The Quantum Spy by David Ignatius – a review

I have long been a connoisseur of spy novels. John Le Carre, Frederick Forsyth, Robert Ludlum, Ian Fleming… you name it and I’ve most probably read it. Therefore it is the name of the novel itself that attracted me to read David Ignatius’ The Quantum Spy. Having never read anything else by Ignatius, I was skeptical going in. Boy, was I surprised !

The Quantum Spy gives an (I hope exaggerated) insight into the technological race between USA, the frontrunner of pretty much everything in the world, and China, aspiring global power numero uno. The focus here is on Quantum Computing, the holy grail of high speed, high efficiency computing that no one has been able to perfect (yet). Both these countries are fighting tooth and nail, spending exorbitant amounts of money and doing unspeakable unthinkable things just to be the first to achieve this goal.

I quite enjoyed the character sketches put forth by Ignatius. Without exception, they are all flawed, which makes them extremely interesting. Harris Chang is a very likeable protagonist, battling inner and outer demons at once, the most blatant one being racism. It is a running theme that no one from both countries can look past his skin colour. The Chinese see an overseas Chinese man, who in their mind, is fundamentally Chinese, though in an American Costume. The Americans just see a Chinese man, whose loyalties are in doubt in lieu of his skin colour. While he starts out as a patriotic American man, a war veteran no less, towards the end, there is a duality in him that is quite appealing. The  main antagonist (that is probably too strong a word), is almost the same. Although in this person’s case, marginalisation rather than racism is the main issue. This person’s actions are justified as having been done for the greater good, which is a little trite. But the portrayal never comes across as dull. Same is true of all the characters.

The story lines blend seamlessly into one another. The complex inner workings of the CIA and the MSS made for very engaging reading. I did find the prose a little unsophisticated in certain places, especially in the beginning, but it seemed to repair itself as the novel went along. All in all, I would characterise it as a surprisingly delightful one-time read.

The Sherlock Effect by Raymond Kay Lyon – a review

I have been an ardent fan of Holmesian literature nearly all my life, ever since I picked up ‘The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (in 2 volumes)’ from my mother’s library when I was 11 or 12. I have watched nearly all the dramatizations on film based on the characters, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. I still read through the books at least once a year, every year, when I’m conflicted about what to read. Needless to say, I am a reasonable authority when it comes to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional sleuth. This almost obsession is what led me to choose ‘The Sherlock Effect’ by Raymond Kay Lyon from the vast array of books at Netgalley.

The book brings to life, 4 chapters from the adventures of Christopher ‘Sherl’ Sherlock Webster (Holmes) and his college friend and business partner (-in-crime, forgive the pun please) Morris ‘Mo’ Rennie (Watson, of course) who live and solve crimes in present day London (the novel was originally published in 1997 and this review is based on a reprint set to release  on January 25, 2018, so present day might be stretching it a little). Mr. Webster, who grew up and advanced into adulthood resenting his conspicuous middle name given by a Holmes-obsessed father throws himself into everything-Holmes after his father’s demise. Along comes Mo with a plan to open up an agency of consulting detectives (which he offers to bank roll), with the hope that Sherl’s unique middle name will fetch them some clients. It does, and work starts coming their way in due time.

The Sherlock Effect is interesting enough. It is an easy read, written simply and concisely. What is lacking is Conan Doyle’s deductive brilliance, which is the highlight of the original. While the plots are somewhat distinctive, they lack the depth and intrigue which Evokes your inner detective, which keeps you on tenterhooks until the very end. The stories and characterisations are rather transparent. The premise itself isn’t exactly new (it might have been in 1997, but not so much in 2018. There are literally countless works, both in literature and on film, derived from Conan Doyle’s Holmes available today). All in all, I’d characterise ‘The Sherlock Effect’  as an average, enjoyable read that entertains but doesn’t offer much of a cerebral challenge.

P. S : This review is based on a free ebook version of this novel provided to me by netgalley.co.uk. The opinions expressed are my own.

An Astronaut’s guide to life on earth – a very short review

I just finished reading ‘An Astronaut’s guide to life on earth’ by Chris Hadfield. Col. Hadfield is a Canadian Astronaut who served as the Commander of the International Space Station for expedition 34/35. I quite enjoyed his descriptions about preparing for missions (he had also served in two shuttle missions before), the day to day activities and responsibilities undertaken while he was in Mission Control, and of course the wondrous, Miraculous, most amazing adventure ever, actually being in space.

The book is full of little anecdotes that keep you entertained and also teaches you a little something. For example, during the shuttle mission, STS-100, Hadfield was involved in installing Canadarm-2, a robotic arm designed to move parts of the station and catch unmanned supply ships among other things. Because he hadn’t completely wiped off the anti-fog solution (basically detergent) from his visor when he cleaned it the night before, he was temporarily blinded when his water supply leaked into the helmet. So if you’re ever in space, wipe off the anti-fog solution thoroughly before EVAs 😉

All in all the book is very well written, well-worth a read and provides a detailed and highly interesting insight into the efforts that go into the making of an astronaut. As someone who grew up dreaming about the stars myself, I found it especially delightful.