Archive for March, 2006

13 Down, 39 Left (52 Weeks, 52 Books)

I notice when I read Japanese fiction that it tends to read like conventional Japanese films – a lot of lingering shots at grassy fields and static wide shots of rooms in rural areas, along with the ubiquitous hum of crickets – a surefire sign that you’re watching a Japanese production. There’s a certain deliberation to the writing, as if everything is chosen and thoroughly masticated before being set down for print, it’s not an old school Japanese novel until it’s a meditation. No stream of consciousness here.

Perhaps that’s the best tack to take in the case of Shusaku Endo’s The Sea and Poison, a meditation on moral convictions in wartime Japan. The novel revolves around the inner turmoil of Suguro, a surgical intern tasked to assist in the horrific vivisection of an American POW – carried out without anesthesia and for the express purpose of seeing how much lung can be excised before a man dies. (Sidenote here: Not to downplay the obvious terror of such an experiment, but most of us have probably heard worse stories from the occupation. Just curious if the Japanese are aware of everything their grandfathers did in the war, if vivisection is the worst Endo can think of.)

We see the building guilt and gradual breakdown of Suguro, whose lack of courage to refuse brings him all the way to the operating room. Also involved is fellow intern Toda, who’s trying to provoke a hitherto non-existent conscience into action, and Ueda, a nurse on a mission of misplaced revenge. As expected, the event is horrific but the emotional consequences are not as absolute as one would think they might be.

Endo is known for his essays on the difference between Japanese and Western morals. Raised as a Catholic, he contends that the pantheism of Eastern religions don’t lend themselves as easily to the black and white, good and evil dichotomy of Catholicism or Christianity. I disagree though, moral ambiguity is not at all exclusive to us Asians.

Disregarding contemporary cases like Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib, the US served up its fair share of horror in WWII – the US’s firebombing of Tokyo, the Enola Gay – these were to the Americans as morally gray as vivisection seems to be to the Japanese. Whatever Endo’s case is, it is clear to me that our capacity for evil is more common and mundane than we might think, and not at all confined to cultural or racial boundaries.

The Sea and Poison
(ISBN No: 0800870220) Check NLB Catalogue for item availability.

My next book will be Kim Stanley Robinson’s Forty Signs of Rain.


May 8

That's the date set for Dad's surgery. We'll be going in on Sunday, 7th and Monday will be a full day operation, Professors Robless and Wong presiding.

After that, 2 days of ICU, and 10 days observation in the hospital. 2-3 months recovery to get back to fighting strength.

Best case scenario.

12 Down, 40 Left (52 Weeks, 52 Books)

The Paper Eater takes place mostly in Atlantica, a future island utopia ruled by Libertycare, where the citizens are referred to as customers, the political campaigns doled out as bargain basement sales, and the commander in chief a refrigerator-sized mainframe known as the Boss.

Our titular hero is Harvey Kidd, your basic family guy who’s amassed a small fortune by using his family’s various online accounts to conduct computer fraud. Harvey loves his family, the Hoggs. From crazy Uncle Sid to his usually topless sister, Lola, Harvey thinks the world of them. The funny thing though, is that the Hoggs only exist online, created by Harvey so he has access to their offshore accounts. Not that he loves them any less.

Equally emotionally stunted is exemplary Libertycare employee Hannah Park, mother-smothered and bubblewrap-addicted, Hannah Park’s put on Harvey’s case and discovers that there’s a lot more to the Hoggs than the Boss will let on.

Author Liz Jensen tries for an updated version of Huxley’s Brave New World, switching out mandated hedonism for rampant materialism, which could’ve made for an interesting premise… But she goes on instead to pick at the characters’ very uninteresting and frankly mundane neuroses and relegates the politics to a subplot. There’s a lot of hemming and hawing between the leads and a few predictable emotional growth episodes told with flashbacks. Amidst all this, Harvey chews alot of paper, and shoots the bull with his sequins-loving murderer cellmate John.

Of course, the evil empire is overthrown, the dead miraculously reappear (Screw the spoilers. Frankly, I don’t care) and couples have the requisite make out at the happy ending. Yay.

Really, this book is as boring as the guy on the cover is gray. Don’t bother.

The Paper Eater
(ISBN No: 0747553068) Check NLB Catalogue for item availability.

My next book will be The Sea and Poison.

random bursts #4 (Copyfighter’s edition)

Marvel Comics is continuing in its bid to steal the word “super-hero” from the public domain and put it in a lock-box to which it will control the key. Marvel and DC comics jointly filed a trademark on the word “super-hero.” They use this mark to legally harass indie comic companies that make competing comic books.
Cory Doctorow puts a call out to use the term ‘underwear pervert’ instead of ‘super-hero’. Seriously, intellectual property in a world gone mad.

The first underwear pervert comic strip is out!
From author Will Shetterly, hope he keeps it going…

Update: site has moved and been renamed Captain Copyleft.

Update: Wah lau, moved again.

Diesel Sweeties representz on the underwear perverts!
Now that the Poopmonster is in, it’s only a matter of time before Jeffrey Rowland has a say.

A day after Senator Orrin Hatch said “destroying their machines� might be the only way to stop illegal downloaders, unlicensed software was discovered on his website.
Pretty long list of ridiculous intellectual property overzealousness. Quite funny.
For good measure, here’s a site where you can download ebooks that are already in the public domain. Copyfighters of the world unite!

In other news…

I don’t much believe in interviews, and I don’t think Morrissey does either. I believe that the only way to learn about an artist is to examine their work. Be realistic: people paint the flowers, not the stem of the plant. People are remembered by their flowers and seeds, not their mulch. Fuck interviews.
Douglas Coupland and Morrissey in the weirdest non-interview I’ve ever read.

With the release of Build 5308 Windows Vista moved to “feature complete” status, which means no new features will be introduced into future builds leading up to the Vista launch at the end of 2006.
Pretty massive gallery of Vista screenshots. Vista or OS X? Place your bets now…

11 Down, 41 Left (52 Weeks, 52 Books)

Jemaah Islamiyah: Radical Islamism in Indonesia works well enough as a standard text on South Asian radical organisation JI, covering all the important bases, including the history of radical Islam in Indonesia, the so-called Afghanistan alumni effect, a considerably specific look at the 2002 Bali bombing and so on.

Author Greg Barton lays out the cultural, religious and political context for radical Islamism in Indonesia and points out the unmistakable if not all-important links from Jemaah Islamiyah to Al Qaeda. Interestingly, JI might not have arisen if not from an elaborate sting operation mounted by the ABRI (Indonesian Armed Forces) in 1977 to flush out radical Islamists. Elections were coming up, and it’s believed then-President Suharto might have ordered the sting in order to demonstrate his hard-line stance against extremism (and likewise to garner votes), but the exercise ended up renewing and forging new bonds between radical groups that previously were not linked. Where once there were many separate groups, now coalesced a cohesive Jemaah Islamiyah.
This is very interesting for me as it parallels the whole George W ‘Mission Accomplished‘ Bush approach to re-election. Nothing seems to rally a nation better than a war, and noone commands more respect than the Commander-in-Chief. But the forced occupation ends up radicalising previously moderate Muslims and creates a increase in terrorist numbers. This is a cycle that’s been repeated ad nauseum, but governments just don’t seem to care beyond the next election.

To Barton’s credit, there is an entire chapter dedicated to radical Islam and how it’s very separate from mainstream Islam, and a constant emphasis that radical Islamists are really a minority and do not reflect the views of the populace. However, the current global climate is starting to create a ‘blowback’ effect on the US and its anti-Islam stance. Radicals are gaining ground with the moderate mainstream in Indonesia, not least due to the US’s bullying ways. If Iran is next on their hitlist (despite no nuclear weapons capability anytime soon), it won’t take a leap of faith to presume that Indonesia’s substantial though declining oil reserves are next on George Bush’s shopping list.

Jemaah Islamiyah: Radical Islamism in Indonesia
(ISBN No: 9971693232) Check NLB Catalogue for item availability.

My next book will be Liz Jensen’s The Paper Eater.

people actually read this shit

So i suddenly get a deluge of comments (by my standards) from total strangers, and I’m wondering, ‘Eh’?

I’ve been Tomorrowed!! Bit of publicity there for my little 52 Books project. Many thanks to Ivan for submitting the post and all the encouragement. I also need to show some love to the lovely ladies of High Browse Online for linking to my reviews as well. Ok, end of teary acceptance speech…

Interestingly, my stats for Tomorrow are comparable to when I was Boingboinged. Not likely that both sites have the same amount of readership, of course. Boingboing visitors were probably Singaporean in the first place.

In any case, thanks for coming by, everyone.

the odds are getting better

We’ve just had what should be the penultimate discussion with my Dad’s surgeon before the actual operation. The odds have improved substantially, we think.

These are the pessimistic figures:
Risk of death 10%
Stroke and/or paralysis 20%
Total kidney failure 50%

Though these are in no way good odds, they’re acceptable to my dad. Got one more meeting with another surgeon on the 28th, and then it’s on to the big day.

There’s a high chance he’ll be going under the knife on April 17th, which also happens to be the exact 9th year anniversary of his last operation. The doctor thought it’d be auspicious. We certainly hope so too.

10 Down, 42 Left (52 Weeks, 52 Books)

Peeps takes place in a world much like ours, except not only are vampires real and not supernatural, they’re really just afflicted with a parasite that causes the whole “biting people, sun hating” shebang. Note: They can’t really be killed by sunlight, they just really really hate it. Classified as parasite-positives, or peeps, they’re are hunted and incarcerated by the Night Watch, which operates out of the oldest boroughs of Manhattan.

The Night Watch’s newest hunter is Cal, a 19 year-old geek, transplanted from Texas, and one of the rare few carriers immune to the vampire parasite. He’s got all the super-strength and night-sight without the nasty cannibal tendencies. Unfortunately, he can also never kiss or have sex with another girl, or he’ll pass the parasite on. After a year of hunting down old girlfriends, Cal’s finally found the woman who gave it to him in the first place, and quite possibly something so ancient and sinister, it might threaten mankind as well.
Author Scott Westerfeld may write young adult fiction, but the wit and concepts in this book just blew me away, teen-oriented or not. This is sci-fi by way of Cory Doctorow (also a fan of Westerfeld), where the future is just round the corner, and the science entirely plausible. Every alternate chapter is a short write-up of a different parasite, and never have I been more interested in the worms and bacteria living in my body, feeding in my brain and festering in my food. It’s truly gross, but bloody fascinating.

What really first came to my mind when I was reading this book was how perfect it was. Perfect in the sense of a perfect pop song, the kind where there’s just a basic hook, something so simple and catchy that you know you’ll pick up a guitar and come up with something just as good. Well, this book made me want pick up a pen and write a sci-fi story. And I just might…
It does read like teen drama, with all the requisite crushes and music references, but still makes place for evolutionary discourse and Lovecraftian horror without skipping a beat. Peeps is a fantastic book, and I recommend everyone and their mother to read it.

(ISBN No: 159514031X) Check NLB Catalogue for item availability.

My next book will be Jemaah Islamiyah: Radical Islam in Indonesia, by Greg Barton.

my brother got married!!


Pictures to come…

my family rocks

This is us rocking.