Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Literature provokes a response. Great literature speaks to a reader to the depths of his soul. The response of the reader is not essentially what the writer may intend; as long as the reader gains something from the work, or has been affected by the novel, the writer is uplifted. Few books have elicted a powerful response in me; the primal quality of such books, however, is that which reaches into the innermost sanctums of feeling and resides there. And when I think of these novels, a powerful sensation will invariably course through me. Below is a list.

1. Watership Down

Watership Down is the defining novel of my childhood; it has a beauty and power I have yet to experience anywhere else, of camaraderie, sacrifice, pain and passion. The writing is modern yet graceful, erudite yet accessible, and communicates every nuance of what Adams wanted the reader to sense. No other writer could take a group of animals and craft them such that they seem more human than the humans in the novel, and yet so animalistic in their society and culture. No other writer could so gracefully weave the rudiments of a completely alien society into a grouping of rabbits so mundane and prosaic in their thinking. Setting and plot are transformed from the rabbit's perspective; the peaceful English countryside is transformed into a tantalizingly mystical land of oppurtunity and danger in their eyes. The descriptions are haunting, evocative and powerful. There is even a touch of gentle humour that keeps the novel engaging even in the most serious of moments. Watership Down is truly a novel that spoke to me, and left an indelible mark on my mind.

2. Lord of the Rings

Strangely enough, the first time I read Tolkien's work, I found the latter portions boring. I liked the pastoral nature of Hobbitry and the mystery of the Barrow Downs, the terrible darkness of Moria, and the sheer loveliness of Rivendell. Aragon's adventures held little excitement for me. The second time, everything changed. Lord of the Rings was transformed into the seminal epic fantasy. Never before had I ever experienced the full scope and power of the novel as in Lord of the Rings, the epic feel, the immersion and sheer complexity and history of Middle Earth.
Lord of the Rings didn't appeal to me because of its compassion and humanity, but because of the grandness, density of plotting, excitement, and above all the sheer believability of Middle Earth. Lord of the Rings introduced me to fantasy. It remains one of the greatest books of fantasy written.

3. Harry Potter

Believe it or not, Nova introduced me to this in secondary 4. For the longest time, I resisted this, based on vague notions of incipient YA nubness. I was wrong. Harry Potter is the penultimate escapist work (the ultimate being Star Wars) of the century; it evokes a yearning in the reader to be there, to join in the fun, to know what it is like to be a Hogwart's student. It is truly a book that is accessible to all age groups. Its appeal is universal and undeniable. It invoked in me the old sense of wonder. It emphasizes the importance of love and friendship. It resonated with its sympathetic portraits of school. It became a refuge, a haven from the bitter reality of the world, and as such highlights the reason why Harry Potter is so popular. Its a salve for a bruised spirit and a drug for stress; its curious blend of maturity and innocence is heady and speaks to the reader. This is one series finely conceived, lovingly treated, carefully sustained, and is arguably one of the greatest YA fiction series ever written.

4. His Dark Materials

While Pullman may be abit of a hypocrite with regards to Narnia, his books combine elements of both Potter and Narnia. That is the intimacy and sense of wonder invoked in Harry Potter with the epic scope and religosity of philosophy in Narnia. It is the anti-Narnia, the philosophical counter, but in its way it is just as great. The idea of daemons is truly compellng. I almost wished I had one when I first read Northern Lights. This series has a heartwrenchingly beautiful premise and a heartrendingly shattering ending.

5. Star Wars

The premise of Star Wars is that of an amalgamation of Grade-B Flash Gordon and simple yet powerful story in terms of plot, setting and message. Star Wars spoke to me because of its exotic locales, fantastic premise, special effects, and the compelling dynamics of the characters, as well as its simple but effective message of redemption, goodwill, courage and heroism. The prequels were not technically as brilliant, but TPM spoke to me in terms of its childlikeness and sheer cinematic elegance, while the other two prequels really gave me a sense of the crippling malaise that is corruption and a suggestion of the sheer horrific magnificience of a dying empire. The prequels, by stressing the decay of the Republic, spoke to me of the need for renewal. It is a grand, epic cycle of history. When one brings in the whole regalia of associated material, the books, games, comics etc, Star Wars transcends its mythos and becomes a true sandbox of the imagination and the greatest and most completely conceived fictional universe around, without question.

6. Robot Series

The Robot series, especially the latter two books, are some of the most powerful, moving books Asimov ever wrote, including Prelude to Foundation and Foward the Foundation, and shows Asimov at his best writing about characters. He made me care for Elijah Baley; I felt the sadness at the passing of a great historical figure at Baley's death. It's amazing how he chronicled Daneel's slow evolution towards his ultimate role, and the friendship between Giskard and him. Although the science fiction ideas are a little outmoded, Asimov writes with great power and clarity, and the strength of his prose and the wit, compassion and humour in the plot are truly indicators that Asimov was a true master at his profession. It is the primer for the epic Foundation series, that other great (but not nearly as moving) work, a great part of that grand cycle of future history that stands as another one of the greatest conceived science fiction universes ever made.

7. Terraforming Earth

Jack Williamson's novel about a group of clones who constantly reseed Earth after it suffers catastrophies is one of the most profound and compassionate post-apocalyptic books ever written. Normally, I don't like post-apocalyptic works, but Terraforming Earth was superb in its treatment. The book is intimately recounted from the perspective of the historian of the group; Earth's presumed saviours are fleshed out and realized, the plot is evocative, tragic, and beautiful, and the various civilizations that arise out of the clone's reseeding missions are interesting and original. The book's message of resilience amidst our incipient frailties resounds through the work, setting it in a light that adds to, rather than subtracts from, from its tragic element. Truly one of the best post-apocalypse science fiction novels yet written.

On the flip side, there are works that have inspired a negative reaction from me. I read them and despised them. Or, I disagreed vehemently with them. I'm not saying that these novels are bad, but that I disliked the messages within; they resounded in me and I decided that I didn't like the music. Below is a list.

1. Childhood's End

Deeply unsettling and pessimistic novel about how we have reached the end of our history and how a new species of human will inevitably take over and serve the universe. The seminal posthumanity novel, deeply disturbing in its premise.

2. Time

Another one of those posthuman novels, Stephen Baxter suggests that since the human race is doomed to extinction during the Cosmic Whimper, humanity should be snuffed out to create more universes in order to give rise to other life. Deeply fatalistic and unsettling.

3. Night's Dawn Trilogy

I liked this trilogy, but one aspect of it ruined the experience. The sheer volume of perverse, graphic iniquity is very shocking to the reader, and detracts from the plot. Hamilton would have done better to tone the sex down, by a notch or six. Yes, indeed. And the Deus ex machina wasn't that good either, Mt Hamilton.

Alright. That wraps it up. We should start a thread on CAPERS for such.

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