Archive for February, 2008

As previously noted (a long time ago, it seems), C J Cherryh (not to be confused with C J Cregg) is a favourite author of one of my favourite authors (Stephen Donaldson) – and this simple fact is one main reason I bought this book (in Mumbai). And I’m glad I did.

The novel is written with a sort of feminine grace that treads a fine line between readability and poetry and archaism (that would be a Y-shape rather than a line, then). The story concerns a young man called into existence by an aging wizard for some undefined purpose. Tristen, as this ‘Shaping’ is named, is a mystery as much to himself as to those he encounters later on. The characters’ efforts to pick away at this mystery form the major part of the plot.

The land Tristen discovers consists of villages and superstition, nobility and royalty, religious sects and intolerance. For fantasy it’s a pretty standard quasi-mediaeval English kind of world – except it’s well-drawn and understated (by virtue of there being very little magic around). It’s also more Welsh than English, with names like Cefwyn and Ynefel.

In some ways, the writing reminded me of Frank Herbert: the characters are constantly analysing what’s going on and their thoughts often have that ‘wheels within wheels within wheels’ quality. The book’s main fault is that it has too much of this. Pages are spent on these deliberations – and are then recapitulated when the protagonists learn something new.

Still, this is one of the better fantasies I’ve read, and I want to read more by this author.

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I is LOLing

Enter the ICHC online Poker Cats Contest!

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All time top ten

No, not a list of my favourite songs or books or what have you. WordPress, wonderful website that it is, has just added a new option to the Dashboard. On your stats page you can now look at complete listings of post hits and referrers. What follows is a list of my top ten most viewed posts. The number one post isn’t much of a surprise – I’ve seen lots of activity on it over the months – but it is kind of odd that it should be so popular. It’s nice to see posts about Stephen Donaldson getting visited.

There are 10 types of people in this world: those who understand binary and those who don’t. – 696 views

Sit on my face and tell me that you love me – 456 views

‘Aubade’ by Philip Larkin – 319 views

Review of Fatal Revenant by Stephen Donaldson – 295 views

‘The Sun Rising’ by John Donne – 250 views

Then it comes to be that the soothing light at the end of your tunnel is just a freight train coming your way. – 237 views

‘Aren’t you a little fat for a stormtrooper?’ ‘Well stay here and rot, you stuck-up bitch.’ – 146 views

Review of In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – 130 views

About – 127 views

Stephen (R) Donaldson (in Bristol) – 121 views

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Probable Metropolis

I have a ‘My Mini City’. It’s called Probable Metropolis. If you visit its homepage it gets an additional peep – so please do.

This is the simplest game I’ve come across on the web. All you’re required to do is type in a name for your city to create it and then get people to visit to increase your population, and later your industry, transport system etc. I have a feeling it may turn out to too simple for my taste, but I’m going to give it a go.

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Forever delayed

In the last couple of days I’ve learnt two annoying and disheartening facts.

Annoying and disheartening fact number one: Although the Hollywood writers’ strike has now ended, the somewhat silly but utterly fantastic 24 will not return until January 2009. Damn it!

When the strike began in November, eight episodes had been filmed, so it wouldn’t take all that long to finish the season and it could easily be broadcast from about now until June or July. The thing is, revenue from TV adverts drops off during the summer months, so Fox obviously wants to make as much money out of its broadcasting as possible. I don’t, then, see why it shouldn’t come out in the autumn, but next year is the date that’s been set. I wonder if all this affects the possibility of a 24 movie being made in the near future.

Annoying and disheartening fact numer two: Metallica’s next album (still untitled, as far as I know), having been due out this month for some time, has also been pushed back – briefly to April, but now to September. Double damn it!

Metallica put out records so infrequently it’s easy to lump them together with all the other classic bands of the past who are no longer making music (or music of any importance). Even more annoyingly, the forthcoming record could be incredibly good. There are many omens that this could be another ‘Black Album’ (I can’t italicise that because it’s not a real title): they have a new producer, just as they did for Metallica (the ‘Black Album”s real name), they’re taking a long time to record it, just as they did for Metallica, they’ve previously made an ultra-aggressive, flawed, ‘transitional’ record, just as they had before Metallica, they have a new band member who should, by now, be thoroughly settled in, just as they had for Metallica.

Now that I come to think of it, George R R Martin put a message on his web site recently, saying that A Dance with Dragons still wasn’t finished and he didn’t know when it would be.

Which all goes to show that writers of any ilk are a bunch of slackers and shouldn’t be trusted as far as you can throw them. I mean, just look at me.

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The plying of the mouth

When I eventually got in touch with Alex (he rang me twice while I was downstairs in the hostel kitchen having a free cup of tea – my phone was in the pocket of my coat, hanging on the corner post of my bunk bed) we agreed to meet at six on Thursday. At that time it was 11:30 in the morning, so I went to take some photos of whatever photographable things Plymouth might possess.

Globe Backpackers Hostel turns out to be very close to the sea – or at least to the bay. The weather was bright and blue and asterisking cold – a cold aggravated by the vigorous breeze – which aggravation was further aggravationalised by me standing on top of a cliff much of the time.

I wandered up and down (literally) in the vicinity of the lighthouse taking snaps of the various things I for some reason find interesting – close-ups of stone and pebbles and seaweed, panoramic series of photos for stitching together. The seafront is strangely complicated. There are numerous paths leading up and down the cliffs – some take you right to the water’s edge, others to viewing platforms, restaurants, swimming pools and various combinations thereof. I meant to spend longer and explore more places – but the cold was annoying me, so I went in search of food and hot, leaf-based beverages.

Over the course of the afternoon I finished reading Fortress in the Eye of Time – and then it was just about time to go and meet Alex.

We went to a public house for a while, then he took me back to his place (ooh – romantic), which is in an area apparently full of students, take-aways and violence, and is named Mutley. Just up the road from Dastardly. Alex lives with three other students on the same or similar courses to him (ecological something-or-other). They all seem very young, whereas Alex is about the same age as I was when I went to university five years ago.

We played Magic, listened to music, talked; Alex plied me with half a bottle of Scotch cunningly hidden in a couple of pints of cola. By three AM we were tired and inebriated. I slept on the floor of the living area (it’s custom-made student accommodation). I was also copiously sick in Alex’s bathroom sink (the bedrooms are en suite).

At around nine in the morning I got up, cleaned the aforementioned basin of vomit and left for my hostel – mainly to get more sleep. I was feeling OK, but a little wobbly – in the sense of still being very slightly drunk. By early afternoon the hangover kicked in.

When next we met I was feeling neuralgic, bilious and whatever fancy word describes being marginally light-headed. We went to see Jumper – for a ridiculously cheap £2.75 each – and we both quite enjoyed it. Then it was back to Alex’s for more Magic, music, and a bit of World of Warcraft and Halo 3.

I declined all further offers of alcoholic beverages, and by midnight I was feeling much better. We ordered a pair of huge pizzas, and failed to consume more than half of them. They were two for the price of one, so it wasn’t too much of a waste – and they were no doubt finished off by hungry students.

Notwithstanding the hangover on Friday, it was a pleasant two or three days. At this point, Alex is quite possibly my joint oldest friend, so it’s quite important to me to keep in touch with him (which he doesn’t make easy by not e-mailing; our friendship has been officially cemented and condoned by Facebook, however). He mentioned the possibility of working with gorillas for his work experience next year – so just possibly our next meeting might be in Africa. Or somewhere. Or something.

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Almost everything passed off exactly as planned today: I got to the coach station in Manchester in plenty of time, the journey down went smoothly, and, while I wasn’t sure which direction to go from Plymouth bus station at first, I made it to the hostel in reasonably short order. My credit card worked when I used it to pay for my bed (my bank ought to believe I’m still in India – as I haven’t told them I’ve returned – but this is the third time I’ve used my card since returning to the UK).

Then I phoned my friend – and got no answer – and left a message – and texted him – and phoned two further times – and still haven’t heard anything. He’s probably left his phone somewhere, or it’s in his bag and he can’t hear it, or the battery’s flat. Muppet.

I spent a couple of hours wandering around the dark streets of Plymouth (I arrived at dusk). It seems fairly pleasant, although typically (for this country) dead at this time of day. (This isn’t the first time I’ve been here, but it’s the first time I’ve taken the time to look around. The first and only other time I was in this city was when I attended a Liberal Democrats Youth and Student Spring Conference, while I was at university. The conference wasn’t that interesting. As I had no particular opinion on most of the matters being discussed, I abstained from all the votes until the very end, when there was a proposal to raise the membership fee. The debate was quite heated. You can’t run an organisation without funds, and the proposed fees were pretty modest, so I decided to vote in favour. The motion passed by one vote.)

Hopefully tomorrow will be a little more successful on the friend-meeting front.


Now that it’s tomorrow, I have managed to speak to Alex. His phone was charging. And he forgot I was coming. Excuse me while I roll my eyes.

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Sick Sunday

I was sick three times yesterday. I’m not really sure why. I stayed in bed until mid-afternoon, which left me with a headache, but not such a bad headache that it would make me nauseous. Each bout of vomiting came on very quickly. The second time, having left the toilet lid down from the previous occasion, I didn’t quite have time to raise the lid before my mouthful of vomit was ejected from me by further spasmings of my oesophagus. Consisting mainly of tea with a few remains of muesli and cheese from a sandwich I’d had the previous night, it was very liquid vomit – you can probably image the resulting mess (not that you’d want to).

I feel better today (not that I actually felt that bad yesterday), if a little fragile. I’m going to Plymouth on Wednesday to see my friend from Bath, Alex. The coach trip will take about nine hours and I’m coming back up on Saturday, so that gives us two full days and an evening to hang out – although Alex has classes as well. It was his birthday recently, and I’ve just bought him the first book in one of my favourite fantasy series – Gardens of the Moon, volume one of The Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson.

I also just bought four Nickelback albums from HMV for £20 – which I regard as quite a good deal.

Life has been pretty boring recently – mainly because I’ve been very lazy. I started looking at Korea information again, and have found that Korean Immigration has instituted new rules for people going over to teach English on an E-2 visa. Part of this requires you to get a criminal background check from your country’s authorities.

I once had a Criminal Records Bureau check when I started working at a couple of youth and community centres in Bath. Only organisations can initiate CRB checks, though, so Britons, it appears, have to make a request for access to their local police under Freedom of Information regulations. Which costs a tenner. I have the form printed off, the problem now is making a list of all the places I’ve lived in the last ten years. I have the addresses, but I’m not too sure about the dates.

In addition, once in Korea you have to undergo a medical check, mainly, it seems, to root out drug-users and people with HIV/AIDS. There’s also something about an interview at your nearest Korean consulate; I think I read that that only applies to people going to Korea for the first time. There may be further hurdles, like having apostilled documents (meaning, effectively, that the notarisation is itself notarised). Sounds like lots of fun.

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