Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Runes of the Earth

By Stephen Donaldson

Like I mentioned a couple of posts ago, the Thomas Covenant novels were my favorite series of books when I first read them years ago. Twenty years after the last one, he's started a new trilogy. I was initially skeptical, since I always got the impression that he wrote the second trilogy mainly because of fan pressure and worried that a third one might be even more unnecessary. But according to his statement on his website he conceived of the second and third chronicles together, and it's just taken him this long to decide he's become a good enough writer to finish the tale.

The new series starts ten years after the last series, and the protagonist is Covenant's sidekick from the second chronicles, Linden Avery. Once again she is summoned to the Land (a magical fantasy world), where several thousand years have passed since the last time she was there, and encounters Lord Foul, Donaldson's Sauron stand-in. This time Foul is working through Roger and Joan Covenant, Thomas' son and ex-wife. It's all somewhat complicated and twisted, but it's a good setup for a potent climax to the story. The first book just explains what's happened to the Land in the intervening time, and introduces all the main characters.

The book is no disappointment, although it will be hard to really judge it until the series is complete. It does seem obvious that he set it all up in the previous series, although he cleverly made it seem like there were no loose ends at the end of the second chronicles. Lord Foul's primary weapon has always been despair, and evoking despair has always been one of Donaldson's strengths as a writer. For the first six books, it almost always seemed like the heroes were truly fucked, and there was no way they could ever win. A real achievement when you know it's an epic fantasy story and the good guys have to win in the end anyway. In the first series he did this by making Covenant a real fucked up mess of a man, and when he sorted himself out at the end of the first series introduced Linden Avery, a real fucked up mess of a woman. Now both Covenant and Avery have saved the Land in the past, and defeated their personal demons in the process. They're confidant that they can do so again. As a result, The Runes of the Earth is vastly more upbeat than the previous books. I'm not sure if this is a mis-step on the authors part, a deliberate change of direction, or if he's deliberately lulling us into a false sense of comfort before really fucking things up. Based on the surprising twist at the end of the book, and the various ominous hints dropped along the way, I'd bet on the latter.

A note on titles, 'The Runes of the Earth' - mysterious and evocative, in a numinous sort of way. Not all that menacing. The next book is 'Fatal Revenant'. Sounds brutal. I'm looking forward to it!

Monday, December 27, 2004

They Were Right About You

aMotion - A Perfect Circle

It took me a while to track this one down, as for some reason they weren't selling it in the boring mall CD stores, but it turned out to be well worth the wait. For some reason I thought this was a live concert DVD, but it turns out it's actually a music video collection. This is excellent news because I rate APCs videos right up there with Tools.

So the DVDs got all of their videos, including a few that I'd never seen before. There are commentary tracks by Maynard for most of them, and a few commentaries from Billy too. And of course there are a whole bunch of random special features, such as the obligatory photo gallery (which includes a tactless but amusing upskirt shot of James Iha dressed as Dorothy from the Wizard of OZ). The best feature is undoubtedly Maynards commentaries, in which he talks plainly about the meaning behind the songs and the ideas behind the videos. They're very interesting, and it's just a pity that there isn't one for Imagine. The second best feature is the video clips, which are mostly just random weird home video footage of the band backstage, but it's funnier and cooler than you'd think.

The videos themselves are pretty cool too of course. Three Libras and Imagine are quite easily two of my favorite music videos ever made. Judith and Weak and Powerless are pretty awesome too. The unedited version of The Outsider is quite good too. It's still ridiculous and stupid, but that's kind of the point. Like The Outsider, Thinking About You is another Bikini Bandits video, only even dirtier and more obscene. Aside from that, it's also not as professionally done, and doesn't really make a good video. It's not really any surprise that I havn't seen it shown on tv before. Another one I hadn't seen before was Blue. They had a competition for fan-submitted videos, and this one won. (I guess it's a cheap way to get a video done). It's actually pretty good. And of course, there's Counting Bodies Like Sheep. I still don't like this one that much, it's just way too obvious and shrill. (Or maybe it's just that this is the only APC video with no hot chicks in it.) Lastly, there's a live concert version of The Noose. The video's a bit wanky (all dark with weird effects over the band), but it's a cool version of the song.

It also comes with a audio CD of remixes which I don't rate very much. I think they would all work a lot better with Maynards voice taken out since it never seems to match with the radically reshaped songs. The best tracks are James Iha's remixes, which leave the structure of the songs unchanged and merely change the instruments, and the two versions of The Hollow at the end, done by Paz and Troy (the two who left the band before Thirteenth Step).

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Seasons Greetings

Well tomorrow I'm off to the Tron for a week or so (assuming my flight isn't overbooked!) to see the progenitors for christmas, and for the remainder of the holidays I'm planning on being inebriated. For these reasons, expect little to no blogging for a while.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

He Clenched His Necessity

The guy who wrote Band of Brothers is writing a movie adaptation of the first Thomas Covenant novel.

The first two Thomas Covenant trilogy were my favorite books ever the last time I read them, which was about five years ago. The author, Stephen Donaldson, has released the first book in the third and final trilogy this year, over twenty years since the last Thomas Covenant book (and I'm in the middle of reading it right now).

I'm not too happy about the news of the movies. These books delve deep into the psyche of the protagonist, and I think it would be very hard to do justice to them on the big screen. While a really good writer and director could make an excellent series, I can see it easily turning into a ginormous shit fest in the wrong hands.

Well, the movie probably won't even happen, but if it does, and it turns out good, I'll be very very happy. If it turns out to star Tom Hanks as Thomas Covenant (a leper and a rapist by the way) and Catherine Zeta Jones as Linden Avery, I will be very very angry.

The Appointed Time Comes

The Axe Attack - New Zealand Metal Volume 1

I bought this compilation because it contains a single Cripple Mr Onion song, but I was hoping I'd find a few good tracks from bands I'd never heard of as well.

Barefoot Over Nails is the new Cripple song, and while the album version seems to lack a bit of the brutality compared to the way they play it live, it's still pretty cool. You can appreciate the more subtle aspects better when you're not being buffeted around in a moshpit.

As for the album as a whole, it was almost worth it for Barefoot alone. There are good tracks from Subtract and Chuganaut as well, but I already knew I liked those bands. There are a few others that seem interesting (New.Way.Home seem kinda cool), but unfortunately I'd have to say that 3/4 of the CD is competant but average, and one or two tracks are just rubbish (including Malevolence, (but unfortunately there's no Meatyard or Hatred)). Still, it's good to own this album in case I ever need an hour of noisy obnoxious death metal.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

My Goodness! Gordon Freeman!

Half-life 2 - Valve

So it's the most anticipated PC game of the year and, as reported, it's pretty cool. It continues right on from the end of the last game (literally, I wonder how many days has Gordon gone without sleep now?) although you are immediately transported some years into the future. The Earth has been taken over by a bunch of nasty aliens called the Combine, and it's up to Gordon Freeman to kick their arses.

The gameplay is much the same as the original, which is a very good thing. The only real changes are the vehicles (a boat and a buggy, nothing super exciting, but fun to use all the same), and the realistic physics engine. The physics engine works pretty well, you very rarely see it fuck up, and it makes the game a lot more realistic and immersive.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed it. There's some excellent level design, and a lot of work has been put into the atmosphere of the game. There's only one complaint I have. The story, she is no good.

Spoilers follow....

That's not to say the story is rubbish, I was pretty interested in finding out what the Combine were, and what they were up to. The problem is that it just ends without explaining anything. Apparently there is to be a third game which will finish off the story, and that's fine, but for those few of us who actually like a reasonable narrative in our games it would be nice to be rewarded with a bit of plot advancement after battling your way through the entire game. Game designers often skimp on the story like this, cackling away but promising to reveal all in the next game. And then of course the series gets cancelled (see Gabriel Knight) or new designers decide they don't like the old story and change everything to suit themselves, resulting in an incomprehensable mess. And then they get cancelled anyway (see Command and Conquer/Red Alert).

Another thing that pisses me off is the lame climax. After fighting your way through 10 levels, the final confrontation happens because... you get captured. Well gee, maybe I should have just surrendered right at the start (OK, right after I got the gravity gun) and saved myself some time. It pisses me off in books and movies when the results of the climax depend in no way on whatever it is the characters have done along the way, and it's even worse in a game, when you've done all this stuff yourself. It's really a deus ex machina, but it's still a big fucking cop out.

One thing that did impress me with the story is pointed out on Game Matters (in the comments). The gameplay actually reflects the theme of the story. Throughout the game your character is referred to as 'The One Free Man', yet the gameplay is completely linear! You have almost no choices at all! I would have just laughed this off as a bit of unintentional irony, except for the comments of the man in the suit in the closing scene, "Rather than offer you the illusion of free choice..." (referring to the stupid choice you had to make at the end of the first game). So it would appear that despite what all the other characters think, Gordon Freeman the character truly does have as little freedom as the player. It makes me wonder what the third game will do with this, will the climax actually let you make real choices? Maybe the guy in the suit will set you up on the side of the Combine... anyway, I guess we'll find out in another five years, assuming Valve doesn't go bankrupt or get bought out by morons.

Monday, December 20, 2004

A Land Untouched By Modern Dentistry

Molvania - a Jetlag Travel Guide.

A pisstake travel guide to a made up eastern European country. In Molvania the countryside is littered with minefields, the local delicacies are things like maggot infested cheese and horsemeat, and the natives are dour, unpleasant alcoholics. Of course, the travel guide is obliged to put the best possible spin on everything, leading to statements like "Gone are the days when it was necessary for visitors to come equipped with personal first aid kits and their own blood-supplies (although it still wouldn't hurt)".

I couldn't say how accurate this books satire of real travel guides is, although I suspect that the character of Phillipe, a travel writer who thinks you've only had an authentic travel experience if you get mugged at least once and sleep in a stable, is based on someone real.

It's a pretty funny book, but tends to just repeat the same sorts of jokes over and over, so it's best sampled a bit at a time.

Friday, December 17, 2004


So I've seen a bunch of movies recently.

Rock Star: Based on the real life story of the guy who replaced Rob Halford in Judas Priest. I knew it would be crap, but I watched it anyway because there just aren't that many mainstream movies about heavy metal. Well the music was a little too 80s to really interest me, and Jennifer Aniston makes the worst rock chick ever.

Team America: World Police: Very funny, but not as good as the South Park movie. Probably suffers a bit from being overly political, although they do skewer both liberals and conservatives pretty solidly. The best scenes are the ones where they take the piss out of Bruckheimer-style action blockbusters. And the one where they mock the UN.

Bad Santa: Absolutely classic. The main character is an alcoholic criminal who works as a mall santa as a cover to burgle the mall on Christmas Eve. What starts out as a bitter anti-Christmas movie eventually works its way around to a somewhat happy ending, but without any schmaltz and without compromising its initial cynicism. The perfect Christmas movie for a mean spirited old cynic like me.

Sean of the Dead: The funniest movie I've seen all year. While at it's core it's a pretty standard zombie movie, wedded to a pretty standard romantic comedy, it's so well written that it had the whole theatre laughing hysterically in a way that I haven't seen since I was 8 and watching Daffy Duck get hit on the head with a hammer. It starts to take itself a bit too seriously toward the end, but it goes out with a few very funny scenes, and the first hour or so is absolutely hilarious.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

The Random Crap Just Keeps Coming

(From Boingboing): Some idiot in Aussie makes an electric pump driven beer bong, and rips a hole through his stomach.

You know those silly horoscopes that they have on the Onion? Well mine (Leo) actually came true this week. (I guess it means that the writers of the Onion read the same blogs I do.)

And something I forgot to mention from the weekend, Trent Reznor plans to bring NIN to Australia 'a few different times' the next time they tour. Hopefully that includes NZ too, even though the tour is probably not happening until 2016...

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Random Crap Day 2

Over at Uncertain Principles they're talking about the idea of the perfect three minute pop song. Which has resulted in everyone going through their iTunes playlists, listing all the songs that are exactly 3:00 and discussing how well they deserve the label of perfect pop song.

I arrived a bit late to the discussion to post mine over there, but my results were somewhat amusing, so I'll put it here.

I have four 3 minute songs in my collection:

'In the Flesh' - Pink Floyd (this is the live version off of Is There Anybody Out There?)
Pink Floyd doing a sarcastically bombastic rock song. While it may seem like a pop-rock song at first, I'd say that it's not pop, since it doesn't have a standard rock structure, and it doesn't really make much sense out of the context of The Wall.

'Bili Rubin' - Einsturzende Neubauten
About as pop as Neubauten ever get, which is to say, not very.

'Garofandi Allo Spiedo' - Mike Patton
Off one of Mike Patton's neo-classical solo albums. Fucked up and bizzare, even for Patton. Not pop.

'Reclamation' - Skinny Puppy
Are you kidding? Not pop. (But a fucking awesome album closer.)

The odds of four songs which so represent everything which pop is not coming up randomly like that is pretty unusual, even in my collection.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

From the Department of People With Nothing to Do

It's random crap day here at the Wildebeest Asylum:

Shihad admit that their last album sucked, and explain why.

Scribe's posse beat the crap out of some dude from bFM. Cue dozens of unfunky middle aged white DJs (Scribe's most vocal fan base) flipping out because he's behaving like a real rapper, and not a tame top 40 pop-tron. On the other hand, it's pretty fucking stupid for a top 40 musician to get on the bad side of the music press.

Random forum discussion
about old Lois Lane comics from the 60s and 70s. Believe it or not it was one of the most popular comic series of the day. Every issue can be dropped into one of several categories, (and you can tell which based just by what's on the cover): 'Lois leaves Superman for someone else because he won't marry her', 'Lois turns evil and tries to kill superman (possibly because he refuses to marry her)', 'Lois and Superman get married but it turns out that one of them is a robot', and 'Superman tries to kill Lois because he's sick of her bugging him to marry her'. No, I am not making that last one up. You can really see the progressive 60s attitude of female empowerment coming through there...

Monday, December 13, 2004

Hmm, Smells Like... Chloroform!

A few weeks ago I was talking to someone about the old Tintin comics, and how Tintin seemed to be knocked out with chloroform at least once in every book. Lo and behold, a report has been published in a medical journal concerning Tintin's regular "significant loss of conciousness" (not just restricted to chloroform but involving concussion from explosions, blows to the head and so on). The researcher suggests that a disorder of the pituitary gland resulting from the repeated head trauma may have caused his never aging youthfulness over the 50 or so years that the series ran.

Classic quote:
"We identified the cause of the trauma, the length of loss of consciousness (calculated by the number of cartoon frames before Tintin returns to normal activity) and the apparent severity of the trauma (indicated by the number of objects e.g., stars, candles revolving above Tintin's head)," he said.

I bet something similar was going on with Tintin's dog Snowy, who not only had more than a few run ins with the old chloroform, but also seemed to end up getting blind drunk fairly often.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Big Day Out Final Announcement

They've made the final announcement for the big day out next year. Unlike my last two posts, I won't say something about each act because half of them I know nothing about and most of the other half are hip hop and dance groups I care nothing about. But as for the rest...

Crusty Demons: The obligatory bike stunt group.

Kid Koala: I think he's some kind of scratchy DJ guy. I might go and see him, since he was on the Lovage album with Mike Patton.

Evermore: A nice Coldplay-esque kiwi band. Their big single is alright, (if a little twee and girly) so I might go along to this one too.

8 Foot Sativa: [stupid munter bogan voice] 8 FOOT!!!! YEAH!!!!!!! DUHHHH!!!!!

Deja Voodoo: They were fucking awesome last year, in an unbelievably shit way, and I expect they will be the same this year.

The Have, Pitch Black, Chuganaut: All good kiwi bands that should be worth seeing too.

48 May: Must miss!

Friday, December 10, 2004

Drinks at Trent;'s House Again, I Suppose

So I was listening to the radio the other day, and they were giving away the new Perfect Circle DVD. The question you had to answer in order to win it was: "Which member of APC was recently spotted working in the studio with Nine Inch Nails". The answer turned out to be Jeordie White, but I could think of at least two other people who would be potentially correct answers.

See, I don't think it means much that such and such was spotted working with Trent Reznor, because I think Trent's studio is just where all those guys go when they've got nothing to do and they want to hang out.

You can imagine the scenario, Trent's lying on the coach playing Gamecube, and Jeordie walks in the door, "Hey man, what's up?". "Oh nothing, just working on the new NIN album." Trent replies, "We can go upstairs and record a few tracks later, if you can be bothered". Meanwhile Maynard's getting a beer from the fridge, he's been hanging out here a lot because the guys from Tool keep bugging him to come in and record some vocals for the new album. "I just told them I'm still touring with APC," he says, "I go home for a shave and a change of clothes every now and again, but mostly I just hang out here, I can't be bothered dealing with those guys at the moment."

So when the new NIN album finally comes out, I expect every man and his dog will be credited for something in the liner notes, but I don't think any of them will have actually done all that much.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The System of the World

The last book in Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle.

The Baroque Cycle is a prequel trilogy to Stephenson's geek-classic Cryptonomicon. Before he wrote Cryptonomicon Stephenson was known as a cyberpunk author. But while that novel had cyberpunk elements half of it was set during the second world war, and the other half was set in the modern day, so not really much crazy far out internet stuff there.

With the Baroque Cycle Stephenson really went off into strange and unusual genres. The story is set in the late 1600s and early 1700s and the main characters are the ancestors of those in Cryptonomicon. While there are some science-fictional elements, these books could easily fit in the historical fiction shelf, but of course as Stephenson has been established as a science fiction author, he is forever condemned to the geek ghetto.

The books themselves are three huge fucking bricks, and I would probably not have finished any of them without the aid of several long plane journeys.

Oh dear. I'm feeling very tired. I'll post this as it is, (since I've neglected the blog for a few days) and finish it off tomorrow.


OK, I'm back now. My internet connection has been fucked for the last few days, which is a good excuse for not posting.

So the Baroque Cycle. The sheer amount of research and attention to detail that went into this series is astounding. The books are filled with asides about historical details, the way people lived and the way the world worked back in the days of the Enlightenment, and it's all presented from a geeks point of view, which gives it all an original spin and makes it more appealing to nerds like me. For example, the main character is a member of the British Royal Society, who were the first modern scientists. The first book contains loads of details about their theories and experiments, which would be glossed over in most historical novels, but which is still endlessly fascinating to Stephenson's readers.

Unfortunately the first book is probably the best in the series. While the others are still good, the diversions and details are gradually phased out in favour of more focus on the main plot, and the series suffers a little from this. Another problem is that after almost 3000 pages of dense action and exhausting prose, the reader can be quite weary of Stephenson's style, even if you read the books six months apart. This is inevitable I guess but it detracts from the story all the same. Finally, Stephenson has always had a reputation for being bad at endings. He's clearly made an effort to improve this time around, and he has a little, but the ending still struck me as being somewhat abrupt. There are two reasons for this, firstly the narrative was very loose, and while there was a central plot, I was still left with the feeling that it was just the story of three people's lives, from birth to old age, with no particular message or meaning. The other is that he leaves a whole lot of unanswered questions. I know that at one stage he was talking about writing a sequel to Cryptonomicon, so maybe that's where the answers will be found.

Of course, despite these complaints, the series as a whole is just so impressive that I can't say it's anything short of excellent. The series' style is just so charming that there's no way anyone who plows through the whole thing could be disappointed. So even though I spent a big paragraph above dissecting it's flaws, I'm confident that this series will be remembered as a classic, at least within the sci-fi ghetto.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Random Links

KiwiPundit puts me in a bad mood for the rest of the day by espousing some obnoxious rightist views about student loans.

The Civil Union Bill passes and I'm in a good mood again. Well, at least until the Gay Agenda comes around to forcibly convert me to homosexuality. (Of course, only half of ACT voted for it. Social libertarians my arse...)

From the Pretty Damn Funny Department: The 10 least successful Christmas specials of all time.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

The Monk! Bought! Lunch!

The Doors - The Soft Parade

Widely regarded as The Doors' shittest album, The Soft Parade merges country and brass band elements with their trademark psychedelia. The results failed to please most of their fans, but it was only ten bucks so I thought what the hell.

While it's definitely not their best work, I kind of like it. There is some pretty dull stuff on this album, but I've always liked the big single Touch Me, and the upbeat opener Tell All the People is pretty memorable and catchy. The only genuine stinker is Runnin' Blue, a sort of minimalist folk song. Other good tracks are Wishful Sinful, and of course The Soft Parade, eight minutes of schizophrenic psychedelia, which shows off Jim Morrison's manic, trippy side more than any other of their songs.

If all else fails, we can whip the horses eyes!