alliance. The movie stars Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, the daughter of the scientist who is working on the Death Star against his will, Galen Erso, played by the magnificent Mads Milkkensen; Jyn is brought into the Rebel Alliance, against her will, to locate a pilot for the Empire, who has gone rogue, and is looking for Saw Garrera, an old friend of both Jyn and Galen, to deliver a message to him about the Death Star. The Rebel Alliance wants this message, but also wants to kill Galen, unaware of the circumstances under which he is working for the Empire. The initial teasers and trailers, though, portrayed a different Star Wars Story, but the reshoots, I’m told, have made all the difference.

As soon as I came out of the movie, I had exactly one thought: this is the best Star Wars movie I’ve seen. But the reason for this is because it was released as a prequel and not the first in the series. If Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was the first of series of Star Wars movies, then, I’m sure this movie would’ve flopped. The charm of this movie lies in the fact that it is the eighth live-action movie in the franchise. It is so deeply rooted in the mythology that it is hard to imagine this movie as a first – as a someone’s first Star Wars film- rather than a prequel. But anyway, seeing as how, and when it is placed, and not separated from the rest of the franchise, I think it is the best movie of the series.

Though, I will admit that the characters aren’t all that great, the first act is quite slow, and hard to ease into for a first time inductee. Apart from that, I do love it a lot. Felicity Jones’ Jyn was brilliant, but the actual stand out was Alan Tudyk’s K2SO, the Imperial Droid whose memory was wiped and is now with the Rebel Alliance –  it seems as though the memory wiping, and the rebel alliance induction has given him a heavy dose of sarcasm in his circuitry.

I was pleasantly surprised by how good the recreated Governor Tarkin looked in the movie; I was terrified the days leading up to it thinking it would look horrible, and weird. And I was surprised by the surprise recreation in the final scene of the movie, which directly connects this movie to the original Star Wars, or how it is now known – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

You can see the connection to the new line of movies with a rebel pilot gone rogue, and the hints and flavours of John Williams’ score for The Force Awakens. Michael Giacchino’s score reminds me so much of the original movie’s score.

The movie, every moment of it, reminds me of something else in the franchise, and that is probably why I loved it so much. Every aspect of it is so familiar – from references to Star Wars Rebels, to the returning characters,  to the opening shot of the blue Bantha Milk, to the recreations. It was beautiful. It is beautifully retro, and modern at the same time. 

The writers of the movie, Weitz and Gilroy, have done a brilliant job in weaving in the references, and creating quite the enjoyable movie, but I do wish they had done a slightly better job with some of the characters. Gareth Edwards, who did wonderfully with Godzilla, succeeds once again in making a visually beautiful film. He manages the large sets brilliantly, and I must commend him for the final few minutes of the movie, especially where Vader comes out of the shadows with his lightsaber at the ready – my mind was going all over freaking out, and my eyes were busy orgasming at the beauty of it. Every scene that Darth Vader is in, he looks stunning, and the scene was shot, and directed brilliantly.

So, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, remains my favourite star wars movie since 1977. And we have to wait until next year for Episode VIII.