Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Review: Angels and Demons by Dan Brown

Dan Brown
Book title: Angels and Demons (Robert Langdon #1)
Author: Dan Brown
Published: 2000 by Corgi Books
Pages: 620
Find it at: Amazon / Flipkart
My Rating: 4/5

Angels and Demons is the first Robert Langdon thriller in the amazing series by Dan Brown. I feel silly not having read this before despite having a copy since ages! Brown's DaVinci Code and The Lost Symbol had been immensely satisfying reads, and Angels and Demons was just as enthralling. I love books that demand all your thoughts, emotions and intellect to be concentrated on it at all times. I've been guilty of reading Angels and Demons while at work and way past my bedtime. It is a book that engages one's intellectual curiosity and provides for thrills, adventure, mystery with scenes that can leave one breathless.

What's inside?
Robert Langdon is an art historian teaching at Harvard. He finds himself at CERN, the biggest scientific research organization located in Switzerland, after the Director shows him an image of a brutally-murdered CERN scientist. He had been "branded" with a mysterious symbol. Robert Langdon finds the situation impossible: he had done some research on the Illuminati and the symbol indicated their resurgence.
Religion and science have always been at loggerheads with each other. The fabled intellectual group that called themselves the Illuminati have resurfaced after decades of hiding, thought to have been extinct by the world. And they have their target in sight--Vatican City, the holiest church. Langdon and Vittoria, the murdered scientist's daughter, leave for Rome to locate the canister of antimatter--that which was stolen after the scientist's death--to prevent it from vaporizing Vatican City! 

One of the book covers
How is the book?
Fantastic. The one thing I love about Dan Brown's books is how the stories are set in such short time spans. Angels and Demons covers Langdon's day beginning at 5.30 am till a little after midnight--packed with historical information, action, suspense and a symbologist's quest towards an impossible answer that could save the world. Readers will inevitably be drawn to Rome's culture and rich art history apart from the marvellous secrets buried within the Vatican.

The story, a race against time as the antimatter countdown nears zero, is intense and quick-paced, Brown's writing style adding to the effect. No words are wasted. The words are chosen carefully. The chapters ending with cliffhangers are the best! I tried to guess the ultimate villain and failed thrice. The book isn't a literary star, but it is totally absorbing. There were some things that seemed a bit unbelievable to me, like how so much could happen within minutes, but I'm not complaining. I was hooked onto the story and felt as much in Vatican as Robert Langdon, decoding answers in popular churches and artwork, trying to stay a step ahead of the enemy and using all possible knowledge to find answers to save the Vatican from being evaporated.

The short chapters moving from one scene to the next, in different areas and different POVs add to the quick-paced nature of the book. It has also been done seamlessly with no scope for reader disorientation. I liked the background stories for all characters--they brought about more depth in the characters. Robert Langdon is a unique character, one of those whose image you can affix in your mind with just a brief introduction. He's intelligent, witty and a little bit wacky. He gets into tough situations because of his curiosity and a sense of responsibility, and it is fun to watch him deal with the new people and circumstances as they arise. 

Coming to facts, I've seen a lot of readers criticising the book because it does not include proper facts and is "anti-Christian". I'm not much aware about those facts, but I do know that it is a fictional story that uses some pre-existing facts to base itself upon. Reaching the end, I did feel that it threw a somewhat negative light on the Catholic Church, but that was because of one of the characters. The book ended with a clear message (according to the author anyway) of what religion/Church stands for and how it is to be seen as separate from blind faith or belief on the basis of fear. This is something I feel a lot of religions deal with.

Nevertheless, I would recommend Angels and Demons to fans of thrillers and to those who enjoyed DaVinci Code. Some language, scenes and gory descriptions/killings might not be suitable for younger readers. Here are a few quotes from the book:

“Nothing captures human interest more than human tragedy.”

“Faith is universal. Our specific methods for understanding it are arbitrary. Some of us pray to Jesus, some of us go to Mecca, some of us study subatomic particles. In the end we are all just searching for truth, that which is greater than ourselves.”

“Science tells me God must exist. My mind tells me I will never understand God. And my heart tells me I am not meant to.”

“Skepticism has become a virtue. Cynicism and demand for proof has become enlightened thought. Is it any wonder that humans now feel more depressed and defeated than they have at any point in human history? ” (This comes from a long speech delivered at the Vatican in the story.)

What do you think? Have you read the book or watched the movie?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Book talk: Jurassic Park and The Lost World by Michael Crichton

This post is not exactly a review, so I haven't included even a bit of a storyline. You might find the names codswallop if you haven't read the books or seen the Jurassic Park movies.
What am I talking about?
Book titles: Jurassic Park and The Lost World
Published: 1991 and 1995 respectively
Find your copy at: Amazon / Flipkart
Genre: Science fiction
My rating: 5/5 (expect fangirl moments)

We're all familiar with the awesome Jurassic Park movies that generated (or rekindled, in some cases) our interest in dinosaurs--those majestic, prehistoric beasts. My favourite parts in the movies were to do with the tyrannosaurus rex. What a huge, terrifying creature! When I picked up the Michael Crichton novels on which the movies are based upon, I didn't know what to expect--could the books be better?

Verdict--The two are awesome in their own place, but if you are even a teeny weeny bit interested in dinosaurs or the science of evolution, Jurassic Park and The Lost World are a MUST to read. They're fabulous, unputdownable, and filled with science info you wouldn't really wish to miss. Some readers might find the mathematical and science theories too integrated in the books, but it really worked well for me. For one, I understood the story depicted in the movies a lot better than just watching them. Two, nothing seems unrealistic when you're reading the books (except perhaps for the dumbness of some characters). The creation of dinosaurs for the world's most fantastic theme park, the ideas behind it, the way things go wrong--I enjoyed reading every.single.word! It was impossible to put down. I've read these books through nearly everything, including work. I found Jurassic Park more exciting, and The Lost World a little slow, but they're both worth reading.

Literary view--The writing style might not appeal to all readers. I found it a bit... 'unpolished' if that's the word. But that's just it. The mechanics of writing are in place, the text ensures you are immersed in the story and can imagine everything happening, and you wouldn't stop reading the story unless you wanted to look too closely into the writing style. I also sometimes thought that the characters don't develop very well either (except for the children maybe). The focus is all on the story. I thought about it, and... well, why not? It's not expected to be a literary genius.

The book presents a warning to the concept of genetic engineering, and bases a lot of value on its rationale using the mathematical 'chaos theory' (read it on Wikipedia here). It seemed to me that this whole concept was missing in what I knew of Jurassic Park so far.

So... what's different in the books from the movies?
The books are 2. The movies are... what? 4? Imagine a stock of information, action, descriptive scenes without the needless ooh-aahs of the movies. Quite obviously, there are changes in characters and storylines in the movies where they've deviated from the books. Examples could be: having an older girl and younger boy as children in the first movie as opposed to an older boy very much interested in dinosaurs and his six year old sister. Another example--The Jurassic Park book begins with the beach scene where a small girl is attacked by "a" compys, whereas The Lost World movie begins with that scene, with the added spice of lots of compys attacking her. These are still the minor changes. The third and fourth Jurassic Park movies use the characters and the backstory from one and two, but there are no books on which they're based.

Besides, I also thought about that mighty T-rex. Though it makes a heavy impression every time it appears on the scene, I felt the real terrors in the books were the raptors (velociraptors). They're small, they're strong, they have sharp bites, but most of all, they are intelligent and have a brain sense more than any other dino, making them truly dangerous. The raptors ruled the books. It was real fun to learn so much about dinosaurs (their traits, social behaviour, etc. even though a lot is still not known and it was based on many assumptions). I mean, I could talk about a T-rex, compys (Procompsognathus), velociraptors or sauropods without at least stumbling upon their names. I'm much more interested in not just dinosaurs now, but also about evolution (my next read is The Sixth Extinction).
Beware of the raptors!

This OMG scene was just as (if not more) scary in the book.

Any of you read the Jurassic Park books? What are you waiting for? Life’s really short. Get going already! Here are some quotes from the books to inspire you some more:

“In the information society, nobody thinks. We expected to banish paper, but we actually banished thought.” 

“Living systems are never in equilibrium. They are inherently unstable. They may seem stable, but they’re not. Everything is moving and changing. In a sense, everything is on the edge of collapse.” 

“Because the history of evolution is that life escapes all barriers. Life breaks free. Life expands to new territories. Painfully, perhaps even dangerously. But life finds a way.”

“Whatever it is you seek, you have to put in the time, the practice, the effort. You must give up a lot to get it. It has to be very important to you. And once you have attained it, it is your power. It can't be given away : it resides in you. It is literally the result of your discipline.” 

“All your life people will tell you things. And most of the time, probably ninety-five percent of the time, what they'll tell you will be wrong.” 

“All your life, other people will try to take your accomplishments away from you. Don't you take it away from yourself.” 

“Life is wonderful. It's a gift to be alive, to see the sun and breathe the air. And there isn't really anything else.” 

Okay, I'll stop. You get the drift. Go get these books now!


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