Normal, boring

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  • Published 2.01.08

Facts, as the saying goes, are generally stranger than fiction — but only up to a point. In the geek-ified atmosphere of sci-fi, the challenge lies in somehow making the reader think that the most outlandish idea could be the most normal concept in the world (or even outside it).

Which is why Shockwave isn’t wildly exciting. Mind you, the collection of short stories boasts some of the very best writers — Vandana Singh, Jerry Pinto, Vatsala Kaul, Manjula Padmanabhan and Ashok Banker, among others. Sadly, if cyberpunk is your chosen poison, you wouldn’t fail to notice that they show inspiration only in oh-so-brief flashes.

The opening story, Almaru by Vandana Singh, is actually one of the best of the lot. It touches upon most of the usual elements of the genre — AI, seamless computing systems, a rather dystopian future with a Big Brother-like government watching your every move. And there’s Vrinda, a 14-year-old girl who discovers a dreadful (or is it really so dreadful?) truth about her absent father through a cryptic message. The story tugs at the heartstrings in places but it’s not a page-turner.

Quite a few stories focus on virtual chat rooms, something most tweens and teens will identify with. The best of these stories is War of the Words (those of you who know your H.G. Wells would appreciate this one better) by Jayaprakash Satyamurthy, where a computer prodigy starts with a game and ends up saving the world. Quite delightful, but again, not quite cutting-edge. Introducing the Internetters is an interesting example: it’s a detective story, where the sleuths — spread across continents — never leave their PC screens, but google their way to crack a mystery. Chat, by Manjula Padmanabhan, is yet another of the ‘chat’ stories with yet another twist. This one — and hang on to your seatbelts here — is about a malevolent disembodied spirit (in other words, a ghost) trapped behind a computer screen. But if you expect a good shiver from a ghost story, you’d be disappointed.

Some of the other stories are downright boring. A case in point: A Small Green Light by Hartosh Singh Bal. Unless you particularly like to spend your Sunday afternoons reading long essays about the nature of intelligence, the nature of God and Darwinian evolution, you would do well to give this a miss. The story does have an O’Henry-like twist in the end, but by the time you get to it, you’d do well to keep awake.

All in all, a rather disappointing book.

shockwave and other cyber stories
By various authors
puffin books, rs 175

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