A Happy Con

But for my sister I would not have gone for this year’s Comic Con convention in Bangalore. Touted as the biggest of comic conventions held in India and with a larger gathering than the previous years, Veena made sure I had all arrangements in place as she came down from Mangalore for this. And boy… was it fun.

I bought the Super Fan ticket for Veena for which she would receive some extra goodies, while I stuck to a day pass. This year the convention was held at the White Orchid Convention centre next to the Manyata Tech Park in Hebbal, Bangalore. I had hardly been to this part of town and we had to retrace their steps as I missed a turning. Thanks to Google Drive (though not completely) we made a safe landing at the venue.

Veena with Khaleesi from 'Game of Thrones'
Veena with Khaleesi from ‘Game of Thrones’

We landed on the second day, a weekend and were early, hence were able to get through the pass collection and security check quite fast. I had booked the tickets online and we did not ave to go through the registration process while picking our tickets. While going towards the security check we noticed a tiny kid dressed like Magneto from X-Men strutting confidently towards the venue with his parents. He was a part of the cosplay and what struck Veena and me was the air of confidence with which he carried himself. I missed taking a picture of him with his cape flowing as he walked past, head high in the air. It was cute and endearing. Veena was all excited and told me that we have to get a photo with this guy once we are in. Alas, with the growing crowds we lost him.

But, once inside, Comic Con was a blast. There were tons of crazy stalls and curios out there and we made it through all the stores while patiently sifting through what they had on offer. The first purchase was a Tywek Simpsons wallet for me. This wallet never tears and is made of Tywek which is one of the toughest fibers from DuPont. The next purchase was a Guardians of the Galaxy set followed by books – ‘Maus‘ by Art Spiegelman and ‘V for Vendetta‘. And then there came the big one.

David Lloyd - co-creator and artist of 'V for Vendetta'
With David Lloyd – co-creator and artist of ‘V for Vendetta’

Veena wanted to meet David Lloyd, the co-creator of ‘V for Vendetta’, but when we entered we were told he would be in the next day. This dampener was soon removed when a volunteer confirmed that he would be at the venue in 15 minutes. No sooner did we buy the ‘V for Vendetta’ graphic novel from the Crossword stall, than we saw David Lloyd settling in on stage to sign the books. We rushed to the section and were second in the line. And then he signed our book – “For Veena and Vivek from David Lloyd”. We were thrilled, never had we met an author who signed our books and here we were with one of the greatest graphic artists of all time with a personally signed copy of his masterpiece. And to top it, he graciously agreed to a request to have a photo with him. He got out of his seat, got us on stage and had an assistant take our photo with him. And he was such a gentleman. Respect.

We were now in seventh heaven. And we raided every stall from here on. My favourite was the Mario Miranda and the Bombay Talkies (I think) stall. I bought a ‘Godzilla‘ poster from the Bombay shop and a couple of Mario Miranda official digital prints from his shop. The Mario Miranda team was from Goa and they were just like a little shop of curios. A delightful experience if there was any. Veena was all over the place and I lost track of the number of things she bought.
As we left the venue the crowds swelled and it began getting stuffy. I was glad we were there on time to see everything in relative comfort. And so like giddy kids we got back home with our spoils of the day. Comic Con, I definitely will be back next year. Good show.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Not many novels generate as much curiosity as this title did when I was handed the book by my cousin. Mark Haddon’s novel was an unknown entity but a curious one at that. I plunged into the book without any expectations. After all, I have been let down by authors who have marketed their words with extreme talent only to have read their final product as a formulaic repetition of a classic situation.the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time

Mark Haddon’s novel is different. A first person perspective, this book is told from the eyes of an autistic teenager who views the world in his own simple, logical way. While the story begins with a murder and the wrongful detention of the protagonist, the tone becomes more personal as the story weaves its way through the life of Christopher.

Without divulging too much there is a level of serenity in the way Christopher looks at the world around him. There is a peace and obvious innocence to what the world means and interspersed with humorous situations that emanate from his disability (all respectfully), this novel is a wonderful read that stayed with me much after I read it. And gauging from the title, it is quirky.

Missing Microbes

Last night Jon Stewart was on TV and up to his usual antics. The show is an interesting mix of parody and facts and I love the satire. Well, on this evening a book promo happened. I love his book promos, when you compare this with Oprah’s fawning, patronising Book Club, Stewart has certainly got his chickens lined up. The evening’s author in question was the head of the Human Microbiome Program in New York – Dr. Martin J. Blaser, MD, and the book “Missing Microbes. The subtext to the heading said “How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues”.Missing Microbes

While I am sure Pfizer and Novartis would be scurrying to limit the damage that this book may cause them, I relate to the author’s work and his description of an antibiotic epidemic that has overtaken the basic need for good health and created a dangerous dependency that has given rise to new diseases. Allergies, asthma, types of cancer are among the illnesses that have grown in part due to the decline in our immune system brought about by the rampant use of antibiotics.

The reason why I relate to this work – my parents. Being the child of doctors I have been brought up with my fair share of pills, but Dad and mom were careful to limit their use and conscientiously ensured that our fevers and other viral illnesses were treated with natural remedies than pills or in extreme cases we rode out the virus. I remember Dad also saying that it’s better to limit the use of antibiotics to ensure our immune system remains strong. Missing Microbes endorses this theory.

While circumspect in his view on using antibiotics, Dr. Blaser made it clear that children exposed to a drug regimen may have greater chances of being susceptible to viruses and illnesses as they approach their teens. The book appears to have an interesting touch to relating these facts that he has gathered in his research to the everyday lifestyles that we take for granted. You could call it a medical version of “Freakonomics“. So heeding this good deed on Jon Stewart’s show, I would look forward to the book’s release in India. An apt read for these times of quick fix medications and so called ‘discoveries’.

Books!

I love reading. And books were so much a part of my life growing up that I even considered being a librarian. I even started cataloguing the book collection at home when I was in middle school. With my own set of library codes I built up a list that is now lost. Not to worry, it was never of any archaeological significance. In the midst of the Big Bang Theory, Mad Men and Game of Thrones, I now sit with “Dongri to Dubai” – a book that chronicles the rise of the Mumbai Mafia, Dawood Ibrahim in particular. Racy, dramatic and written in a sort of guerilla documentary style, one gets a pretty clear idea of the machinations involved in creating one of the most powerful mafia and terrorist networks in the world.

Books are a tradition in our family and have greatly influenced us. In fact, Dad was influenced by A.J. Cronin‘s novels to become a doctor. Going back to our family collection of books, I was searching for some books that I hadn’t read from our library when I came across my first full novel that I had read back when I was in second standard. It was a small 188 page book called “The Rockingdown Mystery” by Enid Blyton. It had characters who would stay with me forever, among them the orphaned Barney and his pet monkey Miranda. This book was the first in a series of adventures that Barney and his friends embarked on once Barney got himself out of the clutches of a travelling circus. Enid Blyton knew how to spin stories that thrilled, touched and gave you the pleasure of adventure that you could literally feel.

With this I gathered my thoughts to recall my favourite books and following are the one’s that really made my day (arranged in no particular order):

the-count-of-monte-cristo
The Count of Monte Cristo – Edmond Dantes was the perfect anti-hero in this saga of love, revenge and redemption. This sweeping story by Alexandre Dumas was full of adventure and drama that resonates to this day.
the-shoes-of-the-fisherman
The Shoes of the Fisherman – The trappings of religious and political power make for a strong cocktail in this Morris L. West book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hound of the Baskervilles
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Sherlock Holmes on the moors! Need I say more…
the-best-of-roald-dahl
The Best of Roald Dahl – Before Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, there were tales of the unexpected with the most wicked twists in short story fiction ever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the-murder-of-roger-ackroyd
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – I never saw the ending coming. Nor did the millions who read the book in the early half of the twentieth century resulting in sacrilegious horror from litterateurs. It is now an Agatha Christie classic.
the-mystery-of-the-hidden-house
The Mystery of the Hidden House – Enid Blyton spun a fun mystery story enlivened by Ern – the nephew of the local policeman, Mr. Goon. I could recite Ern’s poetry on his uncle in my dreams… lovaduck!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the_hobbit_cover
The Hobbit – I consider this the best in The Lord of the Rings series. Small, but packing a punch in more ways, this novel is an adventurous gem to read.
Jurassic Park
Jurassic Park – The book was much better than the movie. I watched the movie first, but nothing to beat the book in terms of sheer scale of the nature of the suspense and disaster that was waiting to happen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the-girl-with-the-dragon-tattoo
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – She never ceases to amaze. An unforgettable character in a master thriller.
Shutter Island
Shutter Island – Dennis Lehane’s novels delve into the psyche of the individual in relation to his/her surroundings. This book is creepy and the horror in line with the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

 

The Strain – a review

I have absolute faith in Guillermo Del Toro‘s abilities as a film director. After all he did resurrect some pretty difficult comic book stars (Hellboy & co.) and completely engaged audiences with Pan’s Labyrinth. And before I forget, yes he is directing one of my all time favourite adventure classics – The Hobbit. When my sister asked me to gethe strain - Guillermo Del Toro - Chuck Hogant a book by Chuck Hogan from Blossom’s, it did take me some time to get through to the book. ‘The Strain‘ was actually listed in Blossoms’ database under Guillermo Del Toro’s name and on checking out the book I realised Del Toro and Chuck Hogan were co-authors here. This should be something. It’s no doubt that I expected the onscreen brilliance of Del Toro to be reflected in the novel. About Chuck Hogan I had not heard much except the fact that he is having one of his books converted into a Ben Affleck movie which does say quite a bit of his skills (I rate Affleck very highly after watching Gone Baby Gone).

The book is sort of a modern retelling of the Dracula story, but the start of this novel really had me hooked. It begins with a legend of a vampire somewhere in Eastern Europe and then moves to present day New York where a plane eerily shuts down completely after landing on the JFK tarmac from Germany. It is creepy and a page turner at this point as security and airport crews try to figure out why no one is making an effort to disembark from the plane. The platform is set for a horror thriller as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) tries to ascertain what’s happening here and whether this could be some terrorist biological threat. I love books that start of as scientific challenges and end up with a supernatural twist that break all rules of logic. That’s why X-Files worked and that’s why the show still remains my favourite.

The Strain progresses at a fast pace and every page reflects its share of the action from different points of view. However the central theme of the story revolves around a motley group of New Yorkers who have their own agenda in fighting this strain. I would not like to give away too much, but this I have to say, towards the end, the book did veer into cliched territory at times. But I am not going to take away any credit from the authors. The news is this book is a part of a trilogy and will then be moved to the big screen. The book does read like a vivid big screen portrayal and you can almost imagine the Xbox gaming opportunities in some of the action sequences. Del Toro and Hogan are great storytellers and credit goes to them for rising above the cliches (most of the time) that they could have so easily fallen into while writing this novel. I got a sneaky feeling that whatever cliches were in there, were inserted deliberately as a tribute to the horror genre.

The book plays like a roller-coaster ride into a nightmare thats very real and present. I rate a book by the speed with which I complete it (high marks for a quick completion) and I did finish ‘The Strain’ pretty quickly so it does rate highly on my review radar. The next book in the trilogy is called ‘The Fall‘ and ‘The Strain’ does lay the groundwork for an interesting sequel. Horror fans, Del Toro and Hogan do not disappoint. For the others, its still a great read.

Shut out everything else

Dennis Lehane has got to be one of the best thriller writer’s of our times. That is based on the one novel of his that I have read – Shutter Island. I have had the Lehane on-screen experience through Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone (though I have only watched the trailer here, but I do know quite a bit of the story to realise the significance of the plot). I then heard that Martin Scorsese was adapting another Dennis Lehane novel called ‘Shutter Island’ and I decided that this would be my first read of that author. Trip to Blossom’s, a bout of flu in Mangalore and I ended up reading the entire book in bed in a day, page to page, word for word and boy was it the best psychological thriller ever. I have watched the trailers of Martin Scorsese‘s filmof the same name with Leonardo DiCaprio, but you gotta read the real thing before the movie gets to the theatre.shutter_island

Shutter Island is the name of an asylum, for the most dangerous mentally disturbed individuals, located off the coast of Massachusetts. From page 1 you get an ominous feel of the environment that the two US Marshals – Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule, are getting into. Daniels and Aule are sent to Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of a dangerous murderess – Rachel Solando, from the institution. They reach Shutter Island but are then cut off from the mainland by a hurricane that severes all communication lines. In the midst of this hurricane with a deranged prisoner mysteriously on the loose, Daniels and Aule try and probe an uncooperative staff for more on this disappearance. There is something hidden here and the marshals start revisiting the rumours they heard about the island – it being an experimental research facility where Frankenstein-like experiements took place. I won’t go beyond this.

Dennis_Lehane
Dennis Lehane

The brilliance of this novel lies in its attention to detail and the grip and gothic horror that Lehane maintains from the start of the novel. While reading this I couldn’t help but compare it to another brilliant book – Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. Equally gripping there were parallels here – Strangers visit the island and a hurricane takes place. Strangers are trapped and there’s something out there waiting to get them. They fight against the system to get off the island. But in this case you had the dinosaurs to contend with. It’s much easier when you know the enemy. However it becomes a whole new ball game when you do not know who or what to look for or where to start an investigation or devise an escape plan. That’s what Shutter Island is – a no holds bar mystery thriller that kept me hooked till the last page.

Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone were all critically acclaimed films based on Dennis Lehane’s critically acclaimed novels. Watching the trailer of Shutter Island today, I was immediately interested at the same time disappointed. The trailer seemed too clean compared to the dark grittiness of the novel. The movie trailer did not thrill me, rather it only interested me. I may be wrong when the movie releases in October this year. But all the same I would suggest reading the novel before watching it on celluloid.

P.S. I also recommend you not to watch the trailer. Read the book first.

The Hobbit & Striped Pyjamas

Painting on book cover drawn by JRR Tolkien
Painting on book cover drawn by JRR Tolkien

Three books and counting. Its been a long time since I went on a reading spree and if you include the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, His  dark Materials series and part of the Sherlock Holmes series and that counts for quite a bit this year. Here’s my take on a couple of these books

The Hobbit – This book, grabbed from Blossoms at a steal for the price, brought back memories of those fantasy tales from the great book of fairy tales from my childhood. I don’t remember having touched a fantasy novel since those fairy tales of my childhood and I approached Tolkien’s Hobbit with the expectation that this was the prequel to the successful Lord of the Rings series that I hadn’t read yet (another series stagnating in my cupboard back in Mangalore).

J.R.R. Tolkien‘s ‘The Hobbit’ is a delightful adventure story. This is as simple an explanation as I can give for this tale. There are quite a few events within this straightforward story that would play a larger role in the ‘Lord of the Rings’ (LOTR) series later (I know this from the movie, btw I have only watched the first part). Adventurous, humourous, witty at the same time a tale that’s extremely original (even with the dragons, goblins, elves and dwarves). It’s a quick read and the story flows through extremely quickly, in fact the adventure starts almost immediately without allowing the protagonist, Bilbo Baggins to settle down. And of course there’s the first reference to the precioussssssssss Gollum. First time readers and those familiar with the movie and LOTR watch out for this creepy cameo.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – This book comes with an extremely powerful message that comes across through the words and thoughts of a a normal nine-year-old kid. I heard of this title a couple of years back and thought it was just another childrens book about some magic pyjamas that helped the kid fly away into some fantasy garden. But a first glimpse of the book cover immediately gave the impression of something more serious and near to home.

John Boyne is a young author and the simplicity with which he conveys everyday situations in the life of young Bruno during a great war is something that must be admired. This is storytelling at its best with a much deeper meaning etched in every page of the book. The magnitude of what’s happening around the protagonists hits you, even though you immediately gauge the situation from page 1 onwards. We know the facts of what’s happening but still… The book is a page turner and a quick read. Without giving too much away, the friendship described in this novel is touching and so is the sad suffering of the people around Bruno. This is a book that cannot be ignored and even though dealing with childhood innocence, I am sure there would be too many disturbing questions asked if a kid in the family happened to read this. The book flows beautifully till the ending which will leave the reader stunned. I can’t help being a spoilsport to myself at times and I had read the Wikipedia entry to the film and came across the ending there. That hardly took any sheen off the book when I read it.