Monday, June 26, 2006

London Revenant - Conrad Williams

So my mouth and nose aren't the same shape, and my eyes are open. And I'm not the cover of a horror book. Thankfully.

One day, I will pay attention to my reading history, and learn from it. I will not, for example, start vampire books in the middle of the night. Or, in this particular case, start a horror book that concerns itself with people on trains, while standing on a near empty platform in the middle of a night, waiting for the last train to arrive. The first chapter of this book concerns someone sneaking around platforms, pushing people in front of trains.

Riding trains alone at night is threatening enough, even though I've done it for a year now, and absolutely nothing has happened. My imagination is a busy creature. I had to stop reading.

London Revenant follows Adam Buckley through his every day life, and in doing so explores the urban decay of the city, and the inner decay of its inhabitants, and the slippery nature of identity. Adam himself is a lost soul, although I'm not sure he realises this until he isn't.

It's wonderfully written, full of grit, dirt, and harsh language. His take on the city is complex, being full of life, yet hollow and near dead as well, and he pulls it off well. The city is quite a frightening creature. It actually curbed my desire to visit London.

I was disappointed that, for a book with the Underground logo all over it, that started on trains, and talked about subways and ended underground, not a lot of time was spent actually on trains. Adam fears the Underground, he can feel it in the souls of his boots, yet rarely visits, and when he does, Williams keeps his travels short. Adam spends more time walking and driving, each a different mode of transport with separate evils and trials. Being a heavy train and foot user, I'm constantly aware of what a journey with either will entail, something I missed from this book.

Williams uses London Above and the Underground as a means of exploring identity, with the Underground acting as London's subconscious. It isn't a flattering reflection. Adam moves between the two, struggling with his own identity as the city struggles as well. To be honest, I'm not sure this aspect of the book quite fell in place for me. I reached the end, and was not clear on what Williams was trying to say. Nor was I particularly clear on Adam's reasons behind his own decision. Neither of the two identities he wavers between appear to bring him any comfort. One is always trespassing on the other, yet he is afraid of both.

This might reflect more on my own ideas about identity. Identities are fluid creatures, and we only have limited control to exercise over our own. For example, there is the me no one sees but who sees everyone else, the me I try to be, the me I actually am, and the hundreds of mes that everyone else sees. Memory will step in and influence identities. Mood will too - identities fluctuate, they shift from one to another. It is not possible to choose an identity, and that decision to be static. Identities don't stay still.

Perhaps I missed the point, and the book is less about identity, and more about finding the place you belong. Finding home.

Now that I've typed it, I'm sure that's it. The book makes a lot more sense now. The two aren't separate concepts; we try to change our identities to force ourselves to fit where we think we should fit all the time.

Piece of the book worked more than others. I never quite bought Adam's uber-alter-ego, nor the arch-villain. In contrast, Yoyo's finding of streets that weren't on the map and places of rot took my breath away. There are pieces of genius in this book, which are occasionally distracted from by chase scenes in the dark. The final climax felt anti-climactic to me, and after all the brilliance of the preceeding book, a tad cliché.

Williams is an excellent writer, and this book was, despite the willies it gave me, begun, read, and finished while travelling on trains. As it should be.

Verdict: Very cool, very fresh tasting, with wonderful likeable and loathable characters. You should see what he does to London.
Shadows and Ice: Kicking Arse Comic Style

'Shadows and Ice' was an internet moniker I made up when I was 16. In the throes of adolescent angst and misery and woe. It was probaby accurate at the time, which doesn't stop me cringing slightly now. Oh, drama.

Still, it stuck for 8 years. You can still see it hanging around here and there - my login on the Voyager Online forums (which I should really check more often), my livejournal login, various utility logins, my actual Shadowmarch login, it was my previous domain name and email address - it was well loved.

And now it has a brand spanking shiny sparkling twinkling new aura of coolness, by being used as the Super Villain name of a web comic character. Michael (aka The Microphone on the Smarch boards) even gave her my nickname's nickname; Shads. And she rocketh muchly. There are only two strips up at the moment, as he's just starting, but have a gawk anyway. The sparklies compel you.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

And so it was that on the 25th day of the 6th month, 20 days after her 25th birthday, Sir Tessa found her first grey hair.

Nay, let it not be grey. Grey is such a lackluster word. Let it be silver.

The reaction, in three parts;

Proof that I am, in fact, aging.

Proof that I am, in fact, aging.

No one can see it anyway.

You realise now that once I grow a few more, I'll have to grow my hair long again, so I can swan around like Sephiroth.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Where ever I may roam

I arrive in Seattle 6pm on the 29th of July. I'll be sick. I'll spend that first night crawling between bed and toilet, and generally feeling miserable. My tour leaves Seattle at 7am on the 1st of August, so I have Sunday and Monday in which to roam about Seattle and do touristy things.

At this point, all I've decided on doing is the underground tour, which will only take a couple of hours. Any suggestions of stuff to do, preferrably in the inner city, will be much appreciated.

Even more appreciated would be recommendations of comic/book stores.

I get into Los Angeles the evening of the 21st of August, and Worldcon starts on the 23rd, so I have the 22nd, a Tuesday, in which to do touristy things in LA. I'm staying in a hostel on Melrose Ave, in West Hollywood, so anything in that area, or close to public transport, preferred. I don't have any real desire to see Disneyland.

And again, recommend comic/book stores. Please.

I figured I'd take the train from the hostel to the con hotel, as there's a line that runs straight to Anaheim. If trains are for some reason supremely dangerous, however, let me know. (Bare in mind I catch the train alone at midnight 50% of my work shifts.) (For that matter, if anyone can take a stab at how much it will cost to take a taxi from, say, LAX to West Hollywood, let me know.)

Jaime, Nadine, we still have to find a place to stay on Sunday night.

I'm serious about the comic/book shops. I want to spend half my money on books.

It's a month away. Argh.

I've managed to narrow myself down to taking only three books with me to maybe get signed. There's no way I'm carrying a Tad book around, so I'll just have to buy something there for him. Say, Otherland in hardcover. Phwoar. I wish. But Simon R. Green (I've had and reread Blue Moon Rising since primary school), Tim Powers and Naomi Novik, know. They're not big books.

(I've bought my membership to Nippon 2007, and if you're planning on going, just keep in mind the price goes up at the end of the month, and it's already pretty expensive.)


Currently listening to: Three blank characters, by three blank characters. I really need to get around to installing the asian character fonts on my system. Regardless, it's Chinese rap, and cracks me up.

Monday, June 12, 2006


(ZZZ hunting. Skip as necessary.)

The dream started normally. I was some wizard scubadiver from a wooden submarine, and we were trying to lose a large galleon that was chasing us. I don't know what I was supposed to achieve, except that everytime I looked at the hull of the ship, some sort of illusion was flung up, and it turned into a giant fish with very big teeth, which is a rather alarm thing for a diver to see. But I foiled the illusion, and floundered my way back into our submarine with my three, er, companions. Party members would be accurate. It was very much a role-playing party feel.

As my party flounded out of the waterlock (like an airlock, only not), the captain, or someone of authority, came to greet us. My companions froze, and the captain proceeded to tear apart everything I thought my life was. My friends were actually figments of my imagination, people from my childhood who'd died, and whom I had kept alive by projecting them into the world, thus they became demons of sort. This was a terrible shock, but still pretty standard dream fare.

And then....wham. All of a sudden, I was enlightened. Although I had, and still have, no idea what terrible thing it was I'd actually done, I had done a terrible thing, and realisation of it floored me. I lay on the concrete beside a pool with the autumn leaves blowing around me, and I couldn't move I was so stunned. With this, came an entirely out of the blue piece of enlightenment.

Rebirth, for those who do,
Darkness, for those who don't.

The meaning of which was the opposite of Buddhism. It meant that you only ever had one chance to get your life right. If you did, you would be reincarnated. If not, then nothing.

For some reason, knowing this was killing me. And as I lay there, dying, I couldn't figure out if I was glad that I wouldn't have to go through reincarnation, and another life, or grieving that I'd failed, and that everything I was would end utterly.

The whole thing was very startling, what with enlightenment and death (which is what happens to other people in my draems), so I woke up feeling unsettled.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Hair In The Now Frontier


:: Short hair merely means irritating in new and unexpected ways.

:: The general reaction at work is wide eyes, grab the back of my head, and cry "Oh my god your beautiful hair!" And then a very quick "But it looks good." The addon is making me paranoid, and I'm starting to think it looks shyte.


Further Adventures With Dot Points

:: Racoons are cute and heartbreaking.

:: I had a week off. I was so relaxed. Two days of typing for 8 hours and my shoulders are killing me. It alarms me that I've been walking around with muscles this stiff and sore and thinking it natural.

:: It's really cold.

:: Amazon, if I specify 'few shipments as possible', I do NOT mean ship them one at a time. Within 40 minutes of each other. I have to pay for every single one of those transactions, plus the exchange rate conversion fee. Bad Amazon, bad.


:: All you kids going to Conflux, remember to always use protection. All you kids running Conflux, remember to always use protection. And lube. You'll need plenty of that for things to flow smoothly.

:: Don't look at me like that.

:: It's really cold.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Hair, or Hair Not

I was going to hold of with the pikchurs, as I've already run down the batteries on my camera, and it's too cold for me to seriously consider walking outside to buy some more. You'll have to be content with shonky webcam pikchurs instead.


I didn't realise my hair was that long till I saw this photo. I mean, wow. That's a lot of hair. What are you supposed to do with a mop like that? Do monster impressions on request -

- or strangle myself -

- the possibilities aren't endless.


I have emo hair! Or anime hair. And every now and then, I look like a boy (if you ignore those things on my chest).

Things I've learned:

:: I have a back of the neck? I do? I do!

:: Damn it's cold in here. That's what having a back of the neck and not having your own personal hanging blanket does.

:: You can't towel dry your hair, that's just dum- OMG I CAN TOWEL DRY MY HAIR.

:: I turn my head, and I can't feel it in my scalp. My hair isn't moving.

:: 25 years my hair has dictated my movements. The way I put clothes on, the way I sit down, lie, roll over - all these things I do in a certain way to work around my hair. Now I don't have to. Which doesn't stop me reaching around to pull half a metre of hair out of my jumper when I first put it on.

:: Short hair won't stay tucked behind your ears. Dammit.

:: I have too much brush now.

:: Hairdressing salons are strange places. An entire world I've never walked in. I felt like an alien, and sitting in the waiting room weireded me out more than the snip of scissors.

:: My head weighs a quarter of what I thought it did.

:: Product? Oh you're kidding me...

In my head, it was a really big deal. I had short hair when I was born. There are photos of me as a child with shortish hair, only because I hadn't yet been alive long enough for it to grow. 25 year of long hair. No, my whole memory of long hair. No one has ever seen me with short hair aside from my parents. As much as we try not to make our identities physical, I was my hair. People who haven't seen me since primary school recognise me because I haven't changed. Ever.

But when she cut it, and cut and cut and cut it, it wasn't a big deal. I stepped outside, and it really truely was not a big deal. It just felt strange.

So, there you go. I didn't die after all.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Tessa New Year

And lo! It was the Fifth Day of the Sixth month of the Twenty-Fifth Year Of Tessa. Twenty-five years of Tessa On Earth. What a waste of air. Every birthday I reach, I'm suprised I'm still here, moving around, making strange noises. It feels like a triumph, but over who or what, I don't know.

Still, quarter century. Go me.

I spent some time pondering on how to mark this occasion. Chinese New Year involves lion dances (which would be cool, but I have no lions), fireworks (I have no fireworks), red pockets (I have no red pockets), food (hell yes!) and a lot of noise.

Australian New Year seems to involve fireworks (I have no fireworks), barbeques (IT IS SERIOUSLY FUCKING COLD RIGHT NOW), getting utterly smashed and throwing up in the street (I do have some dignity), and lots of noise.

But hey, I like doing things my way, and so to sing in the new year, I indulged in a fair amount of self-mutilation;

I, uh, cut my hair.

Happy New Year.

(I may not have red pockets, but I can give you all this: Drop - by Cornelius. It makes me happy in a playing in the bath sort of way. If you like, JB hi fi are selling the album for $14.)

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Monkey - Wu Ch'eng-en, translated by Arthur Waley

This translation was first published in 1942, and this particular reprint in 1979. You can see proof of its age by looking at the colour difference between the spine and the cover. Ah, the poor thing, it's faded despite being kept well out of the sun. The recommended retail price on the back is $4.95AUS. I wish.

After finishing Shadows Bite I'd run out of vampire books, so had to turn to the supernatural in general, still seeking out books that wouldn't in any way tempt me to alter my current writing world. I remember just staring at my bookshelves, when I should have left for work a couple of minutes prior, seeing this, and just grabbed it and running. I've been meaning to read it since I was a child. People of my generation talk about growing up on Transformers, Voltron, He-man and She-ra, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - I remember them all, but what I adored was the Monkey series that was on ABC after school. Monkey could have kicked all those wannabe cartoons easily (and then be told off about it).

For those of you who aren't familiar with the story (you're not?) Tripitaka is a priest on a mission from Go- Buddha to fetch the holy scriptures from Thunderclap temple in India, and save all the lost souls in China. To aid him in his incredibly long journey, he has King Monkey, Great Sage, Equal of Heaven, Pigsy, Ex-Grand Marshal of all the Heavenly Hosts, and Sandy, Ex-Supreme Commander of the Heavenly Hosts. While the three of them possess all sorts of magical abilities, Kuan-yin, the Compassionate Bodhisattva, couldn't have picked less suitable dweebs. Along the way, they're beset by all sorts of demons and monsters, and Tripitaka has is work cut out for him making good buddhists of his disciples.

Unfortunatly, the first thing I discovered upon reading the introduction was that this particular version was not a complete translation - the entire of Journey to the West is some hundreds of chapters long, whereas this is much abbrieviated, being a mere thirty chapters. Oh well.

I read it anyway, and the cheekiness I thought was a modernisation designed to pander to a current TV audience turned out to be taken straight from the original story. Oh my goodness. All folktales need to be like this. It's so rude and immature, no wonder I loved/love it.

(On second thoughts, most folktales are gruesome and cleaned up for a modern audience. But gruesome is an entirely different kettle of fish to immature/cheeky/mischievious/omigod did he just DO that?)

For example, at one point Tripitaka and his disciples come to the kingdom of Crow-cock, which has come under the sway of three spirits, who in turn have outlawed Buddhism and raised Taoism high. In the middle of the night, Monkey, Sandy and Pigsy decide to sneak into the Taoist temple. They stick the portraits of the Taoist Trinity in the toilet, eat all the offerings, and when the Taoist monks come to investigate all the noise, pose as the Taoist Trinity come to earth. The three spirits see this visitation as a prime opportunity to ask Lao Tzu for some of his life elixr. The disciples decide to oblige them, and on sending them out of the room, piss in three jugs, and hand that over. At which point I was just about in tears laughing, because that wasn't the first time urine featured in the story.

The greater part of this translation concerns itself with Monkey running amok in Heaven. Heaven being something of a great celestial bureaucracy, is in no means prepared to deal with the Great Sage, Equal of Heaven, and falls apart much as bureaucracies do. The Jade Emperor's complete lack of leadership made me giggle, and their inability to do anything other than send more people to fight and lose to Monkey made me giggle more.

Interestingly, while it is evident what unwholesome qualities both Monkey and Pigsy are supposed to depicte, I'm never quite sure what the go with Sandy is. Neither, it turns out, was Waley. The TV series made him something of a wannabe-intellect, a know-it-all who doesn't, but the others are guilty of the same often enough.

(I did love Tripitaka in the book. Every time they come to a river, or mountain, or something that might be difficult to cross, he bursts in to tears and gives up all hope there and then.)

Reading this, combined with an impending nightshift, led me to go out and buy the complete Monkey series on DVD.

Alas, while there was no feeding pee to Taoists, it stands the test of time, and my god, is possibly the greatest TV series EVAH. It has a mad genius that allows for Buddhist teachings among non-stop bickering between the three.

Now I need to get myself a copy of the full translation of Journey to the West, as the transition between Cheeky Monkey to Enlightened Monkey is far too fast in thirty chapters.

Verdict: Great, great fun, terribly amusing. You'd have to have a pretty unfit sense of humour not to enjoy this, and even if you did, there's still a lot to learn about both Chinese culture and history.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Shadows Bite - Stephen Dedman

Now, if I'd know this was the sequel to The Art of Arrow Cutting I would have held off reading it. But I'd run out of junk books, and was still on a vampire kick, and the blurb just rocked, so my reasons not to read it weren't particularly pressing.

Still, it was a stupid thing to do. One day, I will not just know, but understand, that vampires scare the willies out of me, and so NOT start a vampire book in the middle of the night. I got the willies in the first chapter, and got them bad. I slept with the light on.

The basic plot is; a powerful sorceror's son goes and falls for a girl who really wants to be a vampire, becomes one, is kept around because powerful sorceror likes to indulge his son, and because vampires run amok, the vampire runs amok. Los Angeles suffers for it. An attorney, stuntman and photographer who are totally badarse find it up to them to save the day. It's incredibly fun.

Dedman's characters are fully fleshed and potty-mouthed (just how I like them), sad and hopeless and pathetic, and megalomanic and world-domineering, and even those housemates who only flittered briefly through the paragraphs were fascinating creatures all on their own. Everyone is the star of their own movie, and Dedman makes this true.

I was particularly taken with his vampire lore, and the many different types of vampires available. In this particular case, the vampire can feed by drinking her own blood, which in turn takes blood from those she shares blood with, like her parents, or anyone she'd had a transfusion from. It enabled her to kill and create without even going near her family, and came with all sorts of horrible implications that made it worse than just another vampire story. How many of you know who your blood came from? The other side of the country? Eeeee, and so it just spreads and spreads.

Unfortunately, while the whole book was great fun and more than well written, it never quite lived up to those first few chapters detailing The Photo. That photo was creepy as fuck, and I never recovered from it. Creepiness of that magnitude is hard to follow up with, and when it came down to shotguns in a cafe, the creepiness was sadly irrelevant.

(I still believe shotguns are purely for zombies.)

I'm going to have to hunt out the first book now. Drat.

Verdict: Yah, I know these aren't great write ups, but I'm reading faster than I'm noting, so I need them done. This book is great fun, a fantastic oddball take on a vampire story, and fantabulously written.
Boogiepop and Others - by Kouhei Kadono, translated by Andrew Cunningham

It's a weird name, I know. Boogiepop is a secret saviour, a knight who comes to the protection of the world when such protection is required. He doesn't exist outside these circumstances; he is a split personality. In his own words, he's bubbles. He floats to the surface now and then. Hence, he's a boogie...pop. Like soda.

It's a weird name.

In this particular case, he floats the the surface of Touka Miyashita, a highschool girl, who does not and never will know of Boogiepop's existance, and all the time she looses to him. As if adolescance isn't hard enough.

I first encountered this in anime form. We were sending the DVDs back to head office in an overstock recall, and I thought 'why not?' and grabbed them. Good call on my part. While the production was lackluster, the storytelling was incredible. Each episode was from the point of view of a different character, detailing an incident that was important to them. Some of the episodes overlapped, and some just passed each other by, so that three episodes later I finally understood what the two seconds of random stranger screaming on a corner actually meant. The story was a jigsaw puzzle to piece together for yourself, and by the end, I had the larger picture. Most of it, anyway. It was different, and challenging, and my god I loved it.

I've been waiting for the novels to be translated ever since then, because there were points I wasn't sure about that I wanted clarified, so I ate this book as soon as I saw it. (And also because I was still on a junk book kick.)

The anime, as it turns out, was following the same storytelling method as the book - each chapter is from a different character's point of view, and not necessarily following them through the same time period. Again, this was occasionally confusing, but the challenge of teasing out the chronology of the narrative was intriguing. It didn't turn me off, it made me work harder.

The writing style/translation was plain and simple, neither a work of art or something to be mocked. Although I would like to state that 'gotten' is not a word. Dammit. Unfortunately, for a book in which there are several POVs, and each of them key, there was no discernable difference in voice between them, something which felt like an enormous wasted opportunity.

One day, I will figure out why japanese school kids are forced to save the world so much.

Did I get the rest of the larger picture? Yes, and no. Turns out, this is one of many novels.

Verdict: Although it isn't the greatest of art works, it will offer any writer an interesting study on storytelling, and what you can get away with not saying. For everyone else, well, you probably already know if anime/manga type works are your thing.
Oh. My. God.