31 December 2008

A Little Astrology for the Start of 2009

The year looks set for a fascinating start, if you take a look at the planets right now, close to midnight on New Year's Eve. Since most of the planets don't move all that fast, the relationships should be pretty much the same when the year turns in other locations as well. (Note: I only use the seven classical planets in astrological interpretation, so I'm ignoring the others.)

All the planets except for Saturn are packed inside two neighbouring zodiac signs, Capricorn and Aquarius. With the planets this close together, you can expect some interesting conjunctions, and those we sure have. Moon and Venus, the most feminine of the planets, are in pretty close conjunction in Aquarius. Jupiter and Mercury, both masculine, intellectual types, are in very close conjunction in Capricorn, while Mars and Sun, the planets most associated with strength, are about seven degrees apart, also in Capricorn.

There are some sextile and semi-sextile aspects between these groups, which are generally positive, supportive aspects. Interestingly, there is also a trine from Saturn, in Virgo, to the Jupiter-Mercury conjunction, which is also a supportive aspect.

So what does this all mean? There seem to be three powerful forces at play simultaneously. There's a strong, even aggressive, controlling force. There is also a more benign, intellectual force, albeit perhaps a little restrained and aloof (although this may not necessarily be a bad thing).

[Pause here to go watch the midnight fireworks. Which, frankly, were a little lame this year, and the weather was awful.]

Finally, there is a third force at play, which is quite different, a creative, feeling force. Which of these forces will be the most powerful remains to be seen.

Looking at what's going on right now, it wouldn't be a far stretch to see the more forceful influence in the ongoing aggressive actions taken by Israel. If the Jupiter-Mercury conjunction is related to that, it could be telling us that the international community is present, but restrained, merely watching. But it could, and perhaps more likely does, signify a totally different influence in world affairs, such as the financial crisis. In this case it might be telling us that those in power should be very careful and thoughtful in the steps they make. (Which, I guess, is rather obvious.) What the Moon-Venus conjunction could signify, I don't know. It is probably more at play on a personal level than in global affairs. It is not likely that the world would be blossoming into some intellectual, creative Aquarian age overnight.

Well, I think that's more than enough blogging for one day. So I wish everyone a happy 2009, and may it be a good one, despite all that's going on.

The Happy New Year 2009 Post

A few hours from now there is an arbitrary point in time when it stops being 2008 and 2009 begins. I guess that's worth a blog post.

In Finland New Year's Eve is synonymous with fireworks. It's the only time the public is allowed freely to buy and fire them. We've had (a few cheap) fireworks a few times back when us kids were still kids, but mostly we've been happy to watch. The display here in this cosy town of 6,000 is pretty quiet and sparse compared to the cities, but that's really how I like it. A few good ones are much better, I think, than a never ending bombardment. There'd probably be more near the tourist area of Tahko, but that's on the opposite side of town.

Coincidentally, as far back as I remember, with only three exceptions, I've spent every midnight as the year turns on pretty much the same spot, on the little road that runs in front of my grandparents' house here in Nilsiä. The exceptions are one New Year's Eve as a kid we spent in Helsinki (I don't remember the reason exactly, but I'd assume it's been because of my mother's work schedules), and two occasions when I've been bedridden with flu (one as a kid, one a few years back). It's almost like a ritual beginning for the year. I'm not sure what I'll do when the time comes when I can no longer spend New Year's Eve here. Perhaps time will stop and a new year won't begin? (The same applies to Christmas Eve, which I've always spent in the living room of this house.)

Other random content: I re-read Masamune Shirow's Orion again, like I've often done over the Christmas holiday (as a kind of counterbalance to reading Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind during the summer). It's one of my very favourite comics of all time. It must be one of the most imaginative works ever, an insane mixture of adventure, humour, science, Buddhism and Japanese myth. The dialogue with it's inventive terminology is difficult to understand at best, but that's one of the reasons I love it so much.

I don't do New Year's resolutions. I'm sure my life is far from perfect, but there's nothing I could improve by making some arbitrary promise which I'd soon forget about anyway. I don't do much looking back to the highlights of the past year, either. It's just another year, like all the others. I read one or two cool comics, played one remarkable video game, that's pretty much it.

27 December 2008

The Graveyard Book or the Graveyard Blog

I just finished reading Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. And I enjoyed it thoroughly. It was quite magical. I wouldn't perhaps rank it quite as high as American Gods, or Neverwhere, or Sandman for that matter, if only because it was a tad simpler and shorter (kind of half way between a young adults' book and an adults' book). But on the other hand, each of Gaiman's works has been so different that making comparisons between them would be rather pointless. In any case, he's still a brilliant writer, and one of my very favourite authors.

The experience was interesting, and a little different than usual, because I've lived with the book, in a manner of speaking, since before it (or most of it) was written, through reading about Gaiman's experiences during the writing process in his blog. I knew something of how the chapters had come about even without knowing (much of) the story, and the artwork, and editing process and different versions of the book. (I was lucky enough to have the British version. I always prefer British English, as that's where my roots are, and it's the language of many of the favourite authors I grew up with. Books get imported here from both the UK and America, so you can never be sure which edition you're likelier to find.)

Did it make the experience more enjoyable? Perhaps, a little. It's hard to express how exactly. Like getting acquainted with an old friend you've never actually met. Obviously you'll rarely get a chance to experience a book in this way (partly because not everyone will write as much about the process, partly because you simply couldn't read about every book even if they did). I'm not sure I would be half as open and friendly as Gaiman is in his blog, if I were a published author. But you never know.

24 December 2008

For the Love of the Gods No More Chocolates Please

Edit: I wrote this post on Christmas Eve, but due to problems at Blogger it didn't get published until Boxing Day.

Christmas Eve is turning towards its, well, eve. All in all it was very traditional. Lots of cooking in the day, a trip to the cemetery (a really magical sight with its sea of candles in the dark night), the traditional Christmas dinner with its ham and sweetened potato box, and finally the presents. DVDs seem to dominate our family's presents these days.

Personal highlights include Gaiman's latest, The Graveyard Book, which I can't wait to read, and the first season of Babylon 5. (B5 is a gaping hole in my civilisation, I have to admit. I've only seen a couple random episodes, and some of the TV movies. For this I mostly blame our local network which aired the show rather late at night. I only really woke up to it when it was practically over.) Oh, and a rather cute plush kitty.

Here in Finland modern Christmas celebration is pretty much focused on the Eve. Tomorrow should be a lazy day, enjoying more of the food (which should last us several days), and getting better acquainted with the lovely gifts, of course.

22 December 2008

Ahead of Schedule

Another relatively random blog post. First whole day here in Nilsiä. We're getting ready for Christmas, and we're pretty early this year. Most of the cleaning is done. The tree is already up and decorated, something we haven't usually done before Christmas Eve. Tomorrow I guess will focus on cooking. And we'll probably have our traditional Christmas sauna tomorrow as well, meaning we'll have a more leisurely Christmas Eve, less stuff crammed in.

Even with all this stuff going on I've managed to do some work today. The latest translation project is pretty much done, awaiting a final read through. I've been doing Finnish translations of Chris Hart's Manga Mania series for a couple of years now, about a dozen books now (link to list at Finnish publisher's website). It's just a couple of weeks of work at a time, but it's nice to earn a little spending money. It made it possible for me to get a PS3 last winter, which, of course, was a prerequisite to my recent MGS4 bliss.

It'll be a white Christmas. It pretty much always is, up here.

20 December 2008

What Have I Forgotten This Time?

Tomorrow I'm off to the country, to my grandfather's place, where I've spent every Christmas, and New Year (except for one), for as long as I can remember. Packing is pretty much done, so I can relax tonight, and I've got time for a totally pointless random blog post. Compulsive blogger, or just time to kill? Not really sure.

I'm not looking forward to Metal Gear Solid withdrawal. I actually started replaying MGS4, which isn't something I often do after beating a game. (I don't remember ever completing a game twice in a row, and I don't really expect to this time.) I keep humming the song "Here's to You" constantly, and it almost brings tears to my eyes.

(The earlier instalments are due a replay too, really. I was playing the first MGS a year or two back, but got sidetracked by something halfway through. MGS3 I remember least well of the lot, but I'd really like to get the Subsistence version before I play it again. MGS2 I've played most of all, but not for a while, and it really is an amazing game.)

I'm not planning to play much games over the holiday. For one thing, pads take up a lot of space in my already full bag. (And there are few games I enjoy that can be played without a pad.) I'd love to just take it easy and read something, for a change. Apart from comics, I've read hardly any fiction in ages. I blame the modern lifestyle with its broadband Internet and mp3 players. Just too many distractions and too few opportunities.

18 December 2008

Metal Gear Solid 4

Update: Review of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots.

I finished MGS4 last night. It meant another late night, but there was no way I could stop before it ended. The review is now online. It's a real fanboy review, nothing but praise upon praise, really. But I can't help it. It's simply the best game I've played in years. It made me remember how much I loved this series. And that's an end to it.

I'm not sure what I'll do now. I was playing Folklore before I got MGS4, but going back to it right after such brilliance might be bit of a letdown. It's a fun game, but no masterpiece. In any case, I'll be going to the country for Christmas soon, so I won't have time to beat an entire game anyway.

14 December 2008

4am and No Longer First Impressions

Last night I realised I'd played MGS4 until 4 am. If I ever had any doubts about the game, I guess this should prove them wrong.

Once I got used to the slight differences in controls, I've only been falling more and more in love with this game. It's a true Metal Gear Solid, that's for sure. All the classic elements are there. But it also manages to be fresh at the same time, and there's a lot of variety that keeps you going. If I have one complaint, it's that the boss team this time lacks a little in personality. But I'm not gonna get into this too deep right now. I'll write the review once I've completed it, as usual.

I think I must say, though, that it's the best new game I've played in years. Since, well, MGS3 came out, I guess (and I think it surpasses that). Looking back, there really haven't been many truly amazing games in the last half of the decade. There have been a few rather fun games (Lego Star Wars or Dirge of Cerberos to name a couple), but no really huge favourites, the likes of Silent Hill 2 and 3, Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3, or Guilty Gear X2. And practically no great RPGs since the PSOne era.

12 December 2008

Crime Scenes

Update: New episode of my Kin of Cerberos RPG online.

We played another session of my RPG campaign Kin of Cerberos. Not much to say about it, really. The story can be found online, as usual.

7 December 2008

MGS4 First Impressions

A couple of sessions of Metal Gear Solid 4 later. First impressions: Nice graphics. Classic characters. Typically quirky Kojima humour and inside jokes. The beginnings of a really epic story (although very little has happened yet). So, all the makings of a typically awesome MGS title.

But what's this? The controls have changed? You aim with L1 instead of R1, which is now used for firing. And most importantly, the camera is now free-moving, which means you'll have to be adjusting the angle constantly. That takes a little getting used to, and makes for some orientation problems when switching to aiming view. There are a lot of configuration options though, which can make play feel a little more like MGS2/3. Why Select isn't used for Codec by default is beyond me.

I think the controls in MGS2 were more intuitive. But once you get past that, all the classic MGS elements are there, and the feel is quite familiar. So, we'll just have to see how the game progresses.

4 December 2008

Guns for the Patriots

In America an ergonomic "Palm Pistol", apparently targeted towards the elderly, has been listed as a "Class I Medical Device". Which means that in the future doctors may be able to prescribe it as a "Daily Activity Assist Device", and patients may seek reimbursement through health insurance.

All I can say is there's something very sick and perverted about American society. Activities for the elderly are important, but, really, prescription guns? There can be no justification for private gun ownership in the modern world, except for maybe hunting weapons. The very idea that more guns would make the world safer is ludicrous.

In other news, I finally bought Metal Gear Solid 4 today. Can't wait to try it. I've enjoyed the previous titles very much. In a time when I was playing almost exclusively RPGs, MGS2 was the game that made me realise action games can be really cool as well, and a valuable medium for storytelling to boot.

Is there irony in commenting against gun ownership and praising a war game in the same post? There shouldn't be. To anyone with any sense it should be obvious that violence in the real world and in fiction have nothing to do with each other. Real violence is never acceptable. Violence in fiction, like video games, however, can even be healthy. We need those aggressive, adrenaline-filled moments to relieve stress.

On the other hand, you can use violence to deliver a statement against violence, even while entertaining and creating those "wow" moments that only really cool action can create at the same time. Metal Gear Solid has always been very story-oriented, and it's message has definitely been against war, and other forms of oppression (such as censorship in MGS2).

2 December 2008

Freedom of Speech VS the Icky

Just a quick comment on an important issue: Neil Gaiman writes in a recent blog post about the importance of freedom of speech and why it also means we need to defend things we don't necessarily like. I could not agree more with his opinions.

1 December 2008

A December Metro Train Moment

Rainpatter
and melancholy melodies
in midday darkness
hurtling forward
perfectly still
on meaningless errands
longing for misty streets
and towns that don't exist
until the jarring sound
of fellow passengers
chattering in alien tongues
breaks me
and I am left stranded
without an other world
to cling to.