I made it safe and sound to Singapore, the last stop in my Southeast Asian adventure. Man, time flies by!=(

I'd be remiss if I did not correct a mistake I made in my last post. When elaborating on my time in the Cameron Highlands, I totally forgot to give props to Father's Guesthouse, the place to stay if ever you want to spend time in Tanah Rata. Gerard runs a great establishment, and I loved my time there.

Only spent two nights in Melaka, and unless you really want to relax and take it easy, it's enough to see the sights. With its Dutch heritage, the city has a much different look than the rest of Malaysia. I was staying at the River View Guest House. Kudos to Raymond and Mani for their hospitality. This is a modest yet very charming guesthouse.

I visited the mandatory sights Melaka has to offer. Started at the Dutch Square, with it's clocktower, the Stadhuys (with its myriad museums), and Christ Church. Went up Bukit St. Paul to the remains of St. Paul's Church, then went down to Porta de Santiago. I also visited the Malay Islamic Museum, but even with the medieval torture exhibition it kind of sucked.

Took a walk around Chinatown, and visited Cheng Hoon Teng, the oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia dating from 1646. Bought enough tea to please everyone back home, but it's kind of a pain in the ass to carry around. But with my Air Asia flights behind me, I no longer have any luggage restrictions.

Don't know why, but the girls in Melaka are more beautiful than anywhere else in Malaysia. They have more style, or something I can't quite put my finger on. But while the ladies didn't necessarily stand out in the rest of the country, for some reason they do in a big way in Melaka.=)

Again, big-ass malls can be found as soon as you leave the old town. Malaysians really are obsessed with shopping malls. . . Melaka might not be the most exciting cities in Malaysia, yet it makes for a very pleasant day or two.=)

I'm not quite ready to head back home. . .:/

Altered Carbon

I've had this book sitting there on my shelves for a few years. And since my latest foray into Richard Morgan territory didn't end up well, I wasn't in any hurry to give him another shot. The more fool me, of course. But everything surrounding my review of The Steal Remains sort of went down the crapper, especially when the Hype Files post went live while I was in Poland.
Still, I should have known better. And since I own everything Morgan has written thus far, I decided to bring Altered Carbon with my as I traveled around Southeast Asia. Let's just say that with all the rave reviews this novel has garnered over the years, my expectations were rather high. Although I didn't think he managed to do it with fantasy, with science fiction Richard Morgan can swing with the best of them. And he packs a powerful KO punch.

Simply put, Altered Carbon is definitely one of the best scifi novels I have read in my life. This seamless blend of science fiction/hard-boiled crime/cyberpunk novel is amazing. The more so when considering that this was Morgan's debut!

Here's the blurb:

In the twenty-fifth century, humankind has spread throughout the galaxy, monitored by the watchful eye of the U.N. While divisions in race, religion, and class still exist, advances in technology have redefined life itself. Now, assuming one can afford the expensive procedure, a person’s consciousness can be stored in a cortical stack at the base of the brain and easily downloaded into a new body (or “sleeve”) making death nothing more than a minor blip on a screen.

Ex-U.N. envoy Takeshi Kovacs has been killed before, but his last death was particularly painful. Dispatched one hundred eighty light-years from home, re-sleeved into a body in Bay City (formerly San Francisco, now with a rusted, dilapidated Golden Gate Bridge), Kovacs is thrown into the dark heart of a shady, far-reaching conspiracy that is vicious even by the standards of a society that treats “existence” as something that can be bought and sold. For Kovacs, the shell that blew a hole in his chest was only the beginning
. . .

The noir setting is unforgettable. Morgan's depiction of 25st-century Earth is impeccable, and his eye for detail makes every scene leap off the pages. The many futuristic concepts are thought-provoking and keep the plot moving. The concept of sleeves, whereby an individual's consciousness and personality can be stored inside a brain and downloaded into another body, is just the beginning. Morgan's scifi debut resounds with so much depth, you'll be begging for more. Here's to hoping that the Takeshi Kovacs sequels will unveil more of what we were offered but a few tantalizing glimpses.

And yes, as great as the worldbuilding is, it's the fast pace Morgan maintains throughout Altered Carbon that truly makes this book this good. It reads like the best thrillers out there, and the author will keep you guessing till the very end.

Coming back from the dead can be rough.

The characterization is "top notch." First person narratives can be tricky sometimes, but it's hard not to like Takeshi Kovacs' no-nonsense style. There is a lot more to this character than meets the eye, and hopefully Morgan reveals more about his backstory and his past as an Envoy in the sequels. Though Kovacs ain't the most likeable of characters, it's all but impossible not to root for him as he tries to crack this case. And yet, as fun as it is to follow the misadventures of Takeshi Kovacs, Morgan came up with an impressive cast of secondary characters. Chief among them Kristin Ortega, but also Laurens and Miriam Bancroft, as well as Reileen Kawahara. And like Robin Hobb, Richard Morgan, at least in this book, somehow managed to give life and personality to minor characters that don't necessarily play great roles in the bigger scheme of things, yet they feel important in the scenes in which they appear.

Altered Carbon
features a multilayered plot that will keep you guessing and second-guessing yourself till the epilogue. Then all is revealed and it all makes sense. Richard Morgan is a genius and came up with what I'd describe as a genre masterpiece.

Intelligent, intriguing, inventive, exciting; I could go on and on. I was a complete dumbass to let this book lie there, awaiting my attention. If, like me, you haven't read Altered Carbon, don't be a dumbass. Buy it, read it, love it!

Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon deserves the highest possible recommendation.

The final verdict: 10/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

Vincent Chong's new blog

Since many of you are fans of SFF artwork, I thought that you might be interested in the fact that Vincent Chong has launched a new blog.

This from the artist:

My new blog is now online. The blog will be updated regularly and feature posts including news updates, artwork, behind-the-scenes material such as sketches, insights into my working methods/inspirations, tips and info on life as a freelancer and much more. There's also free downloads including desktop wallpapers, so please stop by for a visit and check it out.

I'm also excited to announce that the first art book collecting my work will be published by Telos Publishing. Entitled
ALTERED VISIONS: THE ART OF VINCENT CHONG, the book will be a 48 page, A5, full colour hardback edition.

Further details can be found on my blog.
The book will be published 25th March and launched at the World Horror Convention 2010 but you can pre-order a copy now direct from the publisher's website under the 'Original and Classic Fiction' section. Copies are expected to be limited so place your order now to avoid disappointment.

So go check it out!

Kitty's House of Horrors

Reading two of Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Norville novels back to back made for some fun and entertaining reading! Especially at the beach, Kitty's adventures made for quick reads! I went through this one in no time, reading Kitty's House of Horrors to the sound of the crashing waves at Hat Khlong Dao beach on the island of Ko Lanta, Thailand.

Here's the blurb:


Talk radio host and werewolf Kitty Norville has agreed to appear on TV's first all-supernatural reality show. She's expecting cheesy competitions and manufactured drama starring shapeshifters, vampires, and psychics. But what begins as a publicity stunt will turn into a fight for her life.

The cast members, including Kitty, arrive at the remote mountain lodge where the show is set. As soon as filming starts, violence erupts and Kitty suspects that the show is a cover for a nefarious plot. Then the cameras stop rolling, cast members start dying, and Kitty realizes she and her monster housemates are ironically the ultimate prize in a very different game. Stranded with no power, no phones, and no way to know who can be trusted, she must find a way to defeat the evil closing in . . . before it kills them all.

I don't know if it's because Kitty's House of Horrors is the last Kitty installment to be published by Grand Central Publishing and Tor Books asker Carrie Vaughn to write some sort of "interlude" before resuming the series, but this one doesn't read quite like the others. It is good, mind you, but it does feel like a gap book of sorts.

Kitty's House of Horrors is a lot more self-contained than its predecessors. It features basically every aspect that made this series what it is, but it doesn't quite reveal much in the greater scheme of things. And since the last few books, especially Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand and Kitty Raises Hell offered glimpses of bigger and better things to come, it felt a bit odd to have what is more or less a side-story.

Having said that, Kitty's House of Horrors is nevertheless a novel that will appeal to any Carrie Vaughn fan. The premise of the reality show seemed a bit unoriginal at first, but the author has a number of surprises up her sleeve, and it turns out to be quite good. It's all about execution, and Vaughn handles everything beautifully.

With Ben being absent, it's all Kitty Norville in this one. And with her uncanny ability to turn a bad situation into worse, you know there will be fireworks. Bringing a number of secondary characters from earlier books was a nice touch, and it was cool to learn more about Tina and Odysseus Grant.

Overall, the way Vaughn moved the story in the last two volumes shows that there is a lot more here than meets the eye. So roll on Kitty Goes to War!=)

The final verdict: 7.5/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

Langkawi: Oui oui!!!:P

I wasn't happy to leave the Cameron Highlands behind, but the show must go on, right!?! But the cool weather was such a welcome change from the heat and the humidity of the last few weeks that it was hard to let go!

The first pic is from the Bharat Tea Plantation near Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands, while the other is from Patai Cenang beach in Langkawi!

Spent my last day in Tanah Rata hiking jungle trail 9A. Got lost on my way there, of course. I'm telling you, had I met one of the local guides during my stay, I would have beaten the living shit out of him. Removing signposts can be quite dangerous when you're talking about jungle trails. Anyway, I made my way to Robinson Fall, and then through the jungle for about 90 minutes till we hit the nearby farmlands. But their irrigation systems make the trail quite slippery in some portions of the hike, and at times it got downright hazardous. Hence, no hiker wanted to go back that way, especially since most of the going would be uphill on the return trek. So we got a taxi who got us back to Tanah Rata (a 10km journey) for less than a dollar!

Took the bus and ferry to Georgetown, where I would only spend a night so I could catch the morning ferry to Langkawi. I've heard a lot of good things about Pulau Penang, but Georgetown is a decaying city on the way down. Man, it really sucks. Decrepit doesn't begin to describe Georgetown. And other than the Heritage Trail, with sights mostly limited to the Colonial District, Georgetown has very little to offer other than good and affordable food. I was glad to leave after only one night, though it's a shame I didn't get to see the rest of Penang.

The sea was choppy, so it took the ferry more than three hours to reach Kuah, Langkawi. The sun was out and the heat suffocating. But my digs on Pantai Cenang are right on the beach, so it's all good! If ever you are in Langkawi, then I recommend that you stay at the Sunset Beach Resort, which offers great value! I booked the Sunset I chalet, and at about 75$ a night due to the Chinese New Year surcharge, it's still a steal compared to what you'd pay for similar accomodation anywhere else in the world! And it's near the meeting point of Pantai Cenang and Pantai Tengah, so it's a more tranquil spot.

Langkawi is a bit like Phuket, Thailand, but minus the crowds, the package tourism, and the sleaze. It's a bit more expensive than elsewhere in Malaysia, but quite cheap by Western stadards. It's always been a Malaysian playground, so Westerners are a minority. It's packed with tourists from most Asian countries, and Swedes.

Some destinations bring out the worst out of some tourists. My fellow French Canadians have been making fools of themselves in Cuba and the Dominican Republic for the last 4 decades. The Baltic states bring the worst out of Brits who go there for their stag parties. You may recall that I elaborated on this while traveling around Estonia and Latvia in 2008. Well, Langkawi brings the very worst out of the Swedes, it seems. Prior to my coming to Southeast Asia, I would have told you that along with Australians, Swedes are among the best kind of people you want to meet while backpacking. Fun-loving, always ready to have a good time, there is seldom a dull moment in their company. In case you don't know, booze is heavily taxed in Sweden. And I mean heavily. So when they get a chance to booze on the cheap, no one -- and I mean no one -- can drink like Swedes when they go on a drunken binge. Duty-free Langkawi means that you can get a beer for about 50 cents. Even less if you go for the cheapest stuff. I'll let you do the math. . . Suffice it to say that Swedes in Southeast Asia are nowhere near as fun and interesting to meet as they are in Europe and North America. It's a shame, really. But what can you do???

Since the Sunset Beach Resort has its own private stretch of beach, I've been relaxing and reading quite a bit. Went up the cable car for splendid views of the island yesterday. I also made my way to Seven Wells Fall, but the dry season means that it's little more than a trickle of water. I was supposed to go island hopping this morning, but I overslept and that plan went down the crapper. So I went parasailing instead, and it was great! And at less than 20$ for the ride, how could I say no!?!

Flying back to Kuala Lumpur tomorrow morning, from where I'll make my way down south to Melaka in the afternoon. Sadly, this Southeast Asian adventure is coming to a close. . .=(

Win a copy of Dan Abnett's THE LOST omnibus

Thanks to the folks at Black Library, I have five copies of Dan Abnett's newest omnibus The Lost. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's blurb:

The Tanith First-And-Only are among the most legendary regiments of Imperial Guard and at their head stands Commissar Ibram Gaunt, unflinching in duty and unrelenting in combat. The Lost sees the very future of the regiment in jeopardy as Gaunt battles the forces of Chaos across the Sabbat Worlds, from rescue missions to the horrors of the battlefield, the Tanith First-And-Only must survive extreme dangers or be forever lost.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "LOST." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

Win a copy of Tad Williams' SHADOWRISE

Hey guys!

Thanks to the kind folks at Orbit, I have three copies of Tad Williams' Shadowrise up for grabs! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

With King Olin imprisoned and Prince Kendrick slain, the royal twins Barrick and Briony have been forced to flee their homeland. But both families and nations can hide dark and terrible secrets, and even if Barrick and Briony survive learning the astonishing truths at the heart of their own family and of Southmarch itself, they must still find a way to reclaim their kingdom and rescue their home- from traitors, tyrants, a god-king, and even the angry gods themselves.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "SHADOWRISE." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

Guest Blog by David Louis Edelman

In order to promote his latest, Geosynchron (Canada, USA, Europe), I invited science fiction author David Louis Edelman to pen a guest blog post to let newbies know a little more about The Jump 225 trilogy.

Do yourself a favor and read both Infoquake and MultiReal. As good or better than most quality scifi yarns out there.


Now it can be revealed, exclusively to the readers of Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist:

I changed the title of the third book in my Jump 225 series from Infinite Improbability to Geosynchron in part so that the trilogy’s initial letters would spell out “IMG”, the HTML tag for images. Infoquake, MultiReal and Geosynchron: IMG.

So you made a cute acronym, you’re thinking. Who gives a crap? What bearing does this have on the books’ contents?

Let’s start with the simple fact that programming code is an integral part of the lives of the characters in my trilogy. My protagonist, a software entrepreneur named Natch, lives about a millennium in the future in a society run by “bio/logics,” the programming of the human body. The software Natch programs runs on a sophisticated network of nanobots planted in the body soon after conception. Want to cure those sniffles? Download a program for it. Need to change your eye color? Warm up your feet? Show a poker face? Ditto.

Of course, when you’re writing software that sophisticated, simple programming code won’t do. That’s why Natch and his cohorts create software in a three-dimensional holographic desktop called MindSpace, manipulating data structures with a series of 26 metal bars lettered A through Z. And to transfer all the petabytes and petabytes of information required to run these sophisticated machines, you need a ubiquitous cloud network called the Data Sea that your nanobots can access anywhere, instantly. And now that you’ve got this miraculous bio/logic network, why not use it to mentally project holographic images of yourself around the globe that can interact with your surroundings almost as if you’re there in person…?

When I first came up with this setup – waaaaay back in 1997 or 1998 – my brain started bursting with the human implications of such a system. How would bio/logics affect our politics, our religion, our government, our artwork? How would people interact and conduct business in such an environment? Come on, admit it – you want to know how people would screw in that world too.

Not so different from what Tim Berners-Lee might have been thinking waaaaay back in 1990 when he invented that little thing called the World Wide Web.

IMG. Simple programming code. An easy way for anyone to instantly broadcast images around the globe, skirting the publishing establishment and the censors. Rapid uncontrollable technological change.

Rapid technological change is the other crucial element of the Jump 225 trilogy. During the course of Infoquake, our (severely ethically challenged) protagonist Natch finds himself in control of an epoch-shattering technology called MultiReal. Explaining exactly what MultiReal is and how it works takes most of the second book, appropriately titled MultiReal. In a nutshell, the program allows you to instantly sift through millions of statistically probable outcomes of any action and choose the one you want to occur. Want to choose the reality where you hit a home run every time at bat? Use MultiReal. Want to choose the reality where you just manage to dodge that bullet, or where you shoot an impossible target – or where your mortal enemy just happens to throw himself off a bridge…? Ditto.

Is the world of Infoquake, MultiReal and Geosynchron ready for such change? Are its citizens ready to have their every decision turned upside down? Is the powerful centralized government led by the imperious high executive Len Borda ready to cede control to the hoi polloi? Is the Data Sea ready for such a rapid influx of information that such a radical technology might cause?

And in the end, Geosynchron asks the question: what happens when one of history’s most selfish and vicious entrepreneurs ends up with the power to save or damn the world?

(In case you were wondering… the title Geosynchron does have direct bearing on the themes of the third book, a lot more than Infinite Improbability ever did. In the Jump 225 universe, a “geosynchron” is one of the bots designed to maintain order and balance in the worldwide weather system. This directly relates to Natch’s predicament in the end of the series, as I hope you’ll discover when you read the book.)

No, it’s really not just a cutesy coincidence that the titles of the books in my trilogy reflect the angst we face today in our own runaway technologically evolving society. Religious fanatics sewing undetectable high-powered explosives into their underwear, sexual predators checking out pics of your kids on Facebook, multinational entertainment corporations brought to their knees by pirates swapping files on BitTorrent. The setting of the Jump 225 trilogy is not really supposed to be an accurate depiction of the future; it’s a funhouse mirror on the present, with a bit of pointed reflection of the dot-com era of the recent past.

For more info on Geosynchron, you can check out the website at, which includes the first eight chapters of the book. You might also want to read the Afterword to the Trilogy, straight from the back of the book, also published in full on the Geosynchron website.

Geosynchron will be officially released in stores this February. It’s available for pre-order now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s and IndieBound, among other places.
David Louis Edelman

Kitty Raises Hell

It's always with pleasure that I sit down to read a new Kitty Norville installment. Though they have become a bit episodic in style and tone of late, Carrie Vaughn's books have nevertheless remained engaging and entertaining enough to satisfy me and the rest of her fans. I've always been afraid that these relatively short books would begin to lose steam down the line, but there is no sign of it just yet.

With me being late and with Kitty's House of Horrors around the corner, I knew I needed to bring both of them with me to Southeast Asia! The author always includes a playlist that goes with each Kitty book. Well, in terms of setting, I read the better part of Kitty Raises Hell on Kata Beach, on the island of Phuket, Thailand, and it made for a superb reading experience. Of course, that very night I was violently ill and rushed to the hospital, but I don't have it in me to blame Carrie Vaughn for this. Since the details are a bit nebulous, let's just stick with the stomach infection mixed with my seafood allergies theory to explain this unfortunate turn of events.

Here's the blurb:

Sometimes what happens in Vegas doesn't stay in Vegas.

Kitty and Ben flee The City That Never Sleeps, thinking they were finished with the dangers there, but the sadistic cult of lycanthropes and their vampire priestess have laid a curse on Kitty in revenge for her disrupting their rituals. Starting at the next full moon, danger and destruction the form of fire strikes Kitty and the pack of werewolves she's sworn to protect.

She enlists the help of a group of TV paranormal investigators - one of whom has real psychic abilities - to help her get to the bottom of the curse that's been laid on her. Rick, the Master vampire of Denver, believes a deeper plot lies behind the curse, and he and Kitty argue about whether or not to accept the help of a professional demon hunter - and vampire - named Roman, who arrives a little too conveniently in the nick of time.

Unable to rely on Rick, and unwilling to accept Roman's offer of help for a price, Kitty and her band of allies, including Vegas magician Odysseus Grant and Kitty's own radio audience, mount a trap for the supernatural being behind the curse, a destructive force summoned by the vengeful cult, a supernatural being that none of them ever thought to face.

Essentially, Kitty Raises Hell is a direct sequel to Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand. So much so that, to a certain extent, this could have been one big Kitty novel. As the blurb implies, the events from Las Vegas will come back to hunt Kitty and her entourage. Once again, the author introduces us to new characters and new threads in the overall story arc. Although we only get a few glimpses of the bigger scheme of things, it's becoming more and more obvious that something big is about to unfold, and that it has something to do with the vampire's Long Game.

As always, Kitty Raises Hell is told in the first person, so we see the story unfold through the eye of Kitty Norville. I've always felt that Kitty is a three-dimensional and genuine character, and I don't think that a third person narrative would work at all for this series. Though I wouldn't mind getting inside other characters' heads from time to time. . .

As far as the supporting cast goes, Ben gets more fleshed out, which allows us to appreciate him more and more. Tina is a new addition, with a lot more to come, I'm sure. The enigmatic Roman emerges as a power player, and I get the feeling that we haven't seen the last of him, not by a long shot. Revelations about T. J. were a pleasant surprise. All in all, Kitty Raises Hell is another fine addition to a very entertaining urban fantasy series.

Cool, hip, with more depth than meets the eye, and a genuine heroine you can really root for; there's never a dull moment in Kitty Raises Hell (or any of the other Kitty books!).

The final verdict: 7.75/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

Kuala Lumpur: Mixed Feelings

Greetings from Tanah Rata, in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia!=) Since we are more than 1000m above sea level, the temperatures here are wonderful. No sultry heat, barely any humidity at all, and cool nights to boot! A guy could really get used to this weather!

I spent four nights in Kuala Lumpur prior to my coming to the Cameron Highlands, and I have mixed feelings about the city. Too bad, as I was expecting this to be one of the highlights of the trip. But all in all, I did enjoy my stay in KL.

Got into Malaysia without a glitch, thanks to another very nice Air Asia flight. This could well be the very best budget airline in the entire world. Couldn't quite believe that they offered Krispy Kreme doughnuts during the flight, but that's globalization for you!;-) If you are heading anywhere in and around Asia, check out

Getting into town was a bit of a mindfuck, especially since I elected to do business with Star Shuttle. A shuttle service is supposed to be more convenient than a cab or the bus, but it took me more than 2 hours to get to my B&B. My digs were in the Golden Triangle area, the ultra modern and chic quarters of Kuala Lumpur.

I don't normally eat much at McD's, other than to do the McD's hamburger test in every single country I visit, but the McValue lunch meals in Malaysia are the cheapest I've ever seen anywhere. I mean, a double cheeseburger, medium fries, and medium sofdrink for less than 3$! Christ, you can't beat that!

In case you didn't know, Malaysia is a Muslim country. Which means that drug trafficking carries the death penalty. Which means no hippies! Have I ever told you how much I hate hippies? They are everywhere in Thailand, and about as annoying as tuk-tuk drivers and prostitutes. Poor Thai people. . . That's the image they have of the West: Dirty old men there for the sex tourism and fucking hippies. . . The funny thing about Malaysia, is that to a certain extent it's still a relatively small blip on the Southeast Asia map. Most people stick to Thailand and Singapore, but few Westerners take the time to visit Malaysia. Which means that Westerners are still perceived as a sort of novelty. Even in KL! And that can be nice. . . The bulk of their tourists seem to come from other Asian countries and the Middle East. We always seem to think that Asian people are very nice, polite, and reserved, so it's nice to see them bitch about one another. Haven't seen this in Thailand, but Malays have no qualms about it. We always see it in the West, with people bitching about Americans, Brits, French, etc. So I couldn't help laughing when the staff at the hostel would shake their heads and mutter things like "Damned Chinese" or something like that.

Although a Muslim regime, Malaysia has always had a "live and let live" attitude. With a multi-ethnic population that gets along well, there is basically no clash of cultures here. No one quite knows how the Malay people make it work, but in KL it's something to see. Kind of gives you hope in mankind. . . Almost. . . Sadly, it's not the same everywhere.:-(

Visited the Colonial District on my first day, starting with Merdeka Square. Then made my way to the two most important mosques of the area; Masjid Jamek, and Masjid Negara, where, of course, I was forced to wear a long-sleeved robe. Don't know enough about Islam to know if color is symbolic, but at the National Mosque they give infidels the most ridiculous purple robe. If they do this to make us look stupid, at least it shows that they have a sense of humor!:P

Getting around is easy with the cheap and efficient monorail and the LRT trains. I also visited the Lake Gardens, where I walked though the Orchid and Hibiscus gardens. Went to the Chinatown (don't know why I bother, as Chinatowns are the same everywhere in the world) and Little India.

Like in Bangkok, there is an enormous gap between Malays who have made it and the rest of the population. Though they seem better off as a whole than most people in Southeast Asia, there is a definite chasm in social class here as well. Parts of Kuala Lumpur are ultra-modern and would give any Western city a run for its money. Other portions of KL, however, don't shine as much.

For some reason, the people of Kuala Lumpur are obsessed with shopping malls. They're everywhere! And we're not talking about cheap-ass stripmalls like in North America. I'm talking about big-ass shopping malls that will knock your socks off! Times Square and Pavilion KL are the biggest bad boys in town, and you have to wonder how so many malls can stay in business in a city of only 1.5 million inhabitants. And the food court at Pavilion KL is out of this world. I've never seen so much variety at such an affordable price. You haven't seen a "real" food court until you've set foot in the one found on the first floor at the Pavilion KL.

Went to the Batu Caves, though trying to find the bus stop to get there was a complete mindfuck. Like everywhere in Asia, one is supposed to just know these things. There are no signs or anything that tells you which bus stops where. So figuring it all out takes a little time and is very frustrating. It's one of Malaysia's most important places regarding Indian culture, and you must climb 272 steps to reach the Hindu shrine. Not that much to see up there, but the Temple Cave is pretty nice. Went there when I was told that there were no more tickets available to go up to the Petronas Towers' Skybridge for that day. Shook my head and promised myself to get up early the next day to score a ticket.

Let's get one thing clear: The only attraction that everyone who comes to Kuala Lumpur wants to see is the Petronas Towers. Tickets are issued on a first come/first served basis, and you must wait in line quite early in the morning, as they start to hand out tickets at 8:30am. It's supposed to be one ticket per person, no more. But I found out the hard way that Malays can get as many tickets as they want. . . So anyway, I got up at 6:30am, ate a quick breakfast, and was on my way. I arrived around 7:30am, and a quick survey of the crowd told me that there should be no problem. There were not enough people waiting in line (about 200) to sell out all the tickets for that day. So I stood there, reading Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon, waiting to get my ticket up to the Skybridge. You can imagine my dismay when at 8:40am I was told that there was no reason to queue, now that all the tickets for the day had been issued. I only found out about the Malay scam when I got back to the B&B, and I was livid. Considering that this is the only attraction that people really want to see in KL, this has to be the worst fucking ticket set-up in the history of tourism.:-( I can understand that there is only a limited number of tickets available per day. After all, this is the Petronas head office and thousands of people work there. But do like they do at the Washington monument in D. C. Only 250 tickets available per day, and you need to stand in line and wait for your turn. Fair and square. I went up the KL Tower instead (the fourth highest telecommunication tower in the world), but it's not the same.

Was really pissed off to have missed my opportunity to go up the Petronas Towers, and that sort of left a very bad taste in my mouth regarding Kuala Lumpur. Went to the National Museum to cool down, but I was still angry. Christ, two days in a row and still not Skybridge!

Getting out of KL was a total nightmare. Everyone working at the Puduraya bus station should be sacked! For fuck's sake, our bus was more than an hour late, and we had to sweat like pigs while inhaling diesel fumes on the platform. And no one knew what the hell was going on. It seems that to work there, all you need to do is smoke cigarettes and talk into a walkie-talkie from time to time.

But we made it to Tanah Rata, and the Cameron Highlands are like a soothing balm to all my traveling woes.=)

By the way, how came there isn't a fucking computer in Malaysia that will recharge an iPod??? What the fuck is up with that??? And no computer recognized my camera, so I needed to find a card reader to upload the pics for the Southern Thailand album!

And anime fans, you won't believe this. I stopped at no less than four anime stores, and NO ONE had ever heard of Makoto Shinkai (still looking for 5 cm per Second and The Place Promised in Our Early Days)!!! Are you kidding me??? I'm in Asia and no one knows shit??? Even worst, only one person knew Hayao Miyazaki!!! Who's hiring these guys???

Gotta do the zen thing, I guess. . .;-) Went hiking through a jungle trail yesterday up Gunung Jasar (1670m) for nice views of the countryside. Got lost on the way back, because local guides remove the trail signposts so that people will hire them. This is not cool and extremely dangerous, for jungle hikes are not the same thing as mountain hikes. There are more hazards to consider, and I wasn't pleased to wander around for 5 or 6 km before making my way back down to Tanah Rata. Got sunburned again because of that, which sucks. Walked down the hill alongside the highway for another 5 km (give or take) and made my way to the Bharat Tea Plantation. You ccan walk around the tea gardens, which is kind of neat. Then I sat down for a fresh-made cup of tea and a piece of marble cake for less than 2$! Southeast Asia can be very easy on the wallet, let me tell you!;-)

Will probably go hiking today down to Robinson waterfall. . . More people should visit Malaysia, you know. KL is a convenient hub to basically everywhere in Asia with Air Asia flights, and the city is very easy to get around. Everyone speaks English. Everything is pretty cheap by Western standards. Too bad everyone stops in Thailand but don't make their way down to Malaysia. . .

It's their loss, I guess. . . And my gain!:P

Exclusive excerpt from Graham McNeill's A THOUSAND SONS

Here's an extract from Graham McNeill's A Thousand Sons, latest addition in The Horus Heresy sequence, courtesy of the folks at Black Library. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Censured at the Council of Nikea for his flagrant use of sorcery, Magnus the Red and his Thousand Sons Legion retreat to their homeworld of Prospero to continue their use of the arcane arts in secret. But when the ill-fated primarch forsees the treachery of Warmaster Horus and warns the Emperor with the very powers he was forbidden to use, the Master of Mankind dispatches fellow primarch Leman Russ to attack Prospero itself. But Magnus has seen more than the betrayal of Horus and the witnessed revelations will change the fate of his fallen Legion, and its primarch, forever.


He couldn’t focus on it. Impressions were all Lemuel could make out: skin that shone as though fire flowed in its veins, mighty wings of feathers and golden plates. A mane of copper hair, ash-stained and wild, billowed around the being’s head, its face appearing as an inconstant swirl of liquid light and flesh, as though no bone formed the basis for its foundations, but something altogether more dynamic and vital.

Lemuel felt sick to his stomach at the sight, yet was unable to tear his gaze from this towering being.

Wait… Was it towering?

With each second, it seemed as though the apparition’s shape changed without him even being aware of it. Without seeming to vary from one second to the next, the being was alternately a giant, a man, a god, or a being of radiant light and a million eyes.

‘What is it?’ asked Lemuel, the words little more than a whisper. ‘What have they done?’

He couldn’t look away, knowing on some primal level that the fire that burned in this being’s heart was dangerous, perhaps the most dangerous thing in the world. Lemuel wanted to touch it, though he knew he would be burned to ashes were he to get too close.

Kallista screamed, and the spell was broken.

Lemuel dropped to his knees and vomited, the contents of his stomach spilling down the rockface. His heaving breath flowed like milky smoke from his mouth, and he stared in amazement at his stomach’s contents, the spattered mass glittering as though the potential of what it had once been longed to reconstitute itself. The air seethed with ambition, as though a power that not even the deadstones could contain flexed its muscles.

The moment passed and Lemuel’s vomit was just vomit, his breath invisible and without form. He could not take his eyes from the inchoate being below, his previously overwhelmed senses now firmly rooted in the mundane reality of the world. Tears spilled down his cheeks, and he wiped his face with his sleeve.

Kallista sobbed uncontrollably, shaking as though in the midst of a seizure. Her hands clawed the ground, scratching her nails bloody as though she were desperately writing something in the dust.

‘Must come out,’ she wept. ‘Can’t stay inside. Fire must come out or it’ll burn me up.’

She looked up at Lemuel, silently imploring him to help. Before he could move, her eyes rolled back in their sockets and she slumped forward. Lemuel wanted to go to her aid, but his limbs were useless. Beside Kallista, Camille remained upright, her face blanched beneath her tan. Her entire body shook, and her jaw hung open in awed wonder.

‘He’s beautiful… So very beautiful,’ she said, hesitantly lifting her picter and clicking off shots of the monstrous being.

Lemuel spat a mouthful of acrid bile and shook his head.

‘No,’ he said. ‘He’s a monster.’

She turned, and Lemuel was shocked at her anger. ‘How can you say that? Look at him.’

Lemuel screwed his eyes shut, only gradually opening them once again to look upon this incredible figure. He still saw the light shining in its heart, but where before it had been beguilingly dangerous, it was now soothing and hypnotic.

Like a badly tuned picter suddenly brought into focus, the being’s true form was revealed: a broad-shouldered giant in exquisite battle-plate of gold, bronze and leather. Sheathed at his side were his weapons, a curved sword with an obsidian haft and golden blade, and a heavy pistol of terrifying proportions.

Though the warrior was hundreds of metres below him, Lemuel saw him as clearly as a vivid memory or the brightest image conjured by his imagination.

He smiled, now seeing the beauty Camille saw.

‘You’re right,’ he said. ‘I don’t know how I didn’t see it before.’

A billowing mantle of golden feathers floated at the being’s shoulders, hung with thuribles and trailing parchments fixed with wax seals. Great ebony horns curled up from his breastplate, matching the two that sprang from his shoulders. A pale tabard decorated with a blazing sun motif hung at his belt, and a heavy book, bound in thick red hide, was strung about his armour on golden chains.

Lemuel’s eyes were drawn to the book, its unknown contents rich with the promise of knowledge and the secret workings of the universe. A golden hasp was secured with a lock fashioned from lead. Lemuel would have traded his entire wealth and even his very soul to open that book and peer into its depths.

He felt a hand on his arm and allowed himself to be pulled to his feet. Camille hugged him, overcome with wonder and love, and Lemuel took pleasure in the embrace.

‘I never thought to see him this close,’ said Camille.

Lemuel didn’t answer, watching as two figures followed the being from the cave. One was an Aghoru tribesman in a glittering mask and orange robe, the other a thin man wearing an ash-stained robe of a remembrancer. They were irrelevant. The majestic being of light was all that mattered.

As though hearing his thoughts, the warrior looked up at him.

He wore a golden helmet, plumed with a mane of scarlet hair, his face wise beyond understanding, like a tribal elder or venerable sage.

Camille was right. He was beautiful, perfect and beautiful.

Still embracing, Lemuel and Camille sank to their knees.

Lemuel stared back at the magnificent being, only now seeing that a single flaw marred his perfection. A golden eye, flecked with iridescent colours without name, blinked and Lemuel saw that the warrior looked out at the world through this eye alone. Where his other eye should have been was smooth and unblemished, as if no eye had ever sat there.

‘Magnus the Red,’ said Lemuel. ‘The Crimson King.’

* * *

Aghoru’s sun had finally set, though the sky still glowed faintly with its light. Night did not last long here, but it provided a merciful respite from the intense heat of the day. Ahriman carried his golden deshret helmet in the crook of his arm as he made his way towards his primarch’s pavilion. His connection to the secret powers of the universe had established itself the moment he had led the Sekhmet past the deadstones. Aaetpio’s light had welcomed him, and the presence of the Tutelary was as refreshing as a cool glass of water in the desert.

Ahriman’s relief at the sight of Magnus emerging from the cave was matched only by the recognition of the disappointment in his eyes. The magnificent primarch glared down at the circle of warriors gathered around the altar, and then shook his head. Even denied the use of his enhanced acuity in the Mountain, Ahriman had felt his master’s enormous presence, a power that transcended whatever wards were woven into the stones of the mountain.

Magnus marched past them, not even bothering to further acknowledge their presence. The masked tribesman, who Ahriman knew must be Yatiri, walked alongside the primarch, and Mahavastu Kallimakus, Magnus’s personal scribe, trotted after them, whispering words into a slender wand that were then transcribed by a clattering quill unit attached to his belt.

‘This was a mistake,’ said Hathor Maat. ‘We shouldn’t have come here.’

Ahriman rounded angrily on him, saying, ‘You were only too keen to march when I suggested it.’
‘It was better than sitting about doing nothing, but I did say that the primarch told us to wait,’ Maat said with a shrug.

Ahriman had wanted to lash out at Hathor Maat, feeling his self-control faltering in the face of the Pavoni’s smug arrogance. That he was right only made it worse.

He knew he should have trusted Magnus’s judgement, but he had doubted. At best it would probably mean a public apology to Yatiri, at worst potential exclusion from the Rehahti, the inner coven of the Thousand Sons chosen by Magnus to address whatever issues were currently concerning the Legion.

Its members were ever-changing, and inclusion within the Rehahti was dependent on many things, not least an Astartes’s standing within the Legion. The cults of the Thousand Sons vied for prominence and a place in the primarch’s inner circle, knowing that to bask in his radiance would only enhance their powers.

As the power of the aether waxed and waned, so too did the mystical abilities of the cults. Invisible currents inimical to one discipline would boost the powers of another, and portents of the Great Ocean’s ever-changing tides were read and interpreted by the Legion’s geomancers with obsessive detail. At present the Pyrae was in the ascendance, while Ahriman’s cult, the Corvidae, was at its lowest ebb for nearly fifty years. For centuries, the Corvidae had been pre-eminent within the ranks of the Thousand Sons, but over the last few decades, their power to read the twisting paths of the future had diminished until their seers could barely penetrate the shallows of things to come.

The currents of the Great Ocean were swelling and boisterous, the geomancers warning of a great storm building within its depths, though they could see nothing of its source. The subtle currents were obscured by the raging tides that empowered the more bellicose disciplines, ringing in the blood of those whose mastery only stretched to the lower echelons.

It was galling that reckless firebrands like Khalophis and Auramagma strutted like lords while the hidden seers and sorcerers who had guided the Thousand Sons since their inception were forced to the sidelines. Yet there was nothing Ahriman could do, save try every day to re-establish his connection to the distant shores of the future.

He put such thoughts aside, rising through the Enumerations to calm himself and enter a contemplative state. The pavilion of Magnus loomed ahead of him, a grand, three-cornered pyramid of polarised glass and gold that shimmered in the evening’s glow like a half-buried diamond. Opaque from the outside, transparent on the inside, it was the perfect embodiment of the leader of the Thousand Sons.

Three Terminators of the Scarab Occult stood at each corner. Each carried a bladed sekhem staff, and their storm bolters were held tightly across the jade and amber scarab design on their breastplates.

Brother Amsu stood at the entrance to the pavilion, holding a rippling banner of scarlet and ivory. Ahriman’s pride at the sight of the banner was tempered by the fact that he had incurred his primarch’s displeasure by taking the Sekhmet into the Mountain.

Ahriman stopped before Amsu and allowed him to read his aetheric aura, confirming his identity more completely than any gene-scanner or molecular-reader ever could.

‘Brother Ahriman,’ said Amsu, ‘welcome to the Rehahti. Lord Magnus is expecting you.’

* * *

The inside of the pavilion would have surprised most people with its austerity. Given the suspicions that had surrounded the Thousand Sons since their earliest days, those mortals lucky enough to be granted an audience with Magnus the Red always expected his chambers to be hung with esoteric symbols, arcane apparatus and paraphernalia of the occult.

Instead, the walls were rippling glass, the floor pale marble quarried from the ventral mountains of Prospero. Carefully positioned black tiles veined with gold formed a repeating geometric spiral that coiled out from the centre.

The Captains of Fellowship stood upon the spiral, their distance from the centre but one indication of their standing within the Rehahti. Ahriman walked calmly along the dark portions, past the assembled warriors, to his place upon it. Beneath the crystal apex of the pyramid a golden disc in the shape of a radiating sun met the terminations of both black and white tiles, the heart of the gathering.

Magnus the Red stood upon the golden sun.

The Primarch of the Thousand Sons was a magnificent warrior and scholar beyond compare, yet his outward mien was that of a man faintly embarrassed by his pre-eminence amongst equals. Ahriman knew it was a façade, albeit a necessary one, for who could stand face to face with a being whose intellect and treasury of knowledge rendered all other accomplishments meaningless?

His skin was the colour of molten copper, the plates of his armour beaten gold and hard-baked leather, his mail a fine mesh of blackened adamant. The magisterial scarlet plume of his helmet spilled around the curling horns of his armour, and his mighty cloak of feathers was like a waterfall of bright plumage belonging to some vainglorious bird of prey. Partially hidden within that cloak was a thick tome, bound in the same, stipple-textured hide as that on Ahriman’s pistol grip. It came from the body of a psychneuein, a vicious psychic predator of Prospero that had all but wiped out the planet’s previous civilisation in ages past.

The primarch’s expression was impossible to read, but Ahriman took solace in the fact that his position had not yet fallen to the outer reaches of the spiral. Magnus’s eye glittered with colour, its hue never fixed and always changing, though for this gathering it had assumed an emerald aspect with flecks of violet in its iris.

Phosis T’kar stood near Ahriman to his right, with Khalophis on the spiral across from him. Hathor Maat was behind him and to his left, while Uthizzar was to his right and at the furthest extent of the spiral. A warrior’s standing was not simply measured by his proximity to the centre of the spiral, but by myriad other indicators: the position of the warrior next to him, behind him and across from him. Who was obscured, who was visible, the arc of distance between his position and the sun disc, all played their part in the dance of supremacy. Each member’s position interacted subtly with the other, creating a web of hierarchy that only Magnus could fathom.

Ahriman could not read the aetheric auras of his fellow captains, and he felt Aaetpio’s absence keenly. He had not summoned Aaetpio to the meeting, for it would be overwhelmed in the face of the primarch’s power. Magnus himself had no Tutelary, for what could a fragment of the Primordial Creator teach one who had stared into its depths and mastered its every nuance?

Magnus nodded as Ahriman took his place on the spiral and Brother Amon stepped from the shadows of the pyramid to pull the golden doors shut. Ahriman had not seen or sensed Amon’s presence, but few ever did. Equerry to Magnus and Captain of the 9th Fellowship, Amon trained the ‘Hidden Ones’, the Scout Auxilia of the Thousand Sons.

‘The Sanctum awaits the Symbol of Thothmes,’ announced Amon, the crimson of his armour seeming to blend with the shadows that gathered around the edges of the pyramid.

Magnus nodded and lifted his golden khopesh from his belt. A flick of his thumb, and the haft extended with a smooth hiss, transforming the sickle-sword into a long-bladed polearm. Magnus rapped the staff on the sun disc, tracing an intricate, twisting shape on the ground.

Ahriman pursed his lips together as the world went dim and the interior of the pyramid was shielded from outside eyes. To be cut off from the aether was unpleasant, but now no one could eavesdrop within the pyramid by any means, be they technological or psychic.

Magnus had once boasted that not even the Emperor himself could penetrate the invisible veil cast around the Rehahti by the Symbol of Thothmes.

‘Are we all assembled?’ demanded Ahriman, speaking as the Legion’s Chief Librarian. On Prospero, gatherings of the Rehahti would be conducted in aetheric speech, but here the Thousand Sons were forced to rely on the crudity of language.

‘I am Ahzek Ahriman of the Corvidae,’ he said. ‘If you would be heard, then speak your true name. Who comes to this Rehahti?’

‘I come, Phosis T’kar, Magister Templi of the Raptora.’

‘I come, Khalophis, Magister Templi of the Pyrae.’

‘I come, Hathor Maat, Magister Templi of the Pavoni.’

‘I come, Uthizzar, Magister Templi of the Athanaeans.’

Ahriman nodded as the Captains of the Thousand Sons recited their names. Only Uthizzar hesitated. The young Adept Minor had only recently ascended to the role of Magister Templi, and Ahriman could not look at him without feeling the sorrow of Aphophis’s death.

‘We are all assembled,’ he said.

‘We are alone,’ confirmed Amon.

Magnus nodded and looked each of his captains in the eye before speaking.

‘I am disappointed in you, my sons,’ he said, his voice a rich baritone laden with subtle layers of meaning. These were the first words Ahriman had heard from his primarch since leaving the mountain, and though they were of censure, they were still welcome.

‘This world has much to teach us, and you jeopardise that by venturing onto a holy site of the Aghoru. I told you to await my return. Why did you disobey me?’

Ahriman felt the eyes of the captains on him and held himself straighter.

‘I ordered it, my lord,’ he said. ‘The decision to march into the valley was mine.’

‘I know,’ said Magnus, with the barest hint of a smile. ‘If anyone was going to defy me, it would be you, eh, Ahzek?’

Ahriman nodded, unsure whether he was to be reprimanded or lauded.

‘Well, you set foot on the Mountain,’ said Magnus. ‘What did you make of it?’

‘My lord?’

‘What did you feel?’

‘Nothing, my lord,’ said Ahriman. ‘I felt nothing.’

‘Exactly,’ said Magnus, stepping from the sun disc and following the white spiral out from the centre of the pyramid. ‘You felt nothing. Now you know how mortals feel, trapped in their silent, dull world, disconnected from their birthright as an evolving race.’

‘Birthright?’ asked Hathor Maat. ‘What birthright?’

Magnus rounded on him, his eye transformed into a flickering blue orb, alive with motion.

‘The right to explore this brilliant, dazzling galaxy and all its wonders with their eyes open to its glory,’ said Magnus. ‘What is a life lived in the shadows, a life where all the shining wonders of the world are half-glimpsed phantasms?’

Magnus stopped next to Ahriman and placed a hand on his shoulder. The hand was that of a giant, yet he looked up at a face that was only slightly larger than his own, the features sculpted as if from molten metal, the single eye green once more. Ahriman felt the immense, unknowable power of his primarch, understanding that he stood before a living sun, the power of creation and destruction bound within its beauteous form.

Magnus’s body was not so much flesh and blood, but energy and will bound together by the ancient science of the Emperor. Ahriman had studied the substance of the Great Ocean with the aid of some of the Legion’s foremost seers, yet the power that filled his primarch was as alien to him as a starship was to a primitive savage.

‘The Aghoru live on a world swept by aetheric winds, yet they remain untouched by its presence,’ said Magnus, walking back towards the sun disc at the centre of the pyramid. His khopesh staff spun in his grip, tracing patterns Ahriman recognised as sigils of evocation that would summon a host of Tutelaries if made beyond the inert air of the Sanctum.

‘They come to this Mountain every year, this place of pilgrimage, to bring the bodies of their dead to their final rest. They carry them into the holy valley and place them in the mouth of the mountain, and each time they return, the bodies of the previous year are gone, “eaten” by the Mountain. We all feel that the walls that separate this world from the aether are thin here. The essence of the Great Ocean presses in, yet the Aghoru remain unaffected by its presence. Why should that be? I do not know, but when I solve that mystery we will be one step closer to helping our brothers draw closer to the light at the heart of the universe. There is power in that mountain, great power, yet it is somehow contained, and the Aghoru are oblivious to it except as energy that devours the dead. I only hope that Yatiri forgives your trespass into their holy place, for without his peoples’ help we may never unlock the secrets of this world.’

The primarch’s enthusiasm for the task was infectious, and the shame Ahriman felt at jeopardising Magnus’s great work was like a crushing weight upon his shoulders.

‘I will make whatever reparations need to be made, my lord,’ said Ahriman. ‘The Sekhmet marched at my order and I will explain that to Yatiri.’

‘That will not be necessary,’ said Magnus, once again taking his place at the centre of the pyramid. ‘I have another task for you all.’

‘Anything, my lord,’ said Phosis T’kar, and the rest joined his affirmation.

Magnus smiled and said, ‘As always, my sons, you are a delight to me. The Aghoru are not the only ones who can feel that this world is special. The remembrancers we selected to join our expedition, they know it too, even if they do not consciously realise it. You are to make them welcome, befriend them and study them. We have kept them at a distance long enough; it is time for them to see that we have mellowed to their presence. In any case, I believe the Emperor will soon make their presence mandatory and send thousands more out to join the fleets. Before such an edict becomes law, don the mask of friend, of grudging admirer, whatever it takes to gain their confidence. Study the effects of this world on them and record your findings in your grimoires. As we study this world, we must also study its effect on mortals and ourselves. Do you understand this task?’

‘Yes, my lord,’ said Hathor Maat, the words echoed by the rest of the captains until only Ahriman was left to speak.

He felt the primarch’s eyes upon him, and offered a curt bow, saying, ‘I understand, my lord.’

‘Then this Rehahti is over,’ said Magnus, rapping his staff on the sun disc. Light streamed out from the centre, bathing the assembled captains in radiance. The Symbol of Thothmes was undone, and Ahriman felt the wellspring of the aether wash through his flesh.

Amon opened the pyramid’s doors, and Ahriman bowed to the primarch. As the captains made their way outside, Magnus said, ‘Ahzek, a moment if you please.’

Ahriman paused, and then walked to the centre of the pyramid, ready to face his punishment. The primarch sheathed his khopesh, the haft now returned to its original proportions. Magnus looked down at him, and his glittering green eye narrowed as he appraised his Chief Librarian.

‘Something troubles you, my friend. What is it?’

‘The story of the men in the cave,’ said Ahriman. ‘The one you told me when I was your Neophyte.’

‘I know the one,’ said Magnus. ‘What of it?’

‘If I remember correctly, that story shows that it is futile to share the truth of what we know with those who have too narrow a view of the horizon. How are we to illuminate our fellows when their vision is so limited?’

‘We do not,’ said Magnus, turning Ahriman and walking him across the spiral towards the pyramid’s open doors. ‘At least not at first.’

‘I do not understand.’

‘We do not bring the light to humanity; we bring them to the light,’ said Magnus. ‘We learn how to lift mankind’s consciousness to a higher state of being so that he can recognise the light for himself.’

Ahriman felt the force of the primarch’s passion, and wished he felt it too. ‘Trying to explain the truth of the aether to mortals is like trying to describe the meaning of the colour yellow to a blind man. They do not want to see it. They fear it.’

‘Small steps, Ahzek, small steps,’ said Magnus patiently. ‘Mankind is already crawling towards psychic awareness, but he must walk before he can run. We will help him.’

‘You have great faith in humanity,’ said Ahriman as they reached the doors. ‘They wanted to destroy us once. They may again.’

Magnus shook his head. ‘Trust them a little more, my son. Trust me.’

‘I trust you, my lord,’ promised Ahriman. ‘My life is yours.’

‘And I value that, my son, believe me,’ said Magnus, ‘but I am set on this course, and I need you with me, Ahzek. The others look up to you, and where you lead, others will follow.’

‘As you wish, my lord,’ said Ahriman with a respectful bow.

‘Now, as far as studying the remembrancers goes, I want you to pay close attention to Lemuel Gaumon, he interests me.’

‘Gaumon? The aetheric reader?’

‘Yes, that’s the one. He has some power, learned from the writings of the Nordafrik Sangoma by the feel of it,’ said Magnus. ‘He believes he hides this power from us, and has taken his first, faltering steps towards its proper use. I wish you to mentor him. Draw out his abilities and determine how best he may use them without danger to himself or others. If we can do it for him, we can do it for others.’

‘That will not be easy; he does not have the mastery of the Enumerations.’

‘That is why you must teach him,’ said Magnus.

Win a copy of Blake Charlton's SPELLWRIGHT

Thanks to the folks at Tor Books, I have three copy of Blake Charlton's Spellwright up for grabs! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Nicodemus is a young, gifted wizard with a problem. Magic in his world requires the caster to create spells by writing out the text . . . but he has always been dyslexic, and thus has trouble casting even the simplest of spells. And his misspells could prove dangerous, even deadly, should he make a mistake in an important incantation.

Yet he has always felt that he is destined to be something more than a failed wizard. When a powerful, ancient evil begins a campaign of murder and disruption, Nicodemus starts to have disturbing dreams that lead him to believe that his misspelling could be the result of a curse. But before he can discover the truth about himself, he is attacked by an evil which has already claimed the lives of fellow wizards and has cast suspicion on his mentor. He must flee for his own life if he’s to find the true villain.

But more is at stake than his abilities. For the evil that has awakened is a power so dread and vast that if unleashed it will destroy Nicodemus... and the world.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "SPELLWRIGHT." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

Southern Thailand photo album

Okay, you know the drill.=)

Just click on this link to see my Facebook album containing samples from the pics I took in Phuket, Ko Phi Phi, and Ko Lanta.

Disclaimer: If it's still winter where you're at, this might make you hate me!

The Wit & the Wisdom of Discworld

Trying to select what books to bring with me on vacation was kind of difficult. Flying with Air Asia meant that I had to deal with a weight limit for my luggage, and it would cost me a bundle if I couldn't respect it. Which meant that I could only bring paperbacks. The novels needed to be entertaining, quick-paced, and/or lighter read.

The Wit & the Wisdom of Discworld
appeared to be exactly what the doctor ordered. Compiled by Stephen Briggs, this work contains countless quotes from Terry Pratchett's i9ncredible body of work.

Here's the blurb:

"When the least they could do to you was everything, then the most they could do to you suddenly held no terror." - From, "Small Gods".

"A marriage is always made up of two people who are prepared to swear that only the other one snores." - From, "The Fifth Elephant".

The perfect book for die-hard Pratchett fans and newcomers alike, a collection of the wittiest, pithiest and wisest quotations from the Discworld universe, organised into categories including the principal Discworld characters (Granny Weatherwax, Lord Vetinari), places (Unseen University, Ankh-Morpork, the City Watch) or even the occasional concept (magic).

Briggs compiled quips and quotes from basically every single Discworld installment. In a way, it's a greatest hits of all the Rincewind, Cohen, Lord Vetinari, Death, Granny Weatherwax and various other memorable characters' quotes.

Here are a few quotes:

That's what so stupid about the whole magic thing. . . You spend twenty years
learning the spell that makes nude virgins appear in your bedroom, and then
you're so poisoned by quicksilver fumes and half-blind from reading old
grimoires that you can't remember what happens next.

If women were as good as men they'd be a lot better!

Then there was the puzzle of why the sun came out during the day, instead of at night when the light would come in useful.

"It would seem that you have no useful skill or talent whatsoever," Keeble said. "Have you thought of going into teaching?"

It was the usual Ankh-Morpork mob in times of crisis; half of them were here to
complain, a quarter of them were here to watch the other half, and the remainder
were here to rob, importune or sell hot-dogs to the rest.

Inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened.

"Don't you talk to me about progress. Progress just means bad things happening faster."

The Patrician was a pragmatist. He never tried to fix things that worked. Things
that didn't, however, got broken.

The Ankh-Morpork view of crime and punishment was that the penalty for the first offense should prevent the possibility of a second offense.

Those who were inclined to casual cruelty say that inside a fat girl is a thin girl and a lot of chocolate.

The dungeons of the Palace held a number of felons imprisoned "at his
lordship's pleasure," and since Lord Vetinari was seldom very pleased they were
generally in for the long haul.

"Luck is my middle name," said Rincewind, indistinctly. "Mind you, my first name is Bad."

Any seasoned traveler soon learns to avoid anything wished on them as a "regional specialty," because all the term means is that the dish is so unpleasant to people living everywhere else will bite off their own legs rather than eat it. But hosts will
still press it upon distant guests anyway: "Go on, have the dog's head stuffed with macerated cabbage and pork noses -- it's a regional specialty."

Privilege just means "private law." Two types of people laugh at the law: those that break it and those that make it.

Considering that you are going through the wittiest and funniest quotes from the entire Discworld saga, The Wit & the Wisdom of Discworld is an extremely fun read. Recommended for long-time fans and newbies alike.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

Teaser excerpt from Robin Hobb's DRAGON HAVEN

Here's a little teaser extract Robin Hobb's Dragon Haven. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

The dragon keepers and the fledgling dragons are forging a passage up the treacherous Rain Wild River. They are in search of the mythical Elderling city of Kelsingra, and are accompanied by the liveship Tarman, its captain, Leftrin, and a group of hunters who must search the forests for game with which to keep the dragons fed. With them are Alise, who has escaped her cold marriage to the cruel libertine Hest Finbok in order to continue her study of dragons, and Hest's amanuensis, Bingtown dandy, Sedric. Rivalries and romances are already threatening to disrupt the band of explorers: but external forces may prove to be even more dangerous. Chalcedean merchants are keen to lay hands on dragon blood and organs to turn them to medicines and profit. Their traitor has infiltrated the expeditionand will stop at nothing to obtain the coveted body parts. And then there are the Rain Wilds themselves: mysterious, unstable and ever perilous, its mighty river running with acid, its jungle impenetrable and its waterways uncharted. Will the expedition reach their destination unscathed? Does the city of Kelsingra even exist? Only one thing is certain: the journey will leave none of the dragons nor their human companions unchanged by the experience.

Thymara stared at her. She put her words together carefully. ‘Alise, people like me, like them, people who are already so heavily touched by the Rain Wilds, we are not allowed to marry. Or to mate. They are breaking one of the oldest rules of the Rain Wilds.’

‘It’s a law, then?’ Alise looked puzzled.

‘I … I don’t know if it’s a law. It’s a custom, it’s something everyone knows and does. If a baby is born and it’s already changed so much from pure human, then its parents don’t raise it. They ‘give it to the night’; they expose it and try again. Only for some of us, like me, well, my father took me back. He brought me home and kept me.’

‘There’s a fish there, a really big one. He’s in the shadow of that driftwood log. See him? He looks like he’s part of the shadow.’

Alise sounded excited. Thymara was jolted at the change of subject. On an impulse, she handed her spear to Alise. ‘You get him. You saw him first. Remember, don’t try to jab the fish. Stab it in like you want to stick it into the ground beyond the fish. Push hard.’

‘You should do it,’ Alise said as she took the spear. ‘I’ll miss. He’ll get away. And he’s a very big fish.’

‘Then he’s a good big target for your first try. Go on. Try it.’ Thymara stepped slowly back and away from the river.

Alise’s pale eyes widened. Her glance went from Thymara to the fish and back again. Then she took two deep shuddering breaths and then suddenly sprang at the fish, spear in hand. She landed with a splash and a shout in ankle-deep water as she stabbed the spear down with far more force than she needed to use. Thymara stared open-mouthed as the Bingtown woman used both hands to drive the spear in even deeper. Surely the fish was long gone? But no, Alise stood in the water, holding the spear tightly as a long, thick fish thrashed out its death throes.

When it finally stilled, she turned to Thymara and cried breathlessly, ‘I did it! I did it! I speared a fish! I killed it!’

‘Yes, you did. And you should get out of the water before you ruin your boots.’

‘I don’t care about them. I got a fish. Can I try again? Can I kill another?’

‘I suppose you can. Alise, let’s get the first one ashore, shall we?’

‘Don’t lose it! Don’t let it get away!’ This she cried as Thymara waded out and put a hand on the spear.

‘It won’t get away. It’s very dead. We have to pull the spear out of the ground so we can get the fish to shore. Don’t worry. We won’t lose it.’

‘I really did it, didn’t I? I killed a fish.’

‘You did.’

KL people

Hey there, KL peeps!

Though previous meetings with Hotlist readers went down the crapper, perhaps we can make it work while I'm still in Kuala Lumpur. I'll be town till the morning of February 18th, at which point I'll be catching a bus to the Cameron Highlands. So that leaves us both the evenings of the 16th and the 17th to arrange something, if we can swing it. Plans change all the time when one travels, so you never know. . . Email me at the giveaway address and we'll see if we can make it happen!

If anyone can find me the CD soundtracks of both Makoto Shinkai's 5 cm per Second and The Place Promised in our Early Days, as well as Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle and Castle in the Sky at a good price, then I'll buy you a drink!;-)

Take it easy!

Win a copy of Alexey Pehov's SHADOW PROWLER

I have three copies of Alexey Pehov's Shadow Prowler for you to win, courtesy of the cool folks at Tor Books. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

After centuries of calm, the Nameless One is stirring.

An army is gathering; thousands of giants, ogres, and other creatures are joining forces from all across the Desolate Lands, united, for the first time in history, under one, black banner. By the spring, or perhaps sooner, the Nameless One and his forces will be at the walls of the great city of Avendoom.

Unless Shadow Harold, master thief, can find some way to stop them.

Epic fantasy at its best, Shadow Prowler is the first in a trilogy that follows Shadow Harold on his quest for a magic Horn that will restore peace to the Kingdom of Siala. Harold will be accompanied on his quest by an Elfin princess, Miralissa, her elfin escort, and ten Wild Hearts, the most experienced and dangerous fighters in their world…and by the king’s court jester (who may be more than he seems…or less).

Reminiscent of Moorcock's Elric series, Shadow Prowler is the first work to be published in English by the bestselling Russian fantasy author Alexey Pehov. The book was translated by Andrew Bromfield, best known for his work on the highly successful Night Watch series.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "PROWLER." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

New UK cover art for Joe Abercrombie's LAST ARGUMENT OF KINGS

The best of the new bunch, if you ask me.=)

Ko Lanta: Friendly, laidback, low-key -- the perfect vibe!

Just got a full-body Thai massage to celebrate my last day on the fabulous island of Ko Lanta. You know, to relieve the stress of being on vacation! The one-hour massage plus tip set me back a paltry 9$! You simply can't beat that!
As you can see from the pics, the sunset are to die for. They say the best things in life are free. And I think we forget just how beautiful beachside sunsets can be.

As the title of this post indicates, Ko Lanta is the perfect place if you want to relax. I think that the expression "taking it easy" originates from here. Forget about high-rise hotels and resorts and beaches where one must fight for every square footage of sand. Ko Lanta is part of a national park, so construction is heavily regulated. Hence, all you get is smaller resorts and groups of bungalows. I settled in Hat Khlong Dao, the longest beach on the island. I've walked the length and breadth of the beach, and there isn't a single structure that looks to be more than two stories high.

Everything is friendly, laidback, and low-key. This is the kind of place you can spend two weeks in without doing anything. Just bring a few books, an iPod, and plenty of sun lotion, and you're good to go! I was supposed to book a snorkelling tour to Ko Rok and three other nearby islands yesterday, but in the end decided to just crash on the beach and read. Ko Lanta does that to you. The vibe gets to you, and you just want to take it easy and relax. Had I known it would be this cool, I would have scrapped Phuket from the itinerary and curtailed my stay in Ko Phi Phi to spend more time here.

Ko Lanta is also the west coast island which offers the best in terms of value. I've rented a nice air-con bungalow at the Banana Garden Home for 1200 THB (about 40$). Take a look at their website, and make sure to book a bungalow there if ever you are in Ko Lanta! The manager, Annie, is simply adorable and goes out of her to make the guests feel welcome. Moreover, you are about 30 seconds from the beach!

As far as beaches go, I would recommend staying on Hat Khlong Dao. It's a crescent of golden sand about 3km long, which means that you always have a little corner of beach to yourself. Plenty of cool beachfront bars and restaurants can be found, where you get more bang for your baht than anywhere else in Southern Thailand. You don't have to pay for beach chairs and umbrella, which is an added bonus. The sun hits hard, and I managed to burn even though I was sitting under an umbrella reading.

It's a good thing there is always the wind to help cool you down, because the Andaman Sea is pretty hot. We're talking between 28 and 32 degrees, so don't expect the water to refresh you!

And the nights are amazing. After a gorgeous sunset, have a drink and dinner, then take a long walk in the blackness along the beach under a starlit sky. It's been years since I've seen so many stars. The soundtrack: The sounds of the waves crashing on the shore and a light breeze to cool down the evening. And Hat Khlong Dao is vast enough that it feels as though you have the beach to yourself. Nights don't get much better than this. . .=)

Ko Lanta offers the kind of vibe that travelers were looking for when they were talking about the fabulous beaches of Thailand twenty years ago. So if you want the sun, the Andaman Sea, the beach, but not the crowds and every negative things that come with them, then Ko Lanta is definitely the place you are looking for!

I'm taking the ferry back to Phuket in a couple of hours, then tomorrow I'm flying to Kuala Lumpur for the Chinese New Year. Next time you hear from me I'll be in Malaysia!;-)

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter

I must admit that I didn't really know what to expect when my contact at Hachette sent this one my way. Like many, I had heard about this author via the noise made by the popularity of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. My gut kept telling me that this novel wasn't quite up my alley, but my curiosity was piqued in a way that prevented me from giving it a pass.

Since I needed light and entertaining stuff to keep me from opening my veins out of boredom during my 26 hours of transit to get to and from Southeast Asia, and during my long bus rides across Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore, I decided to bring Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter with me.

Here's the blurb:

Indiana, 1818. Moonlight falls through the dense woods that surround a one-room cabin, where a nine-year-old Abraham Lincoln kneels at his suffering mother's bedside. She's been stricken with something the old-timers call "Milk Sickness.""My baby boy..." she whispers before dying. Only later will the grieving Abe learn that his mother's fatal affliction was actually the work of a vampire. When the truth becomes known to young Lincoln, he writes in his journal, ""henceforth my life shall be one of rigorous study and devotion. I shall become a master of mind and body. And this mastery shall have but one purpose.".." Gifted with his legendary height, strength, and skill with an ax, Abe sets out on a path of vengeance that will lead him all the way to the White House. While Abraham Lincoln is widely lauded for saving a Union and freeing millions of slaves, his valiant fight against the forces of the undead has remained in the shadows for hundreds of years. That is, until Seth Grahame-Smith stumbled upon "The Secret Journal of Abraham Lincoln," and became the first living person to lay eyes on it in more than 140 years. Using the journal as his guide and writing in the grand biographical style of Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough, Seth has reconstructed the "true" life story of our greatest president for the first time-all while revealing the hidden history behind the Civil War and uncovering the role vampires played in the birth, growth, and near-death of our nation.

Seth Grahame-Smith's rewriting of American history turned out to be a fun read. At times, the author stretches the limits of credibility while incorporating vampires in the great tapestry which forms the backdrop for what became the Land of the Free. And yet, if you can do with a little suspension of belief here and there, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter makes for an entertaining read. History buffs could likely take this book apart, sure. But truth suffers from too much analysis anyway. . .

The novel follows the steps that saw Abraham Lincoln go from a young man to the President of the United States of America. Though I know enough of American history, I'm not conversant enough on the topic to say whether or not the author did a great job in his portrayal of Lincoln and the events which led to his becoming president. Making vampires the driving force behind every significant event of that epoch is a bit much, mind you, yet people buying a book titled Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter are probably prepared to deal with a few fantasy elements.

The characterization is a bit crooked at times. Abraham Lincoln, although a great man whose deeds have echoed down the centuries, may not have been the most endearing of men. Hence, it's a good thing the narrative doesn't necessarily rely on him to carry the story on his shoulders, because he can be a bit on the lame and boring side. Henry Sturges, on the other hand, was a very interesting character. Sadly, we don't get to learn much about the man.

Readers know the outcome of this one, as everyone has heard of Lincoln's fate. You feel like you can see the ending coming from a mile away. And yet, the author throws an unanticipated curveball toward the end that took me completely off-guard, and which brings this novel to a satisfying close.

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter is a light and compelling read. Probably not a work that people will be talking about in years to come, but a fun read nonetheless.

The final verdict: 7.25/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe