He is back mister!
He is back mister!
It is that time of the day, time for mimosas. Not a big fan of the bubbly [“Studies show it is fattening, Mary…”] both girls settle for wide range of non alcoholic, but equally effective fried assortment associated with a southern breakfast. Start with lightly browned hash browns. The key is a hot griddle. Over easy eggs. Coffee, Toast, grits. Mary chooses sizzling strips of bacon while Jip [ Her real name is Josephine. I know! ] opts for some smoked ham. They round it off with tall sweating glasses of Diet Coke and some intensely green looking rocket salad in huge bowls that dominate the table.
Outwardly calm, they are waiting for the server [Hi! I am Matt! I’ll be your server this morning. what would you like? Have a nice breakfast y’all!] to leave before they burst into words almost at the same time. “I had such a hard time waking up today” and “What nice sleeping-in weather”. It is overcast conditions, will likely rain in the afternoon. Who can predict nowadays. The food will wake them up. And of course, the gossip about last night.
Jip draws first blood, “Did he pay for the dinner, or did y’all split?”. Mary says they split as she butters her toast. Jip opts for a vague “Tell me everything” next, in hopes of not having to talk for sometime, so she can eat. Mary does not want herself to be too eager, even in front of her bff, so she takes a deep, thoughtful breath before she begins: “I did not even go home last night!”. Some salad is eaten as this piece of information is assimilated, slowly.
“Nothing like that Jippy. You’re wicked. ha ha ha… We just ended up spending the night around downtown, trawling bars and walking around. So I dropped him at his place, and just came here. Did you not notice the bags under my eyes??” says Mary, pointing to her uniformly made up face. The “Tell me more” comes out garbled because of the toast.
“We ate at this asian fusion place. What amazing food! Super light, melt-in-the-mouth meats. I barely ate though. Gotta maintain this lissome figure!” she tittered as she rubbed her washboard belly. “Not that I had to work hard at not eating. We were constantly talking.”
“Did you think he was funny? John thinks Max is hilarious. I want your opinion. ” Jip checks he phone quickly for messages from John as she says this.
“Funny? Not really” Mary laughs politely behind her napkin. “I mean he made jokes, I guess I laughed.”
The food is almost gone. Matt the server comes around with the check [“Split it please! thanks”].
Jip wants to skip classes and go sit near in the coffee shop in their college building to discuss the more intimate details of Mary and Max’s adventures last night. This is the second match she has made and she feels good about this one. She can read Mary better than anyone else. “Do you think you guys will go out again? Did you feel it ?”
Mary’s phone starts buzzing. She lets it buzz for a few more times, an almost superhuman effort showing no signs on her face.
“Oh hey. Awake so soon? yeah, I was on my way to class. Physics 2”
“Ummhmmm… Yeah. ha ha ha ha ha! stop it”
“wait, let me check”
She takes out some 5$ bills, pays for both. ‘my turn’ she mouths. Jip puts her wallet away.
“Yeah, sure. I can do lunch. I am already starving, gotta go to class now though”
She winks at Jip, nodding her head in the direction of the roof-top cafe in the chemistry building. Jip smiles at her, her green eyes twinkling with anticipation.
“I’ll see you soon Max. Bye”
The girls walk out the breakfast place into the bright sunshine as the sun breaks through. There is no one around to hear her when Jip shouts aloud “He said what!?? “
Old Man’s War, By John Scalzi
All the reviews are excellent, they call it an extraordinary debut and an immensely original, fun read. All true. My impression from this book was that it struck a good balance between light reading and nuanced, well thought out SciFi. With equal amounts of believable Sci and entertaining Fi
The plot is simple, it is the future and an entity call the Colonial Defense Forces provides security to the colonists from Earth occupying other planets, simply because the Real Estate race in the universe is fierce and all the species are fighting hard. CDF hires only people above the age of 75 though, hence the title. Presumably, they give the recruits their youth back. Our Hero is an extraordinarily gifted fellow, excelling at everything through the dint of common sense. A couple of interesting twists make it a nice read while the overall story follows a predictably comfortable plot with some interesting takes on war, aliens and other issues.
If you happen to come across a copy, I would recommend you read this one. It is good.
He is walking down the road. Vaguely remembers how he got here but that does not really seem important right now. Doesn’t really know where he is. He tries asking people around him, where am I? what am I doing here? All he knows is that he wants to go to the beach! His odd accent does not sit well with the local dialect. They all stare at him, what a freak. Look at his clothes even! Who wears a sweater vest in this weather? He has tried to talk to whoever he meets, mostly to ask directions. The roads here are like a maze and he has no idea how to get anywhere. He finds it difficult to remember all the roads merging or splitting, all the turns and is relying heavily on hope and optimism to stay on track. Not that he knows what that is either. He has been told [by whom? He does not remember anymore again, seems unimportant to remember] to follow the shadows in the morning and the sun in the evening. Simple instructions. What time is it? he asks an old guy with longish hair in a hammock between the trees. Siesta baby, do not shout please the guy shouts back.
He keeps walking. Sometimes the local response to his mumbling questions are helpful… Like Vidalo [was that her name? Virula? aah, whatever. Vi] last week. Call me Vi, its easier, she told him. You don’t know what you doing here? Do you think anybody does? That shut him up for a while. Then he thought, wait… that didn’t really answer my question. I may not know where I am, but I sure know where I am going he says. Oh, and where is that? counters Vi, with a knowing smile. That smile, he remembers that smug smile. Not condescending, but how to describe it.. umm… the slightly upturned lips, eyes a-twinkle…no no… never mind. He prefers to stick to smug for the lack of a better description. He told her he was going to the beach. That was his goal in life. Why the beach? They say it is pretty, he trotted out his usual argument. It will be the best experience of my life! She looked at him again, that smile. Which way are you going said Vi, pointing to the three way fork in front. Umm… Would you be able to tell me which way is the beach? Vi … who do you think I am, a geographer? He was unsure of what to say then, already a little off balance by the whole experience. Why would you need to be a geographer to know that? Maybe a cartographer, but that is absurd too.. Do you not know, you know, just like that? Vi, hands on hips, turned to him: Do you know where it is, just like that? As she left him at the next intersection she shouted in her funny basso voice, by the way, I am a photographer…
He can feel a change in the wind. Despite the byzantine roadways he has managed to keep a somewhat westerly path. Is this the beach? Hey there kiddo, can you tell me where… umm.. wait. If you had to go to the beach which way will you go? Kid looks at him, why you wanna go to the beach for? Never mind, I don’t care. I am going there myself. Gotta make a few stops first, come along. You gotta tell me why you want to go there though. He smiles. Finally, someone to lead him up to the beach itself. It must be close. That is the change in the smell. Word of warning, do not breathe in too deeply here, this chemical factory spews bad things in the air says the kid. False start then, but no matter. Surely the holy grail is within reach. I am going to the beach, because that is my goal in life. to have a nice evening out, watch the sun go down says he. I have never experienced that, and by all accounts, it will be my life’s fulfillment. The kid skips along, probably has no idea about life or stuff like that. Kid looks up, says so you don’t got a girlfriend? No family? Isnt that supposed to be life’s fulfillment, happiness and all? What about these relationships in life? Are you going to marry the beach? Damn kids these days. He is stumped again. By now he has gotten used to this feeling, of feeling confident about his motives and actions one minute, and completely questioning his motives the next.
He nervously runs his hands through his thinning hair, the beach will enrich my life. That will broaden my horizons, make me prepared to take on life and as they say from where I come from, milk the tits of life to the fullest. He sniggers at the puerile joke while the kid solemnly walks on, how childish. Grow up dude. The kid has these old sandals on. they make a curious slapping sound, every other step. Flap….Flap…Flap… Hey! I asked a question… Huh? sorry, I was thinking about something my old man once said. never you mind, what was the question again? The kid asked, with exaggerated tones, What do you plan to do after the beach? He looks at the kid. Can we not talk about the beach, please? Let me enjoy this scenery, I have never seen a chemical factory before… A few minutes of silence later, he feels compelled to make conversation again. What do you do, kid? The kid with his standard I’ve-had-it-up-to-here face says, what do you think? I go to school. Then fuck around a bit, like now. What do you care anyway? Silence again. I quite like the beach, I go there sometimes with my school mates. It is pretty like they say, sometimes, the kid seems to have let his guard down for a minute. Do you live around here? He asks. Yeah man, just around the corner there. I dont want to go home right now though. Buy me a popsicle will you? That probably lifts the spirits of the kid, but the expression of studied exasperation with the world stays glued on. The popsicle girl has very odd flavors [and many of them] on offer. He cannot pass on trying the Tibetan Areca-nut and the kid settles for guava-coffee. The nondescript popsicle girl looks on as they taste their lollys and asudden she reminds him of Flora.
He saw many people on the road in the last few days, but no one stands out like Flora. Why do you have a girl’s name was the first question he asked when told the name. Flora was not bothered by that all, he kept driving. A lift until next town on this odd looking almost DIY jalopy was a god send. Walking through the fields was a bit boring, not to mention tiring. I made it all by myself you know, from scratch! You dont get to do that by going to the beach you know. Whoa whoa, who told you that? how did you know where I am going? It felt like an utter invasion of privacy, this was his most treasured piece of memory, that was most of what knew, where to go. How did this young man with no hair on his head and odd socks know about his life? Flora continued, Bah. Everyone here goes to the beach. They all say it is the best thing in the world. Not really boss… Smell my perfume. Its made from Himalayan palm trees. Still better than your precious beach, said Flora.
He did not know what Himalayan or palm was, not in the local patois at least. The smell did fit the word perfectly though, he remembers even today. He tries to match the words he learned over the last few days to the smell of the shrubs lining the road. Nothing fits “Palm” nor “Himalayan”. Something exotic then, that is what Flora meant. Yeah. Flora would not stop talking though. This beach you say, is the best thing yada yada, how do you know other things are not just as good. you have not tried them. He is stumped for a minute there. Well, you cannot do everything. You gotta make your choices as they are presented to you, go ahead with best option. Flora ploughs on, nothing like a glass of cold water at the end of the day. Beach is ok for some (wink wink) fun times, but ultimately you gotta come home man. Eat up, be merry, why spoil that time by smelling smelly sea-water? He remembers a fire engine blaring the annoying siren behind them, but Flora drives on, oblivious. All the other cars lined up the side of the road, waiting for the fire truck to pass. Look at all these idiots, their cars breaking down. You should build your own cars stupid beach goers. I hope you are not one of them man, just do something else, not the beach. This Flora was one piece of work. He wasnt sure he felt happy or sad leaving Flora. Ok bye, mumbles the kid. Go on from here, straight down. Stop before you drown. He is so happy to get straight advice for once that he forgets the girl [pouting at the lack of a tip] and stumbles along the path, absently licking at his dessert. The kid winks at the girl and runs away. He could care less, he can hear the surf by now.
He is here. It is almost sunset time. The waves lap at the sandy shore, there is no one there, he is alone with the sea. His hands sticky from the popsicle, face prickly from the salty breeze, he sits on a dune. Little eucalyptus needles create a cushion of spiny yet oddly comfortable combination with the sand. Nothing registers though, he is focused on trying to drink in this beach scene with his eyes only, remember it for later. The last few days of his life are the only other memories he has, surreal memories that make little sense if he thinks about it. He does not. Why? What happened before, whats going to happen now? He is afraid to ask, to dwell on it. Is this as good as I expected, was this what I really wanted? Maybe it is, but what if it is not? No, stop thinking. Just observe, enjoy the scenery. Surely it is pretty, yes? Look at those blue crabs there, burrowing under the wet sand just near where the waves break, he tries to distract himself. Each time they manage to get out, catch something, and run back in when the next wave comes and obliterates their little cave. He feels like there is a lesson to be learnt here, but he is afraid to analyse the situation. The shadows grow longer, he feels a little drowsy. The crab cycle is riveting though and he manages to keep sleep at bay, watching the fascinating circle repeating itself. Cave out. Run. Run. Flat. Again. Rinse, lather, repeat… a phrase from that unknown past of his floats around his head. The words float around his head, like satellites.
He glances over the sandy expanse of the beach, his eyes drawn towards this one giant crab. Somehow, this one guy builds very intricate structures. He is the master of time itself, it seems. Within the short amount of time, between waves, he builds fantastical sand-castles. Some of them are strong enough to withstand a couple of weak waves even. Each time, as the last one fades away in the water, he builds even more intense houses. No, these aren’t houses, these are homes. They belong to the crab. he adorns each house with custom fixtures, to woo girl crabs. He has a distinctive style, and he improves it with each iteration. Has to start from scratch every time though. Now he brings in some color into the home. To match the blue pincers, there is some blue ribbon. Where did he get that!? The sea brings him stuff now. It is relentless though, No matter what the crab builds it has to go down. Now some red plastic scraps, to offset the blue. Some sea weed too. This can go on forever… Rinse-Lather-Repeat. Lather rigorously, repeat.
He jerks awake, tired bloodshot grey eyes reflecting the pretty pinks and oranges of the sunset suddenly alert. What was that throaty shout he heard from behind those palm fronds? A startled flock of small birds flaps their way awkwardly out of the trees. A figure emerges, that fragrance! This person looks at him for a minute. comes forward, and sits beside him. He is mildly upset. What am I supposed to do now? Do I talk? What do I talk about? Whats the social protocol for someone randomly sitting beside you on a beach? The initial moment is gone and now he is even more awkward to say anything. They just sit there, in silence. He sneaks a peek at the face next to him. The only thing he can read from it is the unreadably faint smile. Nothing on that face, blank. Calm. Except for a faint smile. He looks back at the sun. This time, he ignores what he sees and tries to drink in the person next to him by listening, smelling, feeling. Slowly, he begins to collect scraps of signals. Light breathing, a faint fragrance [Himalayan? maybe not] and other indescribable things. He feels it, cannot enunciate it. Nobody speaks.
The sun sets, night falls. Nobody speaks. He is parched, but afraid to say anything or even clear his throat. Hesitant to break the moment, like he is standing in a room filled with glass figurines. The slightest movement will cause everything to shatter. He has built a picture of the person next to him, with just that one glance and the silent absorption. He has forgotten the beach, the crabs everything. He steals another glance and a pair of eyes meet his. Coal black, pupils dilated in the faint twilight. A hand extends a canteen of water. He takes a swill savoring the sweet water. Thanks! he says, but there is no one to hear it. He is alone. Undisturbed sand all around him, no traces of anyone being there, except for maybe a faint fragrance… Too faint. A bird calls in the gloom, hurrying to its nest. He looks out to the waves, even the crabs are gone. He lays on his back and closes his eyes. Lips turn up, that smile again. Smug? Knowing. Rinse, lather, repeat.
It is morning, the sun rises behind him.
I live in an area of town called ‘Atlantic Station’ [“Forward Living!”] which is a neighborhood reclaimed from a fallow industrial locality around the original Amtrak station. There is still a rudimentary station behind there somewhere, you can see glimpses of the track and on a cold night you might hear the train whistling loudly to keep the train bogeyman away.
Yesterday, I decided to see if there was a way to get onto the tracks and see what it is like around there. i never have spent any time in the last couple of years [almost] here in the US trying to explore places around town, especially ones that have fences and clearly discourage exploring. After going around all of Atlantic Station trying to find a way in and finding that all the areas were either properly fenced in or choked with inaccessible shrubbery, I had almost given up when I saw a part of the fence under a bridge had given way. Up I went, and there I was, on the tracks. Nothing much different from the train tracks I had seen before [I did not know what difference I expected to see…] except for one striking thing. The fence had rendered this whole area completely devoid, uninhabited. Totes sketch.
The title of this post is a little misleading. It was not a complete wasteland. After all it is used by the trains to commute at least twice a day. The wasteland refers to a complete absence of humans, or even traces of living in. No trash, just a uniform base of the typical rock you find only near tracks. These rocks were interspersed with small bits of leftover iron pieces, oddly shaped. Maybe broken off pieces from the things used to hold the tracks in place.
While one side of the tracks is Atlantic Station, the other side has not been gentrified and still bears the half rotten carcasses of old old warehouses. Some of them still trying to function, I saw cars in the parking lots so I must say half dead, not all carcass. There was a fence on that side too, there wasn’t much exploring I could do there either. After walking for a couple of hundred yards towards the station I saw that one warehouse had neglected to erect a fence, relying instead on fickle shrubbery that left copious gaps. I turned around to see if I could see any traces of humanity, and all I saw was one guy walking down the tracks, in the opposite direction from me, far off in the distance behind me. Nothing in front, nothing near the warehouse. I walked towards it.
The doors were nailed shut, and all I had access to was the loading dock on this end. There was an oddly domestic scene here. A circle of cinder blocks around a fairly new and expensive looking electric air heater, the cord to which was lying on the ground with no outlet in sight. On one corner of the dock was a nice little portable barbecue grill. There was what looked like a clothes-line; without any clothes there though. The whole place was dusty, didn’t look like it had been used in a while, still fairly cleaner than the surroundings. I didn’t touch anything to see if it was working, it felt like a violation of privacy.
Moving on, I kept walking towards the station. I still couldn’t see it around the bend but I was sure it was in that direction, just under a mile away. When I reached the end of Atlantic station on one side I saw another abandoned looking mill on that side, this one again with access, no fence. It was a lumber yard: sprawling, old, rusted. Didn’t see many signs of people around, except a few clothes drying on some lines, but there were some new-ish looking keep out signs, and I didn’t push my luck. Moved onwards on the tracks.
After about 40 minutes of seeing the man behind me going off in the other direction, I saw my first human, as the station came into view. There was guy on a golf cart, lugging a few old timey carts full of luggage. This was the first time I felt that somehow they would ask me leave. but the guy just cautioned me, Be careful! the train is coming soon… He was least bothered by my presence. Emboldened, I walked down the station. Very unlike the raised platforms of India, these platforms are flush on the ground, just a tiny sliver of paved tar between the tracks. A lonely sign timidly proclaimed ATLANTA, with two arrows in opposite directions showing WASHINGTON DC on one side and NEW ORLEANS on another. I could see a portly guy in a suit hurrying towards me, gesticulating mildly. Very reminiscent of the navy blazer clad station masters in India. He asked me if I was supposed to be there… You gonna get me fired man! this is federal property, Its a federal crime to be here without authorization! I told him I was lost, What was the closest way to get off the tracks? He looked incredulous, and his sharp mind went to the obvious flaw in my story in a flash, How did you get lost! you didn’t realize you were walking between tracks? A veritable Sherlock. So he asks the luggage guy, how did I get past him? The luggage guy gave him a very practiced not-my-job look. I had already scoped out an alternate quick exit on my way over, and I said I can just go down to that street over there, its just down a hill. I guess he was just relieved I would get off the property. Down the hill I went, onto the road, circled back up to the railway line near my house, crossed over instantly went from being a near felon to a respectable citizen of a gentrified locality.
The isolation and sort of preserved desolation of the tracks and the surrounding areas was not that fascinating but was indeed very interesting in a way. There must so many areas like this through out the country where people aren’t allowed to enter, and it is in the middle of the city, abandoned. Nobody knows of it nobody wants to and nobody probably can. Nothing much grows there, nothing much lives. Just emptiness, punctuated by the occasional train whistle.
Someone, by Alice McDermott
A change from my usual reviews of SciFi of SFF, this is a short novel about a life, set in Brooklyn. We follow the entire life of Marie, an average girl, from the time she is a 7 year ild, through an awkward puberty, to falling to love, having kids and then dying…
The writing is simple, and elegant. Unobtrusive. Marie has a eye for details, and describes the most innocous of things to give you a very real, vivid picture of her life. She is however, like most of us, clueless about the meaning of any of these details. She sort of stumbles through life, painting a picture for us along the way.
It is like sitting with her, on the couch, with a photo album in her lap. she describes her life more or less chronologically, but often jumbles up the order, interspersing the narrative with excerpts from the past or the present. The result is a beautifully poignant portrait of a woman, going through life in her own little way. A powerful package of a story, that without saying much, talks about a whole life, the complete existence of Someone.
A candle. Fresh, virgin, unused. Nothing wrong with it, nothing special either. It just is. One day – a spark of of inspiration perhaps – it is needed to illuminate the patio. Lets do this.
There is a glass hurricane-shade for protection. Simple, adequate, passively does its job.
First day, storm! The blustery squall rages in the darkness. The flame burns, quietly raging on. Illuminates. The shade looks on, not interfering, letting things stand, shading.
Next day. Sometime after the storm, in the crepuscular light of the grey morning, the flame went out. Something, someone, broke the shade. Who? What? The candle and the shade were too busy passively letting things be. The flame saw, but…
Now the candle is like before. Burnt, wiser. Awaiting another shade. It is capable of flaming up from time to time if it heats up enough, but the wind blows out the flame instantly, leaving the scattered carcass of wispy smoke…
Here I can think of two important questions:
What next? Well, the candle needs a shade, but the flame is still independent of that, in a way. The shade was the coming together of some sand an artisan and some money, almost free of any influence of the candle. Though, the flame and the darkness are the crux, they bring the ingredients together. It has happened before, will happen again, when the conditions align again.
Why did the shade break?
April 12 2014
1 Pawn of Prophecy
2 Queen of Sorcery
3 Magician’s Gambit
4 Castle of Wizardry
5 Enchanters’ End Game
Chanced upon this slightly older gem. Starts off simplistic, young boy and a band of adventurers caught up in an old prophecy which leads them across the world which is modelled after the fantasy favourite ‘medieval england’ theme. Super cliche. The story follows mostly expected and predictable lines. Each individual novel is short and action packed.
The seductive part of the whole series is that somehow it sucks you in. There are small twists and turns as you go deeper in the story that keep you hooked. deviations from the cliche plotline. In the end, it is
the simple fast paced reading from the point of view of a young stubborn hero [and sometimes heroine] who do not understand much of what is going on but play crucial roles in the story results in a few hours well spent.
no wonder this guy was #1 on the best seller charts.
Back to my very favourite-estestest author in recent years, Mr Sanderson.
After penning many trilogies [mistborn, Rithmatist, Steelheart] and one off books [Elantris, Warbreaker] that are excellent in their own right, he has turned his eye to his magnum opus, a 10 book series, the stormlight archive.
I just read book two, so most of my thoughts are from there.
All in all, the series so far combines all the brilliant sanderson qualities we have come to admire, gripping pace, mind-blowing plot twists, strong commentary on social hierarchies, and best of all, insanely innovative and creative magic systems. I wont even attempt to detail all the magicks described in the Stormlight archive, there are many small things that make up a cogent whole.
You may not be aware, but almost all of sanderson’s works are all set in the same universe, the Cosmere. this is not apparent, as ll worlds have wildly different physics and magicks, but the underlying thread revealing the existence of the cosmere is becoming apparent in the stormlight archive. This is mostly important and exciting for sanderson fans, who have devoured all his books [written at a ferocious pace, all books since 2004] .
Go check out the extensive wikis that these books have spawned for reviews [and spoilers] and you will see for yourself the intense fandom that has evolved in response to some very finely written extremely well thought out books. [one of the best wikis is called Coppermind]
I really cannot recommend these books highly enough, especially to SFF fans. The sprawling story has just begun, with the first book starting slowly, setting the stage for what seems to be an involved conflict set in a crumbling world. The second books ramps it up to a crushing pace with no respite and seat-gripping action. Reminiscent of the heady days of the first few books of the Wheel of time, this one promises to be just as big.
Yet another fantasy book. does it go down the same beaten path? I think not.
Rothfuss writes more in the GRR martin style of meandering, history type writing. However, where GRRM tries to push the envelop on linguistic rules like character development and story linearity often devolving into boredom, Rothfuss maintains your interest throughout.
Marrying the cliches of the genre, an unknown magical genre, an orphan seeking vengeance, a mysterious barman telling the stories of his storied past, to innovative new ideas, rothfuss manages to bring about a good mix of a solid story line with many interesting tangential sub-plots.
The crux of the matter is though, that the protagonist here is niether warrior nor sorceror [yet] , he is just supremely, even supernaturally intelligent. We start with the barman recounting his tales, presumably his stories take 3 days to tell, hence the 3 books.
In this, the first day, we follow the exploits of a boy who grows up with a performing circus, learning all manner of trades and acting techniques. Armed with native intelligence and some training from an alchemist, he manages to get into The University, the city cum learning center at the heart of the country.
We follow his exploits in the university as he goes from bad luck to bad luck, navigating the complex world full of spiteful aristocrats, beautiful but unfathomable women, close friends and quirky professors. All this in a fantasy background
rothfuss maintains interest throughout, piquing interest in the sequel, which I am due to read in the next few weeks.