Why we do what we do

This notion of questioning why we – as people who create things, imagine things, build things and dream things – do what we do, has been playing around in my mind for a while now. Why is it that we push ourselves in this way, warp our minds into the worlds we dream up, stay up late into the early hours of the cold morning still toiling away at our keyboards, drawing boards, tablets and canvases?

Indeed, there is a fire that burns within the creator, the maker of art and literature and poetry and those things that make life worth living for. A burning desire to shape reality to the whims of our imaginations, to concretise the wisps of thought. We’re compelled to see our ideas through to their ends; we’re driven by passion, I guess you could say.

This quote from one of my favourite movies, Dead Poets Society, is perhaps the best way to capture the essence of why some of us prefer to stay up in the solitude of the night, not dreaming but gently luring those dreams into the cool air of this world.

… the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?

– John Keating (Robin Williams), Dead Poets Society (1989)

iOS “Mockingjay” Wallpapers

As my close friends know, I’m a huge fan of The Hunger Games. (To read my review of the book series, click this link).

So this morning, after trawling Google Image search for a cool, minimalist wallpaper to use on my iPad and iPhone, I just decided to create one myself. Well, more like use elements I found across the web to create my own wallpapers. I wanted to go for an aesthetic reminiscent of the cinematic version of Catching Fire, with a carbon-fibre backing to the ubiquitous Mockingjay symbol.

So, without further ado, here’s the iPhone and iPad versions I assembled. They’re parallax-ready, by the way.

(Disclaimer: these are in no way related to Lionsgate or the Hunger Games franchise; they’re merely my tribute – see what I did there? 😛 – to what I think is a great series).

Russian Roulette (Review)

What makes someone a hero? What drives them to become a killer?

These are the core questions at the heart of the much-anticipated sequel to Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series. Russian Roulette takes a look at the series’ main antagonist, Yassen Gregorovich: his life leading up to the fateful moment when he joins SCORPIA to become a contract killer, and explores just how inextricably linked both Yassen and Alex’s lives are.

Friends, family and readers of this blog will know that I’m a huge fan of Anthony Horowitz, so this review is probably a bit biased. But after reading this prequel, Horowitz’s skill at crafting such a complex story with multilayered themes cements his position as one of my all-time favorite writers. And returning to the shadowy world of Alex Rider took me back many years as a reader, to when I first discovered the series.

I did not expect this book to be so emotionally charged. We grew to hate Yassen in the earlier Alex Rider books; what he supposedly did was despicable and rooted him as our teenage hero’s nemesis. But in Russian Roulette, we explore the portrait of a child desperate to survive in a post-Communist Russia ravaged by conspiracies revolving around ruthless foreign investments and deadly technologies.

First-person narrative is a powerful device to get right into a character’s mind, and Horowitz uses this well in the main portion of the story, through the format of a memoir. Indeed, presenting Yassen’s story as a memoir makes for a rather romantic attitude to the whole assassin tale. We move with Yassen as he grows up, alone, into a harsh world and develops a hatred for the man who destroyed his entire existence, his entire childhood: Vladimir Sharkovsky.

Horowitz probes the very psychology of how a killer is made by tracing Yassem’s story from the quiet village of (fictional) Estrov, to the hustling streets of Moscow; from the timeless beauty of Venice and the sinister Widow’s Palace to the sweltering jungles of Peru, skyscrapers in New York City and, of course, the island of Malagosto, where Yassen’s transformation begins.

Fans of the series will recognize allusions to events in the future, especially the fateful moment with Yassen and Hunter (trying to avoid spoilers here!) that Horowitz wrote as a prologue to Alex’s fourth mission, Eagle Strike.

It is difficult to justify a hero as someone who kills for a living. But in Russian Roulette, Horowitz writes Yassen as a character that we truly feel for, and root for to the very end. It is true that one should never be quick to judge character based on mere assumption. In Russian Roulette, we see how an innocent boy, a child who had dreams and aspirations, is so easily transformed into a cold-blooded killer thorough the subtle events that subsequently influence decisions leading him down a path to the fearsome SCORPIA.

For any fan of Anthony Horowitz, and of his Alex Rider series, this book is a must-read. The epilogue alone makes it worth the read, deftly tying this book to the first of the Alex Rider stories: Stormbreaker. 5/5 Stars.