Saturday, August 23, 2008

Thirst in the Lord

I never forgot what Father Richards, who by virtue of his vocation in the army had had it much much worse than I have had so far, said about Thirst in the Lord (along these lines): Remember the times when you are on your way, running out of water. Your throat is parched, you're sweating like a pig and your bottle is fast running out. You thirst for water desperately -- and that is how you should thirst for God.

The last phrase rang in my mind's ear at various appropriate moments for the last 2 field camps. Now, since a few days before, I have learnt to ration my 5 litres over four days, with some left over even after I gave away a bottle's worth to my buddy. Some things you thirst for, but it seems that not even the Lord we should take too much for granted, even if he is always here with us.

Six small sips keeps one going for about two or three hours on average in a good cool day or at night, to my best approximation. If the sun is out, take twelve.

Are you okay Andy?

For Yihan and mates around who look at me funny because I sing too loudly during 5km runs or couldn't cool down for a whole morning or othersuch unusual antics coming from an otherwise quiet and unoffensive man,

I'm okay. I'm perfectly okay. In fact, I've never been so okay before.
Thank you, thank you First Battalion, a big hug, wet kiss and all the like stuff for bringing out the angsty sillyass who for the all the past months lay dormant within me.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Halfdan Egedius: Illustration for Olav Trygvasons saga. Snorre 1899-edition   [CHECK THESE OUT! THESE ARE THE JOMSVIKINGS]
"The name is Saxon and means the high down [or, more clearly and in another article, on the high hill], and its earliest known use is in 1005 as Heandunigna."
-- Wikipedia article on the Municipal Borough of Hendon in Barnet, London

The Saxon name Heandunigna, imagine! Tonight, I'll be going back to Heandunigna. Doesn't it conjure up some image of those Germanic axewielding rotters swigging contraband inside the bunks by night plus warring themselves nuts by day? Or, if one is familiar with the Norse, the fabled Jomsvikings one would read of in Laxness and the Icelandic Sagas; the Jomsvikings were the real hardcore mercenaries, they were.

Name appeared on Business Times last Sunday, a copy of which Yee Chien (whose name was carelessly left out) passed me today over coffee; Yes, after so long, I'm paying for the coffee again! Yee Chien leaves end this month, Xiang early next. Sean has temporarily left the Army, and things are getting lonelier here.

Buying things for the detatchment, provisions mainly, that I am now proud to style myself a Provisions Man for a vocation as well as Medic; Also I learnt how letting a Hwa Chong Humanities Programme Alumnus touch your diary equals suicide, in addition to betting with him or proving that Johannesburg, as a fact, isn't capital of South Africa.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Battalion Cat Revisited

Cat got nearly torn apart by the dogs on Monday, but survives. It was last seen sucking its own tail at the tonners, as if nothing had happened. Apart from that, it appeared to have taken leave for much of this week, until reputedly on Thursday it got torn up again. This time on the dogs' own turf.
Elsewhere, things fared more or less as well.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Battalion Cat

It probably isn't classified information that my company line houses a black-and-white cat, who is always around when we fall in or clean our rifles or whatnot and hanging about hopefully for scraps when not licking its own tail... except of course if some infiltrator comes in, guts the poor bugger and finds the top-secret confidential docs half-digested therein... and not forgetting the subequent turning-in of the Admin IC who'd say "Sir, the cat ate my homework" and getting it for the excuse. (Sorry, Glen)

I suspect, however, that the Battalion Cat prefers fresh rations to mission briefs, for it shows up always whenever we're eating dinner at the first floor, where he would rub itself up someone's smelly slacks, lick the oil off a machine gun, bother the inmates trainees and fraternise with the sergeants. As we fell in to ranks, he would be there eyeballing us with tired looks, later resigning to licking himself at various places, at the same time blissfully unaware and splendidly distracting.

Some of us enjoy his company; others resign to kicking him away, though all things considered, this fella is like a carefree island in a hectic ocean, like a stable beacon atop a lighthouse guiding ships through freezing tempests. No one can expect him to fight alongside us. No one can tell him to fall in and report strength. No one can accuse him of chao keng when he does... but, all that notwithstanding, the Battalion Cat lazes squarely in our family, a respected senior member, a sentinel.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Imagined Worlds

0. Back Story
On our way back from school (to camp) with our certificates on Friday, the trio consisting Ainan, Justin Wie and I stopped over at Tampines Regional Library, where Ainan picked up a book by a certain fantasy writer. Flipping through its pages, he recalled how in Literature tests there would be a stupid unseen passage from a fantasy novel, to its brims with fantasy jargon that would have to be intepreted.

He handed it me and I read the blurb and a map of the imaginary world, which is not that distinctive by fantasy standards. The toponymy was of a standard otherworldliness, unimaginative save for an occasional adventurous nudge in the oriental direction. If I remember correctly, there were dragons. The blurb is about as eyecatching as politics. As a representative of mediocre fantasy worlds, this book didn't seem to expound so much imagination as the lack thereof, so Ainan put it back upon the shelf.

I. Abstract
For a long time I have attempted to create a convincing fantasy world, a world that not only presents an alternative reality but also mimics this world in all its variety of people, cultures and history. In this inscription, which takes on a rough template of a research paper, I would go through a few of the fantasy authors, find out why I like their take on fantasy writing, and brainstorm for applications to the newfound principles.

II. Literature Review
Disclaimer: Firstly, I'm sorry I've never read Tolkien! Also, I have not touched for a long time some of these following literature described , so details may be inaccurate, please correct if found.
If you want to add on to this, please do! I'm not too well-read.

(post-Apocalyptic setting, allusions to Celtic folklore, teenage heroism)
He was the first author I read from after I decided to start reading fiction. He wrote a series of novels, adventures of two young magician's apprentices whom stumble upon the ruins of ancient (modern) humanity and stories of its hubris and downfall. Also wrote one Shadow of Fomor, which I immensely enjoyed at the time, wherein two youngsters get caught up in the world of Irish mythology.

His stories may be set in the future (Magicians Series) or in a parallel reality (Shadow of Fomor), both rather interesting starting points. In Shadow of Fomor, he relies a lot on a combination of pagan Irish folklore and historical records (cf. The Annals of the Four Masters). In every story that he writes, a shadow of our reality is present.

(employment of animal characters, moralist discourse)
The writer of the Redwall series, describing a world inhabited by animals, some good and benign, others vicious and warlike. It was addictive, the exhausted formulaic storylines notwithstanding.

The novels in the series each come accompanied with a map. Strung together in chronological order (the clergymice make historical records) the story of Redwall spans roughly 300 years. If you read the maps in that order, the Mossflower region becomes alive with paths changing shape, lakes appearing and disappearing, settlements being established or dismantled, and tribes that arrive and are vanquished, like a historical atlas.

Regions adjacent to Mossflower are occasionally featured, when Redwall creatures get adventurous and go travelling. Toponymy is half-chained words of existing languages (e.g. Noonvale, Midgardsorm), which are okay, and half-ex nihilo syllables, which are not.

The society in the Redwall series is structured bipolarly into good animals, like mice, hare, badgers etc and vermin, like rats, foxes, ferrets or weasels. Morality is determined primarily by one's species rather than their upbringing. The vermin are nomadic, whereas the good creatures of Mossflower region is centered around Redwall Abbey and the fortress Salamandastron, key civic and millitary institutions of the civilised world. The clash of civilisations is a recurrent theme in all the stories. As much as it is quite more interesting than most other fantasy settings, it makes way for endless variations of the same yarn.

IIC. James GURNEY et al.
(hidden Geography, utopian society of a distinctive and rich culture, archaeological references)
The series named Dinotopia, kick-started by author and illustrator James Gurney, is actually set in the real world, in a continent in the Indian Ocean that is fenced off by layers of reef and somehow has evaded all satellite photography. Humans migrate to the continent Dinotopia by chance, usually due to shipwrecking.

The continent population, consisting human and assorted prehistoric fauna, coexist in a highly efficient society run on a code of compassionate goodwill, which is in turn maintained by the educational system. This balance is fragile, as you should know, and the novel Dinotopia Lost illustrates one such instance in which this balance is finally threatened, when a group of pirates attempted taking control over the land.

The appeal of this series lies in its imagination of cross-species communal living, as in Redwall; a syncretic and colourful culture of many roots, human or not; the possibility of a world lying undiscovered in actual reality; and of course the dinosaurs, because young nerdy boys are suckers for archaeology.

(Fusion between science-fiction and folklore, or summary genre-crossing)

As the writer of the Wish List and the Artemis Fowl series, the works of Colfer are distinctive in its adaptation of Irish and Christian folklore in a out-and-out modern setting. The infusion of futuristic technology, for example, that employed by fairy civilisation and the supernatural forces of Hell erases all trace of implied archaicness of these concepts.

A pictoral code (I wouldn't go so far as to describe those things as an alphabet, because they are too similar to the English alphabet to stand in their own right as a writing system) is used as part of the design of the pages and covers in Artemis Fowl novels, for the readers' amusement. However, the first novel played a bit with the directionality of fairy writing, arranging the letters in circles to form a word, which was quite the fun bit as linguistics is concerned.

(Parody of fantasy, human nature, and society; larger-than-life storytelling)

I guess a lot more people know this guy than they do with the previous three, and I guess also many of them have come to this realm of fantasy by different routes, maybe including the works of Tolkien and numerous cheap imitators.

The uniqueness of the setting of Discworld lies in its description of being run entirely by popular imagination, ostensibly that of its inhabitants but ultimately of its readers in the real world as well. E.g. the world is flat and it lies at the backs of four elephants standing on a huge turtle, because people on the disc thought so and yeah, it was true.

His employment of exhausted clichés in fantasy, in the form of dragons, magic and gods are justified by the fact that they are rationalised, excavated from the statum of overusage with a dose of modernistic pseudoscience, absurdism, and other small ways to make the fantastic sound demystified and familiar (e.g. treatment of magic as a scientific discipline, and treatment of mythical creatures as common livestock cf. The Last Hero)

Even though the Discworld is imaginary, the inhabitants strike obvious parallels with those of the real world. The storytelling is humanistic, focusing on the characters, their personalities and their decisions more than their circumstances. The background of the world, consisting all the geographical stats, language, alternative stuff, etc that many other fantasy writers bring foremost, here serves only as a backdrop to whatever happens.

Of all fantasy writers, Pratchett's world is the most carelessly handled, but it is this that makes two of the chief appeals in the Discworld series: the world made blatantly and wonderfully absurd, as well as the larger-than-life stories of its people.

III. Discourse on Fantasy Settings
III0. Departure
From the works of McGowen, it is found that a good fantasy setting must have at least a reference in reality. From Jacques, we can imagine how a fantasy setting that unfolds in history can make for addictive reading even if the stories in the series are very much the same. From Jacques and Gurney together, it can be seen that for grander fantasy settings, the description of a fictional, idealised social order can make for significant appeal. From Colfer, we find that it is possible and fun to break boundaries. And from Pratchett, we see that whatever the fantasy setting, good and sensitive storytelling is paramount.

The following chapter will touch chiefly upon some of the components of fantasy settings in novels, and new possibilities to be touched upon. Fully developed, the applications of these components may extend to other genres, such as philosophical and realist literature.

IIIA. The Natural World
The natural setting for a fantasy novel can take on many forms. A fantasy setting may take place in the real world (past or future), a world in an alternative universe (same geog, different history), or the altogether made-up.

The setting can take on coastal-inland forms, which is a common approach in writers adopting a made-up world (Jacques, Tolkien). It is build around the mainland coast as a threshold between land and sea, and can facilitate both landborne and nautical settings (Jacques). The scale of a typical world of this form is not too big, allowing for much expansion of story plots.

Certain other writers employ a map which is entirely inland (e.g. Richard Adams in Watership Down) that allow for much less space and variation in setting, but is suitable for adventures undertaken by smaller animals.

Another common natural setting is an island, or any land body completely encircled by water (e.g. Gurney, Lewins in Crow's Head, Morpurgo in Why the Whales Came) which is expecially convenient in injecting a fantasy setting into the real world and maybe coaxing readers into believing that it acutally exists.

IIIB. Culture
More middle-of-the-road writers, as casually observed, choose a vaguely medieval setting for their stories. This is not a huge development from the times when King Arthur was first told, so some alternatives have sprung up to replace it.

The fact of fantasy settings is that it is very difficult to formulate an entire people's culture and practices from nothing at all, and that a writer's own cultural background is often used as an aid to project attributes into the fictional world, or come in its way. Whatever it turns out to be, it's good to get off the track. One option would be to choose a syncretist culture, like that of Gurney's Dinotopia. As an illustrator as well as author, Gurney clothes human Dinotopians in a variety of functional clothing that suggest an inclination to the Arabesque, German, or Asian while not being very definitely so. There are yet others, based on various individual world cultures.

IIIC. Language
I don't know if you bother about language, but I certainly do, and I think constructed languages are what turns me off at the door for most fantasy novels. Come on, it's in the toponymy too. The problem with place- and people-names designed to sound exotic is that they eventually all sound similar, which is gonna be pants-down boring.

My would-be approach is to create the world's languages from its very beginnings, from the beginning where grunts took up shape as syllables, and from then, roots that evolve into proper words with declension, elements of inflection, entymology, as well as dialectical variations, slang, obscenities and everything. Of all fantasy writers, I guess only few including Tolkien has taken advantage of this phenomenon by creating e.g. Quenya and Sindarin, sister languages with a common root.

A writing system may or may not be used. When it is, it can take the form of an alphabet, a syllabary, an abguida (consonant-only alphabet), a logography or pictography (cf Pratchett, The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents). A writing system can evolve just as a language can, so it may not be restricted to English phonemes. Getting out of the English framework of phonemes (i.e. letters A, B, C... to Z) should help as a start.

IIID. Crossing Genres - Macabre and Magic Realism
Fantastic imagination can be applied in writings that are not verily inside the bounds of fantasy, in the works of authors Howard Lovecraft and Halldór Laxness.
Lovecraft wrote horror stories, short ones, but his visualisation of alternative dimensions and a malevolent pantheon of monsters gives much way to the methods of fantasy writing. Lovecraft's alternative world is incredibly hostile and unfamiliar to humanity, and therefore fulfils the criteria for otherliness in fantasy.
Laxness is mostly realist, but in the novel Under the Glacier, in which the hero comes to the vincinity of Snæfellsjökull, the alternative world is presented in the district itself. Here in a sphere of weirdness where nothing is accountable and logic went hand in hand with mysticism, the hero finds himself disoriented and disarmed.

IV. Reflections
I hope I have given a coherent account there above. I'm sorry if it wasn't that well done; I've been typing all morning. Anyway, I hope that in reference to these authors of pretty good fantasy novels, I have uncovered some of the aesthetic virtues that one can seek in a fantasy novel, or perhaps any novel that edges to the fantastic.

Thanks for reading, if you've come this far. I'm off for lunch!

V. Further Readings
McGOWEN Tom: Magicians series, Shadow of Fomor
JACQUES Brian: Redwall series
GURNEY James and various: Dinotopia series
COLFER Eoin: Artemis Fowl series, The Wish List
PRATCHETT Terry: Discworld Series
ADAMS Richard: Watership Down (and sequel)
LEWINS Anna: Crow's Head
MORPURGO Michael: various works
LOVECRAFT Howard Philips: various works
LAXNESS Halldór: Under the Glacier
TOLKIEN John Ronald Reuel: various works

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Footslogging Journal Update

A map detailing my journeys across the island on foot, excluding the Peirce Route (April 2008) and various route marches, which probably shouldn't be here anyway. All the same, please excuse me now for showing off.

I told my friends in camp about my slightly unusual hobby of taking long walks around rural and suburban Singapore, and they probably found it barking mad or something to prefer strolling in suburbia to strolling in Orchard, or to prefer walking at all to drinking onself shitless in nightclubs.

Also disturbing to them was my perceived going to all lengths to document everything little thing that I do, one of these that is the map here shown. It wasn't done yesterday; it's just updated, and since September 2007 there are two more routes drawn and one expanded, with the legend as follows:

Grey font - general localities
White font / coloured discs - key landmarks along routes
Blue font - water bodies
Yellow font - communes
glowing lines - routes

Violet: Sungei Buloh Route
One-off misadventure in December 2006 involving an initial jog through increasingly inhospitable territory, cumulating in an encounter with dogs, a dead end in the middle of nowhere, crossing a canal, emerging wet from a drain, two bus trips, many factories, a puny reservoir park, and finally Sungei Buloh itself, where crocodiles didn't roam on that day.

Amber: Old School Route (~8 km)
I used to take this route from Hazel Park to Hwa Chong. Details here
Also taken in the opposite direction a number of times from the Boarding School to Bukit Panjang LRT station (June 2007), for sentimental reasons.
Supermarkets are common along this route, with cheese abound!

Green: Saint Joseph Route (~10-16 km)
Denotes various routes that pass through Clementi Road and Upper Bukit Timah Road. There was this time I took the longest of them, starting with Sungei Ulu Pandan and ending with a trip all the way into Central Catchment (via Chestnut Drive) and back. There was a hot noontime sun, plenty of monkeys, an electric fence I walked around, and a corner of Upper Peirce Reservoir which I believed few (if at all) Singaporeans actually set eyes on. And then I saw the apartment flats peeping just over the far horizon over the water surface and thought, oh.

Grey-green: New School Route (~8 km)
The route I took when I needed to go to the art room from home, or vice versa. Also taken just to have breakfast in Jelita or Guthrie House, again for sentimental reasons. Ulu Pandan and Sixth Avenue are good places to walk, not too cluttered.

Blue: Reservoir Circuit (6.17 km per round)
I ran around here to prepare for Recruit training. It worked well, but not well enough. Details here

Purple: Clementi Route
I walked this two weeks ago, running a small errand for field camp along the way. Passed through Clementi Woods, which is not a bad place to go on a hot day.

Saint Ignatius Route (not in display)
Was in here with Yee Chien and Xiang and Yuan Yi to distribute flyers for our CIP project (July 2006?). The roads in here are desperately obfuscated, so I couldn't mark out the route. We went in at Oei Tiong Ham Road and came out at Farrer Road, passing by the Vietnamese Embassy, the Phillipines Embassy, some other Embassy, numerous mansions, and Saint Ignatius' Church, where fellow trainee Long John goes to.