Thursday, November 30, 2006

A Preponderance of Literature and Rants

I cannot for the life of me imagine why I read Pride and Prejudice. It is similar to reading Susanna Clarke after taking barbiturates, and without any magic whatsoever. (The reverse would have been much more appropriate, but I'm afraid sff has consumed my mind). The book is a whimsical exercise of extravagant manners and bursting with faint cries of approbation and frilly hats. Still, it is by no means an uninteresting book. Perhaps that is what makes it such an enduring classic.

Today I bought Peace and War, the Joe Haldeman omnibus consisting of all his Forever books (whatever). It is a most lovely book, with lovely red borders. I also borrowed The Book of the New Sun, after an abortive attempt at the NLB to scrounge for more Zelazny-related information. They, too, are most lovely books, and it pains me that I shall have to return them one day, especially as I am much convinced that I shall be liking these novels very much indeed, and I would be most miserable if they were not mine to reread whenever I wished. I have also The First Chronicles of Amber, which I purchased just before I came across a pristine copy of the Great Book of Amber in a second hand bookstore, an oversight for which I am greviously upset.

In an amazing stroke of fortune, I have come across three lovely bookstores at Vivocity and Orchard; PageOne, San, and Harris in Orchard MRT, and I expect I shall be patronizing them very often indeed.


V for Vendetta is an great movie in terms of plot and execution. The message was not as well-constructed as I expected. It is a rather formulaic tale about dystopia made spicy with the inclusion of the figure of V, whose introductory speech I have memorized. Still, I can't tell whether he is supposed to be a bomb-throwing anarchist or freedom fighter, and I am inclined to believe the latter, under the circumstances. V for Vendetta has lovely pacing and cinematography; the bombing of the Bailey sent shivers down my spine. The symbolism is rather shallow, especially the fetish on V and 5, but that's alright; it's a rather smart acknowledgement of historical events and a rambunctious character idiosyncrasy Moore and the directors after him could exploit for weirdness. In any case, a great, but not revolutionary, movie, for all the revolutionary claptrap it depicts, like blowing up Parliament - what barbaric splendor mixed up against terrible echoes of recent history, a heady but vaguely shocking dichotomy.


I must say I despise reviews that go, "This genre would be doomed if not for so-and-so, whose work has rescued the genre". It seems to me to be quite a dangerous, polemical, and unfairly critical statement that borders on exaggeration. Blase and jaded the professional reviewer may be, it is not up to his bibliomanic sensibilities to measure the worth of a book; if it is conventional yet well crafted and entertaining, and conveys its message arcoss effectively, then its a good book. No need to be groundbreaking or creative to make a work good. LOTR is by today's standards cliche; that does not make it unworthy of reading.


Saw EVIL FOR EVIL today in Kinokuniya, the middle book in the Engineer Trilogy by KJ Parker. I'll have to wait until the trade paperback is published. Curse these publishers! And their large pricetags. And their big, bulky novels. Pah.

R Scott Bakker's The Thousandfold Thought
Scott Lynch's Lies of Locke Lamora
Aaron Allston's Betrayal
Steven Erikson's Bonehunters

These are a few books that have been denied me by virtue of their hardbackedness or tradepaperbackish vibes. The Mass Market Paperback is an object of immense beauty. After all that has passed, it is beauty.

The first Golden Compass pictures have been released. Daniel Craig as Asriel. How...amazing of him.


Monday, November 27, 2006

Crimson Flame


The monster resembled a giant lizard. It stormed through the city, breathing flame and burning thousands. Its huge claws picked people off the street and threw them into its colossal jaws. Its muscular legs toppled smaller buildings as it continued its dreadful march through the crowded city center.


The terrible fire lizard towered over the streets of the doomed city. Men and women scattered, screaming, before the great monster's inexorable approach. It opened its cavernous jaws and breathed forth an immense gout of blinding crimson flame. The dreadful conflagaration scorched the asphalt, gouging and crisping the hardened tarmac. One man, not fast enough, was caught in the terrible path of flame and burnt like a torch, screaming in purest agony. But worse was to come. The massive bulk of the creature bore down on the streets. Its claws flexed and clenched, grasping one woman like a vise. Her helpless screams did not avail her. The monster, ravenous, brought his prize catch up to his massive jaws and consumed the woman with a snap of those powerful muscles. Satiated, it roared a stentorian evocation of satisfaction, shaking the metropolis to the core; then it extended a huge, muscle strained leg and, with all its might, struck an old building with blinding speed. The structure collapsed in a damning crescendo of terrible noise of falling men. The dust cloud was infernal. Satisfied, the monster lumbered triumphantly on.


Only the Titans in their halcyon days could have availed the doomed city, its terrible fate having been foreordained by the tragic circumstance of inevitability. The scudding clouds dotting the empyrean above provided a stark counterpoint as the monstrous abomination ravaged the shaded avenues of the once splendid downtown. Hither did it approach on reptilian legs, its coming the dilatoriness of one who is aware of the inexorability of its terrible, absolute domination. The grand play of circumstance was thus begun, as the dread monster elected to release Hell itself in the form of a great, sweeping crimson cataclysm on the hapless populace, fleeing in blinded horror and panic. The molten heat of the consuming inferno scorched the veritable essence of the thirsting ground, sending up great bouts of smoke, black as the darkest shadow. The imitable torch caught an unfortunate soul in its fiery clutches, electing to consume him in a burst of ravenous flames. The mammoth beast was the instrument of blind desire. Its ravenous hunger now dominated its attention. Bending its considerable bulk, it thus reached down to clutch a woman in its vise-like grip. Slowly, the onrush of anticipation, unaffected by the woman's screams, bore down on it, and casually he tossed his impending snack into his jaws, a world of darkness and agony in the ribbed innards of the furnace of being. Roaring its saturnine satisfaction it reached out a leg and unleashed his murderous power onto the nearest structure. The hapless building held for a moment, then collapsed in a vast symphony of dust and death, the screams of those inside echoing the melody of Fate. Its aggression vented on a victim, it trod on, victorious but uncaring of the role that Fate had provided him.


World of heat, sensation of restraint undeveloped, need and want blurred into unified symphony with the will - alien. Alienness. Assailed of speculative hunger and wanton devastation of artifical agony. Therefore the horrors, whence the crimson light of destruction. It burns and is satisfied. It its and is revenged. It unleashes strength in all its simplistic harmony, strength against cowardice, and turns, desiring to be sated to be hungered to be sated to be -

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Literature provokes a response. Great literature speaks to a reader to the depths of his soul. The response of the reader is not essentially what the writer may intend; as long as the reader gains something from the work, or has been affected by the novel, the writer is uplifted. Few books have elicted a powerful response in me; the primal quality of such books, however, is that which reaches into the innermost sanctums of feeling and resides there. And when I think of these novels, a powerful sensation will invariably course through me. Below is a list.

1. Watership Down

Watership Down is the defining novel of my childhood; it has a beauty and power I have yet to experience anywhere else, of camaraderie, sacrifice, pain and passion. The writing is modern yet graceful, erudite yet accessible, and communicates every nuance of what Adams wanted the reader to sense. No other writer could take a group of animals and craft them such that they seem more human than the humans in the novel, and yet so animalistic in their society and culture. No other writer could so gracefully weave the rudiments of a completely alien society into a grouping of rabbits so mundane and prosaic in their thinking. Setting and plot are transformed from the rabbit's perspective; the peaceful English countryside is transformed into a tantalizingly mystical land of oppurtunity and danger in their eyes. The descriptions are haunting, evocative and powerful. There is even a touch of gentle humour that keeps the novel engaging even in the most serious of moments. Watership Down is truly a novel that spoke to me, and left an indelible mark on my mind.

2. Lord of the Rings

Strangely enough, the first time I read Tolkien's work, I found the latter portions boring. I liked the pastoral nature of Hobbitry and the mystery of the Barrow Downs, the terrible darkness of Moria, and the sheer loveliness of Rivendell. Aragon's adventures held little excitement for me. The second time, everything changed. Lord of the Rings was transformed into the seminal epic fantasy. Never before had I ever experienced the full scope and power of the novel as in Lord of the Rings, the epic feel, the immersion and sheer complexity and history of Middle Earth.
Lord of the Rings didn't appeal to me because of its compassion and humanity, but because of the grandness, density of plotting, excitement, and above all the sheer believability of Middle Earth. Lord of the Rings introduced me to fantasy. It remains one of the greatest books of fantasy written.

3. Harry Potter

Believe it or not, Nova introduced me to this in secondary 4. For the longest time, I resisted this, based on vague notions of incipient YA nubness. I was wrong. Harry Potter is the penultimate escapist work (the ultimate being Star Wars) of the century; it evokes a yearning in the reader to be there, to join in the fun, to know what it is like to be a Hogwart's student. It is truly a book that is accessible to all age groups. Its appeal is universal and undeniable. It invoked in me the old sense of wonder. It emphasizes the importance of love and friendship. It resonated with its sympathetic portraits of school. It became a refuge, a haven from the bitter reality of the world, and as such highlights the reason why Harry Potter is so popular. Its a salve for a bruised spirit and a drug for stress; its curious blend of maturity and innocence is heady and speaks to the reader. This is one series finely conceived, lovingly treated, carefully sustained, and is arguably one of the greatest YA fiction series ever written.

4. His Dark Materials

While Pullman may be abit of a hypocrite with regards to Narnia, his books combine elements of both Potter and Narnia. That is the intimacy and sense of wonder invoked in Harry Potter with the epic scope and religosity of philosophy in Narnia. It is the anti-Narnia, the philosophical counter, but in its way it is just as great. The idea of daemons is truly compellng. I almost wished I had one when I first read Northern Lights. This series has a heartwrenchingly beautiful premise and a heartrendingly shattering ending.

5. Star Wars

The premise of Star Wars is that of an amalgamation of Grade-B Flash Gordon and simple yet powerful story in terms of plot, setting and message. Star Wars spoke to me because of its exotic locales, fantastic premise, special effects, and the compelling dynamics of the characters, as well as its simple but effective message of redemption, goodwill, courage and heroism. The prequels were not technically as brilliant, but TPM spoke to me in terms of its childlikeness and sheer cinematic elegance, while the other two prequels really gave me a sense of the crippling malaise that is corruption and a suggestion of the sheer horrific magnificience of a dying empire. The prequels, by stressing the decay of the Republic, spoke to me of the need for renewal. It is a grand, epic cycle of history. When one brings in the whole regalia of associated material, the books, games, comics etc, Star Wars transcends its mythos and becomes a true sandbox of the imagination and the greatest and most completely conceived fictional universe around, without question.

6. Robot Series

The Robot series, especially the latter two books, are some of the most powerful, moving books Asimov ever wrote, including Prelude to Foundation and Foward the Foundation, and shows Asimov at his best writing about characters. He made me care for Elijah Baley; I felt the sadness at the passing of a great historical figure at Baley's death. It's amazing how he chronicled Daneel's slow evolution towards his ultimate role, and the friendship between Giskard and him. Although the science fiction ideas are a little outmoded, Asimov writes with great power and clarity, and the strength of his prose and the wit, compassion and humour in the plot are truly indicators that Asimov was a true master at his profession. It is the primer for the epic Foundation series, that other great (but not nearly as moving) work, a great part of that grand cycle of future history that stands as another one of the greatest conceived science fiction universes ever made.

7. Terraforming Earth

Jack Williamson's novel about a group of clones who constantly reseed Earth after it suffers catastrophies is one of the most profound and compassionate post-apocalyptic books ever written. Normally, I don't like post-apocalyptic works, but Terraforming Earth was superb in its treatment. The book is intimately recounted from the perspective of the historian of the group; Earth's presumed saviours are fleshed out and realized, the plot is evocative, tragic, and beautiful, and the various civilizations that arise out of the clone's reseeding missions are interesting and original. The book's message of resilience amidst our incipient frailties resounds through the work, setting it in a light that adds to, rather than subtracts from, from its tragic element. Truly one of the best post-apocalypse science fiction novels yet written.

On the flip side, there are works that have inspired a negative reaction from me. I read them and despised them. Or, I disagreed vehemently with them. I'm not saying that these novels are bad, but that I disliked the messages within; they resounded in me and I decided that I didn't like the music. Below is a list.

1. Childhood's End

Deeply unsettling and pessimistic novel about how we have reached the end of our history and how a new species of human will inevitably take over and serve the universe. The seminal posthumanity novel, deeply disturbing in its premise.

2. Time

Another one of those posthuman novels, Stephen Baxter suggests that since the human race is doomed to extinction during the Cosmic Whimper, humanity should be snuffed out to create more universes in order to give rise to other life. Deeply fatalistic and unsettling.

3. Night's Dawn Trilogy

I liked this trilogy, but one aspect of it ruined the experience. The sheer volume of perverse, graphic iniquity is very shocking to the reader, and detracts from the plot. Hamilton would have done better to tone the sex down, by a notch or six. Yes, indeed. And the Deus ex machina wasn't that good either, Mt Hamilton.

Alright. That wraps it up. We should start a thread on CAPERS for such.

Monday, November 20, 2006


Maybe I should never have started on Robin Hobb. I know that hence, every book she writes, I will buy. (Except the latest trilogy, for reasons I shall not deign to explain.). Ship of Magic is heady stuff. Especially given the nautical theme, which I thought I might not have gotten into.

Well, anyway. My prospectus for the rest of the holidays:

Excession Iain M Banks
The Warrior Prophet R Scott Bakker
The Mad Ship, Ship of Destiny Robin Hobb
Lies of Locke Lamora Scott Lynch
Spin Robert Charles Wilson

The Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies, well, I'll leave that for later. Much later.

What makes a book good, anyway? There are different answers for different types of readers. There are those who read for enjoyment. There are others who read for knowledge, or cartharsis, or obligation, or for the sake of emulation. A book must have conflict, a raison d'etre for existence. It must have an artistic purpose; whether to express a philosophy, or construct a mythos, or even for the sake of pure entertainment itself. Literature is to be appreciated, and to a lesser degree, critiqued. With introspection of a text comes greater understanding of its agenda, but removes some of its sheen. To analyse too much is to strip away the suspension of disbelief. To provoke literary appreciation of its artistic merits one must reject appreciation of story and world. Sometimes the best way to enjoy literature is to sit down and be carried where the author wishes to take you, to take a passive role in the unfolding of craft and story. To scrutinize in terms of happening, and not the voice of the author speaking in between the lines. Of course, literary analysis is necessary and is part of the author's agenda, but it is usually a secondary one, especially when it comes to speculative fiction. Literature is a canvas, and while we may appreciate the form and function, we are first and foremost admirers of shape and colour, of the apparent, of the simple and the obvious. And that's why I prefer realist art.

I may start another story blog. It shall be inspired by EVE Online. It shall detail the life of a gallivanting ship pilot as he tours a strife ridden galaxy. If there is time, that is.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

More More Books

Yesterday, I visited Parkway Parade and on a whim added two venerable novels into my stack of unread books - Pride and Prejudice and Don Quixote. This transaction was carried out duly and cost me a ten, which was outrageously funny. Pride compels me to deny categorically that the purchase was driven at all by monetary concerns; honesty compels me otherwise, and thus, without explicitly revealing the victor of this internal struggle, have I (paradoxically) done so.

The conclusion of Memory is deliciously symmetrical. Poldarn's story has come full circle and his terrible task is complete. The revelation of his identity was also another clever twist, although I'd already guessed it from the first book (and was misled by an alibi, three red herrings and a volcanic island). It's truly one of those head-bashing moments that come with the inevitability of a revelation, one that's so subtle and yet so blatant at the same time.

Lord of Light is fundamentally ironic. Something I realized today.

I've started on Robin Hobb's book. It's painstakingly written and enormously descriptive; her diction is formal, her characters stylized fantasy stereotypes, her plot and setting rather Eddings. This only applies to the first 10 pages, though, and it is by no means boring, but after reading the gritty realities of the Scavenger Trilogy, the stylized epic form here is a little jarring.

Friday, November 17, 2006

More Books

It is a good day, on account of the weather. Or it was a good- well, never mind. Clear skies and wind. Although it is clouding over.

It is probable that this is intended to demonstrate a point about the transience of things, especially weather, which isn't only transient, but capricious as well. Started on EE, approximately 500 words done, or an eighth of the whole thing. Then of course, there's TOK and CAS and History IA and World Lit but that's for another day. A tinge of the holiday malaise, that boredom and lack of purpose, contrasted by stark pictures of clinical classrooms; to the extent that going to school is an exciting departure from the routine. Great weather doesn't help, bad weather makes it worse.

The Scavenger series is not easy to read. It is written not as a formulaic epic fantasy, but a character study, and an exploration on the nature of evil. It is dark, subtle, and almost metaphorical. In the end one realizes that one does not read the Scavenger series for light entertainment, something I must confess was my assumption at first. Still, the books manage to be supremely interesting reading, not the least because of the central mystery of the series - the identity of the main character - is slowly and tortorously revealed over the course of the entire series. It is almost depressing to see how the main character, Poldarn, is forced or manipulated into committing evil and objectionable acts, either for the sake of a greater good, or some strange expediency. And yet, there is this lingering goodness that remains despite the truths of his dark past. In any case, however, I get the feeling that Parker was improvising and retconning things as the story goes on. It is unfortunate that I can't seem to find the other books in the Fencer Trilogy, or the second book of the Engineer trilogy, which is in my opinion much more balanced a story, and actually contains elements of traditional epic fantasy (rather, alternative history) encapsulated within the usual character studies and delicately constructed conspiracies.

Next, Robin Hobb. Then R. Scott Bakker. Then all the texts. I shall buy more books.

Monday, November 13, 2006


Over the past few days I've purchased nine books. Of these, four are English A1 texts. The other five include: Shadow and Pattern by K.J. Parker, being the first two novels in her Scavenger trilogy, Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb, being the first book of her Liveship Traders, trilogy, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks, a Culture novel. I shall probably purchase more over the holidays. My current list includes:

Memory by K.J. Parker, being the final book in the Scavenger trilogy
Excession by Iain M Banks, a Culture novel
The Mad Ship and Ship of Destiny by Robin Hobb, being the second and third books of Liveship Traders trilogy
Spin by Robert Charles Wilson
The Darkness That Comes Before and The Warrior Prophet by R Scott Bakker, being the first two books of the Prince of Nothing trilogy,
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch (assuming I can locate it)
The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake
Drawing of the Dark by Tim Powers
Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny

I'm impressed with Bank's work. He manages to combine fast-paced action with a compelling picture of an almost utopian society that's very fully realized and intricately detailed. Although the construction of that sort of post-scarcity, machine-governed, fundamentally intellectual-hedonistic society may have been fraught with some difficulties owing to the state of human nature; as it is, humanity's need for material fulfillment is yet one of the primary problems of government and society. Culture society is a vision of libertarianism combined with a sort of lassiez-faire centrally planned economy. It is a bizarre sort of standoff that is not really that explored in the novels; although it probably might be resolved by the fact that the machines, or Minds, can fully anticipate the desires of its populace or, failing that, retains the capacity for rapid construction of the desired commodity for fast gratification in the event that the demand has not been met. Still, waste in a pose-scarcity economy is not a liability. Politically, the Culture is a federated anarchy, where individual habitats retain their own governmental capacity (or such that is necessary for this "perfect" society) while subscribing to a lack of central governmental structure. The problems of anarchy have been resolved in this Culture; factors that lead into chaos in anarchy (such as inability to pool national resources, uncontrolled and unmitigated social ills and violence - which in turn stem from non-access to material wealth - and lack of national purpose) have been excised through the fact that there is no lack of resources, gene engineering has removed undesirable traits from the populace, and that the Culture is bound by no law, which "takes away all incentive to push the limits of what is permissible". Also, although it has no national identity, Culture citizens are bound with a common identity and purpose - as veritable caretakers of a galaxy, and gatherers of knowledge.

Reading Shadow. Interesting but frustrating in its myraid, seemingly unrelated, plotlines. Somehow I sense this is heading for some odd, baroque conclusion. Very formal, dry sort of British wit fills the novel, abit like Susanna Clarke, but less apparent.

Re-read Devices and Desires recently. Refreshingly straightfoward and more lighthearted than Shadow. I look forward to the next book, although it'll be in hardback. Curse these publishers!

Neverwinter Nights 2. Story-driven is good. I've been craving for a good RPG with a stunning, cinematic campaign like the one in Kotor. NWN2 seems to be a good candidate.

Natasha Bedingfield is good.


Thursday, November 09, 2006


I am fraught with a kind of distant despair at the sheer number of books out there that are worthy to be read and to possess. It is, however, futile to even consider obtaining even a tiny fraction of these books, yet alone the total corpus of worthies that are the combined output of human genius and hard work.

Still, I am probably going on a large scale procurement of books soon. I shall procure all the English A1 texts, for starters. Then, the Fencer and Scavenger trilogies by KJ Parker, Spin by Robert Charles Wilson, either the Assassins or Liveship Traders trilogies by Robin Hobb, some Iain M Banks novels including The Algebraist, Ken McLeod's Learning the World, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and Yevgenev Zamyatin's We (EE texts), and a Star Wars novel (Path of Destruction), and then consider the difficulty of finding space on the bookshelf to place all these books. As well as bemoaning the large hole in the pocket. These books should last me three months, enough for the holidays. I might try Drawing of the Dark and the Gormenghast trilogy, based on rave reviews picked up on the Hierophant's blog.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

More of the Twain

Once again two months stretch ahead of us. Insert angsty blah about work here.

Okay, we're done with that. Some momentous things have occurred recently. For example, last week I watched The Prestige. I have no time or energy to write a review, especially when the prudent reviewer must needs deftly avoid the subject of the (shockingly) convoluted plot while interspersing pithy insights about how it contributes to the artistic development of the film industry at large, and by logical extension, director Chris Nolan's pants pocket. Let us perhaps, say that it gets rather (shockingly) repetitive at times. Still, there are some odd features of the technical periphanalia that remind one of Xerox and horns overflowing with lush fruit. Still, I would advise you to look closely at Christian Bale's fingers.

I have recently been obsessed with fantasy fiction. Rather, I have been overwhelmed by a deluge of fantasy. First, A Feast for Crows, by George RR Martin. Following We, which is more science fiction in the sff continuum, The Simoqin Prophecies and its successor The Manticore's Secret, by Samit Basu, lent to me by Nova in bitter revenge over my similar act of insidious manipulation, i.e., the seemingly magmanimous lending of A Game of Thrones, a riveting tale that has left him unable to perform tasks that require both hands for a week, which is, in any case, followed by at least 7 more.

Nova will perhaps write about it. The Simoqin Prophecies is written by an Indian and is rather novel (no pun intended). It's written like a traditional fantasy novel a la Terry Brooks and then given a shocking twist. It draws from Greek and Indian mythology and is written in a very tongue in cheek fashion, similar to Pratchett's Discworld. Except this is the GameWorld, the origin of which is not a subject until the second book. The book features two fascinating names: Narak and Kirin. Hm.

I have been thinking of Star Wars. I believe it is an artistic experiment, a treatment on the Campbellian hero-legend in a sci-fi, pop-culture universe. It is an indie film that never lost its indieness, which is still indie, except the company that produced it is a large corporation now, and makes indie films that are no longer as indie, but perhaps indie because stylistically it incurs the wrath of Luddite fans who prefer 'ol' bucket o' bolts', like, "what the hell is an aluminium falcon?" or perhaps neo-Victorian love dialogue is not to their taste. So it is indie and affected by other indies who, by the very act of observation, are destroying the indieness of the movie by demanding the good ol' days where they, as tiny children, played with Slave I toys. But maybe the indies affect indies by increasing the indieness of the said indie, because they are already indie, ergo, they have the right to determine the indieness of the movie, unlike the unwashed peasants that are the masses. No literati will touch that which is already soiled by the lips of the Untermensch that are the amateur. Thus, Star Wars comports itself badly. So does Lord of the Rings. I mean, who reads Pepys nowadays.

Rain threatens to consume the earth. Normally I despise rain but evenings are particularly nice for a heavy storm. Unless you're like, outside.

Wee Shu Min. Undoubtedly she has been misquoted by the press and has been put under mind control by the secret paparrazi organization known as the Flashy Four Hundred. She now lives an ascetic lifestyle and is served by short bald men called Abhishek, summoned now and then to declare statements of apology from her underground bunker-house. Ok. Obligatory mention of significant event over the vast thing that is the Web.

More later.