Thursday, January 12, 2006

I am not the droid you're looking for.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Quick Picks

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (movie) - very pretty, quite well adapted, however, I had the same problems with this movie as I had with the book. The girls don't do anything, and while I'm perfectly happy to believe in magical worlds hidden in wardrobes, I will NOT believe that a boy can suddenly pick up sword fighting, in full plate armour, on horse back, and be good at it. Nor do I believe it's a brilliant idea to find the first random bunch of kids you can, and automatically assume they're going to make GREAT rulers. I'll believe in magic, but people are people.

King Kong (movie) - this film needs cutting. Someone needs to take to it with an axe and a big red pen. Too many action sequences for the sake of action sequences, which go too long. I mean, at the end, when he's up on top of the Empire State Building with no space to turn around let alone manoeuver, and the planes are coming at him and he can't get out of their way - that could have been a quarter of the length it was. But, beautiful film. Loved the dinosaurs.

Blood: The Last Vampire (movie) - well I say 'movie', but it's only half an hour long. Vampire is part of a secret organisation that hunts demons. She hunts some demons. That is all. Nothing new there. Animation was okay. Due to the lack of any originality, was bored most of the way through it, and waiting for the end. Did I mention it was only half an hour long?

Voices of a Distant Star (movie) - oh my god. Only half an hour long, but what a brilliantly crafted half hour. It was beautiful, and when I say that I'm not talking about the animation. Childhood friends finish school. She goes to join the army, he stays on earth. As the fleet she is with jumps from Mars, to Neptune, to Pluto, to the Sirrius Constellation, the time it takes for her messages to reach him is greater and greater, until he's waiting 8 years between messages, when she waited maybe a day between writing them. It's stunning. It broke my heart so tenderly. Very much worth your time.

Samurai Executioner (comic) - by the gentlemen responsible for Lone Wolf and Cub. Alas, no Ogami Itto, but this samurai is just as worth. Same brutal and wonderful writing. Same sex and violence. Possibly even more meaning and layers to this, although I've only read the first book.

Akira (comic) - again, I've only read the first book, but already everything that the film blurred makes So Much More Sense. It's all bigger, better, with more depth, more time, more space. When they say 'classic' and 'masterpiece', they're not talking about the movie, they're talking about this. Added bonus that these books are huge, as opposed to the vast majority of manga, which is small.

Battle Angel Alita (comic) - only first book. So far, very similar to the movie, haven't met an unfamiliar plot point yet. Very cool though. Cyberpunky, grotty, dingy. My sort of thing.

Battle Royale (comic) - oh em gi. If I had kids, I wouldn't want to know they were reading this. There's sex and violence, like with samurais, and then there's this. It squicked me out first time around, and now I'm hooked. The tension in the first two books is unbelievable. Even having read the novel, and knowing everything fate has in store, it's so hard to put down. The only thing that has slowed my consumption of this series is that the shops don't ever seem to have the next book in stock when I'm passing by. So good, but if you're a delicate flower...this isn't your thing.

The Red Star (comic) - this is THE prettiest colour comic out there. Don't believe me? Just flip through a book when you're passing through. It's stunning, and better yet, it's incredibly original. Addictive story, fantastic character dynamics. There aren't many colour comics, in fact there aren't ANY other colour comics I follow, yet this, I've bought several times. Single issues, collected trades, new editions, I have them. They'll stay with me forever.

Cowboy Bebop (comic) - the anime is genius. Love it. Get fangirl squealy about it. These comics? Not so genius. Not just lackluster writing, so-so art, but sloppy design. I don't like spending time trying to figure out what order to read the text boxes in.

Ghost in the Shell (comic) - manga, anime, movie; this is the original, and it does beat all the others hands down, and hands up. Good depth of the characters, flexible relations between them, and it trips over so many fascinating themes without losing the reader in heavy heavy philosophical Matrix-Puke. Go the Major.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

1984 - George Orwell

Mild spoilers? Who doesn't know this story in essence?

There was something of a validation that the copy I read was printed before 1984. 1979, to be exact. There was a (very old) 'collins book depot' bookmark - calendar still slotted in the cover.


My initial motivation for picking up this book was, again, because it was small. Light. Oh so very light. Oh, I wanted to read it, but the driving force wasn't the best. I popped it open whilst waiting for a train. Good solid writing, easy to read, and I was enjoying myself until I came to the first reference to Big Brother.

Such is the conditioning of society, my reaction was "Pah. They're ripping off sci-fi classcis and destroy- oh. Shit." At that point, I remembered I was holding the actual original in my hands, and promptly got very embarassed in my head.

I admit, I've been procrastinating writing about this book. It has been studied and analysed for so long, by people with far high academic credentials than me, that I'm sure anything I have to say will have been said before, or be complete and utter crap. But that hasn't stopped me in the past, and I recommend books I like.

I loved this book, because it got me so worked up I stormed about the house making all sorts of outraged exclaimations at the state of the world Orwell proposes. The concept of Newspeak in particular horrified me, in a deep-in-the-bone way. Not only that Newspeak seeks to take away the ability to even think dissident thoughts in the comfort and privacy of one's own head, but that Newspeak seeks to abolish layers of meaning. That Newspeak seeks to destroy words. That's the writer in me screaming bloody murder.

Languages are messy things because humans are messy things. We're not the neat, concise and clear cut beings we wish we were, and unless we turn into the entirely emotionless automations of futuristic cliches, we never will be. To take away a means of expressing that mess seems to be setting the entire human race up for one massive implosion.

(I like words.)

Perhaps Newspeak disturbed me so deeply because of all the methods of maintaining a dictatorship, it seemed the most effective and brilliant way.

Unfortunately, there was one very large point in the story's politiics that I didn't buy. O'Brien, the incredibly obvious two-faced working-for-the-party traitor, goes into a lengthy explainations of why the Party has created the world it has, and why this system must be maintained. Unfortunately I can't find the quote I was looking for, having spent the last ten minutes flipping through the pages, but a basic paraphrase of what I understood the Party's goal to be was a world without happiness, joy, pleasure. A world built on fear, hatred, mistrust, and those other mean and lonely things. They were actively working towards that world.

Now, if O'Brien had been talking about working to a better world, I might have swallowed it. Hitler, even on his worst days, believed he was making a better world. He didn't think of himself as the root of all evil. That is my problem; I don't believe that people can actively work to make the world miserable. For everyone. For ever. Misery might be a means to an end, but never the end itself.

But I'm young, and dumb. I can take this comfortable life I have for granted, and tell myself that I would have never given in. (That small truthful and stomped on part of me says that I wouldn't have given in, because I wouldn't have had the courage to speak out in the first place.)

But now, I must share a terrible truth with you. The following is taken from the first page of the book, and describes a poster of Big Brother himself;

It depicted simply an enormous face, more than a metre wide: the face of a man of about forty-five, with a heavy black moustache and ruggedly handsome features.


George Orwell


Verdict: Books like this become classics because they are -that- good. They deserve the acclaim, and they really have the staying power. This will make you think, if only because it hightlights the fact that you can take for granted your ability to think.

PS: Orwell uses the word 'oftener'. Newspeak stomps on that word.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

2005: An Overview

(I had intended to do this yesterday, but if you think I'm turning the Decepticon on in the middle of a 45 degree day, well, you're mad. And I'm not.)

2005, in the Chinese calendar, marked the Year of the Rooster, a cocky bastard of a creature with a whole lot of strut and bugger all balls. Being a rooster myself, I made sure to let everyone know that it was my year, this year, if ever it came up in conversation.

That said, the Year of the Rooster was not slated to be a kind year for roosters, (how very typical), and it wasn't. It was a very, very up and down year. I suppose extremes are character building. (My character is built! Leave it alone or you'll poke a hole in it!)

The year began with Clarion South, which shall remain one of the quirkier experiences of my life. It was wonderful. For six weeks, seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day, I got to be a writer, and nothing but a writer, and hang around with writers, and talk shop with writers, and write, and have to worry about nothing but writing. I'll never have that luxury again. Although I learned scads of useful bits and pieces, and can exercise far more control over my writing because of my time there, the best thing I took away from Clarion South was a lump of new friends.

Love ya guys.

From there, till July, the year wasn't so great. I've blogged enough about the true trials of being unwillingly unemployed, and while I could go over it all again, I think only those who are in the middle of it, or have been there recently, will understand. It's a horrible place to be. When I flipped through my diary for 2005, and saw how many jobs I'd applied for (at least 2 a week), and counted how many interviews I was granted (I can count them on one hand), I was surprised I got through at all. Even now, after having held down a job for 5 months, I'm still getting job rejections from applications I sent out. It was not a good time, and my family bore the brunt of it.

Love you, family.

And then I got a job, at last, at freaking last. To be honest, I'm still waiting to be pulled aside, and be told it was all a rather silly mistake, and they don't have a place for me after all. After a year and a half of job hunting, this job is precious to me. It will be the ruin of my shoulders and wrists, possibly my eyes, but I'm going to cling to it like a limpet. I will not go back to being unemployed, never again.

That said, being employed full time isn't easy either. It would help if I didn't have a hour commute on either end of the day, but that can't be helped. I don't mind the shift work (although I do mind having only single days off at a time), and the work itself is wonderfully undemanding and will not follow me home, but so much time has been stolen away from me. My brother feels the same; how has society managed to get itself into a position where the majority of people have to work so much they have no time for any of the things they want to do? How have we come to work so much that we are perpetually tired? I regret losing time.

If I learned anything from the whole unemployed/employed experience, it is that I need validation. Something to measure myself against. Even if it is merely doing my quota of 40 reports a shift, that's enough. I can prove to myself that I'm worth it. Whatever it is.

There were conventions along the way. Conflux was fun, Continuum was...well, to be honest it was a lot of time spent waiting in signing queues, but that's my decision, and I got my signatures, dammit. I got to talk to Neil Gaiman about Quentin Blake, and I got to do possum impressions at Jeff Vandermeer. What else does a year need?

I read, but that's hardly surprising. It's a failing of mine that I don't have a particularly good memory of when I read a book, so I can't say what books I read this year without pouring back over this entire blog and hunting out reviews. In fact, I don't think I will mention any titles, as they've all been mentioned. Every book is worth it. (With the possible exception of The Phantom Menace by Terry Brooks.)

As for writing...My other regret. Although Clarion South ensured that I wrote probably 6 times more than I would have, I hardly wrote for the rest of the year. I've dribbed and drabbed here and there, but nothing serious. I pulled together the giant crab story (although I'm not sure if it I pulled enough, so to speak, and I'm afraid to go back and look at it), and secured myself a publication for early 2006, (see, that's me! If anyone can offer a better title, DO) and banged out a fun little piece for the Gastronomicon (which never fails to produce the reaction I was after), but I really don't feel that I wrote at all. I'm coming out of that, slowly. Although I have good (very good) intentions of fixing up a couple of Clarion stories, I've been swimming around in a spaceship world instead. I wanted to try a novella, to have some largish project that I could finish, and finish soonish, and thus be able to say "Huzzah! I am finish-ed!" but the more I drib and drab at it, the large the story seems to get, and the bloody thing is looking distinctly novelish. Still, I will stick with it. I've made a conscious effort to stay away from action and big monsters, and concentrate on relationships and the dynamics between people. Whether or not I can pull it off is another matter entirely.

Still, I feel I can still call myself a writer and not be called out as a fake.

I ushered in the new year at 5am. Midnight wandered past while I was sleeping. Yes, while you lot were comfortable in your beds (or not in your beds, as the case may be) I was staggering around in an overheated stupor getting ready for work. The house never actually cooled down after 45 degrees. Not fond of the burninating.

On the first day of 2006, I drove to work, alone, to the freaking city, for the very first time. Going in wasn't hard, the roads being 100% deserted, but driving out was horrible. To begin with, I had to do a 50 point turn to get out of the carpark it was that narrow, and I was that scared of scratching mum's car. Then, it shat down. To make up for 45 yesterday, the sky is trying to drown us. Torrential rain, like Melbourne never sees, and no! I haven't driven in the rain before! Alone! On the highway!

It was all rather traumatic, and I'm never driving ever again.

(Till next time.)