Friday, December 23, 2005


Alcohol doesn't do it for me - I lose motor control and fall asleep without ever feeling that 'buzz' people rave about. Pot doesn't do it for me - pretty much the same. Even morphine the times I've been hospitalized was more unpleasant than anything else.

Coffee, music, isolation, and sleepiness, on the other hand...

One Starbucks mocha superimposed on not-quite-enough-sleep and I'm soaring like an exaltation of larks. Listening to music that vibes with it. Reading the latest Iain Banks novel, periodically interspersed with obsessive RSS-newsread quickies. Fingers trembling with the caffeine shock. Sensory overdose. In case you haven't already guessed, I'm currently high.

To begin with, the iTunes shared music in this grad apartment complex at Princeton is much much better than the swill that Techers seems to listen to (almost entirely Japanese gaming soundtracks, it seems like at some times). The last few pieces I've listened to include a bagpipe version of Amazing Grace (gotta love that sustained bass drone), a Dave Matthews demo tape with a raw, earthy version of Crash, and Billy McLaughlin's Fingerdance (can't believe I'd never heard him before). Hope the MIT grad complex isn't a reprise of Tech - I've gotten thoroughly spoilt these last few days here.

But more than for any other reason, I've been holed up in this room for the last two days without seeing another human being, reading Iain Banks whenever I'm not trying to work. The man in brilliant at what he does. Which is quite varied, but here I'm talking about his SF. I'm currently going through The Algebraist (bewarned - link has spoilers).

Here's what makes his writing really enjoyable to me. He successfully combines all the elements I really enjoy in SF&F - the space opera duke-and-nuke-it-out escapism, a healthy respect for at least a veneer of geekitude without the sterility of... say... Niven, a very British sense of humour apparent in every element of the universes (and occasionally multiverses) he constructs while not going utterly overboard like the good doctor often does, a thoroughly well-crafted and richly imagined world which demands the wilful suspension of disbelief, and ever-so-alien lonely protagonists whose tragedies I can actually empathise with.

Here's an example of a passage (atypical Banks, in that it steps out of the box, but still brilliant). Context - the main character, Fassin, is sharing a drink with his beyond-filthy-rich ex-friend Saluus in his house, which is held up by a gigantic fountain in a crater lake. Not that the house matters, other than it's a throw-away idea that's just pretty damn cool...


They drank their drinks. Cognac. Also from Earth, long, long ago. Far, far away.

Fassin got swim.
'Oh shit,' he said, 'I've got Swim.'
'Swim?' said Saluus.
'Swim,' Fassin said. 'You know; when your head kind of seems to swim because you suddenly think, "Hey, I'm a human being but I'm twenty thousand light years from home and we're all living in the midst of mad-shit aliens and super-weapons and the whole fucking bizarre insane swirl of galactic history and politics!" That: isn't it weird?'


The man's books are packed full of this shit, and still manage a compelling story arc. Go. Read. I'm Swimming off to Nassau road to replenish coffee supplies.


Blogger കണക്കൻ said...

Alchohol is good. But I agree it is hard to beat coffee and sleepiness.
Algebraist, eh? I was planning on writing it damn it!

9:03 PM  

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