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The Manticore's Secret by Samit Basu

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Book Information  
AuthorSamit Basu
TitleThe Manticore's Secret
SeriesGame World
Volume2
Year2005
GenreFantasy
 
Book Reviews / Comments (submitted by readers)
 
Submitted by Joykrit Mitra 
(Sep 20, 2006)

WANNABE BOOK CRITIC’S PERSPECTIVE

Samit Basu’s epic Simoquin Prophecies, being a pot pourri of eclectic elements in different fictional creations, managed to maintain a very strong stroke of originality, and a brilliant one at that. Needless to say, the sequel was eagerly anticipated, and needless to say, it lived up to the monumental expectations that the young author had to shoulder.

This time round however, fans are introduced to a new term which apparently, is self-evident- Gameworld. To fans of the Simoquin Prophecies, it might seem to be falling out of the sky, but this new concept has completely altered the trilogy.

Samit Basu has decided to call his trilogy – Gameworld. The concept is seemingly simple- the author decides that the world where his story unfolds, is apparently created by a God, who is not as godly as he seems. In fact, the gods in the story are far from divine, except for fortuitously possessing certain divine abilities.

Gameworld can be looked at from many perspectives. One of them conveys the verisimilitude of a group of players playing an online strategy game , utilizing the multiplayer option. But the gods are vicarious to the players, and the internet subsequently substitutes the universe. The objective of this divine game seems to be for the gods to control specific characters, as Age of Empires addicts control civilizations, without using cheat codes- in this case divine intervention. The gods aren’t allowed to use the pawns as they please to forward the story as they see fit. They are supposed to herd the characters.

The other perspective has much deeper resonances.

It is a well known fact in Physicists’ circles, and among science buffs and conspiracy theorists alike, that while Einstein aimed to decipher the secret to unification of forces, while looking at certain things from a ‘quantum’ angle, Einstein claimed there was a “ God’s Playground.”, a sea of quantum, where creation could be accomplished with a swipe of the palm, only if one had the right tools. Gameworld is very reminiscent of the concept, where gods create and destroy worlds to their whims. Worlds seem to exist only to satiate more playful sides to their persona.

The unwaba, who was just another one in a million interesting characters in the Simoquin prophecies, speaking everyone’s lines for himself, is portrayed in a completely different light. He claims to be a god put into exile within gameworld, which more or less justifies his prophetic powers. And another thing that avid readers surely hadn’t failed to note before, was his inability to speak in present tense, often confusing past and future tenses. Other than being an appealing character, the unwaba comes as close to a higher dimensional being storytelling has seen as any other.

Imaginative physicists figured out almost a century ago that higher dimensions existed. The first higher dimension was assumed to be time when space and time where somehow warped mathematically. Also, it was assumed that higher dimensional beings would be able to see lower dimensions from a better angle.

For the context of the discussion let us take the most popular example in physics when describing higher dimensions to laymen. Imagine a 2 dimensional square world called Flatland where all beings also exist in two dimensions and cannot comprehend the concept of height. Now imagine. A higher dimensional being, who has height, say a human, sticks a finger into this world. He lets the finger pass through the two dimensional space, and then draws it out. Unable to comprehend height, a flatlander( say a circular dot) will be unable to see the finger. What he will observe is that, a circle appears out of nowhere. This circle then starts expanding, as the finger goes deeper. And then, the circle starts to contract, as the finger is drawn out, till it shrinks to a drop and vanishes all together. In short, a flatlander will label this as a miracle.


The Gods in the Gameworld trilogy are able to perform similar miracles to change course of events. One God, Tsa Ur has even been mentioned in the book to eat his subjects. They can easily be assumed as higher dimensional beings. Coming back to the unwaba, if time were a higher dimension, then scientists claim that, a fourth dimensional being would be in a much better shape to visualize time. He will be able to look at time at all angles, i.e at all moments. This can be further furnished with another example for better understanding. A Marcel Duchamp painting whose name I cannot remember, exhibits, a lady walking down the stairs, where her actual body is portrayed in the final step, but the trail of her descent has been drawn with her images trailing from the first step to where she actually is. In short, the viewer is seeing where she was ten seconds ago, nine seconds ago, one second ago at the same time.

Similarly the unwaba also claims to read the chain of events like a script, as he himself claims. Being able to sense past present and future at the same time, may well result in confusion of tense.( Those who have played The Longest Journey will know exactly what I’m talking about. In the game, the character Abnaxus of the Venar race was much like the unwaba who also had problems with tense for the same reason.)

The storyline also has matured well. Three weeks after the first book, Kirin is finding his responsibilities as Dark Lord hopelessly mundane. Asvin too, seems to be crestfallen. Quests do not seem to materialize out of thin air as was expected. Instead he plays a tool in the hands of the civilian.( Those who played Metal Gear Solid will be able to grasp his problems better) Spikes, offers words of useless advice and tries to portray Kirin’s father figure. Kirin now has a Mordor-ish Dark Tower to live in, without which a Dark Lord cannot be called a Dark Lord.

Surprises in the plot are also around the corner. Basu apparently, did not come out with all guns blazing in Book 1, leaving a lot of the excitement for the other books. The return of the ravians is also portrayed, though differently than what many may have expected. And those who were expecting Kirin to follow in his father’s footsteps will be bitterly disappointed. He is far more busy trying to avert a war than to start one. And the way story has been cemented with the Gameworld concept is also laudable.

Those who were enchanted by Basu’s inimitable style will not be disappointed. The mellifluous feel has not changed. The wisecracks, sarcasms, irony has not faded one bit. What adds to the already accomplished wit is the rather undisguised sexual humor. Mockery of fictional absolutes has also not receded. In fact, they continue to be instrumental in projecting a writing style as his. Fans can only wait for the third and final plot to unfurl- where the Game continues.

MY PERSPECTIVE

What I have to say is very little. I read The Simoquin Prophecies eleven times. I read the Manticore’s Secret once. I will not read it again.

I will let my alter ego do the talking.

ALTER EGO PERSPECTIVE.

AAAAAAAAAARGHHHHHHHH!!!( Tearing hair)

What a waste. What a waste….. of pages that is…..
“What adds to the already accomplished wit is the rather undisguised sexual humor.” MY FOOT I tell you….. If this isn’t outrageously perverted thinking I don’t know what is…Well to look on the bright side of things, at least no one will call us Bengalis prudes for a change. Frankly I’m bored to death seeing our kind as going red in cheeks type. Now that might have been a very prudent point if that is the point Samit Basu wanted to make….. that is unless the sexual humor was a vent. For the time being I will refrain from making further obvious comments on the issue, and leave the final stone unturned. Experienced readers will read between the lines.

What a fool I was keeping The Simoquin Prophecies at the top of my all time list. Of course, I still maintain that it is the best book I have ever read, but this Gamworld think had already delivered a coupe-de-grace… with a giant guillotine …..

Too many cooks indeed spoil the broth. In this case, too many interesting ideas ruined a lot of things. Gameworld is a very interesting concept. Dunno whether it also draws an influence from anything else. Mr Samit Basu is obviously a very inspired man…….
But in this case he was trying to kill too many birds with one stone.
The Gameworld concept no doubt will raise two eyebrows, not one, but to those devout fans, who hero worship authors for brilliant stories( myself included), it shatters our dreams. I’m forwarding a cause here…..

But of course, unless Penguin India already hasn’t made a mess of things as I think they did with Book 1, a lot of critics will be busy pondering over a lot of interesting concepts that the book no doubt provides. It was clearly meant to please critics, not fans. One big problem with fat headed critics is that they always try to see things through their reference frame in order to justify their own existence.
Dunno what the sales figures of Book 1 looked like, but it surely could have been tenfolds better had the author not been a Bengali. We have very few lobbies. Of course it could easily have been bungling Penguin India as I suspect. I was astounded to find that a release date hadn’t even been finalized for a long time……. Due respect disregarded this…..

Coming back to the topic of discussion, where was I?


My hatred towards Maya, has intensified a million times over, and it was already a thousand letter superlative as it were. She is a balloon headed prick, who thinks the world of herself. Another reason for my intense hatred towards her is her feministic propensities. I hate feminists. And she tries really hard to balance ‘damsel’ with ‘tomboy’ with little avail. she clearly is an antisocial type.

( MY ‘GUILTY’ CONSCIENCE)- I myself sometimes realize that certain personal characteristics of mine seem to go along the same lines as this witch. I feel extremely guilty at times, as I realize that the way I despise her is clearly the way everyone despises me. Not that I mind.

Red the Shapeshifter is another wasted if interesting character. Mr. Samit Basu clearly went for quantity instead of quality. Her character fills a lot of useless pages and the book could have been fifty pages shorter without her. Another character with other quirky traits would have been sufficiently quirky. Every time, her mental monologues/dialogues/trialogues come up with her multiple personalities, I felt like throwing the book away. And it was extremely detrimental to building of the plot. Climaxes are meant to be climaxes. They are not meant to be delayed by loony heroines, who waste page after page justifying their fictional existence.

Even the climax wasn’t worthy of being called a climax. In book 1, the climax was aided by two factors- that it was going to be a very defining moment, and the complete twist of the plot. There was no plot twist here, as expected, and the climax could have been more defined, had the characters of Myrdak and Kirin been further prodded. To build a climax, requires a lot more concentration on the final duel rather than digressing from it, if it was supposed to be a climax at all. But the final fight sequence was pretty amazing. No criticism there.

The only positive I drew from the book is that Asvin died. He was an utterly hopeless character with no brains. His ideals were also utterly stupid. After such a long time, he still makes stupid comments about Good and Evil. Exposes his moronic sentiments, and strong ideals with no flexibility. And it turns out, he wasn’t as idealistic as he portrays himself, cheating on Maya. This further underlines how our world has gone to the dogs as it is. Love is by and large a physical thing. Each and every character in the book seems to be obsessed by amorous thoughts half the time, and all they seem to care about is to douse the flaming passion within their loins. The sensitive way in which Maya and Kirin’s relationship was previously handled seems alien in this masquerade of hormones. This isn’t a scheme to uplift book sales is it??

If I could begin to describe my hatred for the Silver Dagger. I must say that I despised the Dagger, Maya and Asvin from the start, but Book 1’s brilliance clearly diverted my attention from these matters. But not any more. I wonder how a three foot lanky laggard can consider himself a “ handsome dog.” As it is I hate characters with inflated heads, no matter how much substance they have to back it up. And what is worse in this case is an inflated head with a small body. I’ve seen reversed fortunes in real life of course…..

There were also certain plot loopholes, not all of which I can remember after one read. Everyone was certainly awaiting the Ravian’s return, and out of nowhere, it appears that the Civilian suspected the Ravians from the start. This suspicion did not grow in the telling, so obviously it was written down in some unpublished pages. Ha ha ha. Very funny.


A few things are pretty obvious now. In the end, Gameworld is bound to be destroyed as the author hints in the last line. And the silver dagger seems to have been given a mission to Imokoi.

Enough criticism. I’m sure a lot of people will have liked the book. There were a lot of things I loved about it myself. In fact, what I liked about it outhweighs what I disliked about it one to a thousand, but the things that I thought were missing deserve a hearing. They pained me deeply. And they will no doubt pain any devout Simoquin Prophecies fan.




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