I read Crooked Little Vein on Friday. It’s a short, nasty quest novel, filled with twenty-first century urban legends ( Warren Ellis claims most of what he wrote is based on things that really happened ) and a menagerie of over-the-top Ellis-ian characters. To an extent, (ok, putting on the critic hat here ), Ellis’s characters here are stock reproductions of his template cast – the hard-talking evil-hearted bossman character ( Think Dirk Anger, Spider J, Henry Bendix), the tough-as-nails, tech-friendly female lead ( Aleph, Channon/Yelena), the cokehead Presidential wannabe, the down-on-his-luck protagonist, right down to the resilient rat in Mike McGill’s office, the one that begins the proceedings by peeing in his coffee – it’s familiar territory for Ellis readers. But the good thing here is, the man does his job well ( as if there was a doubt ). The throwaway nuggets of information Ellis scatters in his narrative leave you gasping with laughter – provided you laugh at things like tantric sex with ostriches and godzilla bukkake and saline injections in one’s private parts. It interrupts the narrative only once, I thought, at the point where Michael meets another detective on a flight, who thinks it fit to describe his career experiences in vivid detail to our protagonist. Or maybe I just could not figure out what it is that Ellis was trying to do here – mock the Hammett/Chandler genre, or update it for the new century?

But hey, deep down, Crooked Little Vein is actually a mushy love story, so there.

I also reread the first volume of Powers yesterday. The deal with my copies of Powers is this – I bought ( at an insanely low price ) issues 7-37 of volume one some years ago. Read the lot then, but had to read the first six issues off scans. Then I bought volume one again, because Brady was offering all of the 37 issues at 50 cents each. Who can refuse such temptation? So I read the lot again yesterday, and it was so much fun. Because it’s a creator-owned series, Bendis and Oeming are not bound by any conventions of the superhero/detective genre – and the tale goes places. Trust me on that. Especially the Forever arc, which is an origin story of the superheroes in the series, which completely took me by surprise. Can’t wait to read vol 2, which I have not read before.

I installed an old favourite, Unreal Tournament on my machine. My ex-flatmate had downloaded quite a few maps and mods ( quite a few? More like ALL the mods available at that time on the internet) and it’s kind of a zone thing – firing up a practice session on Unreal tournament, with the bot-level set at ‘masterful’ ( associated skill level comment: “I hope you like to respawn.” ) Unreal Tournament used to be my favourite mode of release, right from the days I played it in demo mode in a window, because my celeron 333 MHz 32 MB machine just couldn’t run it. There were only two arenas available in the demo, and I loved playing them all day. The background music was kick-ass, the bots splattered with pretty realistic screams, and most importantly, the flak cannon was among the most satisfying weapons I’ve ever used in a deathmatch, producing the kind of squelshy virtual gore that’s made up for years of therapy.

I am in the middle of watching Ratatouille. Watching it in controlled doses, every day at dinner. I had completely lost it with Pixar after cars, but Brad Bird is someone I will never doubt again, I swear. What a beautiful movie! I missed out on seeing it in the theater because a bomb exploded in Hyderabad the day I had booked tickets and grrrrrrrgh, we didn’t go.


Weekend update

Been a long while since I did one of these.

  • Udatta-da landed up in Hyderabad on Thursday and stayed over at my place Friday night, chilling out ( I think! ) to pseudo-Assamese food, BT’s This Binary Universe and Craig Thompson’s Blankets. Try and make it here a little more frequently, U.
  • Watched Sekhar Kammula’s Godavari on Sunday afternoon. I did not enjoy Anand, his earlier film all that much. It was pretty tackily editted ( Kammula himself admits that) and the storyline did not feel complete in some way. Godavari on the other hand is much more well-developed in terms of production values and scriptwriting. The cribs – a slightly zonked-out narrative towards the end, where the director ( who’s also the writer, btw ) while trying to have a proper ending to the story, introduces a lot of subplots and does not end up resolving them properly.
  • I also watched Mahesh Babu’s Atithi in the middle of the week. What a mess of a movie! It’s almost as if somebody made a parody of a Mahesh Babu film starring Mahesh Babu. Methinks the guy needs to rethink his image-oriented approach to his films, which even the director admits was part of his approach to making Atithi.
  • Played the first two chapters of this old, old, OLD game called The Longest Journey. Now while I suck at adventure games, I was eager to play this one because I had played the demo when in college. Repeated attempts to find this had resulted in failure, until The Serious One passed me a copy of his original box-set ( apparently, he had picked it up at a Rediff.com sale, of all places). Now the aforementioned copy had steadfastly refused to play when I did a full install, but this weekend, I tried a partial install and whaddyaknow, it worked! Really enjoyable game, this, and is more like reading a fantasy novel than playing a game. The only grouse I have ( and this is against all adventure games, in general) is, why the eff can’t I solve the puzzles? Gah!
  • Also finished the first volume of Spirou yesterday. Very very entertaining stuff. There are four stories in all in the first volume, each with a different bent. Starts off with ‘The Robot Blueprint’, which is standard fare, with Spirou and Fantasio pursuing and being pursued by a bunch of crooks who are after a blueprint of a deadly weapon developed by Professor Samovar. Some hilarious Herge-ian moments ensue in course of a car chase, where Spirou’s car runs into a bullock cart carrying a bale of hay. Just when I thought that the other stories would also be about capers and foil-a-wicked-plan-type story, there’s Spirou in the ring, where our intrepid hero has to tackle a boxing challenge from Big Bert, the neighbourhood bully. ( I found out that the names of the supporting characters have been changed in the translation. Poildur is the name of the bully in the French version.) ‘Spirou Rides a Horse’ is a short, howlarious story of, well, Spirou riding a spirited horse, one that takes lessons in jumping from a frog. The last of the lot ‘Spirou meets the Pygmies’ is much longer tale, that starts with a stray leopard taking up lodgings with our hero, which leads to a trip to the island of Rungapunga, a place where two pygmy tribes have a war going on. The resolution to this particular war is something that’s completely bowled me over! can’t wait to start on the Count of Cul-de-Sac, the next volume in the series.
  • A friend offered to sell me his copies of Jordi Bernet’s Torpedo reprints at cost price. Considering that Catalan Communications, the company that reprinted part of the Torpedo series is now bankrupt, with the books long out of print, this offer makes me want to do a war-dance. Woo hoo!
  • Once can hardly thank Moser-Baer enough for coming up with The Complete Mind Your Language and selling DVDs for 99 Rs each. Am glad I didn’t put in too much effort into buying MYL after the first set I got off National Market refused to work…

Time to Rejoice

I finished playing Max Payne 2 in TWO DAYS! Whoopee doo yay!

I played the first Max Payne 5 years and a couple of months ago. Started playing the game on a junior’s new computer. One that I helped buy, convincing the boy to spend some money on a 4.1 Creative Speaker set and an extra graphics card, and later set up in his room, installing the drivers, benchmarking out the PC by playing a game I had bought on the strength of its previews. And this was right after I was done with my 2-day 5-interview session with a company based out of Hyderabad.

I stopped playing the game the next evening, at the last level. I was supposed to shoot at some wires and topple a tower onto a helicopter, and I had no ammo left or something like that, I don’t remember too clearly. I stopped playing and went out to the local PCO ( this was a time when cellphones were around, but calls to Hyderabad would cost about 6 Rs per minute) to call the company. The nice HR lady told me I could come join in two days. I walked back to the hostel, finished the game and went back to my room to pick up my train tickets to Guwahati. It was eight by the time I got back from the railway station, having cancelled the train tickets and booked bus tickets to Hyderabad.

I am still employed with the same company, and apparently I can still finish a game in 2 days if I put my mind to it.


New books

Best Book Stall has another sale going on right now, at YMCA Secunderabad, and I happened to drop in about 5 days into the sale. Much astounded at the clearance sale section which occupied one side of the huge hall – you could select any 5 books for hundred rupees, ten books for one hundred and fifty. A cursory search yielded gems like hardcover editions of Robert Silverberg’s Valentine Pontifex AND Lord Valentine’s Castle. Volume 3 of Brian Lumley’s Necroscope, assorted parts of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, two Patricia Highsmith novels, Tim Dorsey’s Cadillac Beach, which I am looking forward to reading – I hugely enjoyed Hammerhead Ranch Motel. El Doctorow’s Billy Bathgate, Gregory McDonald’s Son Of Fletch, and I hate to say that I haven’t gotten around to reading any of the Fletch novels yet. John Berendt’s Midnight in The Garden of Good and Evil which, to tell you the truth, I wouldn’t have picked up had it not been for the price. And interestingly, found this out-of-print book called Mrs Coverlet’s Magicians by Mary Nash. I don’t really remember where I had heard of this book – probably while amazon-surfing some day….

The rest of the sale yielded some great finds too. Daniel Wallace’s Big Fish, which I read immediately, and which, like I expected, has very little in common with Tim Burton’s movie except for the broad theme in general, and the ending. John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, which I also finished immediately. An illustrated 1946 hardcover of Alice in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass, (John Tenniel’s drawings, of course!) I had resisted buying this for quite a long time. An illustrated unabridged version of The Three Musketeers, and the only children’s book William Faulkner ever wrote, called The Wishing Tree. The Encyclopaedia of the Occult, which seemed much comprehensive when I browsed it on the spot, and a book on the early Warner Brothers’ directors. Yukio Mishima’s Sound of Waves, a love story set in Japan, which I had been hearing good things about ( seems it has been adapted to film some five times). Two Shel Silverstein hardcovers – When The Sidewalk Ends and A Light In The Attic. An interesting children’s book called The Philadelphia Chickens – this came with a free CD that had songs sung by folks like Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep and Laura Linney.

Also picked up quite a few random books on music criticism. Had to go there again later, because I ran out of cash.

Spent the long weekend peacefully completing four volumes of Buddha. Can’t wait to get my paws on the remaining four – and I now understand that the term “Godfather of Manga” is one not easily bestowed on a person. Do yourselves a favour and try reading Buddha if you can. Scans are not available online, as far as I know. The storytelling alternates between cartoony goofiness and gut-wrenching realism between pages, and goddamnit, why is so less Tezuka available on eBay?

Which reminds me, I won a lot of 18 comics that included a signed first edition of Craig Thompson’s Goodbye Chunky Rice, a signed copy of Slow News Day by Andi Watson, and Matt Madden’s One Faraway Beach, also signed. Loads of other stuff too, and all for 22.5$, woo hoo!

And there was also the package I received from mikester, containing multiple copies of Solo, each signed by Sergio Aragones, and a trade paperback of Fanboy, that has a sketch by Aragones inside. Why multiple copies of Solo? Because there are rabid Aragones fans in Delhi, Bombay and Kolkata, and it just didn’t seem fair for me to have a copy and them not having it. Now, now, is my halo showing?

What is Solo, you ask? Oh, well, you don’t, but let me tell you anyways. It’s a series published bimonthly by DC comics, with 48 pages and no adds, and correspondingly has a higher price point of 4.99$ per issue. What really sets Solo apart is that every issue is done by one artist, who is given free reign to do whatsoever s/he wants with DC characters. I believe the series has been cancelled after twelve issues, but each of the artists who have contributed so far are legends in their own right – Paul Pope, Tim Sale, Howard Chaykin, Mike Allred, Ted Kristiansen, Richard Corben, and on issue 11, Sergio Aragones. Coincidence department: I bought the first 10 issues issues of Solo from a comicbook fan at a dollar each just two days before Mike mentioned that Mr Aragones was signing at his bookshop.

I had to play a game this weekend – one of these insane urges to trounce virtual meat that crop up from time to time – so I began Chronicles Of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. Excellent gameplay, which was kind of expected when I found out that the game was produced by Tigon games, a company founded by Vin Diesel himself ( I remember asking a question about this company in some quiz or the other when it was launched). Currently midway through the game, and enthused enough about gaming to install Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend, the latest TR game. Graphics are superb, but the camera angles are killing me. Is it time to pick up a controller?


The Sands of Time

There are two things that piss me off about Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. One is the camera-angles that decide to act up at the worst of times and make me want to bash my keyboard and froth at the mouth. The second is the strange jumping move – you are stuck between two vertical walls, and you will have to make your way up to a ledge by multiple-jumping from one wall to the other. This move understandably gives me the heebie-jeebies everytime, and it’s very hard not to sob aloud when you fall to your death ONE FRIGGING JUMP AWAY from the top for the four hundred and thirty fifth time.

Or maybe I am just a bad gamer.

But it’s a great game, really. Like serioussam put it, when I was moaning away to him about my experiences with the camera-angles, the game glows, both in terms of eye-candy, storyline and gameplay. It makes my post-Half-Life-2 pains a thing of the past. ( I have this major hangup after playing a good game – it takes me about a month before I can even condescend to look at some other game – even if I do, I end up uninstalling the thing in disgust because of comparisons to the last game I played. This happened with Painkiller recently.) Ah, well, I am done with 33% of the game, and with a little bit of luck ( and loads of button-tapping) I should be done withit in a couple of days. After which, I shall torture my camera-addled third-person adventure gaming self by playing Prince of Persia: The Warrior Within.

Also, in related news, Princess Farah has replaced Alyx Vance in the “hottest game babe to bowl me over” category.