Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti is a Nebula and Hugo Award winning novella and below review covers only the first installment of an ongoing series. An ambitious Wakandan-ish girl, also the very first person from her tribe to leave the planet, is left with the heavy responsibility of universal peace as some Romulans– ish race butcher her Starship,  which was on its way to Oomza University – this story’s StarFleet Academy.

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One is often insecure about his stand when it comes to registering his like or dislike towards a culturally or ethnically diverse work; which often leads to a personally unjust review, under peer pressure or the fear of being branded by the adjectives for intolerance, non progressiveness and their kins. I am unable to get my head around this old school racism or sectarianism, that forms the basic framework of Binti (also some how limited to protagonist’s particular tribe), considering the extremely diverse and pluralistic Intergalactic society, story’s universe is based on.

Okorafor is a really good writer, and I heavily appreciate the prose which consorted well with tribal girl narrative, and the non pretentious word/world/culture building; but as far as science fiction is considered, story is solid meh.

From a whovian perspective, the philosophy of Binti would be something like this – Hey, I can’t accept Martha Jones, but Sontarans are cool.

 

But, Afrotourism? Really?

also,

Bint(d)i- the red dot that decorates an average Indian lady’s forehead.

Venus on the Half-Shell by Kilger Trout

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Kilger Trout is a familiar name among Vonnegut fans, the fictional sci fi writer whose existence every reader secretly wished and googled for. Though Farmer’s version made Vonnegut cross, who according to internet overstatement legends, had dismissed the novel as a fakers drivel (mostly coz of creator ambiguity, which was later cleared by a by-line), I found it pretty fab.

This book is weird, comical, extremely absurd, reference filled and absolutely staggering. I was enraptured from the very introduction itself, and found it a worthy source(successor) material for that brief Trout plot from God Bless You Mr. Rosewater. Novel follows facetious accounts of Simon Wagstaff in his quest for “definitive answer to the most important question” (which I believe Douglas Adamas later payed homage to), with a peculiar Scheckley like sci fi humour. For a book that is propelled by its absurdness, it was delightfully scientific and philosophical at parts. Well, after fist few chapters fun seemed to dwindle and absurdity went a large, making me a bit Vonnegut-ish, only to have it compensated in long run.

rick-and-morty42Novel opened up with a Gunslinger like hero in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy scenario. Then on, it transcended into a series of Mindswap style adventures of our Space cowboy and his little Guardians of the Galaxy gang with Anubis the dog, Athena the owl, and his super hot alien robot girlfriend – Chworktap[anagram for Patchwork] (yes, arguments are invalid). There were tons of literary references during this loquacious honky-tonk, on which the novel hilariously craps on. Exploding Star creating a new religion, Titanic and Icarus Spaceship company, 2001 A Space Odessy conscious AI, even Westworld, Doctor Who Face of Boe feline society, Shaltoonian’s Assassins Creed, Hwang Ho for Millennium Falcon, Cowboy Bebop, Reichenbach falls and Sherlock Holmes with Ralf von Wau Wau are a few I had fun picking at. Oh and that uncanny resemblance between Sommers’ John Clayter series and Doctor Who porn parody.

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Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, figures

Venus on half shell is the Rick and Morty of sci-fi literature. It is like one of those day dream fantasy we devour as college sophomores and cringe on later in maturity. Anyway I found myself googling Jonathan Sommers III, Farmer’s Kilger Trout to fill the void left by this.

If you are weird and like weird things, this book is for you.

Mindsawp by Robert Sheckley

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Books like these are the reason I read.
Mindswap evoked a familiar, Lem or Douglas Adams feel, but this is one rare weird sci fi gem with a combination of meta realism and humour so unique of its own.

Marvin Flynn, a casual vacationer from hinterlands of Earth with innate small-town conservatism goes all wanderlust and decides to see the vastness of cosmos at minimal disposal of funds. He then Mindswaps with one Martian, a logically unsettling, but cheap process that allows individuals to swap minds with people light years away in mutual consent. Mindswap is basically Bester’s Jaunting without the body or a docile version of Matrix’s Agent Smith bodyswap or maybe little bloody Third Birthday possession.

But Marvin had to let go of the Martian body and swap along a series of near sorry situations all long the universe in bodies of various intelligent species, thanks to an Intergalactic body snatching criminal called Kraggosh. Meanwhile a stumblebum intergalactic detective ‘Urdrof’ with implacable will and utter self confidence is hunting Kraggosh, hoping Marvins body would break his protracted bad luck series of 158 lost cases so far.

“You forget that I am a detective,’ Urdorf said, smiling faintly. ‘I may have my troubles in finding criminals, but I have never experienced the slightest difficulty in finding victims”.

Marvin adventures includes talking eggs, poetic alien hermit who converse in sing-song fashion, intergalactic daily wage contract, Don Quixote references and acid trip reality benders. Previously referred Quixote fandom goes full swing in later chapters with totally absurd unnecessary anew characters fighting for chivalrous bullshit. It had me going ‘why is he telling us all this’ to ‘are these some printing errors’ to an eventually graduated emotion – ‘awesome’. Marvin – Kraggosh Twistedland boss battle so reminded me of the rotomodante slow motion fights I had with bro wen we were kids. Total high dope laugh out loud fun stuff.

f4ceb0002584f9dc49bbfaea267In terms of eloquence and adroitness, Scheckley’s humour is comparable to Lovecrafts horror. Tweaking Scheckleys own words, It was typical of books of this genre to overdo the youthful slang, thus losing any comic effect except the amazingly unintentional, but not this one. In fact Marvin Flynn is a cross of Arthur Dent and Gully Foyle, on the docile side, two puny Terra citizens lost in vastness of Cosmos.

 

 

This book is worth the reads and re reads and re re reads, not just for the laughs but for the deepness it cleverly hides.

Heptapods, Gallafriyans and Tralfamadorians (Guest Article)

spoiler alert

Includes themes from Stories of your life and Doctor Who

Today was short on any meaningful accomplishments and yet bigger on the inside, interspersed with a string of little epiphanies. Here’s one that lead to an obnoxiously loud “Eureka!” moment. So if you have read Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang I bet you’ve been as intrigued as me. Picturing the Heptapod B language was way beyond my skillset. Now here is where I get to the good part (the epiphanic one). Gallifreyan is an excellent example of Heptapod B, one composite sigil which progressively increases in complexity as the sentences grow longer.

Furthermore, Timelords see time as a sphere rather than a linear progression. Every point in time exists simultaneously which are distributed along the lines of the space-time continuum, a bit like how Kurt Vonnegut’s Tralfamadorians saw it. That’s how the Doctor detects timelines in flux as well as the unchangeable focal points of important events. This is in perfect accordance with what we know of the Heptapodical view of time.

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And here, my dear Watsons, the deductions reach their grand finale. Heptapods were Timelords with a perception field around them which made them look like seven limbed cylinders to the unsuspecting human populace. And for the last act; Dr. Louise Banks, after learning Heptapod B, was Chiang’s version of Dr. Donna. I know I know. Thank you “10th” for letting me get this off my chest in your fantastic blog.

Stories of Your Life and Others

This is a clever book with snazzy concepts and technical jargons, masqueraded under dull titles that sound more like high school English composition topics. Don’t let them fool you.storiesofyourlife
Few weeks before I got to read The Story of your life during a train journey, impressed me very much in its intellectual and literary aspects. Aliens, Fermat something, linguistics, Whorfianism, calculus of variations, all in a Mom’s monologue to her kid. The tipsy tenses and concepts impressed me quite as much to bag the complete book and dwell in this delightful sci-fi juxtaposition.

Below is me being brief, giving a peek into this cool book from my bland inane mind, hoping it be a little conviction to read any of the shorts. They did quite whet my appetite for more, one after the other.

Tower of Babylon is a philosophical story about the search for heaven and earth, surprisingly devoid of the biblical language tragedy, mixed with enough marvel, vertigo and claustrophobia.


Another one Understand got a Flowers of Algernon type Charlie going all Limitless and Lucy in a near future world. It’s a bit mind blowing, dishing out concepts that help one accept most of things sci -i, when it comes to extreme human intelligence and manipulative controls. You might even give Purple Man from Alias/Jessica Jones some slack.
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Division by Zero is the story of a mathematical genius where every reference felt like an archaic unknown enemy from old question papers – x. And most of my readings were intuition based than understanding here.

Seventy-two letters felt more like a journal review article, that every scholar got to torture oneself through, during literature survey. Except this one made sense in its own strange way in a well-crafted weird lexical universe. It’s a macabre story set in an alternative world with unconventional gestation, where movement of inanimate objects are controlled by words, superseded by our known thermodynamic principles. And do google “Shemhamphorasch”
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Then a really short, short on obviousness of something obvious –The evolution of human science

Hell is the absence of God is one bitter sweet theological take on various doctrines of God thoughts. Remember that portion in Bible where Jesus was asked the reason for a particular person’s blindness, his sins or his ancestor’s? This story trails around his answer, “this has happened so that the works of Lords might be displayed in him.” This short is deep and I couldn’t help but compare the angel visitations with the alien zones in Roadside Picnic, giving the premise a whole different perspective.

Liking what you see: a documentary, as the name suggests is a compilation of interviews and articles from people having various opinion about a neuro tech that eliminates the bias towards pretty looks. Sounded more like a Fair and Lovely product, if they were an IT company. Like most of the other stories around, it’s not the flow of circumstances that grips you in, but the concepts and school of thoughts we ignore always.

It’s funny how every story is interpersed with linguistic undertones except the one you most expect to, Tower of Babel. And I have a new fav sci-fi author now.

The Great Work of Time

“It amuses me,” Sir Geoffrey said, “how constant it is in human nature to think that things might have gone on differently from the way they did. In a man’s own life, first of all: how he might have taken this or that very different route, except for this or that accident, this or that slight push—if he’d only known then, and so on. And then in history as well, we ruminate endlessly, if, what if, if only … The world seems always somehow malleable to our minds, or to our imaginations anyway.”
great work of time
This novella is mostly the unusual adventures of an antediluvian secret society, like the anarchist one from Chesterton’s Man Who was Thursday, except its quite state obedient and is run by the likes of Rip Hunter’s Time Masters with a Victorian agenda- not letting the Sun reach any west over the great Empire. More like an Adjustment Bureau functioning behind a Narnia cupboard unaffected by Time and Space. Tiring at times with all the orthogonal logic of past and future, mirthless even, having it all explained in comported polished long sentences. But hang on till the splintered timeline starts making sense and enjoy the ride.

I happened to read the free sample chapter and immediately buy myself the rest then and there itself, rather unusual of me. And later learned the very existence of Cecil Rhodes, who wanted a secret society to ensure supremacy of British Empire over centuries, intriguing conspiracy theory material there. Also multiverse, negated past timelines, finding one self over time, manipulation of history in this brilliant, hugger mugger tale.

Like those very time travelers who returned to a present, not truly the one they departed from, post read me seems to have returned to a better bitter self. Definitely going to re read and with my limited knowledge I would like to classify this as advanced read in the time travel genre.

6’48” back in time

Hi, I am Jonathan and I am from the future. Nothing T-1000 about it, more like from a recent future. 6 minutes and 48 seconds from now to be exact.

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So I visited this creepy cave with my childhood friend Stephen. It has always been there, ignored, kind of forgotten even. We were catching up with our old days and thought of having a joint inside, seemed like a good idea then. The place was next to that junction we used to meet for church, down by the bridge, Estate was owned by a guy from parish, I believe. It’s all green and mushy, cattle roaming in some distance and there it was, hidden in thickets. We remembered it clean, with a small entrance leading to a wide hall kinda area. Followed by another inside entrance, big enough for a man to slide through. We once ventured through it a bit when we were kids. Left in few meter length over fear of snakes.

Anyway, it was our personal batcave whenever we went by. Nothing much had changed, all stayed the same. It was actually surprising since some archeological excavation was done in past, sometime after we left the village for studies. It was called off over missing equipment and dogs. Yeah dogs disappeared they say. Anyway, ancient history now. We entered with our mobile flashlights. Put water bottle over the flash, and made our light. It was his idea, damn good one too. I rolled. We got high, stuff was good. And smoke stayed in the cave, giving an exhale inhale effect.

Rosetta Stoned was playing, used to be our getting high song from School. I don’t remember whose idea was it to explore the cave, maybe mine. Well there was no hold on time, Laughs and talks. We laughed a lot over the most puny topics imaginable. Talks on life, universe and everything didn’t exactly bore us. He even fell off his posture at one point. I couldn’t help but just laugh at his fall.

“I am definitely high”, he said aloud.

“Yes, you are moron”, I was pretty loud as well.

He was silent for a while. I was busy enjoying the music.

“What is the time, man?”, he asked. Sounded nervous I must say.

“04:42, mate. High time you bought a watch”, I mocked him. Stephen hated wrist watches for some reason.

“Right”

Silence again.

“The cave extends till nearby Hill Palace; they say” he said.

“Who?”

“The archeological people man, Hell, we are the archeologists now. You know, Jonathan. Our little pot cave is a portal, made by Aliens in ancient times”

I laughed out loud, “Piss off, you are high. Plus, too much TV, graceful imagination though.”

“See for yourself, are you man enough to slide though it?”, his voice was trembling.

“Not so sure mate, but high enough now for sure. I am going in, Project IGI.” I stood up in energy.

I would have done anything, believe me that place had a strange calling, mostly coz of the weed. I need light, I said. He gave his mobile, flashlight on. He looked so very familiar, very much like me I felt. I even said it at some point. He replied “Of course I am”, with a trembling voice. I moved in through, had our kerchiefs tied to each other, in case I fall off or some. I checked the time, 04:48 it said. “Put your stop watch on”, I cried. Few more steps, I lost hold of our little hanky contraption. Well, now I am in a hall full of smoke. There is a light, and something next to it, more like someone.

“I am definitely high”, I said aloud.

“Yes, you are moron”, someone responded in a very familiar sound.

Holy Tardis, It was me. It was me. I am in that very cave entrance hall where I started. I could see Stephen, high and out, next to his water bottle mobile flashlight assembly. And there I was talking to myself. Suddenly, I am not high anymore. Did I just travel back in time? I unlocked my phone to see the time, its nearing 04:50.

“What is the time, man?”, I managed to ask

“04:42, mate. High time you bought a watch”

“Right”

I checked Stephen’s mobile. He is right. It is 04:42. I was burning my brain, panicking, losing my sense. But my mobile is running at the time I expect it to be. But something is definitely off. I got a living breathing me in front of me, sending De Javu though my veins. How do I get back, there are two me now. I have to get rid of him, whoever that is. I thought on my head, plotted. I think you know what happened next, I tricked myself to enter the cave creek. Me being high helped a lot, the past me. He caught me at one point, saying I look very familiar. He even asked me to keep the stopwatch on. I didn’t know what to do, yet all went like it was planned way before. I shouldn’t have, Even then If I hadn’t, this wouldn’t have happened.

I ran to Stephen when I lost hold of my past self’s kerchief, Took Stephen’s mobile and bottle. Pulled him off the cave. He was quite high. With zero idea on what to be done, I took him home, made it to my room with huge difficulty. Mom was watching TV with sister, none cared to look thanks to some stupid series running. Still, trying to get my head around the things that happened. So, I am from future now, 6 minutes and 48 seconds to be exact. What might have happened to me, my head felt like exploding. I put water over Stephen, woke him up and said it all in a single breath. He laughed, “Dude, we were high. We are high. Relax”.

It wouldn’t suffice, but it was the only explanation I could make sense of. We both slept I believe, woke up to my ringtone. Stephen picked it up. I was up too. His face was white, he showed me the caller. Some unknown number. “It’s you.” He said. I looked again at the caller id, that was my no. I took the phone and cut it. Stephen was by the window, he looked at me like he has seen a ghost. I looked through the window, there was someone at a distance, outside the main road. With a very familiar face, a face I see everyday, my very own face.

My mom was outside, waved hand at me and Stephen, “Come down, have something kids” she called out. We nodded at her, by the time we looked back he wasn’t there. Me wasn’t there, me from the past.

I tried to call my mobile from Stephens, only mine rang. We both were scared. We ran over the various possibility, read everything time travel available online. If whatever I believe happened, It should create a paradox or an infinite loop of me from future. An army of me against me. We left it as after hallucination, paranoid though. Hallucination wont explain the phone call, unless It was a practical joke by someone. It’s been a week now, we were too scared to go back to the cave. I dreamed of my copies from past killing me and replacing me every night. I am scared to look in the mirror. I thought over all weird explanations, time travel, time remnants, parallel worlds. Even tried to watch Steins Gate again, to grab a thing or two.

I went to see off Stephen today morning, his vacation was over. He laughed over the whole episode before boarding. He was all too calm of it. I joined as well, coz it was something I badly wanted to believe. Maybe it was all part of his grand prank plan. I acted calm, didn’t want to get ridiculed later. He might as well call me once away and explain it. It was late night by the time I got back, could see my room lit from over the road. I was smoking, reminded myself to get rid of the joint as I reach the gate. Was about to enter the gate, it was then I noticed whole family at dining room, pretty clear through the open window. There was someone else as well. There was me, My whole family is having dinner with me. Am I high again? Maybe, still this is unacceptable. I can’t go in, I stepped back. There was laughter over the table.

He turned towards the window, looked at me over the table with a crooked smile, my very own smile.