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The Holy Bible: A Book Review

From Cracked.com - The Holy Bible: A Book Review

"First God made heaven & earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light."

With possibly one of the strongest opening lines in history, the Holy Bible really starts off swinging. Here we're not only introduced to the main character, named God, but are also informed that he's some sort of magical being (whether that's a vampire or a wizard or something, we don't know yet--we just know he can fly and shoot laser beams). The prose in this section is simply top notch, and you'll find that the action, atmosphere and language of the Holy Bible are carried off with a master's touch. But accompanying this impressive show of skill is also one of the book's greatest flaws: Verbosity. One of the first things they teach you in any writer's workshop is that every word in a novel should be integral to the story; never leave anything in that doesn't absolutely need to be there. So, while we as readers start the book all sweeping through demons and darkness like Ronnie James Dio--rocking out and firing lightbeams and building people out of dirt--it all quickly gets bogged down in unnecessary detail.

As readers we're enthralled by the mystic action; wondering exactly what kind of creature this God is, why he has these powers and what on earth he's going to do with them, and then all of a sudden we're pulled out of the action and forced to sit idly while the author describes an entire week (day by day) in God's life. I mean, that's great and all that we're getting some backstory on his character, but honestly, what happened with paragliding through Hell? I don't really care what your Wednesdays are like, or on which days you like to rest--get back to the action! Jesus, if we wanted to hear about your day, we would read your f***ing LiveJournal, almighty.

Due to the presence of these tangents, a lot of readers won't stick around for the meat of the story, and that would certainly be a shame because once it gets going, it really is one of the most exciting reads around (just to give you an idea of how good it is, the book has apparently gathered such an intense fanbase that some people give it away for free on the streets!). The first half of the book, called the Old Testament, is really more about getting a feel for the setting than it is advancing the story. During this time we get a glimpse of God's troubled past and are witness to a few key events that really allow the depth of the character to shine through (he's kind of a dark anti-hero; quick tempered and sometimes spiteful--but much like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, he actually has a heart of gold deep down).

The author takes this set-up time to explore the world thoroughly. But while even supporting characters are given their moment to shine, sometimes that gets distracting. For example, during Moses' adventures, we come to relate to him as a troubled sort of everyman. Sure, he was born into royalty, but he never really became complacent. He saw the mistreatment and suffering of the people around him, and he was moved into taking action. All good so far, right? It's kind of like Footloose or a Bruce Springsteen song: It's all about the plight of the working man. (And honestly, who exemplifies the working man more than slaves? All they do is work!)

It's a simple little story of class conflict and redemption, and then, almost without warning, everything suddenly gets magical: Oceans are parted, flaming shrubbery starts yelling at dudes and, in what is one of many disturbingly phallic metaphors littered throughout the book, Moses and the Pharaoh's magicians start slinging about their "snakes" and "staffs" to see whose is bigger. It's all quite exciting and imaginative, but it feels kind of like a bait and switch: We came into Moses' story reading The Grapes of Wrath, then wham! Moses finds out he's a Jew and shit goes totally Harry Potter.

After what seems like 400 years, the Holy Bible finally finishes the setup phase and launches us into the main tale, where we meet our central character for the first time... even though it's still God. Sort of. It gets a little confusing, frankly: Our protagonist, God, is somehow also a character named Jesus Christ, who is the son of God and... listen, it's never quite clear what the genealogy is, or how God is his own son or anything (and what's up with the ghost?) but a lot of the set-up just has to be taken on faith. Now, the character of Jesus may not be the most original creation (he's kind of amalgam of three other prominent protagonists: The "awakened man" complex, like Neo from the Matrix; a bit of Superman's down home heroics; and an oddly compelling dash of Timothy Leary's "freaking out the squares" mentality) but he's oddly endearing nonetheless.

And it's a good thing Jesus is such a likable protagonist, because his cast of supporting characters seems utterly disposable at times. No sooner are you introduced to an intriguing new character than the author brutally murders them in some bizarre fashion, for no real reason and often with little to no impact on the story itself. The character of John the Baptist, for example, was a personal favorite of mine. He read like a kind of gruff bearish figure (I mentally cast him as John Goodman) and his presence lent the book an almost whimsical twist. But just as I was getting attached to him, the author has him beheaded almost as a footnote!
This is all we John the Baptist fans get for a death scene: "And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison."
One sentence!

The Holy Bible kills off supporting characters like horror movies kill black people. Listen, I know that was kind of a spoiler, but it's quite hard to review a book like this without spoiling something: The plot twists, turns, snakes and gyrates like Axl Rose on ecstasy. John's death was a minor spoiler, but there are some big ones I'm avoiding here (hint: Watch for Zombies!). So, without going further into details that might spoil the work, just know that The Holy Bible is a rompin' stompin' fantasy adventure full of subtle morality and intricate allegory the likes of which we haven't seen since The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

"The Bible? Well, it's no Return of the King but I guess it's pretty all right."
Really, there are only a few criticisms I have: The sections where the author obviously forces their own political agenda into the story are rather distracting (at one point the whole story grinds to a halt so the Jesus character can give some sort of "sermon" on this "mount"-like thing that is little more than liberal propaganda extolling the benefits of a welfare state) and at times it seems like it could've used an editor with a heavier hand (1100 pages long?! Who do you think you are, David Foster Wallace?). I must say that overall, the Holy Bible is a story everybody should read at least once. Just keep in mind that though this may seem like your run of the mill fantasy adventure, there are a myriad of vicious maulings, explicit torture scenes, rape and prostitution, so it's definitely not for children!
Oh, and though there are some hints of a sequel (a Second Coming is mentioned a few times), I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you--no official deals have been signed at this time.

So, in summation, I'd give the Holy Bible seven out of te-AGGGGGGGGGGGGBLKkkkkk

Next on my Christmas wish-list

The alarm clock from hell.

Cool Laptop Bags

From WebUrbanist comes a list of the 15 coolest laptop bags. They're great, but you gotta be cool yourself to pull them off.

... and my personal favourite

Dorothy ... say hello to Jules

Goddam Right You`re Not In Kansas Anymore!  Oh I`m sorry, did I break your concentration?

Hat tip to I am bored

Airtel Net PC

Techtree has announced that Airtel will soon be launching a cloud computer called the Airtel Net PC with full access for Rs. 7,999. So is this a good idea, and does it make financial sense? Here's my take on it.

Rs. 7,999 gives you a terminal with a 15" LCD screen, keyboard and mouse which sounds like a good deal. There's just one thing ... in addition to the purchase cost you have to pay anywhere between Rs. 699 to Rs. 1,199 per month to Airtel for broadband and storage charges. These are not unlimited connections, they are capped at between 3GB and 10GB per month. Also, their 'broadband' connection is capped at 256 kbps.

First let's look at the connection speed. 256kbps sounds reasonable, and it is for a user who uses the internet primarily for checking mail and a little browsing. It is definitely not reasonable for a user who is tied to the net for everything, from his applications to all of his documents. Remember, this is a 'thin' cloud computer with little or no local storage (the specifications on the hardware are very vague). Everything that a user does on the computer is going to go over that narrow bandwidth. I would consider 512kbps to be the absolute minimum for a scenario like this.

This brings me to the second issue with the Airtel plans (and this is something that I find issue with every other ISP in India) ... the transfer cap. 3GB per month of data transfer for a cloud computer is ridiculous! Let's take an example to estimate the data usage of an average user. Assume that this computer is going to be used by a family of four.. Four people reading their email and downloading the attachments will use up about 6 - 8MB per day (this is a very pessimistic figure. Just logging in to Gmail will take about 1.2MB for four users). Half and hour's regular browsing by four people gives a figure of approximately 56MB (I'm assuming that browsing will require about 64kbps of bandwidth, definitely less than what will be required for most flash and graphics-heavy websites). Then, if regular computer tasks like writing documents, schoolwork etc take up about 1 hour each day. Since this is a thin client on a cloud computer all this will have to be done online. I estimate a usage of around 56MB for this (60 min x 128kbps bandwidth). Also, lets assume that between the four of them, the family watches about 16 YouTube videos per day, which gives us a value of 234MB (16 videos x 10 min/video x 200 kbps). I'm not even going to assume that the family will be doing any downloading of music or movies which most ISPs claim causes the usage to balloon up. So let's add up the net usage of this average family: 6MB (email) + 56MB (web browsing) + 56MB (regular work that would normally be done off-line) + 234MB = 352MB per day! Which means that if this family uses the 'Home' pack which Airtel's marketing suggests would be ideal for them, they would use up their 3GB in less than 9 days. After that, the user would have to pay for usage at the rate of Rs. 25 per MB! (I'm using the tariff from the Airtel Super Value 499 Plan for Delhi here).

So far I've only considered the financial aspect of the Airtel Net PC. There are some other issues I have with thin computing, especially for home use. With a thin computer, you are limited to the applications provided by the provider (in this case it is Airtel). You do not get administrator rights to install any other applications you might want. You can also forget the idea of playing any kind of games except web-based flash games. Another thing to keep in mind is that this computer is permanently tied to the service provider. If Airtel decides to shut down its service, you will be left with a Rs.8,0000 paperweight. Also, since this computer uses cloud computing, all your data will be stored on Airtel's servers. What do you do if one day you decide to stop the service? Especially, consider the situation that I expect to become very common - the user is hit with a huge bill due to the large amount of data transfers and disputes the charges with Airtel. Until he pays up (whether he feels the bill is justified or not), he does not have any access to his own data!

So what are the alternatives available? Let's see what five minutes of Googling gives us.
A local assembler will usually charge less and will also give much better personalized service. Add Rs. 2,000 to 3,000 if you want a Windows OS installed, but give Linux a chance, it's free and legal, and you can always change your mind later if you don't like it.

One of the Airtel's Net PC's selling points is that it includes access to Microsoft Office in the package. The fact is that there are plenty of other options out there that are just as good and cheaper (and usually free). Let's take a look at some common software that have equally good free alternatives.
There are a lot of ISPs in India which provide good unlimited plans for broadband. Here's a quick sampling of some 256kbps plans without any data transfer limits and my unbiased review (I've used virtually every ISP in Pune)
  • Airtel - Rs. 649 per month (Good speed i.e. if they promise you 256 kbps you will get at least that much, very good service, not available in all areas. I personally use an Airtel 512kbps unlimited connection)
  • BSNL - Rs. 750 per month (Average speed, very poor service, technical support is limited to non-existent, frequent disconnects, very good coverage. This is a good option if you already have a BSNL landline)
  • MTNL - Rs. 999 per month (Good speed, average service, average technical support (phone support is poor, but their home technicians are good), very good coverage in metros)
  • Tata Indicom - Rs. 999 per month (Average speed, good service, average coverage), Photon Pro plan @ Rs. 799 per month (no reviews about this)
  • You Telecom - no 256 kbps plan (Their speed and service is crap anyway)
  • Hathway - Rs. 2000 for 3 months, effectively Rs. 667 per month (no reviews)

So to sum up, using an Airtel Net PC for a year will cost about Rs. 22,387 (I'm assuming the user with a Business plan which allows much more data transfer) while a more powerful assembled computer with a Rs. 650 net connection will cost Rs. 22,800. The difference is that from the second year, the assembled solution will cost less than half the Airtel Net PC, while still providing much more capability.

I'd also like to clarify that I don't have anything for or against Airtel. I personally use Airtel as my ISP and feel that they is one of the best ISPs in India today. I also don't believe that thin computers have a niche role to fulfil, especially for businesses. My only gripe is that Airtel has positioned and priced the Net PC in such a way that does not make sense, either to them or to the consumer.

Live Long and Prosper (Economically)