Sunday, December 6, 2009

About a Book

‘When the sun is just above the last tree left on Little Nation, you must throw a spear at the big wrecked canoe,’ he said aloud. It didn’t make any sense, and nor did the ghost girl. But she had given him the spark-maker, although she’d been very frightened. He’d been frightened too. What were you supposed to do about girls? You had to keep away from them while you were a boy, but he’d heard that when you were a man, you got other instructions.

Sometime in the evening or late afternoon of November 29th, 2009 (a Sunday), I was in MPH, One Utama. As usual, I was in the Science Fiction section, eyes skimming the lines of books on the shelves, looking for one book in particular but not finding it (because I was looking in the wrong section; the book I wanted was under Horror, I just didn’t see it the first time).

Then one author’s name caught my eye like a frog’s tongue catches a fly out of the air (they do that right? They do in cartoons…) : Terry Pratchett; top shelf, to the far left.

There were a few of his non-Discworld novels lined up there, but the only one I can really remember (possibly because it is in fact, the book that I am about to talk about now, and I feel as though I can think of no other book at the moment) is a book I’d never heard of before, simply named: Nation.

Hmmm, I thought. Looks interesting. So I picked it up and read the back cover. Sounds interesting too. Of course, this was nothing to be surprised about because, come on, it’s Terry Pratchett, man.

And so, after picking out two more books (yes, including the book I’d been looking for earlier) I bought the book called Nation.

And what a tragedy it would have been if I hadn’t!

First off, I must point out that all the Terry Pratchett books I’ve read have been wonderful and amazing, and hilarious. His works are mostly fantasy, but they’re also very real. They take a spin on things and situations we experience in the real world, in a way that makes you go “Huh.” and smile, because it’s so damn true! And you’d never noticed it before… well, maybe you have, but not really, you know? Huh.

You can pick up any of his books and trust – and just know – with every particle in your body that you will enjoy it. You will read the last word, close the book, and look up with a grin on your face. Huh. And here’s the thing – Pratchett writes in a very humorous way, but they also make you think. About life, about love, about politics, about war, about peace, about… pretty much anything! They’re philosophical, but not boring. They’re deep.

Pratchett has this magical ability to continuously write really good novels. The awesomeness is maintained in every book, if not doubled or tripled. He has produced more than 30 tomes of awesomeness, with more to come! How in the world does he not run out of awesome?

So when I started reading Nation, I already knew it would be, yes, awesome.

But oh, was I wrong.

Awesome does NOT cut it. It’s too small a word to describe this book, this story, and its characters.

It blew my mind away. It really did. My brain is now floating around somewhere, somewhat numbed, and it’s a wonder I can even write this right now. But then, the words have been bouncing around in my (currently otherwise vacant) head since I finished the book at 4am this morning.

I’ve read Pratchett books (though not nearly enough of them!) and loved them, but this… masterpiece was so much more than I expected. It has all the things I like in a good story: a setting that draws you in as if you yourself are part of the story, a plot that keeps you turning the page even though you are muttering to yourself “Just one more, just one more…”, characters that grow on you like fungus and refuse to leave your heart long after you’ve finished reading (not that you want to forget them), humor that at times make you grin and other times make you flat-out guffaw, and emotions that are so real even you can feel them.

It is a sad story… No, it’s not a sad story. It… well, I can’t pinpoint it to just one field. It’s hard to think of the one right word to describe something this… um, brilliant, for want of a more effective word. As one of the reviews said, it is ‘a wonderful story, by turns harrowing and triumphant’. Sometimes it is so sad, so terribly sad, but the story does not dwell on the grief for long. Unlike some other books I’ve read (and loved), Nation is not the kind of sad that… lords over most of the book. It did not make me sob or cry buckets of tears, but it pulled at my heart strings and when the characters hurt, I felt their pain and wanted to cry with them. But then they stopped crying and moved on to something else. The story said, “Yes, it’s sad, but life moves on and the pig fence needs fixing.”

It is NOT a love story. No… not as such. It is a story with love in it, yes. Doesn’t every story, after all, have some sort of love in it? In Nation too, it is there, peeking out from among the other themes of loyalty, loss, grief and courage every now and then. Not so much as to allow the term ‘love story’ totally viable, but just enough to make you smile a tender smile and give you that warm, fuzzy feeling in your heart.

It’s not even a fantasy story. Not really anyway. Granted, it was in the Science Fiction section, but it’s really more real stuff than fantastical stuff, though it does have elements of fantasy in it. So even if you don’t happen to be into the fantasy genre (though I don’t really understand why anyone wouldn’t) Nation would still appeal to you.

It is… an adventure story. Yes. I think that covers many things: sadness, love, suspense, action, courage… It is definitely an adventure. Reading it has been an adventure. Even now, just thinking back to the story makes my heart literally beat faster… no exaggeration whatsoever!

The characters… oh, the characters! They are my favorite part of the book! They’re so unique and real that you feel as though you might just know them. The main characters, Mau and Ermin – I mean, Daphne, are just lovely. I am in love with them. …Well, specifically, I’m in love with Mau. Head over heels, fingers over toes, ears over ankles… in love! Read it, and I dare you to tell me I’m being unreasonable.

The ending… well, I don’t want to spoil it for you, but as Pratchett himself said, it is an appropriate ending. It is a real ending. It is a believable ending. But it broke my heart to finish reading it. I could hardly concentrate on the last few pages because I knew it was going to end. I put down the book and wanted more. It was four in the morning and I couldn’t fall asleep for at least half an hour!

Nation has skyrocketed past all the books I have ever read, and claimed the position of my favorite book EVER. I’d like to think there will be greater reads to come, that there will be another story that I will feel this strongly about, but at the same time… I don’t. Nation feels untouchable to me. If something else came along that is more… incredible, I might just go insane.

If you’ve never read any of Pratchett’s books… well, Nation is as good a start as any. Indeed, it is the best recommendation I can give you. I think that anyone who likes to read and who loves a good story will enjoy this book. In fact, at the risk of being wrong (and I don’t often fancy taking that risk; ask anyone who knows me well!), I say anyone who reads it will. Love. It.

So the next time you go to a bookstore… look for Nation. When you find it, GET IT. When you get it, READ IT. And when you’ve read it… tell others. So that it can turn their world upside down too.

December 6, 2009

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Many Uses of Photobooth

Hafiz was surprised.

Lab 3A was usually occupied whenever he came to do his assignments. But this time, it was empty. When he'd stepped into the elevator and pressed 1, he hadn't expected the computer lab to be vacant, but had decided to check it out anyway, seeing as he had nothing better to do. But once he'd looked in through the small glass window on the door, there was no one around. Smiling at his luck, Hafiz took note of the day and time.

Khamis, pukul tiga setengah, lab kosong!

The door creaked as he opened it, and instantly, Hafiz realized that he'd been wrong about the lab being completely empty. At the computer right at the back, where his friend Redzuan usually sat, there was a girl.

His heart sank. If it turned out the lab was being used after all, he would have to do his work on one of the cyber cafe's computers, which were all infamous for being infested with viruses. Just earlier that day Redzuan had let forth a stream of colourful swear words because a virus had wiped out all the files on his thumb drive. He didn't want that to happen to him.

Bilalah aku nak siapkan kerja Pn Sofia ni...

“Ada kelas ke?” he asked the girl. 

After a beat, the girl shook her head, and Hafiz let out a sigh of relief. Now that he was feeling optimistic again, his male instinct prompted him to check the girl out.

She was one of those girls who, despite knowing that the university authorities didn't approve of dyed hair, had a headful of rainbow colours. Purple, red and green were the hues of this girl's choice. 

What an assembly of colours, thought Hafiz. And none of them were his favourite. His favourite was black. Black was a good, solid colour. Nothing wrong with black hair.

Her head was all he could see of the girl. She was leaning forward over the keyboard, and the computer monitor was hiding her face from view.

Hafiz decided that she wasn't his type anyway, and sat down at the frontmost computer to get on with his assignments.

It always took him a while to get used to the iMacs in university. He was used to using PCs, and was always rather frustrated that the mouse couldn't right-click.

Most students, when presented with a computer and internet connection, would consequently log in to one of the following: Facebook, Friendster or MySpace. Hafiz was no exception. Redzuan was online, and they talked using Facebook Chat.

Yo, bro! Ko kat mana?
Kat uni le... Lab kosong wei!
Ko kat lab buat apa? Buat project? hehehe
Byk la ko project. Buat keje le
...ko ni rajin sgt la bro

Before he knew it, it was already past 6pm. Redzuan had stopped replying in the chat box, so he was probably playing Yakuza Lords again. The guy was obsessed with Facebook games. Hafiz logged out, saved what work he'd managed to get done, and shut down the computer.

Getting up and slinging his bag over his shoulder, Hafiz looked at the girl again. For some reason, he felt another obligation to talk to her. It was probably his unrelenting hormones again.

“Tak balik ke?” he asked in what he hoped was a breezy tone.

After a second, the girl shook her head again. Hafiz began to think that that was the only reaction she could muster. 

After a moment's hesitation, Hafiz decided not to pursue, and turned to leave. 

“Balik dulu,” he said, to no reply. Hafiz could almost hear Redzuan in his head, sniffing in disdain.

Huh! Sombong!

* * * * *

The next day was Puan Amelia's class. She was one of those kinds of lecturers that all the students loved, even those she did not teach. She allowed them to call her Mimi, wear jeans, bring snacks to class, turn on music; as long as her assignments were up-to-date.

When Hafiz entered Lab 3A, where the class was always held, Redzuan was in his usual place right at the back of class. He had kicked off his scuffed Nikes and had his socked feet propped up on an empty chair.

“Yo, Hafiz my maaaaaan!!!”

Hafiz shook his head, holding back a laugh. Redzuan was such a clown. He was the first person to come up and talk to Hafiz, a kampung boy, during their orientation, four semesters ago.

Wei, tengok, Faci tu... muka macam beruk..!

They'd been best friends ever since.

“Busuk la kaki ko, Red,” he remarked, shoving Redzuan's feet off the chair and sitting down. 

“Mana ada! Kaki aku lagi wangi dari perfume D&G, ok.” 

“Ye lah, pergi lah jual kat Hugo Boss,” retorted Hafiz. 

“Kaki aku mahal sangat lah, diorang tak mampu punya,” snickered Redzuan, turning to the computer screen and launching Photobooth to check his hair for the hundredth time that day. You never knew how much the careful arrangement of your recently-straightened bangs could change within the course of a few minutes. 

“Wei, tengok!” exclaimed Redzuan. “Ada orang rekod video!”

He double-clicked on an undeleted video in the Photobooth panel. Recognition struck Hafiz as a head of purple, red and green appeared on the screen.

“Wei, tulah pompuan yang dok dalam lab semalam,” he said.

Redzuan's head swiveled to look at him, and Hafiz instantly knew he shouldn't have told him that.

“Ko dok dalam lab berdua-duaan ngan pompuan???” he said, hooting with laughter.

“Diam ah ko...” snapped Hafiz, and they both leaned in to watch the video.

Like Redzuan, the girl was also the kind of person who used the iMac's Photobooth application for grooming purposes. She arranged and rearranged her uneven bangs, striking poses every once in a while.

Suddenly the girl looked up from the computer, and someone else appeared in the video. Though only the lower part of the body was visible, it was obvious he was male. The two talked for a bit and the girl's expression gradually became angrier and angrier. 

“Ni mesti ex-balak dia,” observed Redzuan, always the expert when it came to judging people.

Suddenly, there was a flash of movement, and Hafiz's eyes recognized the glint of a blade in the hand of the boy. The two friends watched in horrified disbelief as the hand swung up and down, up and down, and the blade repeatedly punctured holes into the girl.

Hafiz had never been good at lip-reading, but he could see the words forming helplessly from the girls mouth as clearly as if he himself was saying them.


Then she was still. The boy – the murderer – stood there for a while. He must not have realized that he was being recorded, because he ignored the computer completely.

All of a sudden, the boy jumped, then dived quickly down and out of the video's view. All was still for a few minutes, and the two boys stared transefixedly at the girl's lifeless face. Then...

A bloody hand snaked up, seeming to come from below the girl's table. It grasped the girl's pale chin, and moved her head from side-to-side.

Ada kelas ke?
The girl shook her head.

The blood drained from Hafiz's face. Unlike Redzuan whose vocabulary was of the rougher and more vulgar range, Hafiz had never been one to swear, and especially not in English, but right now, he couldn't think of anything else to say.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

10 Things I'd Rather Be Doing Now

1o) making a video
9) singing with Dan
8) reading manga / watching anime
7) YouTube-ing random songs/videos
6) writing a story
5) sleeping
4) shopping at Kinokuniya
3) making up more stuff about my characters
2) talking about Angelfire with Dan
1) drawing Angelfire

There is always something we'd rather be, something we'd rather do. It's hard to be completely content.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Friday, October 30, 2009

Just a little something

for yesterday's birthday girl. :)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Nobody Nobody but You


I wish it was a picture of me and you, but we haven't seen each other in person in centuries.

Wishing you all the happiness, health, contentment and most of all, GAYNESS, that life can grant you. You'll always be my baber!