Category Archives: Arthur C Clarke Award

The Calcutta Chromosome by Amitav Ghosh

The Calcutta Chromosome: A Novel of Fevers, Delirium & Discovery

By Amitav Ghosh

Perennial, New York, 2001

Borrowed from the library.

I am an admirer of Amitav Ghosh, but when I learned he had written some kind of sci-fi, speculative fiction novel I wasn’t all that interested.  Until I learned that The Calcutta Chromosome had won the 1997 Arthur C. Clarke Award.

This book is a wild ride between the past and the future.  Antar, a researcher for the giant International Water Council, works from home using their AVA computer system.  His job?  To sit in front of a monitor and look at every item entered into the IWC inventory from all over the world.  Why?  Just in case there might be something unusual. It’s like sifting through sand on an archeological dig, you never know what you might find.  His identification of an object leads him to India, the impact of  British colonialism and the study of malaria.

Antar uncovers the stories of people from his past, the struggle between India’s ancient wisdom and Western science  and a vast medical conspiracy.  The novel flashes back and forth in time and between characters.  At times it feels like the shards of a broken mirror.  Ghosh’s characteristic use of detail, myth and storytelling hold it all together.

It was mid-July.  The monsoons had set in and the whole of eastern India was awash in rain.  Several of the famously restless rivers of the region had burst their banks and swept across the broad, flat plains.  Those waters, so full of menace to those they nourished, presented and entirely different aspect to a casual spectator in a train, watching from the safety of a tall embankment.  The still waters, lying in great silver sheets under the lowering monsoon skies, presented an enchanting, bewitching spectacle.  Phulboni, raised amidst the hills and forests of Orissa, had never seen anything like this before: this majestic, endless plain mirroring the turbulent heavens.  From page 257.

Just the fact that Antar works for something called the International Water Council is intriguing, fresh water being a finite resource that we are running out of, much like oil.  This alone drew me into reading the book. It is interesting and challenging,  I very much enjoyed it.

I admit it, I love Amitav Ghosh’s writing and his story-telling.  I can not wait for the follow-up to A Sea of Poppies.

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Filed under 42SciFiChallenge, Arthur C Clarke Award, Fiction, SpeculativeFiction

The City & The City by China Mieville

The City & The City by China Mieville

Del Rey,  New York, 2009

I own this one (thanks to students, parents and the blessed gift card).

A Publisher’s Weekly, Los Angeles Times and Seattle Times Best Book of 2009.  The City & The City just won the 2010 Locus Award for best fantasy novel and won the 2010 Arthur C. Clark award in April.

Ever since reading Perdido Street Station and Iron Council I have admired China Mieville’s writing.  When I first heard he’d written a noirish, murder mystery I wasn’t quite sure what that could mean.  I hesitated, finally putting the book on hold at the library.  I waited and waited.   The paperback came out,  I was given a gift card.  I waited no longer.

Wow, this is one of those books I have difficulty writing about…

The story starts with the finding of a body on grounds of an estate in the city of Beszel.  Beszel  feels like an old city somewhere in Eastern Europe.  Inspector Tyador Borlu is called to the scene and finds that to fully investigate this murder, he must travel to Beszel’s neighboring city, Ul Qoma.  But these cities are not just neighbors.  They are intertwined, on top of and crosshatched with each other, and each city’s residents must learn to unsee what they see day-to-day.  There are nationalists and anarchists, politicians, students and archeologists, all wound up in a story that is fast-paced and well written.

There is not much more I can say except to suggest that you read this book.  I don’t really want to tell you more, or maybe I just can’t think of how to write about it.   Even finding bits to quote is difficult.   One thing, it is not an easy book to read,  sometimes the language itself seem to flicker in and out of perception, giving me a kind of vertigo.  Or maybe it was reading it at 2 am that had me dizzy.  In the acknowledgments Mieville offers his gratitude to several authors including Raymond Chandler, Franz Kafka and Bruno Schultz.  He is wise and gracious to do so.   This is one of the smartest and most entertaining books I have read in quite a while.

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Filed under Arthur C Clarke Award, Mystery, Notable Books, SciFi