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Fantasy Books / Series I Read While Waiting for George R. R. Martin

Published by on September 24, 2014

People don’t really have a high regard for fantasy books. They usually think about a muscled bound hero fighting dragons or orcs to rescue the princess (no doubt influenced by the Conan movies).

But as a kid, I have always loved the idea of a bildungsroman tale of a boy, driven by circumstances, leaves home to find he is a fulfillment of an age old prophecy, whereby the saves his people from the clutches of an evil wizard… This is no doubt help by a childhood of computer role-playing games (e.g. Wizardry, Ultima, Bards Tale…). But I never had any fantasy books to read. Some of my friends always talked about Belgariad or Wheel of Time, but I never got a chance to read them.

When I grew up and could afford my own books, I read a lot of everything else, but not fantasy. There were so many other books and genres I had wanted to read, so fantasy took a backseat temporarily.

One day, at the Wisma Atria closing down sale, I found a copy of George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones for RM15. Fifteen bucks! Please do remember, this was long before the fanfare of the TV series and everything, when no one except the small circle of fantasy readers have heard of A Song of Ice and Fire. I think I breezed through the 500 page book in less than a week, and was amazed by how awesome it was. Granted, Martin’s new fantasy style is a progression and very much different from the 80’s style of David Eddings or Robert Jordan, and I was hooked. In a span of two years, I had caught up with Book 5, A Dance with Dragons.

Yes I do realize it might be a good 2 more years before George R.R. Martin releases Book 6, and probably another 10 more years before the series is concluded… so I decide to spend the time until then exploring other fantasy book series.

But the thing about fantasy book series – its like this. Its like buying cars in Malaysia. There are only that many series that are good. This is different from general fiction – there are thousands of novels and series out there, everyone has their own opinion on which are good (they all are good in their own way). But if you google ‘good fantasy book series’, you will roughly get the same few results. There are good reasons for this, but maybe that’s for another article.

Then there’s another thing. I know fully well that GRRM’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ is the VERY best in fantasy books – today and ever. And will probably be for the next 20 years. So I have to accept that any other series I read will not measure up to Martin’s tale of dragons and kings killing one another.

So with all the caveats, I set out look explore the world of fantasy books. I generally pick them up at book sales, and always at discounted price. God knows I can’t afford full price books.

The Magician, Book 1 of The Riftwar Saga by Raymond E. Feist
I actually bought this one together with A Game of Thrones. Although it follows the classic bildungsroman tale of a poor boy discovering his destiny to defeat the evil overlord, I found the storyline too outdated (granted it was first released in 1982). Someone told me the later books in the Riftwar saga are quite good, but I don’t intend to find out. I am actually surprised that the Riftwar Cycle is still ongoing as of 2008.

Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson
Now, I had high hopes for this one. in fantasy book circles, this is usually regarded as the best there is, sharing the top spot with Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. I found the first book ‘Gardens of the Moon’ for RM12 (hardcover!) at a sale. But here’s my problem with it. While it promises a vast meticulously crafted world and magic system, there are no protagonists you can root for, or at least identify with. Everyone says, ‘it really kicks in the 5th book onwards’ but do I want to hang around another 4 books of wondering what’s going on? For this first book, the storyline isn’t convincing and there wasn’t much of a closure to it. To me, the first book of any series should be strong (if not the strongest) to draw readers in, not muddle them. Currently, the series has been completed, but for me it is on hold as I’m not convinced it’s worth my time to continue on.

Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. LeGuin
These are 6 short novels about the wizard Ged’s journey of self-discovery. This is a different kind of fantasy writing, they are simple and short, and I really loved it. I like the concept of magic based on your name, and the conclusion of Tenar and Ged’s story in The Furthest Shore is especially poignant. I read them online.

The Blade Itself, Book 1 of the First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie
Now this I really like. The series is short and completed (only 3 books) and it has a dark sense of humour. I read the first book online but am looking to buy the books on the cheap (don’t really like e-reading). I don’t think any bookstore sells this, other than Kinokuniya.

Assassin’s Apprentice, Book 1 of the Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb
Read the first book, thought it was okay, but never got round to finish it. Kind of slow-burning actually, not sure if i want to give it another shot.

Myrren’s Gift, Book 1 of the Quickening by Fiona Mcintosh
Almost halfway through the first book, did not like it.

The Stormlight Archives by Brandon Sanderson
I’ve read Way of Kings and I love this series. I think potentially this series can live up to be one of the best, if Sanderson keeps the momentum. It takes awhile to clue in to the big picture (there are 4 separate protagonists and storylines) but once you see the scope of it, you will appreciate the stage it has set. On the downside, we are currently only at Book 2 of 10, so its going to be a long long wait to conclusion.

I have also bought the Long Price Quartet (by Daniel Abraham) and Mistborn series (by Brandon Sanderson) but have yet to start them. Some of the series I am looking out for are Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Tad Williams and Black Company by Glenn Cook. And since Brandon Sanderson recently recommended the Black Prism series by Brent Weeks, I must give it a try.

P/S I HAVE read Lord of the Rings (3X), The Chronicles of Narnia, His Dark Materials and Abhorsen, but i don’t consider them similar to be above.

Happy 10th Birthday, VIOSer!

Published by on September 9, 2014

Last month marked an important milestone – my faithful Toyota Vios (“VIOSer”) reached 10 years old.

(mine is silver colour)

For a 10 year old car, it’s still rather in good shape. Granted, for the first few years it wasn’t used as much (I had a company car then) but it has been regularly used for the past 7 years it was heavily used. I doubt had I bought a Waja or Wira it would still be on the road now.

I remember the time we were planning to buy the car. We went round 7 different showrooms – Nissan, Toyota, Honda, Kia, Hyundai, Chevrolet and Ford. Nope, no Proton. We test drove all the sedan models around the 1.5 class (only the Nissan Slyphy was at 1.6). At the end, it was between the Vios, City and Hyundai Accent. The City had this ugly back (remember the first gen Darth Vader look?) and I wasn’t entirely sold on Korean cars yet, so it was the Vios. I wasn’t entirely crazy about the Vios’ look (especialy the back), but I guess it was my choice by process of elimination.

This was the first gen Vios, just a few months after it was launched in Malaysia. Remember the ad featuring (a young) Britney Spears? Some of my friends who bought the 2nd and 3rd gens reported lots of problems after 5-6 years.

So ten years, baby. This is by far the longest I’ve used a car. I doubt there are many more years for it, the stock engine parts are beginning require replacing due to age.

Idiot Box Marathon – 9 Seasons of Jack Bauer and 24 (Part One)

Published by on August 17, 2014

I always tell people I’ve never watched a single episode of TV dramas like 24, NCIS, Bones, Castle, Lost, CSI (well, actually only New York and Last Vegas – I’ve watched a few episodes of Miami before). I’ve nothing against them, I’ve just never had patience to sit through one hour of drama and 20+ episodes of storyline arc. Recently, I’ve done HBO series which have shorter seasons, like Suits or Homeland.

But I’ve also told my friends one day when I’m retired, I’ll do a marathon of these shows just to see what the fuss was all about.

Recently, though, Boone has been talking about the latest season of 24, so back in June, I started the 24 marathon, coinciding with the World Cup season. I do realize that most people started watching the series more than 12 years ago, so they don’t really remember much of it.

Season 1

Storyline –
Its the day of the US presidential primary, and terrorist kidnap Jack’s wife and daughter and forces him to assassinate the Senator David Palmer.

My thoughts –
as far as first seasons go, I thought this was okay. All through the season I kept wondering the same thing as everyone who watches the show – don’t these people need to eat and sleep? Don’t they need to charge their phones?? is there a software I can download off the Internet to control the satellites like they do??? Jack and presidential candidate David Palmer are of course the heroes, but I didn’t know who was more annoying – Kim Bauer or the David Palmer’s son. Jack’s wife was so gullible it was unreal. On an interesting note most 24 fans may not remember – the very first scene in the series is a night shot of KLCC Twin Towers.

Season 2

Storyline –
Jack and CTU race to find and deactivate a bomb in Los Angeles. President Palmer face traitors in his cabinet. Kim Bauer has her own storyline / crisis, mostly stemming from her stupidity.

My thoughts –
I felt Season 2, though having a rather weak first half, was overall better than Season 1. George Mason turns out to be a good guy and hero, although I think everyone saw that a mile away. On the other hand, Sherri Palmer shows how she can be even more annoying than ever. The cliffhanger with the President was good, though. I’m beginning to realize just how long it is to sit through 24 episodes. Maybe they should have just named it 10 or 12.

Season 3

Storyline –
Something to do with Jack busting a Mexican drug lord out of prison and back to Mexico in order to stop a deadly virus. Nina Meyers reappears like a rash that won’t go away.

My thoughts –
Storyline getting bit more kua-chiong (over the top). Also, Jack now has a sidekick, and it doesn’t end well for him. Jack has to kill Ryan Chappelle, which I thought was really unexpected. I start to realize more Federal agents get killed than the Star Trek extras in TNG. The bad guy turns out to be the guy playing the police chief in The Arrow, but wearing a turtle neck sweater. We are also finally introduced to Chloe O’Brian, and also Kim Bauer’s horrible new haircut.

Season 4

Storyline –
Jack starts off rescuing his boss and girlfriend, then tries to start an attack on Air Force One and then a nuclear warhead heading for Los Angeles. Main antagonist is a terrorist played by the bad guy in the Mummy movie.

My thoughts –
Although Jack started off with the Dept of Defense, and has seemingly left the CTU life behind, the first half storyline seemed quite the same as the earlier seasons. But the as the episodes moved on, the focus was more on his love interest, the continuing relationship with former president David Palmer and the importance of Chloe O’Brien. In the end, Jack fakes his own death and walks off into the sunset (literally), but hey, he’s fooling no one. There’s at least 5 more seasons to go, right?

To be continued – I’m starting season 5 soon…

(Click here for part two)

Remembering Robin Williams

Published by on August 13, 2014

So the comedian committed suicide yesterday.

Can’t say i was a fan, but he undoubtedly was a talented guy. On an average day, i found him his impressions mildly irritating, but sometimes when he does his stand-up routine, he can make me laugh. But most of his comedic roles tend to rehash the same comedic routines. But its when he controls these his overacting tendencies that i find him really funny.

Like in Good Morning Vietnam, the one Robin Williams movie i like. Mrs. Doubtfire was pretty good, but I like the latter more.

I was fortunate enough to watch Mork and Mindy on telly, though i can’t remember much except his 70’s haircut and the nanonano. I also remember my dad bringing me to watch him in Popeye in Cathay cinema.

Fast forward to recent times, i caught the first few episodes of the Crazy Ones, more for Sarah Michelle Gellar rather than Robin Williams. It was just okay, but i thought he was rather subdued in his characterization, which was a good thing.

For whatever reasons he killed himself, i don’t think anyone else will understand his pain.

Running Man / K-Pop Store in KL

Published by on July 23, 2014

My daughter loves everything K-pop and Hallyu. Including Running Man.

I used to watch Running Man, too, but have stopped for some time now. I still think its one of the funniest show on television, better than anything American or Hong Kong TV has done (獎門人系列 can really learn a lot of things from them). But lately, the episodes have become over-produced, and the humour forced. I particular don’t like the heavily-themed episodes, and how they like to unnecessarily play up the romance between guests and the stars.

But, anyway, it is still funny and a great concept.

So I was thinking to get a Running Man T-shirt for my daughter for her birthday. Preferably one with the tear-off name tag at the back (you need to understand the show to understand this concept).

Some searching online led me to a few fan-run websites and FB pages, but they seem rather disorganized and in some cases, dodgy. So I kept putting it off until last week when it was too late. So I asked around and someone recommended I try looking around either Berjaya Times Square or Sungei Wang Plaza (why does it have to be THESE two places?). Rather than wandering around in the mess of SWP or the cavernous Ah Lian maze of BTS, I did even more google searches and came up with a shop name.

So one day I drove down to SWP and found this.


Unfortunately, it wasn’t open yet. The little sign hanging on the door said I had 90 minutes to wait.

So I went for lunch, waited around, went to check out art books at Basheer (they had none).

Opening time came, still not open. I walked in the bookstore next door and asked the shopkeeper. This is what she said, “Sometimes they open at 11 plus, sometimes at 2.30pm. Puasa month, sometimes they don’t even open. Yesterday, they opened at 2.30pm, a customer screamed at them coz she was waiting for hours. Better you call their number hanging at the door.”

I hadn’t even notice the number. I called but no response. I decided to go off, I can’t afford to sit around all day.

when I almost reached the ground floor, I decided to go back up again to check one last time (its not like I come to SWP every day). Lo and behold it was open!

Anyway, the store is well stocked if K-pop is your thing. They sell a wide variety of useful and useless stuff – tees, books, videos, keychains, mugs, car stickers, even mousepads with pictures of your favourite K-pop star. Who uses mousepads anymore?

they had a good selection of Running Man tees, testament to the shows popularity here. I settled for these two. Jae-Suk looks too cute in the black tee.



Happy Holidays are Here Again

Published by on June 4, 2014

School holidays are here again. Parent these days scramble to find activities to prevent their kids from spending their whole break glued to the PCs or iPads. Or spend it on vacations.

When i was small, my parents had a very effective plan. They’d pack us up to my grandmother’s house in Malacca. Together with my cousin, we’d spent days after days playing endless card games (gin rummy and Bluff were our favourites), charades and messing with Balone the dog (he was our dog Scooby’s identical brother). In the evenings we’d play in the field near our house. I remember a small little tomboy of Portuguese descent that i love to play catch with.

Most evenings we’d walk town to the beach to watch the mudskippers on dirty beach. My cousin told me deep in the mangrove there was a shrine. If you went there on a particular night of the year with the right offering, you see whatever you asked for. Strangely enough, the entire mangrove is now a housing estate now. I wonder who’s unfortunate house sits on the shrine location.

Sometimes on weekends my aunt would take us to town to catch a movie. Most of the time it’d be one of the cinemas in town, one time we went all the way to Kam Mah Theater in Bukit Baru. When my mom found out, she wasn’t happy. Apparently, that cinema had a somewhat seedy reputation.

Mostly we stayed in the house. Sometimes we’d help my grandmother prepare beansprouts, or pound belacan. In the afternoons, we’d listen to the Cantonese drama on the radio.

Port Dickson 2013 Part 2 – Going Around Town

Published by on May 13, 2014

This is part on an ongoing travelogue. To start at the beginning, click here.

The second day we pretty much spent it in the hotel, taking brunch swimming a lot. we went out nearby for dinner at a nearby roadside restaurant near our hotel recommended by some foodie blog.


Service was slow but food was cheap. All this for RM40.


The next day was Sunday and we decided to drive around a bit. Breakfast in Grand Lexis is a simple affair. The restaurant is not big enough for a full crowd so go early or you will have to sit outside.



The kids had breakfast in the room.


The 2nd day we went drove out to around town. We skipped Port Dickson and Lukut (been there many times) so we ended up in Seremban.


We went to the market for lunch.


The object our visit is this famous beef noodle inside the market. Good stuff.


The kids had chicken rice.


What is Seremban famous (or infamous) for? Siew Pou. this is apparently the famous shop.



Actually the siew pau was just okay, but the other stuff like puffs and tarts were pretty good.

With nothing else to do in town we drove even further out to the ostrich farm.


‘Why, hello there, handsome.’


They not only had ostriches, they had goats and um, lots of flies and mosquitoes.


Here are a pair of ostrich eggs.


You can stand on them.


What else is there to do? Ride an ostrich (they give you a certificate. I’m serious). Watch an ostrich race. Let’s just say if your a member of PETA or SPCA, you should skip this place altogether.

And before you leave, don’t forget to visit our gift shop!


We went back to the hotel afterwards. I don’t even remember where we had dinner… not the ostrich burger place, at least.

The next day we took one last brunch and swim in the pool, before packing up and going home.

So long, PD, won’t be long til we’re back again.

The end.

Port Dickson 2013 Part 1 – Grand Lexis

Published by on May 10, 2014

Well, since I’m updating my blog with the missing travelogues recently, might as well do the one about the short weekend trip to Grand Lexis Port Dickson.

This trip was really about staying in the new Grand Lexis hotel, not so much about Port Dickson. I bought a 4 day 3 night stay as a birthday present for my wife.

I’ve been going to Port Dickson since i was a kid. Back in the early 80’s, in those days Port Dickson was a sleepy town with deserted beaches. My church had their annual church camps at the NUBE training centre there for 2 years running. As i remember NUBE, they had these little chalets and dorms which our church could rent cheaply. I distinctly remember my mom being very excited about these camps, it was one of the only times we ever went on holiday.

In the past few years though, I’ve been there sporadically with the family or with the cell group, Port Dickson slowly started to change with more hotels popping up along the beach and the town expanding in both directions of the coast. The old town remains unchanged though, much like any other small town in the country.

Okay, enough with the retrospective.

In November, we hitched up the car and drove down the coast to Port Dickson, stopping for lunch at our favourite Hainanese pao (dumplings) in Dengkil.

Its an easy to find the hotel. We reached just after lunch, these shots was actually taken later in the evening.


In years past, there were good hotels in PD were widely known – Thistle (Formerly Guoman) or Avilion (the water chalets or Admiral Cove). Recently, though I’ve been hearing about this Grand Lexis, so i had to make this trip to stay here.

There Lexis, which are hotel rooms, and Grand Lexis with water chalets with private pools.




This is the swimming pool.


The prime attraction here is the private pool in your room.





My room had a glass panel looking down into the dirty Selat Melaka waters.


Suffice to say we spent a lot of time in the pool over the four days.



Sunset shot in Grand Lexis.


Dinner on our first night, we didn’t want to get too adventurous. We went back to PD waterfront, to the same restaurant from our last trip here. I think its called Uncle Lim Kopitiam.


PD Waterfront isn’t much different, still deserted.


next – round the town.

Penang 2013 Day 4 – Flea Market

Published by on April 27, 2014

(This is part of an ongoing travelogue series. To start at the beginning, click here.)

Sunday morning. There’s this new foodcourt right behind my hotel, we’ve been walking past it for past few days. Today we gave it a try. Whaddaya know, the food is pretty good. Especially the char kuey teow and loh mee.


Today being the last Sunday of the month (also last Sunday of 2013) and theres a morning flea market along Upper Penang Road.


With it being near the sea, it was very windy.

This lady made some good cakes. We bought the choc and durian cake.



This guy was selling hand carved wood items, using local wood.


All in all the market was pretty interesting, i liked the 2nd hand book stall (though it wasn’t cheap) and a local artist sold some nice pieces. Good way to kill time on a Sunday morning.

On the way back to the hotel stopped by for some sweet treats.

Then it was pack up time. Some shots from our hotel window before leaving.


One last look at the island from the bridge. This is the first Penang Bridge, at the time the second one wasn’t opened yet.



Stopped by Ipoh on the way. Why? For kacang putih, that’s why!



This was my first time trying their products. And i now know what fresh kacang putih tastes like. Ive been eating stale kacang putih all my life.

Then on it was back home to the city.

That wraps up my 4 day sojourn to Penang. It was great. I got to see all i wanted to see. We skipped some sights coz i went there on my last trip, like Fort Cornwallis, Penang Hill and Gurney Plaza. Besides, they were probably crowded. New Penang gave me a good impression – everything’s cleaner, traffic was super smooth, i didn’t get a summon nor an accident, weather was cool and overcast. On the downside, prices are noticeably increasing.

We plan to come back again next December, who knows, we might actually do.

Penang 2013 Day 3 – Kek Lok Si

Published by on April 26, 2014

(This is part of an ongoing travelogue series. To start at the beginning, click here.)

Well, today we decided to be a little more adventurous for breakfast. We drove to Pulau Tikus market. But we couldn’t find any parking near the market, and they were clamping illegal parkers. So we drove a little further away, and walked back to one of the coffeeshops.

The shop had excellent roti babi and apam. I also had the har mee.



But the big surprise was bumping into Irvin and Geraldine and family at the coffeeshop. What are the chances? They were back from Australia, and they are hundreds of coffeeshops in Penang… Anyway good to catch with them.


First stop after brekkie was Kek Lok Si temple, but en route we stopped at Suffolk House. I’ve not heard much about this place, but it turned put to be very informative and interesting.



It was all very Downton Abbey-ish.


Made me wonder about all the balls and dinners held here during its heyday.

After lots pictures, we drove on to Ayer Itam.


I’m not sure if I’ve been here during when i came here as a kid, but if i did, i really can’t remember.




I’m sure its a must see tourist spot, but it all seemed a little too commercialised to me.



Lunch was the famous assam laksa in the market. I have to say its different and i can see why its touted as the best.


Before leaving we bought some tau sah pneah. There were many shops here, we chose Seng Kee.


Before leaving we took a drive to Penang Hill furnicular train station. There were far too many cars and tour buses. Sure looks very different from my last visit here.


Went back to hotel for a shower, nap and a swim.

Dinner was at Lebuh Chulia, another popular spot.


There was a Hindu procession.

Before calling it a night, we had coffee and cake in one of the pretty coffee places along Nagore Street.


The old Jewish synagogue is near here, too bad i didnt get a good shot of it. Its a photo studio now.

Time to call it a night.

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