Thursday, January 13, 2011

Stories from the Cold War

If you are into Cold War books, as I am, then you must read The Red Gods by Donald Lindquist and The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy, if you haven't already. Both were written in the 1980s and long before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In The Red Gods (1981), the Soviet Union draws up an audacious plan to nuke America that could lead to the end of the world. It does not happen, of course. There are sane men behind the Iron Curtain, a term coined by Winston Churchill to describe the communist bloc, who bring the "mad men" in Moscow back from the brink of a catastrophic war with the United States.

In The Hunt for Red October (1984), the two superpowers clash on the high seas (actually under the Atlantic) in a desperate search for a renegade Soviet missile submarine which defects to the United States. While the Yankees do everything to steer The Red October and her crew over to their side, the Commies dispatch their entire naval fleet to either bring it back—or destroy it.

Both stories play out across continents—from the White House to the Kremlin and from CIA headquarters at Langley to KGB headquarters at Lubyanka. The novels are gripping and reflect scenarios that might have actually occurred at the height of the Cold War.

Mercifully, that hostile era is behind us; hopefully, stories of that period are not.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Chess masters on chess

Bobby Fischer on the cover of Life.
Chess is intellectual gymnastics.
— Wilhelm Steinitz, Czech Republic, first undisputed world chess champion from 1886 to 1894

Chess is life... All I want to do, ever, is to play chess.
— Bobby Fischer, USA, world chess champion from 1972 to 1975 and one of the greatest chess players of all time

It's quite difficult for me to imagine my life without chess.
— Garry Kasparov, Russia, youngest World Chess Champion in 1985, at 22

Nowadays, when you're not a grandmaster at 14, you can forget about it.
— Viswanathan Anand, India, current world chess champion

When you see a good move, look for a better one.
Emanuel Lasker, Germany, mathematician and philosopher—and world chess champion for 27 years

A May 1940 pulp fiction magazine.
Chess is a matter of vanity.
— Alexander Alekhine, Russia, fourth world chess champion

First restrain, next blockade, lastly destroy.
— Aron Nimzowitsch, Russia, Latvian chess grandmaster and inventor of Nimzowitsch Defence

As one by one I mowed them down, my superiority soon became apparent.
— José Raúl Capablanca, Cuba, world chess champion from 1921 to 1927

Chess is my life, but my life is not chess.
— Anatoly Karpov, Russia, former world champion from 1975 to 1985

Chess is ruthless: you've got to be prepared to kill people.
— Nigel Short, England, became a Grandmaster at 19

Others on chess

Woody Allen in What's New Pussycat (1965)
I failed to make the chess team because of my height.
— Woody Allen, director, comedian and writer

You sit at the board and suddenly your heart leaps. Your hand trembles to pick up the piece and move it. But what chess teaches you is that you must sit there calmly and think about whether it's really a good idea and whether there are other, better ideas.
— Stanley Kubrick, director, writer and producer

My problem with chess was that all my pieces wanted to end the game as soon as possible.
— Dave Barry, columnist and humourist

Chess is a foolish expedient for making idle people believe they are doing something very clever, when they are only wasting their time.
— George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright and Nobel prize winner

Whoever called snooker 'chess with balls' was rude, but right.
— Clive James, novelist, poet and essayist

Personally, I rather look forward to a computer program winning the world chess championship. Humanity needs a lesson in humility.
— Richard Dawkins, ethologist and evolutionary biologist, and author of The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion

Chess is the most elaborate waste of human intelligence outside of an advertising agency.
— Raymond Chandler, novelist and screenwriter

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Stan Lee on the Walk of Fame

Stan Lee, creator of most of Marvel's comic book characters including the more famous Spider-Man, Iron Man, the X-Men, the Hulk and Thor, has been awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles, USA. The 89-year old comic book legend is the 2,428th person to be given a star on the famous strip. "Wouldja believe I'm on the same block as Paul Newman and Sophia Loren," an excited Lee told the Washington Post. "I really still can't believe it. I think they have me confused with someone else, but I'm not gonna tell them!"

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

India to host first comics convention
A costumed Iron-Man shows off at Comic-Con 2009 in USA.

Comic book readers and collectors in India will be delighted to know that the country will host its first comics convention this year. The debut event is proposed to be held in Dilli Haat—the Indian crafts and food bazaar located in the heart of Delhi—on February 19 & 20. It aims to facilitate direct interaction between readers and writers for creating new projects in the comics industry, says a Press Trust of India report.

"We want the people to meet and connect with the writers and publishers in our comics industry and explore the current trends," Jatin Verma, who is organising the event, tells PTI. "There is a lot of potential in this industry which needs to be tapped. It is an effort to celebrate our love for comics and give a boost to the industry."

Well-known publishers of comics like Diamond, Vimanika, Level 10, Raj and Amar Chitra Katha are expected to be a part of the event.

"It will be an opportunity for publishers to sample the growing popularity of comic books and graphic arts in India, and reach out to diehard comics enthusiasts," PTI quotes Verma.

The annual convention will have a book fair that will feature the biggest comics and graphics publishers from around the world as well as workshops for budding comic book writers and artists. It hopes to attract producers of animation films and teleserials based on the Indian comic book heroes.

"There are many Hollywood films on international comics heroes like Spiderman and Superman. We want producers to take note of the likes of Naagraj and Doga, and come out with movies and serials on them," Verma tells PTI.

The convention aims to nurture new talent in comics writing. As Verma adds, "The backbone of any great comic is the story and it comes from creative individuals. This place will be a chance for the writers to showcase their work to the world."

The inspiration for India's first comics convention, no doubt, comes from the world-renowned comics convention held annually in San Diego, California, USA. This year San Diego is hosting its 41st convention, known as Comic-Con 2011, over four days from July 21 to 24 (visit It's not easy to get in but once in you don't want out.

Let's hope that's the case with India's Comic-Con too.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Gardner and Chase are back

Erle Stanley Gardner
There was a time when Erle Stanley Gardner and James Hadley Chase occupied space on dusty bookshelves in Indian homes; at least the ones that read books. I have read nearly all the novels written by legal eagle Gardner and thriller writer Chase, a pseudonym for British writer Rene Brabazon Raymond. Both were, predictably, favourites among most readers of my generation of the 1970s and 1980s.

The Gardner and Chase series of novels are back in a new avatar but the reprints are no match for the originals—the cover designs are flashy and the printing quality very poor. In fact, they look like pirated editions of books usually found on pavements.
Hopefully, the stories inside are the same old stories—Gardner’s pocket novels revolving around lawyer Perry Mason, the protagonist, his efficient secretary Della Street, private detective Paul Drake, policeman Lt. Tragg, and district attorney Hamilton Burger; and Chase’s mystery books circling around an assortment of oddball characters that almost always include cops, gangsters, murderers, philanderers, and beautiful women.

James Hadley Chase
Chase has a thing about cops who are the heroes in several of his books where you will find the cop in overcoat mouthing the now famous line, “I gave him my cop look.” Gardner’s hero, Mason, is a reputed and distinguished lawyer who is ably aided by both Della and Drake. In the courtroom Mason always gets the better of his nemesis, Burger. Well nearly always…

Both novels are about crimes and criminals—one playing out in the courtrooms, the other out in the streets—and keeps the reader hooked from cover to cover. They are fun to read and quick to finish.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Two odd films on New Year

Tennessee Nights
Watching Jack Black's Gulliver's Travels over New Year’s weekend seemed to be a good idea except most New Year's revellers felt the same way, so a visit to the nearest theatre or multiplex was out of the question. Who wants to watch Gulliver wrestle with the Lilliputians in the midst of a bunch of noisy kids? So you did the next best thing: catch cinema on cable.

You caught two films on television—Tennessee Nights (1989) and The Mating Game (1959)—with a 30-year gap between them and absolutely nothing in common but reasonably entertaining nonetheless.

In the first one, British actor Julian Sands (A Room With a View, 1985) and Stacey Dash (Renaissance Man, 1994), pair up in this high-voltage drama about a kind lawyer, Wolfgang Leighton (Sands), who, on an innocuous fishing trip, gets entangled in a murder he did not commit and moolah he did not steal. His only hope is Sally Lomas (Dash), a poor teenage girl who hitches a lift in his car, and almost into his heart. The sexual chemistry between the gentlemanly Wolfgang and the provocative Sally plays out through the better part of the film, till Wolfgang is arrested and is briefly thrown into a cell of hardened criminals. Eventually, Wolfgang is freed and he heads home but not before telling Sally at the airport where to find the hidden loot—in the boot of his car. She walks away with it.

The Mating Game, starring Tony Randall and Debbie Reynolds, is a delightful romantic comedy about IRS agent Lorenzo Charlton (Randall) who visits Sidney 'Pop' Larkin's sprawling farm to collect unpaid taxes and is promptly "snared" by his eldest daughter, Mariette Larkin (Reynolds). Papa Larkin (Paul Douglas, Panic in the Streets, 1950) hasn't the faintest idea of the seriousness of Charlton's mission—he says he pays "taxes" to God through the church. The Larkins are a happy and close-knit family who welcome the tax collector into their home, as well as into their hearts, with wide and open arms. Just your kind of family...

Next up on cable—Gulliver's Travels.