I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

I know, I know, so much for all the drama, you’ll say (see: previous post!). I guess I just can’t stay away from my (awesome) blog anymore! My blog winning under two categories in Blogjunta’s BOIB 2010, and one of my posts being selected in Blogadda’s Spicy Saturday Picks was no help! Yay, me! But I don’t like to brag, so let me move on to the part where I tell you how the last post wasn’t all drama. Have you seen that episode of True Blood where Sam crushes the maenad’s heart in his hand? Before every exam I feel like someone’s doing that to me. Retarded, I know. But now that the exam tension is wearing off, I can gradually see all the little drops of creativity obediently return back to me.

Having one day to spare before the stress for the next, more important exam, I went back into my reading mania, for the last 24 hours! I finished reading Small Gods (from the Discworld series, of course!) and ‘I, Robot’ by Isaac Asimov. Then I went and hit my head on a wall for several minutes for being stupid enough to not have read ‘I, Robot’ before.

‘I, Robot’ is a collection of different short stories, with one connecting link: Dr. Susan Calvin. She is a robopsychologist at U.S Robots, and the novel is in the form of stories that she is narrating to a reporter. Each of the stories revolves around the interaction between man and machine and the efforts made by men to make superior robots. This is where the Three Laws of Robotics come into picture.
1) A robot may not injure a human being or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm;
2) A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law; and
3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Most of the stories have the same basic plot; something is not right with a particular robot, and everytime they have to fix him by taking into consideration these three laws. The book shows the evolution of robotics, from the time when there were the primitive robots who couldn’t even talk, when the world wasn’t ready for them yet, till the time when robots were used to manage interplanetary affairs! It has everything right from a robot who can read minds to a religious one who refuses to believe that there was no force higher than mere humans involved in his creation! The book also gives an insight into human nature, specially with respect to our growing dependence on technology, something all of us can relate to!

While the book is amazing to read, it falls short on the literary front. It is written in simple language, and is easy to understand. That is great, but it is too simple at times, and it makes you feel like you are reading a text book instead of a novel. There are no vivid descriptions of anything, and a bit too much is left to the imagination! As you know, my creativity was still on its way back to me, so what were probably supposed to be cool, glossy, towering, futuristic-looking robots, looked like enlarged Wall-Es in my mind’s eye! A little more use of adjectives would have helped me!

But that hardly mattered compared to the rest of the book! The stories were just plain amazing. I obviously plan on reading the entire Foundation series, but maybe later. Till then, do make it a point to read this book, if you haven’t already!

(You can also read this review here.)
(Ooh, and check this out too – while you are at it!)

P.S.- For an ‘Illustration & Design’ category blog, this sure has a lot of book reviews. Next time, I’ll write something artsy, definitely!!

Post Office by Charles Bukowski

The Post Office by Charles Bukowski. Ironically, I first heard about Charles Bukowski in Gilmore Girls.

Paris: Typical guy response. Worship Kerouac and Bukowski, god forbid you pick up anything by Jane Austen.

Jess: Hey, I’ve read Jane Austen.

Paris: You have?

Jess: Yeah, and I think she would have liked Bukowski.

I had heard of Jack Kerouac, but not Charles Bukowski. So I decided to read a book by him.

The Post Office is the story of Henry Chinaski, Bukowski’s alter-ego, and his years working at the Los Angeles post office. He drinks a lot, sleeps around a lot, and well, he works somewhere in between all of that! He hates everything, including himself. It’s a story about bitterness, distrust, cynicism and alienation. The book ends with a life changing moment, where Chinaski overcomes his urge of self destruction, and instead decides to write this book about his life.
“In the morning it was morning and I was still alive. Maybe I’ll write a novel, I thought. And then I did.”

The book is written in a very unsentimental fashion, and ends that way too. The writing is very different from anything I have ever read before, ranging from utterly captivating to outright disgusting. What made me keep on reading was the fact that it was very amusing all along. Written in a simple diary-like fashion, the main character is as honest about everything as one can only be to oneself. It is very straight forward, and I guess only that kind of honesty could make you actually ‘like’ a character like Chinaski. Well, that and his sarcasm.

You can only like this book if you are capable of taking your ‘morals’ and throwing them out of the window. The book is not about love or hatred, nor booze or women, for that matter – it’s about life. And the life of a mail carrier, to be precise. And it’s brutal. But you can still sort of make sense of it, it’s like he’s a sane madman. He repulses you most of the time, and he’s crude and never talks about anything remotely emotional, yet there are those moments, when you realize there is much more to him than he says. It’s a book about what circumstance can do to people.

I can think of at least ten girl-friends of mine, who will read the first page of this book and look at me like I’ve lost my mind, some might even start ignoring me entirely! But, what the hell, this book is a must read, especially for most guys, and I’m glad I read it.

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace

I recently read the book “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”. It is written by David Foster Wallace. The only other book of essays I’ve read was by Bertrand Russel and I read it five years ago. So, you can see, I’m not too keen on reading essays. But this was something else. One of the best books I’ve read!

The essay that I loved the most, was the title essay that was published in Harper’s Magazine in 1996, which is otherwise titled as “Shipping Out: On the (nearly lethal) comforts of a luxury cruise”. The author is on a ship named the Nadir and is extremely bored of the “absolutely nothing” that he is doing there, that he is supposed to enjoy! It’s a long essay, but it’s remarkably funny. I was hooked from the start till the end!

Every thing about the word ‘luxury’ makes me cringe – which is one reason why this was the perfect book for me. Another is that I’m not fascinated much by the ocean; I love nature, but there is only a finite number of minutes for which I can look at endless blue water and not get bored. And I’m not into fish! I’ve never been on a cruise, and I really don’t think I ever want to be; specially not now after reading this book!

I read about the essay somewhere, before I got my hands on the book(or my mouse…or cursor?) and there was this quote: my single biggest peeve about the Nadir: they don’t even have Mr. Pibb; they foist Dr. Pepper on you with a maddeningly unapologetic shrug when any fool knows that Dr. Pepper is no substitute for Mr. Pibb, and it’s an absolute god-damned travesty, or, at best, extremely dissatisfying indeed. The total randomness of this is what made me want to read the essay! And I wasn’t dissatisfied at all!

For me on a list of five Supposedly Fun Things that I’ll Never Do, on the fifth position will be ‘going to a fancy restaurant, where you have to eat teenie portions with knives and forks’; and the remaining four positions on the list can be filled by one thing: shopping! What about you?!

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem.
Which is Latin and it means
No more things should be presumed to exist than are absolutely necessary.
I haven’t been reading much lately; at least not anything really good. But that was until yesterday, when I read a book called : The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. You may have already heard of this book – it was a huge success when it was released and was on many bestseller lists for quite a long time. I hadn’t – but now that I have read it, I would strongly recommend it.

The book is actually supposed to be a detective storybook that the main character, a fifteen year old boy named Christopher, writes. The boy suffers from something like the Asperger’s syndrome; while he can interact with the world when necessary and can communicate, he has some autistic traits like intense dislike of being touched. Christopher often gets side tracked from writing the mystery which makes the book a bit like a personal journal than a novel. Since the book is written from Christopher’s point of view, it provides a completely different perspective on the world. Christopher cannot understand other people’s emotions – he never mentions how things make him feel(other than physically). That gives the book a lot of emotional blanks that the reader has to fill in himself, which creates a more personal attachment to the book. Usually in a narrative style book, the reader tends to identify himself with the narrator. In this book, I found myself identifying more with the other characters in the story. Watching both Christopher and everyone in his life trying to bridge the emotional gap between them makes the book very real and very heartbreaking.

Christopher’s fascination and understanding of mathematics and logic, his staunch dislike for metaphors (like he says, even the word metaphor – which literally means carrying something from one place to another- is a metaphor) are some of the things that added the necessary humour to the book. I grew very fond of Christopher’s frequent use of drawings; and not to mention, his love for prime numbers.

Let me end with one of my favourite quotes from the book:

“I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them”