BOOK REVIEW: The Fall by Albert Camus

The FallThe Fall by Albert Camus
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This is a novel for someone who revels in philosophizing. It’s not a book for those who like to get lost in a story. It reads as if one sat down at a bar next to an obviously intelligent, but also obviously tipsy individual, who proceeded to tell his life story reflectively and analytically – without emphasis on thrilling exploits.

It falls among books that deal in the crisis of modernity – by which I mean, the challenges that arise from being evolutionary optimized to live a certain kind of life, while living one that is completely different. (i.e. It’s like “Fight Club,” but both far more boring and less broadly introspective.) The protagonist, Clamence, tells us about how he once got hit in public and how angry he was with himself for not getting in a lick of his own. He also describes hearing a woman jump / fall into the Seine, and not lifting a finger to help – despite hearing the woman’s screams. Adherence to laws and norms (in conflict with animal impulse,) disconnection from community, and ethical ambiguity are recurring themes in such books. What one does in a post-god world is also reflected upon. Religion and belief, like it or loathe it, fulfilled a function for humanity, and a vacuum was created for people for whom the cons of belief came to outweigh the pros.

Personally, I’m prone to philosophizing, and so I did get into this book – despite not finding it engaging as a story. When I read one particular line, I learned I was a suitable drinking companion for Clamence: “I have never been able to believe, deep inside, that human affairs are serious matters.” [Virtue or vice, I can relate.]

If you’re prone to philosophize, check out this book.

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BOOK REVIEW: Trafik by Rikki Ducornet

TrafikTrafik by Rikki Ducornet
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Out: April 13, 2021

A robot (Mic) and a cyborg (Quiver) live and work together in close quarters, doing blue-collar work until the going gets tough and they charge off for a utopia called Trafik. I enjoyed reading this for its rich approach to language, its compelling reflection upon humanity [and isolation therefrom] and its thought-provoking imagining of the unfolding of the future. That said, I don’t think it will be everyone’s cup of tea. I’ll try to paint a picture that will help the reader to determine where they would be likely to come down on this book.

First things first, if you are expecting the usual high-adventure, plot-driven science fiction novel, that’s not where this work shines. There are a few contributing factors. First, the high density of creative language is not conducive to fast-paced consumption in which visuals form effortlessly in the mind’s eye. Second, a central question is what being human means, and what happens when one isn’t amongst others. One has Mic, a robot, who is intelligent but not inherently emotional. And, so, the aforementioned question largely pertains to Quiver, who is a cybernetically-enhanced human being. I have no idea when this was written, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the pandemic lock-down / quarantining influenced the work that it turned out to be. Because a lot of the story is spent with these two different entities being plugged into the virtual world, getting a vicarious experience of being in the world. [Also, the book is only about 100 pages, and so the idea that it could have been produced in that timeline is not as unbelievable as if it were, say, five times as long.] At any rate, while this isolation and questioning of one’s humanity makes for a philosophically fascinating inquiry, it’s not really amenable to the adventure and interpersonal tension usually depicted in genre fiction, characteristics which inherently require a great deal of emotional experience and interaction.)

I’m kind of uncomfortable saying this because it’s likely to be misunderstood, but I read this more like I would read Joyce’s “Ulysses” than like I would read, say, “Ender’s Game.” That is to say, I read it more as a prose poem — immersing myself in the language and the momentary experience of the characters — rather than following the thread of events and looking out front as a rider on a rollercoaster might. I’m not comparing any works here, just my approach to reading them.

There’s a fundamental question when producing art of any kind, and that is how much one roots in the past (in established human experience) and how much one can venture into the unknown. Stick too much in past experience and your work is uninteresting. Launch yourself too much beyond the familiar, and people can’t recognize what one is trying to do – let alone enjoy it. Ducornet is clearly experimenting with how much she can charge forward. At points, I’m thinking of the arrival at Trafik, the story even reads a bit like stream of consciousness psychedelic tripping.

If you’re looking for a work that requires soaking in and reflecting upon words and futures, then you’d probably find this to be an enjoyable read, a work that verges on prose poetry. However, if you are looking for plot-driven sci-fi, you might find it ponderous. [Also, if you’re the kind of sci-fi reader who finds violations of fundamental physics unpardonable, this book might not be for you. (That said, there is some shifting between real and virtual worlds for which I might have missed cues.)]


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