Book Review · Books · Kindle and E-books

Book Review – Call for the Dead by John le Carre

Call for the DeadCall for the Dead by John le Carré

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the emergence of the strigine George Smiley into the literary world. Strigine, because of his owlish appearance and his being wise as an owl. He is the antithesis of the fictional spies like Bond. He is plump, nondescript, bespectacled and instead of getting his girl, loses his wife to a rakish and hirsute Cuban car racer. Le Carre has based him on an amalgamation of spy-master Lord Clanmorris and teacher/chaplain Vivian Green.
This is not a spy story, rather a murder mystery with spies littering the narrative.
I read this on my Kindle. However, I tried it on the Android version in the newly released Samsung Galaxy Note 8 – especially the S-pen and its translation tool. It was a disappointment, to say the least. The French phrase “partir c’est courir un peu” (used disparagingly when Ann leaves Smiley) is bizarrely translated as “nadir it is cozzrir zzrz little” rather than “getting away from something insignificant”. Conversely, “malgre lui” was correctly translated as “despite himself”.

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Book Review – The Looking Glass War

The Looking Glass WarThe Looking Glass War by John le Carré

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

John ‘the Square’ at his worst is still better than most espionage-fiction writers. He is a genius at capturing the ‘atmosphere’ of those shoddy red-tape enmeshed British spooks lurking about in the gloomy environs of London, the British country and the windy and snowy wastes of Finland.
This book is essentially about the petty turf wars between various departments of various Ministries.
The agents in the field those days could never have visualized the ease of communications with cell-and sat-phones as they struggled with cumbersome wireless sets, wires, ‘crystals’, ciphers on silk to transmit messages in encrypted Morse code.

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Book Review · Books

Book Review – A Legacy of Spies by John le Carre

A Legacy of SpiesA Legacy of Spies by John le Carré

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Once in a blue moon one comes across an exquisitely crafted book, “The Legacy of Spies” by David John Moore Cornwell aka John le Carre being one of them.
Starting with “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold”, le Carre’s writing and narrative style has been rather cerebral. There is not one superfluous word or punctuation. While reading his stories, merely skipping or missing one comma, article or preposition can leave the reader confused – one cannot afford to skim through his books.
Liken his previous books, “Legacy” is a classic cold-war espionage story; but seen through the temporally tinted glasses of today’s politically correct British bureaucracy. It accurately portrays the ordinary ‘intelligence agents’, wrestling with red-tape and personal demons, office politics, betrayal by friends colleagues and spouses.
There is a doomed love affair poignantly encapsulated by a flower aflame on the cover. There are no macho, martini swigging spies, simpering femme fatales or cackling super-evil villains found in Fleming’s or Ludlum’s books. The assiduously schemed plans of le Carre’s sleuths rarely fructify and invariably go horribly belly-up.
Or do they, really?
This book should stimulate younger readers to read le Carre’s previous books. The sixties were so different from today’s unipolar world – before mobile phones and fundamentalist religious terrorism changed our socio-political structure.
I, for one, am revisiting the Cold War and the Berlin Wall and reading ALL of le Carre’s books again.

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Book Review · Books · Conundrum · Humour · Psychosis · science fiction

Book Review – The Punch Escrow

The Punch EscrowThe Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This SF story is set in a relatively not too distant utopian future when governments have been replaced by corporations akin to Google, Uber or Amazon. There is the archetypal mad scientist with delusions of grandeur who wants to unleash an untested form of teleportation that could herald the beginning of space travel or everything going pear shaped (particle physicists should get that allusion, if not, I’ll get the physics in at the end).
If you can differentiate between toothpaste foam and quantum foam and want to know the difference between a paradox and a conundrum, then this book is for you. There is an intriguing yet innovative way of pollution control using GM mosquitoes. However, the sheer number of footnotes tends to distract and to further obfuscate esoteric scientific concepts. The foot notes could have been incorporated within the main text thus making for a smoother flow.
The fighting and the consequent blood and gore were other needless distractions.
Now for that bit of promised physics: At the atomic level particles have the so-called CP-symmetry. CP stands for charge and parity. In C-symmetry, if you switch every particle for its antiparticle, they are expected to behave in the same way e.g., anti-hydrogen will behave like hydrogen The P-symmetry is about space: A system can be inverted, like in a mirror, and the physics should still be the same.
CP-symmetry suggests that for every particle spinning anticlockwise and decaying in a certain direction, there’s an antiparticle spinning clockwise and decaying in the opposite direction. Violation of C and CP symmetry are proposed and expected to explain the lack of antimatter in the universe, but so far only a handful of examples have been found.
The universe is symmetric under CPT (charge, parity, and time), which adds a time reversal condition. This implies that if CP is violated, then also the T symmetry must be violated so things don’t happen forward and backward in time. This is another example of an obvious thing at our level (broken eggs don’t jump back together) but not in fundamental physics. This discovery strongly indicates that time is indeed broken and it has a specific direction.
The isotope Barium-144 has been discovered not to be spherical or oval shaped. In this short-lived atom, protons and neutrons end up distributed in an asymmetrical shape, with more mass at one end of the nucleus than the other – hence the term pear shaped. This finding is in contradiction with some nuclear theories, and it could prove that time travel is impossible.

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Book Review – The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye (Millennium, #5)The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The scarred, yet indefatigable and nerdy Lisbeth Salander is back with her latest exploits! The book is populated by the regular sleazy, criminal, psychopathic types at war with the goodie-goodie law-abiding citizens of Sweden. There is the usual repertoire of blood and gore and nail-biting action. Alas, the book is very short, unlike the earlier voluminous tomes of Stieg Larsson.
An anaesthetist and pain management physician will be at home with liberal use of curare, physostigmine, fentanyl etc. Although most of the pharmacology appears plausible, there is one glaring error – fentanyl transdermal patches take at least 6 hours before the analgesic (and accompanying respiratory depressive) effects are evident. Thus, this patch, or even two applied simultaneously, cannot lead to death within an hour.

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Book Review

Aadhaar: A Biometric History of India’s 12-Digit RevolutionAadhaar: A Biometric History of India’s 12-Digit Revolution by Shankkar Aiyar

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If nothing else, this book offers a valuable insight into the blundering way the Indian Govt machinery works. I had hoped for more technical aspects of AADHAAR, but that was sadly lacking. A rather verbose epilogue could have been avoided.
Surprised to find the questionable contribution of Rahul Gandhi in the inception of AADHAAR!
That the book was printed in a hurry is evident from the many typos littering the text. Overall interesting in parts, but quite superficial.
Anyway, I can claim to know (and be related to) one of the important protagonists in saga – Shankar Maruwada. Congratulations, Shankar on a job well done.

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Book Review · Books · Humour · Psychosis · science fiction · Unusual words

Book Review – Dark Intelligence

Dark Intelligence (Transformation, #1)Dark Intelligence by Neal Asher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The exigencies of an inter-stellar war against cancroid aliens led to the fabrication of a flawed AI that piloted a space destroyer. This AI named Penny Royal (as an allusion to the attempt of the AI to abort its gremlin-laced glitched software) eventually went rogue and launched on a career of inexplicable, whimsical and psychopathic exploits. It is aptly described by a fellow AI as ‘A potential gigadeath weapon and paradigm-changing intelligence.’

The book is ‘people’ by aliens and artificial constructs viz., centipede-like hooders, pyramidal gabbleducks, the antimalarial-sounding Artether, haiman, prador, the denticulate siluroyne, airborne heroyne, Jain spatterjoy virus and assassin snake-drones!

The fauna is equally weird – “They built sugars via induction shifts in the planet’s magnetic field. They also occasionally pulled up their roots and perambulated on a slug-like foot to a better position, after having drained the soil below of minerals. The offler weed was a particularly aggressive slime mould.”

There are Carrollenian ‘runcible’ teleport gate-ways, flippant AI entities that remind the SF fan of Iain Banks. The jaunty and jocular writing style echoes Banks and Douglas Adams. “the turd trajectory would be fanwards.” “‘When superior minds start stating the obvious,’ said Amistad, ‘I tend to start questioning the appellation “superior”.’ “I was seeing a gabbleduck thumbing a lift.”

All in all, a classic SF space opera! Immensely readable.

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