From A Buick 8: Stephen King

Fear comes in different forms. It takes the shape of the scared hollow of our mind, or rings shrilly into our ears. Fear weakens the cartilage of our knees and has a way of sliding into our heart riding on our breath. Stephen King knows all these fears and then some more. In the ‘From a Buick 8’ he delves on the instinctive reactions of the human mind when faced with life forms never seen before, unknown to the perceptions of the mind. This is one of the Stephen King horror novels which has a science fiction angle to it, and which is rendered wonderfully by King’s dexterous pen.

The dark matter at the centre of this novel is a car, a 1953 Buick Roadmaster. This Buick drives into a gas station and waits for its driver to return from a visit to the restroom, while the gas station attendant dutifully fills her up. The driver however never returns and the police from the Troop D have to investigate the disappearance. The first thing the Troopers realize is that the Buick has no logically structured engine, the steering wheel is too large, the battery is not connected to anything, the dashboard props are facades – in short the car is incapable of being driven. The car is towed back to the barracks and becomes a part of the Troop D property, and they stick with it even when it gives out queer ‘lightquakes’ and belches out monstrous entities.

Curiosity is a running theme in this plot. The Buick sits in the mid of the Troopers holding a huge sense of improbability about it, and Curt Wilcox, a young Trooper can’t resist the temptation to prod into its cover to unravel its mysteries. But what begins as his quest to satisfy curiosity soon turns into a hopeless persuasion of the unknown. A senior trooper makes a pertinent observation,
‘While curiosity is a provable fact, satisfaction is more like a rumor.’
Curt and none of the other troopers are quite satisfied with any of the theories they have built about the existence of the Buick. The Buick, in the meantime, conjures up unlikely animals and plants from its trunk and drives the barracks into chaos. There is another theme that King has woven into his narrative and which I think is most interesting. It is about the physicality of our bodies. When the alien life forms show up from the Buick, the natural reaction of the Troopers is that of revulsion and horror. But this horror does not generate from anything that the alien entities have done but it arises through their appearance itself. This also forces us to ponder upon how our own appearance will be received by alien eyes. The evil here lies in simple unfamiliarity and the outcome turns out to be morally catastrophic.

This is a slightly different kind of Stephen King novel. It has its share of horrors and thrills, but compared to some other of his novels, it seems that horror is not as prime a factor of the plot. This novel is also a little slow and predictable at times. This novel might not interest those who expect a regular Stephen King full throttle horror-thriller, but it nevertheless does have interesting ruminations on the workings of the human mind and I will recommend it for these.

This novel can be downloaded from Kindle or can be bought from Flipkart.

The Gods themselves: Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov is undoubtedly a master of the science fiction genre. The complexity and delicate intricacy that he can build into his worlds is simply terrific. I began reading Asimov with novels like ‘The big sun of mercury’, ‘Stars like dust’, and ‘The naked sun’ and I fell in love with the science fiction genre and with Asimov. Then later I read the Foundation series and was awestruck by the brilliance of this work. The Foundation series turned into something like a climax to my science fiction reading season, and I did not read much of it after that. Just a few days back I was discussing science fiction books with a friend who also likes this genre, and I felt an impulse to read a good book laden with mysterious universes and unbelievable technologies. Naturally I went to my favorite author Isaac Asimov and picked his Hugo award winner (1973) ‘The Gods Themselves’.

‘The gods themselves’ is a set of three stories bound by an impending calamity, but each taking place on a different world. The calamity in question is nothing short of our arm of the galaxy exploding into a quasar (not surprising since Asimov was always about very exotic disasters and their counteraction). The first part occurs on Earth in the near future where the problem of energy shortage has been ingeniously solved by an ‘Electron pump’ which exchanges material with a para-universe (a parallel universe which obeys different laws of physics). This scheme has liberated the human population from the banalities of working for energy. But unfortunately, as a young scientist discovers, this scheme is not without a dangerous side-effect – the sun will explode and form a supernova. The Pump must be stopped to avert the crisis, but no-one on Earth wishes to believe him, blinded by the advantages of the free energy. 

The second story takes place on a planet in that para-universe which is exchanging energy with Earth. This section is one stunning illustration of Asimov’s great talent. He constructs this alien ecosystem stunningly, complete with the sexuality of the complex entities inhabiting it, and their delicate emotional make up. One of the entities in this world discovers the perils awaiting the unsuspecting earth and thereby faces the morally difficult dilemma between compassion towards an unknown species and survival of its own. This section masterfully rendered is also highly entertaining. The discussion on sexuality of this alien specie and the parallels that can be drawn with ours is indeed very amusing. 

The third part takes place on the moon and brings the problem to a satisfactory conclusion. This part, to me, felt a little like an anti-climax after the second one. But Asimov does provide an interesting solution for the crisis which somewhat makes up for the plainness of this story.

Asimov has created a highly compelling plot for this novel, which keeps our attention captivated. The physics discussed is at times intricate, but this is always followed by simplified explanation which makes it easy to grasp. All the classic elements of Asimov’s writing are present in this novel. The plot is a page-turner and has many interesting ideas pertaining to nuclear forces and laws of physics. It also has some very witty references to present day world and a pertinent commentary on the follies we are committing for the sake of immediate gains. The title of the novel itself is an intelligent observation on this, inspired by a quotation by the German philosopher Friedrich Schiller - "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain." 
I will happily recommend this novel to all the fans of Asimov and of the science fiction genre.

This book can be downloaded for Kindle, or can be bought from Flipkart.