The Firm Fragility of A Life Well Lived

In the end when all is said and done, life is fragile, isn’t it?

As our eyesight fades and our memory meanders into meaninglessness, do you sometimes wonder what is the point in it all?

Why do we toil and fight and rise and fall day after day after day?

Why do we resist entropy? Why do we resist death?

Perhaps it is no surprise that the thought of death rises so swiftly to the forefront of our minds as of late. After all, we are nearing the second Christmas of a global pandemic, a post-apocalyptic optimistic new normal that should go down nicely in our history books, just like the Spanish Flu did. Wait, did they teach that in our history books?

I thought not. Like many random and meaningless events, it too will be lost in our global memory, swept under the floorboards like a bad dream that left a sour taste in the mouth. Or a lack of taste, I should say.

However, in spite of this constant threat of death, these thoughts of doom and gloom were not Covid inspired. To be fair, when is there not a constant looming threat of death?

In an eerie series of events in the past weeks, the reaper has reared its rickety head and presented itself at my neighbours’ doors on many occasions, until I cannot but heed its steady rapping and tapping.

It began with a mysterious disappearance. My significant other’s relative decided he would take a drive out to the salty coast of Negeri Sembilan to get some sea breeze, and ended up abandoning his car in the dunes of Port Dickson, never to be heard or seen. Despite a somewhat unstable past (don’t worry, no horses were hurt), it seemed a bit out of character to be a disappearing act for this boy. I like to imagine he was inspired by the film Into The Wild, where the protagonist valiantly and somewhat recklessly abandons his life and cuts off all contact with his past to experience the natural world to its fullest, to return to nature on his own terms.

Spoilers aside, it did not end well for a number of characters in the surrounding subplots recently. Our cat was found cold and curled up in an old shirt; several colleagues lost their loved ones; my significant other lost her grandmother. And there I was binge watching Sean Lock standup videos.

Spoiler: RIP to the legendary Sean Lock, said every single top comment of every single video.

I watched Dune (the latest one), and despite the stunning visuals, poignant acting and compelling plot (I’ve read the novel and have always loved it, and they did it more justice than I could ever put down in words), I couldn’t help but be saddened by the immense loss of life, albeit highly dramatised fictional loss.

Spoiler: some characters may not be returning for Part Two.

Extra spoiler: yes there is at least one sequel.

To avoid more spoilers, just go read the darn book. It’s a bit of a slow start, but once you get used to all the gibberish words (Mr. Herbert enjoyed crafting his own vernacular) it’s quite the ride!

It amazes me that it took decades and decades of special effects and computer graphics and visual bumfuckery to finally be able to achieve what this mastermind of imagination concocted back in the 60’s. It took the glorious mind of Mr. Villeneuve (I had to Google how to spell that) and Hans Zimmer and a ridiculous boatload of A-list actors to craft an epic science fiction masterpiece that could live up to the opus dei that is Frank Herbert’s Dune.

I was rather miffed that they gave away the sandworm riding so early on, because that was a major mindblowing moment for me in the novel, and in the film they almost casually toss it in, like some dude just randomly surfing the sand seas.

Wait until you find out where melange comes from.

Now that I think about it, they never once use the term melange in the movie…

Also the tone of the film is a little different from the novel, with the focus being drawn heavily to the local indigenous population of the battle-scarred planet of Arrakis. The novel focuses primarily on Paul of the house Atreides and his compatriots, while this film almost hijacks it by portraying a lot of it through Chani and sparkly dream sequences.

Anyway, this has somehow become a movie review. My point was that the film portrays loss and death very viscerally and directly and it does not shy away from the rather unsightly nature of the whole affair. Although not as graphic as Game of Thrones and its modern fantasy ilk, Dune is certainly a violent writhing mass of slaughter and…game of thrones, with great houses and factions vying for control of the known universe through the control of resources that come from this parched planet of pulverised spice.

So yes, you could say that death is at the forefront of my mind.

However, while it is something I contemplate greatly at times, it is not something I would consider myself partaking of, at least not prematurely.

I doubt I will go by my own hand.

Is that something I should be contemplating?

I see death somewhat romantically, cheesy even.

I see death as a celebration, as a brief flicker of a bright flame on a stodgy little birthday candle. Out, out brief candle as a lord once exclaimed.

For there to be death, there must first have been life. And so death is a celebration that there once was life, that there once was some degree of activity and vibrancy, a spark of joy and lust and growth and sadness.

All our lives we battle against the forces of nature and physics, defy gravity and entropy and the elements. We rise slowly and quickly and raise our fists to the sky and each other. And at the end we lay back down to rest, yielding to gravity and decay and the laws of the world, giving back what we have taken, gifting life to others.

Spoiler: in the end, it gets us all.

So the question is: what are you going to do about it?

For starters, go check out Dune if you haven’t already.

Life is so very fragile, isn’t it?

A Review of an Ageless Boy Named Adrian Mole

Up until recently I had not heard of this sullen, dry-witted boy named Adrian Mole. He’s not as charismatic or action-packed as other protagonists his age, but Adrian certainly makes up for it in wryness.

It seems like every book is a number one bestseller at some point in time.

So it seems like every book is a number one bestseller at some point in time. And apparently this sequel is no stranger to the spotlight.

Alas, I had not heard of Mr. Mole until his four installment was plonked into my hands by a local admirer of his. Can’t say I feel like I’m missing out on all that much, really. That said, Mr. Mole’s inner thoughts and secret desires are an entertaining read all the same.

This is a teenage book like no other – no sweeping romance or arduous adventure of discovery and life and death. Now that I think about it, does Adrian even make any progress in terms of self-discovery?

Adrian is a boy, a typical coming-of-age boy on the cusp of manhood (or whatever the limbo phase is called after the horrible things called puberty and college take place). A boy finding his way in a bizarre changing world, changing on so many levels, from his relationships to his relatives’ relationships to his countrymen and whirlwind of events that encapsulates them all.

And through it all, Adrian’s stalwart spirit of apathy remains.

Adrian is nothing if not relatable – his story of perceived lower class hardship and mundane working class upbringing is a tune many will sing, albeit with slightly less exciting and embarrassing antics. I mean Adrian’s, not yours.

Surprisingly one should not expect major twists and turns in the book, no wildly embarrassing moments or cathartic revelations.

Adrian Mole: The Wilderness Years is a story of a boy wandering through life, trying to find his calling, his dream, and surviving in the meantime. His mind is set on becoming an author, and while his efforts are valiant, they are overpowered by his overwhelming sense of self-delusion.

Is he wrong for trying? Should he be mocked and embarrassed for pursuing what he deems to be his passion in life?

Sure, his methods may be highly humourous and misguided, but I for one applaud his actions and efforts, a creator after my own heart.

I found myself drawing parallels with Adrian’s experiences, strangely coincidental with events in my own life. Perhaps that is the power and the appeal of Mr. Mole – instead of otherworldly occurrences and supernatural savoir-faire, Adrian’s struggles are so very human.

No matter your age and stage in life, you’ve likely gone through or are experiencing something similar to Adrian. Crushing on the opposite gender, secretly judging and making fun of more successful folk, being disillusioned at a world that doesn’t care about one’s existence.

Or maybe it’s just me.

Anyway, since you totally did not ask for it, here is a timeline of all the Adrian Mole books!

And voila! Here is the book cover devoid of vandalism.

Right, now on to another book that doesn’t revolve around the annoying inner musings of a dry-witted young man.

Tenet Review: The Spy Who Screwed with Time

It’s spy time! Don’t worry, no spoilers here.

Pacing is light speed, as is the dialogue, so subtitles don’t hurt but you do run the risk of missing all those delicious hidden Nolan nuggets interspersed throughout the film.

That and losing the plot amidst all the mad spy-fi action.

Yes, spy-fi is a genre now.

My advice for those watching it the first time is to take the advice given by the chick in the lab coat at the start of the film: “don’t think too much about it.”

At least not about the pseudo-science part. Do try to follow the characters and the flow of events throughout the film. If you can do that, then you should have a reasonably satisfactory experience. I suppose that applies to…most movies.

I must say Mr. Nolan has a knack for blending and balancing human emotion, sweet cinematography, fast paced action and wacky science and effects into his works. If you thought Inception and Interstellar were out there…then, well, Tenet isn’t that far off.

Set in what appears to be present times (or maybe not too long ago), Tenet is the name of a secret organisation that is tasked with preventing global catastrophe. Of course it would be typical of a spy film to have “save-the-world” stakes. Because of course it only takes one man or a team to save the world. Human power! Or hubris. But I digress.

And we are thrown right into the fray, from the second you step into the theatre to the credit roll, things just keep flying. Like you know that saying about having fun?

So yes, as you may already be aware, Tenet is all about time, and the wacky things you can do with a solid grasp of good time management. Also, there’s the Sator Square.

The Sator Square is an intriguing reference – if you’ve seen the film but never heard of the Sator Square, this might set off some light bulbs. Here it is below, for those of you who haven’t seen it yet:


Apart from the obvious name references in the film, the Sator Square is also a multi-directional palindrome, meaning it reads the same backwards and forwards and up and down. And at the centre of the square is tenet. You can see where Nolan got his inspiration from.

The Sator Square is an interesting bit of culture itself – it is a recurring motif in ancient history, from Pompeii to Italy to Syria. The meaning behind it is still something of a mystery, although it appears to have religious links.

That said, the Sator Square isn’t really that central to the film – it’s just a cool reference and the namesake, and perhaps an indicator that there will be some backwards and forwards business going on. But that’s about it. So…you’re welcome?

I must say Mr. Pattinson’s performance is truly top notch, as is Mr. Branagh’s. Of course we mustn’t forget the protagonist – an all round solid performance.

The protagonist does feel a little one-dimensional though, as his motives are never entirely elucidated. Is he just doing his job? Saving the world from an unseen and unknown threat? Does he actually like the lady? Or maybe he’s addicted to time travel?

So many questions, but not nearly as many as you’ll have when they start firing names, places, acronyms, code words, quips left right and centre. The characters are all clearly cleverer (that words somehow doesn’t sound right in my head) than all of us because they all seem to be able to keep up with the crazy shenanigans that go on in all the timelines and subplots of the film. But of course they do, they’re in the film!

No, that’s not what I mean. I mean if you were in their position in the movie, I imagine you’d have a tough time trying to figure out who is what and what to say to who when where. But then again, I imagine that’s what being in a real life spy campaign is like.

Also, long distance radio connection from an underground facility that is quite possibly still heavily radioactive? Hellooooo? I guess the film is actually set in the distant future when they can actually get a semi-stable halfway-decent internet connection.

The soundtrack is a little otherworldly, and I wonder what it would sound like played backwards. Might scream for Sator or Arepo or some deity’s name. I heard complaints about it being a little loud and overpowering the dialogue, but I felt the volume levels were reasonably well tuned. If anything the visuals in the action scenes were harder to follow, what with things happening in strange sequences and lots of little details thrown around.

Overall a clever film that makes you think (forces, I daresay) with enough action and drama to keep you on the edge of your seat even if you forget about all the sciencey physics defying stunts they pull.

But if you like to think things through and make sense of it all, then this film is definitely for you. I daresay they could turn it into a series, like Dark. And no, I’m not saying that because the main character is of a certain ethnicity.

And at the end of it all, I realised I don’t even know the bloody fool’s name. They forgot to name their protagonist.

Sam Marks Books – If Cats Disappeared From The World Review

Sam Marks Books (but not with an actual pen)

Then I realized what I needed to do in the time left to me. I needed to write you a letter. I needed to write about all the things I’d never told you these past years.

Another quaint little book, another book with a picture of a cat on the cover.

Perhaps this is a trend of mine, although I fear I may run out of relevant material all too soon, short of reading children’s books and lolcats albums.

That makes me think of another trend – the growing pet trend, at least in many parts of Asia. Especially exotic pets.

Is an increase in pet ownership a sign that a community is maturing or growing in wealth? Or quite the opposite? Pets present a lot less complications than human offspring, and maybe cost a little less (even if just from a shelf life comparison). Also pets appear to be less problematic, less anxiety and stress inducing, a modern solution to a modern problem – companionship and loneliness in the 21st century.

As Homer put simply: “The sooner kids talk, the sooner they talk back.”

Therein lies part of the beauty of pets, I suppose. As much as we draw comics and write books and make movies about talking animals, I’m fairly certain if they could it would ruin it for a lot of us. Unless all they did was baby talk all day long. That would definitely ruin it for some of us.

If Cats Disappeared From The World is an intriguing book, to say the least. It is actually not all about cats disappearing from existence, not a methodical what-if breakdown of the break down of ecosystems and world orders should the feline family one day fly off the face of the earth.

This quaint little novel is about relationships – not just relations between humans and animals, but also between humans and everyday objects and the meaning we derive from abstract concepts and our own mortality.

The book follows a young male protagonist who works as a postman, with no great aspirations and no major achievements and no latent superpowers stashed away in his bloodline that only activates when the moon is full. He lives alone and owns a cat. Keeps to himself for the most part. As common a person as can be. Highly relatable, I’m sure.

And the protagonist finds out he only has an extremely short time left to live.

Don’t worry, that isn’t a spoiler – it’s in the introduction.

If you were in the protagonist’s shoes, what would you do?

Write up a bucket list? Make amends with all those you felt you’ve wronged? Party like there is literally no tomorrow?

Well, what if there was a way you could extend your life?

But of course, there is a cost.

What would you sacrifice in order to extend your own life?

In a humourous and mostly light-hearted journey of discovery and enlightenment, the protagonist (it’s not that I don’t remember your name, bruh, but you were narrating in the first person the whole time) rekindles old passions and explores old places and memories from his rather limited sphere of influence and truncated lifespan.

And I mean limited. Let’s go through the cast, shall we?

  1. His imaginary friend, Aloha
  2. His cat, Cabbage
    Oh boy, we’re off to a superb start!
  3. His ex-girlfriend
  4. His somewhat less imaginary friend, Tsutaya
  5. His parents

This is also in order of interaction levels. And his parents only appear in flashbacks, so technically zero interaction there.

Yes, that’s right – the protagonist is a postman with a powerful pseudo-pal and a pet and not much else. He’s pretty much Nobita with a more useless version of Doraemon, in other words an actual cat with no pockets. It would be easy to pity him.

Nobita and Hiron : Welcome to the Cat Kingdom by ...
Yes…let’s not talk, shall we?

He is Walter Mitty but without any rad skateboarding skills or a remotely interesting vocation (you have to admit Mr. Mitty actually had a really unique job). Mind you, I’m not saying being a postman is dull or useless, but this character shows no passion for anything he does. It’s more than mildly frustrating.

And yet somehow the thoughts and memories that his brief journey manages to evoke hit close to home. As unrelatable of a character as he is, his awakening and his experiences upon learning he has little time to live draw out a rich tapestry of emotions and primal yearning that you can’t help but feel that tug, that little tug inside.

He unearths old hobbies and old flames (well, I use plural but they’re all singular) – he visits an old friend and his ex. Yes, he voluntarily goes to meet her in person. That’s always a roller coaster ride. Brave move though.

Brave as it may be, his interactions with fellow human beings end up being rather awkward and ungainly. He talks more naturally with his vanishing friend Aloha and of course his trusty pet cat, Cabbage. An amazing pet name, I might add. Their previous cat was named Lettuce.

And despite that, by the end of it all, you end up feeling a sense of camaraderie and admiration for the protagonist for the courageous decisions and choices he has made in the face of his frailty and impending demise.

If a book can provoke deep, meaningful thoughts, then I’d say it’s a profound book. If a book can make you feel real feelings, then I’d say it’s a well written book. If it can do both, then I’d say it’s a pretty darn decent book.

If Cats Disappeared From The World does both those things, and a little more. Although it may be somewhat soppy or a little preachy at times, there doesn’t appear to be too much lost in translation. My hat goes off to whoever translated this little chronicle – the wry humour still shines through.

It’s not a romance novel, but it’s a love story.

A story of love between a boy and the diminutive one-dimensional world that he lives in. A story of time squandered, communication breakdowns, and of love lost. Love for things both big and small, but mostly small. Still, love strong enough to sacrifice for.

So I guess in the end, it doesn’t matter how far or wide or deeply you loved. It doesn’t matter if you loved and lost, or got lost in love, or if your life is full of regrets. As long as you know that you loved and were loved in return, you have something special – a connection with another living being.

Knowing that you have experienced love and are capable of loving – that makes it worth all the while. And if you still have time left, while you still have breath, keep on loving.

As you go on with your life, always remember the things that are good in you. They’re your gifts. As long as you have these things, you’ll find happiness, and you’ll make the people around you happy…I hope you always keep hold of these things that are so beautiful about you.

Sam Marks Books is a book review and merely expresses the opinions of the author. It does not lay claim to any intellectual property of If Cats Disappeared From The World. All rights of the novel belong to the author.

Ok thanks bye.