31 August 2005

All Roads lead to Rome

I sketched this over coffee at a cafe at Millenia's Walk. No, it is not the Appian way.

'You've come this far
It's just a little further from where you are
Another hour, another mile, one more year
It might be easier to let yourself disappear.
Always on the outside
And all eyes turn away
All eyes turn away.'
Faith and the Muse 'Whispered in your Ear'

30 August 2005

Secret Pods, Labyrinthine Libaries, A Mysterious Personage and Three Writers

I was at a talk and panel given by Robert S. Sawyer, Norman Spinrad and Bruce Sterling on Monday night at the sixteenth level of the library.

Before the talk, I waited with Kelvin, Brian and JF at a reception area. Robert Sawyer came up and started talking to us. I told Friendly Rob that I had read about three or four of his novels and have about eight or ten lying about. I told him that I first discovered 'Factoring Humanity' some years ago and was struck by its humanity of this hard SF novel. Friendly Rob said that this was his most favourite of all his work.

The reference library of the National Library is known as the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library and evidently the sixteenth level is known officially as the 'Pod' and is within the confines of that Lee Kong Chian Reference Library. So, a reference to this location would be the "Lee Kong Chian Reference Library - Level 16 - The Pod at the National Library at Victoria Street". Confused yet? The 'Pod' is already an overused and tired word as well as being part of a product name. The word is getting somewhat dated through 'over-usage' and can only get more dated in a few years. As if it is not enough with bad names, the Pod, being on the sixteenth level cannot be reached through the lifts in the main lobby which stops on the thirteenth floor, it can only be accessed using a keycard via a lift secreted in a large hall on the third floor of this new monstrous and labyrinthine library. Amusing to say the least. Anyhow, enough with the absurdities of the library and its myriad names.

The title of the talk and panel discussion is 'The Future Is Already Here: Is there a place for science fiction in the 21st century?' It is also the title of a talk that Robert Sawyer gave to the Library of Congress some time back.*

Sawyer is the optimist which is not a surprise given that he is one of the few purveyors of hard SF left today.

Sterling examined the genre worldwide (Italy, Mexico, Finland, Japan) and related fantastic fiction like New Wave, magic realism, hard SF, anime/manga, etc and he pronounced that speculative fiction is thriving at present. He took the long view and noted that SF is a relatively young form within the vast span of human history and there is no guarantee that it will last.

Spinrad disagreed with the title and pointed out the semantic absurdity of the premise.

There was a question from someone about the short story form and why she thought it had received less attention. Sterling spoke of the SF magazines which publishes short stories and Sawyer spoke of the editors. Spinrad spoke of the form and noted that the short story is not a short novel and neither is the novel a long short story and went on at length.

When the direction of the talk shifted to alternate history and military SF written by the likes of S.M. Stirling and Harry Turtledove, I posed a question to Spinrad on 'The Iron Dream' about his satire. It was too amusing not to ask. 'The Iron Dream' was, of course, a SF novel ('Lord of the Swastika') purportedly written by Hitler, filled with phallic symbols (ie Steel Commander) and 'glorious' violence as found in the military SF genre. Spinrad responded and spoke of a joke he had with his editor, agent or publisher (I forget which) and how he had ideas for a large joke which will, under an assumed pen name, create a military SF series where the protagonists conquered and destroyed the worlds of other SF...

Brian asked what their thoughts were on an interesting Dick story on precogs and SF writers and a SF convention when the thread of the conversation was on SF predicting the future. All three writers did agree that SF is not predictive literature. Sterling also mentioned of his talks with corporate futurists. Later, the direction shifted to the entertainment aspects of SF.

At a point in the discourse, one of the members of the audience asked about 'Dune' which he thought was the greatest SF novel ever written. This brought upon a howl of laughter from everyone in the panel and the audience including Kelvin, Brian, myself. Sterling, Sawyer and Spinrad laughed and Sterling said that 'Dune' is not a great SF novel. The others said something to that effect. I do think it is about time that people recognised that 'Dune' is NOT the greatest SF novel of all time, nor is it a great SF novel. Finally, someone has the courage to say it out loud. A case of the Emperor's New Clothes!


On a curious note, the panel of science fiction writers was 'moderated' by a person who during the course of the talk mentioned his name as 'Singh' and nothing more. Who was this person who was seated between the writers? Was he a moderator? A government handler? An internal security staff? A librarian? A writer? A critic? A famous cultural commentator? A renowned educator? Sponsor of the event? He did not appear to have shown any indication of having read any work from Sawyer, Spinrad and Sterling. Why was he there? Moderation? He stuck out like a sore thumb throughout the session.

Spinrad mentioned his fascination with Admiral Cheng Ho and his voyages and what might have been the voyages had continued. He noted the existence of the '1421' book. He was curious and had noted that there was an exhibition in Singapore on this. I showed him a book I had with me, Paul Kennedy's 'The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers' which did compare the powers at 1500 and the subsequent rise of Europe and decline of Ming China and other civilisations.

After the talk, I managed to ask Spinrad if his new fantasy novel, 'The Druid King', was prompted by 'ka-ching' a la Kevin J. Andersen? He told me that he had read Julius Caesar's account of Gaul and, as it was, it was an account from the victor, he wanted to do a historical re-telling. Julius Caesar's 'The Gallic War' and 'The Civil Wars' are amongst the most eloquent of propaganda and literature. (The Commentaries) I had read the former but not the latter. I will be giving 'The Druid King' due consideration after this. I also did manage to ask him about 'Bug Jack Barron' (1969) which pre-dated Phil Donahue, Oprah and Geraldo. A precursor of things to come.

Then, Sterling came. He said that he had been obligated to write his blog for Wired. I said he could easily put many photos just as he had been doing. He said he wasn't a good photographer. Spinrad asked how much he is being paid for the blog and Sterling laughed, saying that it was not enough. Sawyer has a website and a blog too.

On a superficial level, my observation of the three authors were that they were personable and approachable. None of them were self-important, nor were they acting like celebrities. They were passionate people. Spinrad was engaging with ideas abound, Sterling was sincere and down to earth and Sawyer very friendly and articulate. Some of Sterling's statements were sometimes laced with irony but they were not the bitter and black irony of certain cynical British writers and commentators. He's a Texan, how bitter can Texans get? (Okay, one did get angry enough to invade on account of someone trying to kill his dad... Hahaha.)

I had a migraine throughout the talk and my head was pounding. Intense pain. My eyes were 'tearing'. While I waited, Wilson managed to ambush Sterling and got an autograph from Bruce Sterling for his nice hardcover copy of 'Heavy Weather'. I don't know if Wilson was armed with a rotary cannon or what. Woo!

Then, we adjourned though I would have loved to talk to Spinrad, Sawyer and Sterling further. Brian, Wilson and Colin went over to CHJMES for dinner while I took a taxi home.


Robert Sawyer gave an earlier talk at the Library of congress in 1999 and the text is available at his website. A worthwhile read.

*Robert Sawyer mentioned this in his talk.

"There was that word again, and that was where the whole thing was at. Malcolm Shabazz, Prophet of the United Black Muslim Movement, Chairman of the National Council of Black Nationalist Leaders, Recipient of the Mao Peace Prize, and Kingfish of the Mystic Knights of the Sea was neither more nor less than a nigger. He was everything the shades saw when they heard the word nigger: Peking-loving ignorant dick-dragging black-oozing ape-like savage. And that cunning son of a bitch, Malcolm knew it and played on it, making himself a focus of mad white hate, the purposeful prime target of garbage throwing screaming Wallacite loonies, feeding on the hate, growing on it, absorbing it, saying to the shades, "I'm a big black mother, and I hate your fucking guts, and China is the Future, and my dick is bigger than yours, you shade bastard, and there are twenty million bucks lkike me in this country, a billion in People's China and four billion in the world who hate you like I hate you, die you shade mother!"
Exerpt from Norman Spinrad's 'Bug Back Barron'
The Wilds

This is an over the top piece of work with an almost improbable landscape. This is an enjoyable sketch which I did over a glass of cold blended coffee at NYDC at the Heeren one Saturday afternoon some time back.

"Creation as literally depicted in Genesis is indeed supported by faith (and needs to be, since it is not supported by anything else, certainly not the Pope, nor the Roman or Anglican hierarchies). Evolution, on the other hand, is supported by evidence." Richard Dawkins

29 August 2005

A Defence most irresolute

In Richard Connaughton's 'Rising Sun and Tumbling Bear', it would appear that the most serious failing in the Russian army is that of defence that is irresolute. Time and again, during the campaign, the Russian army would mount a successful initial defence, inflicting heavy casualties upon their Japanese opponent only to withdraw later.

A vacillating Russian leadership which was unable to decide between sending reinforcements and launching an offensive ultimately chose withdrawal. The Japanese army was then able to assume a moral superiority that gave them an aura of invincibility.

The Malayan campaign of 1941-42 echoed the war of 1905. Likewise, the British and Commonwealth leadership mounted an irresolute defence, withdrawing frequently from position after position when faced with assaults from Japanese infantry supported by tanks. The Japanese 25th Army proved irresistable then.

In the case of the desperate defence at Wake Island and Bataan, outnumbered American defenders were tenacious, inflicting casualties on the Japanese and retarded the Japanese Army and Navy's offensive timetables. What was the difference? A leadership of higher quality? Better trained troops with greater morale?

On a related topic, at least three volumes on the defence of Singapore were released since 2004. They include Peter Thompson's 'Battle for Singapore', Colin Smith's 'Singapore Burning', Brian Farrell's 'The Defence and Fall of Singapore 1940-1942'.

The Farrell volume is an academic study while the other two are narratives.

Other related books released recently include '60 Years on: The Fall of Singapore Revisited', 'Buffalos over Singapore', 'Hurricanes over Singapore', 'The Guns of February', 'Bloody Shambles Volume 1'.

"Those who cavalierly reject the Theory of Evolution, as not adequately supported by facts, seem quite to forget that their own theory is supported by no facts at all." - Herbert Spencer
Deus Vitae

I was recommended this series on account of its artwork. A cursory flip through revealed some competent work that was not too stylised like some of the other manga titles. 'Great figure work, this has potential,' I thought to myself.

I bought the three books and started reading on a late Saturday night. To my dismay, this is among the least compelling and badly written manga series I have read to date. Only 'Striker' (also known as 'Wolf Brigade' comes close). The 'Crying Freeman' series was perverse in its themes and plotting but had great artwork and an unusual backdrop. 'Strain' was racist but had great artwork. 'Akira' was overwrought with a byzantine plot but it had a sense of fluidity, a dynamicism that transcends its weak premise.

'Deus Vitae' does not have much redeeming in it. The artwork is, upon a closer examination, uneven. Where there is good art, it is inevitably that of nude or almost nude women. Idealised nude women with perfect figures if you will. It would appear that the majority of this artist's effort went into his conception of his perfect woman. All the selenoid mothers were similar. I have drawn enough nudes previously to note that these are possibly stylised fantasies of probably one woman, teenaged but without the school uniform and panties!

The theme has elements directly lifted from the horrendous 'Terminator III: Rise of the Machines'. The beginning of the book almost echoes word for word the film from which the premise was 'stoken'. Other obvious elements include the human versus selenoid (human versus replicant!) theme from 'Bladerunner'. How unoriginal can one get? The writer has not bothered to disguise the material and as such, the series has a strong feeling of deja vu. Besides the incoherent plot and the flimsy characters, the dialogue felt contrived. There is precious little to recommend in this series. Avoid.

"Religions do make claims about the universe--the same kinds of claims that scientists make, except they're usually false." Richard Dawkins

28 August 2005

Jagdpanzer IV

A successful assault gun which was produced in numbers. The modern Jagdpanzer Kanone 4-5 is based on this deadly vehicle. The earlier version of the Jagdpanzer IV is armed with a 75mm gun which is 48 calibres in length (L48). The later version was simplified for production has a higher profile and a longer-barrelled weapon at 70 calibre lengths (L70). I drew this with pencils, Artline technical pens, and Copic markers. Like my other tank sketches, it took between two to three hours.

"Indifference, hollow laughter
Bathes the walls of this lost home
So futile, all attempts
Affectations, long to roam
Ever spinning, vile actress
Answered blindly to the call
The price, child yet again we sit
And watch our private rome fall"
Faith and the Muse 'Trauma Coil'

Another piece conveying movement. Strong winds blow across the meadows.

"You can halt your car for an afternoon in utopia
We shall stop the wars on those afternoons in utopia"
Alphaville 'Afternoons in Utopia'
The Winds in the Meadows

A swift piece to convey movement. Deliberate in its simplicity.

"We’re pilots watching the stars
The world pre-occupied
We’re pilots watching the stars
Who do you think we are ?"
Goldfrapp 'Pilots'

Bruce Sterling in Singapore

Bruce Sterling gave a talk in Singapore on Saturday night at the sixteenth level of the new National Library. The topic of the talk is 'From Cyberpunk to Industrial Design - Writing Science Fiction in the 21st Century'. Sterling related that he is now teaching at a design college in Pasadena. From industrial design and the improbable term 'science fiction', Sterling delved into tracking and the RFID technology. He also spoke of a third way and the insustainability of the physical.

When Sterling spoke of 'mission statement design' and how a corporation's raison d'etre could arise from there, it was not unfamiliar, a case of stating the obvious. This, could, of course, easily have been a management talk given by a management guru type or some New Age mystic, and it could well have been within the realm of the business school academia too. When the cyberpunk hero spoke on it, well, I think my friends and I were more than amused. Sterling on management practices? Whoa!

And yes, the power of the word is undoubted, especially when it is a large faceless entity, a composite of individuals labouring under a set of mission statements and rules.

Colin took the picture of him (above) using a mobile phone.

Sterling was also impressed by the library. I suspect the panorama of the cityline during sunset was a feast for the senses. Colin and I were impressed too. Sterling's blog has an account of his trip to Singapore. And his subsequent blog entry. On another note, Norman Spinrad and Robert Sawyer will be joining Sterling for a talk on Monday night.

Sterling is, of course, known for his books, 'The Artificial Kid', 'Islands in the Net', 'Schismatrix', 'Holy Fire', 'Heavy Weather', 'Distraction', 'Hacker Crackdown', 'Involution Ocean'. He is, after all, the cyberpunk prime mover. The ideologue.

Norman Spinrad, the American New Wave SF writer, is notorious for 'Bug Jack Barron', the ultimate sellout novel, the novel of co-opting (of course, co-opting today need not be so obvious, if you know what I mean...) and 'Iron Dream', a book of symbols and fetishes. Strangely, he has recently written the first part of a fantasy trilogy. Colin or Wilson said ka-ching! I thought so too when I first saw it.

Robert Sawyer has often been called the 'Canadian Heinlein'. 'Factoring Humanity', 'Frameshift', 'Calculating God'. He is known for his hard SF novels.

I have read quite a few of Sterling and Sawyer's work. I have read a little of Spinrad work. The rare 'Iron Dream' was tasteless yet funny given the juxtaposition. Those who enjoy militaristic SF may want to read 'Iron Dream' (aka 'Lord of the Swastika').

Colin, Brian and I were at Jerry's Barbeque and Grill at Club Street for dinner later. Atmospheric place. Good place to bring women.

"We have never been a people of complacency. We Singaporeans have never abandoned our wise tradition of universal military service..."
Exerpt from Bruce Sterling's 'Islands in the Net'

27 August 2005

Moebius 'Forty Days in the Desert'

The biblical forty days in the desert? Not exactly. This is an imaginative masterpiece from Moebius (Jean Giraud) consisting of forty panels of the fantastic with little narrative structure and each panel purporting to be a daily vision. Strange evocative images of improbable constructs, flying angels, impossible creatures, lightly-threading creatures which barely appear human that float above the surface of the shimmering sands appear in panel after panel. This is a sublime piece of imaginative work. I could spend hours just glancing at the panels. I had once met Moebius in Northern California in my university sometime in the late eighties and this unassuming artist had said that he was influenced by dreams.
Mumbo Jumbo and what not!

We live in a time where superstition has never been more rife. People believe rather than think. Thinking is a premium, a rarity.

This little book by Francis Wheen is entertaining to say the least. Regardless of anybody's political persuasion, this is a worthwhile read as the Wheen pleads for a return to rationalism. It is an exhilarating attack on unthinking people and their beliefs. Holy warriors, anti-scientific relativists, economic fundamentalists, radical postmodernists, New Age mystics are amongst Wheen's victims.

This book is a descendent of Charles McKay's classic 'Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds' (1841).

"Neon on my naked skin
Passing silhouettes of strange illuminated mannequins
Shall i stay here at the zoo
Or shall i go and change my point of view for other ugly scenes"
Alphaville 'Big in Japan'

26 August 2005

Goldfrapp's 'Supernature'

I bought Goldfrapp's third album* recently. The first single 'Ooh La La’ appears to be an evolution of the electroclash sound pioneered in 'Black Cherry'. In some ways, 'Supernature' feels like Fischerspooner with female vocals. The vocals in 'Supernature' is also somewhat reminiscent of their Mute stablemate Client whose two albums, 'Client' and 'The City' are in the same vein, albeit less stylish and harsher.

Promising but not compelling.

*The limited edition set comes with a CD and a DVD with an animated short and the tracks.

"Armoured cars sail the sky
They’re pink at dawn
If i lived forever
just wouldn’t be so beautiful"
Goldfrapp 'Pilots'
British tank guns

The Comet would have been a worthy match for the German Panther if it had been put in service earlier.

A chart of the main British tanks and their main guns at the end of World War II. The A43 Black Prince was nearing production with six prototypes built. The advent of the superlative A41 Centurion had ended the A43 programme being superior in all aspects except armament. Most British tanks were beginning to be armed with the 17-pounder.

Tank Main Gun
Sherman Firefly 17 pounder OQF
A30 Challenger / Avenger 17 pounder OQF
A43 Black Prince 17 pounder OQF
A34 Comet 77mm OQF*
A41 Centurion 17 pounder OQF

*The 77mm gun is a compact version of the 17 pound and was originally known as the Vickers HV 75mm and later designated as the 77mm. Penetrative power of the main gun is only slightly less than the 17 pounder.

Other British tanks and SP guns not mentioned in the list includes the TOG, A33, A38 Valient, Archer.

With APDS rounds, the 77mm gun of the Comet should be able to penetrate the 110mm glacis of the Panther at 500 yards and possibly at 1000 yards.

Main Gun Calibre Muzzle Velocity Weight of Shot Penetration
17 Pounder Ordnance Quick Firing 76.2mm(3in) 2900fps-3950fps* 17lb 120mm at 500 yards/30 degrees
77mm Ordnance Quick Firing Mk II 76.2mm (3in) 2600fps 17lb 109mm at 500 yards/30 degrees

Figures given are for AP, APC, APCBC shot, not APDS.

*Depending on Mark.

"Everything that lives, that exists, that grows, that is simply on the earth, should be free, and should attain self-consciousness, raising itself up to the divine centre, which inspire all that exists. Absolute freedom and absolute love - that is our aim; the freeing of humanity, and the whole world - that is our purpose." Michael Bakunin

The Glade

This is a linear piece utilising standard drawing techniques, for instance cross-hatching. A simple, unadventurous piece.

I have always felt very comfortable drawing with technical pens, ballpoint pens and pencils. I will be putting up some old pieces done using a ballpoint pen in time to come.

"Convergence? Only when it suits. To an honest judge, the alleged marriage between religion and science is a shallow, empty, spin-doctored sham." Richard Dawkins

25 August 2005

The Castle

'Now, he could see the Castle above him, clearly defined in the glittering air, its outline made more definite by the moulding of snow covering it in a thin layer.'

'It was neither an old stronghold nor a new mansion, but a rambling pile consisting of innumerable small buildings closely packed together and of one or two storeys; if K. had not known that it was a castle, he might have taken it for a little town. There was only one tower as far as he could see, whether it belonged to a dwelling-house or a church, he could not determine. Swarms of crows were circling around it.'

Exerpt from Franz Kafka's 'The Castle'


The Comet is an almost forgotten tank which entered service late in the Second World War. Limited numbers were built. I have wondered as to its performance if it had just entered service a year earlier. Would it have been popular with its crews? Would it have been a vehicle that could compete with the M4 series?

For this sketch, I relied on a computer-generated image and a photograph found in a Concord Press book on British tanks. One evening, at a cafe at Selegie Road, I did a pencil sketch that initially went well. However, when I finished it, I compared it with the photo reference and the computer image and I saw that the proportion was slightly off as the vehicle was somewhat too narrow. I erased almost everything. This was unusual for me as I don't erase very much and, often, not at all. I followed the pencil sketch up with a technical pen, inking the lines. Then, I applied colours and shadows after. All in all, this took about three hours total.

On the topic of the forgotten, the Charioteer is a forgotten tank destroyer. I have seen so few references to it over the years. The development of British tanks in the interwar years and the Second World War interests me.

I will be posting a few more sketches of tanks in the near future.

'It's time to let go
Time to spend some time alone
Reconsider what could be done
Unbind the imagination...'
Faith and the Muse 'Shatter in Aspect'

24 August 2005

The Stone Bridge, Floodlands, The Trail

I will be putting up some of my older artwork from time to time. My propensity for landscapes would be more than obvious. Here are some sketches done in the past year. Fairly recent. Satisfying.

The Stone Bridge

The Trail


"Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence." Richard Dawkins

Z Prochek

Z Prochek's 'Viewers' and 'Intravenous' albums are my current favourites at the moment. They are in my Creative Muvo mp3 player for the last month or so.

Other albums in my player includes the latest Peter Murphy album 'Shattered', older In Strict Confidence albums, Diorama's latest.

"Air-built madness: unfamiliar charm
Hides in the softest eyes
And ponderous smiles manifest denial
But heavy heartless
Conscious of our load
Hurled by dreams into a separate world
We dig the thoughtless earth"
Faith and the Muse 'Mercy Ground '

23 August 2005

I have been sketching landscapes for a long time. I guess I have been influenced by the wondrous intricate line drawings found in old Fighting Fantasy books from Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. These old Puffin adventure books had well-rendered and eccentric drawings, conveying an atmospheric world, the world of Titan. The forests were mysterious and they were great black and white line art. They were vastly superior to those horrid black and white ones in the first and second edition of Advanced Dungeon and Dragaons rulebooks.

I have been influenced by the many walks I took in the Yorkshire Dales, the Pennines, and a few other places. At times, I would venture alone with a map and a sketchbook. At other times, I would go with my friend, Sylvain. The serenity and beauty of the wilderness remained with me long after. I miss those days.

This piece and the previous piece are milestones for me in that they were very early images, done completely electronically on a Wacom pad. They require a new set of skills, different from drawing on paper.

"There's this thing called being so open-minded your brains drop out." Richard Dawkins

Have you ever dreamt that you were in a dream and upon waking to find that you are in yet another dream? Like in Chuang Tze's butterfly, is there really an end?

I had this recurring dream over the past few years. In each instance, I would wake to another reality. Would these realities be false realities? Fragments of the unconscious mind?

Medieval and Renaissance naval battles, castles of the Teutonic Knights, wooden medieval structures in north Russia

Medieval naval operations were almost invariably in support of land operations. They were operations to maintain naval supremacy with exceptions being possibly the operations of the Venetian state and the Hanseatic League. Battles would often be within sight of land and battles in the high seas were practically unknown. What is interesting is that these naval battles resembled land battles except that the battlefields were platforms on the ships of that period. Ships would often be tied together and boarding actions would commence. Forecastles were similar to fortifications on land with archers providing fire support on top.

The naval battles in the Mediterranean Sea were of course of a different nature due to the use of galleys. Logistical issues were of course another matter with galleys.

I have been reading up on medieval and renaissance naval battles for the last year. It is fascinating. Susan Rose's 'Medieval Naval Warfare'

I have bought a volume on the Battle of Lepanto. Victor Hanson, the doyen of Greek hoplite warfare, had also written a chapter on this battle in one of his popular history volumes. The arguments regarding the dearth of naval specialists in the Islamic world after Lepanto appear well-founded. I would have to read more on this before I can formulate my thoughts on this.

Previously, I had read two books on the siege of Malta in 1565, one of which is an Osprey book which was heavily illustrated with colourful maps of the operations. The other book is a straight forward narrative.

John Francis Guilmartin's classic 'Gunpowder & Galleys' has now been re-published as a second edition. There are few changes to this classic work.

There is a lot of hard data and information in this volume. Highly recommended.

I have been fascinated by the architecture of the castle of the Teutonic Knights at Marienburg. The squat towers, the narow windows, the arrow slits, the forbidding walls. A nightmarish structure which could have come out of the pages of a dark fairy tale.

The medieval wooden churches and houses of Russia are also of interest due to its intricate design and flourishes. There are several illustrated tomes of these structures available. I can only say that I am astounded as to what can be accomplished with wood! Speaking of which, there are wooden temples in Japan that are almost a thousand years old.

"After the dream, they set out in search of that city; they never found it, but they found one another; they decided to build a city like the one in the dream."
Exerpt from Italo Calvino's 'Invisible Cities'

22 August 2005

Victorian Fantasies

'Steamboy' is an odd Japanese vision of a Victorian fantasy. Japanese steampunk! Who would have thought that such a cross-pollination of pop cultures would have happened. It may appear startling, however, the concept is not new. 'Steamboy' may have been the first anime exposition of steampunk but the manga 'Steam Detectives' preceded it by quite a few years.

Given the other screen and comic book adaptations of fantasies with a Victorian setting such as 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen' which features literary heroes and villains with heightened powers, it is inevitable.

Like his magnum opus 'Akira', Otomo, has conjured a convoluted tale involving betrayals, meaningless loyalties, and a foreboding dark future where nothing is certain. Like his previous confused work, Otomo delights in unleashing the forces of the future, namely an imaginery advanced steam technology (the previous work harnesses psychic energy as a weapon), and destroys London (Neo-Tokyo in the previous work) in the process. A muddled cautionery tale of shadowy technology used as a weapon.

The protagonist is hardly endearing. The Japanese depiction of a Victorian world is charmless, yet hardly brutal or realistic, and is filled with bland characters.

I was hoping for a visual feast, never mind the storytelling, I did not get one.

"Nobody stole, nobody grumbled over his rations, the quarrelling and biting and jealousy which had been normal features of life in the old days had almost disappeared. Nobody shirked - or almost nobody."
Exerpt from George Orwell's 'The Animal Farm'
Precious, Tales from Turnpike House

The recent leak of the video of the forthcoming Depeche Mode single 'Precious' has appeared to indicate that Depeche Mode is finally returning to its form of electronic darkness of the late eighties and early nineties. This is welcomed.

Hopefully, 'Precious' will signal a shift from the bland electronic-blues which Depeche Mode has been peddling after the 'Songs of Faith and Devotion' to something along the lines of the singles from 'Violater' and 'Music for the Masses'. 'Ultra' and 'Exciter' were electronic valium. Competent lounge music but lounge music all the same. As my friend, Eugene has succinctly observed, 'In your Room' was the last Depeche Mode single to send 'shivers down your spine'.

St Etienne has appeared to be serving its own dish of electronic valium in the last three albums. These albums, while pleasant, lacks the immediacy of their previous pop singles. A few talking and rap tracks simply do not add an edge, being discordant and distracting.

"Work stops at sunset. Darkness falls over the building site. The sky is filled with stars. 'There is the blueprint,' they say. "
Exerpt from Italo Calvino's 'Invisible Cities'

21 August 2005

Notes on Weblog Entres

My entries for the next day would frequently go up about a few hours before midnight. I don't sleep late anymore, I have to work the day after usually.

I will often amend my entries for grammar, accuracy and typos after they are posted. It is a continuous process. If a new thought occurs to me, I will not hesitate to add it in a previous entry. I will often add images to previous entries too.

Blog entries are just what they are. Short commentaries of a few lines in length. For entries on books, they are not reviews, they are just reflections of a few ideas from the book. The opinions offered are my own though I may mention a friend's opinion and thought from time to time. This is not an online diary. I do write a diary but not electronically.

My blog is preoccupied with books, military affairs, history, SF, music (ebm, synthpop, goth, electronic music, etc) and my drawings. A large proportion of the site will likely consist of sketches I made over the last decade. And my intended audience? No one really, well, myself. Here, I articulate some thoughts, comments which may or may not be re-used in another context eventually.

If I have friends and people with possibly similar or related interests viewing and commenting, well, I will be very happy.

As for Singapore, you will realise that this blog has little to say about Singapore and its current affairs, culture, politics and more. Nothing on the local blog scene either. There are blogs out there that cover Singapore better. If you are here for stuff about Singapore, you generally won't find it here. You know my preoccupations.

The drawings are just what they are, drawings and short sketches. I will make no claim to them being art of any sort. At best, they are illustrations.

Some of the drawings will have some writing on the lower right corner. That is just the month and year for my tracking. I seldom sign my work anyhow. I enjoy drawing and I draw quite a lot.

*This is an entry that is back-dated. I wanted to tuck this in a corner somewhere.

Japanese Army Air Force Units

Among the more fascinating information in the book 'Japanese Army Air Force Fighter Units and Their Aces, 1931-1945' is the Ki-43's interception of B-24s. Given the lightness of the Ki-43's armament (two machine guns mounted depending on the model), it is amazing how Ki-43s were able to bring a few B-24s down.

This book includes some photos of Japanese fighters that were previously not seen in English language publications.

The operations of individual army air force units is the most interesting aspect of this volume.

Apparently, Ki-27 units were deployed in Malaya during the campaign and some Ki-27s were caught on the ground and destroyed by British bombers.

From the claim figures, I have a suspicion that a significant number of Japanese claims arose from the Allied penchant for diving when escaping the slower Japanese fighters.

"It has become almost a cliche to remark that nobody boasts of ignorance of literature, but it is socially acceptable to boast ignorance of science." Richard Dawkins

Rising Sun and Tumbling Bear

People rarely learn from history. The events illustrated in 'Rising Sun and Tumbling Bear' is indicative of the Russian inability to learn. In the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, the Japanese army utilised similar approaches to that taken in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895.

The same routes used were literally the same ones used in the earlier capture of Port Arthur then.

Divided Russian leadership with widely political diverse goals coupled with incompetence in some quarters were contributory factors to the military failure as well.

Japanese military success was due to a large variety of factors including that of a simple aggressive plan with improvision.

Another observation is that artillery preparation and counter battery fire were instrumental in the individual struggle for positions. The primitive logistics train of both sides were a brake on operations at times.

Given the current tensions in North-East Asia, I think the study of this campaign is becoming increasingly relevant.

"The beauty of science is that it allows us to transcend our intuitions about the world, and it provides us with methods by which we can determine which of our intuitions are right and which are not. Common sense tell us that the earth is flat, that the sun moves around it, and that the people who know the least often speak the loudest." Daniel Gilbert, Psychologist, Harvard University