Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Thoughts on Nazri M Annuar's Opera Angkasa.

One of my favourite all-time space opera series shown on the telly is Firefly. I bought the DVD box set and I've watched the movie that concluded it, Serenity, countless times. (still can't quote it as well as I can with Star Wars: A New Hope though.)

Every good SF story always brings something "new" to the scene. One of the new things that Firefly brought to SF was that it was a space western. There have been space westerns before, yes. Star Trek started out with Gene Roddenberry pitching to TV executives as "Wagon Train to the stars" while the Tatooine scenes in Star Wars: A New Hope are very heavily influenced by Westerns. The Japanese took the concept a little further with TriGun and Cowboy Bebop, but there has never really been a space western like Firefly.

The real conceit of Firefly was that it was space opera that took the words "space western" literally, blending it with a Sino-American influence, and throwing out the silly aliens that usually inhabit other SF of this kind. And it was live-action.

The good writing--mainly the excellent dialogue and unique storylines and situations--managed to secure Firefly with a sort of cult-, if not legendary, status.

Too bad it didn't last more than half a season. Firefly's longevity (or lack of it) aside, it remains one of the greatest and most-loved science fiction series ever.

Why I mention this is because in the acknowledgements page of Opera Angkasa, Nazri M Annuar thanks Firefly creator Joss Whedon and Firefly's protagonist, Malcolm Reynolds. I'd say putting this in the beginning of the book is a gutsy move for Nazri (aka Vovin) because no doubt people will make comparisons between Opera Angkasa and Firefly.

Which will be a shame, because if comparisons are made, Opera Angkasa will no doubt fall flat, which isn't quite fair. Opera Angkasa, for a locally-published science fiction novel, is a bloody excellent read (even if it does ditch the space western setting of Firefly, and besides that would have totally been copy-catting).

I will start with what I don't like about Opera Angkasa. For starters, its unoriginality. Take its setup and story, for instance. It is so much and too much like Firefly. The spaceship, Rajawali (which would be a dead ringer for Serenity in Firefly if it weren't for Rajawali's extreme ugliness), is a freelance cargo transporter, very much in the spirit of Firefly's Serenity and even Han Solo's Millennium Falcon. The captain of the Rajawali, Arman, is an amalgamation of Malcolm Reynolds and Han Solo, only taken up a few notches on the extreme side of the badness scale. Several characters you will recognise their counterparts from other science fiction films.

Even several scenes have been taken from other SF flicks and recycled in the book. For instance, there is a scene where the protagonist's spaceship, Rajawali, has to flee their adversaries. Rajawali conveniently ducks into an asteroid field and leaves the chasing fleet behind them. Sound familiar. Of course it does, if you've watched Empire Strikes Back.

Yes, there is a huge feeling of deja vu when reading this book.

However, it is very much to Nazri's credit that even with all the recycling he's done, he's actually smart enough to take all these good parts of every other science fiction movie and arrange them in such a way that it actually makes for a better story and a wholly enjoyable read.

One of the other reasons why Opera Angkasa is such an enjoyable read is that Nazri is also gifted with an ability to write with great humour. I found myself guffawing quite a lot while reading it. And the humour isn't laid on thick either. Nazri knows when to use humour to soften a harsh situation or to show contrasts between characters. While the humour isn't used sparingly, it doesn't spoil the mood either.

Another reason why Opera Angkasa gets it is in the pacing. Just when things are getting a little too exciting in the book, Nazri lets up and allows the reader to take a breather while the characters enjoy a slow moment. And when the Next Exciting Event happens, the reader is refreshed and ready for it. It's hard to describe really, but what I'm getting at is that Opera Angkasa has a good rhythm and balance when it comes to fast-paced action scenes and slower paced expository and dialogue scenes.

And as for that unoriginal story and setting. That really only applies to the first half of the book. When you get to the second half, Opera Angkasa, exposes its true self very much in the manner of the Matrix of Leadership in Transformers: The Movie when Hot Rod gets a hold of it. And from there on the story gets much, much better and ultimately leads to a very satisfying ending.

If you're one of those people who think Malay books are crap, moreso if its Malay science fiction, then Opera Angkasa might be the book that'll change your mind. Just don't compare it to Firefly, and you'll be good.

DISCLOSURE: There is a character called Ted in Opera Angkasa who is, in many ways, exactly like me. His braveness, toughness, tallness, darkness, handsomeness. All me. But in no way was I biased in writing this review.

Further Reading: Fadzli Akiti's review on Kubu Buku (in Malay)

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

The Spoils and Casualties of War, I mean, the BookXcess Sale.

Am on leave today, and have been since Monday, because I deserve a break after the horrors of the KLIBF, y'know? Decided to drop by BookXcess at Amcorp Mall today to check out their sale.

Arrived at around 2pm and met the usual suspects--Sharon Bakar, Chet, Eric Forbes, Janet Tay and even Tan Twan Eng!

So anyway, here is what I eventually walked away with:
  • Flint by Louis L'amour (I'm going through my Western phase now, having left my SF phase)
  • The Gates of Night by Keith Baker (Hurrah! Now my Eberron Dreaming Dark trilogy is complete; yes I'm a D&D nerd, and an Eberron one at that, so sue me)
  • The Planets by Dava Sobel (cos everyone likes rocks that go round and round)
  • The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon (but it has a terrible Trade Paperback cover...)
I also bought a chick lit book for the missus but we shan't mention that! :p

Thursday, 17 April 2008

The Latest on Haruki Murakami.

Not sure when they released them but here are the covers for Haruki Murakami's lastest non-fiction book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, to be released in late July in the US and early August in UK. (I'm hoping Kinokuniya will be able to provide a pre-release copy before that but I'm not crossing my fingers.)

This is the US cover...
...and this is the UK cover. (Proving that the UK covers for Murakami's English editions of his books remain superior.)

But what's this? A surprise!
No information about this one yet and it's only hitting bookstore shelves in September. I'm hoping it's more non-fiction (I've mentioned many times before that Murakami has a lot of untranslated non-fiction) instead of just a normal diary but that might be asking for too much. But that only begs the question: why? Am I being too naive in hoping that this isn't merely an exercise in cashing in on Murakami's newly-found Western popularity?

Moving on, from Toronto J-Film Pow-wow we discover that Haruki Murakami has given an interview to a journalist from the Japan Times and he throws out nice little titbits for people like me to quote on blogs:
People have their own stories, but when they fall to the depths of their soul, they are sometimes unable to get out of that darkness.
A nice read but most of it is not new. Ah well.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

KLIBF Day 9 and 10.

So this is me...

...and this is my wife.

Anyways, I'm glad it's over! Phew!

Friday, 11 April 2008

KLIBF Day 8 - Still in Bed.

Sneezing is no
when you have no
room to breathe

(yes i'm still ill).

Sign Up for Nisah Haron's Copyright Workshop!

Lawyer-turned-Author, Nisah Haron, will be having a copyright workshop for writers and artists tomorrow morning so if you're worried about your rights and are wondering whether [insert-big-name-publisher] is ripping you off, this might be a good place for you to be!

Bengkel Hak Cipta sempena Pesta Buku Antarabangsa Kuala Lumpur

Date : 12 April 2008 (Saturday)

Time : 10 am - 2 pm
Venue : Bilik Johor/Kedah, PWTC, Kuala Lumpur

Speaker : Nisah Haji Haron
Sponsor : Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka & PEKOMIK

Entrance FREE.

Please email Nisah Haron to confirm attendance : nisah.haron AT gmail DOT com

Also, don't forget to check out Nisah Haron's new guidebook to copyright, Karya Kita Hak Kita, (launching this later today by Pak Samad) available at the Al-Ameen booth at KLIBF.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Murakami Writing Horror Next.

A lot of new Murakami titbits in this article.

Horror, huh? Actually this wouldn't really be new territory for Murakami, since Kafka on the Shore and even After Dark dipped their toes into the realm of horror occasionally.

I suppose we'll see this in English in three years's time.

KLIBF Day 7.

Stayed in bed. Fever got much worse this morning. Wonder who took over the booth?

KLIBF Day 6.

My fever is still around and my flu is getting worse and worse. The ridiculously low temperature in the PWTC halls isn't helping much either.

Today, I met Zaki Zainol, author of Takluk Jagat 1: Bisikan Ariasha, and also Zamri Mohamad, author of many self-help books, the most recent being Rahsia Bisnes Mamak.

They took pictures of me, so to those who still haven't seen me and don't know what I look like, there you go!

And as if you needed another reason to go to the bookfair, Wira Bukit, helmed by A Samad Said's son, Helmy Samad, is seeking signatures for their petition to get Pak Samad's copyrights back from DBP.

I wish them all the best!

Also! Today is Pak Samad's birthday! Happy birthday, Pak Samad! Incidentally, mine is just around the corner... this Saturday in fact.

No gift for me aaa? Books would be nice. Thanks!

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

KLIBF Day 4 and 5.

Weekdays are slow days for the bookfair. The crowd was noticeably lesser and the sales disappointingly reflected that.

Monday started out "interesting" for me. My shift for that day only started at 2pm so I had the luzury of waking up a bit later than usual. I promised Firdaus Ariff to have lunch with him at 1pm so at around 12pm I left the house...

...only to be called to the side at a police roadblock.

For the record, I drive a 1968 Volkswagen Beetle and for the past five years I've been driving it, I have never been called aside, even when I wasn't wearing the seatbelt. You see, the police have never really given that much a glance at old cars when it comes to seatbelts, so I've never really bothered to wear mine. Dangerous, I know, but I guess I like living on the edge?

So yesterday, the policeman comes up to me, sees I'm not wearing my seatbelt and goes ahead and gives me a summons. I'm all okay with that. As far as I'm concerned, it's a fair cop. I broke the rules and I gots to pay. (Although I wished the friendly officer didn't make it so obvious he needed some extra *hint hint nudge nudge* change. Nak saman, saman je la.)

But what I'm really incensed about the whole thing is that these so-called friendly neighbourhood policemen were ever-vigilant to stop criminals from not wearing their seatbelts, while the previous day, when my car had that blown-up tyre, a police car passed by and hardly ever gave so much as a look in my direction. You could say they were busy on their way to stop an important crime going on somewhere, but I didn't see their sirens flashing, and they weren't in a hurry to get anywhere.

Would it have hurt them to stop and at least ask what's up? I could've used the help at the time! I'm glad to see the Royal Malaysian Police care so much about the rakyat!

Other than that, Day 4 was mostly uneventful.

Today, Day 5, was almost as uneventful. The only thing worth of note was that I had lunch with John Norafizan as well as Rizal Abdullah from Kaki Novel.

Ooh. Also I finished reading Faisal Tehrani's 1515 while at the fair. Yay me!

Monday, 7 April 2008

KLIBF Day 3 - Kata-Suara Khas.

Day 3 for me was spent mostly running around the fair but during the more quiet times I at least had my wife for company.

Kata-Suara Khas went well, despite my worries that the readers/musicians wouldn't be able to turn up (it was raining heavily outside and I was scared they might have got themselves stuck in a jam somewhere).

I was also worried that no one would actually turn up to watch, but thanks to Usratika, who started the event, we managed to get a sizeable crowd, although they did begin to taper towards the end.

Sharon Bakar came up next and read a hilarious piece excerpt from her still-unfinished novel, about a wife of an expat living in Malaysia and who absolutely hated living here. (Her blogpost here.)

Tan Sei Hon came up next and sang two songs, one about rain and another about a couple. I overheard Sharon mention to him later that he sounded like Cat Stevens, and to that Sei Hon replied: "Before he converted or after?" Hah!

Intan Rafiza came in late but desoite being out of breath, she managed to deliver a few poems in the form of letters written from a father to a daughter (or was it the other way round? Why do my notes never make any sense?)

Raja Ahmad, who was emceeing Kata-Suara (and has always done so) decided he wanted to be in the limelight as well, so he read two poems, one for Usman Awang, another for A Samad Said, and that made a perfect lead in to the next reader: Pak Samad himself.

Pak Samad read poetry from his latest collection, 68 Soneta Pohon Ginkgo and about his recent experience in Korea.

Syed Munawwar took the stage after Pak Samad and with his awesome charisma, managed to convince most of the audience to check out John Naisbitt's Mindset! He also mentioned something he learned from Pak Samad, that a book can be read multiple times, and each time you can get different and/or additional knowledge.

Dewangga Sakti closed the event with their unique act. They played two songs: "Tertinggal Kapal Angkasa" and "Berlayar ke Pulau Jauh untuk Mencipta Rekod Dunia".

Thanks everyone who came! To the readers and musicians and the audience.

Also, I think I owe an apology to those who might not have found the venue! (Yes, I mean you, Eyeris.) I totally take the blame. I don't have experience organising an event at a huge venue like this and it showed. The posters were incomplete, the venue was not properly known and prepared beforehand. Gah! It was a nightmare. Well, at least I know better next time.

Apart from the hoohah of Kata-Suara, I also managed to meet more new people!

During one of the lulls at the booth (Sunday saw a noticeable decrease in the crowd compared to Saturday), a colleague mentioned how the booth next to us had some sort of booksigning, but she didn't know who the authors were.

"They must be famous or something," she said.
"Oh?" I said. "I'll go check them out." But all I saw were books with pink and girly titles. Okay, must be a publisher of romance novels or something.

But then I saw a familiar name on a table inside their booth: John Norafizan. I've only talked to him online once, so it was good to finally meet him in the flesh. So I bought his newly-released Garis-Garis Deja Vu and asked him to sign it. Now all I have to do is figure out how to read the book in public...the cover's pink and purply and people will laugh at me if I read it in public. A few people already did. Cis! Anyway, I will read it soon since John said it's metaphysical and was inspired by Rumi and I'm always up for that kind of thing.

I also got to meet Arthur from Kinokuniya who I had a good long chat with after Kata-Suara. It's kind of funny how we know the same people but I guess it's a small city. Also also, managed to tell Vovin how I liked his Opera Angkasa (review coming soon) and finally managed to see a bit around the PTS booth as well as the Wira Bukit booth.

Puan Siti Zainon and Pak Samad were there and they told me they wanted to set up a coffeeshop based on the concept of their booth...kinda like a literary coffeeshop. Sounds like a neat idea. I hope it comes to fruition.

Okay! Enough name-dropping! I have a slight fever and I want to get ready to go to KLIBF. My shift starts at 2. See you there!

Sunday, 6 April 2008

STICKY: A Special Edition Kata-Suara at the KL International Bookfair

(Click on the poster to enlarge)

The nice folks from the KL International Bookfair has asked us to organise a special edition of Raja Ahmad's Kata-Suara event at PWTC this Saturday, so I hope you can drop by for a session of spoken words and music!

This Kata-Suara will feature these fine people:

A Samad Said
Sharon Bakar
Syed Munawar
Raja Ahmad Aminullah
Intan Rafiza
Tan Sei Hon
Dewangga Sakti

Date: 6th April 2008
Time: 6pm
Location: KL International Bookfair, PWTC

See you there!

Saturday, 5 April 2008

KLIBF Day 2.

Pretty busy day. I arrived late at the booth, and the surge of schoolkids, parents with family in tow didn't make things easier. But the huge crowd did give give us quite a number of sales. Certainly much better than yesterday.

Met Firdaus Ariff in the morning who was nice enough to drop by and keep me company for a short while.

Later I met Azwan Ismail, who wandered into my booth with Fadli Akiti. They told me about Fadli's new sf book, Saga Horizon--"If you liked Opera Angkasa, you'd like this!" I told them I would certainly check it out. In fact, right after they left the booth, I rushed over to the Alaf 21 booth to get my copy.

When I asked the lady there about it she looked surprised. "How do you know about that book? We just printed it yesterday! Oh, wait you're one of Fadli's friends aren't you?" I said I just heard about it and wanted to buy it. (But the question remains! So how bout it Fadli? Would you be fwens with me?)

I also took the chance to drop by the Al-Ameen booth again, and this time I got to meet Nisah Haron. She graciously signed my copy of Puisi Untuk Esdyzuar while I told her about me listening to her on Radio 24 the previous night while I was driving home from the KLIBF.

When I switched on the radio, I didn't know who was talking; it just sounded like there was an interview with this young girl. But it soon became obvious that this "young girl" was pretty knowledgeable about blogs and blogging. I was like, "who is this person?" When I heard her mentioning Ujana Ilmu and about writing proper Malay while blogging, I knew it was Nisah.

I also met Faisal Tehrani again, who again I unashamedly asked him to sign another book (this time for my wife). We chatted briefly about not having the time to fully go around the fair to have a look around, especially with today's huge crowd.

Tomorrow is Kata-Suara day and I expect my brains might implode if I had any. Hope to see you there?

Did I tell you my car blew a tyre? It literally blew up! And that is why I was late in today.

Friday, 4 April 2008

KLIBF Day 1.

So we managed to set up the booth without anybody's head getting chopped off. No cats got impaled either although I don't know if the annoying kids singing the nursery-songs-turned-nasyid on the other side survived or not.

I'm at Booth #3030 at Tun Razak 3, all day and every day. The booth's name is under Koperasi Buku Malaysia/MLSI but I'm hawking books for Suarasuara Publications. I've got books from Suarasuara, catalogues from RA Fine Arts Gallery, the Mea Culpa book I told you about (only RM20!) and a bunch of second-hand books you may find worthwhile.

Even if you're not interested in any of those wares, and you're at the book fair, do drop by anyway and have a chat. Because I am sad and lonely*. I haven't checked for wifi yet, but I doubt it. (I don't even have a plug point to plug my ibook in.)

I didn't have a proper look around yet, having been round only the floor I am so far. I'm taking it easy this year since this is the first time I'm going to be spending ten-fricking-days here. However, I'm lucky that Al-Ameen (3147 - 3149, TR3) is on the same floor as me. I dropped by twice. The first time I barely missed both Faisal Tehrani and Nisah Haron, or so the salesgirl told me. Later, I had another chance to drop by after I had lunch, and finally got to meet Faisal.

This is my first time meeting him, and when I introduced myself to him while I was shoving the books into his face for him to sign (there were three and each had a different message--something I really appreciate!), I was surprised he actually knew me!

We had a nice but too brief chat (his fans kept coming... and coming...) and he posed to me a challenge which I shall certainly consider. Won't tell details yet, don't want to jinx it ;) Anyway, I'm glad I finally got to meet him. He gives off a different impression than the one you might get if you read his often very opinionated blogposts which just goes to say you can't judge a person by his or her blog. Am looking forward to reading my newly-bought Faisal Tehrani books.

So! All in all, a good day for a first day. Tired but happy, so the cliché goes.

*not really.

Thursday, 3 April 2008


It looks like I may be at the KL International Bookfair the whole gorram time, looking after a certain booth. I'm not sure the booth is under what name yet but I assume its Suarasuara Publications. Or it could be RA Fine Arts. Or maybe even Koperasi Penjual Buku Malaysia or something similarly proper- and baku-sounding.

If you're visiting KLIBF and braving the smelly crowds, don't forget to say hi to me! I'll update details on my booth location when I get them. Hopefully today, but I excel in inefficiency so I make no promises!

UPDATE: I'll be at Booth #3030 at Tun Razak Hall 3.

Things to look forward to during KLIBF: cheap Dawama magazines (okay, maybe you don't buy them, but I have an odd fascination reserved solely for "approved" Malay-literature), new PTS books (am hoping to get some modernised Malay classics) and fringe literature.

One example of fringe literature I think could be Amirul Fakir's new independently published book, Mea Culpa, an anthology of short stories in Malay. I'm not sure when they're going to launch it, but it's going on sale at the KLIBF at the booth I'll be at, and also at RA Fine Arts Gallery, where I work (most of the time).

There's also an art exhibition at the same gallery starting this Saturday, also called Mea Culpa, and it features artworks inspired by the short stories in Amirul Fakir's book.

Personally, I haven't read it yet (the books haven't yet left the press as I write this), but from the little excerpts I've read in the little promo books they've left around the exhibition, Mea Culpa looks like it will be a fun read. Imagine Kafka at his trippiest or a Malaysian-themed Jorge Luis Borges and you're probably halfway there.

I'll try to blog more about the exhibition later, which to me is the most interesting since I started working here in RA Fine Arts Gallery. That is, if they have some sort of free wireless net access at the book fair. I highly doubt it though but hey you never know.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

"Not Now, Sweetie, Daddy's Worldbuilding"

Tim Pratt, author of one of the best damn sf short stories I've ever read (and if you haven't read it yet why haven't you?), has an essay up on Clarkesworld about juggling baby duties and writing:
With a kid, long chunks of time to write is like perpetual motion or zero point energy. You just can't get it, at least, not without putting more energy into the system than you get out. I was seriously contemplating hiring a babysitter for a few hours just so I could write — but with the kind of money fiction writing pays, that quickly becomes a losing proposition, economically speaking. So... I adjusted. Turns out, that's what being a parent requires. Yes, I'm a natural binge writer. Yes, my preferred technique is to slip into that wonderful zen state of flow for several hours and emerge with twenty or thirty pages of prose. But you know what? Too bad.

More on Rushdie.

Salman Rushdie was at the Chapman University to surprisingly, not promote his book. He was too busy getting his honourary degree, I suppose.

From this article in the OCRegister, we also have news of another children's book Rushdie is working on! This would be the first time since he wrote Haroun and the Sea of Stories, which I truly loved.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

The Guardian Reviews Rushdie's Enchantress of Florence.

I can NOT wait to get my filthy mitts on this book:
The essential compatibility of the realistic and the fantastic imagination may explain the success of Rushdie's sumptuous, impetuous mixture of history with fable. But in the end, of course, it is the hand of the master artist, past all explanation, that gives this book its glamour and power, its humour and shock, its verve, its glory. It is a wonderful tale, full of follies and enchantments. East meets west with a clash of cymbals and a burst of fireworks. We English-speakers have our own Ariosto now, our Tasso, stolen out of India. Aren't we the lucky ones?

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