Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The Hugo Awards

For those of you who aren't cool enough to be in the know, the Hugo awards are annual awards for science fiction/fantasy literature. It turns out that all the stories nominated for best short story, best novella and best novellete can be found online. I read the candidates for best short story (it was a slow day at work) and I thought two of them were pretty good.

'The Tale of the Golden Eagle' by David D. Levine is a sad love story, which is not the sort of thing I'd normally like, but I highly recommend it. I can't really describe what it's about without giving away the plot, but it's a very evocative, romantic piece of writing.

'Four Short Novels' by Joe Haldeman is another good one, although in a much more light hearted vein. Each of the four stories starts with 'Eventually it came to pass that no one ever had to die', and goes on to describe some science fictional scenario. Naturally they all have a twist, especially the last one. It won't take you long to read, so I recommend giving it a try.

Kate Nepveu's booklog has a list of the nominees for best short story, novella, and novellete, with links to places you can read them online, so have a look if you're interested in that sort of thing. I've only read a few of the short stories, so I can't tell you if any of the others are any good.

Monday, August 30, 2004


I didn't think I was going to be making any posts about politics here, but I guess that was a bit foolish of me, since now that I think about it, it was the Destiny Church anti-gay rally in Wellington last week that spurred me to start this blog in the first place. Anyway, just a few things that caught my eye today.

(Both links via NZPundit )

The Greens seem to think that Australia actually spending money on defense (unlike some pacific nations I could think of) makes them American lapdogs. Seems to me that not relying on other countries to defend you would make you less dependent on your allies.

Marion Hobbs is all happy tree friends with the Iranians , which is good, but our governments somewhat limp attitude towards their nuclear program seems a little inconsistent with the whole nuclear free policy. Are nuclear weapons only bad when the Americans have them?

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Buffy Season 5 Part 1

I've had this DVD collection lying around for a few months now, but I only just finished watching the whole thing. As you probably know, I love Buffy more than just about anything else in the whole universe, so it goes without saying that I liked it. However I still don't think I can resist geeking out and describing the whole thing in nauseous detail.

The impression I get is that season 5 of Buffy was considered a bit of a decline in quality when it first aired, but is now viewed rather more fondly after the unpopular 6th season and the just plain crappy 7th season. I'd probably agree that by the end of the 5th season, Buffy hadn't jumped the shark, but there was definitely a fin visible in the water not too far away. I think the problem was that the writers just ran out of things to do with Buffy's character. The first three seasons are the most popular because they had their very appealing high school analogy to work with, but after that they just got a bit lost. Season 4 had a lot of very good episodes, but the overall story arc for the year didn't hang together that well (Joss Whedon himself says exactly the same thing in an interview an the DVD), they tried to have a bit of a 'finding your way in the real world/becoming an adult' sort of theme to it, but as you can imagine, it didn't resonate as much as the high school based episodes. Plus Riley was boring.

Which brings us to season 5. The first half is pretty standard Buffy stuff, a new big baddy, lots of relationship drama etc, it's really just setting stuff up for the second part. The main change is the addition to the cast of Buffy's sister Dawn. Dawn isn't a particularly popular character, but at least to start with she fits in fairly well, as she's supposed to be young and naive, and her annoying adolescent behaviour makes sense. It's a pity they had to keep her around to stink up the later seasons. (The writers obviously learned their lesson, since they thank god got rid of Conner at the end of season 4 of Angel.) Other than that there's a lot of cool stuff I think they could have done but didn't. I thought they could have done more with the whole 'madness' thing they touched on in 'Listening to Fear' (where an evil alien demon is summoned to hunt and kill crazy people), with Glory (the big baddy) sucking peoples brains out and leaving them insane, Buffy's mum going crazy from a brain tumour, and the whole shared delusion of Dawn's life being inserted artificially into everyone's memories.

The best episodes include 'Fool for Love', where Spike tells the story of his past (and ties in with Angel's flashbacks in the corresponding episode of his show). 'Real Me', I can't remember exactly what I liked about this one, just that I did, maybe it's because I like Harmony the bimbo vampire. And lastly one of the funniest Buffy's ever, 'Triangle', where Willow accidentally releases an angry troll: "Bring me stronger ale! And some nice succulent babies!", [Troll bashes rubbish skip] "Ha! Puny receptacle!".

The only real stinker is the first episode, 'Buffy vs. Dracula', which can be basically just be summed up by the title, and is as lame as it sounds.

Well, it looks like I have a lot to say about Buffy, but the rest will have to wait for another time. I'll probably write something about Angel season 2 part 1 soon too, I'll bet you can't wait!

The Penguin History of New Zealand

Written by Michael King

So everyone else and his dog has been reading this book, and I picked it up about two months ago and just finished it this morning. New Zealand history is one subject that seems to make most peoples eyes glaze over, probably conditioning from incredibly tedious high school social studies classes, but as I said, almost everybody in the country seems to be reading this book, which goes to show how well-written and engaging it is. (Another reason everyone is reading it is of course that Michael King just died, which is bound to help sales.)

I breezed through this book much faster than I normally do with history books, and I have to say I think it deserves the praise it's been receiving. The book is most easily read a little at a time, as it relates lots of small unrelated historical anecdotes, and the narrative is always jumping back and forth between politics, the environment, and cultural history. The focus of the book is mainly on influential historical individuals, mostly politicians but also artists and activists, and there are certainly a lot of colourful characters in our history to keep things entertaining.

Anyway, I don't seem to have as much to say about this subject as I do about Buffy, so in short, it's a good, accessible history book. An easy eight chainsaws out of ten.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

No more bookses for now

I've been sitting here for over an hour now, and I'm really hungry, so even though there's a bunch of other stuff I want to write about, I'll leave it until tomorrow, and hopefully I'll finish off populating my links bar then as well.


Written by Garth Ennis and illustrated by Steve Dillon

This is a series of comic books. I read the first collection over a year ago, and I just finished the last one a few weeks ago, so I figure I'll write about the whole thing now.

Preacher is the story of Jesse Custer (Oooh, look at his initials!) who is possessed by a divine entity and gains the Word of God, which gives him the power to command anyone to do anything. Well, almost anyone. He teams up with his ex-girlfriend Tulip and an alcoholic Irish vampire called Cassidy, and goes in search of God to make him explain why there is pain and suffering in the world. Along the way they have lots of crazy adventures, and give the artist lots of opportunities to draw big two page spreads of incredibly gory scenes.

This is one damn cool series. There are lots of original, interesting characters, philosophical musings, and above all lots and lots of violence. However it does drag a bit at times, and it does devote too many pages to violence that could have been better spent on the story. (Needed fewer frozen zombies, in other words.) Still, it gets far more mileage than it should out of a superhero with one of the cheapest superpowers imaginable.

One other thing that bothered me a little was a speech by a certain character at the very end of the series, where he's pretty much describing the author's thoughts on completing the story. It's a trivial complaint and I wouldn't mention it, but I just remembered that Kim Stanley Robinson did something very similar in The Years of Rice and Salt. It's cheesy, it's indulgent, it breaks the readers immersion in the story, and I don't like it.

Other than that, it's a pretty fine series. I find almost all comics have pacing problems (with the exception of most of Alan Moore's work), but I assume that this is just a side effect of it being compiled into a collection so you can read it all at once, rather than reading one issue a month as they are released.

The Years of Rice and Salt

Written by Kim Stanley Robinson

This is an alternate history book, where the author describes what could have happened to the world, had historical events gone another way. (The canonical examples are 'What if the Nazi's won World War 2?', 'What if the Roman empire had never fallen?', and 'What if giant alien space bats gave Genghis Khan a death ray?'.) The premise of this book is 'What if the Black Plague killed 90% of the population of Europe?', in other words, 'What would the world be like today if there were no white people?'.

The premise is pretty cool, the narrative follows a handful of characters through history as their souls are reincarnated in different places and times, and they witness the growth of the Muslim and Chinese empires into superpowers. Unfortunately, I found it a bit of a slog to get through. In my refined and educated opinion, there was too much fucking around with the personal lives of the characters, and not enough foighting and explosions. 'Needed more frozen zombies', is the way this criticism is described on certain other booklogs. Still, it definitely had its high points, and I'm glad I read it, I just wish it had been half as long.

More Bookses - Stalingrad

So it looks like I'm feeling somewhat more verbose today after all. The next book is Stalingrad by Antony Beever. This is a non-fiction book, but written in the style of a novel, to entice all of you people who'd never normally read a history book.

This book tells the story of the siege of Stalingrad during the second world war. My mum commented to me while we were in Europe, 'It must be interesting to be reading all about these places while traveling around them at the same time!'
'Mum, we're not in Russia, we're in Germany.'
Her PhD obviously isn't in Geography.
Still, I felt a tiny bit self conscious reading this book in Germany. 'Don't talk about ze war!'. That didn't seem to bother the Aussie chick sitting next to us on the flight to Frankfurt. 'Man, this the Nazi airline!', she exclaimed when she saw the shitty little meals Lufthansa served us.

Anyway, it was quite an affecting book, there's lots of people starving, civilians getting slaughtered, and general death and mayhem, so it's not exactly light reading, but it brings to life the horror of the world wars. The main focus is on the soldiers of both armies, and the terrible conditions they suffered through. Basically, Stalin fucks up and the defenders of Stalingrad end up hiding in holes with no food or supplies for months, and then Hitler fucks up and the German army ends up cut off from their food and supplies, and freezing to death in the brutal Russian winter. The author uses letters and other genuine written descriptions from the soldiers to vividly describe the grisly details of the campaign.

So, highly recommended, but not exactly light reading. Don't take it on holiday to Greece.


Well it's a shitty cold rainy day and I should have nothing better to do than to write blog posts, but somehow I can't really summon any enthusiasm for this. Anyway, here are some shortish reviews of books I've read recently. (I don't read that much nowadays, so when I say 'recently', I mean 'this year'.)

The Confusion - Neal Stephenson: This guy's a fantastic author, but this is the third book in a series and his style seems to be getting a little stale. Maybe it has something to do with the environment I read it in, which was mostly during long tedious uncomfortable flights to and around Europe, which made me somewhat cranky.

Anyway, this book is set in the late 1600s, and follows the two stories of a French noblewoman dealing with the emergence of banking and international economics, and a pirate vagabond traveling around the world, staying one step ahead of the people who are out to get him, and having all sorts of crazy adventures along the way. The twist is that this author's older books are all firmly in the SF/cyberpunk genre, so this is historical fiction written from a geek point of view. This means there are lots of wry technical descriptions about the way things were done back in the old days, and a focus on obscure historical details that would be overlooked in most books in this genre.

Anyway, the first book in the series is called Cryptonomicon, and it's very very good, so read that one first.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Music! White Rabbit!

OK, just a quick post before I go and find somewhere to get drunk. More capsule reviews, this time of CDs I've bought recently.

Brown Sabbath - Deja Voodoo: A whole album of half arsed joke songs from the shittest band in New Zealand. Worth every cent.

The Book of Horizons - Secret Chiefs 3: weird and interesting, but I haven't listened to it much yet.

Chasing the Ghost - Collide: Excellent to start with, but gets a bit repetitive by the end. Gets bonus points for having a cover of White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane.

Contraband - Velvet Revolver: Slowly growing on me. Slash is one of the few guitarists who can play an appealing wank solo.

Horse Rotorvator - Coil: One of their crazy early albums, very good. Gets bonus points for having a cover of Who By Fire by Leonard Cohen.

The Greater Wrong of the Right - Skinny Puppy: Their comeback album, after a ten year absence, and it's pretty fucking awesome. I might write a full review of it later.

OK, the lure of alcohol compels me. I will post more tomorrow.

Thursday, August 26, 2004


Here are some one (or two) sentence reviews of games I've played recently:

Doom 3: Very good, but gets a bit repetitive after a while. Excellent sound design.

Thief 3: Brilliant, about the only game to ever literally scare the pants off me. (OK, not literally.)

Farcry: Not bad, but Doom is better.

Beyond Good and Evil: Also very good, but way too short.

The Simpsons Hit and Run: Pretty much the same as Grand Theft Auto, but funnier than the Simpsons TV show is nowadays. Also makes me motion sick, maybe I sit too close to the screen.

Well, it's getting towards my bed time now, so I'll leave it at this for today. The only one of these games I've actually finished so far is Thief, so I may post more substantial reviews of the rest at a later date.

Hello World

Hello everybody and welcome to the Wildebeest Asylum. In this blog I intend to post reviews of books I read, movies I see, music I listen to and computer games I play. Kind of like a booklog, only not just for books. I'd call it a 'glog' (short for thing-log) except that that sounds stupid.

My (somewhat ambitious) plan is to post something every day, or at least every other day, so the odds are that before long I'll drift away from the original purpose of the blog. Anyway, since I have nothing to do tonight, I'll start out by posting my thoughts on a few of my recent purchases.