Sunday, March 27, 2011

Book Review: State of Fear, Michael Crichton

It might have taken me a few renewals and a few return-hold-pickup cycles at my community library to get through this book, but I have finally managed to get through it.  My records tell me this quest to read State of Fear started sometime back in November last year!
But don't let my sloth in finishing this book talk about its goodness. If anything look at my penchant to finish it, somehow! Anyhow!
It has been a very-very-very long time that I have read a novel cover-to-cover under mounting work and less-than-optimal personal time management. That is if I were to skip my re-read of Herman Hesse's Siddartha on my flight to-and-fro to India (which still happens to be my #0 favorite) . I did manage to read a few of Harry Potter's volumes though.
Without jogging my memory too hard, these are the two latest failed trysts with literary work:
0. The Glass Bead Game : (aka, Magister Ludi) by Hermann Hesse
1. Steppenwolf, by Hermann Hesse
I guess these books were a bit too heavy on spirituality/philosophy for my mind to take on as casual bedtime reading. One needs to set aside considerable chunk of time to enjoy them.  So I thought of falling back on my regular thriller and sci-fi. 
This is the first novel of Crichton's I have read and I was quite thrilled.  Frankly, I picked up this work only because I liked Jurassic Park, which was adapted from his work by same title. To date that movie remains in my list of top 5 movies. 
As to the novel itself... But let me put you at ease first.
Dont' worry, there are no spoilers, so read on...
The book is a wonderfully thought provoking techno-thriller, revolving around the (what I now believe to be highly distorted and misunderstood!) phenomenon of Global Warming.  And if there is one thing that I adore a lot, it is a constructive-thought-provoking material. The journey from crowded concrete jungles of LA through the glaciers of Iceland to volcanoes of Antarctica to Arizonian deserts to the spine chilling jungles of Solomon Islands, for the lack of better work, the journey is just breathtaking.
Though mostly bordering around the realm of fiction, his work highlights quite a few interesting (lesser known and often ugly) facts that we don't get to hear.  The Appendix-I, in particular,  earned my greatest interest.
The author must have done quite a bit of research, as is evident from numerous footnotes, graphs cited from scientific papers & journals, two rich appendices and a whooping twenty page bibliography.
The broader point that the book tries to make  is quite remarkable.  75% of the book (quite literally!) goes on and on about whether global warming is really something we need to worry about and whether we can stop or is it just yet another meticulously orchestrated corporate charade. Nothing too out of the ordinary.  I kept going along only because it was entertaining and the suspense was quite enticing.
But I almost read the remaining 25% of the book (the last 200 pages) in almost 2-3 seating (yes, that did cost me quite a bit of my sleep, but I suppose it was totally worth it). The book takes on a very interesting and engaging turn when the some Professor Hoffman from USC enters the picture and the title of the book is quoted, verbatim, for the first time since the beginning: State of Fear.  That, my dear friends, is when the real book starts. Until that point, there is no connection to the title of the book and story. This is the point where all the dots seem to connect, and things seem to light up.
I don't quite know how to put it, but you will need to have a certain kind of inclination, or quality, of lack thereof, if you will, to like this work. No, I don't mean tendencies towards conspiracy theories, but my vocabulary just isn't rich enough yet to describe that quality.  Without divulging too much of the plot, the fans of Nineteen-Eighty-Four (by George Orwell) should definitely devour this work of Crichton's.
The book has played right into my pessimistic optimism. But besides that main theme, the book now also has me yearning for the composure, knowledge and the right balance of arrogance-and-humility that Kenner carries (and, not to forget, a girlfriend like Sarah too :-P).  (Yes, I recently have had an epiphany about the importance of the right amount of arrogance to earn respect in this effing world. More on that some other day).
Moral, though slightly indirect, that I took away is, man has never been able to and will never be able to fathom the way Mother Nature works to the fullest.  And so she is best left alone, with as much of little interference from effing pesky humans as is possible.  You can admire her, you can nourish her, you can bask in her glory, and even cry over her apathy towards you, you can even caress her, but you can NEVER freakin' try to change her so as to suit your needs.  Lest you face unforeseen and unimaginable repercussions and pay princely prices for your interference.  A price not measured in terms of money, beware, which is but just a man-made necessary evil, but price in terms of life itself.
And there a quite a few documented cases (really large scale cases) presented in appendix to support that observation. Worth a read, even if you skip the book and just read them. Of course, they will be a bit out of context, but will still drive the point home.  Also, it has bolstered my very strongly held belief: Never trust any corporation!

Anyway, the bottom line is (because that is what increasingly everybody cares about these days ~~sigh~~) this techno-thriller will not only whet your hunger for suspense, action and thrill, but also provide a little food for your post-dinner thoughts.
I should now be onto another book that I have been putting off for almost a decade now (yes, decade, that was not a typo!) Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (and its revised version Brave New World Revisited).  Already put a hold at library, can't wait to get my hands on them, am looking forward to enjoying these books.

More suggestions for a good read are most welcome.

P.S.: If you want to enjoy the novel as much as I did, then don't read any revealing reviews, esp. Wikipedia. Read'em after you are done with the novel.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Is Good Overrated?

Why is it that good people (and nation) are always hurt and under constant wrath from mother nature, while the nations of terrorists enjoy almost no natural calamities. As if that were not enough, the terrorist-harboring nations are geographically well endowed by mother nature herself with a terrain that makes it difficult to stop anti-social activities from taking place.
I don't expressly wish evil on anyone (God be my witness here), but this is something I ponder on a every too often.  Won't the world be a little better place to live (and die) in if these calamities were to be geographically shifted a bit?  Or is there a supreme power sitting somewhere architecting hideously evil plans to unleash utter chaos? I don't know; but increasingly I am gravitating into believing that!  Or is it that "Good" is just overrated and misinterpreted? Just too many (useless?) questions ~~sigh~~ Mother Nature, I truly fail to understand your cryptic ways.
Over the years, watching white waters gush out from waterfalls and dam openings have given me good enough of an idea the unforgiving power water wields.  But watching the waters from the ocean effortlessly wash away everything in its path for kilometers as if the structures were made of mere paper, is indeed a very humbling experience.
Japan is called the 'Land Of The Rising Sun' for a good reason, I think; a nation that rose to excellence from ashes of atomic bombings speaks for by itself.  It will rise from this destruction too.  For, I believe, the country has the right kind of very strong fundamentals, at the very least better than the most (Western!) nations. One of the few nations I have almost unconditional respect for (apparently, despite some of their perceived social deficiencies, of which, frankly, I have no firsthand knowledge).
My condolences to Japanese and sincere wishes to the affected ones.
I pray for the strength for people who have lost their loved ones.

P.S. I find it enraging and utterly disturbing at the same time to see that while Nippons are facing devastating circumstances, hordes of people too worried about who will win the next cricket world cup (which, just so you know, has already been rigged and fixed!).  Well, nothing that you can do about it by not watching cricket, but then doesn't it also apply to cribbing about performances of highly dysfunctional and irritating and overrated and over-pampered and over-paid and under-performing Indian cricket team?  And yes, I have all the friggin' right to say so because it is my and other tax-payers' hard earned money that is being wasted on such infidels, which clearly could have been put to better use!  BTW, same was the sad state of affairs when destruction struck home in the form of Kargil War in 1999. So why am I surprised and why should I expect any different this time, esp. when it is not even affecting our nation in any way? Not that I claim to be better than such massed, but this is truly disturbing and disgusting :(

[0] Photos: a glimpse of devastation in Japan
[1] Video: Tsunami washing out the landscape
[2] Kargil War

----- edit Tue 15-Mar-2011 -----
As much as I am impressed with Japanese discipline (and this might seem as an out-of-the-context update, but wait while you tread along) and have heard many a stories about high moral standards most Japanese live up to (from bizarre to almost legend-like), this is the first time I am hearing a very tangible story in a blog: There is no loot whatsoever during this disastrous natural calamity. And to top it off, contrary to Western Culture, businessmen have started offering their services for a discounts!  I had read in Sony's co-founder, Akio Morita's, book Made In Japan, (a strongly recommended read) that the difference in salary between the top-most level executive and lowest workhorse is not as marked as in Western nations and in troubled times execs take pay cuts before they have to fire even a single employee for financial reasons.  But people offering services for discount, man that impresses me like nothing else! Example of true patriotism and pride-for-nation by action, not mere words!
Another touching story: Apple's Role in Japan. I'm sure this has very-very little to do with Cupertino's Apple itself (for the fear of taking away credit for their good deed) and all to do with the high-level Apple execs in Japan (who, I suspect) are pushing for this kind of unusual support.  This is purely a speculation, but a well founded one, I bet you would agree. They might even be shelling out $$$s from their own pockets (for I strongly believe that the eternally-hungry-for-more West would NEVER want to support, the Orientals, for free!), we might never know the truth! For Japanese would never tell us! True to their moral code!
I bow to thee ~~~bowing so low in utmost respect that my back almost hurts~~~
Upholding the true 'Bushido' spirit, as I learned at my Karate dojo  (and continually reinforced in practice at home in the form of "being honest" and remaining "humane", even when nobody is watching over!) Of course there is flip side to every coin, but this is outright impressive.
In a nutshell, I guess this stems from the fact that Orientals' are more community-centric while the West teaches people to be more individually-centered.