Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Man in White

In mismatching, color-washed and weathered uniforms, a trio of depressed National Guard soldiers slowly dredged across the empty streets of downtrodden Paris.
It was the early morning of Wednesday, May 10, 1871.
No sooner had the trio crossed the intersection of Rue de Rivoli and Boulevard de Sebastopol, than a bearded man dressed in white appeared, out of the blue, in front of them.
“Oh, Jesus Christ,” exclaimed Pierre Moreau—the young good-looking son of a wealthy soap factory owner, now a drafted soldier. His fellows, both volunteers since last September, frowned at the supplication betraying the kid’s catholic affliction. One of them, Alexandre Dupont, a Jacobin Republican and previously a book editor, was a Deist, while Gerard Roche, the other comrade, and commander of the trio, previously a factory accountant, was a radical socialist, and an atheist. Moreau bowed subjectedly, and loitered behind.

Friday, March 14, 2014

On writing the next big thing: Torn between 19th century Cairo, Paris, and Atlanta

For the few past months, I have been pondering over a new adventure novel set against the backdrop of a major historical event—an all-time favorite writing gimmick. Though I am a voracious reader of history, be it a book, article, or just a worn out paper clipping, it has been a while since the last book capable of triggering my creative muse. So eager to find a respectable history book, carrying the promise of intrigue and rich dramatic premise I began the hunt for my next great read.
Though I’m a digger for all history, I’m particularly fond of Post-bellum U.S., Post-1848 Europe, and 19th century Egypt. As an Egyptian, now particularly writhing uneasily by what’s going on in my country, I started looking up books talking about things all the way back, hoping to find the roots of the dilemma we are living nowadays and discerning out what had messed things up in the first place. Of course, I couldn’t go 7,000 years back, so with the formation of modern Egypt in the early 19th century, I started my journey in history.
Book after book, I slowly digested the dynamics that enabled an Albanian officer, Mohammed Ali, of the Ottoman army, and later Wali (governor) of Egypt, to transform the almost 300-years stagnant country, into the world’s sixth strongest power, and one of the leading economies (imagine a 1999 South-Korea strong economy); conquering land three times its size (invading Arabian Peninsula, Sudan, Syria, even plunging deep into Anatolia, and threatening Constantinople itself, twice)—all that in the matter of thirty years. However, that meteoric rise came to a sudden standstill upon breaching the balance of world powers set at the time by mighty Britain. Fearful of a sudden collapse of the Ottoman Empire and a compensatory expansion of the Russian Empire, Britain curbed the ambitions of the greedy Albanian and quickly disciplined him back to his boundaries. After another thirty years, his grandson, Khedive Ismail, exhibits similar grandiose scheme; however, this time, he takes permission from the current world powers, Britain, and France, and this time expands southwards, into Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Somalia, all the way down to the Equatorial lakes.
Muhammed Ali, Wali of Egypt
Coats of Arms of Egyptian Khedivial state

Khedive Ismail

Friday, October 18, 2013

Perry Mason, revisited nineteen years later.

I was an Erle Stanley Gardener fan for a long time.

Nineteen years ago, when I (a teenager then) picked my first Perry Mason case, I was fascinated…fascinated enough to pick twenty more Perry Masons, and then venture into other series written by ES Gardener. I read ‘Cool & Lam’ series; loved the cliffhangers, didn’t enjoy the potboilers…then was the district attorney ‘Doug Selby’ series; one that I didn’t like. Perry Mason remained my favorite hero. Give me one of his cases any time, and I’ll devour the delicious mystery zestfully.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Ender’s Game: a Sci-fi missing the mark, but a thematic one that hit home for millions of readers.

“Ender’s Game,” a 352 pages novel written by Orson Scott Card in 1985, is a work of science fiction that is widely regarded as young adult fiction at its best—a recommended read on the Marine Corps Reading List since its publication. Though the novel’s setting is sci-fi proper (alien invasion anyone), science is meager throughout; there is a story and quite a nice plot, but nothing new on the sci-fi front. What ultimately enticed millions of readers and brought the novel its fame is Andrew ‘Ender’ Wiggins, the protagonist himself and the humanistic themes exploited here and there. The hugely popular novel has grown into twelve novels, twelve short stories and 47 comic issues.

The novel opens on-almost-a post apocalyptic world: earth had barely survived two invasions by the aliens: the ‘buggers.’ Belligerent factions of the world are miraculously united and decide that the best defense lies in attack. So, they plan to shift the battle to land of the buggers before the next wave of invasion. Everything is set: warships and veteran soldiers and the incredible secret weapon—but what lacks is the ‘one,’ the ultimate commander. The military authority searches the masses, and eventually conscripts every promising child. The youngest of a string of genius siblings, Ender, is picked at the age of six.

What follows is the quintessential ‘coming of age’ novel; however, Ender is much younger, and the themes are more mature and universal.

OS Card’s prose is curt, more on the dry side; dialogue is plenty, yet bland and impersonal and not as smart as the characters are supposed to be. The themes discussed throughout the novel are universal and the writer does a nice job being ambivalent most of the time. However, commercial sensationalism, constantly justifying and sanctifying the protagonist, and the implausibility of the subplot (one in which brother-sister domineering of Earth by fake personas) are major plunders that eats glory out of this work and bereaves it a ‘classic’ status.

The novel is an enjoyable read, especially the first hundred pages and the last fifty. Recommended reading for the coming of age youth, especially those looking for an inspiration.

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