The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Paperback Pickings

The terror of very small things

Prey (HarperCollins, Rs 195) by Michael Crichton is a compelling thriller by the author of Jurassic Park. It starts with the proposition, “Things never turn out the way you think they will”, and gives this mildly annoying fact a rather terrifying Darwinian-futurist turn. Crichton’s predators are micro-robots, a cloud of nanoparticles which have escaped from a laboratory. This cloud is intelligent, self-sustaining and self-reproducing. It is, for all practical purposes, “alive”, and is evolving swiftly. Every attempt to destroy this mechanical plague has failed, and time seems to be running out. Crichton’s thriller, armed with introduction and bibliography, is located in the overlap between nanotechnology, biotechnology and computers. The self-reproducing powers of artificial organisms, seen against the backdrop of a Lucretian universe of “restless and perpetual change”, evoke a world in which “all human actions necessarily have uncertain effects”. Crichton’s introduction quotes the chief proponent of nanotechnology as occasionally feeling “queasy about the consequences of this technology for the future”.

A Pilgrimage to the Himalayas and Other Silhouettes from Memory (Rupa, Rs 195) by Mahadevi Verma is a mix of memoirs, sketches and essays by a distinguished Hindi poet, translated by Radhika and Lillian Srivastava. Verma describes these pieces as “emotional journeys begun with the purpose of recreating those moments in which I shared and lived the feelings and experiences of others.” This is an extract from “The Chinese Pedlar”: “It is difficult for me to discover distinct and memorable features which will distinguish one Chinese from another. Their identical flat faces seem to have been turned out of the same mould, and the pleat-like noses which break the monotony of their faces can hardly be differentiated…Physiognomy, deportment and dress all combine to make these inhabitants of a distant land look like mechanically controlled puppets.”

How to End Suffering (Penguin, Rs 250) by Dolores Wood compiles the teachings of Eknath Easwaran about “the power of the human spirit”. It seeks to transform suffering into spiritual growth through meditation. Easwaran’s favourite aphorism is “Life without stress is distress”, and he likes quoting Maugham’s Razor’s Edge: “The dead look so terribly dead when they’re dead.” The appendix compiles an eclectic range of spiritually uplifting texts which could be used as aids to meditation. A book on suffering by someone called Dolores is like a book on happiness by someone called Felicity.

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