Wednesday, June 20, 2012

excerpt: The Blasphemy Tour, by Jass Richards

Two Canadian atheists go on a cross-country speaking tour of American Bible Colleges, and oh god, they end up committing all sorts of blasphemies. Philosophy meets Stand-up.
(In The Road Trip Dialogues, the prequel, Rev and Dylan are charged with blasphemy for adding “‘Blessed are they that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stone.’ Psalms 137:9” to a Right-to-Life billboard just outside Algonquin Park. As a result of a well-publicized court trial, the American Atheist Consortium offers an all-expenses-paid speaking tour of American Bible Colleges. The Blasphemy Tour tells the tale of that tour.)
Opening Excerpt:
Rev slowed as they approached the border at Fort Erie and chose a car lane that had virtually no line-up. Carefully maneuvering into the narrow lane, which was marked by concrete dividers on either side and a huge concrete pillar on the driver’s side—whose function intrigued, and absolutely eluded, her—she pulled up snug behind the car in front of her.
Almost instantly a voice boomed out over the speaker. “BACK UP YOUR VEHICLE!!” Simultaneously, a border guard appeared out of nowhere and walked briskly toward their car, making forceful ‘back up’ signs with his hands.
“BACK UP YOUR VEHICLE NOW!!” The voice commanded.
“All right, all right,” she grumbled, puzzled by their urgency, and put the car into reverse. She grabbed onto the back of Dylan’s seat for leverage, turned to look behind, and started to back up.
“Rev!” Dylan said almost immediately. But too late.
She heard the clunk. Then the clatter. And when she turned to face the front again, she saw that the rear view mirror on her door was gone, clipped by the concrete pillar. So that’s what it was for.
She mumbled something as she opened her door to retrieve it.
“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” she ignored the command. It was just a rear view mirror and it was sitting right there.
She exited the vehicle. More or less.
“Shit,” she muttered.
Dylan didn’t dare glance over—he was staring straight ahead in disbelief, exclaiming with full Irish, “Bloody hell—” Besides, he knew what had happened. “Please tell me you fell out, you’re on the ground, and you’re going to stay there,” he managed to say.
“Yes, yes, and—” she tried to stretch her legs, but apparently her knees were doing their very best imitation of concrete—“don’t have any choice. I hate this growing old—” she growled.
“Yes, well, we can commiserate about the tragedy of being over forty later. Perhaps when we turn sixty. Because at the moment we’re surrounded by half a dozen border guards. All of whom are seriously armed.”
“What?” she popped her head up.
“Men with guns!” Dylan shouted.
“Oh.” She ducked back down.
Dylan raised his hands.
Rev also raised her hands. Her head hit the pavement. “Shit!”
Dylan winced. “Are you—still conscious?”
“Yes. Unfortunately. I really—”
“—used to have abs. I know.”
Dylan did as he was told.
“STEP AWAY FROM THE VEHICLE!” The voice repeated.
“Just give her—” he looked over at her—“an hour.”
“Oh shut up.”
Two of the three guards who had been aiming at Dylan swivelled to Rev.
“She was talking to me,” Dylan said quickly. “Rev?” He was afraid to look directly at her in case that looked like they were colluding to—do something.
She grunted. And cursed again.
“He called you ‘m’am’,” Dylan said out of the side of his mouth. “That should give you—motivation.”


Friday, June 1, 2012

Virtual Book Tour of Vasant Dave, Author of Trade Winds to Meluhha

Navigating through Controversies in writing Pre-Historic Fiction

No other ancient culture is mired with multiple controversies as perhaps the Indus Valley Civilization. Almost any aspect that you examine, there are polar differences. For someone who writes fiction based on the ancient culture of Indus Valley, these disputes carry a lethal potential of branding him. While some authors and artists love stirring up controversies, or creating one where none existed, I am among those timid writers who prefer to steer clear of heated discussion.

The bitterest is based on Nationalism – one between Pakistan and India as always. Since much of River Indus flows through Pakistan, and two of the biggest sites Harappa and Mohenjo-daro are located there, a certain section in that country tends to establish an exclusive right on Indus Valley Civilization.

After the Partition of 1947, the Archaeological Survey of India rushed to find sites which it could call its own. They discovered innumerable small sites along the dried-up bed of the mythical River Saraswati, now the seasonal Ghaggar-Hakra. But ASI's biggest discoveries were Lothal which had a port, and Dholavira which had two storm water channels. My protagonist Samasin, a Mesopotamian youth on run, visits all these places in the novel.

Running almost neck-to-neck with it is an argument springing from Religion and Mythology. The Hindus relate Indus Valley with their ancient scriptures, the four Vedas. Amish Tripathi, an author whose two books are selling like McDonald Pizza in India, imagines Shiva not as God but a sort of Superman in the Indus Valley. His approach is based on a seal discovered at Mohenjo-daro. It depicts a squatted man surrounded by wild animals. The most familiar portrayal of Shiva is in a similar yogic position, meditating. One of His many names is Pashupati, Master of Animals. So the person whose image is engraved on the Mohenjo-daro seal fits in perfectly.

In Trade winds to Meluhha, I have transformed that unknown man into a more realistic character of Yotai, an ascetic. I have made him give a hint about what to expect in the narrative. He had prophesied self annihilation of the Indus Valley race by two deadly venoms – one the people would consume by craving, and another they would contract by lust.
A somewhat related with Religion is the existence of domesticated horse in the Indus Valley. Carbon dating of the earliest seals depicting a horse puts them later than 2000 BC. That interferes with the periods of the Vedas and the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata that the Hindus would like to believe, because the horse is an integral part of all those scriptures. In order to prove that the animal existed much earlier than 2000 BC, Jha and Rajaram manipulated an image of a much older seal, turning a picture of a bull on it into a horse. In response, Witzel and Farmer wrote an article entitled 'Horseplay in Harappa' exposing the hoax! In my novel which is set in 2138-37 B.C., there is no horse in Indus Valley till the character of Captain Paravar carries a foal from Mesopotamia.

The language that the Indus Valley people spoke is as big an enigma as their script. One school of scholars believe that it was Sanskrit. On the other hand, research by Dr. Asko Parpola and Dr. Iravatham Mahadevan indicate that it was Proto-Dravidian from which four present South Indian languages viz. Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam and Telugu have descended. I accepted their reasoning and used Tamil lexicon to create characters' names and to tweak site names so that they sounded like those in Southern India.

In some cases, the author of fiction cannot avoid looking partial even if s/he tries hard to remain neutral. In case of doubt, s/he is forced to select one possibility and move on with the plot. At the end of the day, it is for the readers of fiction that he is writing, not for the academicians.
Trade winds to Meluhha by Vasant Davé is available as e-Book in various formats from the following web-sites:

FaceBook page of the novel at