Lately

About a week ago was my little brother’s final year violin exam, a 1.5 hour concert and a 45 minute classroom drill that will, if there is justice in the world, net him an A and the prestigious Vadhya Visharad title. I’d be the last person to say that my brother worked himself to the bone – he couldn’t, not with squash and classes (advanced program, to boot) and volunteer work – but he did put in his best during the last couple of days, and it certainly showed. The concert went off with barely a hitch, and S told me later I’d been a calming influence, grinning and making impudent faces behind the examiners’ backs. Either way, the point was, the boy looked as though he knew exactly was he was doing. The in-classroom concert was an even bigger success, when the examiner asked him to play his major piece in five different ragas including one or two he’d barely even played before, and then asked him application questions out of his theory. She was apparently really impressed, and if the usual politicking doesn’t cause an upset (if it does, someone will be punched by me, I swear) he should be getting top marks.

S is¬†the most amazing family member I’ve got, hands down.

(And right after that he wrangled a new Xbox game and a new watch out of my parents. And then he went straight to lounging around on his laptop and playing violent games on the Xbox, so now I barely see him.)

Besides that, it’s been fantastic meeting up with the friends as usual; T and me to work on our little writing thing, and H and me to go shopping (gasp, girly things) and talk about any number of things. I’m hoping to meet them up again as soon as possible, after T gets over the flu.

Reading list appears to be as full as always, but for some reason, I could never find the one book I wanted in J East. It looks as though (if my other summer plans fall apart) I’ll have to make several expeditions. Right now, I’ve got an outline in my head regarding a potential thesis outline, but it needs to be fleshed out with fiction. The really interesting reading I’ve been doing is just small online articles – about the latest android from Japan, speculations about why the Japanese culture is so accepting (perhaps the Shinto religion, which accepts even inanimate objects as having a spirit, has something to do with it), what everyone else’s reactions are (“those crazy Jap scientists are at it again”).

Then it was time to return the first batch of books, not all of which I managed to finish. The Infinities was coming along very interestingly but I’ll have to borrow it some other time. Kurt Vonnegut, whom I should’ve written about, was really … interesting, for lack of a better word. Slaughterhouse Five is full of the strangest sort of anti-war sentiment – at times the language is very direct, at other times, poetically indirect. Stark descriptions of the horrors of war are mixed in with occasionally hilarious dry prose. The really weird stuff starts in when the protagonist begins “time-travelling” and explains, in a very matter-of-fact fashion, how he was abducted by aliens who can see time as well as the other three dimensions. Really neat stuff – not for the sci-fi element, but for the oddly effective way – humorous, horrific, surreal – Vonnegut describes war.

I ventured into a few new sci-fi authors I hadn’t heard of, and unfortunately a) I couldn’t find the specific books I wanted and b) some of them are turning to out be duds. Parallelities, by Alan Dean Foster, I shoudn’t even have borrowed. This reads like something sketched out when he was bored by his more epic works. An amoral reporter unwittingly becomes a conduit for parallel world experiences, and Foster then spends the rest of the book describing various situations his protagonist could get into – one where he meets his double, a sleazy scenario where he meets his female self, another where he’s dead, another where he’s living in a Lovecraftian Cthulhu-ruled world… it keeps going on and on without adding much to the story or the science.

Timemaster, by Robert L. Forward, was incredibly dusty when I picked it up. I found out why about five pages into the story. While he’s got a decent – but not ambitious – grip on his science and what it can do, his characterisations leave much to be desired. There are loads of completely lame jokes, a male-chauvinist-pig sensibility (even in the future apparently, so Forward obviously wasn’t expecting anything extraordinary), and not much action. There was one description of a how a time machine could be created (to prove that nothing that happened in the past can be changed) that almost made the book work for me, but ultimately, it’s really not worth it. Currently, Alastair Reynolds’ Redemption Ark is looking pretty good, although, since I didn’t start from the first book, it looks like I’ll have some catching up to do.

One book I’m definitely looking forward to, though, is Umberto Eco’s Mouse or Rat?: Translation as Negotiation. As someone who’s been translated himself, often enough, Eco is aware of the pitfalls of it. And, of course, he’s one of my favourite authors, so this should be interesting.

And on a similar note, finally had a bookstore visit with H to Kinokuniya. It’s a different sort of fun to wander around a bookshop compared to a library, not just because you know you can actually own a book instead of just borrowing it, but because the newest arrivals are so prominently laid out. I swear there was an entire shelf that H pointed out, one side of which had books with dire predictions about how our world as we know it is about to end catastrophically, and another showing how we’re at the best point in time to make the best out of our wonderful circumstances, or something like that. There was a book deriding irrationality, and another showing how it might help us in our daily lives. And of course there were the bestsellers, which I thumbed through in a kind of horrified fascination. Also, flipping through Eats, Shoots and Leaves cemented my desire to own one, right now, immediately. So now I have a book list, and I just need to make sure I have time when I get back to the US to use up my Borders voucher. It’s been waiting long enough.

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