It took me several hours over all of four days to finish I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes. Essentially the book is all about prey and predators of the human sort. Two characters stand out: the American intelligence agent and the Muslim fundamentalist. Who will emerge the victor?
It all begins with a fairly innocuous NYPD murder investigation in New York. The intelligence agent provides back story about how he got into the covert operations business and how he rose up the ranks after discovering evidence of treason when he was very young. Anyway the agent decides to shed the vestiges of his former life and become a regular person but beforehand he writes a book under an assumed name about investigative techniques. After this book comes into the possession of an American policeman heavily involved in the September 11 aftermath rescues, the cop and his wife decide to track down the agent for fun. Strangely their mission is successful and so the intelligence agent has to erase and re-write his past so he cannot be found again. Anyway the couple end up roping the agent into presenting at a seminar posing as the researcher for the book.
The other story is about a boy who saw his father publicly beheaded for criticising the Saudi royal family. Not having made it in time to witness the execution, the boy decides he will take revenge – not by striking out against Saudi Arabia but by going up against America which provides the nation with its wealth. Anyway this boy grows up to be known as the Saracen and comes up with a virulent strain of a biohazard and ingeniously devises a way of transporting his dangerous cargo to the US and to the people. There is a lot of back story of how on upon leaving his homeland, he joins a mosque and comes under a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood under an imam.
Anyway the intelligence agent is recruited to chase the Saracen to stop him from unleashing havoc at all costs. It leads him to a town in Turkey where he comes across a suspect that baffles him because she does not fit the profile he has. Anyway he makes the connection between the suspect and the Saracen and it is fortuitous that he does because when the climax goes down, he has a valuable bargaining chip.
Apart from the basic spy story above, there are other story arcs. The protagonist manages to provide a favour to a hacker, he ponders about disappointing his foster father by giving up sailing, he talks of making Swiss bankers give up their secrets for love and even the initial murder story we begin with is not cast aside but is caught in the undercurrent of the bigger and more overarching plot. To be honest, a lot of these asides felt like unnecessary padding. I am Pilgrim has many flaws but I forgave them because of the pull of the writing style. The casual xenophobia did bother me but I suppose it should not be surprising given the September 11 centric storyline and the Muslim terrorist as a villain. I think the written language suffers because this book has a made-to-be-a-movie plot. In spite of the interesting story Terry Hayes created, there are far too many instances of luck.
After reading a lot of literary fiction, I was in the mood for a less demanding read and the Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly fit the bill. While I’ve read Seven Deadly Wonders and Ice Station and found those fairly interesting, it was difficult to see this one as anything but a tribute to Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park.
We learn the Chinese people have developed a zoo of a magnitude and scale the world has never seen before and a select group of distinguished guests are invited to enjoy the facilities before it is opened to the public. The main attraction it features were once thought creatures of legend but through genetic manipulation, a population of them have been bred. The cover as seen below hints at the type of beast exhibited at this particular zoo.
The more alert guests notice however all is not right and become wary. Some of the zoo residents are not cooperating with their trainers. While on their way to an exhibit, one of the wayward creatures ingeniously removes the control device implanted in it, targets the cable car transporting the guests and from that point on the zoo descends into chaos. Having invested plenty of money and time into this project, the Chinese officials do not want word of this getting out. So the guests need to flee to safety before being silenced by the zoo owners or being challenged as the enemy by the escaped and out of control zoo inhabitants. Dr. Cassandra Jane ‘CJ’ Cameron, the main character, who is a writer for National Geographic and an expert on reptiles ends up befriending a friendly creature that ultimately leads to their salvation although some lives are lost along the story arc.
I am confused as to what genre I should assign this book. There are: mythical creatures of fantasy, a genetic interference plot akin to science fiction, an ass-kicking female protagonist driving the action and all these combined culminating in an escape mission for survival also fits it into the category of adventure. As I picked out the Jurassic Park similarities early on, I was able to enjoy it without nitpicking at exaggerations.
Last night I watched Limitless at The Halfpipe relaxing with my arms draped casually behind my head while resting my back on the beanbag seat. The movie dragged you in from the beginning because of the artistic manner in which the viewers were told they were going to be taken on a journey. Surprisingly for an action thriller, it began with the narration of main protagonist, down and out writer Eddie Morra. When the audience is first introduced, Eddie is contemplating suicide but then the story moves backward in time to inform us what brought him to this state.
He was introduced to a drug – NZT40. This drug allowed him to extract all the information he had in the recesses of his memory and the book he couldn’t write a page of gets completed in four days. He gambles and makes some winnings. He uses some money he obtain to trade and buy stock and becomes a financial genius all because of the drug that makes him feel invincible. Without it, he can’t make sense of any stock related data. Naturally he became an addict without ever knowing how it was really created but fails to realise his meteoric rise from nowhere is not a secret to some and gets careless in his greed and exposes the girl he loves to danger.
Eddie’s sudden transformation from the unmotivated, slacker, behind-his-rent writer without a chance to charismatic financial daredevil is portrayed very well by Bradley Cooper. This movie takes him from his traditional romcom safe zone to new heights during a particularly gruesome scene involving licking blood. This is an action movie for those who appreciate intellectual dialogue but the plot is full of holes for such an interesting premise.
Nevertheless the idea was a creative and original one even if the approach that was taken could have been improved.
Why everyone says Inception was hard to follow is mind-boggling to me than the film itself was. From the first few minutes of reel play, it was obvious that Chris Nolan was throwing the audience headlong into the film at the start without spoon-feeding us with any back story.
All the hype surrounding the film made me expect a masterpiece of cinematic art but honestly Memento where he explores missing memory and The Prestige where he delves deep into the subject of sleight of hand seem to be far better executed in terms of visual narrative that makes you hold your breath so it at least satisfied me the final shot packed a substantial punch to the mind.
Don’t worry – it’s still worth watching though for the special FX of landscaping through dreams, fight sequences in a hotel corridor with no gravity and the experience of following three trains of action plus the actual plot as long as you can understand what Nolan was getting at through ‘extraction’ and ‘inception’.
It’s just I’m not sure every moviegoer will.