Sunday, March 30, 2008

Anatomy of a Spy Novel

The history of the masters of “cloak and dagger” is mysterious, and hence, famous. The tribe (who according to Chanakya is one of the major weapons for safety of a country), includes famous fictional names from Scarlet Pimpernel, Beauvallet to James Bond to Jack Ryan. On desi front we have aiyyars like Tejsingh, Badrinath and so on (whose one of the claims to fame is that they always find some female around whose clothes they can don), but they don't have books dedicated to their craft.

For all the rookie writers out there, who want to get a piece of spy-fi pie, we bring you the anatomy of a spy novel. Fill in the stuffing according to taste, and you've got yourself a turkey, sorry, a successful spy thriller:

The novel starts with the Good Guys (GG) catching the Bad Boys (BB) doing something they are not supposed to do, or something the BB are doing better than GG. Now GG start running around, trying to get the intel on the secret BB project.

There is of course a spy within BB (Good Spy = GS) who will get the information back to GG, and he is sufficiently high-placed (or well-placed) that he has access to the intel. But the BB will get a lucky break, and the spy will either get caught, or they will come to understand that there is a spy, and will start hunting for him.

It turns out that the BB also have a well-placed spy amongst GG (Bad Spy = BS), who told them about GS, or the intel he provided. Now, GS is acting as a spy because of the injustice he or someone close to him was forced to suffer, and he wants to help GG to achieve world peace. But BS is acting as a spy because he has a baser personal motive, and he is fooling himself that he is doing it because he wants world peace. So, while GS is respected on both sides, even the BB handlers don't like BS, but they have to tolerate him, because they are bound by duty and he is a valuable asset.

Thus, while both sides are busy gathering the intel and hunting for the spy amongst them (and in case of GG, ensure the safety of GS), a third party (TP) will step in. Depending on the relationship between the TP and the Central Character (CC), TP will either meddle into the GG investigation, or provide some important intel to GG, which will aid in their investigation.

With this information (or despite it), CC will concoct a plan. The GG will make an all-out try, and get the BS, while making it easy to confuse BB, and get GS out. And GG will live happily ever after.

Points to Note:

  1. If BB are from a country with whom GG hasn't had an armed conflict, then you can treat BB with some respect. They will be able to get good breaks in their investigation, even coming as far as actually catching GS. And GS will be able to get out in spite of BB' best efforts, and not because of BB' stupidity.

  2. Make sure to put in some good guys within BB, who are doing their duty well and honestly. They will do their utmost, but will be thwarted by the crooked among BB, and of course, by the CC.

  3. If TP is another country or people, they will be inferior to GG and BB in technology, but that will not be their only motivation in helping GG. This will allow you to make condescending remarks about their current political situation, civilization and so on.

  4. If you are sure that the country where BB are residing will not be a big market for your novel, then you can pass judgements on everything related to them.

  5. Make sure that you preach about current world situation, war, enmity and hatred among people. This sounds better if coming from CC, or the Head of GG. For extra points, the head of BB should be the audience.

So, get your pens, typewriters and word processors ready, and write that spy-fi you always wanted. Who knows, your “Spiare EspionTM” could be the next James Bond...

Coming up next: Anatomy of a crime serial episode

- The Great Eagle Has Spoken

Sunday, March 23, 2008

5 Deadliest Jobs, Onscreen

The lot of today's TV actors (both sexes) is a hard one. In the old days, they had to cry and smile (a lot) on screen. Today, every self-respecting TV show has a scene where somebody is crying, and/or praying to some god, and/or getting slapped. And while main actors are impossible to kill, there are certain roles which you cannot get if you are not good at playing dead.

Traditionally, Bollywood movies make it easier to decide if you need to be there for all the filming schedule (e.g. hero's sister, heroin's friend or the vamp are the roles which allow you to film a dying scene or two). But now even in TV serials, that there are certain roles for which you must be a perfect possum-impersonator (possumnator?). For all you aspiring actors out there, if you are auditioning for any of the roles in the following list, there's a very little chance that you would be coming back for next episode:

  1. The person of attraction for a criminal investigator: If you are cast in this role, there's a 90% chance you will be killed in second half of the episode. If you are in lucky 10%, the person you liked would be the one who slips handcuffs on your hands (to arrest you, not for the “other” reason).
    Unless of course, you are part of the team yourself, in which case, you have got about 50-50 chance that you would be there for a few episodes. Your cue to start looking for other gigs is when the main character starts noticing you (on-screen).

  2. The "guruji" for good side in horror serials: The amount of time you will be alive is inversely proportional to the piety and holiness of your character. You would be especially lucky to make it to the second half of the story.
    By now, I am pretty sure that this is a conspiracy on behalf of pseudo-secular, liberal media to undermine the traditional Hindu religious practices. After all, what message does it give to our young generation if a person who spends his lifetime in praying is so easy to kill, while somebody else gets a divine intervention? And that too, a person who cannot even pronounce half of the words in the shlok properly.

  3. The “modern” boy/girl in horror serials: If your wardrobe consists of modern clothes or if you don't spend half your time praying and bent half doing charan-sparsh to all and sundry, start making plans for the rest of the day you will be getting off.

  4. For any crime serial, if you are in cold open, specifically, if you are the first person the viewers would see, your role after the titles would be to lie down on a cold slab/freezer, playing a dead body. If it's a horror serial, your role ends with your first shriek.

  5. A drunk: Alcohol kills. Ask any drunk from horror serials. Oh yes, you cannot, because they are all dead.
    The only difference is that instead of a painful, drawn out death due to organ failure, you will have a painful, quick death by most bizarre means possible.

Have I missed anybody?

- The Great Eagle Has Spoken

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Want To Conquer The Earth?

Do you want to get out of your planet to another? Didn't the last planet you conquered fulfil your ambition? Are you sick and tired of hearing about the planet your neighbour annexed last week (as your better half keeps reminding you)? Then you have probably heard about “Conquer That Planet You Always Wanted” series of guides from Diabolical Press.

This week, we were lucky enough to get an advanced copy of the new “Earth” edition of “Conquer That Planet...” for review, and are glad to bring you some excerpts from the book:

Conquer That Planet You Always Wanted: Earth

Are you a radioactive slug (or a radioactivity buff)? This planet may turn radioactive any moment now. Are you someone who loves being around water? This planet is mostly water (and the level is increasing by the day). All in all, Earth is a good prospect, no matter what your tastes (as long as you pack for an oxygen rich environment).

Earth is classified as “Mostly Harmless”, and our guide is carefully tailored to take out that “Mostly” part from the equation, giving you a completely hassle-free campaign. So read on...

How to get there: You are looking for a nine (or eight, or ten, based on your definition) planet system in the extreme arm of a spiral galaxy. Once you get there, go past the ringed gas giant, an orange gas giant and a red planet, to the third planet from the sun. (Make sure you get the latest directions from your local astronomer).

The best time to get there: Make sure you get there on Friday night, Saturday or Sunday (known locally as weekend) local time. This is the time most of the local populace (humans) is busy either in “parties” or lazying about at their homes. That will guarantee a spectacular panic when your spaceship “arrives”.
Any other day of the week is also not bad, but make sure you avoid Monday, especially Monday mornings local time. Most of the humans are not exactly at their most hospitable behaviour at this time, which may prove costly to your enterprise.

What to wear: Most humans are afraid of giant things. Giant insects (“bugs”) and lizards are specially feared. So even if you are a emancipated two-foot high humanoid, make sure that your bodysuit or the robot you are controlling, projects a fearsome fa├žade. Plus, this also makes a good plot point for the “movie” your attack is guaranteed to result in.
The other option, if you have enough time, you can go dressed as natives, and work from “inside”.

Local Defences: Due to lack of a centralized government, there is no single central agency you will be fighting, but a bunch of local agencies. Depending on situation, this may be both an advantage as well as disadvantage for you. The agencies may continue their policy of non-co-operation (or better yet, fight) each other even in the face of your attack. On the other hand, you may have to face several local battles.
At any cost, make sure you do your best not to do anything which will cause them to band together against you.

Some General Tips:
1.Take care of your equipment: It doesn't really suit a inter-planetary conqueror to lose a flying saucer or two. Not just that, if humans get their hands on your material (however technologically primitive they may be compared to you), they will use it to cause your destruction. So make sure that you fit all your fighting craft with “self-destruct” button, and train your fighters in its proper use (specifically, the difference between “Self-destruct” and “Fire-to-destroy” buttons).
2.Respect the local customs: Specifically, the local adage about the female of the species being more dangerous than the male. So, in the middle of campaign, don't get distracted, even if you are running out of fighter spawn, and you must get more soldiers right now. Believe us, it never ends happily.
Also, think how it will look when your better half finally joins you after you are victorious.
3.Stay healthy: Make sure that you are sufficiently inoculated against all known viruses and pathogens (that goes for your software too). And beware of (local and alien) Doctors.

The “Conquer That Planet...” guides are intergalactically well known as the foremost (and last) word about planetary invasion among the discerning elite. The “Earth edition" continues the tradition of the books containing extremely useful information collected from well-known (and some lesser-known) sources, excellent photography, and erudite and pertinent commentary on local conditions.

The edition will be available soon in your neighbourhood book-shop. Following the time-honoured tradition, the Earth edition of “Visit That Planet You Always Wanted” (the sister guide series of “Conquer...”, popularly known as the “Trepid Visitor's Book”) is already available for the readers.

- The Great Eagle Has Spoken

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Oldest "Living" Detective

After a (not so) brief break from "Detectives" series, we are back with the non-desi detectives. And to start off, we bring you the oldest "living" detective.

Marcus Didius Falco (series by Lindsey Davis):

Apparently, the lot of a Personal Informer in the roman times was not so different. He had to work on divorce cases, sometimes was treated worse than the criminals he investigated, and got the girl at the end (if not girls in between).

Luckily for Marcus, he literally bumps into an important case. When he uncovers the plot surrounding the missing silver pigs (ingots, which are used to pay the Praetorian Guard, the emperor's personal bodyguards), he gains the favour of the Emperor Vespasian, who is establishing himself on the throne.

Unfortunately for Marcus (and quite otherwise for us), the tight purse strings of the emperor means that Falco has to work as an imperial spy, at the same time handling the same-old murder and divorce cases. While this makes him an enemy of the Chief Spy Anacrites (whom Marcus easily outwits when necessary), it also means he can have two masters pay him for "important" cases, a fact he uses shrewdly.

He meets his lover, later wife and partner, Helena Justina, on his first case. A Senator's daughter, she is a headstrong, yet loving woman, who handles Falco's family as well as the pressures of his dangerous job quite well. Elegant, highly intelligent (and well-read being a Senator’s daughter) and thoroughly stubborn, she is at the same time perfect and highly inappropriate (given the times and their social ranks) match for Falco.

Falco, on his own is not an easy man to handle either. A soldier who served (but did not fight) in Britain during Boudicca's revolt, his military service has given him valuable experience. He is well aware that being a spy and a PI, puts him on almost the last rung of any hierarchy (though his social "rank" improves thanks to the royal favour), but has wits and brute force more than enough to survive in the cut-throat world. Being a staunch republican, he frets before taking up the job for Vespasian, but love conquers his personal beliefs.

Amidst the rich descriptions of post-Nero Rome, its culture, class relationships and festivities, what makes these novels really special is the wit and sarcastic commentary by one Marcus Didius Falco. Having a horrific murder or two, and a beauty or two doesn't hurt either.

Note: The age of the persons, as mentioned in the series refers to how old they would be if they had lived till today, and has nothing to do with the age as per canon. "Living" means that the author is continuing the series, as opposed to "non-living" where either the author cannot continue the series, or the character is dead according to canon.

- The Great Eagle Has Spoken

P.S. From now on, The "Detectives" series will be a monthly (possibly twice-monthly) feature with non-desi detectives.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

5 Little Insights

As if you wanted to know more about me, Amrita tagged me with this:

Post 5 links to 5 of your previously written posts. The posts have to relate to the 5 key words given (family, friend, yourself, your love, anything you like). Tag 5 other friends to do this meme. Try to tag at least 2 new acquaintances (if not, your current blog buddies will do) so that you get to know them each a little bit better.

So, time to take you over my journey till now. Fasten your seat-belts, and grab hold of your seats (no sticking your hands out of the windows please). We may yet have a few glitches in our time traveler:

Family – Interestingly, it seems that I haven't written much about my family, or my family members. I mean, I have posted about the things we did when I was younger, or about our Sunday morning activities, but that's it. So, this post about the Yesteryears is as close as I can come to fulfilling this.

Friends – Now this is easy. After all, you have read the exploits of the Knights of Round Table before. And there are plenty of Knight Chronicles on this blog and on (now R'ing-IP) Talons. (Which should make up for not giving you anything for point #1).

Myself – When it comes down to it, the whole blog is really about me. Otherwise I wouldn't be writing a blog right? So, here you have a collection of random thoughts.

My Love – If you really want the gossip, head over to this post about how I fell in love twice in a single day. Then again, here's the object of my latest affection, but I have yet to write a post on it, though I wrote almost an entire post on it last week [there's an inside joke in there ;)]

Anything I Please – Hmm... a bit too hard to decide this. Better to take you over to “Romeo and Juliet: The True Story”, “On The Seventh Day”, the short stories “Studio 14” and “The Relic Hunter”, not to forget “Vairangad” (the third and last part of which I will get around to edit sometime soon).

So, now I have told you quite a lot about me, myself and my interests. How's the information overload working for you? Had enough already?

And now, time to link people up... Now that the old acquaint. are disappearing right and left from the blogging scene (and rest are MIA), I guess it would be better if I just leave it open to anybody who wants to do it. Then again, don't be surprised if you wake up tomorrow with a comment on your blog telling you to take it up. Mystery, my name is...

- The Great Eagle Has Spoken

P.S. Why don't these people learn? Just yesterday I read a piece about how Sachin hasn't scored a century in Australia (and how India is yet to win a final there) yet.

P.P.S. What is this Aussie fixation with monkey? I thought they had kangaroos over there, not monkeys. Then again, that explains that. Or is it due to the fact that the Aussies have been sledging for so long that they are not able to come up with new stuff?