Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Slumdog City

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
Reviewed by Diane K. M.
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is an amazing story about families who live and work in a Mumbai slum. It's one of my favorite nonfiction books I've read in recent years, and I wish the author would write a follow-up so I can learn what the families are up to now.

Katherine Boo spent years reporting in the airport settlement of Annawadi, and the book unfolds like a novel. It's a fascinating look at how the underclass tries to survive and get ahead in a 21st-century economy. One of the things I found most interesting was how the families were constantly fighting with others in the slum, literally over scraps. And the police, the courts, the hospitals -- everyone, really -- were so corrupted that they're all trying to fleece somebody. In the author's note at the end, Boo points out how there was little sense of a shared community, because they were all so desperate to get ahead of their neighbors. In one disturbing scene, a man in the slum had been hit by a car and was left on the side of the road. Dozens of people walked by, but no one stopped to help because they were too wrapped up in their own affairs and couldn't afford to waste time helping him. After several hours, the man had died, and only then did people stop to help pick up the corpse.

Despite the abject poverty, I found the book to be inspiring because so many of the families were hopeful that they could someday rise up out of the slum and join the more prosperous middle class of India. As Boo noted, there were three ways out of the slum: an entrepreneurial niche (like scavenging for scrap metals), politics (meaning corruption), or education. I'm pinning my hopes on Manju, a young woman who will be the first person in the slum to have graduated from college. Rise, Manju, rise!

No Such Thing

No Such ThingNo Such Thing by Edward Lorn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

No one was interested in Johan Schmidt's research into human parthenogenesis. No one until Eliot Von Lennon...

This one was another freebie from that Lorn boy.

This short story from Edward Lorn reminds me of an episode of the outer limits. A millionaire hires a scientist to do something for him and it goes terribly wrong. An awesome gorefest ensues.

I've referred to Edward Lorn as the "Future of Horror" and "Self-Publishing Done Right." My esteem for him grows even more with this story of science gone wrong. Cloning, whether or not people have souls, and chimeric twins. Good stuff. Four out of five stars.

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The Hellbound Heart

The Hellbound HeartThe Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Frank Cotton activated the Lemarchand Configuration and was whisked away by the Cenobites to experience "pleasure" no mortal has ever felt. Now, Frank's brother Rory and his wife Julie live in the house where his experiment occurred. Frank's looking to return to the fields we know and the price is blood...

As part of my continuing horror education, I had to give Clive Barker a shot, thus The Hellbound Heart.

This novella is pretty memorable but I wouldn't say I was scared by it. More creeped out than anything. Clive Barker has a pretty twisted imagination. The Cenobites and their idea of pleasure was pretty horrible. I really liked the idea of a wooden puzzle box that opens a gateway to another dimension.

Julie gradually falling under the spell of what was left of Frank was pretty cool. I had a pretty good idea of where the story would go and how it would end after she made contact with Frank but it was a fun, gore-strewn ride.

Aside from the short length, my only gripe with the book would be that Clive Barker's style seemed overly ornate at times.

Three things I learned from The Hellbound Heart:
1. If you find a wooden puzzle box, don't mess with it.
2. If there's a chance extradimensional beings, be sure you masturbate on the floor. It'll help you rebuild your body later.
3. If you go home with a woman you meet in a bar and she wants to have sex in a room devoid of furniture, make sure she doesn't have a knife.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

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