Hachette

A Blend of Science and Humour

What if

Title: What if?
Author: Randall Munroe
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Pages: 336
ISBN: 9781848549586
Genre: Nonfiction, Humour, Sciences, Technology & Medicine
Rating: 4/5

Former NASA roboticist Randall Munroe has gained quite a fan following for regularly churning out hilarious and sometimes absurd cartoons on XKCD, “a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.” In tandem with this endeavour, he had launched his blog, ‘What if?’ where he provided “serious scientific answers” to “absurd hypothetical questions” asked by readers, his responses often dotted with his trademark brand of funny caricatures.

Now, he has collated the blog’s most popular answers in a book called What if?, published in India by Hachette. Munroe, who undoubtedly receives a dozens of questions everyday, has included in the book only those “particularly neat questions” which he wanted to “spend a little more time on.” The book also features updated versions of some of his favorite articles from the site and a few brand new questions which he has answered for the first time in the book.

Some of the questions that Munroe tackles are seemingly bizarre but peculiarly enough, as one finds out after reading the book, they can be explained using rational thought. ‘What would happen if you tried to fly a normal Earth airplane above different solar system bodies? How fast can you hit a speed bump while driving and live? How hard would a puck have to be shot to be able to knock the goalie himself backward into the net? How close would you have to be to a supernova to get a lethal dose of neutrino radiation? Then there are questions that Munroe has set aside as ‘Weird (and worrying)’ which he deems unworthy of an explanation, but doesn’t ignore them altogether: Questions like ‘Given humanity’s current knowledge and capabilities, is it possible to build a new star? How fast would a human have to run in order to cut in half at the bellybutton by a cheese-cutting wire? Would Thor, with a spinning hammer, be able to create a tornado like in the movie, in real life?’ are accompanied by rib-tickling comments often put forth through cartoons.

What makes Munroe’s work worthwhile is the way he blends esoteric scientific analogies and logical reasoning with an unfaltering comic commentary. His dedication to answer one weird question after another using these facts (complemented with diagrams, equations, graphs) in the most imaginative and simplest way possible, underscores Munroe’s sound understanding of the subject.

What if? is like a textbook for the curious minds who at some point of their lives would have wondered if there is enough energy to move the entire current human population off the planet or while watching Star Wars, if Yoda can produce sustainable energy to power the entire planet. Having said that, even the not-so-scientifically inclined ones among the crowd can devour it.

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First published in The New Indian Express on October 21, 2014

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Categories: Articles- New Indian Express, Books, Hachette, Humour, Nonfiction, Science and technology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Crime visits the corporate corridors

FraudsterTitle: Fraudster
Author: RV Raman
Publisher: Hachette India
Published on: July 2014
Genre: Fiction, Crime fiction, Thriller, Financial thriller
Pages: 272
ISBN: 9789350098004
Rating: 4/5

Fraudster is an amusing work by first-time author, RV Raman, challenging some of the stereotypes in the genre of thrillers. It is a crime fiction but does not revolve around knife-wielding killers or mere hapless victims. It is a financial thriller set in the corporate world, but doesn’t include credit card frauds and account hacking. At the centre of the book is a scam pertaining to dubious loans issued by corrupt bank practices to spurious real estate companies. “When we think of banking fraud, what usually comes to mind are things like credit card fraud, phishing, account hacking. But the real elephant in the room that few talk about is loan-related fraud. I looked around and realised that not many had written a novel about that.Things fell into place, and out came Fraudster,” says the author who was formerly the head of KPMG’s consulting practice.

A death opens the story, only to be followed by more bodies — a renowned bank chairman and an employee of an accounting firm among the few who are killed. Then there is an attempt to hack into one of the accounting firm’s servers, again suggesting foul play. All along the narrative are references to loan frauds and devious stratagems and thrown amidst the complex financial manipulation are some red herrings which make the climax slightly dramatic.

However, it does involve elements which are not entirely new, the book itself wrapped in layers of non-fiction. Raman admits that readers might have seen parallels in some aspects with their own experience in the corporate world. But as far as the characters are concerned, he has taken particular care not to base them on real people, instead just referencing real attitudes. “I didn’t want that to happen even inadvertently. I’ve gone to the extent of googling combinations of names, designations and occupations to eliminate any parallels to real-life. However, I will say that the character attitudes and outlooks you see in Fraudster are very much based on reality,” he says.

The way the book is pieced together is remarkable, in that it looks nicely webbed, though a non-chronological handling of the narrative would have suited it better. The book meanders through characters working in banks, private equity firms, accounting firms and corporate entities and even has a bunch of corrupt politicians, all of whom have their own stories to tell. But Raman has interconnected them in a manner that does not leave any loose ends.

Writing crime fiction is not always easy. It is de rigueur for writers to follow a set of compelling characters and cite a plot-line that is realistic but not entirely mundane. RV Raman, in his first attempt at being an author, has taken life in the corporate corridors he has known only too well, and has turned it into something teeming with compelling stories.

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First published in The New Indian Express on October 7, 2014

Categories: Books, Crime Fiction, Fiction, Hachette | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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