The USS Quad Damage

What are the best things you have ever read, heard and seen?

This one's tough, and not just because all "best" or "最強" style questions are hard. Not only is liking something a multidimensional thing, but there is simply so much out there that's extremely good, so it's hard to say what belongs at the absolute top. Indeed, only highlighting "the best" is an injustice to those things that are infinitessimally behind. Therefore, I'm going to look at a number of things that constitute my creative landscape.

I don't read much fiction. I read a fair bit of non-fiction, but while the content itself can be described as entertaining, the writing usually is not (the exception here being the Poignant Guide to Ruby). In any case, when it comes to non-fiction, while I remember the subject matter I usually forget the writing itself, so I'll be discussing whatever limited reading I have in fiction. This is pretty much the sum total of what I've read and not liked: Anything by Jane Austen or Shakespeake, and "The picture of Dorian Gray". They all sucked on different levels, but mainly: Jane Austen is boring and full of herself, and I can see why she never got married or paid for her writing. Shakespeare wrote things to placate already brain-dead monarchs, and whoever wrote Dorian Gray should be used as an example for anti-drug campaigns.

The rest of what I read either didn't make much of an impact on me (which is why I won't mention it here, with the exception of Dragonlance / Forgotten Realms novels, which are so totally nondescript, they're like romance novels for men) or was something that I really liked. Since I mentioned Dragonlance I'll mention Lord of The Rings, or more specifically, The Hobbit. LoTR was excellent because it was thorough. It was a whole fucking world in there, and it was a lot better than dragonlance. For this same reason, I've wanted to absorb more of the Battletech universe, because apparently they are really thorough with their stuff. Unfortunately, LoTR was really long for this very reason, and when I tried to read through, I kept getting bored, and when I tried to pace myself, I'd keep forgetting shit that happened. The multitude of characters and motivations were way too hard to track, but the world was magnificent. The Hobbit was far better, because it was shorter and Bilbo was way way cooler than Frodo, who is a dweeb. I like The Hobbit, because it's like the "story mode" in the world, and "LoTR" because it's the reference material.

Another book that's far shorter but brilliant in it's impact was 1984. It taught me that death is not the worst thing that can happen to you, and when in a room where you're sure you're about to meet your fate, remember to flip out and kill as many guards as you can, because otherwise rats are going to chew off your face unless you call your girlfriend's name. Finally, you will get fat. There are often quotes I remember from that book in everyday life, because it's scary the kind of stuff people are willing to put up with. I think that this book is a part of what helps me look out for my freedom.

I thought I'd enjoy Huck Finn a lot more than I did, mainly because Tom Sawyer was such a champ. In any case, though, it wasn't actually a bad book, if only because it gives me a legitimate reason to say "Nigger Jim". There were a lot of cool characters and it's got that feel of New Orleans, the South (which I initially confused for South America), and the fact that wonderful, interesting accents could be represented textually. Unfortunately, I didn't 'get' most of it, because I'm not 700 years old in a country where black people are oppressed. I also have no fucking idea what black people are talking about, even today (warning: popups. Also explicit lyrics, but mainly popups).

The greatest book I have read to this day, I think, would have to be Alice in Wonderland (and it's sibling mini-book Through the Looking Glass). It's exactly the right kind of book. It's witty, brilliant, full of puns and humour, and involves little girls ingesting foods and drinks without knowing what they are. I don't know exactly what that says about me, but meh. It's about logical thinking, and the stupid things that people do when they don't think things through, like the painting of the roses. It's almost like I'm Alice trapped in this crazy world, only without panties. I don't know whether that's my fault or the book's, but things are getting creepy now, so I'll change the subject.

So... music eh? You'd think the amount I talk about 2MBS I'd be ranting about classical music right about now? No can do. I don't know a thing they play on there. It's positively tough to know what was just on, owing to the foreign sounding names, and generic titles. About a million classical tunes are named "Allegro", and a single composer may have a bunch of "Allegro"s to his name. On top of that, one orchestra may do a really good job where other orchestras totally mess it up. There was this movement by Bach (no I don't know what it's called), and I really didn't like it. Then I heard the movement, with "intro" from the previous movement, from a different orchestra, and damn it was good. So anyway, classical music is great, and potentially lifechanging. Unless I can actually figure out what it is I'm listening to, though, I can't say it's changed my life yet.

Some things I like because I'm a nerd, and amongst those are some songs of Nevermore and Borknagar because they're about philosophy and mathematics. Hearing a song involving maths, politics, or philosophy is just plain wierd, and takes getting used to (it's just like listening to power metal, which sounds like it's from the '60s, until you get used to it). Anyway, when you do, the music is amazing, and extremely powerful, because they talk about cosmic forces, and how the universe is shaped and works. Awesome heavy backing to open landscapes and epic tales. It's over the top, but brilliant listening. On top of that, though, these songs have a thesis, which is lifechanging in itself.

Demons and Wizards have some great songs, two of which Heaven's Denied and Fiddler on the Green. These really have to be heard to be appreciated. I can't even say what's so great about them. Fiddler on the Green is a haunting and beautiful story, like a fairy tale. The music really fits. Heaven's Denied is fast paced and has musical twists and turns all over the place. The first time the chorus comes in is just awesome. It's highly energetic, and it takes you along for the ride. While it hasn't changed my life in the way I conduct it, it has changed it, musically speaking. I can better see the beauty in the interplay between chaos and order (paraphrased Borknagar lyrics!).

Lacuna Coil deserves a mention, because their lyrics are just hauntingly beautiful. Their songs are about love and relationships, but it hits a lot deeper than dumb pop breakup songs or teen angst bands that seem so popular. The simplicity of the music actually helps to draw you into the words, which are really quite powerful. I consider myself quite stubborn. I'll fight to the death on matters of principle in some cases (in others I don't really care, but sometimes, you don't want to be on the other end). I don't forgive very easily. I remember hearing "Cold Heritage" once, thinking "I don't care what she did wrong, if she sang that, I'd forgive her." I'd like it if you never told that to my hypothetical cheating whore of an x-girlfriend.

Having mentioned Lacuna Coil, I really have to mention: Opeth. They are the ideal band. Any band that can have a song that goes for 12 minutes and have you with it all the way is a band like no other. I mean, holy fuck, these guys are good. Everything in the band is perfect. They performed here twice, I went twice, and I'd go again. If you haven't heard Opeth, and there's one thing that I could ask you to do, it would be to hear this band. They re-shaped the way I understand music.

I will mention In flames only in passing, mainly because they've gotten so bad, but their older stuff, like Colony and Clayman, are fantastic. Hell, my anthem for this year is one of their songs. Clayman is another song which really gets to the heart of the matter, despite it's simplicity. Because both sides were right and coherent, it took me a while to figure out he was flipping them every sentence, and it has a lot of energy. It's really depressing to hear what they are now.

Emperor -- after years in dark tunnels, he came to silence. Talk about teaching me about myself. The story, and the conclusion of IX Equilibrium with Prometheus: The discipline of fire and demise is really something. Beautiful, deep, thoughtful, and really heavy. The thing I like about Emperor is that every new album gets me re-thinking music. In the Nightside Eclipse was genre defining, and it was actually the first Black Metal album I'd heard. At the time, I remember thinking "WTF?". When IX Equilibrium was released, I remember thinking "WTF?". Guess what I thought when Prometheus was released? Emperor are just mind expanding. They keep re-defining and re-thinking the way things should be done.

I'm tempted to say that Dimmu Borgir's "Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia" is second to none, but I'm reluctant giving first place to anything. PEM showed how to mix classical music with heavy guitars and death metal vocals. Metallica has nothing on Dimmu, and if you hear the album, you'll know why. It's crisp, precise, and sharp, both in it's music and lyrics. It's a total deconstruction and thoughtful critique of christianity. I think even christians have to appreciate the well thought out analysis, although possibly not the imagery. Also, track 6 is cool wacky Electronica Classical Death Metal.

There's a fair bit of media that's decent. I'm limiting myself to movies and TV series here, because there's just far too much other stuff that is cool, and I don't want to die before finishing this. Most TV series' I liked were cartoons or sci-fi. I'm recently re-kindling my love of Dr Who, and the new series is great. Mythbusters, too, is something which I've never seen before in television -- an interesting science show that doesn't just pimp products. Morning cartoons include: The Tick, Gargoyles, (some) Batman, Captain Simian and the Space Monkeys (AWESOME show, take off of star trek with monkeys), Teknoman, Transformers (inc. Beast Wars), Biker Mice From Mars, and more recently, Kim Possible. I really can't say anything about these shows (mainly because I don't have another year to discuss these), but basically, either you've seen em, and loved em, or you haven't. Basically, sometimes kids are seen as idiots and shows are created without any real thought, but sometimes, what kids watch can go under the radar, and it can be a melting pot of brilliant writing, art-work, and wit. These things have shaped me to the core, and it's not being able to watch breakfast TV is one of the things I miss as an adult.

Anime is also crazy cool. I remember seeing Akira first time, thinking "this is crazy cool". I guess I've also gotta mention Ghost in the Shell here. It's interesting to note that in the manga, the writer goes into a lot of depth regarding the technology. I love Cowboy Bebop because it is infused totally with the spirit of Jazz. The improv feel is always apparent in the story, but the fact that it always comes together just right shows the skills of those who make it. Apparently, they allowed the animators and writers a lot of freedom in this series, and it shows. What's more, despite the fluidity of it all, it's still coherent. That's what Jazz is all about -- making it up and ending up with something beautiful. Evangelion, enough's been said. I for one think it deserves the hype. Princess Mononoke was beautiful, and the music was just unbelievable. I watched that thing and for a week, I was still trying to comprehend this world, that's how much my eyes had changed. San really is beautiful, despite her brashness, and I reckon that if I ever see a girl spit out a mouthful of wolf blood, I'm going to ask her to marry me.

Karekano is what Anno made right after he made Evangelion. What I really like about Anno (or maybe it's just gainax in general) is the incredibly economical storytelling (OK, maybe not Gainax in general, ref: FLCL). I keep telling people about how brilliant it is that they have entire shows showing nothing but scenery with voiceovers, and it's brilliant. The drawing is beautiful, and there are some laugh out loud funny bits in it. On the surface it looks like a high school drama, but you've really gotta look past the story to see the story. Also, the two sisters are awesome, and the voice actresses appear to have a really neat chemistry and great wit even when they're just being interviewed. Sheer brilliance.

Onto movies now. I won't say much. Usual Suspects and Fight Club are great, and don't need an explanation. 12 monkeys might. It's a great movie, and anyone who thinks otherwise can shove it. 5th Element is incredible, and is about as close to anime that any movie has ever come. Also, most sci-fi nuts don't realise this because they're too busy watching bullshit like Battlestar Galactica, but both these movies are legit, intelligent, well written, science fiction. I've basically conceded that sci-fi is basically nerd porn, and any actually decent sci-fi won't even show up a blip on the nerd radar, because it's just not hard-core enough. Names like the Matrix, Star Wars, and Star Trek are an insult to what's possible with the genre. I mean seriously, what the fuck? Neato technology the drives the plots, actual characters, 12 monkeys and fifth element is the shit that sci-fi should be. I'm going to shut up before I go all out bitching about sci-fi.

So those are the things that I've heard, seen, and read that I really liked, and have shaped me as a person. End Transmission.