And though I had slain a thousand foes less one,
The thousandth knife found my liver;
The thousandth enemy said to me,
'Now you shall die,
Now none shall know.'
And the fool, looking down, believed this,
Not seeing, above his shoulders, the naked stars,
Each one remembering.
--John M. Ford, The Final Reflection

The Asylum Director

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"The only thing I was fit for was to be a writer, and this rested solely on my suspicion that I would never be fit for real work, and that writing didn't require any." - Russel Baker

Friday, September 15, 2006

Top 10 Books

Well, as promised…my Top 10 favorite fiction books. As with my other Top 10 list, this is a temporary list. As I read more, books will be added and removed. I personally never saw the point of an ‘all-time’ list since, as new things are made, the list can be altered. This is true for films, video games, books and even something as mundane as shoes (if anyone ever bothered to make a Top 10 list for shoes). Sure, there will always be some that are rock-solid on the list such as Final Fantasy VII is for many console gamer’s list, stupid as that decision would be. But now I’m just ranting. On to the list!

Oh, I cannot help but mention this again: this is a list my current favorite fiction books.

10. The Bible (various authors): without a doubt, this book is both a magnificent piece of propaganda and a good work of fiction. Any idiot who actually believes this to be a religious book is…well, an idiot. I have to admit, I’m an opponent of religion in general and I save a particular distrust and dislike of the Catholic Church but this book is magnificent. It has everything. Sex, intrigue, violence, conflict. Certainly, there are a lot of things about it that are historically accurate but that doesn’t mean the book is actually a historical account. In the same way that the piece of garbage that is Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is considered historical fiction, so is The Bible. It isn’t just historical fiction either. As previously mentioned, it is also the finest crafted piece of propaganda in human history, a cornerstone of the longest-running con in the world: Christianity! I’d like this more if it wasn’t constantly being claimed as a religious piece.

9. Belinda (Anne Rice): I love this book. This, for me, is Anne Rice before she turned back on her fans and on The Vampire Chronicles and The Lives of The Mayfair Witches. I don’t want to judge and if she wants to make the stupid decision of doing so for the purpose of joining some stupid religion, that’s her choice. Anyway, I personally think Anne Rice was at her best with this book. Belinda (the character, book) is, by far, the character I like most out of all of Rice’s creations, with the possible exception of Gabrielle De Lioncourt. She’s very endearing and, even though I have extreme difficulty relating to her on many levels, she isn’t what you’d expect after reading the summary at the back. The story itself if very sensual, very erotic but manages to avoid going into the trap that other erotic fiction falls into. I think, somewhere, it was realized that what’s implied and left to the imagination is far more sensual, more seductive than anything put into words on paper. It doesn’t hold the same scope or drama as, say, Queen of the Damned or Memnoch The Devil but it has a certain quality to it I find more appealing.

8. Sputnik Sweetheart (Haruki Murakami): Murakami is fast becoming my new favorite author. This is actually one of his shorter novels and the only one I’ve seen so far that has a female lead, a break from his usual mid-life crisis male salaryman leads. I actually relate to Sumire on a number of levels. I can easily see myself becoming almost a parody of her if I ever take my writing as seriously as she does. I can relate to her frustrations with her writing. She starts but seems unable to finish most of the time. I simply adore her personality and her many quirks since I actually found a lot of them in me. I also find little trouble relating to K, the narrator, because, like him, I know what it feels like to be just a friend to the girl you love. There’s a certain degree of electricity that gets me going when I read through the way the characters interact. I don’t know if this is just due to Murakami’s style, which differs from what I usually read, but I always have trouble putting his books down. I confess most of his fans find this book to be of lower quality than his others but I rather like it.

7. Dracula (Bram Stoker): the vampire novel, no questions asked. This is one of the finest examples of gothic horror there are. The atmosphere that Stoker creates, from the environs of Castle Dracula to the streets of London, is extraordinary. There is a sense of genuine terror whenever you read about an encounter with The Count in his numerous forms. It isn’t the vampire that got me interested in this book, it was the way things were presented. The Count is, in many ways, presented as an ultimate evil and is both a physically present villain and a representation of the darkness and corruption that human beings are capable of. There have been countless interpretations of this story, of this character but none have ever really managed to bring out the extraordinary mix of elegance, dominance, greed, lust and sheer presence that The Count exudes in the book.

6. The Phantom of The Opera (Gaston Leroux): without a doubt, the novel is significantly better than the musical. The Phantom is an incredible villain done with exquisite flair. As Dracula has that lord of the night sensibility to him, Erik exudes a sense of deseration, of loneliness and of inner powerlessness despite his dominance of the opera house that he haunts. He understands that society can never accept him and will always cast him away because of his deformities but in Christine Daae he sees a faint hope of finding some semblance of acceptance, of love. The Phantom longs for someone to end his loneliness, someone to share his world of endless night and infinite music with. In the end, isn’t the pursuit of love something so utterly human? I guess in a way, I think Erik was trying to seek a humanity he feels he lost or never had, through both his music and his pursuit of Christine. It isn’t the smartest idea in the world but it makes for a very sympathetic character, one that makes the novel quite memorable.

5. Carmilla (John Le Fanu): perhaps the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Carmilla is also the root of the stereotypical lesbian vampire. This is unusually short and at times, the style can be oddly fragmented but where it really shines is the way that Carmilla interacts with the narrator. There isn’t much of a grand mystery to it and she isn’t presented as being as cunning and as powerful an evil as The Count was but she has her own wicked charms. Like Dracula, Carmilla is slain at the end and like Dracula, her influence on the surviving characters can never be undone. Certainly, Dracula was scarier and was better written but one cannot help but be enamored by Carmilla’s rather dark charms. Also, I currently find the toned down sexual air of Carmilla to be more appealing than Dracula since so much vampire fiction has that sensuality and eroticism that it gets…boring. Here, there is definitely an attraction but I never got a sexual vibe out of it.

4. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden): this book is excellent from every angle I look at it. There’s really noothing I can add to what people have already said about the book and I won’t even try. There’s so much beauty in this book that I can’t figure out how to even begin explaining why I like it so much. Everything is described in vivid detail but not to the point that it chokes the reader, stifles the imagination. All of the characters, from the greedy Mother to the cruel, insecure Hatsumomo to the lead, the sublime and beautiful Sayuri are interesting and endearing, each playing a part in the well-oiled machine that is the narrative of this story. The movie adaptation, like most movie adaptations, was a disappointment when compared to the book but that’s to be expected. This one deserves a place on the bookshelf of any lover of good fiction and any praises it has garnered are well-deserved.

3. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebould): I can’t praise this book enough, I think. I initially thought it was some sort of horror story and, at the start, it does seem like one, with the narrator being dead and all. Yet, as I read on, I realized it wasn’t. I can’t really tell what genre this is. It isn’t a coming of age story since little Susie Salmon never gets the chance to do so. It isn’t a romance either though she does describe those relationships in the people she left behind. It isn’t horror and it isn’t a detective mystery since we know who did it to her; Susie herself reveals it to us pretty early on in the story. I honestly have no idea how to place this into a single category since it takes elements from a lot of things. All I know for sure is that it is an excellent story and it provides for an interesting perspective on how to narrate a story about people’s lives, which all too often are tainted by the narrator being part of the inside and not detached from it. It has an elegant simplicity that puts it above most other fiction today and I sincerely believe the longer things go, the more people will appreciate this book. Out of all the books in this list, The Lovely Bones is one of the two I think everyone should read at least once. This book deserves far more attention than it has gotten but we can thanks garbage like The Da Vinci Code and J.K. Rowling for that. Though, in a way, I’m thankful. A movie adaptation of this would be sorely disappointing anyway.

2. At The Mountains Of Madness (H.P. Lovecraft): one of the underlying themes of Lovecraft’s works is the insignificance of man and human concepts of morality. Yet, a main fixture of what has been added on to the so-called Cthulhu Mythos have been beings described as ‘gods’ when, in reality, this contradicts Lovecraft’s original ideas, his sort of anti-mythology. Perhaps in response to such, he wrote this piece and made clear that the Old Ones, the Elder Things and such were not divine beings but aliens with technology and biology far more advanced than our own. I’m not even sure what I like about this story, really. I enjoyed it when I first read it and I tend to agree with Lovecraft’s themes but I certainly don’t think this is his best work. The Dunwich Horror or maybe The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward have that honor. Still, I needed something that represented what the Mythos is all about and, for me, At The Mountains of Madness does a better job than the others.

1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (Douglas Adams): I think my feelings on this book are best summed up by this quote from the book itself: DON’T PANIC. This story makes for some very interesting reading, if nothing else. The degree of absurdity in his work varies but the talent in his work doesn’t. If you didn’t chuckle the first time you read the description of how Vogon bureaucracy works or the stupidity of the Ravenous Bug Blatter Beast of Traal, then you don’t have a sense of humor. Amidst all this insanity, he also managed to weave a good amount of sensibility into the work. That is most evident early on in the story. The good sense, the good humor and the unorthodox approach to handling fiction all make the so-called Hitchhikers “trilogy” a must-read and the first book in it even more so. Unlike most science fiction, there isn’t any overwhelming moral argument or philosophical discussion of this or that technology. It is simply a fun ride filled with chaos, comedy, absurdity and the presence of some of the strangest, most endearing characters this side of Magrathea. Where would we be without the answer ‘42’? People have to read this book, even if this is the only book they’ll ever read in their lives. After all, the book is harmless. Mostly harmless.

And that’s that for this list. I’ll do a Top 10 favorite TV shows or video game characters next time around. Anyway, I’ll add some updates to this entry as well.

In terms of gaming, I’ve encountered a few problems. My copy of Lunar 2: Eternal Blue is faulty. It suffers from horrible slowdown at random locations and it makes for a less than enjoyable experience. While I intend to lay it through to the end, unless the slowdown problems clear up soon, I won’t be playing it with the same frequency as say…Thousand Arms. I won’t abandon it though. I’ve always liked the original and I’m determined to finish the sequel. Besides that, I’ve also started playing another SoTN again, just for kicks. I won’t be playing it as religiously as I did before but I don’t think I’ll be burning out the CD due to excessive use. I still haven’t found a working copy of LoD however. That’s a damn shame, really. I’m thinking of playing Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver again since I never really finished it before. Sure, I have the script for all the games in the series somewhere in my HD but it doesn’t feel the same, you know?

Since I won’t be playing as often as I used to, that gives me more time to work on my writing. I’ve decided to drop my other ideas and put them into the ‘Unfinished Business’ folder on my system and work on an old idea of mine: a modern-day version of Dante’s Inferno. It has been a long, long time since I even considered the idea but right now, I think I’ll focus all my creative energies onto it until I finish. One thing Dante did that I know I can’t would be the focus on the tormented, on the sinners in Hell. I intend to go a different route and focus on the residents of Hell, the demons and devils of the place. I’m still undecided on how it should be structured and if I should make it seem as if there are prominent locations there but that’s secondary. The main allure of the original was the creative ways tht sinners were punished for their sins and I don’t intend to ignore that. I just need to refine my ideas on the matter a little more, add some spit-shine on it.

I’m reluctant to say I’ve found work again since…well, the last time I did that, it wasn’t pretty. For now, I’ll give it a week before I confirm where I’m working though, for privacy reasons, I can’t say what I do and who the company does it for. I admit the pay is lower than anything I’ve ever gotten but at least I have a degree of control over my hours. That’s always a plus.

Anyway, that should be all for today. Let me leave you with this wonderful quote from Douglas Adams:
“Writing is easy. You only need to stare at a blank piece of paper until a drop of blood forms on your forehead.”

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