Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

The cover of Ready Player One says “Enchanting. WILLY WONKA meets THE MATRIX.” —USA Today. I thought it was more like Second Life meets Speed Racer meets Surrogates.

OASIS, the book’s highly advanced and therefore seemingly magical virtual world, in some ways resembles Second Life, an online platform where user avatars can interact with one another in a variety of digital settings for business, education, entertainment, or personal reasons. In both cases, the world is fake but the social and economic relationships inside it are very real.

The book embodies modern liberal values such as the superiority of science over superstition, the urgency of the need for alternative energy sources, the right to online anonymity, the idea that information (and thus education) wants to be free, the equality of all races, genders, and sexual orientations, the importance of inner beauty, the protection of basic human rights, and, of course, the inherent evil of money-grubbing mega-corporations run by villains who, like Speed Racer‘s E.P. Arnold Royalton, will not hesitate to take with deadly force whatever their obscene piles of cash can’t buy.

To the extent that the book has a message, it’s that of the mediocre 2009 Bruce Willis movie Surrogates: the real world should be more important to humans than any substitute. However, the whole of Ready Player One seems to argue the exact opposite: “The digital world is really cool, guys! We can use it to live in our own retro-futuristic fantasy worlds, like, forever!” The moral of the story thus seems not just tacked on but insincere.

What, then, is the point? The novel is an unsubtle homage to the pop culture of several decades set in a technologically superior “dystopia”, though anything with so much baked-in wish-fulfillment can’t possibly be properly dystopian, if you ask me.

But hey. At least there’s a Firefly reference in there.

See below for more thoughts on the novel as well as a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Threelogy Lah by Casey Chen

This box set contains three folk tales told in Singlish style: The Three Little Pigs Lah, The Red Riding Hood Lah, and The Goldilocks Lah.

The plots are not very different from other adaptations of these familiar tales. The characters are not very different, except that the bears in the story of Goldilocks are not bears but wolves, a change presumably made to connect the third book with the first two. The setting for the stories is Singapore. The illustrations are a mix of drawings and photos of objects and places, and each book’s drawings are by a different artist.

The appeal of these books (in general and for me specifically) is that they use and teach Singlish dialect and slang expressions. The target audience includes both those who want to see their own dialect used for humorous effect and those who are unfamiliar with Singlish and interested in increasing their understanding of it.

See below for more details about these books.

Continue reading Threelogy Lah by Casey Chen

Book launch for The Missing Barbegazi by H.S. Norup

H.S. Norup, a fellow member of the Singapore Writers’ Group, has published her first novel, The Missing Barbegazi, with Pushkin Press.

Here she is launching her book at the atrium of the Singapore National Library during the Asian Festival of Children’s Content. She gave a presentation offering some background on the book and its characters, read an excerpt aloud, and signed and sold all the copies at the festival bookshop. It went great!

Photos below.

Continue reading Book launch for The Missing Barbegazi by H.S. Norup

Tiananmen: 25th Anniversary Edition by Morgan Chua

Caricatures don’t make much sense if you don’t know what’s being exaggerated or why….. There was some background information included in the front of the book, but mostly this is a collection of political cartoons that I don’t have enough context to appreciate.

The author is a Singapore-born cartoonist, and the cartoons were originally published in book form in 1989.

The events that took place at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on 4 June 1989 attracted international attention and sparked outrage at the Chinese government’s military advance on student demonstrators. Since then, a new generation of Chinese has grown up in a country that continues to grapple with issues of political liberalisation, democracy and censorship.

When and Why I Read Tiananmen

I bought it on sale at localbooks.sg.

Genre: non-fiction (graphic novels, politics and history)
Date started / date finished:  28-Aug-18 to 30-Aug-18
Length: 128 pages
ISBN: 9789810779276
Originally published in: 2014
Amazon link: Tiananmen: 25th Anniversary Edition

Four books from LocalBooks.sg

Singapore online bookseller localbooks.sg has done some good branding work. The bubble envelope is bold and cheerful, and the books I ordered came with a friendly note on which someone had written my name, and a little word search that promotes local authors.

See below to find out which books I ordered. (They were on sale.)

Continue reading Four books from LocalBooks.sg

Magician (Master/Apprentice) by Raymond E. Feist

I struggled to get through these. I’m not sure what made them seem so boring. Dwarves, elves, wizards, kings, princesses, armies, a dragon, an interdimensional portal… yawn.

Maybe the story felt plot-driven? Maybe it followed too many characters? Maybe it covered too much time? Maybe the author’s preferred version is appreciably worse than the bestselling version the publisher released in 1982? Maybe what feels like a cookie-cutter fantasy epic now would have sounded fresh in 1982? Maybe George R. R. Martin’s ridiculously successful Ice and Fire books now outshine all previous fantasy works?

It’s not that I’ve read so much non-fiction that I don’t enjoy fantasy anymore. I loved Brandon Mull’s Five Kingdoms. I think the reason I didn’t like Magician is probably something to do with style changes that have taken place in the fantasy fiction market.

When and Why I Read Magician

Recently, I have tended to read non-fiction and serious fiction. I am using a friend’s recommendation as an excuse to read Magician, a genre fantasy novel split into two mass-market paperbacks. I bought them for $1 each in 2007.

Genre: fantasy
Originally published in: 1982/1994

Date started / date finished:  21-Jul-18 to 27-Jul-18
Length: 485 pages
ISBN: 0553564943
Amazon link: Magician: Apprentice

Date started / date finished:  27-Jun-18 to 11-Aug-18
Length: 499 pages
ISBN: 0553564935
Amazon link: Magician: Master

Handful of books from Book Treasure

Got these at Book Treasure at Parklane Shopping Centre:

  • Singapore: The Air-Conditioned Nation by Cherian George
  • Success with Asian Names by Fiona Swee-Lin Price
  • Book of Humour, assembled by Rewa Mirpuri
  • Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami
  • Singapore Siu Dai by Felix Cheong, illustrated by Pman
  • Meet Me on the Queen Elizabeth 2 by Catherine Lim

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

Being neither a young male Irish Catholic nor an English major and at least one even slightly acclaimed novel short of an artist, I felt lost slogging through this “more approachable” work of Joyce’s.

In praise of what I find to be an impenetrable text, Shmoop says:

This novel, the first in Joyce’s whopping hat-trick of great novels, is both shorter and more approachable than either of Joyce’s later masterpieces (for which we humbly thank him). Portrait of the Artist really unleashed the massive power of Joyce’s innovation and unconventionality upon the literary world.

Why I found A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man hard to read

Fiction has character, setting, plot, and style. When any one of these four elements is developed at the expense of the other three, you get strange fiction. Sometimes it’s good strange and sometime it’s bad strange. Joyce’s fiction is primarily characterized by style—innovative and unconventional style. The literary world considers Joyce’s fiction good strange. For me, A Portrait of the Artist was bad strange.

I’m more of a nineteenth-century Realist than a twentieth-century Modernist or Post-modernist. I don’t like unreliable narrators, stream-of-consciousness narration, or magical realism. Joyce is known for free indirect speech, which is a kind of stream-of-consciousness narration.

The edition I read in high school had an introduction and notes built in, but many free and “thrift” editions, like the one I just finished reading, do not. It would have been better (though slower) to read the novel alongside some kind of notes (e.g., CliffsNotes or SparkNotes).

See below for what stuck out as well as when and why I read it.

Continue reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

Exit West by Moshin Hamid

Exit West reminds me of Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s The Long Earth in that people suddenly discover a game-changing method of moving from place to place. It also reminds me of Christopher Manson’s puzzle book Maze because of the mysterious doors.

Rumors had begun to circulate of doors that could take you elsewhere, often to places far away, well removed from this death trap of a country. Some people claimed to know people who knew people who had been through such doors. A normal door, they said, could become a special door, and it could happen without warning, to any door at all. Most people thought these rumors to be nonsense, the superstitions of the feeble-minded. But most people began to gaze at their own doors a little differently nonetheless.

I love the premise, the penetrating insight, and the deadpan style. See below for what stood out as well as when and why I read it.

Continue reading Exit West by Moshin Hamid

1984 by George Orwell

I re-read the dystopia 1984 in preparation for a talk I gave on language.

The main ideas I remembered from having read the novel at least twenty years ago were:

  • the government reduced the size of the English vocabulary (to control thought)
  • the government was constantly destroying and rewriting the nation’s news articles (to control facts)

I found those ideas so compelling that I forgot all about the main character’s love interest and the secret horror that proved to be his undoing.

Of course, the novel is also famous because it says that:

  • totalitarian dictators like the novel’s “Big Brother” typically keep tabs on their citizens by means of ubiquitous surveillance
  • you can (eventually) make anybody believe that two and two are five

See below for what stood out in the novel when I re-read it.

Continue reading 1984 by George Orwell