Thursday, August 6, 2009



Hey guys. I finally decided to start fresh with a new blog on wordpress, which was long overdue. My new blog is about media and language, instead of it being a rambling on of what I'm reading. Instead, you can find that rambling on my new tumblr site.

I'm using the wordpress for more focused discourse, so a lot of posts will be ripe for watercooler conversation.

The name, "The Last Question", is shared with yet another great Asimov short story. I suggest checking it out. It's about a question a master computer can never answer after millions of years of evolution.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


The New York Dolls played Music Hall of Williamsburg this past Monday to a confused crowd of hipsters and people way past their prime. Hey, kind of like the band members themselves!

I'm kidding. Well, no. Well, kind of. David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain, in their wonderful post-drugged-out glories, are the only two original members still performing today. And good for them, because they can still rock harder than probably anyone I've ever seen. They have a good sense of humor about themselves and are very playful - encouraging the crowd to have even half as much fun as they clearly do.

Also with them is my hero Steve Conte, who is the hardest working man in punk who still "get it", holding his guitar out to the crowd so they can pull at and run their fingers across its strings and running it across his monitor for feedback effects. A band like New York Dolls should be a novelty act playing Vegas at this point, which makes seeing them in one of the smaller famous venues in NYC all the more exciting.

Williamsburg is small and decidedly very un-punk. The crowd moved during the songs they recognized, some even going so far as to jump in place. But you do not go to Music Hall of Williamsburg to mosh. You go to show off your new beard and nod your head to the loudest act you can find. "Am I being ironic?" Who knows! Moshing is for teenagers.


This past week I read Ode to Kirihito, oft cited as the masterwork of my other hero, Osamu Tezuka. Long-time FTH readers will note my affinity for this man's work, which has made significant contributions to the culture of sf in pure artistist form.

It's about a brilliant scientist named Kirihito who is investigating a mysterious disease called "monmow", which has been turning people into primative animals, eventually killing them. As per his mentor's request, Kirihito goes off to a secluded town where cases have erupted, eventually contracting it himself. The 800+ page graphic novel then follows his downward spiral and the scandal that envelopes it in one of the darkest Tezuka stories I've read thus far.

I very much enjoyed this; I actually wound up reading the majority of it one sitting, because I had no desire to stop. While Tezuka's silliness and cartoony caricatures are absent, many plot points spiral haphazardly toward conclusion in his signature fashion. There are also a number of "breakdown" moments (as seen above) where the reader suddenly enters the abstract psyche of a main character going through stressful agony.

I'm looking forward to getting my hands on Black Jack Vol. 5.


Also in the world of bizarre Japanese things is Flower, Sun and Rain released for the Nintendo DS. It was created by grasshopper manufacture, Marvelous Interactive, outsourcing studio h.a.n.d., and published in America by XSEED and Marvelous. It's a port of the sophomore effort of Suda 51, whom I think is the only man in video games worth noting these days.

FSR is a pretty bad game, featuring lots of backtracking, puzzles requiring obscure algebra, and just a general outdated design. Much like other Suda 51 games, it's not so much about the game as it is the story and unique presentation. It goes something like this:

Sumio Mondo, a "searcher" who is a master at cracking codes, is sent to Lospass Island, a small resort island that serves as the home to Flower, Sun and Rain, a high-class hotel. His mission is to prevent a terrorist plan to explode an airplane, which is set to take off the day Mondo gets there. On the first day, Mondo is stopped by a hotel resident and asked to use his expertise to crack a code for them. Because he is nice, he gets to work. After he achieves his goal, he steps out onto the veranda and witnesses the airplane take off and explode in mid-air. The next day he wakes up, and the airplane hasn't taken off yet. He gets up to find the bomb, but it stopped yet again by another resident. This happens over and over again.

As the days go on, Mondo begins to unravel, and he starts to believe in conspiracies against him. More and more outlandish things happen to him at precisely timed moments as the hotel and its entire cast of characters begin to warp and torment the poor searcher.

The game has a nice sense of humor and I enjoy its surreal narrative. I love anything that has a large ensemble for a cast. But it's difficult for me to recommend it, because it's not for everyone. You really need to be patient, because there's a lot of walking (no transportation is allowed on the island). There are some chapters that require you to move Mondo from one end of the island to the other, which isn't difficult as there are no obstacles, but it is tedious work.


Last, but certainly not least, is my second trip (and possibly last) to Celebrate Brooklyn this summer. Blonde Redhead played a free show last night, marking the third time I've seen this fantastic band.

The pictures I have of the show are pretty bad, and BrooklynVegan hasn't updated yet today, so deal with it. BR's set consisted mostly of material from their albums 23 and Misery of a Butterfly, much like the last two times I've seen them (although Kazu Makino was not wearing a plastic nurse outfit, and there were absolutely zero technical problems! Imagine that!). I also finally got to see them play "Messenger" without Amedeo Pace's voice going out midway through the song. (Quote of the night: When they broke out into "Spring and by Summer Fall" and someone yelled out "THAT'S THAT SONG FROM THE CAR COMMERCIAL!")

The crowd waited in line through a downpour to see them and it was worth the effort, because the rest of the night was cool and clear. The space in the Prospect Park Bandshell is large, as I mentioned in my Byrne post a few weeks back, and we actually got into it this time, with primo seats.

Every time I see Blonde Redhead there's always one guy behind me explaining to his group of friends about how Makino fell off a horse, had to undergo major surgery, and then wrote an entire album about it. This same expert thought that any song the band played before their Misery is a Butterfly album was "new" and his mind was blown each time. The band has a large repertoire - I believe they don't exploit it enough, but the crowd might be bored with their early psychadelic and no wave efforts.

Still, you know what would really floor me? If anyone knew where they got their name from.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


I decided to enter a Pac-Man tournament for kicks.

It was organized by popular wapanese culture blog New York - Tokyo, which I've decided to link on my blog, because I think they're pretty cool on a structural level. I've never actually been to an event that they've sponsored up until now, and it was mostly because I'm a frequent shopper at the store where it was all going down: Uniqlo. We're talking about a video game tournament at a high-fashion Japanese store, nestled snugly in the heart of Soho. During the summer months, Uniqlo often sets up their nerdy clothing line, this year with designs from unpopular games by Taito, Namco, Sega, Sony, Capcom, et al, as well as a whole line of shirts with designs from 70's anime supergiant Tatsunoko.

Uniqlo had situated two Pac-Man 25th Anniversary machines on their video game floor, set to free play. They had been there all summer, assumingly donated by Namco Amusements, because they were spotless and missing the signature grime of used arcade machines.

To possibly commemorate the end of this clothing line for the year, Uniqlo approached New York - Tokyo to organize a Pac-Man tournament where popular blogs and magazines competed for prizes, mostly a handful of Pac-Man t-shirts and plushes. I stood and watched with my friend Dave, folding my arms and scoffing at the ameteurish mistakes the competitors were making, blown up on a big projected screen. The top blog managed to pull of high score of around 15,000; mind you, the competition was to see who could get the highest score in three minutes, so 15,000 and change is middling if not respectable. Clearly achievable by someone who understands that the basic premise is that you're a goddamn dot and you gotta eat all of the other goddamn dots.

After the blogs had their fun, it was time for the walk-ins to play. This is how connected the organizers were to their audience: the sign-up girl told us to use our fake internet handles instead of our real names. I decided to tactfully go with the name PAC-BEAST, which triggered a number of other contestants to frown audibly. I also convinced my friend to join in, because he realized after seeing the sloppy plays by the magazines that it wouldn't hurt to join, even though he wasn't really too acquainted with the original Pac-Man, but instead somewhat intimately with the vastly different XBOX Live remake.

The tournament was set up in heats - 2 players at a time for 3 minutes each - and there were about twenty contestants. My friend and I actually went head-to-head, and as I played, people behind me gasped, which made me feel a little sorry for myself. After our heat, my friend and I were in second and first place, respectively. Then the dude who had been on the machine all day practicing goes up.

Well this dude decimates my score. I pulled high 19,000, he hit mid 22,000 (my friend, for the record, pulled mid 17,000, which was impressive). Twenty-two thousand is a very difficult score to get in three minutes on two stages of Pac-Man and I thought that my run was over for sure. As it turns out, after all the heats were done, no one had even come close to the third place score now held by my friend.

In the finals, it was Dave versus the fourth-place player, and Dave walloped her with 18,000 something. Then it was me versus the first-place dude. I'd never had a crowd of people form behind me as I played an arcade game, so if it were possible for me to feel excitement then I can guarantee you I would have. I ran around the board with relative ease, making only minor mistakes, but managed to get low 19,000. I thought, damn, he beat me.

Well, he did beat me, but that doesn't really matter because first, second, and third place all got the same prize. Here are some shoddy quality pictures of two of the prizes:

A large plushie and a mousepad. Also, a Uniqlo tote bag and a $50 gift card which I thought was pretty nice.

Then the marketing dude is all like, hey bros, write your names and addresses down here so you can get your real prize. Turns out, the top 5 places all win Pac-Man t-shirts signed by Toru Iwatani, the guy who invented Pac-Man. What a thoughtful prize, I thought. I mean, here I now have the signature of a man who created one of the most iconic pop culture things in the history of things. It's not even that my Grandma can recognize a game of Pac-Man (she can, despite not knowing Mario or Sonic). It's more like, when people see any natural, circular shape with a slice cut out of its side, they make the astute connection: "Oh, that looks like Pac-Man!".

I think, when it comes in, I may frame it and put it on my wall, as it is pretty much the ultimate Pac-Man thing I could ever hope to own.

Scratch that. It is the ultimate thing I could ever hope to own. So ultimate.

Edit: NY-T write-up with scores here.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


David Byrne played the Prospect Park Bandshell on Monday night as part of the Celebrate Brooklyn series of free concerts. I did not take the above photograph, it's from here.

I was in attendance, although I was just outside of the concert area, hanging with legions of similarly impatient people. While I did miss getting my shoes muddied by leaping hipsters, I still experienced an excellent set. David Byrne really knows how to pander to his crowds, mixing many of his modern solo songs with older, popular Talking Heads ones (and some not-so-popular). He even had three encores! Obviously "Once in a Lifetime" got the biggest reaction, forcing the whole gamut of attendees to get up on their feet and dance like the awkward white people they are.

And I mean gamut; generations x, y and z were represented in the crowd. Just within the concert area gates I saw a thirty-something woman with her (presumably) husband, two younger kids, and a baby in a stroller, dancing like a flowerchild. I saw men and women, easily pushing 50, mouthing the words to "Life During Wartime". It was refreshing.

The image links to the BrooklynVegan blog post, which pretty much sums it up.

In other news: I bought a new bookshelf! My books were scattered and jammed into various places, so I figured it was about time to get myself a fancy new organizer thingy. Check it out! Actually, I still can't fit all of my books onto it, but most of the ones I couldn't get on were boring non-fiction and writers handbooks that I've never read. Nor do I plan on doing so!

Now my desk is boring. Look at those empty shelves! Look at my paltry CD collection. I'd put the aforementioned boring books on there, but that'd just make it more boring.

That's an Edward Scissorhands poster that I bought from Spencer's in my mid-teens. I'm too lazy to buy a better poster. It will probably remain there until I find a new place to live. I mean, if you need a point of reference as to how long my room typically goes unchanged, just take a gander at that Nickelodeon clock. That's not some vintage toy I bought off of eBay, eyes brimming with tears of nostalgia. I received that when it was brand new.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


I've been reading up on sf book opinions from the hivemind and occasionally I come across a general consensus agreeing that China Miéville writes a lot of unnecessary filler. Well today I say: to hell with you, internet message boards.

The defense is normally along the rails of, "but of course PSS is long, the city is a character!" I also say to hell with you. The city is a setting, and Miéville does a nice job detailing it.

I'm not going to pretend that there aren't parts where PSS doesn't slow down, and I'm not going to pretend to be well-versed in the trilogy it's a part of, considering I've never read the next two books in the series (I do have The Scar on my shelf - the ever-knowing brain suggests that Miéville cuts down on the filler, but it looks just as long to me!).

So right now I'm going to talk about Un Lun Dun. ULD is a children's book that was published by Del Rey in 2007. It is Miéville's first (and only) children's book. It's a crazy, whimsicle story about two girls who are sucked into a bizarro London because there's some prophecy about how one of them is going to be the decaying world's savior in a war against an ever-growing mass of smog. The smog is feeding itself through normal London, and it plans on taking over the real world once it's through destroying the real-fake world.

I don't know how most people read it, but I found it to have a pretty strong environmental agenda. Un Lun Dun is littered with trash from the real world, except in this world the trash is alive (the main character is followed by a sentient discarded milk carton that acts like a dog). The standard of living seems way low, but the inhabitants seem fine with that.

One thing I've come to appreciate about Miéville stories is the imaginative detailing of his fictional worlds. One of my favorite moments in ULD is when the main party arrives in a place where the buildings are constantly shifting around like a slide puzzle. One of the characters who is well-travelled suggests that there are mailmen who are trying to track down homes to deliver mail to after years of searching. This is, unfortunately, a minor moment in the book, as it appears in one of the shorter chapters (although not the shortest by a long shot - one chapter is only a few words long). This is present in PSS, although we tend to spend more time exploring New Crobuzon as there are more minor characters that Miéville revists.

Un Lun Dun is something that I'd recommend to any sf/childrens' stories fan who wants a nice quick read to break up sessions of harder novels. Although it's not too quick - it's still a respectable length, and despite it being a children's book there were a good number of difficult words I actually had to stop and look up. 'It wouldn't be Miéville without some of that.

I read this book some time ago and I decided to revist it for a bit today, and it's every bit as magical as I remember it. "Magical" is probably the best word I can think to describe it despite it being somewhat improper; it's kind of grimey. Grimey magical. It's like a grimey, trippy and magical Alice in Wonderland. It's like Alice in Wonderland meets Alice in Wonderland. I think it even says that on the cover.