Friday, 29 February 2008

Calling All Essayists!

Though hot on the heels of the launch of New Malaysian Essays 1, Amir Muhammad has already started looking for new submissions for the second book!

Think you got the chops? Why not email Amir to propose something.

Oh wow! I gained an extra day this month!

This post is here just to mark what makes 2008 a leap year.

Also, if you were getting annoyed with the sponsored posts I've been posting the past week, be annoyed no more!

I'm stopping them for now. Or slowing down. I don't know. See how it goes.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

HOWTO: Get Rid of Silverfish

The bane of every book collecting person: the Silverfish. DUN DUN DUNNNNN!!!

How to get rid of them?

If one book has been infected, place it inside an air-tight plastic bag along with some silica gel desiccant. The silica gel is important to get rid of moisture, because you will now place the sealed plastic bag with the book in it inside the freezer. Leave it in there for a couple of days so that those bugs catch their death of cold.

If you're feeling particularly paranoid, (like I usually am) feel free to leave the plastic bag in there for a week. If they're not dead, then you might likely have an infestation of zombie silverfish, which is out of the scope of this blogpost.

But what if a whole colony of silverfish decided to invade your whole bookcase? Then you have to make sure you're ready for war.

Place a generous amount of silica gel (or if you can find it, diatomaceous earth) behind your books at the back of the shelves so that moisture levels remain low. Silverfish like things to be damp, and turning their environment into a parched desertscape will not make things peachy for them.

The next step is to place traps for these pests along the bookshelves. This is how you go about building Your Very Own Silverfish Trap:
  1. Find some jars that will fit into your shelves.
  2. Clean out the inside of these jars thoroughly until the inside walls are so clean and smooth, baby bottoms can't even come close to comparing.
  3. Wrap the outside of each jar with masking tape.
  4. Place some starchy food inside each of the jars, then place them along your bookshelves.
You now have what is hopefully an efficient silverfish trap.

How it works is the desiccants behind the books will push the silverfish out towards the traps. And then, once they sense the food inside the jars, they will climb the easily-climbable masking tape-wrapped outer walls and fall inside the jar to get the food. They won't be able to get out, because the inner walls of the jars will be too smooth to climb up. Leave the traps out long enough, and you will find your silverfish infestation considerably lessened.

Good luck!


Musician Jacob Golden Inspired By Haruki Murakami.

I'm used to the fact that Haruki Murakami is inspired by a lot of Western pop culture, most notably its music. There's a lot of music in Murakami's work, ranging from John Coltrane to John Lennon. But I never gave a thought to musicians being inspired by Murakami's work, though it's the most obvious thing to happen, when I give it a deeper thought.

So that's what's happened with Jacob Golden, a guitarist who has just had his latest album, Revenge Songs, come out.

Over at CD Times, he talked about what influences his lyrics and he had this to say:
I kind of go though different phases with reading. I was reading a lot of Haruki Murakami when I was writing the last album. I find that the way he writes suggests he listens to a lot of music, conversely. He’s a big music fan and talks a lot about it in his books. I’m filling my head with different writers all the time.
Here's the video for Jacob Golden's first single, "Out Come the Wolves" from Revenge Songs:

I think I can see the song becoming the soundtrack for some of Murakami's short stories or even several scenes in his novels.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

The Digressions of Dashiell Hammett.

I wouldn't normally associate Dashiell Hammett with digressions in his fiction. His prose is normally lean and tight, and every word works to get the story told.

But nevertheless Chris Routledge in The Guardian writes about Hammett's--perhaps very few--digressions:
By reputation Hammett is a writer of tough, pared-down prose and ought not to be associated with digression. His detective novels are plot-driven and fast-paced, with an A to B momentum that barely lets up. His audience in the 1920s and 1930s, mostly the readers of pulp magazines such as Black Mask, were not looking for philosophy when they went to the newsstand in the morning. They did their reading for entertainment, not enlightenment.

Yet as literary digressions go the Flitcraft parable is near perfect: it is completely unexpected, forcefully significant in an oblique kind of way, and beautifully formed. In the three pages or so in which Sam Spade tells Brigid O'Shaughnessy the story of Flitcraft, who "left his real-estate office, in Tahoma, to go to luncheon one day and never returned", we are presented with a glimpse of Spade's hard-boiled world view and a little treatise on the arbitrariness of life. Like O'Shaughnessy we are left baffled by it.
On a related note, I just read Hammett's Thin Man a few months back and totally recommend it for if you're into hard-boiled detective fiction. After all, next to Raymond Chandler, he is the master of the hard-boiler.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

How to write that novel you were planning to write someday.

Kenny! This one's for you! :D

The neat and organised people at LifeClever have a blogpost up about how to get your "someday project" done, which can be adapted to your novel-in-progress.

It's easy, you triangulate. But what does that even mean, "triangulate"? Divide the novel into triangles?

No, you do it one step at a time, muchacho. (Sorry, I've been reading Duma Key).

Here's what the fine folks at LifeClever have to say about that:
Stephen King once wrote, and I’m paraphrasing, that creative ideas are there in your mind but buried, and it’s your job to dig them out of the sand. Think of Michelangelo chipping David out of the marble. He didn’t sculpt an arm, then another arm, then a torso, and so on, finally cobbling it all together. Instead, he chipped away at a complete shape, gradually honing in on it from different angles.

So, first of all, think of your idea as complete and whole, ready to be unearthed. Now, you just need to find it. Just as triangulation can determine the source of a signal, creative triangulation can find your idea by zeroing in on it from different angles.

1. Shut out all external distractions: quit Outlook, close the door, shut off your cellphone, etc.
2. Set out 3 index cards (or shorties).
3. Set your trusty timer for 5 minutes.
4. Make 3 choices about your project.

It’ll take a lot less than 5 minutes, but the timer’s to keep you from dithering around and staring into space.
There's lots more nifty advice worth checking out, so head there if you need that extra boost getting into your novel-in-progress.

Blurbs Are Nonsense.

Or so says one of Australia's leading poets, Les Murray.

In an interview with Sydney Morning Herald, he says that are, "all hyperbole and hype, a publishers' bad habit. Read the contents of the damned book."

He said this after a publisher asked for his blurb for another poet's upcoming book. His response was to ask the publisher to publish his wife's book in return.

Unfortunately, the article did not state what the publisher's response to that was!

Personally, I think blurbs don't do any harm, even if I know that the author giving the blurb was just doing it as a gesture for a friend, and probably didn't even read the book.

If I wanted to know whether a book was good or not, well, that's what we have book reviews for. Not that hard to get on the interwebs and google for one.

Interview with Iain M. Banks.

Didn't I just blog about Iain M. Banks?

Mr. Banks (both his literary and science fiction personae) gets interviewed by The Australian where he shows himself to be just another grumpy old man:
"I am becoming a curmudgeon, I am becoming less tolerant in a lot of ways. I am a humanist and I am struggling not to see all people of faith as idiots. I get really annoyed about it sometimes but I suppose you can't do that because there are lots of very intelligent people who believe in God.
I feel for you bro.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Awesome Monster Pics.

one fine day - ultrart -, originally uploaded by takahito@japan.

There's just so many ways about how this photo (and others in the collection) is AWESOME. And yet I cannot name one.

Oh okay.

Maybe just one. Alien Baltan. Awesome. *squeee*


Just to let you know I'll be crashing Rumah Pena on 1st March at 8.30pm.

Am going to lend my hands and feet in supporting local science fiction writers, which in this case are my pals, Vovin, who wrote Opera Angkasa,

and Firdaus Ariff, who wrote Sayap Adinila.

See you guys there?

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Thoughts About Tom Standage's History of the World in 6 Glasses.

I first heard about Tom Standage's book A History of the World in 6 Glasses back in 2005 and I think it was on Boing Boing. I only managed to buy it from Kinokuniya almost a year later, and only managed to read it this year. I regret not reading it earlier.

Its conceit is simple: tell history from the perspective of six different drinks, Beer, Wine, Spirits, Coffee, Tea and Coca-Cola, and how they shaped certain civilisations in each of their dominant eras.

We all know history can be very dry, but in the hands of capable writers, even the driest parts of history can be saved from being a total wash out. (Sorry.) I am glad to report that Tom Standage makes reading about history fun and interesting and occasionally even thirsty.

It was enlightening to read, for example, about how coffee helped kickstart the age of reason due to its so-called "mind-sharpening" qualities and how it was as controversial as alcohol in the early days of Islam.

I found every chapter (each dedicated to a drink) a pageturner, but only the last, the chapter about Coca-Cola left me with a bad aftertaste. (Sorry again.) It was the shortest chapter and wasn't as fleshed out or as filled with neat trivia as the rest of the chapters.

But that small nitpick aside, the book's a definite must read, especially for fans of any of the drink mentioned. I am now keen on checking Mr. Standage's other books, The Victorian Internet, and The Turk.

New Weird in The Guardian.

I think faithful readers of this blog (all 5 of you), know how much I love science fiction, and that's because I blog about it quite often enough.

There's also another genre I really love, one I came across while looking for literature on cities. One name that always came up in discussions of books on cities was China Mieville. Intrigued, I went out and bought Perdido Street Station, which is only his second novel (the first being King Rat, a Gaiman-esque urban fantasy story). I blogged about him before here and here.

So that was how I discovered the very slipstream genre of New Weird, a genre that takes elements of fantasy, science fiction and horror, and blend them all together. It's a very interesting mix and in my humble opinion, makes for very good reading, especially with the skilled word-smithing of Mr. Mieville.

Apart from Mieville, another writer known to write New Wierd is Jeff Vandermeer, who wrote City of Saints and Madmen and Shriek: An Afterword, both books I have in my library but have yet no chance of reading. I've blogged about him as well and quite recently too.

Mr. Vandermeer, along with his wife, Ann, recently worked together to publish an anthology of New Weird which compiles together an impressive list of authors including, Mieville, M. John Harrison and Michael Moorcock, and is fittingly enough, called The New Weird.

Reading the copy for the book is enough to rub my hands in glee and anticipation:
Descend into shadowy cities, grotesque rituals, chaotic festivals, and deadly cults. Plunge into terrifying domains, where bodies are remade into surreal monstrosities, where the desperate rage against brutal tyrants. Where everything is lethal and no one is innocent, where Peake began and Lovecraft left off—this is where you will find the New Weird.
And if that wasn't enough to make me giddy, this write-up hidden in The Guardian makes me froth at the mouth:
In the beginning, there was the "Old Weird", the fiction of HP Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, precursor of the modern horror genre: the aim was to scare and disturb, with the monsters very often offstage entirely. In his introduction to this anthology, co-editor Jeff VanderMeer argues that the New Weird, developed since the 1980s but crystallised more recently by the popularity of China MiƩville's Perdido Street Station, is a transgressive horror, a type of fiction repurposed to focus on the monsters and grotesquery but not the scare itself. It is a genre that defies genre boundaries, embracing a range of writing from in-your-face horror through fantasy and science fiction to mainstream, the common element being the author's willingness to "surrender to the weird", to use the conventions of pulp fiction to locate literature, and to apply literary sophistication to genre landscapes. This volume, bringing together stories and essays by such writers as MiƩville, M John Harrison, Kathe Koja and Michael Moorcock, is an ideal primer to a movement that dominated genre awards for several years. It is also a damned fine read.
Now to twiddle my thumbs until a local bookstore brings it in.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

STICKY: KL Poetry Slam.

KL Poetry Slam

"The Points are not the point. The Point is Poetry"

Organisers: WordForward & The Dram Projects
Date: 23rd Feb
Place: The Loft, Zouk Club, 13. Jalan Ampang, KL
Time: 7pm-10.30pm

Cover charge: RM10 gets you into Poetry Slam and allows you to stay on at The Loft for the entire night.

Stand up and be heard at KL Poetry Slam, an on-the-spot three round poetry contest in which poets perform, recite, or read their works on a stage before an audience and under a time limit (usually three minutes each). The vital element in a poetry slam is that the poems are judged immediately afterward by five people picked randomly from the audience who award numerical values (from zero to ten) to each poem. Individual or group that scores the highest points, wins the competition.

Poets should prepare three poems (aprox three minutes in length each). The poem for the first round MUST contain a line from a John Keats poem as the slam falls on the death anniversary of the poet.

Cover charge: RM10 gets you into Poetry Slam and allows you to stay on at The Loft for the entire night.


Poets should prepare three poems, each one should not more than 3-minutes in length to perform.

The first poem should contain ONE line from any John Keats poem.

Register by sending a short bio of yourself to Daphne at You can also direct all questions about the slam to Daphne who can also be reached at 016-328 1513.

You can read more about Poetry Slam here.

Friday, 22 February 2008

A Toe-dip in The Culture.

Probably one of the coolest races in science fiction--well, not really a race, it's more of a civilisation--is The Culture.

The Culture represents humankind at a stage of post-scarcity and post-singularity in society. Smarter than light travel has been achieved and truly intelligent A.I. have their own rights as living beings. But that's typical SF.

What makes The Culture special is that it is an "...almost totally egalitarian, stable society without the use of any form of force or compulsion, except where necessary to protect others", to take a quote from Wikipedia.

Last month I read my first Iain M. Banks book, and so had my introduction to The Culture. It was Consider Phlebas, Mr. Banks's first ever Culture novel and I was fortunate enough to have been browsing the sf section of the now gone-and-sorely-missed outlet of Payless in Summit USJ where I found it.

The book concerns a shape-shifting humanoid and his mission as a spy in the Idiran-Culture War, a war that spans so vast an area of space, many planets within the warzone hardly have anything to do with it.

Just read the first chapter of Consider Phlebas, and you'll be blown away. Mr. Banks is definitely one of the most original sf writers out there and proves it by having Consider Phlebas start with a sentient spaceship as the first true character you encounter. The action has already started when we dive in, as the spaceship factory (also sentient, of course) finishes building its last spaceship and launches it before blowing itself up to prevent oncoming Idiran forces invading it and learning the secrets of its sentient supercomputer mind.

If that doesn't intrigue you, maybe the second chapter might? In this chapter, we are introduced to the protagonist, Bora Horza Gobuchul, the Idiran-siding shapeshifter. The whole sequence which this chapter presents is one of the most creative, yet most disgusting, and yet again! one of the funniest moments in sf-dom. I won't spoil it for you--it truly deserves a reading--but suffice to say, Guantanamo's waterboarding doesn't even come close, and even that isn't funny.

One of the interesting things I keep reading about Consider Phlebas on the interwebs is that people who don't read this book first, but read Mr. Banks other Culture novels are surprised that The Culture is cast in a bad light, and the protagonist is actually on the side of the Idirans who totally don't agree with The Culture's bad influence and harmful egalitarian ways.

As somebody who came into The Culture with Consider Phlebas however, I think it's an excellent primer on what The Culture actually is. Reading Consider Phlebas will enable you to discover The Culture from an "outsider's" point of view, and from here on, if you read his other Culture books, you'll be able to appreciate them, since you will have a more balanced perspective on the society portrayed in the books.

I look forward to reading more Culture books by Iain M. Banks, especially Player of Games, because that one comes with a recommendation by China Mieville. Heck, I might even check out the latest Culture book, Matter, just out early this month.

Sadie Jones on Hemingway's Moveable Feast.

Sadie Jones writes about A Moveable Feast in The Independent.

What really caught my eye was this bit:
I think that A Moveable Feast taught me everything I know about writing, and I can't hope to attain everything it could teach me. There are lessons in the actual language, which is beautiful, and there are lessons in the insight into his writer's brain, and the understanding of the fragility of the balance between being able to do it, and not being able to do it. He is writing about the joy of getting it right, with all the unspoken knowledge of the sadness of getting it wrong, both in writing and life.
As if we needed more reasons to read Hemingway!

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Speculative Fiction Grant for Older Writers.

Usually, it's the young and new writers that are given encouragement in the form of grants or other kinds of funding.

But if you're over the age of fifty, and you write speculative fiction (the hip name for science fiction, if you must know), take heart, for there is a grant just for you:
The SLF Older Writers Grant is awarded annually to a writer who is fifty years of age or older at the time of grant application, and is intended to assist such writers who are just starting to work at a professional level. We are currently offering one $750 grant annually, to be used as the writer determines will best assist his or her work.
More details at the Speculative Fiction Foundation.

Spiegel Interview with Haruki Murakami.

I look on envy at those Germans because they are lucky enough to have Haruki Murakami's latest book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, (which I previously blogged about here) which is to be published next week in that country. Meanwhile us in the English speaking world will have to wait until the end of July.

Spiegel has an interview with Murakami and it is thankfully in English:
SPIEGEL: Mr. Murakami, which is tougher: writing a novel, or running a marathon?

Murakami: Writing is fun -- at least mostly. I write for four hours every day. After that I go running. As a rule, 10 kilometers (6.2 miles). That's easy to manage. But running 42.195 kilometers (26 miles) all at once is tough; however it's a toughness I seek out. It is an inevitable torment which I deliberately take upon myself. For me that is the most important aspect of running a marathon.

SPIEGEL: And which is nicer: completing a book or crossing the finishing line of a marathon?

Murakami: Putting the final full stop at the end of a story is like giving birth to a child, an incomparable moment. A fortunate author can write maybe twelve novels in his lifetime. I don't know how many good books I still have in me; I hope there are another four or five. When I am running I don't feel that kind of limit. I publish a thick novel every four years, but I run a 10-kilometer race, a half-marathon and a marathon every year. I have run 27 marathon races so far, the last was in January, and numbers 28, 29 and 30 will follow quite naturally.
Personally, I hope he has more than just four or five novels left in him. Read the rest of the interview to find out about his "unofficial" marathon in Greece, his best running time so far, and what running has to do with his writing.

Can't wait for the book! (But then again I say that about all his books because I am such a shameless fanboy!)

Monday, 18 February 2008

Kata-Suara February 08

This month's Kata-Suara event was held right after the launch of "The Unknown" art exhibition at R.A. Fine Arts Gallery in Ampang, so there was quite a spill-over from one event to the other, and that resulted in the small room reserved for the Kata-Suara readings being packed with much more people than last month's event.

The event was kicked off with Usratika, a band consisting of two guitarists and a percussionist. They performed two songs, Bagaikan Si Anak Kecil and Hanya Seorang Musafir.

Check out the video of their performance:


Next up was Razali Endun who read two poems of his and a poem by Usman Awang (I think. I screwed up my notes again.)

Aisyah Baharuddin read poems by Kahlil Gibran--her "lover" she claimed--translated into Malay. I'm not sure if she was the one who translated it. (Again, bad note-taking on my part.) One was about three frogs, the other was about justice.

Bernice Chauly came to read her poems from her recently published poetry collection, Book of Sins.

Surprising everyone with a banjo newly brought in from Singapore was Azmyl Yunor, who performed three songs, "Bagai Malang", "Ballad of Mat Som" which was inspired by the Lat-created character, and the very KL-flavoured "Anak Dara".

But in the end Pyan Habib stole the show with his unique style of poetry.

Azman Ismail was scheduled to read but couldn't make it due to an assignment at DBP. Perhaps another time.

Anyways, look! Zedeck, Bernice, Azmyl and Reza in one picture!

Saturday, 16 February 2008

STICKY: Kata-Suara February '08



Aisyah Baharudin
Azwan Ismail
Azmyl Yunor
Bernice Chauly
Pyan Habib
Razali Endun

Saturday, 16th February 2008
Time: 5pm
Venue: RA Fine Arts, 6 Jalan Aman off Jalan Tun Razak


View Larger Map

Food and Drinks Provided. Admission Free.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

HOWTO: Have Distraction-free Writing

Check it out.

(and yes, I'm being lazy. Sosumi.)

Currently Available E-Books

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