Sunday, March 25, 2012

Review: Control Point by Myke Cole

So, here it is my promised review. This time I want to give my comment about  debut novel by Myke Cole. As I said on my previous post, Mr. Myke Cole is a soldier from US Army, so I find its very intriguing that he write a novel, a fantasy novel to boot.

As expected, this novel (titled Control Point) is very heavy on army color. In fact, the main character IS a soldier. There are lot and lot army-related stuff, from weaponry, slang, jargon, acronym, etc etc. It's very interesting, but rather confusing at first because the author didn't gave any explanation for the words he used, so I forced to guess the meaning. But, overall, this novels has a nice story-telling on it. The quotes from peoples on this book world is a nice touch, help giving impression that this book world is real.

The main characters is rather interesting, and humane. The character development is good. Soldier point-of-view is very interesting, really a new insight to the mind of a soldier. This is just the first book, so I can somewhat forgive lack of development on other characters. I hope Mr. Cole will dig deeper on other characters, which some are very interesting. I personally found Marty (Dobby number #2, anyone?), Theressa (so sweet), and, for the love of God, Scylla, interesting. Especially Scylla. (Shush don't tell others, ok?)

One point I had to give to Mr. Cole for made the main character an African descendant. I'm just sick of this white-bread main character. It's so refreshing to read main characters who are non-white people. Sorry, not being racist, just stating the fact. Okay, that did sounded racist, but it IS the fact. Don't burn me okay?!

The pace is rather fast, but sometimes rather inconsistent, some flashback and scenes feels....forced. Like the writer lost his pace and trying to fill the void. Not as bad as Awakened Mage (a.k.a Innocence Lost by Karen Miller), but it's there. Okay, it's his first novel, so I, again, can forgive him (I'm nice guy, right? Right?). Actions are very good, you won't disappointed by them. I feels some battle are well placed, right when the story starting to get boring, wham, you got some very nice battle.

The magic system is rather conventional one, although some are very interesting (I really, really want the Healer-Render ability or even better, the Negramancy). Magic on this book is coming from another world (it is unexplained whether the world, which nick named The Source, is on the same dimension with us but on different galaxy; or on another dimension altogether).
Because the nature of the magic, overall, magic user are divided into two group (or school as it called on the book): School of Prohibited Magic and School of Legal Magic. People manifested their magic can't choose which kind of magic they got, so when you got magic belongs to Prohibited Magic (Probes), say good bye to your freedom.

For debut fantasy novel, I think Control Point is good. The final battle is definitely good. I can't wait to see how Mr. Cole develop this story, because I think this story had the potential to develop into something BIG. Definitely a keeper.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Rant #3: Jaben Jakarta

Last Saturday I'm turned 25 years old, so I though I will go and treat myself a nice new full-sized headphone. Jaben got this birthday special offer, so I'm going to use that. Jaben Jakarta is located at Senayan Trade Center, very easy for me to reach just about 30 minutes by public bus (not counting traffic jam). I got to Jaben Jakarta store at 6.30 PM, give or take.

Jaben Jakarta store is rather small, but very cozy. They welcomed me warmly, and after I told them that I was looking for open full-sized headphone, they offer me to listen to some of their demo headphones. I tried an Alessandro MS1i. I rather excited because this is my first time listening to Alessandro, my one-time experience with Grado SR60i didn't impress me much, I found SR60i too bright for me. So gingerly, I put the MS1i, dial the volume pot on my FiiO E10 to zero, play a song and carefully set the volume up. Boy, how I supprised.

MS1i didn't sounded like what I remember SR60i back then. The treble is crystal clear, the vocal is forward and the bass is punchy. Both male and female vocals are so airy and so free that listening to my Audio-Technica SJ33 I felt boxed. Guitar sounded so crisp, and the vocal is forward, just how I liked it.
The sound-stage (or head-stage if you like) is way bigger than the SR60i on my memory. I don't know the pad they used, but it's different to the one SR60i has. Comfortable enough, the headphone just sit on my head. But I don't like how the pad touched my ears. It got rather itchy after several songs lol.

Next I asked for another open headphone to listen to and they gave me Goldring DR150. So, this is the headphone called poor-man's Sennheiser HD650, I thought. I put it on my head, put some song to play, and Holy Sh*t!!! I never knew Fatoumata Diawara's Kanou has those nice bass! And her nice!!! Not as airy as MS1i, but with enough breath to it. Compared to MS1i, DR150 is less airy, but also less sibilant. DR150 bass also way bigger than MS1i bass. DR150 made MS1i sounded thin. Not that MS1i is bad, but generally I prefer darker sound-signature myself. I like my male vocals a touch of dark and heavy, and my female vocal to be as clean as possible. Looking from other side, MS1i vocals is sounded much more effortless, while DR150 is rather heavy.

It's a mantra to audiophile and music lovers crowd that before you buy an equipment, try as much as possible to listen other equipments, so I asked for another headphone. Jaben folk told me that the other headphone on my price range that they have are closed back, but I told them I don't mind, so they gave me Shure 440 to listen. OMG! Such high-class customer service!!! Really love Jaben....

How Shure 440 sounded? As a closed back, it doesn't has nice air or breath than Goldring and Alessandro has, but Shure has this nice clear vocal. Vocal is forwarder than MS1i (really, what pad they put on those MS1i?) and very, very clear. I can hear Adele breath when she sang Someone Like You, Live at The Royal Albert Hall. But the sound-stage isn't as nice as neither MS1i nor DR150. Both MS1i and DR150 got better layering, and better 3 dimensional space. The bass is rather weak, tad weaker than MS1i, but much clearer. I think that because of less mid-bass. And also very clean, making DR150 sounded like it had a veil on it.

So, after trading and comparing one to another, I put my choice on Goldring DR150. I want a headphone with good sound-stage and layering, and smoother sound, both are things that my Audio-Technica SJ33 lack. Not that my Audio-Technica bad, actually it's very good and very fun to listen to. I just want more refined sound, and more comfortable for home listening.

Because it's my birthday, Jaben give me some discount. Actually they as me to choose: price discount or gift (it's an Sony Jienna IEM and Jaben headphone stand), but I choose price discount. Why? because those money could go to Brainwavz HM5 when they came here fufufufufufu......

 For you who want to buy or try a nice set of headphone, go to Jaben. They are very friendly, and very warm, and they let you try almost all headphones and amplifiers that they had. They got some very nice offering (like birthday specials, bundle specials), even starting bundle special (they let you pay 60% first, then the 40% twice on two month schedule), and sometime a lucky draw (where they give out a headphone or IEM to a lucky guest).
They even offering me to try the Shure 1440, the newest Shure open headphone (which very expensive), and I had to swallow my saliva and politely reject the offer. After paying my headphone, I rather hurriedly haul my ass out before they offers me another scary headphone to try on. No, my wallet can't suffer those price.

All my rant above actually just an impression, because I only listen them for some time, and don't treat them as a review. I only write my review if I can get my paw on those headphone long enough, maybe several weeks. Right now I'm burning my new Goldring DR150, and I plan to write a review on them after they got enough time to settle to their sound. Thanks for reading this rant of me, lets meet again on the next post!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Rant #2

So, I'm still reading Indonesian version of Eye of The World (1st book from The Wheel of Time series). My progress isn't as fast as when I'm reading the English version. I find my mind rather difficult to adjusting to the way Indonesia language building scenes and atmospheres. And the translation too, rather hard to swallow. Some places name are translated into Indonesian, while some are not, thus creating strange feeling. And there are some translation which, I feel, rather odd and could be better. But then I'm a purist, so maybe for peoples who read this novel for the first time will find the translation good.
I haven't read all the book, so I can't give my review, but so far so good. Just need to open Indonesian dictionary, as lot of words used are seldom used on every-day life. I'm ashamed lol.

I really dislike the paper they used here. Not only it's brown-greyish in color, but also very thin, I literally could see the letters printed on the backside. But seeing the size of the novels, I could somewhat understand it, they must be trying to reduce the cost by using cheaper paper. For comparison, Indonesian version of Harry Potter novels has thicker papers. And the models for the cover.... dear God, I don't think they can find models more different to book descriptions than the models used here. Indonesian version of Earthsea Trilogy has much, much cooler covers...

With the reading pace I'm now, I don't think I can finish the book by the end of the month. I got some assignment from my boss, and by the end of march I got reassigned to our branch of office on Balikpapan, Kalimantan (or Borneo Island, like most European and American knows it). There I got positioned either as Project Engineer or as Business Process and Development officer. Personally, Project Engineer is more inline with my education, but I'm open to challenge :).

Oh, almost forgot, today is my Birthday!!! Yay!!! Happy Birthday to me!!! Happy 25 years old!!! For my self buy present, I planned to go to Jaben Indonesia (branch Jakarta). I want to buy an open, full-sized headphone for home listening. Something which has different sound-signature to my Audio-Technica SJ33 would be the best. Actually I'm waiting for Brainwavz HM5 to come to a local store, but I don't think I'm gonna waiting anymore, it's too long! Maybe it could be my 2nd purchase?!? lol

For you reader of this boring blog of mine, don't worry, I still have about 2 reviews on my pocket, so you don't have to wait me finish reading Eye of The World. Have a nice day!

Friday, March 09, 2012

Review: Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula K. LeGuin (Updated)

The Earthsea Trilogy Cover (First Edition, circa '70s)
New isn't always better and old  isn't always worse. And this is true to some fantasy novels I read. For example: Eragon (Inheritance Cycle) which fall to the first category while Earthsea trilogy fall to other category. So allow me to add my review to all review about Earthsea Trilogy.

This story (or stories) is actually an old novels from circa '70s, starting by A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), The Tombs of Atuan (1971) and The Farthest Shore (1972). But this trilogy then expanded by two more novels (Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea, 1990; and The Other Wind, 2001) and one short stories compilation (Tales from Earthsea, 2001). But I just want to review the original trilogy, while the extension books I will put it on the other post.

When I start reading A Wizard if Earthsea, I brace myself for another long explanation with old-style narration novels. And boy, I'm not disappointed. This book has those oldie kind of story telling. BUT, after reading all three books, I just can't stop myself to say how sweet it was! Yes, this book has those smooth, flowing and feathery style. Not the stuffed-kind, but fresh-and-sweet-kind of story telling.

Just like other (epic) fantasy novels, we will met long explanation about the origin of the main character(s): how they born and grow up (both in mind and in power), etc. But it's all packed on simple and beautiful way, with enough detail to satisfy, and sweet-and-bitter parts on it. Brilliant.

Characterization is pretty good, enough dept to be fascinating, but not too deep to be boring. But I just can't shake the feeling how so many characters are have this sweet and/or innocent nature to them. On every book you will find them, mark my words. The antagonist too, are rather simple (as in character, not in intelligence). But I like how LeGuin put philosophy on her stories. Reading this trilogy, I just can't stop to think about my life, human natures, and etc. Very interesting.

Not many actions on this series. You won't find those awesome battles like on Mistborn Trilogy, or gut wrenching actions on The Wheel of Time series, or even magical moments like on House of Night series. There are some heart-racing inducing moments, but nothing too spectacular. I think most of the actions and battle on this book are about battle with yourselves, fighting between your heart desire with your conciseness, etc. It's all about good and evil inside our heart, mind, and soul.

The magical system established by LeGuin is an interesting one. On Earthsea, wizardry is an art of men, while women art are usually about healing etc. Yes, the world of Earthsea is very chauvinistic. There is some kind of old language (or old tongue), which how magic is usually conducted (although not all magic use it). Also, those old-language are written as rune, which also has the power to do magic. This magical system reminds me strongly to those God-Word on Inheritance Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin. Or maybe it's more correct to say that Inheritance Trilogy magical system is similar to Earthsea Trilogy. Every magic on Earthsea is based on balance, or equilibrium: you do nothing to upset the world's balance or equilibrium. This aspect is just like those Discworld magic, its also work on equilibrium basis.

Reading Earthsea Trilogy will give you those lost-in-time feeling. The pace is moderate, not too slow, but not too fast either. The plot is simple and straight forward, easy to follow. And the finale of each book is simple, nothing to give clue that the story is nearing it finale, it just... finished. But the end capable of giving you the feeling of fulfillment. Maybe the finale is not very spectacular (compared to novels like Mistborn, Black Jewels, The Wheel of Time, etc), but it's has it's own charm: the bitter-sweet feeling you got after finished reading. Very recommended.

Update: last Sunday I went to our local bookstore and look what I found on the shelves:
The Tombs of Atuan and A Wizard of Earthsea
The Farthest Shore
All Three Book. Love the cover, very nice!
If I'm not mistaken, its priced about $5 or $6 (45-60 ribu rupiah). Very cheap, considering the quality of the story. I don't know the translation, because I haven't got them, yet. I planned to picked them next month, because this month book budget is already null lol.

However, I took home a copy of Indonesian version of The Eye of The World, the first book from The Wheel of Time, because I'm interested comparing the original (English version) with the translation version. I'm wondering how much the nuance and atmosphere of the book could be captured and translated into the Indonesian version. Just wait for it, I got to finish one or two more review and one and half books before that.