Friday, 25 May 2012

It's rather unplesantly like being drunk

"What's so unpleasant about being drunk?"

"Ask a glass of water."

These words are spoken between Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent, while about to travel into hyperspace onboard a ship of the Vogon constructor fleet that has just demolished the Earth. It is one of many, many genius quotations from a book I have a great fondness for and could quite happily quote all day long. And it would be quite fitting to do so today. For today... Towel Day!

I've mentioned it before, during my assertion that we should have a Shiny Day in honour of Firefly. It is a day to honour Douglas Adams, author of The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency as well as their many, many sequels. Two weeks after his tragic passing in 2001, fans of Hitch Hiker's decided that every 25th May from then on should be Towel Day, a day to pay tribute to the brilliance of Douglas Adams. Traditional fashion dictates that Towel Day be marked by the wearing of one's towel all day.

Hence why mine is on my hip, dangling like a gun in a holster, where it will remain for the rest of the day.

This is the essence of Towel Day.

That and I have the 1980 TV series of The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy playing in the background.

I will quoting along with it all day.

But I thought I would also talk about The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Much like my journey through the world of tea, there's been something of a journey for me here, with The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Rather fitting, given its title.

My journey began somewhere in 2005. I say somewhere. It was around May, in fact. This was when my GCSE exams were happening. I'm pretty sure this was the first time I had encountered Hitch Hiker's, though I may have come across it before. My mother had come across a long time before and she had the "Trilogy in Four Parts" version of the books (I have the hardcover Trilogy in Five Parts). Anyway, it was on BBC2, quite late at night and back in the day, I was a really nocturnal creature. Still am mostly, but work tends to mean I go to bed early.

Anyway, GCSEs, BBC2 and Hitch Hiker's. A combination of things that most of my teachers probably wouldn't approved of. Especially since my earliest and clearest memory of watching Hitch Hiker's was the day before my English Literature exam - an exam I had completely failed at during my mock exams the previous year. I say completely failed. I was given an E. My teacher had the distinct impression that this wasn't the grade I should've received. With that in mind, I probably shouldn't have been up late, having cram revised that day, watching TV.

But watch it I did. And thoroughly enjoy it I did. It was one of those things that I kept catching on TV now and again for the next few years. I even borrowed my mother's copy of the book. It is one of the only books that has ever made me laugh out loud. I mean, there are points in books that make me giggle, those that make me gasp at their twists, then there's The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. No other book has made me laugh so much. jPod (Douglas Coupland) came close, but it couldn't match the hysterics Hitch Hiker's reduced me to.

The hysterics I was reduced to wasn't the only effect Hitch Hiker's had on me. Around 2006/2007, well...there was this girl. It's a story my friends have heard a thousand times. But this particular incident led to an intriguing story being written. It goes something like this. Back in the day, I had codenames for girls I liked. Around 2006/2007, I had discovered James Cameron's Dark Angel and used X5 barcode designations as codes for these girls...this is not entirely a good story the more I say it, but oh well, it's in the past now.


It had reached the point where I'd explained the X5 thing to so many people that it wasn't so much of a secret code anymore. So, to preserve the secrecy of my crush on X5-718 (my school friends, if any of them are reading, should remember who this was), I wrote a completely random paragraph that contained within it all the elements that constituted the girl's name. Anyone who read it would just think it was something completely random. It was perfect. And somehow, it became the basis for a story I called "A Series of Universally Random Events" - essentially my version of Hitch Hiker's. Nowhere near as epic in length or funny in content, but oh well. It was something and people did find it funny, which was another something.

In 2008, I acquired the Trilogy in Five Parts of Hitch Hiker's. And it was probably around May that year that I was reading it, sitting in the window of my first year room, legs dangling out (I was on the first floor), vaguely enjoying the sunshine while laughing incessantly. Around the same time I bought the 1980 TV series on DVD (the same DVDs I'm half-watching now).

It wasn't until 2010 that I first observed Towel Day. I was working at TGI Friday's at the time. It was quite a quiet Tuesday. I had my towel hooked on my apron, on the side, gunslinger-style - the very same style I wear it today. The presence of the towel caused much, much confusion but after a quick explanation, everyone pretty much just accepted it and I went about my work. The next year, I had long since left TGI Friday's and was solely working at Boston Tea Party. I had checked and triple-checked that no one would have an issue with me wearing a towel to work, so all but one of my colleagues knew I was going to be wearing a towel. And no customers really questioned it.

No one tends to question the towel.

So this has been my random babble about Towel Day and The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I hope it's made sense and that everyone has a wonderful Towel Day, Glorious 25th May or Geek Pride Day, depending which geek holiday you're observing today. 

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Sitting Under the Shade of the Tree: Perdido Street Station

A long, long while ago it seems I had this crazy notion of doing a "literature" segment for this blog. I'm a writer and an avid reader, so it makes a lot of sense, right? But since that fateful post about William Gibson's Zero History, it would appear that I haven't really lived up to the end of the bargain I made. It's quite shocking really, when you consider in the two months of not having a computer to call my own I managed to read six books. Compared to the reading rates of many of my friends, this is nothing. But given how much time I usually have/allow to sit around and read, this is quite the achievement.

Oh, but I did manage to hold up to one end of the bargain. It may not be quite summer, but the weather has turned sufficiently sunny to warrant an alteration to the segment's name from "Curled Up Next to the Fire" to "Sitting Under the Shade of the Tree". As seasonal changes go, I think that's a pretty good metaphor.

Anyway, I think it's time to stop babbling about nothing in particular and babble about the specific subject of this entry: Perdido Street Station by China Miéville.

I first came to China Miéville's work with his 2009 novel The City & The City. It was weird, it was wonderful, it is definitely one of those books I'll have to read a second time to see if I can fully grasp all the concepts. It set up a good precedent for future enjoyment of Miéville's work. I can't remember entirely upon what whim I purchased Perdido Street Station, but purchase it I did and after finishing The Hobbit about a month ago and with the promise of the boxset of the entire (so far) Song of Ice and Fire series arriving sometime soon (though now delayed until July), I decided it was time to tackle the 867 page monster of a book in my nice stack of books to read.

And at about half one in the morning, I finally finished it.

Now I'll admit, I found it a bit of a slow-burn. Around halfway through the book, the plot really kicks in and some pretty terrifying monsters are unleashed. But regardless of this, Perdido Street Station is something of an astounding beauty. And for me, it's not actually the characters who stand out - though there are some pretty damn awesome ones in there - but the setting of the novel, New Crobuzon.

Miéville has this incredible way of world-building, where it's almost like the city isn't just a backdrop, but an entire character unto itself. New Crobuzon is this decaying, polluted, steampunk nightmare, populated by people who drift through, carrying on with lives that continue to pollute and stain their city, seemingly uncaring about the consequences, like they've reached such a level of trash and degradation that they're no longer choking on the toxic atmosphere - physical and metaphorical - and instead surrendering themselves to the reality of breathing deep for the rest of their days.

Running through this incredible character are equally incredible races - your bog-standard humans, water-dwelling vodyanoi, insect-headed khepri, the list goes on and on and to say much more would be to risk spoilers. And I don't want to risk spoilers here. Perdido Street Station was a fantastic journey, a novel that subtly drew me in then - at that halfway point I mentioned - sucker-punched me in the gut and ran off, knowing I had no choice but to run after it, crash-tackle it to the ground and keep reading to find out what the frak was going to happen next. Thus I must not say much more, since you must go out, buy this book, read and be astounded by it as I am. And also, take heart in the fact that it's not the last you'll hear of New Crobuzon or its fantastical setting of Bas-Lag. Perdido Street Station was merely the first in a trilogy. When I'm through my big stack of reading (including the imminent arrival of Song of Ice and Fire), I will be obtaining The Scar, book two. Might even risk reading a blurb about it now, since I didn't want to know what it might be about in case it gave away the fate of any of the characters.

At this point, I fear I am saying too much and skirting ever-closer to the dangerous spoiler line. And since it's now quarter past two in the morning, it's probably time for me to adjourn for the night, impressed that I managed to maintain a coherent flow of writing at this hour of the day.

So, in parting, go out and buy Perdido Street Station. It's brilliant.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

This isn't a videogame, Fisher!

I've wanted to do a top ten blog for a little while now. At first, I was considering doing a top ten "Tech Guys" list to honour the arrival of my new computer. Ended up gushing about Avengers Assemble instead. Won't lie, a film well worth gushing over. Now that I've dispensed with my arbitrary Avengers/Joss Whedon compliment, I'm going to get to something of a point.

Digging around on Facebook, I found some old "Notes" that I'd done. A couple of twenty-five random fact ones, four movie quotation ones (pitching to do a fifth, but haven't quite found the nerdy energy for it yet), a couple of completely nonsensical ones and my list of top ten games.

This note was written three years ago. 4th March 2009 to be utterly precise. And the most intriguing thing I've noted is how much my top ten has changed in those years. So in addition to giving you pictures and blurb of the games in my top ten, they will come with a notation as to whether they've gone up, down, stayed in the same position or been dethroned something entirely. Also, I like the idea of using the phrase "dethroned".

So without further ado, my top ten games:

10: Mass Effect (Xbox 360)

New Entry
Dethroned: Worms 4: Mayhem (PC)

It took me a long time to get from my Xbox (acquired around 2004/2005), to get to my 360 (acquired in 2011). It didn't take long for me to indulge in Mass Effect, a game that had been highly recommended to me. It did not disappoint. Like many things in this universe, I love and hate it...I hate it, because I wish I had thought up that storyline first. Still yet to truly play its sequels and there's a part of me that wants to keep it that way. Not only stunning to look at, but Mass Effect created a rich, wonderful universe, populated with intriguing characters who generated a compelling story to play through.

9: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 64)

Shuffled Down
Previous Position: 2

While from 2 to 9 seems like an incredible fall from grace, this should not reflect on the quality and beauty of this game. I can still remember the day I finally acquired this game, the fleeting opportunities to play it as my sister had hogged my N64 and later that evening was my nephew's first birthday party. But eventually, I became immersed in the game. Now I was eleven. I was a tempestuous child and I will admit to the odd falling out with Ocarina of Time. Threats of being thrown out, along with my N64 and entire collection, often followed repeated failures to defeat particularly diabolical bosses. Regardless, this game will always hold a special place in my heart and remains one of the finest games ever made.

8: Snowboard Kids (Nintendo 64)

Shuffled Down
Previous Position: 4

This is one of the games I credit with getting me through the stress of my GCSEs. Of course, having gone through A-Levels and a Creative Writing degree, GCSEs seem like an absolute cake-walk that I could probably do blindfolded at this juncture, I still owe this game. There's just something so cute and adorable about the game that makes it so much fun to come back to time and again. Snowboard Kids will forever remain a classic, a simple pleasure that I will never grow old. Kind of makes me wish I could really snowboard...

7: TimeSplitters 2 (Nintendo GameCube)

New Entry
Dethroned: Thief: The Dark Project (PC)

Represented here by my favourite level, 2019: NeoTokyo, TimeSplitters 2 is one of the best First-Person Shooters I've come across. I was first introduced to the game in 2008/2009 by one of my best friends, a man far more game-nerdier than I (with the unfortunate callsign "Lady Boy", but that's a traumatic story for another day) and completed the whole thing in a single two-hour sitting at his house. While that might seem far too easy and not so enjoyable, I keep coming back and back to TimeSplitters 2 and endlessly to NeoTokyo - mostly because I find it so damn pretty. Though one of its best features is its obvious use of time travel - thanks to this, you get to blast the living crap out of things from multiple time frames: cyberpunk gangs in 2019, bug-eyed aliens in 2280 and gangsters in 1932. Good...times.

6: Tachyon: The Fringe (PC)

Shuffled Down
Previous Position: 5

She's not gone far and there's pretty good reason for that. Tachyon: The Fringe is the best space-fighter game ever. Not only is it aesthetically pretty (being set in space, it has a lot of pretty things to look at), it has an incredibly gripping storyline that - like Mass Effect - I really, really wish I thought of first. Nonetheless, I love this game. I particularly love the pictured ships - the GalSpan Orion. A well-balanced fighter and when armed with Deimos Heavy Lasers and Solaris Torpedoes, a force never to be frakked with. That being said, when I go into the Twilight Region, I tend to favour the GalSpan Phoenix. Slower, but she takes much more punishment. Much, much more. To the point though, Tachyon was a brilliant piece of gaming ingenuity, with freedom to roam around vast areas of space populated by some pretty colourful characters. A superb game and timeless classic.

5: Half-Life 2 (PC)

New Entry
Dethroned: Tachyon: The Fringe (PC)

I wonder if I should have discovered this game sooner. On the other hand, I came to it at the perfect time. As borderline Obsessive-Compulsive (though many debate the "borderline" part), I had to play the first game...well...first. While it was a hard slog, I enjoyed the game and was richly rewarded for my time when I came to Half-Life 2 and was first given the Gravity Gun. When those two words enter the sentence, you know there is so much fun to be had. Especially when you get the super-charged version and pick up people and hurl them into disintegrating energy fields. Whilst humming Johann Strauss' "The Blue Danube" . Not to mention it has yet another brilliant, deeply engrossing storyline I'm jealous of.

4: Portal (PC)

New Entry
Dethroned: Snowboard Kids (Nintendo 64)

When it comes to be being jealous of storylines and ideas...the beauty of Portal makes you just want to travel to Bellevue, Washington and bow down before the writers of Valve Software. Then tell them "If you can't beat them, join them. I must join you. NOW!" It's near universally held that Portal did something so simple, yet so incredible that it blew the minds of many a gamer. And an honourable mention should go here to its sequel, Portal 2, equally mind-blowing and featuring J.K. Simmons. But here we are honouring the brain-teasing joy of Portal and the immense fun it has given us imagining practical applications for the Portal Gun in our everyday lives. Kudos, Valve...just...kudos.

3: Perfect Dark (Nintendo 64)

Previous Position: Right Here

When it comes to favourites, even the brand-new, shiny beautiful games cannot beat those classics that stole your heart as an innocent child. The other game responsible for my survival through my GCSEs and the best FPS I've ever played, Perfect Dark cannot be matched. It beat Portal and Half-Life 2. To most gamers that's a tall order I imagine. But when it comes to storyline, aesthetics and kick-ass British female heroines, Perfect Dark wins. Oh yeah and it has Area 51. I'm a bit of a conspiracy enthusiast. I love playing with Area 51, especially in my writing. I love what they did with the place. Oh and they named an alien "Elvis". Dude. Awesome.

2: The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (Nintendo 64)

New Entry
Dethroned: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 64)

I suspect this may be viewed as a controversial decision, but Ocarina of Time's direct sequel wins. Both games are beautiful, but Majora's Mask is so much more colourful, as well as being quite a bit darker in content. It also plays a lot more with temporal mechanics and I do thoroughly enjoy a good spot of casual time-travel. Also, it has an utterly beautiful soundtrack - my favourite piece being the song the Indigo-Go's play over the top of the end credits. While it was quite the short game in terms of bosses and temples, the three-day Groundhog-Day-reminiscent cycles kept you on your toes and kept those side quests going for many a sleepless night after the final triumph of defeating the ultimate boss.

1: Deus Ex (PC)

Previous Position: Right Here

I don't think anything will ever, *ever* be able to top this game. When it comes to games I wish I'd written first, this is the Big Kahuna. The storyline is so vast, so rich in background information - painstakingly researched, pieces of scientific information slotted in at exactly the right points. This game is responsible for a great many things in my writing - my fascination with nanotechnology and cyberpunk. While the reputation of the game may have been sullied by its demon offspring, Deus Ex: Invisible War (still enjoyable and I love it, but it's that drunken mistake you wish you hadn't woken up next to), its prequel, Deus Ex: Human Revolution restored its honour somewhat. While not as radical as Portal, this one was a game-changer. For the hours of enjoyment I have received and the influence it's had on me, I owe this game a debt of thanks I can only repay by continuing to play it over and over again.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Have you tried turning it on and off again?

Originally this was going to be all about my top ten favourite tech guys. Hence why the title of this entry is the immortal words of IT technicians everywhere instead of the wisdom of Joss Whedon. But, at half past midnight, having been up since seven o'clock in the morning and still not quite being able to adjust to have a computer once again and staring at the screen, my brain went to mush at about number six on the top ten list.

So, instead, for your reading pleasure, I thought I'd talk about my thoughts on something I've been mentioning in pretty much every blog post (which the quite probable exception of my top ten lists) since I kick-started Sufficiently Cyberpunk back in January.

However, a little context first.

It's a well-known fact that at the end of February, my laptop up and died after three years of service. In those three years, I'd replaced the hard drive, the RAM, the battery and the charger cable. When the capacitors in the screen blew, I decided it was finally time to give up on that laptop and invest in a new computer. And so, after a little while of option-weighing, I have a shiny new computer. Context for entry title established.

Context for second paragraph babbling - Friday, 27th April 2012.

Now in the unlikely event that I have any American followers here, I'm sorry but...dude, I have to brag. You have two more days before you can watch it. I've seen it already.

Ladies and gentlemen, Avengers (or Avengers Assemble here in the UK) is frakking epic.

Joss is Boss. This is a phrase that arose, as I understand it, from the cast and crew of Firefly and has been adopted by fans as a statement of faith and trust in the man himself. And on Friday, he delivered. He delivered in style.

Avengers was always going to be a tricky film - bringing together not one, but *four* main characters from four different movies and giving them all equal screen time and story arcs to sustain an entire film, meanwhile elevating two supporting characters from two of the prior movies to equal starring role status? Not a job I would want. I'll admit, I have a habit of having multiple characters in my stories, but I usually end up with one main dude going around and doing all that funny protagonist stuff. But nonetheless, Joss Whedon rose to the challenge and kicked ass. And as I had hoped, he imbued this film was his trademark blend of drama, kick-ass action and infinitely quotable one liners. In a few months, when the risk of spoilers has significantly diminished and Avengers is on DVD, expect to see new words from the wisdom of Whedon gracing the titles of my blog entries.

Now since I have this thing against spoilers, I can't really say too much. In fact, I feel I can only legitimately continue to reiterate how awesome the movie is. Don't believe me? Go out and see it. Seriously. What the frak are you doing? Are you seriously still reading this when you haven't seen Avengers? Godsdamnit, get out of that chair! NOW! Go forth and seek the wisdom and enlightenment of Whedon.

As for me, I'm going to bed. My brain stopped working and I've been writing this blog post. Perhaps I will wake in the morning, read the result and have a prose hangover. Usually have them with poetry.

So on that note, if you haven't seen Avengers, get your ass out there and watch it. I guarantee laughs, kick-ass action, witty dialogue and eye candy for all. Mostly the ladies. Seriously girls, you're lucky. So much eye candy for you.

Until next time, this has been me writing at one o'clock in the morning. Fun, isn't it?