Excerpt: Salman Rushdie's 'Luka and the Fire of Life'

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Fortunately for Luka, he lived in a n age in which an almost infinite number of parallel realities had begun to be sold as toys. Like everyone he knew he had grown up destroying fleets of invading rocketships, and been a little plumber on a journey through many bouncing, burning, twisting, bubbling levels to rescue a prissy princess from a monster's castle, and metamorphosed into a high-speed hedgehog and a street fighter and a rock star, and stood his ground undaunted in a hooded cloak while a demonic figure with stubby horns and a red and black face leapt around him slashing a double-ended lightsaber at his head. Like everyone he knew he had joined imaginary communities in cyberspace, electro-clubs in which he adopted the identity of, for example, an Intergalactic Penguin named after a member of the Beatles, or, later, a completely invented flying being whose height, hair colour and even sex were his to choose and alter as he pleased. Like everyone he knew Luka possessed a wide assortment of pocket-sized alternate-reality boxes, and spent much of his spare time leaving his own world to enter the rich, colourful, musical, challenging universe s inside these boxes, universes in which death was temporary (until you made too many mistakes and it became permanent) and a life was a thing you could win, or save up for, or just be miraculously granted because you happened to bump your head into the right brick, or eat the right mushroom, or pass through the right magic waterfall, and you could store up as many lives as your skill and good fortune could get you. In Luka's room near a small television set stood his most precious possession, the most magical box of all, the one offering the richest, most complex journeys into other-space and different-time, into the zone of multi-life and temporary death: his new Muu. And just as Luka in the school playground had been transformed into the mighty General Luka, vanquisher of the Imperial Highness Army, commander of the dreaded LAF or Luka Air Force of paper planes bearing itching-powder bombs, so Luka, when he stepped away from the world of mathematics and chemistry and into the Zone of Muu, felt at home, at home in a completely different way than the way in which he felt at home in his home, but at home nevertheless; and he became, at least in his own mind, Super-Luka, Grand Master of the Games.

Once again it was hi s father Rashid Khalifa who encouraged Luka, and who tried, with comically little skill, to join him on his adventures. Soraya was sniffily unimpressed, and, being a common-sensical woman who distrusted technology, worried that the various magic boxes were emitting invisible beams and rays that would rot her beloved son's mind. Rashid made light of these worries, which made Soraya worry even more. "No rays! No beams!" Rashid cried. "But see how well he is developing his hand-eye co-ordination, and he is solving problems too, answering riddles, surmounting obstacles, rising through levels of difficulty to acquire extraordinary skills."

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