This is my second official interview as such. And this time the man is Samit Basu, novelist, screenwriter, writer of comics and local monster, talking about his latest book Turbulence and writing among other things.
Snippets of the interview:
You’ve been part of quite a number of anthologies and collaborations. Which one was the best experience?
Collaborations – I co-wrote a comic, or graphic novel if you prefer, with Mike Carey, who is a writer I’ve idolized since I first started reading comics. If you haven’t read his Lucifer comics or his Felix Castor books, do so at once. For someone at that level, he was both incredibly generous as a collaborator and surprisingly nice as a person. The comic is called Untouchable, it’s a turn-of-the-century romance/horror story about a young Anglo-Indian boy’s twisted relationship with a rakshasi. It’s set in India and England, and starts this doomed couple, both outcasts, one caught between the different worlds of his parents, another caught between different eras and worlds.
Anthology wise, Electric Feather, the anthology of erotic stories edited by Ruchir Joshi. I wrote a story about a bunch of twentysomethings going back to Cal for a wedding and getting it on afterwards. It was lovely, because I got to write a kind of story I wouldn’t have done otherwise, have a great deal of fun, and people responded strongly – most people absolutely loved it, and others were deeply offended, and both responses pleased me greatly.
If you could be one of your superheroes, which one would you be?
Tia. I love her power, the ability to duplicate yourself and therefore essentially never have to make a choice again, because now you can live several lives and experience so many more things.
One book that you’d bequeath to your favorite niece/nephew.
I’d be a fairly sad uncle if I gave my favourite niece/nephew only one book. Lots and lots and lots of really good books. Do I have to bequeath them? That seems to involve dying. Must I die now?
One writer that seriously scrambled your brains with his/her dangerous and exciting ideas.
(This review might contain some spoilers, but hey, where have you been if you’ve not read this one already?)
I’ve always had mixed feelings about the Inheritance series books. On one hand, I greatly admire the fact that Paolini was a young teenager when he started out and created a commendable piece of work in fantasy fiction, but at one hand he shows a complete lack of effort to improve his writing style and storytelling techniques.
In the third, and not the final book of the Inheritance Cycle, Paolini continues where the second book Eldest left off. The battle of Burning Plains has come to an end and Eragon and his cousin Roran are out to rescue Roran’s beloved Katrina from the clutches of the Ra’zac- a deadly treacherous beast under Galbatorix’s command who were also responsible for killing their father Garrow and ruining their lives in Carvahall.
During their rescue mission, Eragon comes across Sloan, Katrina’s father and the butcher who had betrayed them to the Ra’zac for his daughter. Here Eragon faces a moral dilemma as to when he feels he should kill Sloan for the murders he had caused but at the same time doesn’t want to become a law unto himself. Paolini meanders for a good 100 pages for this quandary and brings in an unnecessary detour in the story.
The story progresses to show Roran fighting with the Varden, having to proving his worth again and again before he can lead an army under his command. Meanwhile Eragon has another face-off with Murtagh his half brother and Thorn; returns to the Beor Mountains for the election and coronation of the new Dwarf King following which he and Saphira fly out to Ellesmera to meet their mentors, the old Rider Oromis and his dragon Glaedr.
Here Eragon learns that Murtagh and he have the same mother, but Brom was Eargon’s father while Murtagh is the son of Morzan, the evil Rider who had betrayed the Riders to Galbatorix. They also discover the secret for Galbatorix’s ever increasing power and the source of energy behind it.
Armed with that knowledge they fly back to join the Varden in their siege of Feinster and from thereon we hope and wait for the fourth book to release and see if Galbatorix will ever be slain by our last free Dragon Rider.
At places Paolini shows a maturity to his characters and depth to his story that is often hard to find in many better fantasy series. But at the same time, he still seems to not have learned the art of lucid and tight prose. He goes on to waste pages on plotlines that hardly seem relevant to the plot and more like fillers in a badly orchestrated stage act.
While he has an interesting host of characters, sometimes they fall flat. For instance, Roran has got to be one of the most monotonous and lackluster character in the history of fantasy fiction. Despite being the only human without any strain of magic in him to be a prominent warrior his struggles, his interactions with Eragon, his undying love for Katrina and his unwavering loyalty to the Varden, show only a drab doggedness rather than valor or any heroic trait. There are many pages depicting battles in which Roran was involved, and if the only excuse for those many chapters are to show what a brave and courageous leader Roran can be, then it again confirms the fact that Paolini needs to sharpen his writing.
It is for such unwarranted and unwanted rambling and extension that Paolini chose to write another book in what was supposed to be a trilogy and disappointed a large part of his audience. He has mentioned that he wanted to explore the moral quandaries that Eragon faced, but writing a whole new book for the series hardly seems like a wise recourse. As the character of Eragon develops and comes closer to fulfilling his ambition to slay Galbatorix, there will be many places where he will have to put his judgment, his character, his mind, his body, heart and soul to test. The question here is not of exploring the character through pages and pages, but how to portray it with effective lucid writing. What a better writer could have achieved in 300 pages, Paolini takes 738 pages.
Though I didn’t outright dislike this book, I was disappointed with it. I was disappointed at how it began, such that anyone who’s not read Eldest will hardly be in a position to understand all the nuances in the book. I was dissatisfied with how he managed the plot, the characters and the flow of the story. There were many parts which I thought were too contrived or shoddily thought out, but let’s not reveal all here. Last but not least, I was upset with the note on which it ended. It was like flat beer, to say the least. It doesn’t leave you with eager anticipation for the fourth book because you can’t wait to see what happens, but because as any fantasy fiction series nerd would attest, you can’t not read what happens in the series, no matter how bad it is.
Let’s just hope Paolini makes up for this with some brilliance in the fourth book.
The first in the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, Eragon is the story of a fifteen year old farm boy who discovers a dragon-egg and goes on to become a Dragon Rider. Dragon Riders used to be powerful elves and humans who helped maintain peace in Alagaesia (the fictional land where the series is set).
Eragon, our eponymous hero, is a poor farm boy who stumbles across a blue stone in the mountains and collects it, assuming it to be a precious stone that can buy his family some meat. That stone turns out to be a dragon egg and when it hatches, Eragon names the dragon Saphira. As anyone with a hidden pet would attest, hiding a dragon from your family is even more daunting a task. To add to his troubles, it so happens that this dragon egg was stolen from the Empire and the evil emperor Galbatorix has sent his evil creatures, the Ra’zac to find it. When his house is destroyed by the Ra’zac, Eragon flees the village with Saphira and the old storyteller Brom in order to save his village from further harm.
Thus begins Eragon’s journey into the world of magic, elves, dwarves, Varden (the rebel army against the empire) and a destiny that he’s fated to fulfill. Armed with an old sword bequeathed to him by Brom and a few magic spells, Eragon has to fight many evils of the powerful empire before learning that he’s the only free Dragon Rider in the entire empire and that in his hands rest the fate of whole Alagaesia.
It is clear that there are many derivations and influences in Paolini’s first work, but that doesn’t come in the way of this book being an entertaining read. Paolini might not be the most accomplished writer, or a very original one at that, but he does a good job balancing the various plot lines with his fantastic characters. Dragons are one of the most grand and exciting creatures in the pantheon of mythical beasts, and Paolini has created a great formula with the Dragon Rider concept. Plus with his assortment of elves, dwarves, Urgals and humans, he’s put up an ensemble that can rank with some of the most loved fantasy series.
For a first book, Eragon is really good. Now one can only wait and see if Eldest, the next in the series can match up with the first installment.
This one is my favorite book in the Gameworld Trilogy. And I absolutely love it. If I could, I’d wrap up my review here-This book is brilliant, go read it. But no, professional obligations require me to wax eloquent for longer, and I must admit, I like the prospects.
The Manticore’s Secret begins with the hush-hush arrival of Ravians back into the world and our hero Kirin trying to do good as the new Dark Lord. There’s chaos and confusion in the world, each race trying to seize control and set their grand plans of world domination into action. Basu plays upon the various conflicts while keeping the reading thoroughly entertained with his eccentric and smart heroes and heroines. If earlier there was the love triangle of Maya, Asvin and Kirin, now it has expanded into a love parallelogram. And if you count the villains in each sub-love-story, oh boy, it is delicious drama.
Basu introduces more plotlines and subtexts into the second installment, the best of them being Maya meeting the unwaba, who tells her about the gods playing with this world. You know all those times when you’ve had the feeling that the gods above are playing with your lives and treating it as a sitcom that they can manipulate according to their various whims? Well, Basu proves that to be the case in his tale, with the many powerful deities creating this Gameworld and each one trying to win it, by hook or crook. That has to be one of the most entertaining and pun-ny concepts I’ve come across in a long long time.
If you were delighted by his characters last time, this time you’d be overjoyed when you meet some more creatures of Basu’s mind. One of the most interesting one is Red, the shapeshifter. The many small battles fought between her various alter-egos will trouble and amuse you throughout the book. Better even are the names Basu gives her and her alter-egos. They help you imagine her in all her fictional glory. I think that’s one of the strong points for his characterizations- they are enormously helpful for people who have this compulsive visual imagination. And while most series, begin to start doing the “for the greater good” rigmarole, SB strays from the normal path and lets his characters make decisions that will work out for their good, with the greater good being an accidental positive outcome. And that is what makes them so much more relatable and more importantly, likeable.
All in all, a fabulous read. Go pick it up now. And after you’re done send it over to me. I’d like to re-read it.
Imagine all of your favorite myths and legends, fantasy series, science fiction pulp and the mish mash of all that and more is The Simoquin Prophecies. And a ruddy brilliant mash-up it is, brimming with puns and references and an underlying subtle current of humor that restrains it from becoming an outrageous parody of all its constituents.
First in the GameWorld trilogy, the book begins in the year of rebirth of the greatest rakshas Danh-Gem and the revival of another hero who will bring his downfall. That is a quite standard premise for most tales of fantasy fiction, we agree, but Basu makes this a much more interesting plot with his unexpected twists and a host of magical creatures and eccentric characters. The book has all the magical creatures ever explored in Greek, Egyptian, Hindu mythology (some characters and sub-plots straight off from our beloved Ramayan), and some are his own inventions. There’s the ravian Kirin, the good-looking prince Asvin and Maya, our feisty and sharp heroine who’s the daughter of one of the most powerful spell-binders Mantric. While the Chief Civilian of Kol, the most powerful city in the world, worries about the rising amount of magic in the world and increasing number of rakshas sightings, Mantric is busy in Bolvudis (oh, don’t you love such wordplay?) setting up the world’s first magical movie studio.
Thus, Asvin, Maya, Kirin and Spikes (a pashan), the Dagger(under the name of Amloki), a centauress Red Pearl, and a vaman Gaam set off for Bolvudis to meet Mantric. Much adventure and drama happens on this eventful journey and they come to a parting of ways with Kirin.
Where does Kirin’s path lead him and what further adventures do Asvin and Maya tackle? What happens to the love triangle of Asvin, Maya and Kirin? Well, to know all of this and get some more entertainment, you must go read this book.
Basu pulls off an amazing and delightful debut, bringing a first off fantasy genre novel in India that would appeal to those brought up on Star Wars and Harry Potter and those who grew up listening to Indian folk tales and legends. Basu wrote The Simoquin Prophecies when he was 22 and got it published when he was 23, making him India’s youngest author at the time. A much laudable feat, especially when you compare it with the ambiguous rise of Indian writers in English. His work might not be the most original, but at least it doesn’t show any signs of colonial burdens and hang-ups or any of the quick chick-lit types coming out in the market. Instead he gives you a story made up with elements from your favorites, adds his own charm and creativity and dishes out a book that will have you wanting to read the second one very very eagerly.
The Alchemist is a very simple book. It is also a very brilliant tale, a mesmerizing concoction of the many elements that make a great story- there’s passion, there’s love, there’s danger and adventure. But that alone doesn’t explain why the book has sole more than 65 million copies, why it has been lauded by critics, famous people, teenagers and adults alike, or why, after being first published in 1993 (English edition), it still sells as many copies.
The book’s message lies in its most famous line- “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” Now do you see the power behind the book?
Coelho takes your dreams and desires and gives you the hope, the power to believe and the faith that all that you wish will come to you. And it will come to you with the aid of the entire universe, nature and men conspiring with each other to help you fulfill your dreams. Such promises, or the fulfillment of some such in a story can seem immensely attractive. And that is what makes the book such a huge success.
It is in essence a self help book, told beautifully through the story of an Andulasian shepherd who goes on to unravel his destiny and find his treasure studying signs that nature and fate throws at him. Isn’t that how all of our lives run- on signs and indications, on risks and opportunities, on means and ends? And what do we all want while we chase our dreams- a little bit of help and hope. And this book gives you exactly that.
Critics and cynics alike will call this a novel chasing lofty fairytale ideas, but what is life if not chasing fairytale ideas? Optimists and dreamers would definitely love this book. So drop the cynicism and pick up this book for a thrilling journey with Santiago and his dreams.