You are currently browsing the monthly archive for March 2009.

Got a haircut today. It’s terrible. I don’t think I’ve had my hair cut this short since 2004, when I was in high school. It was one of those situations where the hairdresser finishes up, and says “Is that okay?” and you’re mighty tempted to say “No, put it back.” I’m going to have to grow a beard to counter the fact that I look 12 years old.

I’ve also taken the plunge and sent in my resume to a Canadian company that recruits English teachers for South Korea. They accepted that and said I got through the first stage, so I’ll be getting a phone call for an interview on Thursday night. Thus far everything I’ve done for this has been within the four walls of my computer monitor; when I hear an actual voice over the phone I expect it will crystallise into something terrifyingly real.

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every scene taking place in a distant city MUST have a landmark in the background

1. So as it turns out, “he” is a crazy old redneck called Oldham and “you” is Sayid. Except he’s not “our you” at all, because whereas Sayid graduated from the Jack Bauer School of Making People Talk, Oldham is a pussy who uses chemical interrogation. What is this, the Geneva Convention? Psshaaw.

2. I’m glad we saw more about how Ben and Sayid ended their professional relationship, but it still seems out of place to me that he went and built houses for orphans in the Dominican Republic. He should have sunk into alcoholic despair or something. And why didn’t he check back in with his friends? Was he ashamed of having worked for Ben?

3. And I know this shouldn’t be something I still focus on, but FOR GOD’S SAKE SAYID ASK BEN SOME QUESTIONS ABOUT SHIT. On the same track, I can guarantee you Sawyer has asked Juliet nothing about the island despite three years of living with her. Nothing.

4. Watching Young Ben more, he really is the perfect actor for the role. He has the same shaped face, the same creepy eyes, everything.

5. I think this episode marks the first time Sayid laughs. It was… somewhat disturbing.

6. I’m intrigued by the DHARMA command structure. Pierre Chang would appear to be the head honcho, and yet he has not been involved in the Sayid issue at all.

7. Is Ilana really working for Ben? Ben did seem legitimately surprised when he stepped onto the plane and saw Sayid there. But I don’t buy the Avellino story. Everybody seems to have a stake in getting the O6 back to the island – perhaps her employer is Ms. Hawking, or Widmore.

8. Sayid shooting Ben was a bit of a shock, but didn’t really seem a big deal, because obviously they are not going to kill off the best character on the show. Next episode we’re going to see Jack spring into action to save the life of the innocent child Sayid capped.

9. And while we’re on that, lol @ Sayid’s logic. “I’ll show Benjamin Linus I’m not a killer… by killing him!”

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deja vu!

The last two episodes were brilliant, because they both answered burning questions – namely, what did Locke do when he visited the mainland, and what became of those who were left on the island? This episode felt like a downshift, because it was back to boring old narrative progression. That’s… odd, that my thought pattern should go like that.

Anyway.

– I’m still befuddled as to why Jack, Hurley, Kate and Sayid were sucked into the past, while Sun, Frank, Ben and Locke remained in the present. One theory I’ve heard suggests that it’s because Locke “invited” Jack, Hurley, Kate and Sayid back to the island, but not the others. This doesn’t explain why Locke himself is still in the present though.

– I’m also at a loss as to why they “needed” to return in the first place. The problems with timeshifting stopped when Locke turned the wheel; Ben turning the wheel appeared to have been the cause in the first place. The Oceanic Six escaping the island at the same time was an unrelated coincidence. Speaking of which, I’m still waiting for an explanation as to why Ben had to “move the island” to hide it when, according to Eloise Hawking, the island is always moving.

– Interesting to see that Faraday isn’t around anymore. Dead? In the season opener we saw him gain access to the Orchid; my guess is that the next person we see waking up in the Sahara Desert will be Danny boy. (Incidentally, I only just realised the purpose of the fish biscuit mechanisms at the Hydra: they were training the bears to turn the wheel, as in Season 4 we saw Charlotte find a polar bear skeleton with a Hydra collar in the Sahara).

– Jack and Sawyer were being dicks to each other for no good reason in this episode. And you know, after five seasons of this show I really should have accepted that the character never, ever, ever ask questions. But I haven’t. Even if Sawyer feels like readin his book and thinking up a plan, Jack should be off talking to Juliet or Jin and asking what the hell has been happening to them for the last three years. HAVE YOU PEOPLE NO CURIOSITY WHATSOEVER?

– Christian picked up (and then handed to Sun) a framed photograph. I think this is the first evidence we have that he is a tangible, physical being, rather than a spirit or vision (which is why I thought he couldn’t help Locke up when he broke his leg at the bottom of the hole). Also, lol at Jin not even being in the photo.

– Some are saying that a figure can be seen moving behind Sun while she looks at the photo, but my torrented video file is too grainy to make it out.

– Nice to see that they brought back the actor who played Young Ben in the first season. Kid has the creepiness downpat. Predicting that he will bust Sayid out and take him to the 1970’s Others, where we will hopefully also see Rose, Bernard and any other surviving 815ers.

– And finally, WHERE IS THE HANDSOME SCOT? I dearly hope Ben hasn’t killed Penny, but at this point I’m hard-pressed to think of any other reason for Desmond to return to the island except to seek revenge. Unless… unless Daniel goes to see him after waking up in the Sahara…

Next episode: “He’s Our You.” I’m curious to find out who the two people referred to are.

The First 49 Stories by Ernest Hemingway (1938) 414 p.

I’m not the biggest fan of Ernest Hemingway, but I was in Tokyo’s famous Jimbocho district and I’d finally found an English-language bookstore, a second-storey nook disconcertingly named “Bondi Books” that sold vintage and antiques, and I didn’t feel like leaving empty-handed. So I picked up this cheap Hemingway anthology, and I’m glad I did, because it was quite good and I think I’m starting to understand him as a writer.

The First 49 Stories is, obviously, a collection of Hemingway’s first forty-nine short stories. It is often said that he was a better short story writer than novelist, and while I’ve only read two of his novels I’d have to agree. Reviewing something like this is difficult, because there’s not a lot that can be said about Hemingway. It’s Hemingway. You either like him or you don’t.

One thing I did realise while reading this is that Hemingway’s stories are excellent study material for aspiring writers, because his style is so bare and dry that it strips away all the excess and leaves nothing but the exposed skeleton of the story: structure, tone, dialogue. I studied a lot of these stories quite carefully, because I’ve been trying and failing to write good short stories lately, and if Hemingway cannot teach me how to then nobody can. His “Iceberg Theory” is used to great effect throughout the anthology, particularly in “The Brief And Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” “The Killers,” “Hills Like White Elephants,” “Alpine Idyll,” and “The Three-Day Blow.” When Hemingway is at his best he wastes not a single word or sentence, and stories running no longer than a few pages can contain great depths of symbolism, emotional depth and austere beauty. “The Three-Day Blow,” for example, is only ten pages long, yet contains an examination of alcoholism, male companionship, youthful love, and uncertainty.

When I was in university I read a couple of Hemingway stories and came to the conclusion that they weren’t about anything. I was wrong, of course. Much like life itself, they’re about everything – as long as you pay careful attention.

I can feel myself slipping into a routine – drive, sleep, Coles, work out with Mike, hang out with Chris, drink, read, watch TV, surf net… I need to do something drastic before I get stuck in a rut. I need to get out of this city.

Typee by Herman Melville (1846) 210 p.

The first novel by the famed author of Moby-Dick, Typee walks a fine line between fact and fiction. The author relates it as a true account of the several months he spent living amongst natives of the South Pacific; whether this is true or not is a matter of contention, and something that lingered in my mind throughout the book.

After six months at sea, the horrors of which are described in a very strong opening chapter, Melville’s whaling vessel puts into the Marquesas Islands in Polynesia to resupply. Unwilling to spend another stretch in the hellish conditions of the whaler, Melville and his comrade Toby jump ship and trek across to the other side of the island, seeking shelter with the natives in a valley called Typee. They are welcomed by the natives and treated like kings, before realising that the people of Typee have no intention of letting them leave. Melville is sick, and Toby attempts to leave and fetch help; he does not return, and his fate is not resolved until the end of the book. Melville spends three months living with ease amongst the natives in their tropical paradise, but this idyllic existence is tempered by his unease over what happened to Toby, his suspicion that the people of Typee engage in cannibalism, and his terror of being permanently imprisoned. He is perplexed as to why they are so determined to keep him there, and the islanders will not explain themselves; indeed, the reason for his imprisonment is never resolved.

As non-fiction, this book is excellent. It combines a tale of adventure with a first-hand account detailing the way of life of an average Polynesian tribe, something unheard of at the time. Unfortunately, according to most modern scholars, it isn’t non-fiction. Details are hazy, but the best records indicate that Melville spent less than three weeks living with the natives, and embellished his story with tales gathered from other Pacific sailors and explorers. And, judged as a story, it fails on a number of levels – it’s poorly paced, intersparsed with tedious details about the minutae of island life, and quite repetitive. None of this would matter if Typee were a work of non-fiction, but in a novel they seriously impair the narrative. This is an interesting book for somebody interested in the genre, or in the history of the South Pacific, but is otherwise not reccomended.

I’m jobhunting at 3 a.m. A bookstore in the far nothern suburbs of Perth (a bleak and desolate landscape of identical model homes and palm trees) sent out an ad for sales assistant on Friday. No experience required, but must have good knowledge of fiction and writing book reviews. I sent out my resume. In my typical hubris I have already begun to assume that I will be successful.

If I’m not, there are a shitload of Korean English-teaching jobs on seek.com.au right now. I rejected Japan because you don’t get picked up until August or some shit, but I think Korea’s more flexible. If I can jsut manage to actually land such a job (being only 20 years old and with no teaching experience), struggle through imparting knowledge to a bunch of foreign kids, and actually manage to live alone overseas for a year when I can’t even cook for myself here in Perth, I could be sitting pretty.

I’ve been drinking a lot of wine again. I think this may impair my judgement of my own employability prospects?

The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le Guin (1971) 155p.

earthsea covers are a great way to find out which publishing companies are racist

This is the second book in Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea series, being a sequel to A Wizard of Earthsea. I read the first book a very long time ago, probably when I was about twelve, and again more recently. My impression of it was the same both times: oddly boring. It has all the makings of an excellent fantasy adventure, but never seems to quite pull them together, resulting in a novel that’s only slightly above average.

I think a large part of this lies in Le Guin’s narrative tone, which is extremely dry. Unfortunately, this carries over into The Tombs of Atuan, which follows the story of Tenar, a young girl taken from childhood to be raised as a priestess in service to the “Nameless Ones.” Her life is interrupted by the arrival of Ged, the titular wizard from the first book, who breaks into the tombs below her temple and raises some struggles of belief for Tenar.

Fantasy is meant to be escapism. We’re meant to be dazzled by it, swept along in a tide of swashbuckling adventure, enchanted by gleaming white cities and jungle-covered ruins and airships floating high in the clouds. What Le Guin gives us instead is a very cold, sterile, dull world; a place of tombs and temples and strict religious orders. It is a well-realised world, but not a world I want to spend time in.

Having said that, I did enjoy The Tombs of Atuan more than A Wizard of Earthsea. It’s a well-told story, much more tightly paced and structured than the last, and at only 155 pages it doesn’t drag on. The crumbling of Tenar’s personal belief system is particularly well-handled; as she gradually rejects what she has been taught to believe, and makes the decision to flee the temple with Ged, I never once found her mental processes to be unbelievable. In spite of its flaws, I’d give this a thumbs up, and may consider reading the rest of the series at some point. Le Guin is certainly a gifted writer; I just wish she could instill more of a sense of fantasy.

Kafka On The Shore by Haruki Murakami (2003) 505 p.

a complete and utter load of wank

Japanese storytelling, I have decided, is fundamentally different from Western storytelling. I’d never read a Japanese book before this, but I’ve watched plenty of anime and played hundreds of hours of Japanese video games. The most striking difference I have noticed is in characterisation. Characters in Japanese stories are unbelievably emotive, spilling out their deepest feelings at the drop of a hat, without any hint of reserve or subtlety. Here is a conversation Chris and I had while playing Metal Gear Solid 3:

EVA: When I’m riding, the wind hits me so hard that it hurts. The pain keeps my mind off the pain of having to be someone else…
CHRIS: Oh, Christ. Strap yourself in.
EVA:…It’s not easy always fooling myself like this. It’s only when I’m on the bike that I’m free to be the real me. I only get off my bike when I fall in love… or fall dead.
CHRIS: (shakes head in sheer disbelief)
MITCH: “Metal Gear Solid 3: Cheesy Dialogue!”

Every time a character opens their mouth to say something, you’re guaranteed at least one golden nugget of corniness. In a video game, this phenomenon isn’t so bad – I’m too busy snapping Russian necks or shooting down helicopters to care. Likewise in anime, where you have pretty pictures to look at and it doesn’t seem to be so pronounced anyway; in fact, it’s almost entirely absent in Akira and the works of Miyazaki. In a novel, of course, there’s nothing but the story. And so the corniness has nowhere to hide.

Kafka On The Shore is the story of Kafka Temura, a young boy who runs away from home and ends up living at a library, and Satoru Nakata, a mildly retarded senior citizen who is sent on a bizarre quest by a man dressed like Johnnie Walker (who, I kid you not, is harvesting cats’ souls to craft a magical flute). I don’t know whether it was the translation barrier, or an underlying cultural difference, or just the plain truth that this book is terrible, but I hated every page of it.

The Metal Gear Solid dialogue quoted above is a perfect example of the kind of typical Japanese rubbish Kafka On The Shore regularly spews out of its vile hatch. 90% of the text is a tedious introspective monologue, and the other 10% is characters discussing how much they like certain literature or classical music. One particular character, Oshima the librarian, seized every opportunity to turn a conversation into some pretentious remark on the human condition, spouting out wave after wave of ultimately hollow profundities.

The plot itself is nonsensical, poorly paced and had me actually growling aloud at the book to “shut up” while I was forcing myself through its last few hundred pages. I don’t want to read about a man sitting there talking to a rock, I don’t want to read about Kafka’s constant descriptions of his dick, and I don’t want to read about endless mysteries that are never resolved. This book has loose threads hanging out of it like the tentacles of a jellyfish, quite ironic considering that it quotes Anton Chekhov’s line that “if in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, in the following one it should be fired – otherwise don’t hang it there.” Kafka On The Shore has an unfired pistol on virtually every page, being held by a character blathering on about life and love and existence in dialogue far too wanky for me to even bother following. This is the first and last Murakami book I will ever read.

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alpert approaches the village people

1. Now that the timelines have matched up, I think the entire background cast of crash survivors can be assumed to have died in the fire attack… but surely they wouldn’t kill off Rose and Bernard like that?

2. Speaking of timelines, why is it that Ben and Locke have stayed put while the others got sucked into the past? Is it because the island considers them “Others?” If so, why is Juliet moving? And what happened to the tailies who were absorbed by the Others?

3. I thought Juliet and Swayer being together was cute and, surprisingly, believable. In any case it was entirely worth it just to see him visually projecting the mono-word thought of “AWKWARD” when he meets Kate at the end.

4. Thank god Jin can now believably speak English, because for the first half of this season he’s practically been quoting Shakespeare and it was stupid. Also, on the topic of things that can be changed now that we’re three years in the future, Sawyer should have short hair.

5. The glimpse of the statue, even from behind, was awesome.

6. I sure hope that at some point during the three years they’ve been together, Swayer said to Juliet, “So… what’s up with the Others/smoke monster/Jacob/lists/terrorising plane crash survivors?”

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