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!

MISTER B. GONE

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.

Awesome.

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:
Folks,

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.

Link.

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!

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