2011年12月29日 星期四

Happy Year of the Dragon!! 新年快樂!!

I'll be taking a break from this blog until February.  Here's wishing you a happy 2012, and a happy Year of the Dragon!  I'll be in Taoyuan 桃園, Yunlin 雲林, or Taitung 台東 this vacation, probably wasting money and definitely eating too much.  Have a great one!


Best Of (Fall/Winter 2011)


 Best 5 books I read this fall/winter:

1. "The Master and Margarita" by Mikhail Bulgakov
2. "Life, the Universe, and Everything" by Douglas Adams
3. "Beyond Oil" by Kenneth S. Deffeyes
4. "Revolutionary Road" by Richard Yates
5. "Light in August" by William Faulkner


Best 5 comic books I read this fall/winter:

1. "Essential Hulk Volume Three" by Stan Lee, Herb Trimpe, and Others
2. "Crisis on Multiple Earths Volume Three" by Len Wein and Others
3. "World War Hulk" by Greg Pak and John Romita Jr.
4. "All Star Superman" by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
5. "52 Volume One" by Grant Morrison and a Bunch of Other Guys
:

Best 5 albums I heard this fall/winter

See: "5 Great Metal Albums."

"Forbidden Knowledge" by Roger Shattuck


"Forbidden Knowledge" was first published in 1996, long before debates concerning global terrorism and information theft began in earnest.  Concerns over Al-qaeda and Facebook dovetail nicely with the theme of this book, namely: what can people know, and is there anything people shouldn't know?

A quote from Nicholas Rescher, near the beginning of this book, nicely frames the argument:

"'Some information is simply not safe for us - not because there is something wrong with its possession in the abstract, but because it is the sort of thing we humans are not well suited to cope with.  There are various things we simply ought not to know.  If we did not have to live our lives amidst a fog of uncertainty about a whole range of matters that are actually of fundamental interest and importance to us, it would no longer be a human mode of existence that we would live.'"

The author, a professor of Literature, frames most of this study of forbidden knowledge within the confines of works such as Genesis, Faust, Frankenstein, and Melville's "Billy Budd."  While I won't refute any of the points raised during his discussions of these "great works," only the kind of person who enjoys having Literature decoded for them could possibly find this stuff interesting. 

I found it all dreadfully boring and one-sided, and the author's exclusion of theology, economics, and philosophy (to name a few) from a discussion of forbidden knowledge is surprising, if not altogether incomprehensible.  It's as if he thinks the entirety of Western viewpoints on this subject can be boiled down to a handful of authors, and to works of literature whose self-contradictory nature is a major stumbling block.

My biggest criticism of Forbidden Knowledge is the fact that the author never truly differentiates between forbidden knowledge and forbidden action.  It is, after all, in the transformation from thought to action that questions of morality arise.  I don't think that the author would condemn someone for thinking murder, but in actually committing murder, this is where the transgression surely lies.  In failing to define this central point, Forbidden Knowledge is not unlike Abelard's description of Anselm, a fire that fails to illuminate, a fire that issues only smoke.

The second half of Forbidden Knowledge offers case histories to prove the author's point.  But since no point has truly been made in the first half, I was left to wonder what he was really talking about, and why.  Forbidden knowledge?  Forbidden by who?  Or what?  And is it really knowledge he is talking about at all?  Or something else?  Experience?  Action?  A lack of empathy?

At the close of this book, I was left with more questions than answers.  Questions of structure remain, as do questions regarding the terminology employed.  Reading this book was like walking through a fog.  Occasionally I would get glimpses of interesting concepts, but when I emerged from that fog, I found that I was no better off than when I started.

Sayeth the Preacher

I am not a religious person, but I have read the Bible many times.  I think the Bible, if approached critically, offers many insights into what makes people the way they are.  It is also a book full of stupidity and superstitious nonsense, but I guess you have to take the good with the bad.

One of my favorite books of the Bible is the Book of Ecclesiastes.  This is a book that any Greek philosopher could be proud of, and I often return to it when I am feeling sad, confused, or just wondering where life is taking me.  The Book of Ecclesiastes has offered me a lot of comfort over the years, and it is to this book, along with Marcus Aurelius's "Meditations" that I most of look for wisdom.

My favorite quote from Ecclesiastes has to be:

"Of making books there is no end, and in much study there lies a weariness of flesh."

I can relate to this quote because I have been, for much of my life, a writer of stories.  No, I'm not famous, and no, I've probably never written anything you've heard of, but I have been published a few times, and I am always glad when someone reads something I wrote and gets something out of it.  That is one of the things I live for.

But of course, every story written is only a link in a great chain, and this chain has no end apart from that ultimate end: death.  So I have to remind myself to calm down sometimes, and not regard anything I write as the last thing I will ever write.  I am still learning, and hopefully I improve with each thing I write, but every story is only ever part of a sequence.

The second part of this quote, regarding study, also applies to me.  I have been a student for much of my life, and even though I am a teacher now, there are also times when I must study.  I remind myself that my capacity for study has limits, and it is better not to exceed these limits.  When I first came to Taiwan, for example, I studied Chinese HARD.  I had to learn how to not study so hard, if for no other reason than that life is about balance, and too much study is never good.  Yes, there are times when cramming is justified, but even cramming should be done in moderation.

I have read the Book of Ecclesiastes in English, Latin, and Chinese.  If you ask me, it is a fantastic piece of literature, and well worth your time.  Perhaps those looking for neat, easy answers to the questions of life will not like it, but for me it has been a good companion, of many years' acquaintance.

5 Great Metal Albums

This is Gojira, from "The Way of All Flesh."  They hail from France.  I saw them on tour for this one.  Great show!


This is Decapitated, from "The Negation."  No Polish jokes please, as they are Polish.  The drummer on this album died not long ago.  He is fondly remembered.


This is Obscura, from Germany.  This track is the best one on "Cosmogenesis."


Revocation, from the States.  This is from "Existence is Futile," their newest.


And some good 'ol Dillinger Escape Plan, just to slow things down a bit.  This is from "Ire Works."


Conan the Barbarian


Conan the Barbarian - this movie also had a big impact on the younger me.  This movie came out about the same time as Tron, but it was years before I would actually see it.  Unlike Tron, this movie was rated R, and my parents wouldn't allow me to see it until I was a bit older.

Fortunately for me, there was an audio (LP) recording of the movie!  I'm not just talking about the soundtrack here, but also narration, with other audio tracks from the film.  So even though I had to wait years to actually see it, my brother and I had already memorized many lines from the film.

When I finally did see Conan the Barbarian, I was pleasantly surprised.  While Tron might not have been so great if I wasn't then addicted to arcade games, computers, and action figures, Conan is just great.  The script was good, James Earl Jones was amazing, and the music was epic.  Even Arnold Schwarzenegger was great in that film, probably because he had so few lines?

I saw Conan 3D not long ago, and while it's not a horrible movie, it can't hold a candle to the original.  Conan 3D might be closer in spirit to Robert E. Howard's original Conan stories, but it lacks the Nietzschean bravado of the first Conan, that feeling that happiness might just lie in crushing your enemies, driving forth those who oppose you, and in the lamentation of their women.

Tron


I have seen Tron so many times that I've lost count.  I like it because it's a good movie.  I also like it because many of my childhood memories are connected, in some way, to this film.

Before I go on, I should say that, yes, I've seen Tron Legacy, and yes, I was immensely disappointed by it.  The cutting edge FX used in the sequel may have paralleled the original, but the first Tron is a great adventure movie.  The sequel is, in comparison, just dumb.  I say this as someone who was ready to give Tron Legacy a chance, as someone who wanted it to be good, but within the first ten minutes I realized that the second Tron was going to be a let-down.

The first Tron is much better.  The acting's not bad, the score is GREAT, and the plot is good if you don't think about it too hard.  Tron also says a lot about the early 1980s, and where technology was headed back then.  This was in the era of arcades, when we were all busy pouring quarters into Pac-man, Ghosts and Goblins, and yes, Tron.  There wasn't just one arcade game to go along with the movie, there were TWO.


And this is where my childhood creeps into the picture, because I was about 7 years old when this movie came out.  I was also one of those kids pouring quarters in Tron.  My parents took me to see Tron in the theater, and it blew me away. 

I also owned the Tron action figures, if anyone remembers those!

I would heartily recommend Tron if you haven't seen it already.  You may not have enough nostalgia working in your favor to love this movie, but odds are you'll at least like it.

2011年12月27日 星期二

"Essential Hulk Volume Three" by Stan Lee and Others


I'm not sure when these comics first came out.  I'm guessing in the late 1960s.  Stan (the man) Lee wrote some of them.  Herb Trimpe and Sal Buscema drew most of them, and it would seem that Sal Buscema was new to Marvel at this time.

Another reason that I'm guessing 1960s is that Doctor Strange appears in the first half of this collection, and his "astral form" in this issue is different from that seen in later Doctor Strange comics.  The Rhino and the Absorbing Man are new characters here, with the Absorbing Man having just appeared in the pages of Thor.

I really enjoyed this one.  Compared to the 1980s X-men I just finished, these comics were a breath of fresh air.  The plots are simple, the art is bold, and the Hulk is busy smashing his way through adversary after adversary.  The writing in these comics is very consistent.  They are writing and drawing to a formula, but the formula works.

Reading this, it's easy to see how Marvel overshadowed DC during the latter part of comics' Silver Age.  DC comics were also driven by some great ideas during this same time, but Marvel always had that moral ambiguity that DC lacked.  The DC universe was, for most of its history, a universe of black and white, good and evil.  In the Hulk and other Marvel comics, however, we find a universe where black is sometimes white, and good is often evil.  The early Hulk comics epitomize this trend, and it is easy to see why comic book readers of the time responded to it.  Marvel was, in its way, more authentic.

I'm hoping I come across more of these Essential Hulks in the future.  I would be eager to read more!

2011年12月24日 星期六

"Essential X-men Volume 6" by Chris Claremont and Others


This TPB is a collection of X-men, X-Factor, Power Pack, New Mutants, and Thor comics from the 1980s.  Chris Claremont wrote almost all of them.  Pencils were handled by Arthur Adams, John Romita Jr., Walt Simonson, and many others.

I read most of these when they first came out.  I was in elementary school then, but my opinion of these particular chapters in the ongoing X-men saga is unchanged.  They are OK, but I will never be a huge fan of the X-men. 

My main problem with the X-men?  There are too many of them.  In other words, when an increasingly large group of people has special abilities, these abilities will be decreasingly special.  This is especially true of Marvel's mutants, but also goes for DC's "metahumans."

Chris Claremont's writing also leaves me flat.  His comics always struck me as extremely soap-opera-ish, full of overwrought dialogue and labored love triangles.  This was obvious to me even in elementary school.  It is all the more obvious now.  Claremont deserves credit for bringing a lot of girls into the comic book fold (forgive the pun), but I always had trouble believing that his henpecked Wolverine was such a badass.

Claremont's writing aside, there's some phenomenal talent on display within the pages of these comics.  Arthur Adams is one of my all-time favorite pencillers, and the rest of the artists gathered within this volume are far from untalented.  The elegance of John Romita Jr.'s art always surprises me, as does the fluid grace of Walter Simonson.  I was addicted to Thor around the time these comics first came out, and when Simonson started pencilling X-Factor I bought up every issue.

It is funny now to look back on these comics as historical objects.  In retrospect, I think a lot of readers were feeling the same way about the X-men that I was.  How else would we have seen the turnaround into those "paramilitary" mutant comics of the 90s?  The popularity of X-Force and the new X-men were no accident, and reflected a shift towards less "talky" comic books.  At the time I welcomed the change, though I can't say that they were, on the whole, much better.

I enjoyed this look back at the X-men's 80s adventures, but more than anything this one has me wanting back issues of Thor, Daredevil, or Hulk from the same era.  Now those were the days...

2011年12月23日 星期五

"Batman: Fortunate Son" by Gerard Jones and Gene Ha


As far as I'm concerned, any Batman comic that also features Robin has a mark against it.  Is there any "superhero" sillier than Robin?  Forget the innuendo, the very idea of Robin is so in-your-face, straight-out-of-the-closet GAY that no further debate is required.  He runs around in a pair of green BRIEFS for God's sake.  OF COURSE Batman, by mere association with him, is a pedophile.

So from the start, I knew I wasn't going to like this one.  To make matters worse, the writer of this comic book makes Batman into some kind of prude who doesn't even allow Robin to listen to rock music.  I guess Robin was getting tired of hearing Batman's well-worn Judy Garland recordings.  Maybe he was also tired of all the Yanni.  And the COCK.

"Fortunate Son" tries very hard to make a point about the role of rock music in our culture, but doesn't quite succeed.  It doesn't succeed because the Batman and Robin featured in "Fortunate Son" are downright ridiculous.  Robin is just a whiny sex toy that can't kick anyone's ass, and Batman is a stuck-up prude who spends all of his time in the daylight, looking less than scary.

This comic book sucks.  Just like Robin.  Every day.  On command.

It's not that I have a problem with gay comic book characters.  I think that a storyline involving Batman coming out of the closet could be riveting.  My complaint about Robin is that he is a cheap attempt to make Batman "human" or "vulnerable."

I can understand the need for Robin back in the Golden Age, when every hero needed a sidekick to act as every kid's stand-in, but the need for this sidekick has long since passed away.  Kids (and let's face it, an increasing number of adults) don't need a sidekick to relate to Batman.  If he is too dark, then there are any number of other human relationships that could be used to tone him down.  How about a girlfriend?  A wife?  Or even the Joker?

Back in the 90s they made an attempt to kill off Robin.  I wish he had stayed dead.  It is unfortunate that DC is unable to stick by any character even after they have revamped it.  This is just as true for Superman, The Flash, or Wonder Woman as it is for Robin.  You think maybe they have finally changed a character for good, but then the sales figures aren't favorable and they bring back the same retarded characters, just because they have that brand recognition that gives the people at DC confidence.

I hope that one day DC realizes the pointlessness of Robin.  Maybe then we can see Batman comics better than "Fortunate Son."

"Crisis on Multiple Earths" by Len Wein and Others


This is a reprinting of Justice League of America from the 1970s.  All of these stories are from the old, pre-Crisis DC continuity, and revolve around the partnership between Earth-1's JLA and Earth 2's JSA.

The one had me feeling about 7 years old - all over again.  I can remember reading this comic when I was VERY small, too small to even have an allowance.  My grandmother would sometimes drive me to a bookstore in Astoria, Oregon, and I would stock up on comic books like this one.  While the old JLA comics were probably only my third favorites (behind The Flash and Marvel's Conan), I retain a soft spot for these "DC team-up extravaganzas."

(Re)reading these old JLAs reminded me of something contemporary comic books lack: optimism.  Yeah, they were super-corny, and usually made about as much sense as an episode of Superfriends, but there was a kind of innocence about them that you rarely find in modern comics.  Flipping through this one, I always had a sense that everything would be right in the end, and that was a good feeling.

2011年12月22日 星期四

"52: Volume One" by Grant Morrison and a Bunch of Other Guys


I'll be damned if I can figure out where "52" fits into the DC continuum.  I feel fairly confident that it occurred after "Infinite Crisis," somewhat confident that it occurred after "Countdown to Final Crisis," and unsure of whether it occurred before or after "Final Crisis."

I would offer plot details, but I've only read Volume One.  I'm not sure how many volumes there are total, either.  I have the feeling there are at least two more.  I guess I could look that up, but I'm lazy.

As far as I can figure, there was some kind of rift in spacetime, and a bunch of superheroes went out to fix it.  A lot of them died, Superman lost his powers, and Batman and Wonder Woman took a vacation.  In the wake of the "big three's" departure, a host of other would-be superheroes rush in to protect the innocent.  The only problem is that many of these wannabes are far from model citizens.

I liked this comic book, but not nearly as much as "Infinite Crisis."  The art is very uneven, probably due to the fact that it was released weekly for a year.  There are some great ideas here, and I would be interested to see how these ideas are developed over the next few volumes.

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown


I believe this album came out in 1968.  The drummer on this album, Carl Palmer, is the same Palmer who went on to form Emerson, Lake, and Palmer a year or so later.  ELP also covered "Fire" on one of their box sets, though I have yet to hear that version.

Not to take anything away from Arthur Brown himself - he was an amazing singer - but most of the music on this album was written by keyboardist Vincent Crane, a guy who might have been able to play circles around Keith Emerson.  After the personnel behind this album went their separate ways, Crane went on to form another great band, Atomic Rooster.

"The Crazy World of Arthur Brown" was known for its hit single "Fire," which has been covered by many, many bands since 1968.  It is often lumped in with all the other psychedelic albums of the era, though Arthur Brown and his Crazy World were probably the most British of the bunch.  A lot of what Jethro Tull and David Bowie got famous for can be traced, in part, back to this album.  Even Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson, whose vocal style resembles Arthur Brown, has mentioned his fondness for this album.

My favorite track on this one has got to be "Spontaneous Apple Creation," simply because it's the weirdest song on one of the weirdest and most inspired albums of all time.  This album is truly classic.

Rust in Peace


This album hit me like a ton of bricks.  Up until I heard this I was listening almost exclusively to the NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal Bands), in particular Iron Maiden and Judas Priest.

Yeah, I'd heard of Megadeth, but nothing about their music really caught me until "Rust in Peace" came out.  I can remember seeing the video for the above song on MTV's "Headbanger's Ball," and I seriously couldn't believe how mind-blowingly awesome this song was (and is).

Dave Mustaine might be a whiny bitch (go watch "Some Kind of Monster" if you don't believe me), but he is one killer guitar player.  Despite numerous lineup changes, this band has made some great music.  They were a bit overshadowed by Metallica throughout thrash metal's "golden years," but I always thought Megadeth was better.

Those who don't agree are entitled to their opinion, but I always thought that Megadeth was a better band, pound for pound, than James H. and Co.  Now Slayer and Megadeth?  That's a tough one to call!

2011年12月21日 星期三

The Number of the Beast


Iron Maiden's "Number of the Beast" album came out sometime in the 80s.  I'm guessing 1980, but I might be off by a year.

This was the album that got me liking Metal.  Up until that point, I had been a devotee of Rush and the Beastie Boys.  Rush was something weird that I liked for my own reasons.  The Beastie Boys I liked because my classmates were into them.  For the same reason, I also owned the Top Gun Soundtrack and other 80s hits.

But it wasn't until I heard Iron Maiden that I was really, truly hooked on something.  This was sometime in middle school, long after the album first came out.  I remember I was listening to KISW's "Metal Shop" program, and that was the first time I heard "Number of the Beast."

Needless to say, I was floored.  I didn't know that anything could sound so cool and so evil at the same time.  I also suspected that my parents wouldn't want me listening to this kind of music, a suspicion which only enhanced my devotion to this band.

I don't listen to Maiden as much as I used to, but I still think "Number of the Beast" is a great album.  Yes, Iron Maiden are, at times, one of the most pretentious bands in the history of metal, and yes, they've haven't really progressed musically since the 80s, but this takes nothing away from their classic albums.  Everything from "Number of the Beast" to "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son" was great, even if their later output was a bit uninspired.

And amazingly enough, this band is still together, still touring, and still putting out albums.  I have their most recent on MP3, and it's not bad.  Of course it's not half as good as "Number of the Beast," but how many albums are?

2011年12月20日 星期二

The Avengers


I am dying to see "The Avengers" next year.  Given my fondness for comic books, this is to be expected.

I have seen all the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) films at least twice, and if you'll excuse my language, I can't fucking wait for this one.  What?  Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the Hulk in the same movie?  Fuck... YEAH!

As far as the MCU films go, I'd have to say that Captain America was the best of them all.  The Incredible Hulk was be a close second, and Iron Man 1 and 2 a distant 3rd. 

I thought Thor was just OK.  It could have been a much better movie, if directed by a less Shakespearean director.  When I heard they were making a Thor movie, "Conan the Barbarian" was the first film that popped into my head.  "Yeah," I thought, "If they just make it like Conan, that will kick ass!"  Unfortunately for me, Kenneth Branagh was thinking of King Lear.

As matters now stand, we have about four months to wait for "The Avengers."  You can be damn sure that I'll be seeing it on the first weekend it appears in Taiwan.  The last movie I was in a rush to see was "Tron Legacy," and what a disappointment that was.  Compared to that disaster, "The Avengers" HAS to be better.

A lot of people are comparing this film to the next big DC film, "The Dark Knight Rises," but for me that's just apples and oranges.  The recent Batman films are going for a gritty realism that Marvel would be wise not to imitate.  It works for Batman, but not as well for a big green angry man and a Norse deity. 

Besides, the next Batman will be a film that critics love, but which most moveigoers will only see once.  "The Avengers," if made well, will be the movie we want to see over and over again.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked


The (few) people who are regular readers of this blog are probably wondering what the hell I am smoking.  The answer to this question is, of course, that I get "high" on THE LORD, and that alcohol, marijuana, and goofballs are definitely NOT COOL.

And while it might seem strange for a grown man to be reviewing "Chipmunks 3," on a blog that was (up until today) about books, I figured what the hell.  The Chipmunks are, in their way, about as intellectual as some of the books I have reviewed here.

My daughters dragged me to this one while we were in Taipei last weekend.  Let me tell you, it was EXCRUCIATING.  I have had dental procedures that were more pleasant.  It just went on and on and on and on, and the voices were so squeaky, and the Chipmunks were so family friendly, and the whole thing was so heartwarming that I almost vomited into my popcorn.

But then again movies like this aren't made for guys like me.  They were made for my daughters, who thoroughly enjoyed this film.  They have already forced me to sit through Chipmunks 1 and 2 on numerous occasions, and for them this film was a triumph.  Not only did the Chipmunks sing THREE Lady Gaga songs which my daughters already know the words to, but they also sang Katy Perry and got stranded on a tropical island.

For me, the ONLY redeeming feature of this movie was the fact that it clocked in at less than two hours.  The girl they meet on the tropical island was also kind of hot.  Aside from these two points, I can't think of a single reason for anyone without kids to sit through this movie.

All of which brings home to me the fact the one day, not too far away, they'll be making a Chipmunks 4, and unless my daughters are too old for Chipmunks by then, I'll have to sit through that one, too.  Oh, the horror, the horror.

Black Sabbath Vol. 4


I've been listening to Sabbath since high school.  As I am now 36 (almost 37) years old, that means I have been a fan for around 20 years.

What got me listening to them was those "Nice Price" cassette tapes they used to sell at the local Fred Meyer.  Back then, at the ripe old age of 15 or 16, I really didn't have a lot of money to throw around, and I was naturally drawn to the half-price cassettes.  This is also how I was introduced to Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and many other classic hard rock bands of the 70s.

Since that time, I have owned nearly all of Sabbath's back catalog, with the exception of that album they made with Glenn Hughes.  As high school gave way to college, my cassettes were slowly replaced by CDs, and eventually these CDs were replaced by the MP3 files that now populate my hard drive.

I bought/downloaded my Sabbath albums in roughly chronological order.  I started off with Sabbath's "Paranoid," quickly snapped up the rest of the stuff with Ozzy, and about the time college rolled around I worked my way into the post-80s stuff.  I like every album I've heard, with the exception of the unspeakably bad "Born Again."

And this brings to mind another point: there are really three kinds of Awesome Rock Albums.  They are:
  • The Awesome Rock Albums you've heard so many times you can't even register them anymore.
  • The rock albums that everyone else thinks are Awesome Rock Albums, but you fail to understand the popularity of, and...
  • The Awesome Rock Albums that you never get tired of listening to.
For me, Led Zeppelin's "Zoso" album would fit neatly into the first category.  When that album goes on, I can't even hear it.  Really, it's like my ears refuse the sound, and twenty minutes later I wonder why someone's CD player is broken.  The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper" and Metallica's "Master of Puppets" would be other examples.  It's not that I don't like those albums, just that I've heard them too many times.

Examples of the second category would be most anything by the Rolling Stones or the Velvet Underground.  I like both of those bands, but I don't think they ever recorded an album that was really, truly epic.

And in the third category, I submit Black Sabbath's "Vol. 4."  This album is so consistently, indisputably awesome that I simply fail to comprehend people who don't like it.  Other albums in this category would be most of Free's early releases, as well as Leafhound's "Growers of Mushrooms."

"Vol. 4" is one of those albums that simply wouldn't exist without the assistance of mind-altering chemicals.  The song "Snowblind" is evidence enough of this fact.  Apparently the band was renting a house in California, and half of their advance went towards their rapidly expanding cocaine fixation.  They were probably out of their minds most of the time.  They were probably doing some very, very ill-advised things, but if the result of all that was "Vol. 4," well, I can't imagine that they regret any of it that much.

Check out this album if you haven't already.  It is well worth owning.

2011年12月19日 星期一

"I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell" by Tucker Max


"Dave 'So, would you ever let a guy eat out your ass?'
"'Tucker 'No, I'm not gay.  And that would be weird.'
"Dave 'Right, but if you aren't looking you'd never know if it's a girl or guy.'
"Tucker 'I don't know about you, but I usually look at the people who put their tongue in my ass.'
"Dave 'What if your girlfriend started it out, but then a guy moved in and finished?  You would never know'
"Tucker 'I mean, I don't know, I guess... but... what kind of girl would... look, I'm not gay.'
"Dave 'You know, gay guys give the best head.  We teach female porn stars how to do it.'
"Tucker 'I don't doubt that, but it doesn't change the fact that I'm not gay.  I don't like dick.  Except for mine, of course.'
"Dave 'I like yours too.'
"Tucker 'That's pleasant.'"

This book came out in 2009, and was made into a movie that I probably won't bother with because all of the naughtiest bits (i.e. everything that made this book funny) would never make it into anything short of porn.

The author, Tucker Max, is a self-described asshole.  He is also an alcoholic and an abuser of women.  This book is supposed to be autobiographical.  I don't know what to believe.

I'm sure that I wouldn't like Tucker Max in real life.  I'm sure he wouldn't like me either.  He is like all those guys I couldn't get along with in college.  Too drunk, or too stupid, or too self-absorbed.  This isn't because I haven't ever been too drunk, or too stupid, or too self-absorbed, but my own forays into binge drinking, stupidity, and other vanities could never even approach the monument to self-destruction that is Tucker Max.

All of the above said, this book is hilarious.  I'm sorry that human beings like this exist, but happy that I found this book.  Does that make sense?

2011年12月15日 星期四

"Formosa in Fiction" by Rolf-Peter Wille


Found this book in the "Taitung County Government" 台東縣政府 section at the local Eslite 誠品 bookstore.  It was published this year, and is probably very difficult to find outside of Eslite.  It is probably next to impossible to find outside Taiwan.

The author, Rolf-Peter Wille, has had a few short stories published in German, but he is much better known as a musician.  He has lived in Taiwan since before I was born. 

His wife and another relative translated his English into Chinese, and it is they who deserve the highest praise.  This book, full of illustrations and half in Chinese, must have been twice as much work for the persons in charge of the Mandarin sections.  I cannot even begin to contemplate how hard it would be to translate Defoe into 中文.

I think the title of this book is misleading.  Even a cursory Google search using the words "Formosa," "Taiwan," and "fiction" turns up a lot of results that haven't found their way into this book.  One might make the case that this book is a study of Formosa and its appearances in Western classical literature, but then again half of the book is a discussion of travelogues dating back to the Ching Dynasty.  I'm not really sure what Mr. Wille and Co. were going for here.  A more comprehensive introduction might have helped.

It's an easy read, but I would only recommend it if you are a 外國人, like me, interested in the history of Taiwan.  Those with an academic background in Taiwanese history won't find anything here that they haven't seen already.

2011年12月13日 星期二

"Mostly Harmless" by Douglas Adams


"You live and learn.  At any rate, you live."

"Mostly Harmless" is the last book in "The Hitchhiker's" series.  It was published in 1992, about nine years before Douglas Adams' death.

I liked this book better than the previous installment, "So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish," but it was a bit of a downer.  Subplots involving a corporate takeover of the Guide offices, and Arthur's lost daughter border on the depressing, although there are some genuinely funny moments in this book.

According to Wikipedia, Adams had planned a sixth book to end the series.  Unfortunately, he didn't live to write that one.  Another writer has gone on to write this sixth book, but I refuse to read it.  A "Hitchhiker's" book that's NOT by Douglas Adams?  Why bother?

2011年12月7日 星期三

"The Little Friend" by Donna Tartt


I don't think that Donna Tartt has ever smiled - not once - in her entire life.  Just take a look at the picture inside the dust jacket of this book.  She is standing there, unsmiling, daring you to be happy.

No, I can't believe that Donna Tartt has ever smiled.  And if she had, she wouldn't be writing books like "The Secret History" and "The Little Friend."  If she smiled, she'd be writing happier books.

A friend loaned me a copy of "The Secret History" two years ago.  I can't say that it was a great book - the characters were hard to empathize with, and the "maleness" of some characters was entirely unconvincing - but it was a good try, and that book led me to expect great things from Donna Tartt.

Yes, "The Secret History" was gloomy, and downright depressing - filled with pessimism from beginning to end - but there were some great ideas in it.  Given the originality of these ideas, I think that in time Donna Tartt will mature into a better writer, and one day she might just write one of those books that makes people see the world in a whole new way.

Still, as I read "The Little Friend," I couldn't help but reflect back on that Douglas Adams novel I just read, "So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish."  I couldn't locate the exact passage, but towards the end of that (much shorter) novel he points out that many American novels are full of pointless details, and much of the information supplied by (American) authors does little to advance the plot.

There is no better example of this than "The Little Friend," a book in which very little of importance seems to happen.  Donna Tartt spends hundreds of pages describing dead birds, or fruitless quests for local snakes, or, most boringly, the weather.  No character's interests are truly advanced or checked, no one really goes anywhere, and the entire book revolves around memories that have little dramatic significance.

It is like the antithesis of every novel that Faulkner ever wrote.  Instead of a series of microcosms that brilliantly illuminate the macrocosm, what one finds in "The Little Friend" is a world of isolation, where inner worlds are isolated from one another, and there is NO big picture - not in the author's mind, not in her characters' minds, not anywhere.  In the end it all amounts to a kind of clutter, not unlike the newspapers that litter the Cleve-Duffresne household.  Yes, there often isn't any "big picture" in life, but what else is an author supposed to do, if not draw larger meanings from seemingly disconnected events?

I'm not saying that this book is horribly bad, just that it's boring.  At 555 pages, it's waaaay too long.  A more discerning editor would have removed the first 200 or so pages in their entirety, and what we would have been left with, at 355 pages, would have been a much better novel.  Donna Tartt definitely has a way with words - I wouldn't dream of disputing that - but a skill with words doesn't automatically make for a compelling story.

2011年12月5日 星期一

"So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish" by Douglas Adams


"There is a feeling which persists in England that making a sandwich interesting, attractive, or in any way pleasant to eat is something sinful that only foreigners do.


"'Make 'em dry' is the instruction buried somewhere in the collective national consciousness, 'make 'em rubbery.  If you have to keep the buggers fresh, do it by washing 'em once a week.'


"It is by eating sandwiches in pubs at Saturday lunchtime that the British seek to atone for whatever their national sins have been.  They're not altogether clear about what those sins are, and don't want to know either.  Sins are not the sort of things one wants to know about.  But whatever sins there are are amply atoned for by the sandwiches they make themselves eat."

"So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish" came out in George Orwell's least or most favorite year, depending on whether you are discussing soul-crushing authoritarian dictatorships or novels that made his career.  It is the fourth book in the "Hitchhiker" series, leaving me with only the fifth and final book yet to read.

Despite what the quote above might lead you to expect, it's not all that funny.  Arthur Dent finds his way back to Earth, starts to think that his misadventures in other parts of the universe might have all been a dream, and then a huge alien robot shows up and promptly takes a holiday by the seaside.

It's still a good book, but I would only recommend it if you have read the first three.  Then again, if you've read the first three, it is inevitable that you will read this one, so why bother to recommend it in the first place?

2011年12月4日 星期日

"Beyond Oil" by Kenneth S. Deffeyes


"Hubbert pointed out that Spain was inadvertently devastated by New World gold and silver.  During the years it plundered the New World's riches, Spain could sell gold and silver to other countries and buy anything: food, manufactured goods, art objects.  By the time the flow of gold and silver ceased, Spain had lost the ability to produce anything and permanently lost its place as a world power.  Hubbert's fear was that cheap oil and gas would permanently erode the industrial world's manufacturing and agricultural capability.  Economists, in their all-seeing wisdom, point out that the U.S. economy today is much less dependent on energy than it was in 1980.  Today, 92 percent of our economy provides services; petroleum is not supposed to matter.  I shudder, remembering Hubbert's talking across a cafeteria about Spain.  As long as the world will trade us oil in exchange for Microsoft software and Walt Disney movies, we're in fat city.  Hearing that the U.S. service economy is being outsourced to India should be accompanied by Prewett bugling 'taps.'"

"Beyond Oil" first appeared in 2005, just before the peak in world oil production predicted in 2006.  The author, both a geologist and oilman, outlines the problem of oil scarcity in a world economy predicated upon the discovery, marketability, and widespread use of fossil fuels.  At no time does this book speculate upon the subject of global warming.  Instead, what the author does is lay out the history behind our dependence on oil, the very real problem of scarcity hanging on the horizon, and proposed alternatives to the use of oil and natural gas.

Alternative energy sources are discussed in detail.  Hydrogen, nuclear power, coal, and tar sands are cataloged and presented for our inspection - warts and all.  What emerges is a picture of a world in crisis, and this crisis is due to our failure to explore more realistic options in the face of a world oil shortage.

This book offers an excellent description of how we use natural resources to keep our economies going.  It is well thought-out, well researched, and the author has excellent credentials to back up his arguments.  What makes this book even more relevant are many of the troubles that the U.S. economy has been experiencing since this book appeared.  After reading this book, I can appreciate more of President Obama's economic policy, even if I haven't always agreed with it.

This book gets a bit "scientific" at times (yes, there are equations), but it's short, and I read it through in a couple of days.  I'm not going to say that our collective futures hinge upon reading "Beyond Oil," but it does offer a refreshingly simplistic look at a very, very complex problem.