03 September 2005

Books Hunt

I spotted Spinrad's 'Bug Jack Barron' and 'The Druid King' at Borders last night. I also saw Sawyer's 'Mindscan' in hardcover there. Sterling's latest is nowhere in sight.

All four books were not available at Sunny bookstore. Over the years, I seem to have the impression that Sunny bookstore is simply carrying less and less new SF titles in favour of true and tried bestsellers. I have bought a lot less books from Sunny bookstore these few years.

I may visit the Kinokuniya bookstore at Ngee Ann City sometime today.

The new 2005 reprint of 'Bug Jack Barron' is much more aesthetically pleasing to the eye than the older black one which I have got. Yes, I know, the new has that usual defocused photograpy but the colours are consistent within a limited palatte. The old cover is just a bunch of gaudy red words within a black cover. Horrid!

I bought the 'The Armies of the Caliphs: Military and Society in the Early Islamic State' and 'Historiography : Ancient, Medieval, and Modern' from Borders last night.
When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler

This is an outstanding new volume based on information available since 1989. The perspective offered is from Soviet sources and it includes operations like the previously unknown Operation Mars.

Soviet casualties figures in individual campaigns are presented in tabular form whereas previous studies of this titanic struggle have often omitted this aspect. The figures are startling as the casualties is indicative of the enormity of the campaigns in the Eastern Front.

Units positions and strengths which was previously estimated and guessed at in studies based on German sources are also presented in this volume and some of Glantz's other work. David M. Glantz who is often considered the current English language authority on the Soviet war machine in the Second World War has written a concise, accessible and invaluable work of the Great Patriotic War from Soviet sources.

I have read Glantz's study on Kursk and Operation Mars.

"The meme for blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging rational inquiry." Richard Dawkins

A tank destroyer which is based on mounting a 75mm L48 gun on a PzKw-38 chassis. This diminutive vehicle was to prove a thorn in the sides of the Allies.

It was adopted by the Swiss army as the G13 after the Second World War. The vehicle was also in service with the Swedes for a limited number of years postwar.

A few months ago, I visited a model shop at Sunshine Plaza at Prinsep Street and bought a book on the operations leading to the liberation of Czechoslovakia. In the book, there are many unusual black and white photos of the Soviet and Germany armour and troops, photos which I have not seen elsewhere. The Hetzer is prominent in many of the photos.

"I must write a letter to you
I must make myself clear
It is spot on time, right on cue
I am a clam, somebody said to me
It's obscene, there must be a motive behind
It's obscure, there must be someone behind"
Clan of Xymox 'Muscovite Mosquito'

02 September 2005

Wargames, Japanese game companies, haemorrhaging Malaysian carrier and what not

It's a Friday! Finally, the end of the week draws near. I shall visit Borders tonight and do my usual weekly book hunt. I may pick up Norman Spinrad's 'The Druid King'. Then, I will go sit at a cafe, draw some stuff and read the rulebooks to my newly acquired wargames 'Under the Lily Banner' and 'Men of Iron'.

On the matter of arcade and console games, I read on the Asian Wall Street Journal that Square Enix is buying Taito. And Bandai bought Namco some time ago. Has there been a wave of consolidation in the Japanese game industry? These are names from my younger days when I still visited the arcades. I have fond memories of Namco's 'Assault'. Ahh... those days in the late eighties when 'greed was good'. Heheh.

The Malaysian national carrier, the Malaysian Airline System (MAS) appears to be haemorrhaging to the tune of 280.7 million riggit this quarter. It is obvious that the other Malaysian carrier, the discount airline, AirAsia, has been a major contributing cause. Will this eventually be a case of national pride sustaining the national carrier like in the case of the Filipino national carrier? If AirAsia were to finally destroy MAS, will it be renamed to AirMalaysia? I wonder.

While I am interested in the Cheng Ho expeditions, I am loathed to spend money for entry to the exhibition held at Suntec City since it is associated with the '1421' book, a volume, surely, of somewhat dubious scholarship and research, something akin to the von Daniken and Velikovsky schools of research in history and science. Hmm... I am undecided.

I am reminded. I will keep a look out for Sterling's new book 'The Zenith Angle' and Robert Sawyer's 'Mindscan'. 'Zenith Angle' doesn't seem very promising. Oh well. More on those later.
The Cove

A fun piece to do. I drew quickly while I was having a sweet drink at the domain of Dr. Evil (ie. Starbucks) at Liat Tower one weekend. I am quite pleased with the finished piece. I have quite a few more drawings of this nature lined up.

"I've been searching for so long
Now i'm chasing the shadows away
I've been trying, yes i tried to find my way

No more crying in the make or break decade"
Alphaville 'Flame'

01 September 2005

Funker Vogt 'Gunman'

I just won this off an auction on eBay and it arrived last week. Hurrah! I ordered it on Amazon once but after a few months, they wrote back that they could not locate that item despite having listed it! Boooo!

This is an aggressive and infectious single without the harsh electronics found in some industrial and ebm releases, being full of bleeps and such. The vocals are heavily processed, distorted (the usual cookie monster vocals) and harsh. WOO! Good stuff.

The stomping single includes several remixes of 'Gunman', a remix of 'Nuclear Winter' and the track 'F-117'. It makes one want to don on a pair of steel-tipped boots and go out there and do some damage! My two favourite Funker Vogt singles are 'Gunman' and 'Subspace'.

The quintessential rivethead single. Gonna blast this.
The Tower

This was done at the same time as the previous work. For this piece, I was inspired by the great in-game graphics found in Guild Wars. One of the villages in that game had a hint of an Italian or Spanish village during summer. Hence, I tried a stark image of stone buildings in the sun. This is a very small pen sketch measuring 10cm by 8cm at most. Most of my sketches today are small quick affairs.

"A tacit contract! That is to say, a wordless, and consequently a thoughtless and will-less contract: a revolting nonsense!"
Mikhail Bakunin on the Social Contract

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'