May 2009


Ender’s Game is an enjoyable hero-story-cum-space-opera featuring a small boy who is plucked from ignomy as the third child in a family on population-restricted Earth, and taken away to join the space academy and fight a great threat to humanity.

It’s actually far more engaging that I’m making it sound. Card ensures that Ender is suitably conflicted about his role, and that fact he is a child is brought forward just enough to make the character believable, despite the entirely unbelievable setting he finds himself in.

All in all, a very good read. Although, I will say the resemblence in story-line to The Last Starfighter is making want to track down that old classic. This is especially the case considering the age of the protagonist and the early-teen style of the writing.

He is a young man, recently returned from an adventure that was the defining moment of his life. He is in a loveless marriage, but is a devoted parent. Keen and bright, he is uneducated and has been bankrupted, losing his family business. Once a sporting champion, he has “developed alopecia”, and is unrecognisable to members of his own family. Far from the glory of being national heroes, members of J-Force are barred from the RSA and government pensions, exiles despite their sacrifices overseas. Second-rate soldiers. And he tells me he is standing on bridge in Hamilton, overlooking the River, a precipice.

I’ve never known why it is that lives so often come down to these moments. The times when we are each face to face with the river, the sirens’ call of the peace it offers. And if you have never been there, wondering what it is to make the choice to cross to the other side? Then there is the chance you have never lived at all; because it is a choice that everyone who has ever loved and lost, or climbed and fallen, must face. A rite of passage as it were.

He says he stood there on the bridge, and we watched the swirling waters, and he found himself clinging ever more tightly to the edge. The lure. A man walking past sees him, and my grandfather croaks out to him, “help me brother… I don’t think I can make it.” And a stranger saves him, talking him down and walking him off.

When I heard this story I wondered again what it was that separates us so delicately along these lines of fate. My grandfather was the bulwark to my childhood. Without his presence life my life would not have been what it is. Though at times he was harsh with me, I see these as the rare exception, and it was his quiet strength and enormous perseverence, oft-mentioned in these pages, that I still try to use as a role-model. But again we see someone at the knife’s edge.

All those potential separations and losses, they make me wonder about the possibilities and the junctures my own life, and the lives of my siblings and predecessors, may well have taken had not other lives been spared by fate. I know I’m asking the same question asked by countless generations before me, a clichéd and rote step on the path to wisdom.

Perhaps this is just the nature of the river. It propels each of us through our meagre time, pushing us onwards, sometimes taking us from the fold, sometimes drawing us back in. And fate merely is what it is, a time to live, and a time to die.

These long pages of meditation, they reinforce to me that choice is paramount. For while each of us must come face-to-face with the river at least once to graduate to a higher plane of peace, it is the bifurcation of fate at those crucial junctures that sets us apart from those whom fate takes. I continue to know that those taken from us did make choices, but I see more and more that the choices made were often wrapped in a past needing to be unpackaged, slowly, layer by layer, the themes emerging, becoming, and folding up into our consciousness.

And so I sit here, night after night, dreaming a collective past into permanence, wrapping it in the present. Carefully folding each tale and placing them as a mosaic among the tiles of my daily life. And all of it to better understand how and why the river has spared me, as it spared those who have guided me by their example.

F,FLP

In the history of the mix tape, there’s nothing quite like the personalised tape. This cover is an absolute beauty.

100% customised. With You are Afraid of the Smell of Shit. Awesome.

And the interior?

Well, Wish was released in 1992, so I’m guessing this was either late ’92 or early 93.

Again, I wish I had a decent tape player. Better start hanging out at Cash Converters.

I’m perhaps five and one half years old, and I’ve been taken with my mother and my step-father to visit someone. They’re talking to them about “selling him the remainder of their stuff” before we all head overseas on the greatest journey of our lives. I’m lying on the carpet in a smallish room, and they’ve allowed me to look in a cabinet that contains something very special. I’m not sure where my brother is, but memory tells me he’s been sent outside to jump out of trees. I however, am privileged.

The cabinet has a number of miniature historical figurines, toy soldier, and I have some out on the carpet and are playing with them, very carefully. I remember the sun. And I remember feeling trusted, a proud oldest child. To this day the site of such toys evokes the memory.

It is a halycon day among many. We are living in a rental on the beach in Mount Maunganui, one where I can come home from school in the afternoon, stop to read comics off the rack in the bookstore next to our place, the beginning of a life-long love of reading, walk through the house and straight onto the sand-dunes.

During that summer I remember my brother and I waking early one morning, quietly climbing out the window and sneaking down to the water. We swim in the waves, yelling rude words at some old man who tells us to get out of the water, before drying in the sun and sneaking back up to the grey, weather-beaten bach, and back into our beds in the room we share. We’re smiling at one another mischievously when mum comes into the room and asks, with wonder in her voice, ‘now how did you two get all that salt in your hair?!”

‘Dunno!’ we say, ‘must have happened while were were dreaming!”

A halcyon day, cooch grass and lupin. Sand falling into sea-grass matting in the living-room after being dragged up across the deck by our feet. A Hills Hoist in the front yard and a glass buoy in a nylon-rope cage suspended from the rafters in the car-port. My mother was perhaps happier than she has ever been, pregnant with my youngest brother, and about to marry my step-Father. Helen of Troy, herself to be rescued by him, and to live on his home island in the Aegean.

Later, when we returned from Greece in shame, I brought with me several small plastic figurines. They are Greek hoplites in armour, and I keep them in a locked metal box, hidden in the wardrobe. A chest containing my few treasures. I would take them out on occasion as I grew and I would look at them, rekindling those days of happiness and warmth, and it is now, in retrospect, that I see it as a clinging to a past long lost and gone. A day of salt drying on my skin and the easiness of the comfort of being able to be little more than a child emptying the meaningless content of comics into my growing mind.

And no small comfort it was, for like my Grandfather before me, by eleven I had my first job, and helping to feed my family,working till two in the morning, in a kitchen, the weight of the world on a skinny child’s shoulders.

F,FLP

Well, it’s been a long time coming, but I finally got my way.

Careful over the jump, it’s not suitable for children, but it’s sooooo damned nice.

(more…)

Dogs is a book of short stories, all of which are set in Texas. Now, if Lake wasn’t brought up in Texas he sure as hell lived there, because through most if not all of the tales I could actually hear a Texas accent, and I could see the mesquite and dirt.

Normally I don’t hold much with collections of short stories. They’re often too disjointed, and more or less demonstrations of an author learning their style and metre. While this is also the case with Dogs, the way in which Lake truly captures the essence of Texas. it’s double-wide trailers and denizens made these stories compelling even when mediocre in content. Likewise I as able to easily forgive shortened or abrupt stories. Ideas that were half-formed and explored in print before being abandoned the way so many short stories are.

All in all, an interesting read ranging from scifi to fantasy to drama, favourites being “The Goat Cutter”, and “Twilight of the Odd” (the latter being the strangest take on Ragnarok I’ve ever read)

To highlight what must be the final demise of the cassette tape, here is a Christmas present from 1988.

I found this while seeking in vain for my old copy of The Stone Roses, which has sadly disappeared in the mists of time.

On the up side, I think you’ll agree that there are some classics on there.

In future installments of Old School. I will shame myself.

I should start by saying that I’d be highly interested to read a similar behind-the-scenes expose of the Labour Party, but considering that the mostly likely author is barking mad it’s unlikely to happen any time soon. Instead we get scurrilous and intensely crazy books like Absolute Power.

Being an expose The Hollow Men is a partisan work, and at times leans towards a depiction of information and occurrences deliberately intended to paint the protagonists in a… particular way. There is for instance a very heavy emphasis on characterising the influence of leading businesspeople as ‘conspiratorial’, and it flavours his interpretation of the events he records.

Thing is, separated from the ideology driving the desire to influence politics, it’s hard to consider the actions described as anything other than lobbying. Granted, Hager demonstrates very clearly that what he regards as ‘key figures’ became involved in funding the 2006 election. But what I wonder is whether their influence was any more ‘nefarious’ than the influence of donors to the Labour Party? Labours’ actions to carefully and publicly distance itself from Owen Glenn in 2008, and the controversy of the Pledge Cards in 2006 being indications that political funding is far from cut and dry in New Zealand.

Taking these questions into account, Hager has written a lucid and compelling account of the machinations that occur behind the closed doors of political parties. It is a sterling piece of political journalism, and should be of interest to all politics junkies of all persuasions. Controversy surrounding the source material for the book continues to this day, so I’ll cut this review short.

Recommended.

I have the occasion to travel using one of the Day Tripper bus passes, pictured right. They’re a good deal, even if you’re just going to and fro. They’re $5 and if you are going to say, Newtown from downtown return, you save $1. And that’s the kind of small change we encourage people to keep.

Even better, although you can only buy the ticket after 9am weekdays, they’re are effective all day. This means you can get about the city as much as you like, and not have to buy repeat tickets. Terrific.

The trouble is, once I’ve bought the ticket, done the return fair, and no longer have need of it, I feel like I’m no longer getting value.

It’s a good thing then that the ticket can be used by anyone, for the entire day.

So to maximise value I give the ticket to someone else at the bus stop where I disembark. That way I get to trade the value of the ticket for a small dose of feel-good (and I extract a guarantee from the recipient they’ll hand it on when they’re finished).

And Go Wellington are none the wiser. They have however made at least two people a little happier with their day.

If you want Mills and Boon masquerading as space opera, enjoy. Otherwise, forget it.

Catch the Lightning is some of the worst scifi I’ve read in a fair old while. For starters the protagonists says, ad nauseum, “now I know that the [insert verb/noun here] meant [insert meaninglessness]“, which constantly reminds the reader that whatever conundrum the characters are facing will work out just fine in the end. Now that’s fine, we’re all used to stories that are about the journey, not the destination, but… FFS.

And this is a pity, because Asaro is a PhD in physics, and some interesting theorisation has obviously gone into the scifi universe. But this story is so unbelievably weak, and the characters so unbelievably soppy, you just want to slap them.

Avoid.

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