So what does Jane Austen and gamebooks have in common?

Verily, thou suggestest the improbable! Austen, author of immaculately proper prose, indulging in something as trivial as games? Surely thou art pulling mine freaking legs?
But hangest thou on one minute – what are gamebooks?
Well now, that takes me waaay back.
According to, a gamebook is defined as “as any book in which the reader participates in the story by making choices which affect the course of the narrative.” As you read, you are offered a choice of actions that the central character of the story can take. The different actions unfold in different ways, typically either towards better or worse situations for the character.
During my primary school days, I was fascinated with gamebooks. I have gamebooks that allowed the readers to engage in combat with monsters, complete with hit points and inventory that the reader has to keep track of, even gamebooks that allowed two players to play against each other! I still have all of my gamebooks (naturally!), and they bring a flood of nostalgia now that I think about them. Highly literate novels they are not, immensely fun they definitely were.
So anyway, back to my point. Emma Campbell Webster has whipped up something truly interesting.

The book is called Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure, and it promises the reader a romp through Austen’s famous novels. The blurb for the book is:

Name: Elizabeth Bennet.
Mission: To marry both prudently and for love.
How? It’s entirely up to the reader.
The journey begins in Pride and Prejudice but quickly takes off on a whimsical Austen adventure of the reader’s own creation. A series of choices leads the reader into the plots and romances of Austen’s other works. Choosing to walk home from Netherfield Hall means falling into Sense and Sensibility and the infatuating spell of Mr. Willoughby. Accepting an invitation to Bath leads to Northanger Abbey and the beguiling Henry Tilney. And just where will Emma’s Mr. Knightley fit in to the quest for a worthy husband? It’s all up to the reader.
A labyrinth of love and lies, scandals and scoundrels, misfortunes and marriages, Lost in Austen will delight and challenge any Austen lover.

Now I found this book by chance, and of all the amalgamations I could have thought of, never had I imagined Austen as fodder for gamebooks. After all, gamebooks based off of famous authors’ works have been done before. Some are obvious choices. Sherlock Holmes, for example, was turned into gamebooks, and it was an interesting effort too (I have one of them). But Austen? Way out of the park.
I’m not sure exactly which audience Webster is shooting for. Gamebooks have long been out of vogue, and although there are some still being sold in the bookshops, I hardly think they are flying off the shelves. But even if they were, the target audience for gamebooks have always been the young readers and gamers/role-players (the Sherlock Holmes one was aimed at young readers – it was not incredibly challenging prose-wise). They would be bored to tears helping a chick they can’t visualize do, of all things, get married. Yeah. Wonderful.
So no. Probably aiming for Austen fans. But you’d have to wonder if the regular Austenite would actually entertain the idea of ‘playing’. Some in the reviews have said that certain passages in the book are so highly reminiscent of the originals that fans may feel that they are re-reading the novels again.
Anyway I think it’s a great try, and a fresh idea. I think this book would be a lovely addition to Austen fans anyway. Who know, maybe Austen fans will like it, and like it so much that they start to campaign for Choose Your Own Adventures for Kafka, Nabokov, Doestoevsky (now that would be interesting).
ps. Yes, I know Austen doesn’t talk like that.

Forbidden Kingdom: This had better be good

Ladies and gentlemen, my most anticipated movie of 2008:

This is the much-awaited, highly-anticipated match-up between Jet Li and Jackie Chan, and I’m as excited as a rabbit in a carrot patch. I’ve watched Jackie’s movies since before I learned how to walk (technically, I could say I started watching his movies since before I was born, but that would really be stretching it), and I remember distinctly being blown away with Jet’s Once A Upon A Time in China when I watched him for the first time (it was after a particularly distressing exam, I recall, but I’m certain that has nothing to do with it).
Nobody would dispute that since their move to Hollywood, the quality of their movies went south (in this case, it was south westerly). At any rate, they stank. This fact is definitely not lost on them, because as they continued their affair with Hollywood, they would return to flirt with their patient and loyal fanbase in Asia (Jackie with stuff like The New Police Story, The Myth and the baby caper flick, and Jet with his Hero and Fearless).
So after 15 years of talking and dreaming, J & J finally decided to make good on their plans and Forbidden Kingdom is the result. The good news is the principal filming is completed, and the film is now in post-production. The bad news is it’s not showing next week. Specifically, it will only be shown in April next year, which is not fast enough for me.
There are so many things that can go wrong with this film. Yuen Woo Ping has been drafted in, so that can’t be too bad.
However, an original story that focuses on the Chinese culture but with an eye to the Western audiences has been whipped up. I’m always skeptical about movies helmed by either Jackie or Jet being remade with Western audiences in mind, because the result tends to fall short of the heights of Hongkong cinematic action, which would be too tame for Asian audiences, and the story tends to be pretty half-assed to be taken seriously, which would disappoint anyone. So if the movie craps out, it’ll probably be story-wise.
I’m hoping it won’t be disappointing, because this movie has the potential to be a classic. It’s a foregone conclusion that it will be a commercial success, but will it be a paragon of cinematic action that will finally appeal to both the Eastern and Western audiences, a testimonial highpoint for these two icons?
I’ll grab a box of popcorn and tell you in April.

Shock! Shameful from KKK-TBH!

Readers of this blog know that I’m a huge fan of Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong, and while I’m critical of their recent performances, I’m proud of their achievements and their potential.
But in my accidental foray into Youtube today, I found this clip:

I quote from the About box of the video:

This is from the 3rd and deciding game of the Mens Doubles QF at the 2007 French Open Badminton.
The clip starts with a long and hard-fought rally.
Finally, Japan’s Tadashi Ohtsuka & Keita Masuda win the point when Malaysia’s Tan Boon Heong’s drop hits the net and falls back into the Malaysian side of the court.
Notice (at 0:35) how Koo Kien Keat (Malaysia) steps forward and pushes the dead shuttle to the Japanese side for the next serve. (Returning the shuttle to the other side is the usual thing to do after losing a point.)
Importantly, it means that the Malaysians knew that the shuttle had failed to cross over to the Japanese side and that being so, they had lost the point and the serve to the Japanese.
Then comes the shocker of a decision by the umpire – he gestures that Malaysia had won the point. The Japanese can’t believe it!
Bizarrely enough, the service judge is the one who contends that the shuttle fell into the Japanese side, although the action happened closer to the umpire.
What follows is simply shameful – and I can’t believe that any Malaysian would actually do this.
Even as the Japanese duo are pleading their case, the Malaysian duo shamelessly walks away, when all they needed to do was acknowledge the wrong call.

If I were told this I simply wouldn’t believe it. But the video clearly shows them guilty of the charge.
Malaysians may not be the best in sports, but if there’s one thing that should define us it’s our sportsmanship. This is not acceptable behaviour! There would be no glory in winning something mired in controversy, and this is the worse kind of controversy – because the replay shows you’re a scam!
Now I know the players have been told never to question the decisions of the match officials, especially if it goes against your opponent and your opponent is objecting the decision until he’s blue in the face. But come on! That rule is for dodgy line calls and misjudged top-of-the-tape shuttle taps. Definitely not for obvious errors like that!
You’re both above that. Right?
Damn I’m embarrassed.

Another rant about the place of fantasy/scifi in literature

This snippet from George RR Martin about The Road encapsulates in its essence what I think is so wrong about how some people feel about genre fiction in general:

I think I speak for virtually all fantasy and science-fiction writers that it’s a constant annoyance for anyone who works in these fields, that whenever a great piece of work is produced, you get reviewers saying, ”Oh, this isn’t science fiction, it’s too good.” Most recently, that’s happened with Cormac McCarthy and The Road. Which is definitely a science-fiction book, and yet it’s winning all these prizes and people are saying, ”No, no, it’s science fiction.” Well, it’s literature and it’s science fiction. It’s a breath mint and a candy mint!

There are those who think I’m being defensive simply because I love genre fiction. I would think that would be too shallow a way to look at it. I’m about experiencing anything and everything you love in reading. To anyone who would come to me for advice, I would never ever say don’t try something just because it happens to be categorized in a certain way. Encouraging the sentiment that a particular genre is somehow ‘beneath’ an arbitrary literary bar frankly reflects poorly on the proponent.
Everybody is partial to their genres when reading (and make no mistake, award-winning novels are a genre by itself). So when someone crosses the genre gaps, that’s great. So I’m just amazed at people who’d tell others, “Oh no, that’s not science fiction. That’s bloody McCarthy, so it can’t be considered science fiction because it’s so well written!” Oh please.
I’ve read as much as (if not more) contemporary fiction and prize winning fiction than the next person, and here’s what I’ve learnt:
The one and only thing that separates the wheat from the chaff in literature is the author, regardless of the subject matter.
Go on. Come and tell me I’m wrong.

I knew this day would come, but not so damn soon!

I realized two things: you blink and a week goes by without you blogging, and I end almost all my blog posts with exclamation points.
This is going to be a departure from my usual highly informed, balanced, opinionated and intellectual articles, people, because I want to raise an alarm.
I’m trying to get into Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 on the PS2 and despite countless valiant attempts in three days of playing (albeit in bursts of about 1 hour each day), I have *NOT* been able to win a single match. A SINGLE MATCH. Not one.
I have not been playing video games for a while, I admit, preferring instead to do more mundane things like sterilizing baby bottles and filling up compartmentalized milk powder containers in my spare time. Occasionally I do different things like sending an email or five to various people in a strange place called ‘work’ (who can be quite persistent, I found) or when I decided to pay more attention to my personal projects, or indeed, deciding to (gasp!) read.
Despite all that, I remain, and always have been, a talent in gaming. In my heyday there are no games I could not master in minutes, and start clearing the field with petulant flicks of my wrist (or fingers, depending on what I was using at the time).
True, I may not kick ass in StarCraft, and some may recall with glee the occasional thumping I received at the hands of people who do nothing but play these games, but computer AI has never got me down for long.
Imagine my tension at being beaten repeatedly in PES2008. I simply cannot understand how a team whose name I can barely pronounce much less recognize can beat Barcelona (which has been renamed to something else due to licensing concerns, I imagine) by the ludicrous scoreline of 4-0. It came to a point where I didn’t know what the hell to do with the ball at my player’s feet! So I stand there, hands inert, player motionless, while I wait for a spark of inspiration. Which quickly turned into a spark of panic as the opposition nipped the ball from my player’s feet and going for goal.
This is crazy.
Mark my words: There is never a truer gauge for aging than your inability to play video games competently.
I will beat this game, if that’s the last thing I do. All while juggling PoP, baby, reading and learning in the spare time I have not working or sleeping. You know, piece of cake.
I seldom let my hair down and write about something as inconsequential as this how-my-day-went post, and I assure you that at least 5 blinks will go by before I succumb to such an impulse again.
I will return to regularly scheduled programming (I’m not a screenplay writer in Hollywood, so something as silly as union strikes will not hinder my writing, so you may relax, gentle readers), and serious thoughtful posts (for me, at least) will resume shortly.
And no I did not forget to write about books. Like George RR Martin, I too have indulgences in sport that I must, well, indulge in.