You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2008.

John McCain is old/Barack Obama is black/Hillary Clinton is a woman. None of these things matter in the slightest. The only thing your vote should be based upon is how closely the candidates’ policies and opinions align with your own.

Nonetheless, this was amusing.

John McCain is older than…

The Golden Gate Bridge
Rock music
Alaskan and Hawaiian statehood
The nuclear bomb
Life magazine
Nearly every single modern African nation
Bugs Bunny
Mount Rushmore
AIDS
The Volkswagen Beetle
Of Mice And Men
The United Nations
American interventionism
The Hindenburg disaster
McDonalds
The Cold War
The extinction of the Tasmanian Tiger
The King of Norway
Israel
The Sydney Opera House
The space program of any nation
The Old Man and the Sea
The ANZUS Treaty
Fascist Spain
The B-52 bomber
African-American civil rights
The best years of John Wayne’s career
Commercial television
Time itself

24. Fight Club by Chuck Palahnuik (1996) 208 p.

Fuck yeah! Down with the society that provides us with first-world luxury! It ain't our fault if we get bored with that. It's SOCIETY'S! Fuck yeah!

This was on my reading list for Literary & Cultural Studies, and I have to do a presentation on the film version. So far all my work on that has centred around figuring out how to include the word “testosteronefest.”

Fight Club is a difficult story to talk about because it had attained cult status long before I ever read the book or saw the movie (the movie is better, by the way). There is an entire legion of idiots out there who actually feel inspired by Palahniuk’s insane primitivist vision of a neo-Luddite paradise, where, as he repeatedly tells us, we’ll “stalk elk through the damp canyon forests around Rockefeller Centre.” Combined with the appeal to every man’s inner lust for brutal violence, this creates a very weird sub-culture that automatically makes me dislike the book that spawned it.

But it’s not really a bad story. Palahniuk’s writing style is choppy and disconnected, which I don’t like, but the book itself is fine. Just as the film does, it tells the story of a man who becomes disillusioned with modern consumerism, unwittingly creates a cult-like following to overthrow society, and then freaks out as he gradually loses control of it. The final third is the best part of both the movie and the book, as the protagonist becomes increasingly paranoid and desperate, trying to escape from his own rabid followers. It’s hard to judge a novel when you already know exactly what’s going to happen, but I think Fight Club works better as a movie anyway.

Edward Norton has gotta be Matthew Perry’s cousin or something.

Books: 24/50
Pages: 7218

As irritated as I am that this season is only 13 episodes long, it does mean that they’re packing a lot more shit into them and moving the plot along faster. This was one of those good episodes. As much as I hate Locke as a person and would totally shoot him if I was on that island, he’s a fascinating character.

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"Hey, Ben, I've been meaning to ask... WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU PEOPLE, WHAT ARE YOU DOING ON THIS ISLAND, AND WHY DID YOU MURDER MY FRIEND SCOTT?"

1. Lol, Locke’s life always has and always will be shit.
2. Hurrah! Richard’s back. That’ll teach you to leave Lost for a crummy show with a washed-up Kelsey Grammar – who, incidentally, is going to be typecast as Frasier for the rest of his goddamn life.
3. Gault was such a pussy. Not only did he let Keamy push him around for most of the episode, but when he finally stood up to him his voice was trembling like a dandelion in a hurricane. And as cool as it was to see another Australian character on the show (because of course a plane going between Sydney and LA would be entirely filled with Americans), Grant Bowler is not a great actor. Well, he’s OK, but I’m just so accustomed to hearing his narration on Border Security that I simply can’t associate him with Lost.
4. Jeez, Locke, didn’t you learn your lesson about staring into the mass grave while Ben is standing behind you with a loaded gun?
5. When Ben said, “Not always,” did he mean that he doesn’t always hold the power? Or just that he wasn’t the leader when the Purge happened?
6. “You survived falling eight stories out of a building. That’s a miracle, Mr. Jingles.”
7. As much as I can appreciate Desmond’s decision not to go back to the island, I am now terrified for his safety.
8. Sayid taking off in the Zodiac was a cool scene, but also hilarious because it’s a piddly little inflatable taking on a great big ocean.
9. I was convinced Abbadon was going to hurl Locke down the stairs.
10. Speculation: the thing on Keamy’s arm is a bomb wired to his heart rate that will explode if he dies.
11. Speculation: the assault by the freighter mercenaries will require the survivors and Others to join forces. Which will probably piss me off, because these days they’re just so complacent about Ben and his gang of weirdos, conveniently forgetting that less than three months ago they murdered Scott, kidnapped Claire and terrorised the tail-section survivors.
12. Christian is becoming one of the most intriguing mysteries on the show. There’s a huge split between the real him, back in California, and the mysterious smiling man on the island whom I am almost certain is Smokey taking human form – as he did with Eko’s brother, who was (!) also present as a corpse on the island.
13. Oh, you think you’re supposed to follow them, Jack? You with the fresh appendectomy stitches? Sun with her morning sickness? Kate and Juliet with their vaginas? Bernard with his arthritis? Looks like the fate of everyone on the island rests with Jin. Let’s put those shiny new biceps to use, Hidden Dragon!
14. And, just because 13 is an unlucky number, the scene with Hurley and Ben eating a candy bar was great.

And so I’m looking forward to the next epi… season finale? Oh my, that was fast.

What is it with books getting republished with atrocious covers? It happens all the time when I read a library book more than a decade old, decide I like the series, drop by Collins or Dymocks to buy it and find that it’s been re-issued with some terrible new cover.

Let me show you an example in Green Mars, the middle novel in Kim Stanley Robinson’s epic Mars trilogy. I’m not using for its literary value (since I still can’t make up my mind whether I like the trilogy or not; granted, Green Mars is the best of the three), but rather because it’s a perfect example of covers that gradually slide down the sucky slope.

Here’s the first cover, for the original edition in 1993. (edit: Closer inspection reveals that it is not, in fact, the original cover; that was probably the airship one. But doing them in anything but best-to-worst order would kill the argument so shut up.)

It’s a great science fiction cover. Nice illustrations, montage of scenes, captures the vast and beautiful nature of the story etc. Couldn’t be happier with it.

A few years down the track we have this:

Okay, not too shabby. Less impressive than the last one, but still a pretty good cover. Airship over green field, snow on Mars, sense of adventure. Let’s see how things go for the next reissue in the late 90’s…

…Oh dear.

Gone is the colourful hand-drawn illustration of the previous two covers, replaced with computer generated rubbish that reminds me of the shitty CGI desktops you find when using Google Image search for practically anything. I’ve seen the versions of this cover for Red and Blue Mars, too; it’s essentially the same canyon, but bare red/filled with water respectively. This is a vomit-worthy cover, but still better than the most recent one, a publication only a few years old which I found in my local Borders:

 

BOOOOOOOOOOOOORING

 

No matter how bad a cover is, it’s always better than no cover at all, which is essentially what this one is. It’s not even fucking green. If you’re going to have a blank cover with a tiny picture, for this of all trilogies, at least use different fucking colours instead of making them all blue.

Another example: the original publication for Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Tedium Time series, and the 2000s version which is the only one you will ever be able to find in a modern bookstore.

Which would you prefer? Image or no image? The question is rhetorical and anyone who responds to it will be shot.

I don’t know why they do this. Some people have suggested that it’s a copyright issue; that the cover artist retains the rights and refuses to lease them again for a republication of the same book. If that’s the case, why not just hire a new artist?

Or is the truth much stupider? Do the marketing people at all these publishing houses think readers actually want these dull, boring, bland, generic covers with no zazz to them whatsoever? Is that why they try to push them as “collector’s editions?”

I’m not averse to having different covers for different press editions of the same book. It makes them more interesting. But every cover should actually be eye-catching, i.e. have a fucking picture of something on it. Should I ever have something published, and then have it re-published with a cover that has absolutely no allure to it, I will… I will get very huffy but do nothing about it because I’ll be lucky enough to have a book on the market, that’s what I’ll do.

23. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson (1971) 204 p.

"We can't stop here! This is bat country!"

I really loved this, which I wasn’t expecting too. I haven’t seen the movie, and all I knew about the book was that it was a semi-autobiography detailing the drug-addled adventures of an acid-soaked writer during one week in Vegas. I was dubious as to how entertaining that might be. I needn’t have worried.

I’m not sure how closely the story correlates to real life, but essentially, Thompson (as his alter ego Raoul Duke) is sent to Las Vegas to cover a racing tournament, and brings along his gigantic Samoan attorney who is as much of an irredeemable basehead as he is. The duo spend a week roaring around Vegas in a red convertible, the trunk containing enough drugs to “kill an entire platoon of United States Marines,” and essentially bare their asses at every law they find. They trash hotel rooms, terrify hitchhikers, and infiltrate a police convention on drug crimes, all while speeding off their heads and hallucinating about “huge pterodactyls lumbering around the corridors in pools of fresh blood” or “two women fucking a polar bear.” The sense of an alternately fascinating and horrifying seven day drug trip is perfectly supplemented by Ralph Steadman’s grotesque, blotchy illustrations, scattered throughout the book (my only complaint is that the scenes they depict usually occurred about twelve pages ago).

You’d imagine that two hundred pages of acid trips would grow old fast, but Thompson’s skill as a writer is such that it maintains its lustre all the way through. Raoul Duke is one of those loveable characters who lives purely on fanatical, reckless impulse, with no consequences to either his freedom or health. Any real person who took the amount of drugs Raoul and his attorney do would be dead in seconds and probably also find themselves immortalised as an oddity in a journal of medicine. Likewise, a brush with the law and twenty years in prison would also be inevitable; unlike the health consequences, however, Thompson sweats over this with constant paranoia. Fortunately for the reader, he has a great sense of humour about it all, first seen when they pick up a hitchiker in the opening chapter:

How long can we maintain? I wondered. How long before one of us starts raving and jabbering at this boy? What will he think then? This same lonely desert was the last known home of the Manson family. Will he make that grim connection when my attorney starts screaming about bats and huge manta rays coming down on the car? If so – well, we’ll just have to cut his head off and bury him somewhere. Because it goes without saying that we can’t turn him loose. he’ll report us at once to some kind of outback law enforcement agency, and they’ll run us down like dogs.
Jesus! Did I say that? Or just think it? Was I talking? Did they hear me? I glanced over at my attorney, but he seemed oblivious – watching the road, driving our Great Red Shark along at a hundred and ten or so. There was no sound from the back seat.
Maybe I’d better have a chat with this boy, I thought. Perhaps if I explain things, he’ll rest easy.
Of course. I leaned around in the seat and gave him a fine big smile… admiring the shape of his skull.

My other favourite quote was on the topic of highway police:

No cop was ever born who isn’t a sucker for a finely-executed high-speed Controlled Drift all the way around one of those cloverleaf freeway interchanges.

The place of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as a watershed moment in twentieth century culture was deservedly won. There’s a whole slew of themes and messages in this book, which Thompson described as a “vile epitaph for the drug culture of the sixties,” but I was enjoying it too much to bother thinking about them. Fundamentally, it’s just an exhilerating, high-octane journey through the neon lights, vomit-streaked hotel rooms and warped culture of 1971 Las Vegas. A hell of a toboggan ride!

Books: 23/50
Words: 7010

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So now you're a fucking fire warden too huh

This was another episode (like The Economist) in which more happened in the off-island storyline than the on-island storyline, which I don’t necessarily dislike. What I do dislike is episodes that don’t feature either of the two most interesting storylines: Team Awesome solving mysteries on the freighter, and Locke’s continual loss of control over even his own pathetic, deluded spirit quest. Dude cracks me up. Anyway:

1. So, I guess Danielle is dead after all (and Carl but who cares). That’s a shame, because I’d heard she was supposed to have a flashback episode this season. Incidentally, it was quite surprising to see that the mercenaries even bothered to bury them.
2. I still fucking hate Keamy and want to see him get shot in the face. Predicting it will be Sayid who eventually does the honours.
3. Hurley’s quiet confession that he’d been seeing Charlie, and subsequent dire warning, was very spooky, as was Jack seeing his father at the hospital. The cinematography in those night scenes was particularly good.
4. Bernard is becoming a more and more useful survivor, with his leet Morse Code/Novacane skills, which is nice to see. Even if it is only happening because the beach camp is running short of characters.
5. They’re being really slack on the discipline with the actor that plays Jin. Almost overnight, he suddenly has long hair and butch biceps.
6. Hilariously ironic: Sun saying to Jin “They’re not going to help us,” while she and Jin stand around doing jack shit, and Daniel and Charlotte gather medical supplies to save Jack’s life.
7. Jack forcing Kate to watch his surgery when she was so clearly uncomfortable with it was kinda jerky. So was the idea of staying conscious in the first place. God, but he is a stubborn dickhead.
8. I am a MAN with a heart of flint, but Aaron and his stuffed orca still made me “awwwwww.”

A good episode. Not as good as the previous one, due to the lack of the two best storylines, but the flashforward was interesting enough to make up for it.

I recently heard that James Joyce used every single word in the English language when he was writing Ulysses. Hoping that the sheer, four hundred thousand word bulk of my own sprawling saga might make this statistically possible, I did a quick check with Ctr+F. In the event that I found my epic novel did indeed contain most words in the English language, I would of course be on par with one of the great writers of the 20th century. Because trivial achievements like “every single word” are all that matters.

Of the 28 base words listed on the first page of my dictionary, I had used 12 in End Times: a, aback, abandon, abate, abduct, ability, abject, able, abnormal, aboard, aborigine, abort.

Still, I have a good three months left…

22. Once Upon a Time in the North by Philip Pullman (2008) 103 p.

ADVENTURE AHOY

The reason Northern Lights was the best book out of the entire trilogy His Dark Materials was the world it was set in. Philip Pullman weaved one of the most complex and enjoyable alternate universes I’ve ever read: a 19th century-style world on the brink of an industrial revolution, dominated by a Calvinist Church. A world of adventure and antiquity, where university professors discuss scientific expeditions from the comfort of Oxford smoking rooms, where the outskirts of civilisation are ruled by witches and sapient polar bears, where every human is accompanied by an animal spirit representing their inner soul.

As short as it is, Once Upon a Time in the North gives us a welcome return to that world – in particular, to the rugged and dangerous Arctic wilderness that was the setting for most of Northern Lights. The story is set thirty-five years before the trilogy, and details the first meeting of the Texan aeronaut Lee Scoresby and the armoured bear Iorek Byrnison. Lee crash-lands his balloon on a frozen Russian island in the midst of a mayoral election, and is quickly pulled into the web of politics and power struggles between the Russian customs agency and the security forces of the local mining corporation.

This is mostly a short adventure story, with a nice setting and nifty action scene. The only part I disliked was the actual meeting of Lee and Iorek itself, which supposedly the entire book revolves around. Lee agrees to help a Dutch ship captain battle the unjust ruling of the harbourmaster, and Iorek joins them simply because he was nearby and wanted to help for no apparent reason. The rest of the story is solid, though – I especially liked the worldbuilding for North America that was detailed in Lee’s past, since the alternate New World never really got a look-in during the main trilogy.

As with Lyra’s Oxford, the previous supplement book, the text is scattered throughout with “fragments” relating to the storyline: a few pages from a navigation manual, a label from a bottle of cognac, a cargo receipt and so on. These add welcome touches to the book, as do the frequent illustrations done in an appropriate Nordic woodcut style.

Overall, a nice little addition to the collection, albeit at an exorbitant price. I just wish he’d hurry up and finish the Book of Dust already.

Books: 22/50
Pages: 6806

21. The Man In The High Castle by Philip K. Dick (1962) 249 p.

The Man In The High Castle was one of the first alternate history novels to ever gain wide appeal. It tells the story of an alternate world in which the Allies lost the war, and the world is now controlled by the Japanese and Germans. The United States has been divided into three parts: the east coast, controlled by the Nazis; the west coast, controlled by Japan; and the Midwest, a neutral buffer zone under its own authority.

This was the first novel by Dick I’ve ever read, though I have read some of his short stories, and although the concept is intriguing I didn’t much care for his writing style. The narratorial voice is far too deeply entrenched inside the character’s heads, detailing every little thought and engaging in time-consuming and tedious interior monologues. Also, for a novel that is supposed to be examining the society of an alternate world, he spends a bizarrely large amount of time discussing jewellry and antiques.

Overall, something of a disappointment. I won’t give up on Dick entirely (goddamn that surname and its double entendres), but he doesn’t get too many more chances either. When am I going to find a famous science fiction writer I can idolise? Dick is weird, Clarke is dull and Heinlein is preachy.

Books: 21/50
Pages: 6703

Word count of “John McCain presidential campaign, 2008” – 13, 056
Word count of “Barack Obama presidential campaign, 2008” – 19, 390
Word count of “Hillary Clinton presidential campagin, 2008” – 28, 065

Word count of “George Washington” – 9, 425

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