Monday, January 30, 2012

Book Review: Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card

( #EndersGame, #OrsonScottCard )



If you have not read “Ender’s Game” and the other three books in the original series, you can learn about them here. If you don’t want to read my post, to quickly summarize: “Ender’s Game” is a really good and the other three books are really bad. Someone must have gotten to Mr. Card and gave him the same opinion because he went back to the original book and fleshed out the story of a beloved character named Bean. Bean is Ender’s tiny, smart-ass friend that is quick with observations and strategy, I can see why Card chose this character to build a series around.

In “Ender’s Shadow”, Bean has been given an upgrade: he is a genetically modified human who has super-intellect. That intellect comes at a price, he will suffer from a severe form of gigantism and will eventually die when his organs can’t support his size. I am told the whole size issue is addressed in the other books (which I just started reading). Bean’s tale does not intersect much with the “Ender’s Game” plot. This book focuses on how he was born (with the whole genetic modification situation), survived as a orphan on the streets, and how he spends his time on the space station training for the “Bugger Invasion”.

Bean does not have the issues and internal conflict that Ender has. The teachers try to get in his head and he outmaneuvers them - essentially remaining one step ahead of everyone in the book. Bean’s major conflict is a bully named Achilles who looked after him while he was a homeless orphan. The ultimate confrontation is weak and clearly leaves room for a bigger payoff in the other books. The other weak concept in the book is comparisons between Ender and Bean. Card clearly wants the reader to know that Bean is smarter and more ruthless than Ender (and more suited to lead the fleet against the invasion) but does not want to be the savior of humanity because that is “Ender’s destiny.” Card sets up this obvious comparison but never really resolves it in a satisfying way (hell the book is called “Ender’s Shadow”). Again, I am assuming that Bean’s great war will be the conflicts on Earth and creating a true world government that we know is established in the other books.

My critiques aside, “Ender’s Shadow” is so much better than the last three Ender books. Card hit the reset button that this franchise desperately needed. I really enjoyed this book. As I write that, I feel I also have to mention that I struggled with even reading it because Mr. Card has some personal issues with tolerance and I don’t want to support giving this man a platform. That said, “Ender’s Shadow” avoids any controversial topics or opinions. It sucks - I started reading these books before I found out the guy was an asshole, and now I want to know what happens.

I would love to hear your thoughts about supporting creators whose work you enjoy but don’t agree with on a personal level.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Recipe of the Week: Enchilada Soup

( #Enchilada )

Since it is a busy week, I was looking for something simple to cook in the crock pot. I came across a version of this recipe over at SkinnyTaste.com but I had to tweak it due to my raging hatred of cilantro.

Ingredients:

2 tsp olive oil
1/2 cup onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups low sodium fat-free chicken broth
8 oz can tomato sauce
1-2 tsp chipotle chili in adobo sauce (or more to taste)
15 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
14.5 oz can petite diced tomatoes
2 cups frozen corn
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp dried oregano
2 8 oz skinless chicken breasts (16 oz total)
1/4 cup chopped scallions, for topping
3/4 cup shredded reduced fat cheddar cheese

Directions:

1. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until soft, 3-4 minutes.
2. Slowly add the chicken broth, tomato sauce and chipotle adobo sauce and bring to a boil. Pour into crock pot.
3. To the crockpot, add drained beans, diced tomatoes, corn, cumin, oregano and stir. Add the chicken breasts; cover and cook on low heat for 4-6 hours.
4. Remove chicken and shred with two forks.
5. Add chicken back into the soup, adjust salt to taste.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Douche Files: Wedding Douchebag

( #douche )


I had a good weekend. My wife's friends got married: the ceremony was beautiful, the reception was in an awesome place, and the couple's unique spin on classic wedding traditions made the whole event really nice. This post is not about the wedding, but what happened after.

Like most weddings, there was a little gathering at the hotel bar. We went downstairs to have a drink with one of my wife's college friends (we will call her Z-Go) and say hello to the bride when she made it down. We were seated at the bar when one of the other guests goes up to the bartender, who was clearly Hispanic, and says the following:
Douche: Hola Amigo, Musica?
Bartender: (Looks confused and somewhat annoyed)
Douche: Amigo... Musica!?
Bartender: You want me to play music? (Bartender walks over to turn on the music)
Douche: Si, musica!
Douche: Gracias!
The bartender looks at me and rolls his eyes, I immediately say "I am not with that guy" and he laughs. Z-Go had a look of horror on her face. "Did he really just do that?" He did.

I had to ask the obvious question: "Maybe he was Hispanic too?" It was later confirmed by the bride that he was not Hispanic and had a history of "going Spanish" while drunk.

A bit later, we decided to go to bed and we went to say goodbye to the bride who was talking to a group of friends. The Douche was in the group. He began to touch Z-Go's necklace and said "those are pretty beads", she gives him a dirty look and walks away. As we get into the elevator Z-Go proceeds to let loose a series of profanities capped off with "If it wasn't a wedding, I would have punched that guy in the face." If only she did.

Take note douchebags: Don't speak in languages that are not your native tongue and don't touch someone's accessories without accepting the fact that you may get punched in the face. Actually touch away, you deserve to get knocked out by a 95 lb girl.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Recipe of the week: Asian Salad

I made this salad on Xmas Eve and people really seemed to enjoy it. Here is the official recipe.

INGREDIENTS: Main Dish

2 large handfuls of chicken or turkey
1 large handful of cashew nuts
1 handful of dried cranberries
2 teaspoons ground all-spice
a handful of fresh mint, leaves picked (optional)
a handful of fresh coriander, leaves picked (optional)
4 large handfuls of mixed salad leaves such as chicory, rocket, spinach, watercress
1 tablespoon runny honey
1 fresh red chili, deseeded and finely chopped

INGREDIENTS: Dressing

juice of 2 clementine
juice of 1 lime
1 pomegranate, halved
1/2 red onion, peeled and coarsely grated
extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely grated

DIRECTIONS:

To Make the Dressing:
1. Since Clementines are small I like to use two. Roll it, then cut it in half, and then squeeze into a large bowl.
2. Cut the pomegranate in half (try to pop out a few seeds and set them aside), and squeeze hard to break the seeds and release the juice.
3. Grate the red onion and add that to the bowl
4. Add the fresh lime juice
5. Add the olive oil - the general rule of thumb is add as much oil as there is liquid in the bowl, but I suggest a little less.
6. Add a tablespoon of soy sauce (this is the only salt compound), then the sesame oil.
7. Peel and grate the ginger. Get the shavings and squeeze the juice into the bowl.
8. Whisk like crazy.

Putting It Together
1. In a large frying pan set on medium low heat, add the chicken or turkey (lightly coat the pan with oil or use a non-stick). The great thing about this dish is that it uses leftovers. If you don't have cooked chicken or turkey, prepare it anyway you like, but you want chunks of meat (you can also use a nice fish). 2. Then add whole cashews and cranberries. Toss the ingredients in the pan to mingle the flavors and then add the all-spice. Let it simmer.
3. In another large bowl, get all of the greens (salad leaves, coriander, mint - clean them first!) and mix them together.
4. De-seed the chili pepper and finely dice it. Set it aside.
5. Back to the chicken, add some honey to the pan and mix around to give texture and crust. Take the pan off the heat and allow to cool a bit (so the greens do not wilt).
6. Add the cooked ingredients to the greens, add dressing to taste. Place chili pepper and pomegranate seeds on top as a garnish.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

( #ReadyPlayerOne )



If you are a fan of 80’s nostalgia, MMRPGs, and straight up nerd culture I have a book for you. My editor at Best SF Books turned me on to “Ready Player One” after I wrote a review of “Reamde”. Both books utilize online role playing games as the back drop for their stories. While Reamde has a more serious tone, “Ready Player One” is a more light-hearted and fun read, it reminded me of a hightech upgrade of Willy Wonka.

The plot is set 50 years in the future where the environment is trashed and there are massive energy shortages. Most people have fallen below the poverty line and live in trailer parks that have been stacked vertically due to lack of space. Wade, the main character, is a teenager struggling to survive living in the trailer park. Author Earnest Cline gives Wade a “Harry Potter” back story: his parent’s are dead and he lives with an Aunt that doesn’t care about him. Wade escapes his horrid existence by logging into OASIS which is a massive online world. Most people live their entire lives inside of the OASIS system, Wade even goes to school there.

The inventor of OASIS died a few years before the start of the story. In his will, he announces a contest in the game system, with the winner getting all of his money (over 200 billion dollars) and control of the company that makes the OASIS game. There is another company called IOI, that has become extremely profitable offering services in OASIS, they want to win the contest and take control of the online world. Wade figures out the first clue putting him on the world’s radar and in IOI's cross-hairs.

Overall, “Ready Player One” is a charming book that borrows a little from many different areas. The book feels familiar and Cline’s writing style is smooth and easy (I finished the book in 2 days without really trying). The story drags a bit in the middle (typical main character self-loathing which seems to be a requisite for modern books), but Cline moves past it before it becomes a problem. Also, due to the familiar feeling of the book, I never felt like the antagonists have a chance at winning which takes the punch out of the conflict, but honestly, after reading the first page you know Charlie is going to get the chocolate factory, you just want to know how.

“Ready Player One” is a fun book that celebrates 80’s culture and gaming in the package of an adventure. The story is like chocolate cake, I can't think of anybody that won’t like it.



Sunday, January 08, 2012

Book Review: Zone One by Colson Whitehead

( #ZoneOne, #Zombies )



Frequent readers of this blog know I love zombies and that in my opinion “World War Z” is by far the best zombie fiction written to date (I am just getting that out of the way). That being said, Colson Whitehead’s “Zone One” is an excellent entry into the genre. It is well written, takes a unique perspective, and leaves the reader wanting more.

Whitehead has an interesting writing style. His paragraphs are dense and somewhat circular. This is not a criticism by any means but not something you see often in horror fiction (and certainly not in zombie fiction). There is an almost poetic rhythm that left me with the impression that Whitehead labored over each word. Since I tend to speed read, I found myself going over sentences a few times to make sure I got everything (bravo for making me savor the page).

The story is about recovery after a zombie apocalypse (similar to “World War Z”). Unlike WWZ, humanity is not on solid ground. The zombies are still active and the recovered areas are under siege by the undead. The main character, Mark, is part of a team that is assigned to sweep New York city. The army has already done most of the heavy lifting, but buildings and tunnels still need to be checked and cleared for repopulation. As the team clears out the buildings, they tell each other their survival stories (so readers can learn the history of the plague).

This book has a harder tone than WWZ, but it is still not as bleak as most of the zombie fiction out there. The main theme of survival is played out in a variety of ways: the characters demonstrate a clear will to live, but there is also tremendous survivor’s guilt. Most zombie fiction comes with social criticism, “Zone One” is light but Whitehead hints at an undercurrent of disgust at the reformed government's attempt at recreating society as it was.

“Zone One” is an well written book that is less horror and more about the personal toll of surviving a disaster. If you enjoyed WWZ, I have no doubt you will like this book.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

The Decemberists: January Hymn

( #Decemberists )

Goodbye December, Goodbye 2011 - Hello January 2012.