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The Hunger Games Trilogy April 29, 2012

Posted by Afrozy Ara in Book Reviews, Fantasy Fiction, Sci-Fi.
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So now that I am on a book reading spree, the theme of this week was the Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Frankly, I would have never stumbled on these books if it was not for the  recently released movie with the same name. And, when there is an option for watching the movie or reading the book, I usually go for the latter because the movie somehow never seems capable of capturing the depth of emotions that a book usually does!..

Set in the fictional world of Panem, the hunger games is a twisted tale of struggle, war, love and government control; spanning across 3 books “The Hunger Games”, “Catching Fire” and “Mockingjay”. Panem is a post-apocalyptic war ravaged world where the districts are impoverished; food is scarce and the Capitol, a seat of power rules the 12 districts with a firm hand. Every year, the Capitol conducts the Hunger games as a show of its power and superiority. One boy and girl will be chosen in a reaping ceremony from every district, for a fight unto death in the Hunger Games Arena. There can only be one survivor0, and the rewards for his/ her victory will be shared by the whole district. The Games are the Capitol’s way of entertaining its residents, and showcasing it’s superiority over the districts. An unabashed parade to remind the districts how powerless they are if they ever revolt against the Capitol!.

The story revolves around Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen year old girl who volunteers to take the place of her younger sister in the reaping ceremony of District 12. It is a chronicle of her anger, defiance, fears and apprehensions. A tale of how she incites a revolution in the repressed country of Panem. How she eventually brings it out of the shackles of mindless dictatorship. It has all the elements of teenage heroism which is characteristic of this genre.- a barefaced disregard for authority, a low self-esteem, a fierce loyalty towards loved ones, the self-sacrificing spirit. Katniss Everdeen is all that!

There is bit of a love triangle in the story, but that is overshadowed by much bigger themes. Though a bit too dark for this genre; nevertheless an interesting book. The story is sometimes too simplistic and naive for grown up readers, but makes up for it with its fast moving plot and the ability to capture the attention of readers throughout the 3 books of the series. It is an easy read, and a good way to wind up on your weekend.

I think I’ve read a bit too many of these dystopic world books. Need something cheerful for the next weekend. Any suggestions?

1984 April 23, 2012

Posted by Afrozy Ara in Book Reviews, Classics, Fantasy Fiction, Sci-Fi.
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I am writing the review for this book 1984 I read a while ago and the words that ring in my head are: “Nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come.” I know this is totally incongruous to the subject, but no amount of shooing drives these words out of my head. They keep buzzing around like flies on a hot summer afternoon, and I console myself with the thought; perhaps there is a link somewhere, which will eventually dawn upon me!.

Now coming back to the Novel… When you think of dystopian worlds, George Orwell’s book is a classic. I had always seen this name in the list of top books of all times; and it lingered in the back of my mind, gnawing at my to-read list for a long time now. For what reason – I am not exactly sure; maybe because it has this power, a captivating aura around it.  Made famous by allusions to “Big Brother” and “Room 101” in countless articles and publications.. And of course, the iconic 1984 Apple commercial that heralded the release of the first Mac!

Before beginning the book, I already had these subliminal negative vibes about it.. This book is about power, about total loss of individualism, about an nightmarish world where everything has gone wrong.. A universe of totalitarian oligarchic control.. A book about the madness which dwells in humanity…suppression of justice.. About the mutation of happiness.. war crimes and rants against a changing common enemy.. A book about humans pushed to their worst. And how hell can be raised purely from the potency of our thoughts!

Okay, 1984 is definitely not a happy book. It is not a sad book. It isn’t even a scary book. I felt it to be a very thoughtful book, showing what depraved limits we can push mankind to, and man’s vulnerability to thought control.. Exposing the chinks in the fabric of our psychology. Baring our worst nightmares….. It warns us against this extreme form of civilization…and that a dystopic world like this is no impossibility because “Nothing is so unbelievable that oratory cannot make it acceptable”!

And I have to admit, this totally zapped me…

You know, what’s most impressive about 1984 is the completeness with which its dystopian world has been portrayed. Thoughts, words, language, expressions- everything is government controlled.. It is scary, but fascinating – the depth to which the author has explored the psyche of the totalitarian state. It also makes you wonder.. What is it that defines who we are? Our ability to think?.. The language that allows us to express ourselves.. Our family ties?

This book also made me understand the importance of knowing history. If you think of it now, the past is what defines you. You are moulded into a certain structure, you have certain beliefs. It is by looking at your past that you gain assurance about your identity. Now imagine a world where you have no past. Or no definite past. The past is fluid, malleable, modified by what the ruling powers believe in. You are expected to blindly believe in the state. Even thinking against the state is a “thoughtcrime”. When powers beyond your control try to redefine everything that you have always known and believed:

WAR IS PEACE

FREEDOM IS SLAVERY

IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

How is that kind of a world going to be??

The ideas portrayed in this book are mind-boggling. And the importance of individualism is so starkly expressed in a world totally devoid of it. One of my favourite lines from this book poignantly expresses this – “Being in a minority, even a minority of one, did not make you mad. There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad”.

This one is a must read book if you are curious about History, Politics, Economics and Human Psychology. Not all the ideas are radical or unique – we have learnt lots of it in history lessons and newspaper columns. But then – the best books, are those that tell you what you know already!..

In Time February 8, 2012

Posted by Afrozy Ara in Movie Reviews, Sci-Fi.
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It was a vacant Sunday evening foreboding a whole work week ahead. With nothing much to do (it’s pathetic to start a book on Sunday evening, unless it’s a thriller and you can get into the groove right from page 1! ) , I stumbled upon the sci-fi thriller – In Time .

The movie is set in a dystopian future when the human race is genetically modified to live only 25 years, after which everyone has to earn Time to survive. And like the ultimate scarce resource, Time cannot be created – it can only be transferred from one person to another. So as the cost of living continues to rise, the poor will die (or “time out” early) while the rich can live on till immortality.

Apart from this ingenious sci-fi theme, In Time has a very simple story. Realizing the inequity caused by the rich hoarding time, while the poor live by the hour, Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) along with Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried) goes on a Robin Hood style mission to steal Time from the rich and distribute it to the poor. Armed with a gun, these 2 guys just walk in, robbing bank after bank. That’s it!

The idea to use Time as a currency is novel, giving a fresh dimension to the Hollywood fraternity’s obsession with different ways to destroy the earth (Aliens, Dinosaurs,  Godzilla and 2012! ) But then, for a story to be compelling it’s not just the idea or the scenes. It has to touch some emotional chord, and somehow I missed that soul in the movie. So, while it does remarkably well on the concept and setting, it is quite weak in plot. And the characters simply don’t stand out.

Amanda Seyfried looks stunning; with all her stunts in designer party dresses and high heels (you can hardly recognize her as one of the Mean girls in the 2004 movie). Cillian Murphy has unforgettable haunting (and sometimes mean) blue eyes! He plays a foil to the hero as a Time keeper, the cop out to catch the Time stealers. The performance by Justin Timberlake is OK, his stint in The Social Network, IMO was much more impressive.

But then, it’s not the actor’s fault. The character simply did not have enough meat! It’s like an awesome concept which was developed in a hurry. The writers just didn’t want to put more effort into it, or add complexity to the plot. The producers wanted to package something and send it out fast. And that’s quite sad for a movie that had a potential to become great (like Inception) but turned out to be “just good”.

Will agree with the IMDB rating on this, it’s 6.6 out of 10.

P.S. I don’t know why, but this movie sort of inspired me to read 1984 by George Orwell. That’s now added to my reading list.