You are currently browsing the monthly archive for March 2008.
16. The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time by Mark Haddon (2003) 272 p.
This is another excellent book. Narrated from the perspective of 15-year old Christopher Boone, it follows his attempts to uncover the mystery of who murdered his next-door neighbour’s dog.
Christopher, however, suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism that gives him a photographic memory and an incredible grasp of mathematics and science, but leaves him unable to understand human beings: their emotions, society, relationships and expressions. He lives with his father and attends a school for mentally disabled children, living a life which most people would find tediously restricting, but which Christopher is perfectly happy with. The murder of his neighbour’s dog, however, sparks off a chain of events that reveal the sad, dark secrets of his family, which he finds quite difficult to deal with.
Naturally the language is very simple, but Christopher’s thought patterns are intriguing enough to keep the book gripping; I read the first two thirds in a single sitting after midnight. While Christopher’s way of speaking may be quite bland, the things he speaks about are anything but:
For a long time, scientists were puzzled about how the sky is dark at night, even though there are billions of stars in the universe and there must be stars in every direction you look, so the sky should be full of starlight because there is very little in the way to stop the light reaching earth.
Then they worked out that the universe was expanding, that the stars were all rushing away from one another after the Big Bang, and the further the stars were away from us the faster they were moving, some of them nearly as fast as the speed of light, which was why their light never reached us…
And when the universe has finished exploding all the stars will slow down, like a ball that has been thrown into the air, and they will come to a halt and they will all begin to fall towards the centre of the universe again. And then there will be nothing to stop us seeing all the stars in the world because they will all be moving towards us, gradually faster and faster, and we will know that the world is going to end soon because when we look up into the sky at night there will be no darkness, just the blazing light of billions and billions of stars, all falling.
Except that no one will see this because there will be no people left on earth to see it. They will probably have become extinct by then. And even if there are people still in existence they will not see it because the light will be so bright and hot that everyone will be burnt to death, even if they live in tunnels.
Christopher has a matter-of-fact approach to everything, and learning how his mind works, while usually fascinating, is also sad. Towards the end of the book he details his favourite recurring dream, in which everyone in the world except himself has died, and he can be alone and do whatever he wants. Nothing would make him happier.
Some of the most emotional scenes in the book revolve around Christopher’s loved ones. His father, Ed Boone, is the most well developed character in the story after Christopher himself. His life has had immense strain placed on it because of Christopher’s autism, and while he is usually doting and caring, making immense sacrifices, some of his actions could be considered horrific or downright evil. Nonetheless, I found myself respecting him as a truly honourable man – somebody who has been pushed to breaking point and reacted with excruciating grief and anger, in direct contrast to his son’s complete neutrality and logical outlook on everything. I doubt any reader could say they wouldn’t react in a similar, if not worse way.
I know very little about autism, and while I’m not naive enough to assume that reading this book would make anyone an expert (indeed, some real experts are quite critical of the manner in which it is portrayed), it serves as an entertaining reminder that even people who don’t quite fit into our society are still human, in their own way.
The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time at The Book Depository
Tonight is Earth Hour, the feel-good accomplish-nothing greenie idea that involves turning your light switches off for one hour and thus completely reversing the climate change trend and saving the world. If you’re in one of the participating cities, be sure to climb onto your roof at 8pm and note how many gullible people live in your neighbourhood.
(In any large city, industrial and commercial sectors account for the vast majority of energy usage, making any initiatives by the residential sector largely useless. That goes for water, too.)
In other light-related news, today is also the last day of daylight savings, in the second year of a three-year trial foisted on Western Australians by the State Government, despite the fact that it is repeatedly voted down every time we have a referendum on it. Next year I, too, will be doing my part for common sense and voting a firm NO towards “hey how would you guys like to dick around with time every summer.”
The fact is that in a city with a climate like Perth, extending the day is a really bad idea. It’s just too fucking hot. We shouldn’t be living here in the first place, let alone prolonging the fiery agony of sunlight. Every sunset is like a cool blanket being laid over a burn victim.
Conversely, however, Chris and I took advantage of the last day of daylight savings by going for an evening snorkel after work. I fed my workmates at Coles some cock and bull story about having to drive to Lesmurdie to pick someone up – which is true, just a month out of date – and left the three of them to enjoy doing stocktake on their own while I left two hours early to kick around in the beautiful reefs and gardens of seagrass at Mettams Pool, in and out of underwater caves, panicking schools of fish, touching weird tropical fish with red lips, seeing angelfish with yellow tips, and chasing two separate stingrays that can move a lot faster than you’d think. I also cracked my head by diving down into a hole in the reef, not compensating for the buoyancy of my wetsuit, and becoming disoriented. Chris laughed at me and then repeated my mistake about half an hour later. Then we realised we’d swum about a kilometre north, got out of the water and jogged back to where our towels were in time to see the sun set at 7:30.
Overall it was an awesome evening. But still, fuck daylight savings.
GIVE THE FUCK UP ALREADY YOU SELFISH BITCH
THIS RACE HAS ALREADY BEEN STATISTICALLY DECIDED IN FAVOUR OF OBAMA
UNLESS YOU WANT TO SEE THE UNITED STATES AND THUS THE WORLD SPIRAL INTO ANOTHER FOUR YEARS OF DISASTROUS REPUBLICAN POLICIES, YIELD THE FLOOR
OH MY GOD I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU
15. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1930) 201 p.
This is the oldest book I’ve read so far this year, at 78 years of age. (The oldest thing I have ever read is still Oedipus Rex, which has a more impressive 2438 years under its belt.) Reading something from an entirely different era is always difficult; I think The War of the Worlds (1898) remains the only pre-WWII novel that I’ve really enjoyed.
The Maltese Falcon is one of those stories that’s dripping with cliches, and yet at the same time it isn’t, because it’s the story that invented those cliches in the first place. Sam Spade, hardboiled private eye in 1930s San Francisco, is embroiled in a mystery surrounding the whereabouts of a priceless artifact from the Crusades. There are swooning dames, murders on foggy nights, criminals discussing business over hard liquor, strangers hailing from the Orient and the Levant, and vital clues found cut from the shipping news. Perhaps I was just giving him the benefit of the doubt, but Hammett manages to make all of this reek with style, even to a 21st century mind that has been plastered with these genre tropes over and over again. It wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read, or even a particularly great book, but I enjoyed reading it well enough even though it’s older than my grandparents, and that has to count for something.
14. Life of Pi by Yann Martel (2002) 319 p.
This book was on my reading list for my creative writing class. I ordered it off eBay, and a few days later – without me having mentioned it to him at all – Chris sent me an email saying:
i want this book http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_of_pi i love it already and i havent even read it
Which was a curious coincidence with no relevance whatsoever. Anyway. It’s a wonderful book.
Life of Pi is split into two very distinct halves, both of them presented as a frame story by a fictitious author. They deal with two phases in the life of Piscine Patel, who nicknames himself “Pi” to avoid taunts from his schoolmates. The first is set in Pondicherry, a French-flavoured Indian city where Pi grows up as the son of a zookeeper. Raised a Hindu, his natural curiousity and unprejudiced piousness attracts him to other religions, and he soon considers himself a Christian and a Muslim as well. This leads to problems with his parents, and all his local priests. Martel’s writing style establishes itself quickly: poetic, eloquent, the kind of man who – along with Michael Chabon, Philip Reeve and Cormac McCarthy – can evoke a scene’s visual beauty with great ease.
The second part of the book, which is the main attraction, covers a sixteen-year old Pi’s bizarre adventures on the Pacific Ocean. His family is migrating from India to Canada, travelling on a Japanese freighter that also carries several animals from their zoo, for transfer to the United States. The ship sinks, and Pi is the only human survivor. He finds himself sharing a lifeboat with a zebra, a hyena, an orang-utan, and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger.
The sheer implausibility of this scenario is rendered perfectly feasible by Martel’s writing. As Pi himself says, explaining his story to a disbelieving pair of Japanese investigators while recovering from his ordeal in hospital:
“Tigers exist, lifeboats exist, oceans exist. Because the three have never come together in your narrow, limited experience, you refuse to believe that they might. Yet the plain fact is that the Tsimtsum brought them together and then sank.”
Martel spent a year researching zoos and animals, and it was time well spent. The behaviour of all the lifeboat’s inhabitants – their poses, their fears, their territorial squabbles and their reaction to being trapped in such a tiny space – feels realistic even to a reader without any firm zoological knowledge. The animals are not as dangerous as the average person might believe, but neither are they harmless. Before long only Pi and the tiger remain, and Pi must gather together all his courage and knowledge of the animal kingdom to somehow survive in thirty square metres of space with a creature that could kill him with a single blow.
Towards the end of the book things grow stranger. Pi runs out of food and water, and as his body slowly dies, his faculties begin to dim. Another castaway is met whose plight is suspiciously similar to his own, and they share a brief and cryptic conversation. The tiger speaks to him in the night. A mysterious island that seems both heaven and hell is discovered, yields a terrible secret, and promptly fled from. Whether these experiences are dreams, hallucinations or the truth is difficult to ascertain. In the final chapters, as Pi relates his tale to the Japanese investigators, he implies that perhaps the entire story – even the crowd of animals on the lifeboat, which Martel made so perfectly believable – was just a comforting fable his mind constructed to protect itself from the much darker, disturbing truth of what really happened on the lifeboat. Is this the true story? Or is Pi simply spinning it out in frustration because the investigators do not believe he could have survived for so long with a tiger?
There is a wealth of symbolism, allegories and interpretations that could be taken from this book, and I don’t know where to begin with them all. I will re-read this many times in my life. It’s a beautiful story built on a fascinating premise, one of those few perfect novels where everything comes together and just works. Unless I come across something truly incredible in the next 36 books, Life of Pi will most likely win my pick as novel of the year.
The quality of your taste in music is defined by how many of these songs you already have (i.e. how close it is to mine, which is the correct one).
1. A.M. 180 by Grandaddy
2. After All These Years by Silverchair
3. All I Need by Radiohead
4. All My Friends by LCD Soundsystem
5. All These Things That I’ve Done by the Killers
6. Baba O’Riley (Teenage Wasteland) by The Who
7. Bad Day by REM
8. Band On The Run by Wings
9. Bliss by Muse
10. Blow Up The Pokies by the Whitlams
11. Body Movin’ by the Beastie Boys (Fatboy Slim remix)
12. Bohemian Like You by the Dandy Warhols
13. Don’t Panic by Coldplay
14. The Drugs Don’t Work by the Verve
15. The End by the Doors
16. Everything In Its Right Place by Radiohead
17. Extreme Ways by Moby
18. Glorious by Muse
19. The Golden Path by the Chemical Brothers (feat. the Flaming Lips)
20. Going To California by Led Zeppelin
21. Harrowdown Hill by Thom Yorke
22. Heart It Races by Architecture in Helsinki
23. Heart’s A Mess by Gotye
24. Hospital Beds by the Cold War Kids
25. How Soon Is Now by the Smiths
26. Ice Cream by Muscles
27. Kick In The Door by Skunkhour
28. Kids With Guns by Gorillaz
29. Kinetic by Radiohead
30. Life Is Better With You by Eskimo Joe
31. Mad World by Gary Jules
32. Mr E’s Beautiful Blues by Eels
33. Night Drive by Gotye
34. No Cars Go by Arcade Fire
35. The Nosebleed Section by the Hilltop Hoods
36. O Yeah by End of Fashion
37. The Old Boy by Jo-Yeong Wook (Oldboy soundtrack)
38. Planet Telex by Radiohead
39. Pogo by Digitalism
40. Pyramid Song by Radiohead
41. Rabbit In Your Headlights by UNKLE (feat. Thom Yorke)
42. The Real Thing by Russell Morris
43. Send Me On My Way by Rusted Root
44. Set Fire To The Third Bar by Snow Patrol
45. She’s A Rainbow by the Rolling Stones
46. Song To Say Goodbye by Placebo
47. Staralfur by Sigur Ros
48. Tank! by the Seatbelts (Cowboy Bebop soundtrack)
49. Time To Pretend by MGMT
50. Tuesday’s Dead by Cat Stevens
13. Road Story by Julienne van Loon (2005) 151 p.
Meh. This novella was on my reading list for Creative Writing, since all my tutors have a habit of assigning the class their own books (not that I wouldn’t, in their position). Road Story follows the tale of Diana Kooper, who flees from the scene of a car accident in Sydney, starting a new life at a truck stop in rural New South Wales.
It’s not a bad book. It’s just really not my kind of fiction. It also plunges one headfirst into the ocker culture of Australia; what one might call the “true” culture of Australia, the beer-swilling “yair mate” stereotype most foreigners picture call to mind after Steve Irwin and Crocodile Dundee. While van Loon captures that environment very well, it’s a culture that I utterly loathe, and don’t particularly want to read about.
12. The Dark Design by Philip Jose Farmer (1977) 403 p.
Philip Jose Farmer’s Riverworld series grows tedious.
The Dark Design is book three out of five – and I’ll just have to grit my teeth and read the rest anyway, because I don’t leave series unfinished. It is a long and tiring novel that is entirely buildup with no climax, nor any promise of a forthcoming climax. It picks up several years after The Fabulous Riverboat left off, with Sam Clemens’ nation of Parolando building an enormous airship, in order to mount an expedition towards the mysterious tower at the headwaters of the River. Clemens himself is largely absent from the book, making only a very brief appearance. Richard Francis Burton, the first book’s protagonist, is also barely visited.
Instead, Farmer for the first time relies upon fictional characters rather than historical figures to tell this story. The first is Jill Gulbirra, a crabby, intolerable feminist. The second is Peter Jairus Frigate, a barely disguised author surrogate whom Farmer uses to spend chapters upon chapters writing self-indulgent monologues and dream sequences which add nothing to the story. Frigate also spends his time building an airship, a part of the story which is quickly glossed over in comparison with the Parolando vessel, as though it was added in as an afterthought. Farmer spends a remarkable amount of time on a character who is not associated with the main storyline, and who accomplishes very little in his own. Christ, if you’re going to plant yourself in a narrative, at least make yourself important.
Farmer also introduces a plot twist which had clearly not been thought of in the first and second books, and was shoved in retrospectively. Granted, I’ve done this myself, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it (especially when it removes the most interesting character, Monat, for the rest of the book). Another irritating problem was his constant use of both the metric and imperial system, with nonsensical phrases like this:
The first mate Tom Rider, also known as Tex, stood about 5.08 centimeters or 2 inches shorter than Frigate’s 1.8 meter or 6 feet.
Guess which measurement system the writer prefers, and guess which he is simply converting to with a calculator. Also, WHO THE FUCK CARES HOW TALL PEOPLE ARE
The book clocks in at just over four hundred pages, swollen as it is with meandering philosophical storylines and extensive biographies for nearly every character, now matter how insignificant. I cannot imagine how many pages this was before it was edited. Farmer himself seems to think this is no problem at all, with Frigate at one point reflecting:
Too bad I hadn’t thought of something like this when I was writing science fiction. But the concept of a planet consisting of a many-millions-kilometer-long river along which all of humanity that ever lived had been ressurected (a good part of it, anyway) would have been too big to put in one book. It would have taken at least twelve books to do it anywhere near justice.
Actually, Phil, it’s wearing thin after a mere three books, mostly because of your dull writing style and sheer refusal to drag the plot along faster than a sloth carrying a mailbox filled with other sloths, to use an odd and clunky metaphor as you yourself enjoy doing. It’s a wonderful concept, and I tip my hat to your imagination, but the execution is one of the biggest fuckups in the history of science fiction.
Somebody who spends as much time slouching in the glow of a computer screen as I do needs a good solid, chair. I’ve been lacking in that for some time.
I believe we lost the back some time in 2006. What remains is basically just a stool, a shrivelled and decrepit stump of its former self.
Fortunately, a new Ikea the size of Bill Gates’ mansion recently opened teetering on the brink of my local freeway, so I stopped there on the way home from university and invested seventy-five dollars in a new chair. If the old chair was a leprous, croaking beggar huddling in a damp alleyway, the new chair would be equivalent to the dashing and handsome king of the Holy Land, reclining atop a pile of gold and dressed in extravagent finery.
On the downside it doesn’t recline back too much, and the armrests juuuust don’t fit underneath the bottom of the desk. Overall analysis: Satisfaction, tinged with mild dismay.
On the topic of uploading photos, last night I shaved off the scrappy beard I’ve been growing throughout January and February after eventually deciding it did indeed look like shit, as approximately 40% of people had been telling me. The kicker was a photo Rach took of me asleep and slack-jawed in the bus on the way home from a weekend camping, which revealed how awful it can truly look, and which I will not be posting. Naturally, of course, I took before and after shots.
Man, do I look weird now.
Oh, yeah – I know I haven’t updated End Times lately, but I’ve been super busy with personal life stuff, university assignments, and writing fascinating blog entries about buying furniture from Ikea. I’ll try to do one ASAP. In the meantime, here’s a picture of my best friend wearing the box the new chair came in on his head.
PHOTOGRAPHY DUMP COMPLETE
11. Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert Heinlein (1957) 263 p.
Yeah, I know I only just ranted about Heinlein, but this is one of his “juveniles” and I assumed the preaching would be a bit less heavy-handed. It wasn’t, really, but the story was actually entertaining (perhaps I should say “existent”) when compared with Time Enough For Love. It follows the life of the young slave Thorby shortly after he is sold to an old beggar called Baslim on a planet with a feudal, vaguely Asian society. Baslim is soon revealed to be some kind of foreign intelligence agent, and following his exposure and execution, Thorby is forced to flee the planet. Thus begins a galaxy-wide adventure as he attempts to discover his origins.
The story is an enoyable little jaunt, even if the dialogue and characterisation is dry – Thorby, for example, is the same generic 1950’s teenager (Gosh! Swell!) found in every other Heinlein juvenile. Heinlein’s personal opinions also seep through as usual, with the most frequently expressed thoughts being:
1. It’s totally okay to hit somebody you have a duty of care for.
2. Man, I miss the Navy.
3. I hate all this fucking red tape and bureacracy! I just want to go live in space and be FREEEEEEEEE!
Similar to Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, though, it’s fairly easy to ignore the message and enjoy the story. Or, in my case, have a good laugh and ridicule the message while enjoying the story.