A Book: American Gods

These are gods who have been forgotten, and now might as well be dead. They can be found only in dry histories. They are gone, all gone, but their names and their images remain with us.

These are the gods who have passed out of memory. Even their names are lost. The people who worshiped them are as forgotten as their gods. Their totems are long since broken and cast down. Their last priests died without passing on their secrets.

Gods die. And when they truly die they are unmourned and unremembered. Ideas are more difficult to kill than people, but they can be killed, in the end.

– Neil Gaiman in American Gods.


Quite a few comic book writers have over the years tried their hand at writing novels, but none have achieved as much mainstream success and recognition as Neil Gaiman, winning the Hugo, Nebula and Bram Stoker Awards for Best Novel for American Gods. This is partly explained by the fact that Gaiman actually co-wrote a novel, Good Omens, together with Terry Pratchett, before ever venturing into comics, which he did in a big way, by taking up the mantle for Miracleman following Alan Moore’s departure from the series. Nevertheless, Gaiman is best known for writing the highly acclaimed Sandman series from 1989 to 1996.

American Gods features some of the same themes as The Sandman and deals with the subject of gods, in this case, once great gods whose powers have waned as their worshipers have died off and their religions fallen into obscurity. Set in contemporary times, the novel follows the adventures of Shadow, a recently released convict from prison, as he travels across the United States while working for a mysterious employer, meets with a large number of decidedly odd individuals and learns quite a few secrets along the way, including secrets about himself and the nature of America.

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2008 Recession

I just read these lyrics, to be sung to the tune of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody on QT3 and just had to post them here.

Is this the real price
Is this just fantasy
Financial landslide
No escape from reality

Open your eyes
And look at your buys and see.
I’m now a poor boy
High-yielding casualty

Because I bought it high,
watched it blow
Rating high,
value low

Any way the Fed goes
Doesn’t really matter to me,
to me

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RIP Arthur C. Clarke

March is turning out to be a bad month for geeks around the world. Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, died earlier this month and Arthur C. Clarke, one of few remaining writers from the Golden Age of science-fiction and the last of the “Big Three”, has just died today at the age of 90. These days, the media remembers Clarke mostly for his collaboration with Stanley Kubrick on 2001: A Space Odyssey, predicting the concept of geosynchronous communications satellites before the technology for them became possible and for the often used quote that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

For me however, Clarke’s most memorable work was Childhood’s End, a novel about humanity transcending itself. It’s also the only one of my novels that my mother liked. Growing up, I had piles of science-fiction and fantasy novels lying all around the place and my mother would occasionally pick one up and flip through it. Most of the time, she never got past the first page. To my surprise, not only did she finish reading Childhood’s End, afterwards she asked me, “I liked that one. Do you have any more like it?”

Childhood’s End had captured my imagination ever since I’ve read an extract of it published as a short story in a collection edited by Isaac Asimov, another one of the “Big Three” writers, who died in 1992. It was collections like this that convinced me that the true soul of science-fiction, as the literature of ideas, lies not in novels but in short stories. I also remember the palpable awe that I felt when I first read Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama. Nowadays, gigantic spaceships in space is an overused theme, but Rama was one of the first examples of it and Clarke’s words captured the huge scale of it in a way that no other author has been able to replicate since.

Clark’s later life in Sri Lanka was blighted by allegations of pedophilia that has been proved to be false and although he tried to continue writing, he never could quite keep up with the new crop of writers. Nevertheless, his place in the history of science-fiction is assured and he will be forever remembered.

U.S. War Memorial in Solomon Islands


My wife and I visited the U.S. War Memorial here in Honiara over the weekend. We’ve been here plenty of times already but we didn’t take any photos. Guadalcanal Island was a major battleground of the Pacific theatre during World War 2, with many losses on both the American and Japanese side, so it’s not surprising that there is a well maintained memorial here. The U.S. military makes regular visits to the Solomon Islands, sending personnel and fighter jets in honour of their war dead. The film The Thin Red Line is based on the Guadalcanal campaign and is worth watching if you can put up with its 3 hours running length.

The U.S. Memorial is located along Skyline Ridge, on a hilltop that overlooks Honiara, so it’s a rather pleasant and scenic place to visit. The memorial itself is simply a collection of marble slabs with details descriptions of the battles and lists of losses. They make for good reading if you’re interested in World War 2 history, though in the case you should probably go read the Wikipedia entry on the subject instead.

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There are plenty of free web games around these days, but I dare say that none can match the cheek and humour of Forumwarz. Many of its mechanics merely replicate the familiar monster grinding for experience points and loot of traditional role-playing games, but everything else is hilariously different: instead of a generic fantasy world, you’re placed in a Bizarro version of the Internet with parody versions of familiar web services, Sentrillion for example, replaces Google, sTalk replaces instant messaging services like Skype and the game wiki is called appropriately enough the Spoilerpedia; instead of slaying monsters for xp, you’re given the job of pwning various Internet forums; and instead of slashing with swords or blasting with spells, the attacks in your repertoire have names like “ASCII Art Attack”, “Drool on Keyboard” and “Insult”.

At least these are the attacks that I learned as a troll. Other classes available are the Cam Whore and the Emo Kid. Anyone familiar with the dynamics of Internet forums should be familiar with these archetypes. To liven up your frequent attacks on forums, you also occasionally given the opportunity to perform some side missions including a gloriously retro text adventure minigame. The writing throughout the entire experience is fantastic and pokes fun at the full range of Internet culture though you might get tired of the admittedly simple combat pretty fast. If you make it a daily habit to visit one or more online forums, you owe it to yourself to at least check this awesome game out.

After the Malaysian Election

Before the elections, I expressed some doubt about the governing experience of the opposition parties, especially the DAP, and unfortunately, it seems that I’m being proved right. The opposition so-called Barisan Rakyat has shown a crack just days after winning historic gains in the election when DAP leader Lim Kit Siang publicly spoke on behalf of the DAP Central Executive Committee to state that they disagreed with the decision of the Regent of Perak Raja Dr Nazrin Shah to appoint Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin of PAS as Menteri Besar of Perak and even called for the DAP to boycott the swearing in ceremony. Their grounds for doing so is that PAS won the fewest number of seats in Perak and that they would be happy to accept either DAP’s or PKR’s candidate for the post instead.

This is a ridiculous stand to take when even Ngeh Koo Ham, the DAP candidate for the post, had already stated that all three candidates from the DAP, PKR and PAS would accept whichever one of them that the Regent picked to be Menteri Besar and that all three parties would cooperate to govern the state properly. It looks like Lim Kit Siang is determined to make a liar out of his Perak state party chief. Predictably, MCA Perak state chief Ong Ka Chuan is trying to widen the crack as much as he can by saying that if DAP allows a PAS member to become Menteri Besar, they would be betraying the trust of the Chinese who voted for them.

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New Deadly Sins

Most people willl be familiar be the seven deadly sins in Christianity: Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Pride. If you’re not, just go watch David Fincher’s Seven. In an effort to keep up with globalization and the modern world, the Vatican has apparently decided to add a bunch new sins to the old list including drug abuse, polluting the environment, genetic manipulation and contributing to widening the divide between the rich and the poor.

Now the original seven sins never did make much logical sense, for example, you could argue that Lust, Gluttony and Envy are all variations of Greed, but at least they have a sort of poetic resonance. You can’t really say the same for these new ones and isn’t worrying about the divide between the rich and the poor yet another variation on the Greed theme? Besides, by explicitly condemning genetic manipulation as being inherently sinful, the Vatican will be contributing to the rising tide of anti-science protesters around the world and making it harder to bring the benefits of the technology to the world. Is genetically manipulating bacteria to create synthetic versions of fossil fuels sinful for example?

The irony here is that without genetic manipulation, humanity wouldn’t be what it is today. Civilization was built by early human hunter gatherers settling down to become farmers and in order to do that, they had to selectively choose animals and plants to breed in such a way as to reinforce the desirable traits in them and to reduce undesirable ones. In this way, wolves were tamed to become work dogs, wild plants were cultivated to become reliable food crops and the fearsome aurochs of our ancestors’ time have been turned into the placid cows of today. Humans took what they found in nature and manipulated their breeding across generations so that their descendants would better serve our needs. All of that counts as genetic manipulation even if it wasn’t done by men in white lab coats.

The unexamined life is a life not worth living