Thursday, February 28, 2008

downloaded your brain. . . now what?

I read Charlie Stross's Accelerando when it first came out, and it was love at first read. Just recently, I finally bought a trade paperback version. And the fear set it. That I wouldn't like it as much. That maybe it was crap, and I loved it at the time because I just really really wanted to like futuristic cyberpunk.

I'm maybe 150 pages in? Pamela has converted to Islam in an effort to get her daughter, Amber, back (you know, out of context that makes no sense whatsoever). And Manfred is trying to make the economy obsolete, and doing a damn good job of it. Manny rocks my world. Although Pamela scares me.

And I still love it. For completely different reasons. The first time through, I was so enthralled by my future-culture-shock that I missed nearly everything having to do with human rights. Ever read a news story about someone who had their head (or entire body) frozen at the time of death, to have their brain (or entire body) revived at some later date? What kind of rights to they have after they wake up? If their brain is put into someone else's body, does that body have all the rights of the original person? Now amp it up some. You upload your brain into a computer right before you die. Then your brain is downloaded into someone else's body. Are you now that person? What kind of rights do you/they/them/it have? Are human rights attached to a physical meatbody, or to the brain/soul/person who is in that body at that moment?

Here's the beautiful Stross kicker, i'm paraphrasing because the book is across the room and I don't feel like getting up. He quickly discusses a religious group that is arguing the following: if a Muslim downloads their brain into a computer and then dies, is the computer now Muslim? Why or why not? This could hold true for any religion. If you download your brain into a computer, and then you die, does your soul go to heaven? If your soul is hanging out in heaven, and your brain gets downloaded from that computer into someone else's body, what happens to your soul then? Does it get yanked out of heaven and back to earth, into a meatbody? Does that body now have your brain, but not your soul?

How can spirituality work when the mind, body, and possibly soul be three seperate, and seperable things?

And oh, by the way, Accerlerando really isn't about human rights. Well it is, but it's about everything else too. And I still love it.

Also, i'm lazy. I didn't finish decoding the end of Vandermeer's City of Saints and Madmen. It's due back at the library 2 two days, and I don't think I can finish decoding by then. I'm fighting with myself about just looking the answer up on the internet (damn you internet!!), or going to Kazoo Books and just purchasing the darn thing, so I can go through it and underline seeminly random words and phrases like “grey caps”, and “giant squid”.

Don't tell Mr. Stross, but if I had to choose one author's books to take to a desert island, I'd take Vandermeer's.

I'm even lazier in the kitchen. Had some beautiful green beans, and wanted to do something new with them. Tossed 'em in a skillet with some oil, minced garlic and ground ginger, and stir fried till done (bright green). They were healthy, surprinsingly non-oily, and really tasty.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

My problem with Jeff Vandermeer's City of Saints and Madmen.

I'd probably be OK with if I woke up in Ambergris (note to self: re-read The Strange Case of X until it really scares the crap out of you). Very cool town, has some interesting indigenous creatures, lots of cats, it's own culture, religion, history. . . beautiful city. I wonder if I could rent a condo there for a few weeks in the autumn?

I kept wondering why I was looking for reasons not to read City of Saints and Madmen. Was there something wrong with stories? No, they were incredible. Unlikeable characters? No, not that either (well, Janice can get a bit annoying, but that's just the way she is). Where the stories beautiful, scary, soul-wrenching, pity-inducing nail-biters? Why, yes, they were! So why was I looking for any excuse not to finish this book, instead of taking it with me everything, and being late to work because I was too busy reading it?

Reading City of Saints and Madmen is like being dumped in the Louvre and told you've got 6 hours to see everything. So hop to it! Wouldn't you just sit there, staring at wall, completely overwhelmed, with no idea where to start? Sure, you could just start somewhere, but it wouldn't matter, because you could either study one or two pieces of art with the attention they deserve, or rush through the museum, and not actually get to see the details of anything. That's what getting this book from the library is like. It's not due till next weekend, but I still feel like no matter how many hours I spend with it, I'll still be rushing though it.

Yup, time to just plunk down the cash for it. Damn you Jeff Vandermeer! Does your wife know you do this kind of thing to unsuspecting readers??

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Jeff Vandermeer is weird. Barley isn't weird.

Potatoes are so yesterday, barley is my new comfort food! Barley, all nutty and puffy, fills you up and keeps you warm. Like oatmeal, only way better. This recipe, from Serious Eats, for Barley Chorizo Skillet Pie is a keeper. (Vegetarian? Swap the chorizo for some Morning Star or Boca imitation ground meat, but add some salt and hot pepper flakes or diced hot pepper to add some of that chorizo kick. Kosher? Swap the chorizo for some spicy turkey sausage) This was my first experience with chorizo, a fresh (uncooked) sausage that has been spiced with dried smoke red peppers. It was hotter, and greasier than I expected, but gave this dish depth, and provided some much needed grease in the pan (and I didn't have chapped lips all night! Awesome!).

The night before, or earlier in the day, cook the barley. 1 cup barley to 2.5 cups water in a sauce pan with a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer, uncovered for 45 minutes. When cool, refridgerate until needed.

Barley Chorizo Pie (adapted from Serious Eats)

8 large eggs
¼ cup chopped cilantro
olive oil (if needed)
salt (optional)
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 pkg chorizo (or other spicy sausage)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups cooked pearl barley
½ cup grated cheese (any kind you want)

Chorizo is quite greasy, so if you're using a substitute, expect to add a little more oil.

In a large, heavy, oven proof skillet cook chorizo, onion and green pepper over medium heat. Cook, turning occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Then mix in the barley and garlic, adding a bit more olive oil, if needed.

In a seperate bowl, whisk the eggs with the salt and cilantro. Lower the stove heat to medium low. Pour the egg mixture over the mixture in the skillet, and as it cooks, gently pull it away from the sides, so uncooked eggs can fall to the bottom of the pan. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the pie has firmed up, and most of the eggs have cooked.

Preheat the broiler. Sprinkle cheese over the pie, and broil for a few minutes, until the cheese has melted and begun to brown on top. Let sit 5 minutes before serving. Hot, delicious, (somewhat) healthy, and a great winter comfort food!

And, like I always say, nothing goes better with food than books!
I've renewed my obsession with Jeff Vandermeer thanks to City of Saints and Madmen, half of which is comprised of short stories of the rise and fall of Ambergris (go ahead, look that word up in the dictionary! I dare you!) and it's inhabitants, and the 2nd half is all appendices, which really are short stories unto themselves. Not only does Vandermeer write beautifully surreal fantastical . . . genre-bending fiction, he also relishes in literary puns. It's genius. If you are comfortable or curious about the fantasy subgenre dubbed “new weird”, get yourself some Vandermeer. City of Saints and Madmen is an excellent place to start, as would be Shreik: an Afterword, which takes place in the same city, with many of the same characters.

Thanks toWhitney Matheson, of Pop Candy, I've been introduced to Strangers in Paradise, the graphic novel series by Terry Moore. Two volumes in, and I'm hooked. This is a girly, romantic graphic novel, so if you're looking for superheroes or car chases, you might want to try X-Men, or G.T.O. or something. Katchoo is in love with, and lives with her best friend Francine. They are just two pretty normal 20-somethings, except Katchoo has a dark past involving prostitution and the mafia, and Francine eternally needs to lose a few pounds and gain some self confidence. Boyfriends come and go, but best friends are forever. Sounds cheesy, but this isn't “coming of age”, or “inspirational” or anything like that. It's just two best friends trying to make it in the world. And it's drawn just beautifully.

I also got a Thai cookbook from the library, can't wait to try some of these recipes!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Book Version

New book reviews up:

St. Lunatic High School, Volume 2, by Majiko. If only I would look as good in those gothy outfits as those insanely tall, insanely slender characters, I would die a happy woman. And what is it about young love? If only Niko and Ren would tell each other that they like each other, they could be happy! There was some hinting at the end of this volume that it would Majiko's final entry in St. Lunatics, and I hope that isn't true, because this really is a cute series. Great for the high school romance/paranormal fans.

Whitechapel Gods, by S. M. Peters. Probably the best steampunk I have ever read. Great adventure, some absolutely insane characters. I've read this book twice now, and am considering reading it a third time. And i've only had it 3 months! I only read FMA that often! I've a plain covered galley copy (no cover art), and i'd happily go spend my $10 on the real version. And then keep both versions.

Voices from the Street, by Philip K. Dick. No SF here, just plain 50's literature. Somewhat annoying, boring and slow in parts. Got much better near the end, when Stuart “cracks”. Dick was always an idea man, not much of an execution man. While you're reading his stuff, you don't like it, but a week after you've finished it, you've come to enjoy it. Or something. Not sure if i'll be keeping this one, or trading it away. So was it good, or am I just saying it's good, because of the reputation of the author?

Books on the plate:

slogging through Charlie Stross's 4th Merchant Princes book, The Merchants War. Am I a horrible person because i'm ready for this series to be over? I am ready for the final showdown. I recommend Stross to everyone I know (seriously, I do!), but this isn't my favorite of his. But anyone have a copy of his Halting State that you'd be willing to trade me for???

About half way through Bruce Taylor's Edward: Dancing on the Edge of Infinity. Remember the first time you saw a Baz Lurhmann movie? And you thought to yourself “Has this guy never seen a movie before? Because this isn't how they are made!” But the movie worked, and you liked it, and you kept your eye our for more Baz Lurhmann weirdness? This book is like that. I'll link to the review sometime later, when it's up.

Read Marjane Satrapi's Persopolis. It's a black and white, simply told comic book, told through a pre-teen Marjane, in the early 80's, in Iran. I highly recommend this book. Things are very different, and very real, when seen through the eyes of a 12 year old, who doesn't understand (and doesn't care) why she has to suddenly wear a veil to school, why her dad tells her to flush all the family's alcohol down the drain, why she can't learn French in school anymore, and why her teachers tell her the Shah was chosen by God, then the next year they are told to tear all the photos of the Shah out of their school books. At the end, her parents buy her a plane ticket to Vienna, and say they will follow in six months. Marjane tells everything simply, as it is. Life isn't complicated for pre-teens. They want to play with their friends, wear nail polish, and listen to Michael Jackson. She is old enough to know they are lying. I'm reading this in the first floor lounge at the library, and nearly crying. They have the second volume, too. I seem to have this fascination with the world of Islam through the eyes of Muslim women.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

kravin' some kugel . . . and lentils!

Recovered from nasty cold: check.
Survived artery clogging kugel: check.
Got out from living under a rock and discovered lentils: check.
Royaly screwed up lentil recipe to create something wonderfully delicious: check!

I'm not entirely sure what a lentil or a legume really is, but when simmered in broth for a while, they are quite tasty, quite healthy, and unlike rice, you're not hungry again half an hour later. I found this magnificent recipe for Lentil Barley Soup on the Epicurious website, and then proceeded to mess up nearly every measurement (especially that pesky liquid measurement!). And you know what? It turned out just divine. Here's my sfanu'd version:

Lentil Barley Stew

2 tbsp oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp cumin
l large container chicken broth (about 4 cups)
1 cup pearl barley
1 can diced tomatoes
2/3 cup dried lentils
1 small bunch swiss chard
salt & pepper

Saute onions and carrots in oil until soft. Stir in cumin and garlic. Add chicken broth and barley, and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to low, and simmer for 25 minutes, partially covered. Then stir in tomatoes, and lentils. Bring back to a boil, then turn heat down to low, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until lentils are tender, and most of the liquid is absorbed. Chop chard into 1” pieces, and add to stew. Season with salt & pepper, and enjoy!

Excellent winter comfort food. Speaking of comfort food, I had a major kugel craving last weekend. So there was nothing to do but make my mom's traditional, buttery, artery clogging lukshen-kugel (noodle pudding, and pronounced exactly how it looks). This recipe is so Paula Deen that for the first time I will be offering (and pushing you towards!) healthier recipe options. Swap out the noodles for flour, and I swear you've got cookie dough.

Mom's Lukshen Kugel
1 12oz package egg noodles (or “No Yolks” egg-less noodles)
1 stick butter at room temperature (or margarine)
¾ cup sugar (or sugar substitute)
5 eggs (or equivelent egg-beaters)
1 large can crushed pineapple
½ cup white raisins
2 tbsp vanilla

Cook egg noodles according to package directions. Combine all other ingredients except cinnamon in a large bowl. When noodles are cooked, rinse under cold water, and fold into other ingredients. Pour into a greased 8x8 baking dish, and sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake at 350 for 40-50 minutes.

Not much in book news right now. Actually, quite a bit of news. . . way too much to cram into this double recipe entry. So next time, no recipes, but maybe a double or triple dose of book news. Sound good? See you next time!