Saturday, March 10, 2012

Day 144: Semporna

The flight arrived near Tawau, and our destination was Semporna which was almost an hour and a half away. Inexplicably, there are no bus services between the airport and Semporna. The best they can do is provide a bus to Tawau, and from there you need to take a bus to Semporna. There is an alternative, though. Since most people go to Semporna for diving, the dive resorts often offer an airport pick-up (ours didn't). These are usually minibuses, and more often than not they will not be filled by the people being collected, so it is possible to negotiate a price for them to take you back to the town alongside the "official" divers. In our case, the divers simply hadn't shown up at all, leaving us in a better position to haggle a price to Semporna with the bus driver. And so, we ended up in Semporna before lunchtime.

Semporna is not a place you want to visit, other than as a hub for diving. It's a port town that has practically nothing of note going for it. There is a huge supermarket, a handful of average restaurants, a few pricey hotels taking advantage of the location, and that's about it. We checked into New Inn, the cheapest place we could find (comfortable bed, but that's about all I can recommend it for - no wi-fi), and stayed there for pretty much the whole day to catch up on reading.

On Rob's Bookshelf:

Consider Phlebas (Iain M Banks) - I've not been so enthralled by a science fiction book in living memory. I can't put my finger on what made this book so good; it might be the epic scale of the worlds and universes that Banks has built, or the wonderfully descriptive set-pieces, or the gruesome nature of some of the situations the main protagonist finds himself in. It's far from perfect. Story-wise, it's a pretty linear fetch quest. The characterisation of most of the main players leaves much to be desired, and some of the plot threads don't go anywhere, with the ending far more subdued than it should be (but this is likely to be deliberate). Yet the sheer scope of what the author has envisaged is what excites, and the promise of more stories set in the same vast universe left me desperate to begin the second book.

Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear (Dan Gardner) - Following on from Freakonomics, I decided to give some more non-fiction a try with this book. A breathtaking exposé on how we are manipulated by the media, the government and our own minds, this is quite simply a must-read. Despite the gloomy title, the author pulls all of the underlying themes into an exceptionally optimistic conclusion, and makes you realise that as a species we are far happier, safer and healthier than The Man would have you believe.

Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal (Drew Karpyshyn) - I love the fantasy genre. I read a lot of fantasy, thanks to my brother-in-law kick-starting my obsession when he handed me my first David Eddings book when I was 12. I could write pages on fantasy books, games, TV and film. I could probably write a thesis alone on why the Baldur's Gate series rank as some of my favourite games of all time. How unfortunate then, that this novelisation of the concluding chapter of the second game is so utterly, relentlessly awful. Game to film adaptations are, for the most part, tosh. Film to game adaptations are usually worse. This is my first foray into the game to book category, and based on this book, it will probably be my last. Ignoring the fact that there are only three protagonists who are so one-dimensional that they may as well have been called Generic Character 1, 2 and 3, and ignoring the ridiculous name of the "lead" character (Abdel Adrian? Really?), and ignoring the insulting ending which is so far removed from the game that it may as well be talking about Super Mario Bros for the relevance it has, the novel is still dire from beginning to end. If you like endless descriptions of rippling muscles, dialogue so clunky you could use it to bludgeon someone to death and a narrative which does for cliffhangers what Highlander II: The Quickening did for the fantasy film genre, then this book is for you. Apologies to Oldy who kindly swapped this with me for Consider Phlebas, but I'm pretty sure you got the better deal!

The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho) - Everyone I know who has read this book has raved about it, and rightly so. A simple, beautiful fairy tale about fulfilling your dreams and achieving a purpose in life; even the most cynical atheist won't fail to smile at its boundless optimism. This should be required reading for everyone, aged 10 to 100.

The Small Assassin (Ray Bradbury) - I'd never read any of Ray Bradbury's work, but that is something I will  be rectifying soon after enjoying this excellent series of short stories. A tenant living upstairs who may be a vampire, a mysterious crowd of people who show up at car accidents, and a potentially homicidal infant: just some of the disturbing tales on offer. A couple fall a little flat, but overall this is great slice of unsettling fantasy horror.

To Live Again (Robert SilverbergBuffett. One of my favourite authors once again takes a relatively simple premise and crafts an interesting story with a decent conclusion.


Since we had a feeling we'd be eating a lot of seafood whilst on the Seaventures rig, we opted for Indian for dinner at a local place. We've found Malaysia to be pretty cheap food-wise. Not as cheap as Thailand, but better than Cambodia and the Thai Islands.

We had to be at the dive shop the next day for 9:15am, but as it was literally around the corner (Semporna's centre is tiny), we could have a decent night's sleep without rushing in the morning.


Olds said...

I agree I got the better end of the deal on the book swap mate. I don't think I quite hated the Throne of Baal as much as you but I could see it was ropey. By the way, I have scored Excession from a guesthouse in Manila which I believe is book 7 in the Culture series.

I enjoyed Consider Phlebas, and agree with all your praise. While I can see where your criticism is coming from I'm not sure the characterisation is too off, though I would have liked to know more about Balveda and Fal N'Geestra. It was quite a huge story to tell and I enjoyed it from start to finish!

Rob said...

Nice. The Culture series are standalone novels, so there's no necessity to read them in order. Fal N'Geestra was basically what I was thinking - a character and plot that never really went anywhere, which was a shame.