Monday 31 December 2012


I feel I should at least try to do some sort of Year End Post. Mark the passing of another wall calendar in some sort of appropriately retrospective manner. I promised there wouldn’t be any mawkish retrospective posts, though, so I’ve made a pretty sturdy rod for my own back there.

What’s left? As others have noted, the posts that get the hit-counter whirring are the ones ragging on some sort of deficient aspect of Japan or the Japanese, so let’s talk about the election!

Friday 28 December 2012

A History of the World in Twelve Maps

Jerry Brotton, 2012
(December 2012)

Maps? History? You’d better believe I’m all up in that shit right here.

(The vernacular’s just so wonderfully expressive, don’t you find?)

Monday 24 December 2012

364 nights a year

...he stands a lonely vigil over the barren Arctic wastelands of his home. Waiting. Always waiting...

Friday 21 December 2012

Flagrant Copyright Violations

Christmas lessons are, as I’ve previously hinted at, tricky little fuckers. Quite apart from all the cultural baggage which you may or may not bring to the table, the timing is generally a bit awkward as well; sandwiched as they usually are around end-of-year exams and the end of term itself.

Wednesday 19 December 2012

China in Ten Words

Yu Hua, 2011 [Allan H Barr, 2011]
(December 2012)

I’ve recently touched on the effects of Japan’s rapid industrialization and Westernization since the end of the sakoku period. My exact words, in case you've forgotten, were, “in barely five generations it’s gone from being essentially medieval to one of the most economically and technologically advanced nations in the world, and frankly it’s not surprising that social change hasn’t kept up with that hectic pace.” China’s in much the same boat now, but instead of five generations, it’s only been five decades. It’s been a fairly bumpy ride.

Friday 14 December 2012

The Mayor of Toytown

In addition to the frankly embarrassing lawnmower, I’m also now having to contend with the fact our entire house looks like a kids' ball pit in a shopping centre. We’re right next to a little park as well, so we’ve even  got a load of stressed-out mums regularly standing outside the door screaming at children who don’t want to go home. Fun times.

Monday 10 December 2012

Date and Walnut

No punning post title or tenuously connected video below the jump because, well, look at it will you? No point gilding this particular lily. Yum yum yum.

Friday 7 December 2012

You’re not from New York City, you’re from Rotherham

Bright lights, big city.

I had a Jewish friend once. Well, more than one, and I still have some. Friends, that is. And Jews, of course. I don’t ‘have’ Jews, I mean. Jewish friends. Some of my best friends are Jews. No, christ, not like that. I didn’t mean it like that. And ‘christ’? Bollocks, that’s even worse. Err…

Wednesday 5 December 2012


Kameron Hurley, 2012
(November 2012)

So, those Bond parallels. Within the first five chapters our main protagonist has managed to screw two separate women immediately prior to screwing them over. Fortunately though neither has a pathetically transparent innuendo as a name, and this first is ‘older, and plumper’ and covered with scars while the second ‘truly was unremarkable in every way’. Not exactly Slavic supermodels then.

Monday 3 December 2012


Kameron Hurley, 2011
(November 2012)

The sequel to God’s War, which I saw described on another blog as a book, ‘in which Space Muslims are endlessly violent’. This is a lovely turn of phrase, completely accurate, and an almost perfectly enticing sales pitch. Seriously, they should put that on the cover of the next edition. I mean that with no sarcasm whatsoever. Anyway, round two of Angry Space Muslims coming up.

Friday 30 November 2012

The Best of All Possible Worlds

I recant. I repent. I confess. Forgive me father for I have sinned. Nevermore shall I blaspheme and take the name of AKB48 in vain. I am converted. The scales have been lifted and on the road to Akihabara mine eyes have beheld the glory, the fury, the majesty and the triumph that is the blistering satire of AKB. I was blind but now I see. The Lord is Light and She has illuminated my ere wretched path with the wisdom and the knowledge that, in a land justly unheralded for its political lampoonery, AKB48 are perhaps the most ambitiously conceived, expertly executed, and insidiously subversive commentary on the body politic ever unleashed on an unexpecting world.

Work with me on this.

Wednesday 28 November 2012

The Piano Teacher

Elfriede Jelinek, 1983 [Joachim Neugroschel, 1988]
(November 2012)

This is not a beautiful book. This is not even a nice book. This is a nasty, toxic, asphyxiating book. Page after page of bitter poison, acrid contempt, and warped humanity. It is also quite brilliant.

Friday 23 November 2012


At the start of this little book reading exercise I said I’d keep it up for a ‘year, or however long.’ Well, it’s been a year. No, really it has. The first birthday post for this blog passed by a little quickly (distractions, y’know), so I figure I’m allowed one slightly self-indulgent ‘retrospective’ post. Look at it like this: at least it means you won’t have to wade through any of this crap come the end of December.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Transmetropolitan Vol. 9 and 10

Vol. 9: The Cure, Vol. 10: One More Time
Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson, 2001-2002
(November 2012)

And we’re done. Fittingly we round out this year’s reading with the final volumes of Spider’s antics.

Monday 19 November 2012

Obligatory Election Post

Here’s something I’ve noticed about Japanese elections: they’re a bit noisy, aren’t they? What with all those vans driving around just shouting people’s names. Why, just the other day I…

Friday 16 November 2012


Madeline Ashby, 2012
(November 2012)

The more I think about this, the worse it gets. That kind of mirrors the reading experience, in that the first half of this book is very good but the second, not so much. We’ll obviously be discussing that second half in some detail, so don’t come whining to me if you didn’t want to hear it. I’m also going lay into an enjoyable book I liked in many respects, so you can be sure that I’ll be showing my working.

Monday 12 November 2012

Winter King

The Dawn of Tudor England
Thomas Penn, 2011
(November 2012)

So I’m going to start this by ragging on the blurb again. It’s becoming something of a habit, for which I can only apologise. There’s an interesting twist to the usual SPOILERZ!!! NOES!!!11!!! complaint this time around though, what with this being REAL HISTORY and so, theoretically, being immune from spoilers. Unless your name is Biff.

Friday 9 November 2012

One Man Went To Mow

So the trouble with having a lawn is that eventually you’re going to have to actually cut the damn thing, otherwise it’s not a lawn, it’s a meadow.

Monday 5 November 2012

Who Fears Death

Nnedi Okorafor, 2010
(October 2012)

A confession: I’m pretty crap with blood. Though that’s not right, really. I’ve spilled enough of my own, as well as dealt with other people spilling theirs, to know that the actuality of blood is something I can manage with the minimum of fuss.

Wednesday 31 October 2012

Monday 29 October 2012


Edward W. Said, 1978
(October 2012)

There’s a type of person. A certain type of person. You know who I mean, the type that’s heard about ‘books furnishing a room’ and taken that to mean that books are more important for what they look like and what signals having them is supposed to send out than the words and ideas they contain. Wankers, in other words.

Friday 26 October 2012

One Thousand Years of Rice

I was in the sixth-form when we got our first computer. Prior to that I’d had an NES, which I brilliantly got for christmas a few months before the SNES came out, making it almost instantly obsolete. Nothing’s changed, I still have a lousy sense of timing when it comes to technology. My old laptop died and I had to replace it just a couple of months before Windows 7 came out. The new one had a free upgrade, but the amount of form-filling and verification required was insane. They required everything up to and including a mouth swab for a DNA sample.

Monday 22 October 2012

The Hydrogen Sonata

Iain M. Banks, 2012
(October 2012)

Whoo, look at me. All kind of topical like, doing a book post mere weeks after its release. Hey, it’s quick for me, alright?

Friday 19 October 2012

Cause for Celebration

One Year! One year old! Yeah, baby. Who’d have thought we’d manage to maintain interest this long? I’m so proud of you all.

Still, we managed it somehow. Here’s to the next 12 months. Fun times ahead, oh yes indeed.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Pandemonium: Stories of the Smoke

Anne C. Perry and Jared Shurin (eds), 2012
(October 2012)

I’m a winner baby! Well, runner-up at least. If you’re at all interested in speculative fiction then you should be aware of the fine pair who run pornokitsch, and occasionally edit short story collections such as this under the Pandemonium umbrella. I made a mildly amusing comment on a competition blogpost a while back and this ebook was my reward.

Monday 15 October 2012

The Song of Achilles

Madeline Miller, 2011
(October 2012)

Now, this is a good one. Another wartime love story where everyone dies, but somehow not depressing in the slightest.

Monday 8 October 2012

A Farewell to Arms

Ernest Hemingway, 1929
(September 2012)

At the start of the winter came the permanent rain and with the rain came the cholera. But it was checked and in the end only seven thousand died of it in the army.

Friday 5 October 2012

In Defence of The ALT V

Book Five – Larry Cotter and The Mercifully Truncated Dénouement

Right, what do we have left to cover? Unconvincing teenage angst? No, don’t need that. Vital plot elements that have somehow remained unmentioned for the previous five years? Nope. Idiotic controversy sparked by throwaway extratextual comment regarding secondary character’s sexual orientation? No way, hose.

The Harry Potter connection was always pretty tenuous anyway. Probably better to drop it now before I mention the physical impossibility of a seventeen-year-old boy spending weeks traipsing around the woods with only a similarly aged girl for company without sneaking off for at least one covert hand-shandy behind a bush. I can suspend my disbelief for the broomsticks and wizards and talking snakes, but a heterosexual teenage boy who’s never tugged himself off to the thought of his closet female acquaintance? You can push the unbelievability thing only so far.

Monday 1 October 2012

Is That a Fish in Your Ear?

The Amazing Adventure of Translation
David Bellos, 2011
(September 2012)

“Translating something ‘from cold’, ‘unseen’, out of the blue’, or, as some literary scholars would put it, ‘translating a text in and for itself’ isn’t technically impossible. After all, students at some universities are asked to do that in their final examinations. But it is not an honest job. It can only be done by guessing what the context and genre of the utterance are. Even if you guess right, and even granted that guessing right may well be the sign of wide knowledge and a smart mind, you are still only playing a game.”
(p78, emphasis added)

Anyone fancy translating that into Japanese?

Friday 28 September 2012

In Defence of the ALT IV

Book Four – Larry Cotter and The Tediously Bloated Franchise:
The One In Which I Give Up On Pretending Larry Isn’t Me.

Well, not entirely me. I’m considerable fitter and better looking than he is. And I’ve conflated my experiences with those of a few other ALTs I’ve heard about first hand. But everything I described in part two really happened to someone, and should help you realize just how much unrealistic bullshit gets thrown at new ALTs before they ever set foot in a school. This means that in addition to coping with culture shock, they also have to deal with the fact it may very quickly become apparent this isn’t what they signed up for.

Monday 24 September 2012

Blue Remembered Earth

Alastair Reynolds, 2012
(September 2012)

This one takes a while to get going. You read Alistair Reynolds for the scale and the delightfully icky feeling you get from the wilder of his grotesques. If you’re in any way averse to body horror, steer well clear of his novella Diamond Dogs, which is like an episode of The Crystal Maze as directed by David Cronenberg. The scope and scale of his Revelation Space universe is breathtaking, on a par with Stephen Baxter’s Destiny’s Children series.

Friday 21 September 2012

In Defence of the ALT III

Book Three - Larry Cotter and The Exhaustive Catalogue Of Training 
Given To Japanese Teachers On Working With An ALT

Monday 17 September 2012

More Of The Same

While we’re on the subject of education, some interesting data sets here comparing educational environments in OECD countries. You can download the data and play with them yourselves, which is brilliant and something I might have a bash at properly when I’ve got a bit more time on my hands.

In the meantime though, three quick observations:

Friday 14 September 2012

In Defence of the ALT II

Book Two – Larry Cotter and The Tiresomely Predictable 
Series of False Expectations

So Larry got his life together, to an extent. The trauma of the unfortunate pub wedging incident scarred him to the point where he was no longer able to consume alcohol or eat pork. And while psychological blocks are rarely good, in this instance they helped considerably with his weight.

He was still on the hefty side of normal, but was now able to navigate his way round large pieces of furniture with relative ease. Tapping into this new found confidence he went to uni and got himself a degree in something-or-other.

SFX have improved immeasurably since
Hitchcock first filmed The Birds.

Monday 10 September 2012


Marjane Satrapi, 2000-2003
[Mattias Ripper and Blake Ferris, 2003. Anjali Singh, 2004]
(August 2012)

I really don’t set out to create ‘themes’ in my reading habits. I buy a ton of books every so often according to what I think looks worthwhile, and when I finish one just grab whatever it feels like I’m in the mood for next. Somehow that seems to create little runs (like my recent New York Season), and sometimes stuff emerges over longer periods.

Friday 7 September 2012

In Defence of the ALT I

Book One – Larry Cotter and The Laboured Metaphor

Regular readers will remember that I used to work in a gym. This meant that occasionally friends and acquaintances would ask me for advice. And because they were getting this advice for free instead of investing any of their hard earned cash in it, they generally ignored it completely.

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Shit just got real...

Right. Big real life project coming up in the next few weeks. To keep things ticking over here I've scheduled one of my by now infamous multi-part specials (don't act like that, you love them really), but I'll probably be less than prompt with the smaller posts, comments, and responses. Apologies.

Normal service will be resumed as and when. I've not come this close to the full year to bail out now...

Credit where it's due.

Monday 3 September 2012

The Outcast Blade

Jon Courtenay Grimwood, 2012
(August 2012)

Prior Concerns –
1. The first of the Assassini trilogy was Othello With Vampires (and Werewolves). The whole ‘classic story X with supernatural entity Y’ trend was always slightly suspect to begin with, and now looks to be dying a not wholly unwelcome death.

Friday 31 August 2012

Who's The Daddy?

I am. I’m the Daddy. Don’t get too excited, I’ve nothing new to report on that front yet. But in my efforts to keep this place ticking over during the quieter summer period a lot of the stuff I’ve churned out has ended up to being fairly worthy and po-faced. Dull, frankly. And because we all deserve a break from that, here’s something a little more cheerful. ‘Sappy’ some might say.

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Juicy Plums

It's kind of meant to be like that, just not quite so much like that, like that. More like an armadillo...

Monday 27 August 2012

Empire State

Adam Christopher, 2012
(August 2012)

This could be so cool. This should be so cool. In places it is very cool indeed, but in others, well, it isn’t.

Friday 24 August 2012

Slugs and Snails

Chewing the Cud, Part Three

So here’s the missing piece from parts one and two, hold on tight:

Wednesday 22 August 2012

A Visit From The Goon Squad

Jennifer Egan, 2010
(August 2012)

A nice book, that’s all I want. Not always, just once in a while. A nice book about nice people having a nice time because nice things are happening to them. But no. Literature has decided that all people in all books ever must be irrevocably damaged and irritating, because that’s art.

Monday 20 August 2012

Fight! Fight!

Y’see, this is how it happens. You read a blog post the first time and make a good humoured and mildly sarcastic comment. Then you check back a little while later and read a couple of other comments. But, crucially, you than get called away to change a nappy or give the kid a bath or something. And because these aren’t the most intellectually stimulating activities, your mind rehashes and dwells upon whatever it was you were thinking about last.

When your parental duties have been discharged, you return to the post and start to write a reply containing everything you’ve been kicking around for the last half-hour or so. A reply so witty, erudite, and compelling that only the most entrenched ideologue would fail to be convinced by its brilliance. And then you realize that, for all its brilliance, it’s probably going to be close to a thousand words long. There’s a word for people who leave thousand word comments on other people’s blogs. Several words, in fact, none of them good. So then you hit delete.

Friday 17 August 2012

The Last Lingua Franca

The Rise and Fall of World Languages
Nicholas Ostler, 2010
(July 2012)

Language – languages – are messy things. There are no really clear-cut boundaries between the various levels of slang, pidgin, creole, dialect and full blown language. The distinction is often more political than linguistic. The relatively small differences between Scandinavian and Iberian languages are primarily due to specifically identifiable historical decisions; whereas in their ongoing quest to freak out the rest of the world by being as terrifyingly monolithic as possible China insists that there is only one Chinese language, despite spoken Mandarin and Cantonese being mutually unintelligible.

Tuesday 14 August 2012

In which I bitch about TV commentators being shit

Which is rather like complaining that water is wet, I know. But Christ on a bike, did you see the Olympics’ closing ceremony on NHK? Just fucking useless. Take a fucking bow.

Monday 13 August 2012

Meet The New Boss...

I am now, hilariously, ranked second on Google for the terms ‘Homare Sawa boyfriend’ and ‘Homare Sawa husband.’ I’m just being edged out by some dodgy looking, distinctively unauthoritative reference site. Johnny-come-lately upstarts. And that’s just the English version, I’m not even ranked in Japanese (澤穂希彼氏, 澤穂希旦那. Shameless, isn’t it? Sorry, shameful. I meant shameful).

So, what with the fortunes of the Nadeshiko at the Olympics, I’ve been picking up quite a few search engine hits on that score. Some have even been hanging around. Hello there! Either way, it certainly beats my normal complement of chubby chasers and Scarface fans, but still comes nowhere near my all-time favourite query of ‘egg fucking.’

Friday 10 August 2012

Birds and Bees

Chewing The Cud, Part Two

All Cows Eat Grass. And of course Every Good Boy Deserve Football, or maybe Favours or Females. Or maybe some other word beginning with F, depending on how open minded your music teacher was. And while they may deserve it, most don’t get it. Every Good Boy Get Stuck In The Friend-Zone is probably more accurate. Every Good Boy Gets Ignored By Sarah Connelly As She Continues To Sleep With A Succession Of Arseholes While Sobbing On The Shoulder Of The One Person Who Would Never Hurt Her And Ignoring What Is In Front Of Her Face, is definitely so. Though I’m not sure quite what sort of stave you’d need to fit that on.

Faced with that sort of insane female logic, I’m not all that surprised that the current generation of Japanese men is apparently giving up their interest in Females’ Favours and other Fs, opting instead just to Eat Grass. You see, I’m not talking about music at all, I’m talking about Herbivorous men!

Wednesday 8 August 2012

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Century: 2009

and the Black Dossier
Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neil, 2012, 2007
(July 2012)

Contemporary Culture! Alan Moore is disappointed with you!

Monday 6 August 2012

Dead Harvest

Chris F Holm, 2012
(July 2012)

God’s war for real this time. There’s a war a-brewing between heaven and hell, and our hero is the only man/soul/spiritual entity that can stop it. But then there’s always a war brewing between heaven and hell, that’s pretty much the point. C’est la vie/mort/I’ll stop it now.

Friday 3 August 2012

Faster, Higher, Stronger

It’s a sad time in any man’s life when he realizes he’ll never represent his country at his chosen sport. Or any sport for that matter. However inept he might be, I think that every man likes to think that if he gave up everything and dedicated himself totally to a single goal for four years, he’d be able to get to the Olympics. However, I’m of an age now with some of the more ‘experienced’ athletes in London, which means that making it to Rio would be really pushing it.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

But can it play the fiddle?

"A Japanese electronics company unveils its £900,000 robot which weighs four tonnes and is 13ft tall. The robot can be controlled by an iPhone and is fitted with a futuristic weapons system, including a gun capable of shooting 6,000 BB bullets a minute, set to fire when the pilot smiles."

Priorities, people. Priorities.

Monday 30 July 2012

God's War

Kameron Hurley, 2011
(July 2012)

Sometimes when I’m playing CIV I like to give my leaders deliberately overblown and bombastic names: Tharg the Mighty, Gutpunch the Terrible, Cocksmash the Worldfucker. You get the idea. Those are purely for my own personal amusement though; it takes a pretty high level of chutzpah to give your debut novel a name like God’s War. You can be farily certain this isn’t going to be a delicately wrought meditation on beauty, loss, and the impermanence of the human condition.

Thank fuck for that.