A Pocketful Of Book Reviews

Siddhartha – Hermann Hesse

“Nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.”  – Oscar Wilde

The thing with moving in intellectual or pseudo-intellectual circles is that you repeatedly get recommended this book. When you finally get round to it you see it’s only 160 pages. Hell yeah! So, by devoting two hours of your time you are a notch more enlightened? I would make that investment! So I did. That was five years ago. To this day the book lies on my bed-side table because every re-read reveals layers that I had not noticed earlier and every experience colours my own interpretation so very differently that I am not sure if I am reading the same book as I was five years ago.

Siddhartha is a book on enlightenment, the attainment or pursuit of which does not seem reasonable in our day and age. It is a story of a man named Siddhartha who explores the mind and the flesh in search of answers, only to be vastly disappointed by them. His journey takes him to a humble ferryman named Vasudeva. Very abruptly after this fateful meeting, the will-he-won’t-he-anxiety you might have been facing is swiftly resolved. He kills his ego, and finds enlightenment.  No, he doesn’t grab that piece of wisdom and conquer the world with it. He chooses to fill Vasudeva’s shoes and become a ferryman. Was Hesse even trying to write a book, because all his literary tips and tricks are in complete disarray? This is a common complaint I have often heard from people. The thing is, he wasn’t. Just like the soldiers laughed at the Alchemist when he said he had the Philosopher’s Stone, most of us will never give Siddhartha a second read because it’s extremely simple and extremely difficult at the same time. It is almost diabolical in its approach. It hands you the answer and then sits back silently laughing as you struggle with the consequences of the truth.

-Teesta Dasgupta


Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality – Eliezer Yudkowsky

Score: 3.5/5                                                                      Narrative: 2.0/5
Characters: 3.5/5                                                            Story: 4.5/5

Fanfiction, or extension to already popular stories set in the same universe, is not a new term. Around on the internet since a very long time, especially on tumblr, reddit and fanfiction.net,  50 shades of Gray is the example of a fanfiction that got too popular for really absurd reasons. But cometh the time cometh the man, and as GRR Martin was to high fantasy, and Creedence Clearwater Revival to Rock n Roll, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality was a harbinger in breaking the stereotype of hormone filled romance stories that people wrote off as fanfiction.  The book, like any other has its own fuckups, but then, for a fanfiction, there are few who can get better than this.

To begin with, the reason for the popularity of this “book” (Released as chapters online) is not an amazing narrative, it is not the depth of its characters, but the concept of the story itself. While several Harry Potter fans have always expressed discontent regarding several aspects of the book, especially the magic, there has been little that has been done about it. Harry Potters and the methods of rationality is set in an AU( Alternate Universe) where Harry Potter is well, a little more rational. While he comes off as a giant prick and an arrogant tiny little brat, closest to Draco of the original series in behavior, his supposed geekiness and superiority did boost the ego of the internet nerd cult. The story is based on the concept of rationality, the science of science itself, the art of asking the right questions and obtaining the right answers. The more unexplored characters of Hogwarts make up the central part of the story, the author tapping on unexplored potential to further the plot of the story.

As far as the narrative is concerned, one can clearly see the mark of the writers’ inexperience on it. Just another bunch of teenage internet geeks, the authors, though built up a great plot, lacked the uniformity and consistency in thoughts to do justice to it.  There are marked discontinuities between various chapters, which, when read as a cohesive whole stand glaringly out. The science in the story is for the most part true, and is for the most part what I call the “upper clans of the internet” read. There seemed to be definite motivation from the existential comics, popular literature and manga, with a death note reference slipped in to one of the early chapters. In conclusion, the narrative was well, meh.

The characters of the story are either undercooked or overcooked. While the lead characters are a high functioning adolescent’s imagination of a magical yet rational Hermione and Harry, the author’s apparent inner Vader conflict between the dark and the light is evident with his glorification of Draco. Combining the aspects of several other stories, taking popularly used outs to develop the story further, the story is somewhat clichéd yet interesting. The rationality which is a continuous thread weakens over time and better action sequences win the day. Another incredibly beautiful thing about the book is the climax, which was croowdsourced from the loyal readers of HPMOR. The climax left me, well, speechless. A unique combination of science and magic, the climax is exactly what the book is all about. A definite YA gratification machine, this is something everyone who enjoys a good thriller should read.

-Ganesh Mahidhar


The Foundation Trilogy – Isaac Asimov

The first thing you ought to know is that  the Foundation novels, are not novels but a compilation of the eight short stories that Asimov wrote as an young man under the guidance of John W. Campbell. As a result of which of the narrative is simplistic, to the point and brisk, in other words a easy read (in my judgement). However this is compensated by Asimov’s brilliant “ideas” and themes.

The central idea behind the story is psycho-history, which is a branch of mathematics/economics/psychology that models on “mobs” to predict the course of the future. Hari Seldon-  the mind behind the science, predicts the inevitable fall of the Galactic Empire – a messy pseudo republic with a monarchic figurehead plagued by weight of it’s own administration, so he decides to take measures, which turns out to be abandoning a bunch of “unaware” people in a faraway, desolated planet that lacks resources, so that when they, as they will  face the anarchy that descends with the “fall”, they are forced to take action in order to survive and would eventually “take over”  the galaxy. This constitutes the Seldon plan.

While it science has disproved the idea of a “plan” for the future with Chaos theory, psycho-history, from the perspective of science fiction, it is sheer brilliance.

The series has its handicaps too. Almost all characters are one-dimensional and lack depth. In fact, it seems like Asimov regarded his characters as mere tools to further the plot. Another obvious flaw is the inevitability of the Seldon Plan, which takes the excitement out of the otherwise gripping tale. Another important thing to note is the lack of breathtaking action scenes. Asimov, prefers mind-blowing, strategic or political action over the traditional hack and slash.

Nevertheless, the Foundation Trilogy is a must read in everybody in everybody’s bucket list.

-Ramakrishna RM



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