Thursday, August 31, 2006

Zizek and the Impossible Middle East Resolution

Here is an interesting article by Slavoj Zizek (yes the same Zizek that lies shirtless in a bed, seen in the youtube video posted below) about the Middle East conflicts. Big up to Political Theory Daily for amassing very interesting links.

"Let's be Realists, Let's Demand the Impossible!"

Veniss Underground Book Chain

All right, after almost a year of pushing anyone I know to read Veniss Underground, I have finally come to the conclusion that I am willing to send you the book, for you to read it and decide whether you like it or not.

So I'm starting a book chain (is that what it's called?), where I make a list of everyone who'd be interested in reading the novel, and send the book off to the first person, who in turn after they are finished should send it on to the next person on the list (it'll cost something like $1.10 by media mail, which I will reimburse you if you ask). Please feel free to make notes in the margins, mark the copy, and send messages to future readers, I thought this might be an interesting exercise.

I certainly would love to know what everyone thinks of this book. If it works, I may do this for others books that I feel everyone should read. I figure I'm going to add Steph and Ruthann to the list automatically, because Steph showed interest in this book. And Ruthann and I have very similar tastes in literature. And maybe Jeremy, cause you know that thing you have with meerkats. Let me know if anyone else is interested.

Go here for a good review of the story to see whether you'd be interested.

The Coming Mexican-American War

Millions of Mexicans are invading the U.S. annually, and apparently they will reclaim the Southwest. Barely containing its pre-theoretical biases (a.k.a. racism), here is a very insightful (a.k.a. laughable) opinion piece, which claims that war with Mexico is inevitable. Please note how the author's arguments rely upon just war theory (with a smidgen of alarmism, and lack of evidence), and please read the below post about Ken Macleod's blog post that addresses just war theory.

"Is War With Mexico Inevitable?"

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

On Civilised Warfare

Sometimes when reading what others write, I wonder why I blog at all. Others seem to be so articulate and alive on topics that really matter. Read Ken Macleod's discussion on the Israel/Lebanon conflict. Whether you agree with his political point of view or not, there are points in his argument that can not be easily dismissed.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Use of Weapons - Iain M. Banks

Author: Iain M. Banks
Length: 400 pages
Reading time: 1 day
Rating: 5 stars
As a child, I was often a big fan of starting a book that was part of a series because it meant the promise of months and months of reliablely good reads. I read every trilogy, saga, quartet, series that I could get my hands on at the local library.

As an adult, I tend to be suspicious of the series, mostly because the quality and originality dies quickly due to publishing pressure and often-time over indulgent authors *ahem* Robert Jordan. So it is with great pleasure with which I have finished Iain M. Banks, Use of Weapons, knowing that I am standing on the brink of possibly one of the most well-imagined, fast paced series that I have ever had the pleasure of reading.

Use of Weapons is the 3rd of a set of science-fiction novels from the Culture series. Every novel in the series works as a standalone piece, and are related insomuch that they are all stories of the Culture. It is also the best "space-opera" novel I have read since Ender's Game. Certainly Use of Weapons is the more challenging of two, having a unique story structure that may try the lazy reader's patience. However part of the impact of the story comes from such a structure, and anyone who pays attention will quickly figure out how the story evolves. Really, part of the pleasure is figuring it out for yourself.

The premise is relatively simple. The story revolves around a secret agent called Zakalwe who belongs to the Special Circumstances branch of the Culture ( a highly evolved post human society), sent in by the Culture to manipulate backwatered civilizations to what the Culture believes will be the most optimal outcome. Go here to read the back cover blurb.

Although this novel is set in the far futrue and deals with regular space opera fare; spaceships, intergallactic wars, and alien civilizations. I still hesitate to call it science fiction, since I can hear the alarm bells going off in many heads. This is not some hackneyed, formulaic story based on Star Wars. There is something here that any reader will enjoy. In fact many parts of the book read like an modern mystery/espionage novel. The difference is that the book is also incredibly thought-provoking in its entertainment, and manages to raise some excellent question about the value of intervention by a self-appointed superior society to those whom they consider inferior (a topic that has some relevancy in the world today).

At the crux of the novel, Use of Weapons is a close examination of the intricacies of war. The material is emotional, and there is a certain rawness that is exposed as the story progresses. Yet Banks is not humorless in his approach to the topic, writing moments of surprising lightness into this tense novel. While I have showered the novel with praise, I have intentionally revealed very little of the plot. The book is a much more satisfying experience, if it is read without any pre-conceived notions. The reviews online and comments on Amazon give away surprisingly more than I would hope, so be warned. I highly recommend Use of Weapons to anyone.

The book is unfortunately not available on Amazon US (go figure). However there are several mechants that sells copies here and here. I recommend book depository ltd if they have copies. They're highly reliable, and they ship incredibly fast from the UK. I got mine within a week of ordering from them.

Another resource to check is at

The cheapest prices ranges from 10-14 dollars including shipping.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Mervyn Peake's Illustrations for Alice In Wonderland

Here are some illustrations from my version of Alice in Wonderland illustrated by Mervyn Peake, more famous as the author of the classic Gormenghast Trilogy. Many see Peake's novels as a response to Tolkein's Lord of the Rings. Peake's illustrations brings a whimsical yet somewhat sinister quality to the character's in Alice. Here's the link to Amazon for this version.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The 85 blade, $1,200 Pocket Knife

Ironically, it won't fit in your pocket.

September Book - Complicity

Complicity - Iain Banks will be our book for September.

Iain Banks is a prolific Scottish writer who is better known in Europe than here in the US.

Banks published his first book, The Wasp Factory, in 1984 to both acclaim and controversy. To find out a little more about the author, follow this link from the Guardian.

The book can be bought from Amazon or any large (new/used) bookstore. For used copies, I would recommend, the best and (I believe) largest used book seller online. (I use it frequently. They're more reliable then Amazon merchants because they have an excellent enforced refund policy including return shipping, for any unsatisfactory book or books that take too long to get to you)

Welcome to the book group (we have 10 potentially 11 members)! I'm very pleased with the quality of the members of our group and am looking forward to this. Happy Reading!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

{Awkward Silence}

All I can do is shake my head and become even more resolute about not becoming like this (although the popularity wouldn't hurt). Here is a clip of Slavoj Zizek (a popular Slovenian philosopher/sociologist/cultural critic) philosophizing:

Counter Slideshow to Forbes Article

Haha, thank you for making a much better counter-argument than Forbes: Nine Reasons You Should Marry A Career Bitch. Read the post below, before you proceed.

Don't Marry A Career Woman

Forbes published this cautionary article on Monday, only to take it down due to the outcry on the net. Here's how it starts:

Guys: A word of advice. Marry pretty women or ugly ones. Short ones or tall ones. Blondes or brunettes. Just, whatever you do, don't marry a woman with a career.

Here's another jewel from the article:

If a host of studies are to be believed, marrying these women is asking for trouble. If they quit their jobs and stay home with the kids, they will be unhappy (Journal of Marriage and Family, 2003). They will be unhappy if they make more money than you do (Social Forces, 2006). You will be unhappy if they make more money than you do (Journal of Marriage and Family, 2001). You will be more likely to fall ill (American Journal of Sociology). Even your house will be dirtier (Institute for Social Research).

Fortunately their article will not go unnoticed. Read it here.

Of course discovering that they can't simply make it disappear, the people at Forbes have brought it back, with a counter-article to make the original seem a little less wrong. I guess today the people at Forbes rely on the public to edit their articles for content. Let me remind you, they tried to pull the article off the website first, and when that didn't work, then they put up the flimsy counter-argument that doesn't really address the issue.

Here's the article from Wikipedia about Michael Noer, Forbes' executive editor, and the guy who wrote the piece.

Looking at the picture of Michael Noer, the article doesn't really surprise me. Obviously this guy needs to date someone who's not too ambitious.

Obsessed bin Laden wanted to kill Whitney Houston's husband

One of the highlights of the workday doldrums is getting stuff like this from your co-workers:

Go here to read about Kola Boof's alleged account of bin Laden's obsession with Whitney Houston.

Here's a little excerpt:

He explained to me that to possess Whitney he would be willing to break his colour rule and make her one of his wives.

While there is doubt as to the credibility of Kola Boof's accounts as mistress/sex slave to bin Laden, it does make for an entertaining read.

Nominations For Book Group

*** This post has been moved back to the front page for more comments***

Here's the list of our nominations. Click on the title, for link to the book on Amazon. E-mail me if you didn't get the attachment via email with synopsis, and book covers to this list.

  1. Blind Assasin – Margaret Atwood
  2. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
  3. Atrocity Exhibition – J. G. Ballard
  4. Complicity – Iain Banks
  5. The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
  6. Ficciones - Luis Jorges Borges
  7. If on a winter's night a traveler - Italo Calvino
  8. The Devil and Mrs. Prym - Paul Coello
  9. White Noise - Don Delilo
  10. Virgin Suicides – Jeffrey Eugenides
  11. The Joke - Milan Kundera
  12. Atonement - Ian McEwan
  13. Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami
  14. Choke – Chuck Palaniuk
  15. Loitering with Intent - Muriel Sparks

The Jig Is Up

Pluto is no longer a planet. Astronomers have removed its status as a planet, and have relabeled it a Trans-Neptunian. Clyde William Tombaugh must be pissed.

The Shrinking Solar System

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Autumn Reading List

In an effort to justify the buying of new books, I have compiled the entire list of unread books I currently have in Philadelphia. I would like to get through all of them before the end of 2006.

I guess I have to average 6 books a month to be done...but I thought I'd at least make an attempt.

  1. Shriek – Jeff Vandermeer
  2. Tumbling After – Paul Witcover
  3. Viriconium – M. John Harrison
  4. The Course of the Heart – M. John Harrison
  5. Use of Weapons – Iain Banks
  6. Atonement – Ian McEwan
  7. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
  8. Collected Fictions – Borges
  9. The Confessions of Max Tivoli – Andrew Sean Greer
  10. The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen
  11. Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said – Philip K. Dick
  12. Man in the High Castle – Philip K. Dick
  13. The Game – A.S. Byatt
  14. Still Life – A.S. Byatt
  15. Babel Tower – A.S. Byatt
  16. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – David Eggers decided it wasn't worth it to finish...
  17. If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler – Italo Calvino
  18. Iron Council – China Mieville
  19. King Rat – China Mieville
  20. The Limits Of Enchantment – Graham Joyce
  21. Microserfs – Douglas Coupland
  22. Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides
  23. Naked Lunch – William Burroughs
  24. Otherwise – John Crowley
  25. Out of the Silent Planet – C.S. Lewis
  26. This is the way the world ends – James Morrow
  27. A Wild Sheep Chase – Haruki Murakami

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

On Art

If you're interested in art, drawings, painting, illustrations, comics or anything along those lines, then I would heavily recommend you visit this blog: lines and colors. One of the best blogs on art that I've seen in the past years. The illustration I have above is from an artist called Eyvind Earle. Check out the post on lines and colors about his work.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


So our movie release party for Shriek just ended. It turned out successful, and as a result of our activities we are beat and tipsy. More deets tomorrow, when my eyelids don't feel so heavy.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Stories About Being Haunted

For three excellent horror/ghost stories with a psychological bent and a certain amount of ambiguity, I would recommend:

  1. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
  2. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  3. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
All three are classics that can be rewarding when studied closely (sometimes with the help of a little research online). They're also great for discussion.

I believe The Turn of The Screw (novella) and The Yellow Wallpaper (short story) can by downloaded online for free. I will try to get links posted sometime this weekend.

Literary works mentioned in Lost

Being a big Lost fan and believing that one gets more out of the show, when one is really paying attention, I thought I would provide the link for literary references made in Lost. The link comes from Lostpedia, an excellent resource for the Lost-obsessed.

Nominations Closed

To my book group, as you all know, nominations are closed. Please send me your top 3 choices via e-mail or as a comment to this post.

To those who stop by my blog once in a while. I've started a monthly bookgroup with the goal of reading some of the books in the 1001 books that you must read before your die list. We will be having a review and discussion session here on the books we read every first weekend of the month, starting in October.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Secrets of Lost...

I am about to begin reading Mysterious Island by Jules Verne, because I stumbled across a blog that alleges that the secrets of Lost (the tv show) will be revealed to those who read the book. So I thought, why not? I'll report back in a couple of days.

Recommendation for I Capture the Castle

I would recommend I Capture the Castle to almost anyone as an entertaining, and sometimes touching account of life in a crumbling castle in England. Written by Dodie Smith, probably most famous as the author of 101 Dalmatians, I Capture the Castle takes a memorable look into the life of Cassandra and her bohemian family, and their destitute lives in a run-down castle.

While this can be seen as coming-of-age novel, it veers far from being cliched, and is truly entertaining. Cassandra is a lovable heroine and more three-dimensional and thoughtful than many female characters portrayed by writers. I recommend you read this story for the characters, and for the moments that it brings.

For someone who is not very visual, I found that every time I picked up this book, I could instantly envision spring in England, near the castle. It's a lovely way to spend an afternoon, and while it is not a book for children, I can see a my younger self being captured by this book.

Friday, August 11, 2006

American Nativism

Don't have time to write about this article yet but here's the link so you can form your own opinion before I do:

American Nativism

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Waste of Money

They're charging you $2,380 for this womb chair, and $697 for the footstool. This is funny to me because we had this exact chair in our dorms in college... in fact the picture looks like it was taken at our dorms.

World Fantasy Award nominees

The World Fantasy Award Finalists list is out! And I have to say the nominees for best novel look infinitely more promising than the disastrous Hugo list for this year *ahem* Accelerando?? I felt like I was reading the author's mental vomit on speed. Anyways here's part of the list, stolen from Vanderworld.

Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami (Harvill; Knopf)
The Limits of Enchantment, Graham Joyce (Gollancz; Atria)
Lunar Park, Bret Easton Ellis (Knopf; Macmillan)
Od Magic, Patricia A. McKillip (Ace)
A Princess of Roumania, Paul Park (Tor)
Vellum, Hal Duncan (Macmillan; Del Rey)

Another War, Simon Morden (Telos Publishing)
"The Imago Sequence", Laird Barron (F&SF May 2005)
"In the Machine", Michael Cunningham (Speciman Days, Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
"Magic for Beginners", Kelly Link (Magic for Beginners, Small Beer Press; F&SF Sep 2005)
"UOUS", Tanith Lee (The Fair Folk, SFBC)
Voluntary Committal, Joe Hill (Subterranean Press)

"Best New Horror", Joe Hill (Postscripts #3, Spr 2005)
"CommComm", George Saunders (The New Yorker 1 Aug 2005)
"The Other Grace", Holly Phillips (In the Palace of Repose, Prime Books)
"La Peau Verte", Caitlin R. Kiernan (To Charles Fort, With Love, Subterranean Press)
"Two Hearts", Peter S. Beagle (F&SF Oct/Nov 2005)

Adventure Vol. 1, Chris Roberson, ed. (MonkeyBrain Books)
The Fair Folk, Marvin Kaye, ed. (SFBC)
Nova Scotia: New Scottish Speculative Fiction, Neil Williamson & Andrew J. Wilson, eds. (Crescent Books)
Polyphony 5, Deborah Layne & Jay Lake, eds. (Wheatland Press)
Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth, Stephen Jones, ed. (Fedogan & Bremer)

20th Century Ghosts, Joe Hill (PS Publishing)
In the Palace of Repose, Holly Phillips (Prime Books)
The Keyhole Opera, Bruce Holland Rogers (Wheatland Press)
Magic for Beginners, Kelly Link (Small Beer Press)
To Charles Fort, with Love, Caitlin R. Kiernan (Subterranean Press)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The evils of genre labeling fiction

After being annoyed by countless discussions online on what genre one book or another belongs to. I decided to address the issue. I thought I'd post it here.

I am a fan of both what we call literary fiction, and science fiction. And as someone who reads many literary works in both categories, it disturbs me how much emphasis we place on categorizing fiction. What does it matter except to limit someone who doesnt like one category or the other from reading sometimes excellent works?

Many times the genre is no more descriptive of a work, than the cover itself. While I can see why someone might debate whether Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go is literary fiction or science fiction; there needs to a recognition that sometimes a book can be both literary and still explore themes found in science fiction. Look at George Orwell's 1984 or Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale or M. John Harrison's Things That Never Happen. As someone who finds that today, genres limits what one reads or watches or listens to, I suggest that maybe we should begin to explore works for merit rather than trying to classify them so that they fit comfortably within the boundaries that we have defined.

Note: I did not address the argument that genrefication is beneficial for categorization, placement in a bookstore, or that well we need some sort of genrefication to study certain movements, or illuminate how we think about certain books aspects of the argument, because clearly some classification is needed, and has its purposes. It would be stupid to argue against all genrefication. However it seems to me, when someone in a discussion group is asking, hey is this ficiton or science fiction, all they are looking for is to be spoon fed a point of view, and a preconcieved notion of what the book is going to be about, which I do have a problem with. Please feel free to comment.

Mrs. Dalloway

Just finished Mrs. Dalloway, which I have to say, was not as bad as everyone made it out to be. Yes the stream of consciousness was hard to follow---more distracting than anything else, but the story itself is more intriguing than I was led to believe. Of course the average contemporary reader can benefit much more, if you chose to supplement your reading with notes, etc.

Although, I can not say that Mrs. Dalloway will be a personal favorite; I felt reading it was a matter of endurance rather than enjoyment, I am appreciative of the craft of Virginia Woolf in sculpting the story. I would certainly like to read more Virginia Woolf, and I can’t wait to pick up The Hours, once I get through everything else that’s on my reading list.

1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die

While messing around on, I found mention of this book: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. While the book is worth buying if you like that sort of thing, here is the actual list if you're not ready to commit.

The cover featured here is the UK edition and much more appropriate then the hideous, this is a bad, not so much written as spawned by marketers, Barnes&Noble sales rack book, that the US cover seems to aspire to. What are the marketers/designers thinking? Honestly would anyone caught thinking about purchasing such a hefty volume really appreciate the US cover? But I quibble. (Although I actually know people who are buying the book from the UK to avoid the embarassment of owing the US edition, so...)

Anyways, like any definitive list, this one got mixed reviews, however it's not a bad place to start if you're going to read some fiction. And its a LOT less stuffy than some other lists that I could mention.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Random Thought

I happened upon a bit of information that disturbed me. Did you know that publishing houses more and more resort to burning their unsold inventory rather than selling them at a large discount? To me this seems like such a waste...

The Strand

I have just come back from a trip to New York, and have found my own little piece of heaven in the city. I discovered The Strand this weekend. The jaw-dropping one stop shopping for all book lovers. They have miles and miles of books. New, remaindered, used, rare, out-of-print. It's all here. The best thing about The Strand, is the ability to browse for things that you never knew exsited, but want desperatly once you see it in the store. Of course I would recommend visiting on a weekday, since many a time, I felt I was going to be trampled, while stooped down to check out the books on the lower shelves. It was wonderful.

Handmade Ceramic Grass for $115

I have to say, I kind of want this. Of course for $115 dollars, I could also buy enough real turf for a nice little sitting area in my office.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Discussion of Two Hearts (sequel to The Last Unicorn) by Peter S. Beagle

I finally restored this, thank goodness for David and Technorati.
The Last Unicorn has always been near and dear to my heart. I first discovered it in its animated form as a child and was touched by the magic of the story and the beauty of the music that accompanied the film. It was not until very much later, well into college, that I discovered the book itself by Peter S. Beagle. The book was as touching to me as an adult as the movie had been to me as a child.

So when I discovered that Beagle had penned a sequel (actually they’re calling it a coda, those clever marketers), Two Hearts, I was absolutely delighted. Two Hearts (nominated for a Hugo this year) is a novelette (longer than a short story, shorter than a novel) set in the universe of The Last Unicorn. It takes place many years after the original story but brings back the four main characters of The Last Unicorn. For many years Beagle had refused to write a sequel to his beloved story, believing The Last Unicorn was a stand alone novel that told everything that needed to be told of the story.

[Spoiler alert] (If you have not read the sequel, please do so before reading on. Below are links to for buying the novelette)

Before the Hugo awards are announced (at the end of August), you can find a free version of it at:

However if you want to have your own copy, there are currently two ways of obtaining one.

One is by going to: and buying the audio file of The Last Unicorn. A hardcover limited version signed by the author comes as a gift to the first 3000 customers. If you want this version, the ONLY way to get it is by buying the audio file of The Last Unicorn

The other is by going to Amazon and buying The Line Between, Peter S. Beagle's new collection of stories, Two Hearts is one of them.

After reading Two Hearts, I am not sure what to think, I do not know what I was looking for in the sequel. As Beagle claims, The Last Unicorn ended where it did because it had come to its natural and (to me) perfect conclusion.

First the things I had a problem with, I did not like that in Two Hearts, the unicorn is addressed as Amalthea (at one point Smendrick even goes so far as to claim that it is her name). Those familiar with The Last Unicorn will remember that Smendrick called the unicorn Lady Almalthea to fool King Haggart. The unicorn was ALWAYS referenced as she or the unicorn to the reader. This is not just simple quibbling on my part. I believed that Beagle kept the unicorn nameless intentionally. It separated her from her companions; a way of reminding the audience of her true nature and her inability to be one of them. Calling her Amalthea in the coda I found untrue to the original.

I also found the killing of the griffin to be a slightly disenchanting scene. The griffin felt incredibly one-dimensional--- more plot device than creature--- as the force that set the story in motion and took it to its natural end. This was surprising because Beagle has always managed to give personality and depth to his creatures. The harpy and the Red Bull of The Last Unicorn both felt more real to me than the griffin in Two Hearts.

However this is not to say that Two Hearts failed as a continuation of The Last Unicorn, Two Hearts is a beautiful story. Especially for those who have read The Last Unicorn. It was surprising how strongly I must’ve felt about the story, and of the relationships, because at the first mention of Lir and the unicorn, I teared up in a way that surprised me. After all it had been many years since I had read the original. This effect is no doubt due to the mastery of the author.

Beagle’s voice stays true to the original, and the characters are very much the same, older but in no way altered to fit a new story. While The Last Unicorn was a story distinctly written by a young man, Two Hearts is no less distinctly a work of an older man. Between its pages, Beagle manages to address his own mortality.

Perhaps this is why it startles me. The Last Unicorn, while tragic, ends on a beautifully heroic note. The hero bereft of his love, rides of into the distance. Yet there is always hope…because he determines to remember her, to honor her, and to wait for her. In Two Hearts, age has paled everything and turned the rest to dust. It is no longer only a tale of a highly romantic and honorable love; it is also a tale of a man, once young, now old. I do not think I loved Two Hearts in the same way that I loved The Last Unicorn. However, as I become older, I’m also not sure that I will not grow to love it. I think only time will give me that answer.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The sheer laziness of the American Consumer

In a world of increasingly unnecessary objects, I give you ….

the USB Beverage Chiller...because far be it for any of us to tear ourselves away from the computer, and make that long and daunting trek to the kitchen for a chilled beverage.