creative [kree-ey-tiv]: adjective. Synonyms: clever, cool, innovative, inspired, prolific, stimulating.

criticism [krit-uh-siz-uhm]: noun. The act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything.

30 Apr 2010

Fight Club - Chuck Palahniuk

Everyone knows its first rule. But I will talk about Fight Club (how rebellious and suicidal of me!). This 218-page novel (if you count the afterword; it's only 208 pages if you don't) with a very annoyingly striped cover is full of quotable lines. Here are 21 such quotes, lifted from the first 21 chapters:

  1. With a gun stuck in your mouth and the barrel of the fun between your teeth, you can only talk in vowels.
  2. This was freedom. Losing all hope was freedom.
  3. A single frame in a movie is on the screen for one-sixtieth of a second. Divide a second into sixty equal parts. That's how long the erection is. Towering four stories tall over the popcorn auditorium, slippery red and terrible, and no one sees it.
  4. She isn't dying. Okay in that brainy brain-food philosophical way, we're all dying, but Marla isn't dying the way Chloe was dying.
  5. Then you're trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you.
  6. You can swallow about a pint of blood before you're sick.
  7. I am Joe's Clenching bowels.
  8. HELLO! Look at me. HELLO! I am so ZEN. This is BLOOD. This is NOTHING. Hello. Everything is nothing, and it's so cool to be ENLIGHTENED. Like me.
  9. Think about the monkeys shot into space.
  10. The perfume, all those dead whales in the cuts in her hands, it stings.
  11. the club is too loud to talk, so after a couple of drinks, everyone feels like the center of attention but completely cut off from participating with anyone else. You're the corpse in an English murder mystery.
  12. My boss stands too close to my desk with his little smile, his lips together and stretched thin, his crotch at my elbow.
  13. On the sticky paper next to my bare ass was a Polaroid picture of my foot that no one wanted.
  14. I told the detective that it was the refrigerator that blew up the condo.
  15. I punch myself, again.
  16. Arson meets on Monday. Assault on Tuesday. Mischief meets on Wednesday. And Misinformation meets on Thursday. Organized Chaos. The Bureaucracy of Anarchy. You figure it out.
  17. "Our culture has made us all the same. No one is truly white or black or rich, anymore. We all want the same. Individually, we are nothing."
  18. We are God's middle children, according to Tyler Durden, with no special place in history and no special attention.
  19. Our goal is the big red bags of liposuctioned fat we'll haul back to Paper Street and render and mix with lye and rosemary and sell back to the very people who paid to have it sucked out.
  20. I have your license. I know who you are. I know where you live. I'm keeping your license, and I'm going to check on you
  21. I stick my finger through the hole in my cheek and wiggle the finger around.
I haven't included quote from chapters 22-30 because they are spoiler-riffic. 
Frankly, I don't know what I think about this book. The first two-thirds of the story weren't that great, but then came a TWIST and I couldn't stop reading until the end. And that's pretty much the only thing that made this book memorable; apart from the whole soap-from-fat-from-liposuctions thing.

29 Apr 2010

Generation A - Douglas Coupland

"Now you young twerps want a new name for your generation? Probably not, you just want jobs, right? Well, the media do us all such tremendous favors when they call you Generation X, right? Two clicks from the very end of the alphabet. I hereby declare you Generation A, as much at the beginning of a series of astonishing triumphs and failures as Adam and Eve were so long ago."
So said Kurt Vonnegut during the Syracuse University commencement address of 1994. I read it after the title page, and before the story proper began in Douglas Coupland's latest bit of dystopian fiction, Generation A.
Now, this 297-page novel isn't set in a future that far away; most of the technology and slang showcased already exist. As for it being set in a dystopian future, the signs aren't all up in your face as you start the novel; they're just mentioned as a matter of fact at various points in the book, and treated as perfectly normal by the characters. After all, they live in this world, they've had years to get used to everything. Amongst other things, they treat it as normal that:
  1. Bees are believed to be extinct (before I read the quote above, I thought that maybe the "A" in the title had to do with "abeilles", bees, but I guess not)
  2. Most insects have also disappeared
  3. As a result, there are no flowers anywhere except where people hand-pollinate them
  4. Fruits are also ridiculously expensive, and the black market thrives
  5. There's basically no petrol left; air travel is only for the very rich now
  6. There's this new "chronosuppressant" drug called Solon that shifts people's perception of time and of the future; as a result, people can live without any sense of loneliness even if they are in total social isolation, anxiety about the future can disappear, and time can seem to pass much faster.
  7. This drug is 100% addictive
  8. This drug is also actually composed of the spliceosomic protein snRNP-171, which removes introns from pre-mRNA strands so that this mRNA strand codes for a neuroprotein that has a chronosuppressant effect. (You're allowed to say "whaaaaat?")
Now that we've got the dystopian elements in play, let me quickly introduce the quirky characters Coupland has come up with this time:
  1. Harj, from Sri Lanka; he's lost his entire family in the 2006 tsunami, and he talks and thinks like a sales brochure. Which makes sense considering what he's done with his life since 2007.
  2. Zack, from Iowa; he's a corn farmer and son of a meth chemist, who is introduced to the reader when he rants about how "Cornfields are the scariest things on the entire fucking face of the planet." He sounds a lot like T-Rex from Dinosaur Comics, at times, but with more swearing.
  3. Sam(antha) from New Zealand, who isn't a very memorable character.
  4. Julien from France (more specifically Paris, 12e arrondissement), another somewhat generic character (by Coupland standards)
  5. Diana, the Baptist dental hygienist from North Bay (Canada), who has Tourette's syndrome as well as a pretty graphically violent imagination.
These five characters were the center of a media/scientific/government/international frenzy when they were all stung by bees. Yes, bees came out of extinction to sting them. Weird stuff ensues, and pharmaceutical companies become shadier and shadier.
This novel was pretty entertaining, not the least because it's slightly unhinged, like the best of Douglas Coupland's novels. It wasn't depressing like The Gum Thief, it wasn't as quirky as jPod, and I actually like it better than Generation X (because let's face it, most first novels aren't that great, especially if the author writes more books).
I also particularly enjoyed the research that went into making Solon into a credible-sounding drug; spliceosomes are made of snRNP (small nucleic ribonucleoproteins), and they do remove introns from pre-mRNA (pre-messenger ribonucleic acid) segments, and release the introns to be quickly broken down by nucleases. And mRNA is the template that's followed to create proteins. But proteins take a lot of energy to make, and when things are done to neurons neurotransmitters are usually involved instead of proteins. Now, neurotransmitters can be amino acids (which are the building-blocks of proteins), but I am not sure that proteins - big, complicated proteins which would be coded by a mRNA strand that needed the removal of specific introns - would be effective neurotransmitters, even assuming that "chronosuppression" is possible. I'm not a neuroscientist (yet), though, so don't take my word for it.
Oh well, it's a dystopian novel, not a how-to manual!

28 Apr 2010

Tomorrow, When The War Began - John Marsden

Before I read this book, I had no idea that it would be turned into a movie - probably because the movie is only going to be released in Australia and New Zealand (as far as I know). Which is still great; the book would make a very entertaining movie.
Seven teens from a (fake) rural community in Australia go camping, and while they're away from civilization an army invades Australia, starting with their town because of its strategic location. When they do get back to civilization, it is to find their homes abandoned, their pets dying or dead, and the streets of the city are teeming with rather trigger-happy soldiers. Drama, explosions, soul-searching and character growth ensues.
This was a very enjoyable book not only for the action-packed scenes (which are bound to be very entertaining in the movie), but also because of the growth and shift in group dynamics the characters go through. It wasn't a character-driven story at all, though (come on, there's a war going on! This is great action-story time!), which was a welcome change from the other stuff I've been reading lately.
I'm not sure if I want to read the rest of the series, though; after such a good start, I'm afraid it will all go a bit downhill. But still, maybe John Marsden has written a good follow-up to this novel? In any case, I recommend this novel; it's not too long, it's not too short, it's entertaining and I liked it.

26 Apr 2010

The Origin of Species - Nino Ricci

There's a booby on the cover!
But really, that's not what first prompted me to read it; apparently, this 472-page thick brick by Nino Ricci won the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction. It sounded promising. Please do notice the past tense.
This book took me more than a month to read - granted, I was reading other things at the same time, but still. Its thick, murky prose is not exactly "light" reading, and you should avoid this brick at all costs if you do not want to read about:
- A thirty-something guy
- An anglo, who lives and works and studies in Montreal during the 80's (just after the Chernobyl meltdown)
- Who has a son in Sweden (but only heard about it for the first time when said son turned five)
- Who should stop angsting about his Ph.D thesis and start writing it already
- Who is spineless
- Who is just about one of the worst "romantic interests" anyone could ever have (boyfriend rape, anyone?)
All this is delivered in rambling, unending paragraphs. Really, the most interesting part of this character-driven novel are the internal conversations the main character has with an imaginary interviewer; they highlight the self-centeredness and the desire for attention that is, apparently, pretty common to most of the human race.
Apart from that, I found this novel boring, too long mostly. I don't usually like character-centric stories, since they tend to make the character in question intensely unlikable, and this novel is no exception. Even if there's a booby on the cover.

25 Apr 2010

Hercules - That Disney movie

A boy. A myth. A movie.
Hercules wasn't a Disney success, but most kids who have grown up during the '90s have seen this movie. I even still have a promotional plastic plate with Phil's satyr-ness on it - like the picture on the right but stained (we went camping, had spaghetti, and didn't immediately clean the dishes. Good times!).
As a kid, I had an obsession with Greek mythology - and I didn't enjoy this movie because of it. Let's face it, it's a Disney movie; it might be inspired by a classic or even ancient tale of bravery, but it certainly won't follow it. You could even say that, in regards to the Greek mythology that inspired it, this movie is 100% guaranteed to NOT be canon. But as a little know-it-all kid, I this movie was horrible and horrendous just because it didn't match up with the mythology on a few little details, like:

  1. Zeus is the Greek name; Hades is the Greek name; Hermes is the Greek name; but Hercules is the Roman name of the Greek hero Heracles.
  2. The elemental bad guys were called the Titans in the movie. In fact, they were the Giants; the Titans were the generation of deities that gave birth to (and had kids with) the Olympian gods (Zeus and his ilk).
  3. Actually, Heracles - fine, HERCULES, (let's perpetuate the misunderstanding, shall we?) was a demi-god: Zeus was his father, and a mortal woman called Alcmene was his mother.
  4. That's right, Hera wasn't Hercules' mother - and in fact, she tried to kill him.
  5. Hades just didn't give a shit about Hercules-as-a-baby. Really.
  6. No, Hades didn't try to steal Zeus' throne. And he voluntarily chose to take care of the Underworld.
  7. Speaking of the Underworld, for normal people it isn't a green swirly river, it's just a grey, featureless, boring place to shuffle on after you've died.
  8. Also, what's up with giving Hades power over fire? Seriously, did we need Judeo-Christian allusions to the Devil that badly?
  9. Furthermore, where's Poseidon? He's equal in power and importance to Zeus or Hades, so where was he during the entire movie? Chilling out at the bottom of the ocean?
Yes, I was an annoying kid.
But! I've grown up, and now I can actually appreciate, and yes, find this movie enjoyable. All the songs involving the Muses were really good - especially the first song of the movie, the Gospel Truth, and Meg's "I won't say I'm in love" song. There were also a ton of cultural references that were timely in 1997, and are now pretty hilarious if you remember what they referred to (Air-Hercs anyone?), and the plethora of little visual jokes everywhere in the movie seem to indicate that the graphics team had fun making this, at least. I mean come on, at one point Hercules wears Scar as a headdress!
Speaking of visual stuff; the character design was really good. I loved the visible awkwardness of the adolescent Hercules: the wide shoulders but scrawny biceps, the disproportionally large hands and feet, the feet pointing inwards, the facial features (his chin mostly) too large for his face - he's adorkable! My only question is: what's up with the princess Leia-inspired ears? (Just re-watch the first twenty minutes of the movie, and you'll see what I mean)
When Hercules hits adulhood, though, I find that the character design could have been better; ok, I get it, he's strong and all but does he really need to have biceps bigger than his legs? Seriously Disney, you already did that with Gaston...
My main complaint about this movie, though, has to do with the bad guys - Panic and Pain, the incompetent demon sidekicks, are annoying. Also, the mythological Hades is not in any way in charge of fire, so why does the movie one have a fire toupee? (Yeah, I still haven't gotten over that.)
On a side note, if we pretend Disney is right and Hades does control fire, am I the only one who's noticed a parallel between Zeus-Poseidon-Hades and Jolteon-Vaporeon-Flareon?

23 Apr 2010

A complicated kindness - Miriam Toews

I just finished reading "a complicated kindness", a novel with an all-minuscules title by Miriam Toews. Or should I say MIRIAM TOEWS?
The first thing a potential reader might ask at the sight of this book is why there is a chicken on the cover, and why an axe is trying to sneak up on said chicken. To be honest, I don't know why, and I doubt the chicken and axe would.
Ok, I know why they're there; it's a metaphor for Nomi Nickels (the chicken) and her situation. You see, this first-person narrator lives in a small Mennonite town, where there really isn't much to do; her only viable career choice is to work at the chicken slaughterhouse for a few decades. And this community is essentially controlled by the church; the guy in charge of the church and things, that Nomi calls "The Mouth" (there's the axe!), apparently has enough influence to make the entire town shun people, and his pronouncements of excommunication are a very! big! deal!
Because hell is real and awful and only the "chosen" are let into heaven!
Now, I don't want to sum up the story, that's what reviews are for. And this isn't a review, I'm just here to spout my opinion, so let's cut to the chase: this book is boring.
It's essentially the Catcher in the Rye, and I didn't need to read it again. Here are all of the exciting things Nomi does:
  1. She smokes a lot (every page or so)
  2. She gets high, sometimes
  3. She hangs out and has a weird relationship with her boyfriend Travis
  4. She reminisces about the past, especially about things that involved her mother or her sister (both have left the town some time before the book's beginning)
  5. She has awkward semi-conversations
I've just summed up most of the book. There's also a sub-plot involving an assignment she has to write in order to pass her twelfth grade (warning: there a twist at the end! What! A! Surprise!), and another one involving one of her friends who is in the hospital for an unexplained reason, and that's it. Twenty-eight chapters, two hundred and forty-six pages of teenage angst, condensed in one half-assed thing composed for your reading pleasure.
And speaking of reading pleasure: according to the reviews on the back cover of the book, David Bergen (who?) said that "This is Miriam Toews at her best.". In that case, I cannot imagine the misery of reading her at her mediocre-to-average.
This might be harsh, but I'm right and you know it.

The first post!

If I were to follow custom, this post would explain a bit about who I am, why I am starting this blog, what will be the subject of this blog, what is my aimed blog posting schedule (that I would invariably fail to follow), and other such crap.
But I honestly don't see how that could be relevant to anything else I will do here. I want to have a blog to be able to quickly and painlessly broadcast my opinion to what could potentially be a HUGE audience (but let's be honest; it won't happen). And I want my opinions to be read because you know what? I'm right and you know it. ;)
Well, let's get started on this exercise in self-indulgence, shall we?