ONE of the best things about 'The Beast with Nine Billion Feet' by Anil Menon is that we finally have some good Indian science fiction for young adults. As a science fiction and fantasy buff, I realised what a world of difference it makes when the story is set in a milieu I am familiar with. The storyline is complicated, but that's what makes the book a worthy read, as the characters criss-cross across its tapestry, creating multiple fascinating intersections to explore.
It begins quite innocuously, with a thirteen-year-old Tara battling the rigmarole of everyday school. We quickly get a brief sketch of life at home for Tara - a father who is missing, an exhausted aunt, and a difficult older brother, Adi, too involved in his own world. It's life like we know it, till, of course, the 'House' announces people, illusion pods are part of everyday lingo, synthetic life and Dharma Rules enter the fray, hovers are emotional machines with flexi-skins and we know we are indeed in 2040 A.D Pune. As characters come tumbling out and complicated relationships are forged and discovered, it's almost as if we are hurtling across space, with Menon's words and deft narrative as our navigation keys.
What sets this apart from regular science fiction books are the many nuances of human relationships it presents. How does Tara's mind work? What are Adi's perceptions of life? How does one reconcile with a famous scientist-father, who is branded a genius and a terrorist, when he returns after six years? Can the core of true friendship ever be defined, even when friends are from another world? What drives the choices we make? How far will we go to achieve what we think is right? And ultimately, what is right and wrong? You realise why these questions are important, because it forms the backdrop of the main storyline itself - the eternal struggle between science and reality, between power and surrender, between life and man.
The only hitch for me was Menon's tendency to slip into high prose and jargon, making it perhaps a little difficult for the average young reader. While it's true that dialogues, thought-processes and conversations need to remain true to the character, the language see-saws quite noticeably, hampering the otherwise neat narrative.
With a title that invokes curiosity immediately, Menon manages to build and retain the suspense till the very end, making this an enjoyable read.
Reccomended for ages 16 upwards