Friday, December 23, 2005

Book review: Iron Council

Back from Taiwan, obviously. More about the trip later I've been awful busy. But I kind of promised that I'd put up a review so here it is!

China Mieville's Iron Council: I found the prose hard to get used to at first. The initial chapters of the book, I found it rather jagged though, the descriptions were hard to understand, possibly because this was my first encounter with the universe the book is set in.

The plot itself is also very chaotic. Following multiple characters and jumping up and down the chronological order of the story makes for a story that unfolds itself at a pace strictly controlled by the author.. you only find out about developments when he wants you to. That would be fine, but the characters don't really interest me that much except the main character, the golem-maker. So that makes for pretty slow reading the rest of the way.

That having been said, the setting itself holds much promise.. New Crobuzon sounds kind of Orwellian and the blending of magic and technology seems pretty good.. I was also told that Perdido Street Station was a better title, so maybe I'll give him another chance and try out that title before I decide whether to read him again.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Crazy businessmen

Well, if crazy, at least admirable. I was speaking to a friend of mine who's about to leave his job to concentrate on his business. He had started up a company and it's doing well so he's going to concentrate on running it full time. That's not why I say crazy though, it's more that when he started up the business, instead of funding it through investors, bank loans, etc, he and his friends went for credit card and cashlines. The business was successful and they've paid off all the loans ( $50k worth!), but boy was it crazy! Still, I've got to admire that courage and self-belief!

Going to Taiwan!! Hahahaha...

Yup yup finally a short holiday out of country!! Going to enjoy and have fun!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Disgustingly stupid article

I first read Plausible Futures when I was reading up about Scenario Planning some time back. The articles seem pretty good, but today I came across this article by Marshall Brain, about his concept of a Vertebrane which will allow people to achieve immortality free of their bodies.

Reading it, I am totally, totally disgusted. He starts off with this spiel about the "great" sci-fi shows and names a few (Star Wars, Star Trek, 2001) and says that these shows and all the favourite sci-fi stories have one thing in common: people remain tied to their bodies despite the incredible advance of technology.

He then goes on to argue that people, and you, the reader, should abandon your body, because it will grow old, it will have disease, you don't have to pee anymore, and by simply installing a "Vertebrane" in your spine, you can discard your body and inhabit the virtual world, where you can have perfect vision, the perfect body, and virtual slaves for your every desire. (Yes, he talks about porn too... ) Oh yes, you can download your brain and store it too.

I mean like, WTF! It's not that I'm against the idea of immortality. It's just that he's so obviously a layman who's so taken with a single idea and wants to promote it.. ( Or worse, he's not a layman yet he can quote such bad examples.)

So let's first look at Sci-fi that suggests this kind of scenario. The Matrix, Ghost in the Shell, Isaac Asimov's Last Question, all kinds of cyberpunk including William Gibson ( this Marshall mentions Neuromancer but fails to note, for instance, that in one of the sequels to Neuromancer, the character Finn gets himself downloaded..), Sixth Day ( well, kind of..). This guys quotes sci-fi to start, but obviously he's not any kind of a sci-fi reader. It's an insult to sci-fi, that he tries to use sci-fi to convince his readers that his idea of a vertebrane is so revolutionary that wow, it's not in the "popular" sci-fi at all..

And then let's look at his extremely one-sided portrayal of the benefits of living in a virtual world. Sounds enticing? Well, remember the theme in the Matrix itself, when the traitor ( forgot his name) was comparing life in a dull real world and the polished enjoyment of the Matrix. Yes, he's saying we should all hurry up and get into the Matrix and stay there. Why should you exercise your imperfect body when you can hide in your virtual world? In fact, he goes one better than the Matrix! You can download yourself into a hard-disk and dump your body in the incinerator. Then you can live forever!

Hmm. what happens if there's a blackout? EMP from a nuclear bomb? Never mind, let's assume you can assure an umlimited uninterrupted power supply. Have you ever watched the Thirteenth Floor? There, people have created a virtual world, and the characters inside, once they realise they're living in a limited virtual world, want out. And you want in? Or have you ever read James Kelly's Think Like a Dinosaur? Like, okay, you downloaded your brain and now you're gonna incinerate the body? So, is the body brain going to willingly die now? Oh, I forgot, the body's on anaesthetic. Just kill the body, it's not murder, is it? Then again, there's this joke sci-fi story I once read, about someone who contracted for a download of his brain and then discovered that X years down the road, he had no power to affect anything when the Service Provider decided to change the Terms and Conditions.

Pardon, my instinctive revulsion at the ridiculous one-sidedness of his arguments is affecting my ability to give a coherent, well-organised response. There's just too many things wrong with the presentation of his ideas to answer! If I had to put it in two simple paragraphs with a single illustration each:

1) Perfect Virtual Body and Life is better than Real Life? Well, if you're content with a hedonistic life with Virtual Impact rather than Real Impact. How do you change the world and make it a better place? Watch Minority Report, there's a scene in the virtual bar where there's a guy who's buying a virtual experience of everyone praising him. That's the kind of wanker who might find it good.

2) A Downloaded Brain giving immortality and convenience? Well: Immortality's good, maybe. But does the soul transport? I'm not talking about a religious kind of thing. Look at Ghost in the Shell, the movie or tv series. You can tape memories, record the neurons, maybe. But does that give life? Kurosawa says it doesn't. If it does, then downloading your brain is more like reproduction: like an amoeba, except that the new half is immortal (maybe), but you yourself, you're going to die anyway. Mr Brain, when you decide to download yourself, I want to see if you yourself, in your meat body, are really willing to commit suicide.

Urban Dead

I've been playing FUMBBL a while now, on and off. It's a game that's based on Blood Bowl by Games Workshop and is really worth a try! Anyway, if ya interested in Blood Bowl, just hop in there and take a look. My coach name is zimsg, so you can see some of my games as well.

So I used to just use the place as a place to get pick-up games, but recently started reading forums as well. There's a wealth of information there, and I got interested in a regular league there. The next season starts in January, and I'll be hoping to get involved. Time's a bit off, cos it's an Aussie geographical-based league, so when I get back after work it's plus three, or maybe 10 or 11pm for the Eastern coast people. Still, I hope to get a game try at it. Haha.. I'm watching two of the league guys get a game as I type this.

Another thing that I saw is the very weird Urban Dead game. Some of the guys linked it so I got interested, naturally. Still not sure whether it's any good, but just started trying. Anyway it's a low commitment thing.

Reading again

Started reading again! My dear baby Key bought me Robert Jordan's Knife of Dreams (11th in the Wheel of Time) after we saw it at Times at Plaza Singapura. I first started reading the Wheel of Time series when I was in NJC, and there were about 6 books out. It was in the library and I always had to wait for some mysterious other person who was very slowly reading the next book in the series.

Now, I'm aware that it follows many of the worst cliches in the fantasy genre, much the way that Eddings does. Everyone (well, except Lan.. but you'll find out who he is. And maybe Thom Merrilin) is bumbling through life as best as they can, constantly thinking that they're not very accomplished and being very surprised each time they find that the next person is just as lost as they are, even though they thought they were so composed. The three heroes all think that the other two guys know how to handle girls.. the girls are all part-time super-compassionate, super-intelligent heroines and part-time small-minded bimbos.

His prose is also so-so.. It brings you through a story but it's not at all Gibson-like or Tolkien-like. So what keeps me reading? I must confess that partly it's because I just want to see how it all ends up. A major component of the storyline is this concept of the Wheel of Time, of how the far past blends into the far present. For instance, the WoT universe could jolly well be earth. Sometime in the far future, science and magic will merge.. Gene sciences will create new races, and a new form of power will be found which can be manipulated by certain humans who have a talent for it. Some point after that, researchers will tap into a hidden power source which is actually the Dark One locked away in a cell. A war is started which ravages the world, and eventually the good guys lock the bad guys away (temporarily). Partially due to this, there is a great cataclysm and civilisation is shunted into a Dark Age, without much science. After this, civilisation crawls up. Presumably there will be another battle where they lock him up properly, then forget about him and set the stage for the start of everything... It's an interesting idea and I want to see what he has to add to the idea.

Of course, I also like reading about Mat Cauthon and the adventures of the Band of the Red Hand. So this book, I enjoyed more, since much of the focus was on him being a general ( as opposed to being stuck under a stone column, like in a certain book.)

The day after that, I went to Library@Orchard with Key, and decided to borrow a Chine Mieville book. High Browse Online, the NLB blog, had recommended him, so I borrowed Iron Council to try. Haven't finished it yet, (KoD first!) but will review when I'm done!