Monday, 31 December 2007

Retrospective 07.

2007 was not a bad year for me.

Good stuff that happened in 2007

I Got Married.^_^ Married life has so far gone well and there are no little Teddies on the way, thanks for asking.

I read 48 books. Quite a feat, although my initial target was 54. Oh well. The longest time it took me to read one book was one month, for Mervyn Peake's Titus Groan. Good book, but totally unsuited for reading on a crowded train during the rush hour.

For the first time in the three years I've done NaNoWriMo, I actually won. The novel's still not done so I am still slogging my way through until I get to the end. I had wanted to finish it before the end of December, but that does not appear to be feasible at the moment. *grin*

I had three reviews published in The Star this year. Doesn't sound like a lot, but consider this: the previous year I only had two book reviews published and both times I had to pay for the books myself. This year, the three books I reviewed were donated by Big Name Bookstores. Free books and I get paid! Not bad an arrangement. Am hoping one of them gives me another free Murakami book next year when that comes out. *teehee*

Failures and Disappointments

I had planned to write 12 short stories this year, one for each month, but I totally forgot about it. Well you know how it is. Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans, said John Lennon. And because I didn't write any short stories, I have not submitted any either. I will remedy this in 2008. Somebody remind me if I don't.

I really wish I could've finished that NaNovel before today. That would've been something.

2008 Resolutions
  1. Finish that Novel
  2. Write 12 short stories for each month
  3. Memorise the lyrics to Octopus's Garden
Link: Last year's resolutions

Sunday, 30 December 2007

REVIEW: Mister B. Gone by Clive Barker.

This book review was published in The Star's Reads Monthly on 30 December 2007. The print version comes with a 25% discount voucher for the book which can be used at any MPH bookstore and is valid until 13 January 2008.

Don't Burn This Book!


Author: Clive Barker
Publisher: HarperVoyager
Hardcover: 250 pages
ISBN: 978-0007262618

I HAD not read a Clive Barker book before I picked up Mister B. Gone. I was, however, familiar with the name, of course, as I am aware of his 1987 film, Hellraiser, and have also been acquainted with the computer game, Undying, which he helped create in 2001. I thought the movie was okay, and the game a fun experience to be had when you’re alone in the dark.

This is all a roundabout way of saying that I know Mr Barker strictly as a horror writer kind of guy, and even then, not through his books. So when I read his latest book, Mister B. Gone, I was a little surprised that it veered more into the realm of fantasy even though it is marketed as horror.

This may or may not be a good thing, but, personally, I don’t mind, as I can enjoy a fantasy book as much as any other if it’s written well. And this book is written quite well.

The story concerns itself with the miserable life of a low-ranking demon from Hell named Jakabok Botch, sometimes referred to simply as “Mister B”. It starts by telling how he escaped the demented torture his demon father inflicted on him, only to be ensnared by demon-catching humans from Our World. These humans, not surprisingly, turn out to be no less demented than Jakabok’s father when it comes to afflicting pain and abuse.

Jakabok manages to escape from his captors and even falls in love with a human girl. But since he is a demon, his love goes unrequited. No surprise there, as Jakabok also happens to be a ferociously ugly demon, owing to “an accident” involving Jakabok’s father and an extremely hot fire....

The girl he fell in love with soon betrays him and he quickly learns that humans, too, can be as evil as demons, if not more so.

This casting of humans in a dim light is later extended to the Forces of Good, the Angels, who also turn out to be beings capable of equally demented acts, all performed in the name of the greater good. It seems that in Mister B’s world, no being is capable of being truly good and of pure heart.

Looking for allies, the much put-upon Jakabok befriends the demon Quitoon, who has taken to roaming Our World in a quest to visit every machine as humans invent them. Quitoon is quite taken by the human ability to create remarkable tools to improve their lives, but the harried Jakabok remains unimpressed, naturally.

But he becomes even more closely entangled with the despised humans when Quitoon takes him along to a trip to Mainz, where it is rumoured that “someone named Gutenberg” has invented “a machine that will change the world”.

Which brings me to the gimmick at the heart of this book. Mister B. Gone is told in the form of a memoir, with Jakabok himself narrating the tale. The twist here is that, due to forces that will be explained as the story progresses, Jakabok is the book, and has become imprisoned in it.

This makes for some really interesting and occasionally funny moments. The very first sentence on the first page itself assaults you with Jakabok’s plea for you (the reader) to “burn this book”. Desperately trying to break free, Jakabok constantly tries to coerce you throughout the narrative to release him from his eternal cage by having you burn the book.

Unfortunately, Jakabok is such a good and engaging storyteller that the reader constantly refuses to “follow his advice” and does not burn the book – well, this reader certainly didn’t!

If all this sounds very iffy and post-modern to you, don’t be too alarmed. For all the gimmickry, the device actually makes the story work. I don’t think Jakabok would have had the same kind of charm if he didn’t directly address the reader.

However, certain inaccuracies do jump out now and then. The story takes place before and during the events that led to the invention of the printing press, but near the beginning, the human demon-catchers use beer cans as bait. I don’t think beer cans were around before the 1950s!

Apart from those little inaccuracies though – which are nothing more than nitpicks, anyway – the story, both in the way in which it is told and how it carries itself to its satisfying climax, is something for which Mr Barker is worth commending.


This blog has been mentioned on The Literary Saloon. I can now die happily.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Thoughts on Writing Book Reviews.

I've just wrapped up on writing a book review that, if all goes well, will be published in the December issue of StarMag's Reads Monthly, coming out on December 30. (Don't miss it!)

It took me almost three hours to write all 800 words of it.

This makes me very concerned. That can't be good. I know I can do better. I can write faster, put down my thoughts more articulately in much less time.

But whenever I sit in front of my word processor, my brain just cramps up, and all the nifty little sentences I had crafted while I was reading the book to be reviewed, all faded away or if still lingering around, didn't seem all that cool any more.

I would have thought that writing book reviews would get easier the more I did them, but right now it all seems like a well-crafted video game: each level gets progressively harder. Which is all good; I don't mind a challenge.

What strikes me as odd is why? Why does it have to be harder every time? It's not exactly rocket science, putting down your thoughts on books into coherent sentences. After all it all should boil down to whether you liked it or not and then you explain why you formed such an opinion.

And yet, every time I sit down to type out the review, my brain never fails to clog. I swear if there were clockworks in there, they would just seize up and rust together when it knows a book review needs to be written. Or something.

It's not like I hate writing book reviews. I actually love writing them. I just have to wonder why my brain chooses to stop functioning when the time comes to actually sit down and write one.

I've come to think that maybe I mentally project to myself a crazy book review-reading audience. This audience changes depending on the book I'm reviewing. If I'm writing a book review of a novel by Stephen King, for example, I imagine this seething group of Stephen King fans, daring me to write a bad review or else.

It's very weird.

And it destroys my ability to concentrate on writing the review itself. I never let them influence me, of course, but seriously, that din of theirs just distracts me.

Hmm. Maybe I need to figure out how to drown out the din then things might get a little easier?

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

The Last Man on Earth.

So you watched I Am Legend with Will Smith. (Actually I watched it with my wife but let's not bicker semantics now.) Perhaps, like me, you thought it was good for the first two-thirds of the movie. Then it all goes downhill.

The ending? A pure WTF moment. Am I right or am I right?

It goes without saying that the book was better. But if you're the sort of person who wants to know how the story should have ended without actually reading the book, there's always the option of watching the original movie made in 1964 starring Vincent Price.

And thanks to the wonders of the Internets, you can actually download it at the Internet Archive. Or if you're too lazy to do that, here it is, embedded just for you!

Now you can watch the ending as God The Flying Spagetti Monster Richard Dawkins Richard Matheson intended!

The film though given the title of "The Last Man on Earth" and having had the protagonist's name changed from Robert Neville to Robert Morgan, keeps mostly to the plot found in the book and is so far the most faithful adaptation of the book yet.

I watched this the day before I went to watch I Am Legend and I thought it was a fine film. A bit slower paced but that's as it should be.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

An Embuggerance.

I'm gonna simply copy and paste everything from this announcement on Paul Kidby's website:

I would have liked to keep this one quiet for a little while, but because of upcoming conventions and of course the need to keep my publishers informed, it seems to me unfair to withhold the news. I have been diagnosed with a very rare form of early onset Alzheimer's, which lay behind this year's phantom "stroke".

We are taking it fairly philosophically down here and possibly with a mild optimism. For now work is continuing on the completion of Nation and the basic notes are already being laid down for Unseen Academicals. All other things being equal, I expect to meet most current and, as far as possible, future commitments but will discuss things with the various organisers. Frankly, I would prefer it if people kept things cheerful, because I think there's time for at least a few more books yet :o)

Terry Pratchett

PS I would just like to draw attention to everyone reading the above that this should
be interpreted as 'I am not dead'. I will, of course, be dead at some future point, as will everybody else. For me, this maybe further off than you think - it's too soon to tell. I know it's a very human thing to say "Is there anything I can do", but in this case I would only entertain offers from very high-end experts in brain chemistry.
Mr. Pratchett has always made me laugh with his Discworld books, in particular his City Watch series, but getting Alzheimer's is no laughing matter, of course.

Like the man says, I shall try to feel cheerful, but it won't be easy with this knowledge. What a total bummer. It's awesome how he manages to keep his humour intact.

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year 2007.

1. w00t (interjection)
expressing joy (it could be after a triumph, or for no reason at all); similar in use to the word "yay"
w00t! I won the contest!
Submitted by: Kat from Massachusetts on Nov. 30, 2005 23:18
My only complaint is that why only this year? I've been using w00t since the century began.


Monday, 10 December 2007

Thoughts on the Golden Compass.

I caught The Golden Compass on Sunday morning. It was a midnight show, and by the time the lights had dimmed and the beer ads were rolling1, I was already nursing a slight headache. Now I'm not sure if the reason for me not liking the movie was because of the headache or because it just wasn't any good.

I read the book nearly five years ago, and I remember liking it very much. But it was five years ago, so my memory of reading it is far from fresh. I looked forward to reacquainting myself with Philip Pullman's characters in the movie and I was glad they were the same as I had left them so many years ago... except that I don't really find their company all that enjoyable any more.

Was it just me, or was the movie just incomprehensible? I mean, I read the book, but even then half the time I was struggling to understand what was going on and what the motivations of each character was. Example: Mr. Lee Scoresby, the cowboy captain of an airship2. It felt too easy for him to offer the kind of help he gave to Lyra. And Lyra instantly follows his advice. What if Mr. Scoresby was leading her into a trap? The character of Lyra up to then had already showed a lot of smarts and certainly didn't look like someone who'd be gullible to believe anything and everything that was said. That scene was one of many that didn't allow me to suspend my disbelief enough to stay in the world of the movie.

When I read the book I had imagined Lyra's world as being a sort of advanced Victorian steampunk setting, but in the movie it looks like everything was designed by Howard Roark. While I don't have anything against Art Deco, I still thought the set designers should have gone with something a little less glossy and shiny and went with something more inspired from Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen3.

Most of the actors gave an adequate performance, especially Dakota Blue Richards who made a convincing Lyra Belacqua. Nicole Kidman is wonderful as the charming but sneaky Mrs. Coulter. But what's up with the rest? I am referring to Daniel Craig, Christopher Lee and Ian McKellen4 amongst others. McKellen, as the voice of Iorek Byrnison the armoured bear, sounds like he phoned it in. While half-asleep.

And that "Lyra Silvertongue" line? I think audiences around the world rolled their eyes so much, the earth actually lost momentum.

Ultimately, I felt the movie was a big letdown. Pretty eye-candy but the story was mostly opaque. I wasn't even rewarded with an atheist treatise railing against religion. What a bummer. Hmm. Maybe it wasn't the headache after all. But remind me not to catch a midnight show again. Guh.

1 Actually I think there was only one beer ad and I don't even remember what beer it was. I do remember the Digi and the Sony ads though, but then I could be remembering them from another movie-going experience. After a while my movie-going sessions just collapse into one another so I can never really tell if that asshole in the row behind me who keeps kicking my seat was from Across the Universe or Beowulf.

2 Dirigibles and Cowboys. They should make a movie out of that concept. Oh wait. No. I just remembered about Wild Wild West. Okay, scratch that.

3 The original comics, damn you, not that travesty with Sean Connery.

4 And with the addition of Eva Green, the movie is actually Casino Royale meets Lord of the Rings! How could it not fail!

Friday, 7 December 2007

Pack it in, writers.

Yikes. Looks like the Author might soon be an oddity of the past. (Hah! As if).

Software gurus in Russia have whipped up a piece of computer software that can write a fully readable novel.

The good thing is that readers will be receiving version 2.0 of the novel:
The first version of the novel did not seem interesting to the publishing house, so the initial data was revised and the program generated the second version in three days. After that the manuscript like any other novel to be published went through the editorial corrections.

Astrel SPb chief editor highly appreciates the final version of the novel, ‘all the rest will be charged by the readers’, - he says. He continues 10 thousand copies of the novel will be issued. If the experiment proves a success, then other ‘computer novels’ will be published.
What's eye-brow raising to me is that the novel is written in the style of Haruki Murakami. Hey! What's that supposed to mean? That Murakami writes like a robot?

Anyway, surely something to check out if it ever reaches the English-speaking world.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Random Murakami Quote.

"Still, getting a penis to erect itself is not the sole purpose of life. That much I understood when I read Stendhal's Charterhouse of Parma years ago."
-- Haruki Murakami, Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

How to Design a Library.

Make it look like a shelf full of... oh, books, perhaps?

Via Deputydog.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.

A few months ago, I had read that Haruki Murakami had a new book out in Japan. The book is about his experience running in marathons. He's quite the accomplished runner, having run in the Boston, New York and Tokyo marathons, amongst others.

I didn't think it would get translated into English since a lot of Murakami's non-fiction which have been published in Japan gets ignored by his translators. And rightly too. If you've read the unofficial fan translations of his essays, they're mostly insubstantial or ephemeral. Sometimes even laughable, in a bad sort of way, and I don't think it's the fault of the translations.

Murakami likes to surprise me even outside his fiction, I guess. Soon the new book will be his first non-fiction book to be published in English since Underground, which tells the accounts of the survivors of Aum Shinrikyo gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995.

The new book is called What I Talk About When I Talk About Running and is translated by Philip Gabriel, who also translated Kafka on the Shore as well as Sputnik Sweetheart. Amazon claims a release date of 29 July 2008.

I can't wait. And dig that Raymond Carver reference too!

Friday, 30 November 2007

Rainbows End For Free!

Vernor Vinge's sf novel, Rainbows End won a Hugo for Best Novel in Japan this year. I had heard about it even before but haven't really had the time (or even the money) to check it out.

I guess I have no excuse now? Vernor's gone out and released the whole novel for free on the Internet.

Here's the writeup of the book from Pubs Weekly:
Set in San Diego, Calif., this hard SF novel from Hugo-winner Vinge (A Deepness in the Sky) offers dazzling computer technology but lacks dramatic tension. Circa 2025, people use high-tech contact lenses to interface with computers in their clothes. "Silent messaging" is so automatic that it feels like telepathy. Robert Gu, a talented Chinese-American poet, has missed much of this revolution due to Alzheimer's, but now the wonders of modern medicine have rehabilitated his mind. Installed in remedial classes at the local high school, he tries to adjust to this brave new world, but soon finds himself enmeshed in a somewhat quixotic plot by elderly former University of California–San Diego faculty members to protest the destruction of the university library, now rendered superfluous by the ubiquitous online databanks. Unbeknownst to Robert, he's also a pawn in a dark international conspiracy to perfect a deadly biological weapon. The true nature of the superweapon is never made entirely clear, and too much of the book feels like a textbook introduction to Vinge's near-future world.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

NaNoWriMo 07: WON.

Pfft. 50,000 words? Piece of cake. Hah!

Actually though? It was torture. On hindsight, I don't know why I went through it and I wonder how I managed to. But I made it! I made it! Now to actually finish my novel. At 50k words, my story's only half told...

I envy those who can call themselves novelists at 50k. Right. So now December is officially Novel Finishing Month. 31 days for another 50k words! I can't wait!

My heartfelt thanks go to my wife, L, who was patient enough to tolerate my absences (and sometimes, even dogged me to reach my daily word count) as well as Chet and Shark who cheered for me to go on! Woot!

Cartoon by Inkygirl nicked without permission.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Railway-Settings in Fiction.

Almost as much as cities, I also love trains in fiction.

Andrew Martin, author of The Necropolis Railway, writes in the Guardian of the railway settings that have appeared throughout English literature.

What tickled my fancy was this paragraph about Charles Dickens:
Dickens, like many early Victorians, was horrified by trains: there was "even railway time observed in clocks", he wrote, "as if the sun itself had given in". In Dombey and Son, conceived in the second great railway boom of the 1840s, he has the speculator Carker run down by a "red-eyed", monstrous express, which "licked up his stream of life with its fiery heat". In 1865 Dickens was himself involved in a train crash at Staplehurst, in which 10 people were killed. He continued to travel on trains, although he would grip the arms of the seat, and always felt the carriage was "down" on one side.
More railway in literature here.

City-Settings in Fiction.

I love the concept of city as character. China Mieville's New Crobuzon, Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast, Terry Pratchett's Ankh-Morpork, heck, even Xeus's original Dark City. I love 'em all.

So I was delighted to find that Catherynne Valente, author of In the Cities of Coin and Spice, had written an article on Jeff Vandermeer's (creator of Ambergris, another cool fictional urban setting) blog about city-settings in fiction:
The city is the political unit of fantasy literature, probably because of the ostensibly medieval setting. Cities offered protection, shelter, commerce–and ideas about the countries which contained these cities were vague at best for the entry level peasant. When fantasy writers talk about worldbuilding, what they often mean is citybuilding–creating consecutive cities that might be plausibly part of the same region one after the other. But there isn’t a lot of Federalism among dwarves, if you catch my meaning. The city-state is the dominant mode, even in kingmaking dramas, where the capital is the source of power and object of urban longing towards which the kinglet travels with unrelenting focus. The epic fantasy usually bounces between several (cf. George Martin, Tolkien, et al.) with one designated as the capital and a whole lot of flyover country making up the rest of the world.
Read more here.

Is writing short stories first a good way to start ‘breaking into’ writing novels?

Good question. One that author S.L. Farrell tries to answer:
The skills you learn in short fiction don’t necessarily translate into equal skills for writing long fiction. The pacing is different: a short story needs to start as close to the end as possible while a novel may start much further back from the climax. The way you build a novel is often not something that you can duplicate in short fiction, as novels use a more intricate structure (and on the flip side, short stories can often use wildly experimental methods that work within the confinement of a short story, but which would get deadly tiresome to the reader in a novel). Scope is different, since short stories tend to use a microscope while a novel uses a wide-angle lens: you can tell the tale of a battle in short fiction, but you can’t give us the whole five-year long war. Setting is different: you generally have one or two setting in short fiction; in a novel you might have dozens — which means that the worldbuilding has to be much more in depth; you won’t get away with a painted backdrop in a novel. Plotting is different: short fiction tends to have a ’straight-line’ plot; a novel’s plot is generally more complex, and has the added complexity of sub-plots supporting the main plot. Characterization is even different: the character arc in short fiction will usually show the ‘top’ of the arc — that defining moment when the protagonist’s life is changed — while in a novel, the writer can show much more of the arc. Characterization is generally slower and deeper in a novel.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Interview with John Ling.

My pal, John Ling, is interviewed by Xeus on her blog about his short story, Zero Sum, that appears in the new short story collection, Dark City 2:
What are your writing habits? Why do you write?

I tend to write in terms of 'scenes', not necessarily 'chapters'. Once a 'scene' is completed, I'm done for the day, and I will spend the remainder of my time polishing up what I have written. I don't usually find it productive to simply bang out thousands of words at one go, because two-thirds are likely to be eliminated anyway. Admittedly, I am fussy. I tend to under-write, rather than over-write. My reasoning is: it's better to leave readers wanting more, instead of wanting less.

Writing for me has always been less of a choice, and more of an compulsion.
John Ling ends with a quote that sounds like it came out of Galaxy Quest (Shows how much of a nerd I am, huh!):
Keep pushing on, keep persevering, don't give up.
I haven't gotten round to reading Dark City 2 yet but I do have it on my TBR pile. Also, my name appears on the back cover. How cool is that?


But for what reason? Beats me!

Friday, 23 November 2007

NaNoWriMo 07: Day 23

40,000 words!

I never knew I had it in me. I've never seen so many words that I wrote myself in one place at the same time.

How did these words connect together to form a single coherent story*? It's magic, I tell you!

Right, only 10,000 words to go. Listen to me... only 10,000 words to go. Hah! Madness. A month ago, 10,000 words was like a gajillion bajillion words. Writing so much was nigh impossible.

*a matter of one's opinion

Also! Check out Chet's blog where she reflects on what lessons NaNoWriMo taught her this year.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Last Breath for the Hardback.

Not sure what to make of this:
With its creamy paper and embossed fabric covers, the hardback has always been the elite format for literary fiction.

Now Picador, an imprint of Pan MacMillan, the 8th largest publisher in the UK, which has authors such as Helen Fielding, Don DeLillo and Cormac McCarthy on its books, has called time on what it describes as "a moribund market". From next year it will launch almost every new novel as a £7.99 paperback, with other large publishers expected to follow.
I've always preferred buying paperbacks because they're cheaper.

But then again, I have to admit the experience of reading a hardcover book is incomparable to reading a cheap paperback. The smooth, thick paper, the feeling of substantial weight in your hands... holding and smelling the book, carrying it around with the dust cover off... reading a hardcover isn't just about enjoying the actual contents printed within. After all, you're paying a premium for this edition. It's okay to enjoy your book in a perverse way! (I won't tell if you don't...)

I don't buy every book in hardcover of course, but I will miss the format once it's gone. Picador isn't out to banish it forever though. They're planning "limited edition" releases of their future books which are basically tarted up hardcovers--ribbon bookmarks, fabric head and tail bands, the works. But I don't fancy rushing out to buy a copy of a book I want in hardcover before they're gone... forever.

But then again (again) I suppose you could argue that hardcovers have always been a sort of "limited edition" anyway. Except without the fancy add-ons.

Better Haul Out Your Degree.

cash advance

Thursday, 15 November 2007

NaNoWriMo 07: Day 15

So I hit 25k today! What a great feeling it is to reach halfway through the novel! It's true what they say: you begin to start hating the novel, you start to think that the novel is crap.

I've been tempted many times to just give up the whole damned thing. Many a time I stared at the empty page, mocking me with my inability to go on. Many a time there was when I pulled my hair in despair when I wrote my characters into a corner. (Don't be surprised when next you see me, I have less hair!)

I mean, seriously. My protagonist lands up in a hospital after he knocks into an elephant god by mistake when he gets lost in the city. He then proceeds to get the living daylights beaten out of him, but because he's the hero, he survives.

But then no matter how many times I give him a chance to escape from the hospital (so that he can continue the damn plot), he just refuses and stays in the hospital! The nerve! I've finally got him out, but not without some coaxing and navel-gazing.

But on the whole I'm glad I stuck with the novel. To quote a cliche, it may be a piece of crap, but it's my piece of crap.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Happy Deepavali!

I live on a house that's on a hill that overlooks most of Puchong, and on a clear day you can see all the way to Shah Alam and bits of Sunway.

It's midnight. It's clear. Puchong literally exploded. Fireworks blew up all over the place and luckily I have a good view of everything. The crazy thing is I can see even the furthest explosions, ones that I think are all the way in Klang!

The way things are going right now, you'd think the Indians discovered fireworks. It's never this festive during CNY over here.

Happy deepavali, peeps!

Also! 15k words! Wootles!

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

NaNoWriMo 07: Day Six

Whoop! Past the 10,000 mark! I got distracted during the weekend (no thanks to pesky, meddling relatives, grr!) so I'm relieved I managed to catch up.

Friday, 2 November 2007

NaNoWriMo 07: Day Two.

7578 words so far. Added 2501 words today.

I couldn't keep up the pace I had yesterday because I think I zonked out my brain last night. I think it got quite a shock to write so much in so little time! I've had to take it more slowly today; my thought processes don't seem to be matching up or something.

Or maybe I just need more exercise.

Anyway! The story continues and so far it's good. A bit slower paced than yesterday, because the protagonist started reflecting on himself before he got on the train, and then the plot just started to drag slower than molasses stuck on turtles. But at least he got on the damn train to his destiny. Finally.

And now to take this story to The City.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

NaNoWriMo 07: Day One.

The stage is set, the green flag drops!

I've just finished writing my quota of words for today. My mind seems so numb, and my eyes can't seem to focus on anything right now. I managed to finish one chapter of the novel and my word count so far is 5077 words. Yay me! *clap clap*

I'm feeling good about myself right now but this year I don't want to brag about it too much like I did last year. The enthusiasm only lasts for a few days, then it's downhill all the way, until something good happens, which is not often, if ever.

The outline idea seems to have worked for me... so far. Also, unlike last year when I used Google Docs to write my novel, this year my noveling software of choice is the awesome Scrivener. (However, I am using only the free, unsupported and outdated Scrivener Gold.) This particular software is like a project manager for novel writing. It keeps and sorts all your research and data you've collected while researching your novel in one place and makes it easy to access while you're writing the novel. It also helps categorise and label your various drafts and chapters. The most useful feature for me, I think, is the ability to display pictures and notes alongside your draft to help you compose your prose. Unfortunately for Windows users, Scrivener is Mac only. Ah well.

Anyway! Enough hawking products!

Here's a tasty (but unfortunately raw and unedited excerpt of my awesome novel):
It was morning and the window was left intentionally open. The sky was overcast as usual, the day still dim and Simpang Junction’s inhabitants still groggy, evident in the slow way they shuffled along the streets below. Suraya had already been at her desk for one hour but she still felt lazy. She always hated this time of the morning when she could never seem to motivate herself enough to get into gear and start her work. Even though the window was open, the room was insufficiently lit. Suraya took a piece of paper from her “In” tray and read it. There was not enough light in the room, so she got up and walked across to the light switch. The lights flickered into life, and Suraya blinked.

She thought she had noticed something at the window and looked again closely. There was nothing there now. She shrugged, decided she needed a coffee and walked over to the coffee-maker that was skulking in the corner of the room. The coffee-maker sensed her approaching and nervously tried to sneak away. Suraya knew it couldn’t go too far. It was still plugged in to the electric socket on the wall but the coffee-maker never gave up trying to escape. As she was pouring the foul-smelling liquid into her mug, she noticed something moving in the corner of her eye. She didn’t think much of it at first because she thought that maybe it was the smell affecting her. But before she could turn around to make sure, there was a loud, crunching thud, like a table landing upside-down after being dropped from a great height.

Suraya almost dropped her mug of foul-smelling coffee, but quickly regained her senses when she remembered why she had left the window open in the first place. She placed down her mug on her desk and walked over to the window where there was dark, black heap on the floor, groaning. She was right. It was a Recruiter. This particular Recruiter happened to be an Orangminyak, a little man, no bigger than a 10-year-old boy, who’s skin was covered in slippery, thick, black oil. It was said that the oil exuded from tiny pores in the Orangminyak’s skin and was the result of a curse many, many generations ago. Suraya had not met many Orangminyak, and this was the first time she saw one as a Recruiter.

“Can’t you people walk in through the door like everyone else?” Suraya said with a little annoyance. “Look at this mess.”

When the Orangminyak Recruiter had jumped in through the window, he must have slipped on his own oily feet and crash-landed on the floor. There was a pile of scattered papers on the floor. The Orangminyak Recruiter quickly righted himself up and gathered the papers, getting smudged and oily in the process.

“Very sorry, miss,” he said miserably, “I’m new at this. Here are the latest reports for the Administrator.” He handed over the oily stack of papers to Suraya. “Well, best I’d be going now.” He grinned sheepishly and Suraya baulked at seeing the bright red innards of his mouth. It contrasted with the blackness of the Orangminyak’s skin, his eyes, even his lips. The Orangminyak scrambled up on to the window sill without much grace as his feet kept slipping here and there, leaving oily marks everywhere. Then it jumped out and disappeared out into the hustle bustle of the town.

Suraya took a look at the papers she had just been given. Usually there was nothing interesting about the reports that the Recruiters dutifully handed in every week or so. Suraya leafed through the papers, glancing at the contents as she made her way back to her desk. She made a minor mental note to ask the janitor to clean up the mess made by the Orangminyak Recruiter then promptly forgot about it. She continued leafing through the papers absentmindedly when she got to her desk and started to drink her coffee. The foul smell must have woken her up to something. She turned back to the first page and began reading the report more carefully. She turned the pages slowly this time, reading every each word. She gasped. Could it be?

Suraya got up from her desk, the stack of papers firmly in her hands and walked to the far wall, to knock on the door of the Administrator’s office. She waited a few moments, then ventured to open the door a bit, and poked her head in. The Administrator was at his desk, the window with the whole view of Simpang Junction behind him. He seemed to be signing some documents when he noticed Suraya peeking in through the gap of the door. He raised his left hand and waved her in. When Suraya came up to his desk, he eyed the oily and smudged stack of papers she had in her hands.

“Recruiter reports, is it? Don’t tell me an Orangminyak delivered this in,” he said, a little incredulously.

“Yes, but that’s not the most interesting part,” Suraya said, handing over the papers to the Administrator. “I think you should really read this immediately.”

The Administrator merely raised an eyebrow at Suraya, then began to read the first page. Suraya stood waiting while he continued reading the other pages.

“I see. I should say this is good news,” the Administrator said without much enthusiasm. “We have found a better candidate for my replacement.”

“And he is your son.”

“He is my son.”

“I never knew you had a son.”

“It was a long time ago.”
Lame. But fun! This excerpt is only 1/5th of what I wrote today.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

NaNoWriMo 07: The flag is about to drop!

Okay... I'm almost ready!

Still writing the outline for my novel and am hoping to finish it by today. I'm also hoping that by writing an outline first instead of simply winging it like I did in previous years might actually help. Perhaps.

I have a good feeling about this year's effort... but that could be the stale vegetables from the mamak's I had for lunch.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

A Look at Author Spaces.

Where do writers write? And what do these mysterious places look like? The Guardian will show you, but those are for the famous ones. For lesser known writers, Martin Livings has a good selection of pictures. I think they're mostly Australian-based.

UPDATED: Fixed link. My bad.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Land Beneath The Wind: Day One.

I've always been fascinated by Sabah. I like the fact that as a state, it's history is separate from that of Peninsular Malaysia. Most Malaysians, when they speak of Malaysian history, they're really just referring to the history of Peninsular Malaysia, and even then it's mostly a revisionist version of history, which I think dates from 1970. Malaysian history, in general, really just gives a cursory glance towards Sabah, merely skimming over the details.

It's the same with Sarawak as well. But I dunno. Maybe I'm just seeing this from a West Malaysian point of view. I really have no idea what Sabahans make of Malaysian history. Maybe they just take in stride that Malaysian history is skewed to the Peninsular since that's where the Federal Government is.

I was pondering this because today me and L went to the Sabah State Museum. I learned a lot today, from the Kaamatan Festival to the Dragon of Kinabalu (I didn't know these Sabahans kept a dragon! Very selfish of them not to let us know. A pity the Chinese killed it) Of particular interest to me was the period between the last years of World War II and Sabah's integration into Malaysia, when it was a British Crown Colony and still known as North Borneo. It was particularly interesting to know that North Borneo was actually already given self-governance two weeks before entering Malaysia.

To get to the museum, we walked from the hotel. The weather was fair, and there was a nice breeze so it wasn't tiring, considering that the walk was a little more than three-quarters of an hour away. Unfortunately, it began to rain when we got there so we had to stay at the museum until it stopped. Good thing the museum was quite big. The museum compound also includes an art gallery, a botanical garden and a heritage village. I really liked the heritage village because it reminded me of Melaka's Mini Malaysia. It was a collection of traditional Sabahan houses which I thought was cool. Too bad we were limited with what we could see because of the rain.

So anyway! Now that the history and culture part's done, I guess the next step is to enjoy the seafood! That's something to aim for tomorrow then.

Also, hotel wi-fi is AWESOME.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Sabah, Here I Come!

I'll be leaving for Sabah for my honeymoon tonight. A friend asked me whether it's a bit late to consider this a honeymoon but I say any vacation with my wife is a honeymoon in my books!

Anyways, see you when I get back! I'll write! I'm off now to buy an English-Sabahan Dictionary so I can communicate with the locals.

Monday, 22 October 2007

30 Days of Write: NaNoWriMo 07!

Official NaNoWriMo 2007 ParticipantWell, it's that crazy time of year again, my friends! Early mornings and late nights, typing and/or scribbling away like nobody's business. Checking incessantly the word processor's word count; despairing that the daily word target hasn't been reached; despairing that ideas have all but dried out.

Yes, the month of November is nigh, and that means it's National Novel Writing Month once again! We all know the drill but here's the lowdown: A participant of NaNoWriMo should write a novel in a month, or at the very least, 50,000 words of prose. Within 30 days.

I failed to complete last year's NaNoWriMo challenge (managed only about 15,000 words)... or even the previous year. I wonder if I'll be able to make it this year? No idea, but I'm giving it a shot anyway!

Last year, I tried writing a fantasy (with sf elements) novel, but this year I'll be attempting a young adult book instead. My idea concerns a bookish, nerdish and completely anti-social boy who is chosen to be one of the children who will oversee the administration of a gateway city between our world and the Netherworld. The city is a portal where all the monsters and ghosts enter our world where they are given licences to spook humankind. It will have so many sexually ambiguous monsters, you'll lose count before you can say "Dumbledore is Gay". That's my elevator pitch anyway. What's yours?

So anyway, good luck to anybody else who's entering this year!

Friday, 19 October 2007

Advice for First-Time SFF Novelists.

Kate Elliot over at DeepGenre has this to say for budding SFF novelists:
First, if you’re not willing to work hard at writing, don’t bother.

I am sure we can find the exception that proves the rule, but every writer I know who has been successful

- however we are defining that term today, and I tend to be ecumenical in my inclusiveness, so let’s just assume that I mean in a pretty broad sense not limited to the pots-of-money sense and frankly just about every working writer I know will laugh sadly or even perhaps a tad hysterically when you ask her or him about the average annual earnings of working freelance writers -

has worked immensely hard, turned or churned out a lot of pages in the journey through apprenticeship toward some level of mastery, and kept writing despite setbacks, rejection, cold feet, and those soul-sucking periods of doubt.
By that I don’t mean quit writing for enjoyment. Anyone who wants to write because it pleases them or soothes them or excites them, should absolutely write.

Please never let anyone stop you from writing.

Writing is a gift, a blessing, a catharsis, a joy. It’s yours; cherish it.

Also, writing is just too difficult for it to be worth doing, in my humble opinion, if you don’t love the process or feel driven to write (which are not quite the same thing).

But if you’re not willing to work, and work hard, and work stubbornly, then don’t make plans for a brilliant career. That is, be realistic about what you’re willing to put in, and therefore what you can potentially get out.

I have seen cases where people
1) talk about the novel or book they want to write that is really fabulous
2) write and rewrite the first 50 pages of that novel but never move on
3) write the first draft of a novel but never revise it - or revise it sufficiently - while meanwhile expecting that naturally a publisher is going to pay them pots of money (see above) for their fabulous soon-to-be-bestselling manuscript
4) never write a second novel, and a third, or multiple short stories, in order to continue learning and improving
5) say to themselves, ‘well, if s/he could publish, then it can’t be *that* hard’

The way to succeed as a writer is - to write. To write something new. To write more. To keep writing.

It amazes me how many people fail to grasp that essential truth.
There's a lot more good advice to be had if you follow the link.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

"Oh Christ"

Definitely one of the most memorable reactions ever.

Bill Watterson on Charles Schulz and Peanuts.

Creator of Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Watterson, reviews the new Charles Schulz biography in the Wall Street Journal:
It's a strange and interesting story, and Mr. Michaelis, the author of a 1998 biography of artist N.C. Wyeth, paces the narrative well, offering many insights and surprising events from Schulz's life. Undoubtedly the most fascinating part of the book is the juxtaposition of biographical information and reproduced "Peanuts" strips. Here we see how literally Schulz sometimes depicted actual situations and events. The strips used as illustrations in "Schulz and Peanuts" are reproduced at eye-straining reduction and are often removed from the context of their stories, but they vividly demonstrate how Schulz used his cartoons to work through private concerns. We discover, for example, that in the recurring scenes of Lucy annoying Schroeder at the piano, the crabby and bossy Lucy stands in for Joyce [Schulz's first wife], and the obsessive and talented Schroeder is a surrogate for Schulz.

Town Boy Launched in the US.

Lat's Town Boy, my favourite Lat book ever, has now been launched in the US, following what I can only assume is the successful launch of its prequel, Kampung Boy.

While Kampung Boy is fun and all, I am more attached to Town Boy because it takes place in Sungai Rokam (where I went to primary school) and Ipoh (where Lat went to secondary school). Sungai Rokam was (and still is, actually) a Malay housing estate developed in the '60s on the outskirts of Ipoh.

I hope those Americans enjoy it; they seemed to have liked Kampung Boy quite a bit. That's all very well. Lat's books are probably some of the very, very few things from this nation we can truly be proud of.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Bah Humbug Weep Ninni Bong.

Hoho. It's not always I get to reference Charles Dickens and the Transformers movie (the original movie, not the recent live-action monstrosity) in one sentence.

So you may have heard that there's some sort of festive celebration that's going to happen this Saturday. Personally I can't wait for it. I'm not looking forward to the day itself, though I guess the rendang daging my mother might make (my brother doesn't eat beef) should make for some good eating.

No, what I'm really looking forward to is the ability to drink coffee again. Whenever I feel like it.

Oh, sweet, heavenly coffee. Manna from the gods! I miss you so!

In Bed with Books.

If only I had one of these when I was a bachelor. Would've helped a lot.

Via Urban Planning Blog.

Friday, 5 October 2007

The Tower of Darkness.

Alike for those who To-day prepare,
And for those that after a To-morrow stare,
A Muezzin from the Tower of Darkness cries,
"Fools! Your Reward is neither Here nor There!"

--Omar Khayyam; translated by Edward Fitzgerald

I keep wanting to write a fantasy story inspired by this. Perhaps one day.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

50 Years of the Space Age.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of mankind's ascent into the Space Age. We owe a lot to you, Sputnik.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Silverfish New Writing is No More.

The Bloke in Bangsar has announced that Silverfish New Writing is no more after the seventh book rolls out. Say what you will about Raman, but the New Writing series has been a large contribution to the local literary scene and its discontinuation will be a major loss.

On the other hand, it's a perfect chance for another publisher to pick up the reins and fill in the vacuum left by Silverfish. A chance to start anew, with less politics and perhaps more focused on local writers, like what Amir Muhammad says on his blog:
I feel the series should have stayed as a focus on Malaysian and Singaporean writers. It could have then become a reference point for writers and readers interested in this area. From the third issue on, it started to lack a distinctive character when too many foreigners started pouring in.
But then again... who reads all this literary nonsense anyway? Surely not Malaysians!

Monday, 1 October 2007

Interview with Quentin Blake.

Anyone who's grown up with Roald Dahl would know Quentin Blake's wonderful illustrations. The Guardian interviews him:
Is there anything he can't draw? "I stay away from motor cars. And I can't do architectural drawings, really. What I want to convey is movement and gesture and atmosphere. I like drawing anything that is doing something. Dragons are good because you can arrange them in interesting ways across the page, get people to ride on them. I can't seem to keep birds out of my books." You can see them not only in his edition of Aristophanes' The Birds and his book with John Yeoman called Featherbrains, but in a grinning self-portrait featuring him dangling from a ceiling fan, pencils stuffed in his pockets, papers and birds flapping round. His grin is the still centre to the chaos.

Sunday, 30 September 2007

REVIEW: LUST, CAUTION: The Story, the Screenplay, and the Making of the Film

This book review was published in The Star on 30 September 2007. The print version comes with a 25% discount voucher for the book which can be used at Kinokuniya KLCC.

Eileen Chang, Wang Hui Ling and James Schamus
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Hardcover: 311 pages
ISBN: 978-0375425240

WHEN I read a while back that Taiwanese director Ang Lee was making a movie that had some of its scenes shot in Penang and Ipoh (and being an Ipoh guy myself), I made a mental note to find out exactly what movie he was making – then, like the forgetful dolt I am, I proceeded to forget all about it.

Much later, I chanced upon the movie trailer online, and realised this must be the movie that Lee had shot on our shores. The trailer looked interesting, promising an intriguing cinema experience and it played to my fancy with its period setting and sensuous scenes.

The movie, Lust, Caution, stars Tony Leung, Joan Chen and Wang Leehom and features the debut of mainland China actress Tang Wei. Based on a short story by famed author Eileen Chang (known to Chinese readers as Zhang Ailing), the movie was adapted for the screen by long-time Lee collaborators, Wang Hui Ling and James Schamus.

As the movie is based on a short story, I knew the publishers would take advantage of the movie release and repackage the short story as a film tie-in. But as film tie-ins go, this one’s quite the odd one.

The film tie-ins that I’m used to are usually big-sized paperbacks printed on glossy paper. You know, the ones where almost every page boasts full colour pictures and concept art, and that are almost always touted as “The Making Of” but never really give any substantial insight into the moviemaking process.

This movie-tie in, however, is different. It has been published in a nice hardcover format that will probably appeal more to bibliophiles rather than film fans. Perhaps the publishers were targeting the admirers of Chang’s literary works?

Well, if that’s the case, the discerning Chang fan should find this book quite worth the while, for not only does it boast a handsome exterior, the content provides a compelling reading experience.

The book includes not only the original Chang short story, but also a well-written preface by Lee himself, an introduction by Schamus, an essay by Julia Lovell (who translated the short story into English) and the entire film screenplay, as well as various production notes by the film crew.

Chang’s short story is set in Hong Kong and Shanghai at the time of the Japanese occupation during World War II and concerns a group of student actors in a theatre club who also happen to be nationalists. The group chooses its best actress and prettiest girl, Wang Chia-Chih, to pose as a rich businessman’s wife – in short, a tai tai – to gain the confidence, and eventually the lust, of Mr Yee, spymaster for the Japanese collaborationist government. The plan is for Wang to use her wiles on him and set him up to be assassinated.

The story is elegant and atmospheric, and convincingly builds tension at every turn. Of course, quoting a few brief paragraphs can never do Eileen Chang any justice; you really need to read the story as a whole to feel the tightness of the tension inherent in the situation.

The screenplay follows Chang’s story faithfully, and adds some elements that, in my opinion, improves the flow of the story and depth of the characters.

Initially, I thought I would not get much out of reading the screenplay. After all, it’s just a rehash of the short story I just read, right? Well, I found myself surprised that I was quickly engrossed once again in Chang’s 1940s Hong Kong and Shanghai. It will be interesting indeed to see how Lee translates the screenplay to the big screen.

But to me, the section with production notes is really the most appealing in this book. Various members of the crew write about their experience working on the set of Lust, Caution, making this part a sort of diary and allowing us a rare, in-depth look into the making of the film.

The crew write about the problems, and their satisfaction in overcoming those problems, of building a set that would bring back Shanghai of 1942, searching for the perfect actor to portray the beautiful and innocent Wang Chia-Chih, designing the rigging of lighting that would turn Tony Leung into the evil Mr Yee, editing a movie in a language you don’t speak or understand, etc.

There’s another book that’s also a Lust, Caution film tie-in but it only provides the short story in a paperback format. It’s cheaper than this book, which is a thick hardcover, but, personally, I think the hardcover gives better value for the price you pay. The production notes and the various other extras peppered within make for entertaining reading and you would miss all that in the paperback. And it has the bonus of looking good on your bookshelf as well.
For an opinion of the movie itself, check out our good friend Swifty, who's written a pretty good review.

Saturday, 29 September 2007


Yes! I've got my mits on these two awesome newly-released books:

Looks like I'll be overdosing myself on fantasy these coming weeks.

Plus! You might want to check out tomorrow's StarMag ;)

Friday, 28 September 2007

REVIEW: Malaysian Politicians Say the Darndest Things by Amir Muhammad

I'm not sure if this book even needs an introduction. With all the fanfare the book's been getting, I think anyone with a decent Internet connection and/or reads Off the Edge should know what this book's all about. Heck, even the title's a dead giveaway.

But here I go anyway. Malaysian Politicians Say the Darndest Things presents to its readers various quotes by Malaysian politicians that were said between the late 70s to earlier this year. Compiled by the incomparable Amir Muhammad, director of the infamous Last Communist that got banned last year, the quotes obviously aren't just any old random quote but are what Amir calls "Outrageous Quotes".

Amir describes the Outrageous Quote as "something undiplomatic about gender or race, or it might smack of a certain ignorance of due process and rule of law. It would get civil libertarians in a twist, or a funk, or some other dance music-like word. Outrage would be expressed; a befitting response, you would say to an Outrageous."

An example of an Outrageous Quote would be something like this:
"He is not clever at doing it... to be a fraudster you need skills. Fraudsters should always be a notch above their victims. He didn't learn from me or I could have given him some tips... As a father I am disappointed."
- Senator Muhammad Abdul Ghani, implicating his son in a scandal of cloned Approved Permits (APs) for imported cars. (The New Straits Times, 11 October 2006)
Each page boasts one Outrageous Quote (sometimes even two or three related quotes), accompanied by an explanation of the context of the quote written by Amir, as well as a humourous illustration by the talented Shahril Nizam. Shahril Nizam's illustrations as well as the overall book design complements the surrealism and weirdness of the world these politicians seem to live in. His strange yet appealing art style gives a book a certain kind of style that adds to the book's charm.

I must say that Amir Muhammad has stumbled upon a brilliant idea. Malaysians, in general, love simple books (preferably ones that require less reading and contain more illustrations). Combine that concept with the really weird things our politicians keep spouting out from day to day, and you have the basis of what I would consider the definitive Malaysian Joke Book.

The book is funny, well-executed and well worth getting. Looks pretty neat on your bookshelf too, so be sure to buy your own copy!

Related Links: Amir Muhammad's blog.

Neil Gaiman Calls Authors "Otters".

From the Guardian:
"Otters are not trainable," [Gaiman] explains. "Dogs are trainable - if you want them to sit you train them and give them rewards and they sit each time. But otters... if they do something cool and you give them a fish, the next time they'll do something even cooler. Or they'll try to do something completely different. I think that most writers - or at least a lot of us - are otters."

Facing Mecca From Space.

Now that we're sending Muslims up into space, the West seems to be amused with the fact that our very own Muslim scientists have drafted up guides on worshipping procedures in space. Wired's got an article worth reading about the problems in facing the kiblat and how to find Mecca from space:
Dr. Kamal Abdali, a cartographer who is also Muslim and who has written (.pdf) extensively on determining the qibla, favors the great circle route, but adds, "Prayer is not supposed to be a gymnastic exercise. One is supposed to concentrate on the prayer rather the exact orientation." He points out that in a train or plane, it's customary to start in the qibla direction but then continue the prayer without worrying about possible changes in position.

But how does that work in space? Mathematically, Shukor would need to place both ISS and Mecca on the same imaginary sphere -- by either comparing the place on Earth directly beneath ISS with the real Ka'aba, or by projecting the Ka'aba into space (the option recommended by the Fatwa Council).

Yet the option to pray while facing a point in space brings up another problem. Muslims face the ground to pray, in part to avoid any hint of pagan sun or moon worship ("Prostrate yourselves not to the sun nor to the moon, but prostrate yourselves to Allah Who created them, if you (really) worship Him" (The Quran, Fussilat 41:37). If the Ka'aba projection happens to line up with the sun or moon, purists might believe the prayer invalid.
Huh. So, our bold Angkasawan has to take care that while praying he doesn't end up worshipping a stray heavenly body instead and finding himself being accused of idolatry, one of the worst sins a Muslim could ever commit.

Related: Malaysians in Space.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Robert Jordan Passes Away.

It's old news now, but I guess I was a little shocked that Robert Jordan passed away.

I'm not even a fan but I do have friends who are, and I empathise. It sure would suck being a fan, knowing he was already writing the final book of an already too drawn out fantasy epic, but didn't manage to finish.

The best write-up I've seen online on all this has to be on The Wertzone.

Chandler's Writing Process.

Mark Coggins takes a look at Raymond Chandler's writing process for The Long Goodbye:
Chandler’s method of rewriting was radical. Rather than keeping most of what was in his current draft and making accretive changes to it, he started nearly from scratch, saving only the few words or phrases that resonated from the previous draft. Returning to the movie making metaphor, Chandler’s rewrites were truly more akin to alternative takes where the director encouraged the actors to take a different line through the scene.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Happy Belated Roald Dahl Day!

Gah! I actually missed Roald Dahl Day yesterday! I think it's high time I got around to using Google Calendar... or any calendar for that matter.


To mark Roald Dahl Day this year, I thought I'd show you a book of his which has special meaning to me--Rhyme Stew. Long-time readers of my blog would know why this particular Roald Dahl book is special (though of course all Dahl books are equally special to me, Rhyme Stew being a little more equal than the others); I have a first edition of the book which was personally signed by the man himself, as detailed in last year's Roald Dahl Day post.

Here is the state of the cover as it is now:

And if you take a peek inside, you'll see Roald Dahl's scrawl in black marker pen:

He almost misspelled my name!

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Swirling Clouds of Jupiter.

This picture was taken by the Voyager I spacecraft on 5 March 1979. It reminds me very much of Van Gogh's Starry Night.

I'm still in a bit of a daze but if I wasn't in the cloud I am in right now, I'd probably right a quirky little story inspired by it.

Via Wired.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Hang On.

I'm sure there are some of you dying to know what happened at the wedding, and want to see some pics of the event, but I'll have to leave you hanging for a little while longer. I might be able to post up some pics on Flickr tomorrow. Perhaps.

In the meantime, enjoy this writerly video from The Family Guy:

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Off Getting Married.

Well, I'm off to Kluang to get hitched.

Will blog again a week after the wedding, with hopefully good pics and possibly rants about meddlesome relatives. Kinokuniya also gave me a new book to review yesterday, so I suppose you can expect a new review soon* as well!

Have a happy 50th merdeka, my friends!

*As soon as The Star possibly can, that is. Feh.

Monday, 27 August 2007

Jules Verne in Malay: Translators Wanted.

Looks like PTS wants translators to translate the works of Jules Verne into Malay. Interested? Go sign up.

I personally would love to see this project come to fruition, as long as the works are translated with complete and utter care. (There's also a Sherlock Holmes translation project ongoing of which I am keen on as well.)

But I have to wonder. Will these translators translate Jules Verne's works from English? I doubt PTS will be able to find enough good translators to translate from the original French. If this is so, how true will the translations be to the originals? It's bad enough that some of the original English translations--which I assume PTS will work from since they are out of copyright and therefore free--are considered not up to snuff. Even Jules Verne lamented about the translations of his time, saying, "I’m not surprised that the translations you’ve been speaking to me about are bad ... But we can do nothing about it, absolutely nothing."

But here PTS has the tabula rasa. They can do something about shoddy translation, and the first act is not to translate from a free source like The Gutenberg Project which is claimed to harbour the defective translations of Jules Verne's works. If PTS cannot find translators that can translate from the original French, then I hope PTS would at least consider translating from better and more reliable sources (for example, from the Penguin Classic editions, although I realise this might cost money, and I'm not really sure if they're that reliable a translation anyway).

I respect PTS as a forward-thinking publisher of Malay books and I hope they really consider this problem properly. It's not enough to make Jules Verne accessible to Malay readers... you have to give them quality reading too.

Just my 2 sen.

(Ted would love to see a Malay translation of H.P. Lovecraft.)

Saramago means "Wild Radish".

The New York Times profiles Nobel Prize Winner Jose Saramago. I particularly liked the factoid about how he got his surname:
“When I showed up, aged 7, for my first day of school in Lisbon, I had to present my identity papers,” [Saramago] told me. It was only then his parents discovered that the last name printed on his birth certificate was not their family name, de Sousa. The village clerk had instead registered the baby as “Saramago,” or “wild radish.”

“It was an insulting nickname villagers gave my father,” Saramago explained. “The clerk wrote it perhaps because he was drunk, perhaps as a prank. My father wasn’t very happy, but if that was his son’s official name, well, then, he had to take it, too. I think never before in history has a son named his father.”

Friday, 24 August 2007

One More Week.

On this day next week, I'll be a married man! Gee willikers! I am so nervous...

Monday, 20 August 2007

Amir's Book Launch.

From Amir Muhammad's blog:
Malaysian Politicians Say the Darndest Things will be launched on

Sunday, 16 September
Gallery One, The Annexe, Central Market Kuala Lumpur.

The book will be on sale for RM20. Murah je bang.

All are welcome.
More details when you click on the link.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Cloud Parade Day.

It rained heavily yesterday afternoon. I was jogging naked as usual, when the skies split open and vomited a voluminous amount of water upon me. The water droplets fell heavy and hard and my face and shoulders and private parts hurt. I stopped for a moment to decide whether to seek for shelter or to continue jogging. I didn't want to stop jogging just because it was raining. I was on a roll and I was about to achieve my daily target. But if I continued I would have risked bumping into a tree or falling down a drain because the downpour was so heavy, visibility of my surroundings was minimal at best.

As I stood in the rain, braving the pounding of the constant dropping of water upon me, a small cloud fell out from the skies and descended towards me. I would like to describe this particular cloud as being made out of billions of droplets of condensed water vapour but it was not at all like that. It was not a normal cloud at all, though who am I to say what a normal cloud looks like or not, because this particular cloud was really the first cloud I ever had the opportunity to meet and greet. But as I was saying, this cloud was different from what I would have thought a cloud would be like. It was instead made of wool, and when the cloud bumped into me accidentally, I could feel its cloudy fluffiness was not that of water vapour but that of high-grade rabbit wool from the far-off land of New Burrow.

"Oh, excuse me," said the cloud, not looking in my direction. "The rain is so thick, I can hardly see. I'm so wet with rain, the water has literally pulled the wool over my eyes."

It was true. I could see two flaps of wool partially covering what appeared to me as eye slits. "No problem," I answered.

The cloud stood shaking and shivering, and there was an embarrassing silence between us. To break this spell, I ventured a small question. "Tell me O cloud: what are you doing out in this ghastly rain?" I asked.

The cloud seemed shocked that I would ask such a question. "I could very well ask you the same thing," the cloud said, a little hurt.

Had I touched a sensitive issue? This intrigued me a little. "Well, I asked you first," I said.

The cloud harrumphed and it shivered and sprayed some water as it did so. "I do not expect you landmans, or whatever you call yourself, to understand. Today, noblest of days, is Cloud Parade Day, and all the clouds worth their vapour are out parading and showing their best cloud poses and stances for all the world to see."

The cloud straightened itself, as if to show it too could pose in a distinct way.

"Cloud Parade Day?" I asked. "Is that why it's raining so hard?"

"Heavens no! This awful rain must be the work of the dogs and the cats. They've always had a vendetta against us clouds. Anyway, I must be off. Tootles!" And with that, the rabbit wool cloud flew back up into the rain.

I stood there with my hand shielding my eyes from the rain trying to look up at the cloud flying away. I stood there and kept thinking. What was it like to wear rabbit wool while jogging in the rain?

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville.

I mentioned Jean-Luc Godard's retro-futuristic noir movie, Alphaville, in my review of After Dark. Luck must shine on all of us, for Google Video has it up on their intertubes for you to digest.

Wikipedia, as always, has a nice summary of what Alphaville is about:
Alphaville combines the genres of dystopian science fiction and film noir. Although set far in the future on another planet, there are no special effects or elaborate sets; instead, the film was shot in real locations in Paris, the night-time streets of the capital becoming the streets of Alphaville, while modernist glass and concrete buildings represent the city's interiors. In addition, the characters refer to twentieth century events; for example, the hero describes himself as a Guadalcanal veteran.

Eddie Constantine plays Lemmy Caution, a trenchcoat-wearing secret agent. Constantine had already played this role in dozens of previous films; the character was originally created by British pulp novelist Peter Cheyney. However, in Alphaville, director Jean-Luc Godard moves Caution away from his usual twentieth century setting, and places him in a futuristic sci-fi dystopia, the technocratic dictatorship of Alphaville.
Enjoy. It's a really weird movie (in a good way), if you haven't seen it before.

Friday, 10 August 2007

REVIEW: After Dark by Haruki Murakami.

I was beginning to give up hope that The Star would ever publish this, but those wily editors seem to have remembered after all.

Behold! My review of Haruki Murakami's After Dark:
Different approach

Review by TED MAHSUN

After Dark

Author: Haruki Murakami
ISBN: 978-1846550478
Publisher: Harvill Secker, 191 pages

WHILE Haruki Murakami has his throng of fans and is constantly applauded for his works, he has also been criticised of being repetitive. Critics have denounced his books as being nothing but the same tired story of a directionless male protagonist going nowhere.

As if in response to this, Murakami took a different tack in Kafka on the Shore, his previous novel, where he discarded his usual first-person narrative, and wrote the book from a third-person perspective and changed his protagonist from a directionless young man ... to a directionless young boy.

Okay, so it’s not much of a change, but I guess he’s got to start somewhere. In After Dark, his latest novel, Murakami goes out on a full experimental journey not only for the novel’s characters but also for himself. It’s certainly a different beast from what he’s written before. The novel is still Murakami-esque, but thankfully it’s not more of the same thing.

Befitting its title, the action takes place in the wee hours between midnight and dawn. The novel eschews the directionless male protagonist, and instead focuses on a number of interesting individuals who live the nocturnal city life. How the novel actually does this is one of the elements that separates After Dark from Murakami’s other books.

We meet these individuals through the lens of a narrative camera, which is probably a character in itself. The opening pages take the reader swooping from the skies like a big-budget flick: “Through the eyes of a high-flying night bird, we take in the scene from mid-air. In our broad sweep, the city looks like a single gigantic creature – or more like a single collective entity created by many intertwining organisms. Countless arteries stretch to the ends of its elusive body, circulating a continuous supply of fresh blood cells, sending out new data and collecting the old, sending out new consumables and collecting the old, sending out new contradictions and collecting the old.”

The camera zooms in on an all-night fast food restaurant where we meet our first character, Mari Asai, who sits alone reading a book. She is met unexpectedly by her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Takahashi, a student who prefers playing the trombone to studying law. This sets the ball rolling for the narrative camera to take us to meet the many strange night creatures that inhabit Tokyo.

There’s Kaoru, the manager of Hotel Alphaville, named after Jean-Luc Godard’s movie; Shirakawa, the white-collar worker who may or may not have abused a prostitute in that hotel; and Eri Asai, Mari’s sister, who seems to be trapped in her sleep.

The combined influences of film noir and horror blend together to create a mysterious and somewhat mystical kind of atmosphere in a city known to be on the cutting edge of technology.

After Dark is a short read but its mysteries and puzzles might entice the discerning reader to give the book another go once it’s been read.

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