Archive for May, 2007

Exchange rate watch

1 GBP = 1,839.5 KRW
1 GBP = 1.4694 EUR
1 GBP = 1.9907 USD

2,000,000 KRW = 1,087.2486 GBP

Bonus Random Exchange Rate

1 GBP = 3.9649 Tongan pa’anga (TOP)

Source: Yahoo! Finance.

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It feels like an awfully long time since I read a Banks book, so my anticipation of his latest novel was duly heightened. I always prefer his science fiction work, though, and this is one of his ‘literary’ novels. I enjoyed it, nevertheless.

My main impression of the book is that it is perhaps his most mature work. It follows the usual Banks non-sf formula of presenting a character and situation and following that character through a period of his or her life, with everything that’s going on coming to a head in the last two or three chapters. But this time there is more of a sense of plot right from the beginning. Alban is a scion of a large Scotland-based family, whose late Victorian ancestor was the creator of a world-famous board game, Empire! (something like Risk, I imagine). The American company that already owns a quarter of the family firm now wants to buy them out completely. Alban is reluctantly pressed into leading the charge against the takeover.

He’s reluctant because he isn’t a fan of his extended family. I’d say nearly half the book is spent in flashback – we learn a lot about Alban’s early life, especially his relationship with his cousin Sophie. One of the things Banks does – as ever – is capture the feeling of family relations, the minutiae and the ambivalences. The very-nearly-octagenarian matriarch of the clan is pretty much an evil old cow who plays a major part in Alban’s dislike of his family, but she’s still portrayed in an even-handed way.

The story does indeed come to a climax in the last two or three chapters (the chapters are all pretty long, actually – there’s only ten in the near-400 page book, and the last of them is very short). The denouement is pretty Banksian, in terms of its turning the whole novel on its head, but I felt it wasn’t quite as effective – or maybe just not as interesting, or original – as it might have been. There is also a typical use of different points of view – Alban’s sections are third person, past tense; his cousin Fielding’s are third person, present tense; and – somewhat bizarrely – there’s a minor character who’s story is told in first person, present tense, complete with deliberate typos to reflect his education/class: ‘My names Tango’.

The main flaw I found with the novel was that towards the end, as the prospect of the American takeover come closer, Alban, both in his inner monologue and his conversations with others, tends to rant about US imperialism and Iraq and suchlike. This felt to me very much like Iain Banks speaking through his character (his views are no secret – I’ve read his fractionally autobiographical travelogue/drinkologue Raw Spirit and seen him on Question Time); more importantly, it was redundant and fairly tedious.

Personally, I think you’d have to have a mind of stone not to enjoy this book: it’s readable and well-written, it has a decent, if understated, plot, and, while it may not have the verve of his earlier stuff, it’s a very solidly crafted novel. Best of all, his next’ll be sf.

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Random stuff

Got about 12 hours’ sleep last night – which I needed after the previous night’s marathon International Day preparations. Today I did the usual stuff in the morning – did my exercises, which I’ve let slip for a couple of days. My physique is recovering pretty quickly, actually – must be the steroids.

Unfortunately, my skin has deteriorated. During my illness I had virtually no acne, by virtue of not consuming much in the way of fat (or much in the way of food, for that matter). Now I’m eating more – and my skin has erupted in spots – probably more than I’ve had since being in Korea. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been eating at McDonalds more than I had usually done previously, so I’m cutting down on that. So convenient, comfortable and tasty, though. Plus, I recently tried one of their Shanghai Spice Chickenburgers, and found it to be good.

As I mentioned on a previous post I’ve bought books recently. In addition to the three I talked about, I also bought – on a couple of visits to Libro Books at the Euljiro Shopping Centre in Seoul – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and The Half-blood Prince, and a science book I think is simply called Big Bang, which is pretty self-explanatory.

Other things on my plate include Aegis, the on-line game I play. My kingdom, in fact our entire empire was hit hard a few days ago. Another empire has taken it upon themselves to attack everyone else and reduce each province’s networth to less than 30 million. I was at 150m+ and was taken down to about 28m. The king of my kingdom was reduced from 300m to a similar figure. Now we intend to rebuild and retaliate in a month’s time.

Another game I’ve started playing in the last month or so is Travian. It’s a little simpler than Aegis and has a nice graphical interface, reminiscent of Settlers. I’ve had repeated attacks from a nearby village. The player has realised that I don’t have much of a defence and any unhidden resources I have can be his for the taking. I sent him a message saying merely ‘I’m not a fucking farm.’ He immediately attacked again, gaining nothing but the deaths of my few soldiers.

Now that International Day is over I can start thinking a bit more about my on-line RPG, as well. (Not that I really spent that much time on the International Day stuff up until the final evening.)

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