My Mother, Myself, My Daughter, and Spock

I was woken up at seven this morning by a text from my mother informing me that Leonard Nimoy had died and that she was crying in her office. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen my mother cry and I don’t have to use all my fingers. Star Trek was a big part of her life. She watched it regularly when it was first on air and when she couldn’t watch it she had a friend record it. And by that I mean the friend had a tape deck, pointed a microphone at the TV, then would describe to my mother what had been happening on the screen.

Spock was her favorite. She was a nerd, she was in honors society and wanted to be an astronaut (unfortunately she is blind without her glasses and a woman which was two big strikes against her). She also had a difficult relationship with her older sister but instead of giving her the satisfaction of an emotional reaction she’d ‘go Vulcan’. To this day she reacts to stressful and highly emotional situations by becoming very logical. She also thought Spock was cute.

I was raised in the church of Star Trek. I don’t know when I learned how to spread my fingers like a proper Vulcan, or when I first heard the words live long and prosper. They are just things that always were. My first Star Trek convention was when I was seven. It was a Nimoy/Shatner double bill. They were running late due to a delayed flight and Bay Area traffic. The poor conference head did her best to keep the crowd from getting ugly. Nimoy told stories about how Shatner would hide his bicycle. I got to stay up past my bedtime.

The end of Wrath of Kahn is still one of the few things that can regularly give my mom the sniffles. Though anyone who doesn’t feel gutted at those scenes needs their head examined.

When Next Generation kicked off it was family TV time. Other households gathered together for schmaltzy 80’s sitcoms. In my family it was a double billing of Original Series followed by Next Generation once a week.

My mother probably had a hundred of those Star Trek paperbacks. She was always reading one and her favorites always involved Spock. I did book reports on those instead of Babysitter’s Club in elementary school. I didn’t think there was anything odd about this. Normal is what you grow up with.

My mother came down to New Zealand a couple weeks before I had my daughter to help out and stayed for a few weeks after. As a former special ed teacher she has always been very big on language and reading development. On a shelf in my apartment my mother found one of her favorite Star Trek novels and after I got home she decided it should be my daughter’s first book. Not Hop on Pop or Hairy Maclary or even Peter Rabbit. A Pocket Books Star Trek novel with yellowed pages and a brittle cover. I have pictures.

I also have pictures of my kid in a science officer blue Star Trek onesie. I couldn’t manage to get her to give a Vulcan salute. At that point sitting up was still a pretty clever trick but we’ll get there. She might end up a popular girl and queen bee, or she might be a giant nerd like her parents, but either way she’ll understand the importance of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations and what it truly is to Live Long and Prosper.

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In Which I Will Attempt to Win All the Things PART 2 – Baking

This’ll mainly be a picture blog because I’m still baking and don’t really have time to write much.  Right now I have a chocolate cake in the oven and a sponge cake in a pan waiting.  It’s 2pm right now and my oven has been running since 8am.

Did up some of the cookie and brownie dough the night before to save time.   Also did a prebake cookie crumb crust.

Did up some of the cookie and brownie dough the night before to save time. Also did a prebake cookie crumb crust.

I tried to bake my brownie recipe in the cookie crust.  Bad idea.

I tried to bake my brownie recipe in the cookie crust. Bad idea.



Peanut Brownies and Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Peanut Brownies and Chocolate Chip Cookies.

My cranberry dark chocolate shortbread cookies.  I'll post a recipe for these around Christmas.

My cranberry dark chocolate shortbread cookies. I’ll post a recipe for these around Christmas.

Banana Cake

Banana Cake

Bread dough.

Bread dough.

One of the few good things about baking in New Zealand in summer; the dough rises really effing fast.

One of the few good things about baking in New Zealand in summer; the dough rises really effing fast.

I tried to do a four strand braid but it was a mess.  Three strand is less fancy but at least tidy.

I tried to do a four strand braid but it was a mess. Three strand is less fancy but at least tidy.

My challah bread out of the oven.  Prettiest thing I've made today.

My challah bread out of the oven. Prettiest thing I’ve made today.

 

Got the chocolate cake out of the oven.  Beautiful on the outside, completely liquid centre. I think I got distracted and didn't put in the second cup of flour. The cooked bits are yummy though.

Got the chocolate cake out of the oven. Beautiful on the outside, completely liquid centre. I think I got distracted and didn’t put in the second cup of flour. The cooked bits are yummy though.  Or possibly my oven is running a little hot.

Brownies Take 2.  I'm a bit worried it's too warm out for them to set up right.  Might have to wait until this evening to try to cut them.

Brownies Take 2. I’m a bit worried it’s too warm out for them to set up right. Might have to wait until this evening to try to cut them.

Victoria sponge number 2 ready to go.

Victoria sponge number 2 ready to go.

 

I am on a seriously intense sugar high just from taste testing things. I think I’ll let my oven cool down a bit before putting in the next cake.

Oh, and why did no one tell me about two piece spring cake pans two decades ago?

 

On Saturday I’ll do one more update and announce how good or bad this all went.  Though if my plum jam doesn’t win then something is rigged because that is some fucking good jam I made. In case anyone was wondering this is the grand total of jam, jelly, and marmalade I made over the past few weeks.

In case anyone was wondering this is the grand total of jam, jelly, and marmalade I made over the past few weeks.

Chocolate cake take 2.  I let the oven cool then come back up to temp. Hopefully this will avoid the liquid centre.

Chocolate cake take 2. I let the oven cool then come back up to temp. Hopefully this will avoid the liquid centre.

 

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In Which I Will Attempt to Win All the Things

I am taking February off from writing. Instead I will be spending this month preparing for the local A&P (Agricultural and Pastoral ) show where I will attempt to win everything.

Okay, that’s an exaggeration. Next year will be domination.

For those wondering A&P shows are a bit like county fairs. There are random things for sale, food booths, livestock competitions and also section called ‘home crafts’. Growing up my family would enter our local county fair all the time, usually in jams, jellies, preserves, and baking, though my father also took some awards in the gardening section. This has continued since my sister and I moved out and it’s gotten to the point where my parents were politely asked to maybe not enter for a year, give someone else a chance.

My family (read mother) is highly competitive. She’s even competitive with her own children and we’re competitive right back. When we were entering the kids sections she would help us with our jams and jellies, making sure we didn’t scald ourselves too badly. As soon as we were in the adult sections with her it was game on. I lost. I always lost. We could use the exact same recipe and she would get first and I would get second. My poor diabetic father did not enjoy the time of year when jams were being made. My mother and I would shove spoon fulls of the stuff at him and demand he tell us which was better. He got very good at giving positive, balanced, and non-committal feedback. At some point I will write a blog post about my family and mental health and I discuss the year of the seven angel food cakes. When my mother sets out to win she sets out to win.

I haven’t entered any kind of contest in about a decade due to living in a little apartment, working weird shifts, and the fact that the central Auckland shows don’t really do any home crafts. Then I moved to the suburbs, and into a house with a proper kitchen. The thing you need to know about living in the suburbs of New Zealand’s largest city is that you are always a twenty minute or less drive from farm land. I pass by a small alpaca farm, a couple of sheep, and some wild chickens on my ten minute drive to the mall.

20150218_104126This means the local A&P is a bit bigger, and I have a bigger kitchen.

I got the schedule back in November and worked out that I have the skills to enter about sixty different categories.

I Will Win All The Things And Not Have To Compete With My Mother!

Okay, no. I have a toddler who is not compatible with scalding hot jam and my two days a week off is taken up with trying to have a writing career. I also have no idea what the competition will be like. There might be little old ladies who have won every year since 1840 and will cut anyone who gets in their way. There might be hardcore hipsters who are rocking cam sành marmalade (actually that sounds good). I need to just dip my toes in, scout out the competition and gage the tastes of the judges. Are they hardcore traditionalists or would they be up for some chili flakes in the mango jam?

I’ve already crossed off all of the knitting sections which I just haven’t had the time or detailed focus for. I’ve also dropped all the canned and pickled vegetables since I’ve only done those once before and I think I need more practice. That leaves the old standbys of jam, jelly, marmalade, and baking.

I’ve already knocked out a merlot jelly and a cherry jelly. Jelly isn’t really a thing in New Zealand. You can’t buy it in the stores. If you ask for jelly you get pointed to what Americans would call Jell-O or gelatine. I was actually a bit surprised to see it on the schedule.

Mmmmmm... jelly

Mmmmmm… jelly

After that an apricot jam, plum jam, lemon ginger marmalade, regular lemon marmalade, possibly the mandarin marmalade I made before Christmas. I’ll have to take a look at it and crack one open for a taste.

I have run into a couple of problems. One is that it’s really hard to find seal and ring canning jars and when you do they are fucking expensive. I mean 6 bucks a jar, though you can buy replacement tops and rings in the grocery store for dirt cheap. Makes no sense. I ended up finding a place that sells wholesale jars and bottles. This means I will be using one piece lids which I’ve never used before and are in fact against the rules at my old county fairs. Also New Zealand pectin is crap. Unbelievable crap. I can get nothing to set up with it. I got my mother to send me Sure-Jell and imperial measuring cups over Christmas. (Mom can be very supportive as long as we’re not in direct competition.) Do I have any New Zealand readers? Does anyone know where I can get good pectin? That Chelsea jam sugar is okay but not what I really need and that stuff you get at Pak n’ Save just doesn’t fucking work.

Lemon Ginger Marmalade

Lemon Ginger Marmalade

I’m also taking on the baking section. I’ve dropped myself down from every baking option to just 10. Sponge cake, chocolate chip cookies, peanut brownies, shortbread, raspberry brownies, banana cake, chocolate cake, fruit cake (1.5kg minimum weight), sponge sandwich with jam filling, and loaf of bread. I’ll probably do my rosemary bread and my challah bread. And before you all say I’m nuts you should see my Christmas baking. I’ll post pictures of the baking next week.

I’ll be doing all the baking on the 26th, drop off on 27th, and comp on 28th.

I’ll end this post now because I’ve got jam to make but I’ll post pictures next week of me winning all the things or perhaps losing painfully and getting obsessed with romping through next year.

Rule One of competitive jam making; always skim the foam.

Rule One of competitive jam making; always skim the foam.

Oh please let the lids seal correctly.

Oh please let the lids seal correctly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UPDATE: Just finished the apricot jam. Too sweet. Too much sugar, not enough flavour in the fruit. I’ll enter in anyway but not betting on my odds. Hopefully the plumb will turn out better.

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Me, New Zealand, and Rugby (you know that game kinda like football but with no pads, no timeouts, and no touchdown dances)

I did a guest post over at Lissa Kasey place last week.  It’s about rugby and a bit about being an expat American in New Zealand.  Go take a look at it.

Me, New Zealand, and Rugby (you know that game kinda like football but with no pads, no timeouts, and no touchdown dances)

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Two Eight Two (free read)

Quite some time ago I wrote a little post about my first attempt to write science fiction and today felt like a good day to dust off that story and present it to all of you. So here it is, I hope you enjoy it, feedback in always appreciated.

Two Eight Two
By Ada Maria Soto

The sounds of too bright drunken laughter and shouts of anger mingled to drown out the soft hum of the dirty bronze chip spinning on the bar top. The twirling color seemed to blend into the wood as John gave it another twist. The bartender had long ago moved on to more decisive customers, of which there were plenty. John looked up at the screen over the bar as the chip wobbled and fell flat. The news was on mute, but it didn’t matter. There was only one news story anymore: the Two Eight Two and the imminent extinction of the species Homo sapiens. And judging by the footage of blood soaked riots and burning cities blinking across the screen, the human species had no intention of going out with grace and dignity. He didn’t care. Grace and dignity had certainly never gotten him anywhere.

He started to raise his hand to wave the bartender over when another hand settled across his; thin and delicate with carefully manicured nails. He looked up to a woman in a dress of skin-tight blue. The dress should have been raw sex, hugging sculpted curves, but it failed against warm dark eyes, smooth brown skin, and a soft braid of deep black hair draped casually over the woman’s shoulder. She smiled at him. It was beautiful; the smile of someone who cared. As a young man he might have been tempted to write epic poetry describing that smile. A thousand words at least.

“Hello.” Her voice was sweet, with just a hint of an accent John couldn’t quite place.

“Hello to you.” He tried to find the old smile women used to find charming, while leaning in close so he wouldn’t have to shout.

“What’s that?” The woman gestured towards the chip laying were it fell on the bar top.

He has forgotten it for a second, distracted by beauty. “That is a chip that says I managed to stay sober for two years and I’m about to throw it away. Would you care to join me?”

The woman’s smile faltered. “You shouldn’t do that. Not today.”

John removed his hand from under hers. Any other day he might have cursed at her, sent her running, told her to save her pity, but she was the first person to make any effort to speak to him in months. “Miss, do you know how long I’ve been sober?”

“Two years?”

“Two years, eight months, and two days. Two Eight Two, the end of us all. Today is the perfect day to start drinking again.”

She leaned in closer, her lips nearly to his ear. She smelled of oranges and fresh cut grass. She shouldn’t. No one smelled clean anymore. He could feel the warmth of her breath. “What if I told you I know how to survive the Two Eight Two?”

John jerked away, his bark of hard laughter snapping across the bar. Even the bartender glanced over for a half second.

“Lady, I don’t know what you’re selling, but I ain’t buying. No one is getting past the Two Eight Two. This is the end of the line. Game over. Humanity zero, the universe… everything else. Now if you don’t mind I am prepared to die the same way I lived. Drunk.” John waved the bartender over turning away from the woman in blue, her scent of living things still lingering in the air around him. “Vodka martini, stirred, plenty of vermouth and two olives.”

“Make that two.”

He looked over to the woman who was, somewhat surprisingly, still there.

She smiled that same caring smile that begged for poetry and art. “You did ask me to join you in a drink.”

“I guess I did.”

The drinks arrived quickly. John looked at the clear liquid just slightly clinging to the inside of the glass. He could smell the vermouth and olives. He looked inside himself. He’d fallen off the wagon before, usually with a large, hateful crash into a deep canyon of pathetic misery and self-pity, but this time he felt nothing. No disappointment, no self-loathing, no anger for himself or the pretty girl by his side, he was ready to take that first drink just as he was ready to die with the rest of humanity.

He raised his eyes to the woman in blue and lifted his glass in a silent toast. Then he tipped his head back and drank.

^^^^^

Long pathetic experience had taught John to get an idea of his situation and surroundings before opening his eyes to the light that was trying to press its way through his lids. He knew his head ached, that was a given. He was lying on his back, which was somewhat unusual. His skin felt damp and sticky like he’d been laying in a puddle of something. Not good but not the first time. But he was fairly certain he was wearing pants, which was a plus. He tried to sigh in relief then realized he couldn’t. He snapped his eyes open then squeezed them shut against the light as panic set in. He had a tube in his mouth, he had a tube going down into his lungs. He could feel it pushing air in and sucking it back out. He tried to grab it but his arms didn’t respond. They just twitched half dead at his sides.

‘Do not be alarmed,’ a pleasant sounding computerized voice said from somewhere.

He tried to kick his legs but they were about as responsive as his arms.

‘You have been in suspended animation.’

He wanted to scream at the voice but the tube was still in his lungs.

‘You have been chosen by the Committee for the Ark Project. As a result you have been placed into suspended animation. You may find you have muscle weakness, limited coordination, blurred vision, vomiting, and headaches.’

‘It’s called a hangover,’ he tried to yell.

‘These are all natural reactions. Do not be alarmed.’

John’s vision was starting to clear, allowing him to glance around. He was in a white plastic tube, not much bigger than a coffin. The walls were dripping with something thick, clear, and slimy. Raw, blind, panic took hold. His heart raced beyond anything he had ever experienced as desperation set in.

‘Please exhale and your oxygen tube will be retracted.’

He tried to exhale. The tube was pulled from his lungs with a long slurping sound, leaving his throat scraped and raw. The tube vanished into a sliding panel above him.

‘Please breathe slowly and deeply. A revitalization specialist will be in to see to you shortly.’

He took a deep breath. “I’m claustrophobic!” he tried to scream. “Get me the fuck out of here!”

^^^^^

John slumped into the first of the hard folding chairs he could reach, barely focusing on the thousand other people around him. The walk from the recovery center to the assembly hall had been brutal, all five minutes of it. If he wasn’t so weak and exhausted, he’d be angry. He, and apparently a few thousand other people, had been attempting to get answers for the last week. The only thing the very helpful and pleasant staff would tell them was that everything would be explained once everyone was more or less back on their feet. There would have been revolt if anyone could raise their arms for more than 30 seconds.

The stage at the front of the hall had a small podium and a large screen. It felt a bit too much like a school assembly day and he started to worry that he was going to realize he was naked then wake up screaming, but not before his grandmother showed up wearing a banana costume. A tidy little man with a cheery smile approached the podium. John sat up as much as he could.

“Good morning everyone.”

The perkiness of the man’s voice grated in John’s ears. As far as he was concerned he still had the mother of all hangovers. He’d shaken off full blown alcohol poisoning quicker than this suspended animation bullshit.

“My name is Jacob and I am here to answer as many of your questions as I can. I know you are all still feeling a little under the weather. I’ve been there myself, so I will try to keep things as quick and to the point as possible.”

“What the hell is going on?” someone from the crowd managed to shout. A thousand other people tried to shout their own questions but it was more a wave of groans and mumbles drowning each other out.

Jacob clasped his hands politely behind his back until everyone ran out of energy, which took about 45 seconds. “Please, let me give you my little talk and then I will endeavor to answer any remaining questions you may have.” The audience just nodded weakly.

“Good, let us start from the beginning. I’m sure the last thing most of you can remember is the Two Eight Two. For the vast majority of the world the Two Eight Two came as a surprise. However, there was one group prepared: The Committee.”

A logo came up on the screen towering behind Jacob. It was the same logo that was on everything he’d seen since waking up. To John, if he squinted, it looked like a set of stylized arched gates.

“Over a century before the Two Eight Two a multinational, nongovernment, nondenominational group of scientists and thinkers realized the possibility of something like the Two Eight Two, and that it would be a catastrophic blow to humanity.”

Murmurs rolled through the crowd. The Two Eight Two had caught everyone flat-footed and no response would be strong enough or fast enough to save humanity. At least that’s what everyone had been told in the last days. The idea that someone knew the Two Eight Two was coming and did nothing was not going to be a popular one.

“This group knew that something had to be done to preserve humanity in all its richness and so The Committee was formed and the Ark Project was conceived.”

An old photo of a few dozen men went up on the screen.

“The first ideas were primitive. A few hundred people on ice. But with each new generation of technological advance the scope of the Ark Project grew. The plan became one to preserve as many people as possible who could be the start of a new humanity. At the end, The Committee managed 50,000 individuals plus another 400,000 fertilized human embryos. And before anyone starts thinking of eugenics please look around. Their goal was not just to save people, but to preserve as much solid genetic diversity as possible.”

Everyone, including John, looked around. He was surrounded by every possible shade of skin, facial shape, and body type. He took some comfort in the idea that he hadn’t been kidnapped by Nazis. He also started to wonder what the hell he was doing as part of the lucky 50,000. His family line started with plague-ridden pig farmers and went downhill from there.

“So how long were we out?” someone called from the crowd followed by a collection of other voices wanting the same answer.

Jacob looked uncomfortable. “You are all part of the fifth wave of awakening. The first wave was scouts, followed by engineers, farmers, doctors, individuals who could build general infrastructure. As the fifth wave, you, are our academics. You are our scientists and thinkers. You can build and staff our new schools, and libraries. You can assemble the T-Rex skeleton we’ve got in a crate next to the Mona Lisa as soon as the first museum is built. And the schools do need to be built. The next wave is young adults and families with children.”

Now John knew there had been a mix up. He was no scientist. He’d nearly failed high school and dropped out of university, twice. “That doesn’t answer the other guy’s question,” he called out.

“As I said you are the fifth wave. The first wave was woken automatically when sensors determined Earth was once again fit for human habitation.”

“How long!” came yet another shout.

Jacob cleared his throat. “Twenty thousand and nineteen years.”

There was silence as the number slowly sank in. Once it had sunk the shouting started. John didn’t bother. He was still contemplating the number. Twenty thousand years. He was twenty thousand years removed from his joke of a life. From his bills, double alimony, and triple mortgaged house. Millennia way from grand expectations he could never rise to. He was free from it all. He waited for the lightening of his soul or something like that but all he felt was tired and numb. As for the rest, for a group of people who could still barely walk, they were doing their best to form an unruly mob. Jacob waited until people were out of breath and collapsing back into their chairs.

“Everyone got that out of your systems?”

There were some cranky grumbles. The woman sitting next to John was sobbing into her hands.

“Good, because we have a lot more to cover. It won’t all be fun and games. There are expectations. You will be given jobs and expected to undertake certain duties. I know most of you were taken against your will and everyone left people behind, but we could not risk the Ark Project becoming public knowledge. There would have been riots. Well, more riots. But The Committee chose all of you to receive this gift of life because they believed there is something each of you can provide to help advance humanity while keeping us from repeating the mistakes of our past.”

Now John knew there had been a clerical error. He was a mistake of the past. He had no business being part of a second humanity, except perhaps to be held up as a horrible warning. He’d already decided the woman in blue must have drugged him, or at least scraped him up when he blacked out, but she must have grabbed the wrong person.

He pushed himself to his feet. “Excuse me, what if we think we know someone who might be on ice around here?”

“There is a citizen directory you may access.”

“What if we don’t know their name?”

There was the creak of chairs as every person turned to look at him. “Do you know anything about them?”

“She was in a blue dress?”

Jacob blinked at him for a couple of second then turned back to the crowd flipping to a new slide which showed a group of people with smiling, sympathetic faces. “There will be counselors available to help you adjust to this new life. And it will be an adjustment. But try to remember, at the end of the day, this is better than the Two Eight Two.”

^^^^^

Earth_MoonThe afternoon sun through the leaves of a spreading oak and a light breeze were lending themselves to create a green dappled light that danced across John’s face. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He’d been awake almost four months before he was declared fit enough to be freed from one of the arks. He’d been told that Earth now had more oxygen and his body would need a bit of time to adjust. It did feel nice, breathing air that didn’t taste of the residue of humanity. He leaned against the huge oak that sat in the courtyard of the library.

Birds fluttered in the branches above him. He recognized the one on the branch nearest to him from its twisted foot. It looked a little like a large sparrow but with a tail that fanned out and dark purple feathers. He’d named it Frank. John knew it was things like Frank that had the scientist all excited. Some things were exactly the same. An oak tree was still an oak tree but there were birds, bugs, and weird little rodent creatures that hadn’t existed when the Two Eight Two hit.

John hated the weird little rodent creatures. They scurried around trees and sat on their back legs and had fluffy fur like squirrels, but also had thin bald tails like rats. He was a New York boy. Both squirrels and rats disturbed him more than a bit and the combination of the two had pulled a yelp from his lungs the first time he saw one.

He heard the library door open and knew break time was almost up. When he’d been assigned to the library he thought he’d be shelving books, and he was. He just wasn’t expecting to be shelving a half million of them. The great unknown Committee had ordered the looting of major libraries, museums, and research centers. It was rumored there was an ark that held the Library of Congress, British Library, National Library of India, and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. It was going to take a couple of generations to sort it all out, but the start was John, a half dozen other guys, and his half million books.

Toby, one of John’s fellow book shelvers, leaned against the oak and tipped his fair freckled face towards the sun. He twisted a small stick in his fingers that would have been a cigarette twenty thousand years earlier. “You know John, I used to love books. Devoted my life to the things. Protecting them, preserving them, worshiping at the altar of them.”

“And now you’d kill for a little crappy TV?”

“Oh God, yes! At this point I’d actually watch Strictly Come Dancing. I can’t wait for them to start unpacking the movie reels. I don’t care if they brought some of the worst films ever made. I just need a break from books.”

John stretched his back. Only a step away, some little green and white parrot-ish birds pecked at the grass like they were pigeons. Nothing on Earth feared humans anymore. “I hear next year they are going to thaw out some real librarians, other than you.”

“They’re also thawing out the children,” Toby grumbled.

“Don’t like kids?”

“I had nine brothers and sisters that turned into twenty seven nieces and nephews.” John gave a small whistle. “I could have happily gone for a very long time without dealing with children.”

“You already went 20,000 years. I don’t think you can get away with it much longer.”

^^^^^

The small stadium was packed, but John methodically scanned across every row, trying to take in every face. It had become a habit, or maybe a compulsion, every time he was in a crowd. Unlike most, he’d left none behind that he missed. But always in the back of his mind there was still the woman in blue from the bar. He knew she had to be part of it all, she had said as much, but he’d downed that drink before even getting her name.

He knew she could still be on ice, or at one of the outlying colonies, or maybe she didn’t even make the trip, but he knew he needed to find her. He wasn’t yet sure what he’d say, but that had never stopped him from opening his mouth in the past, and he’d always had a gift for words.

The crowd cheered and clapped as a red ball flew into the air. Toby elbowed him and John clapped as well. He couldn’t pretend to understand short-form cricket, or any cricket, but entertainment was entertainment and it was going to be another three months before intramural baseball started.

^^^^^

The warbling calls of the purple sparrow-things surrounded John and a dozen other men and women who had gathered in a corner of a park. It was an unofficial gathering. It could have been official. The Committee was willing to give space for any group to form. But in a brave new world where people were chosen for good genetics and an ability to contribute, people were a little leery of admitting to any fault.

John stood and wiped the grass from his hands. “Hi, my name’s John, and I’m an alcoholic. I’ve been sober for 20,019 years, 3 months, and 4 days.”

A chuckle went around the group.

“Truth is the last thing I did before all this was to take a drink. I’d been sober for two years, eight months, and two days, and I figured if there was any day to take a drink that was it.”

There were some nods of understanding.

“And when I say it was the last thing I did, I mean it was the last thing I did. There was some woman next to me at the bar, she was in blue and telling me there was a way to survive, and I guess she worked for the great Committee or something, but I tipped back that drink and next thing I know I’m waking up in a giant Pringles can with a tube down my throat. Now I’ve woken up in some strange places before but…” John shook his head and got another chuckle. He took a deep breath of clean air and looked up into the perfectly blue sky. A purple sparrow-thing flew overhead.

“The thing is, I don’t know why I’m here. And I don’t mean here at this meeting. I know that. God I know that. And I don’t mean in some metaphysical of philosophical sense. I mean here in general. I was part of the wave of scientists and thinkers but I am neither and as for good genetics… I’m an alcoholic, my mother was a drunk, my father was a pill popping closet case, my uncle Rob was part of the foil hat brigade. I lived my life as a sad caricature of my chosen profession. And now… now I shelve books and try to retroactively earn this little trip, but dear sweet god do I want a drink.”

^^^^^

Claustrophobia was starting to weigh down on John’s chest as he pushed through the tight group of people milling around the foyer of his library. After months of work by John, Toby, and their little team, shelving books day and night, the library was formally open. They didn’t have even a quarter of the books up, and there was an entire wing that was still being constructed, but it was decided that there were enough to start letting the public in.

Someone on the City Council had decided to make an Event of it. John found Toby lurking by the food table giving general dirty looks to the crowd.

“Who the bloody hell are all these bloody people eyeing up our books?”

John randomly grab an hors d’oeuvres from the table. “I was just thinking the same thing. I saw some of them actually touching the books.”

Toby snorted at him but John understood. He’d been granted one of the most wonderfully antisocial jobs in the colony and now there were strangers in his space touching the books he had so carefully examined, repaired, and arranged.

“It’s the bloody Council wanting to make a bloody Event out of every little thing,” Toby ranted. “All the politicians died 20,000 years ago! Why the hell do we have to revive the whole mess?”

“You’re asking the wrong person.” John was about to take a bite of something that looked like fish on bread when he saw a flash of blue fabric and dark hair in the crowd. He dropped the bread and pushed into the mingling horde, ignoring Toby’s complaints about crumbs on the clean floor.

He elbowed his way past the Council Head then saw her face. Twenty thousand years may have passed but he recognized the sweet smile and soft brown eyes and she was just turning to step out the door.

He didn’t bother to see who he knocked over as he sprinted after her. Outside the summer sun was blinding. He shaded his eyes and looked up and down the street desperate to see a swirl of blue, but everyone in sight was dressed in the light browns and greens favored by most of the colony. He took a gamble and started racing towards the center of town looking down every side street until his lungs burned.

He stopped and gasped for breath before kicking the trunk of a nearby tree. But at least he now knew two things, the woman in the blue dress was alive and she was here.

^^^^^

There was a banging on his door that woke John from a dead sleep. The clock by his bed said midnight. He threw back his light blankets and stumbled the few feet from his bed to the door. As a bachelor, he had been assigned what was basically a studio apartment. He opened the door to Toby, looking wide eyed and terrified.

“Do you have anything to drink? I need a drink.” Toby pushed his way in.

“It’s midnight, and I’m an alcoholic, so no.” Toby started pacing, nearly bouncing off the bamboo walls. “What the hell is going on?”

“It came,” he hissed. “My list.”

John rubbed at his face trying to wake up a little more. He hadn’t been sleeping well since the library opening and this was the first night he’d made it to sleep before one in the morning. “What list?”

An official issue tablet was thrust into John’s hands. “My. List.”

On the tablet was a list of names next to pictures of pretty faces. “Oh, your list.” Everyone of breeding age was supposed to get a list sooner or later. Some great Committee computer was set up to play match maker, working not just through personality but apparently genetics as well. It had been over a year since he and Toby were defrosted, so it was about time. “You have told them you’re gay, right?”

“Many times. They say they’re fine with that. They say they wanted to preserve all possible human diversity. But apparently they still want me to breed.”

John scrolled down the list. “There are some really nice looking women here. Smart by the looks of things too.”

“Everyone here is smart if you haven’t noticed and if you think they’re nice looking then you can choose one for me because I haven’t the slightest idea.” Toby was rummaging through John’s cupboards. “For fuck sake, if you don’t have alcohol do you at least have tea in this place?”

John grabbed the back of Toby shirt and shoved him down into a chair. “I have what they claim is coffee, and why don’t you tell them that you want to be in some sort of relationship before having kids?”

“They already thought of that. Go to the next page.”

John swiped over a page. There was a list of smiling, reasonably attractive men. “Ah. The Committee does think of everything, doesn’t it?” Toby snorted and crossed his arms building himself up to have a full blown sulk. “Okay, I don’t know about you but I haven’t gotten laid in 20 millennia. Why don’t you go on a couple of dates? Even if none of them work out long term, you still might get lucky.”

Toby shifted around in his chair. “Hadn’t really thought about that. Just saw the list and panicked.”

“And think of it this way, all of these women could take one look at your face and decide they’d rather take a roll on some sperm on ice then have anything to do with you.”

Toby smiled. “Hadn’t thought of that either, and I will gladly take that blow to the ego if it will save me from having children.”

^^^^^

John squeezed his hands tight around his tablet in an attempt to keep them from shaking. He stared at his List. It had been waiting for him after he’d thrown out Toby too close to dawn. He had been starting to believe he’d never get one; that The Committee had realized its mistake and was just quietly trying to write him out of the new gene pool.

There were half a dozen women on the list, all intelligent, and pleasant looking, but it was the one at the top he couldn’t take his eyes from. Her name was Anju and she was the woman in blue. He’d caught a glimpse of her a few times over the previous year but always in crowds or vanishing around corners. For a while he was sure he was losing his mind; that she was some sort of trauma induced hallucination.

He had been sitting under the oak in the courtyard for most of the morning while the purple sparrows went about their business. He was meant to be shelving the crate of biology books that had come in. He heard steps across the courtyard and looked up, expecting Toby. Instead, it was Anju walking towards him in a gauzy summer dress of blue that formed to her curves and cascaded over the soft swells of her hips.

She sat down in front of him, tucking her legs neatly beneath her. John struggled to find something to say. After a year of thinking about her, of composing epic poems in his head and never writing them down, of planning exactly what to say, his mind went completely blank. She smiled that same knowing smile she’d had in the bar.

“I told you I knew a way to survive.”

“Yes.” John was very proud his voice didn’t squeak. “Yes, you did.” he held out his hand. It trembled ever so slightly. “John.” He forgot his own last name. “Quinn. John Quinn.”

“Yes, I know. Anju Das.” Her hand was fine but not fragile as it slipped into his. “It’s nice to meet you again.”

“So…” John looked down at his tablet. “I take it I’m on your list?”

Anju grinned. “Right at the top.”

“We’re that good a match?”

She grinned at him. “Not in the slightest, but my brother is part of the computer team that sends out the lists. Things can be… shifted around a little if you know how.”

John was once again lost for words. His ex-wives and a stack of ex-girlfriends had made it quite clear that he was a drunken loser, and even sober he wasn’t much of a man. Even his own mother had said as much after a couple of drinks of her own.

“You wanted me on your list?”

Anju hadn’t stopped smiling. “I have a gift for you. Think of it as a courting present.” She reached into the cloth carry bag she had slung over one shoulder and pulled out a slim, worn, paperback book. She handed it to John.

The Scream of the City by John Quinn.

His hands began to violently tremble and he fought not to accidently crush the cheap paper. “I didn’t think this survived.”

“A couple of copies made it. That one is mine.”

He brushed his fingers over the title. The New York Review of Books had called him an urban Walt Whitman and hailed him as the next step in American poetry. The New York Times called it so much adolescent tripe. Either way it launched his career. “I wrote this when I was nineteen.”

“And I read it when I was ten.”

The answers to so many questions started to click into place. “You. You got me on whatever list. You got me here. You saved me?”

“You were already on the list of possible candidates. I just made sure you floated a little higher up it. I couldn’t see your talent die with the rest.”

A flash of anger stilled his hands. He hadn’t come twenty thousand years to have his career mocked. “What fucking talent? I’ve been a hack and a joke for decades and everyone knows it. Did you even read the reviews of my last three books?”

“Did you? The reviews of Holy Rain were glowing, every one of them.”

John had been proud of Holy Rain. It was the first thing he’d written sober for a while, but he hadn’t looked at a single review. After the thrashing his previous two books had gotten he was sure another hit would just send him back to drinking. He tried to keep up the anger but it was fading quickly under Anju’s serene smile. “That still doesn’t explain what the hell I’m doing here shelving books.”

A flash of confusion and a little sadness crossed Anju’s face. “Has no one told you?”

“No one has told me shit since I woke up.”

Her hand covered his just as it had that night at the bar. “The book shelving is temporary.” She leaned in close, her lips to his ear. He breathed in her scent, still oranges and green grass. “You are the poet laureate of Eden.” John’s heart stopped. “You are charged with the responsibility of telling us where we came from, and where we are going. You get to scream about our past and muse on our present. You get to be the namer of things we’ve never seen.”

He looked down at her hand, so soft and warm, so very alive. He wanted to somehow shrink himself down and curl up in that hand. “I haven’t written a thing in a year.”

“I thought you might say that.” She reached into her bag and pulled out a pad of yellow legal paper and a number 2 pencil. The same objects he was crouched over in the photo at the back of all his books; his writing instruments of choice, originally stolen from his mother’s divorce lawyer. “I squirreled a few pads away. Not enough to last forever but enough to get you started again.”

“Thank you,” he whispered. He picked up the pencil and rolled it in his fingers. A sense of peace slid into his bones at the familiar hexagonal shape and the slight smell of yellow paint, wood, and graphite. He ran the edge of his thumb across the cheap, once mass produced paper with more care than he had ever touched any woman.

He looked up into Anju’s face, finally giving it proper study. He took note of the tiny scar on her chin, and the first few lines at the corner of her eyes. He knew the questions he wanted to ask: why did she save him, him of all the poets in the world? What was he to her and who was she, beneath that smile and brown eyes?

“So… how’d you get this ride? I mean aside from being obviously intelligent and very beautiful.”

Anju blushed a little and John fell just a bit in love. It had been a long time since he’d known any women capable of that. “I have double doctorates in biotechnology and environmental engineering.”

“So you’re a completely pathological overachiever.”

“No, just the daughter of completely pathological overachievers. I wasn’t given much of a choice.” She ran her fingers across The Scream of the City. “The arts were not encouraged in our home, but still I read you under the covers at night. You, Ginsberg, Kerouac. You were my rebellion.”

“Those are some big names. I’m touched.”

She smirked. “Not yet.”

John laughed, sounding strange to his own ears. The purple sparrows were startled up to higher branches. “By any chance do you know what those purple birds are called?”

Rhipidura Passer Motitensis Purpureum.

“Wow. Do they have a name that doesn’t require advanced Latin classes?”

“Most of the new birds don’t have common names yet.”

John watched as little Frank with his twisted foot hopped back down to a lower branch and flashed his tail feathers. He’d been watching the Rhipidura Passer Motitensis Purpureum for a year now and knew the male mating dances. “You said I get to name things?”

“I did.”

John raised his hand to poor desperate Frank. “I hereby dub you… a grapekoolaid.”

Anju’s bark of laughter sent the grapekoolaids fluttering from their perches towards the library. “A grapekoolaid?” she sputtered through giggles.

“Who outside our generation is ever going to know what the hell Grape Kool-Aid is?”

“Okay.” She was still giggling. “Are you going to name all our birds after beverages?”

“Well, I have been calling those green and white parrot pigeon-things mojitos.”

“Mojitos and grapecoolaids. I’ll be sure to pass that along.” Before John could make any other declarations Anju leaned in a put a peck on his cheek. He felt them burn in a way they hadn’t since he was a child. “I need to get going. Society fell and was rebuilt and still we have meetings.”

“Humans are humans. Cave men probably had meetings to discuss mammoth population management or something.”

“I’m sure they did.”

They fell into a silence that John didn’t want to break. He was still half afraid she was a dream. “Um… So… Do you want to get coffee or tea or something, considering…?” John waved to the pad with his list.

“I’d like that a lot.” She stood then leaned in close. “You’ve got my number now,” she whispered before heading back across the courtyard. John watched her go, nearly hypnotized by the soft swing of her blue dress.

He placed his list aside and took a deep breath of the clean air, trying to catch a lingering hint of Anju scent. He listened to the song of the grapecoolaid seeking a mate. He looked down at the yellow pad of paper and rolled the pencil between his fingers. He placed the tip on the first line and wrote… Song of a Blue Dress. He paused and moved his pencil to the next line. In Two Hundred and Eighty Two Words.

#END#

Posted in Free Read, writing | 2 Comments

Crockpot Writing or Why I Failed NaNoWriMo 2014 Miserably and Why That’s a Good Thing

(This is an expansion of something I posted on Google+ back in early December)

Why I failed miserable at NaNoWriMo 2014. Two reasons.

Reason One: I was sick. Everyone in the house was sick. Not joking here, at least one person in the house was sick every day of November. I spent one morning in the ER after spending a night puking my own bile. One member of the household is a toddler who was sent home from daycare after a few too many runny diapers in a row. There were viruses, colds, and just when I was feeling better I rolled my ankle the day before Thanksgiving. So yeah, messy, nasty, sickness really messed with my writing time and energy. nanogp1

Reason Two: I should not have started to beginning with. At least not with the story I did. I have a process but until this I didn’t realize just how much of a process I have or how important it was that I stick to it. My process is what I now call crockpot writing. I have to slow cook the ideas in my head for a long time, possibly years, before I feel comfortable enough to start it. I figure I need at least at 75% written in my head before I sit down and put fingers to keyboard, and it can’t just be the first 75%. I have a whole file of half-finished wrecks that make it very clear that I need at least a general idea of a beginning, middle, and end before I start typing.

I also need to know a lot about the characters before I can start writing them. I don’t know if it was years of method acting training (which I was bad at), or years of writing fanfic, but I can’t seem to get more than two good words out of a character unless I know a lot about who they were and what they did before the story even starts. That’s not to say I don’t discover or change things about the character once I start writing but I need a strong foundation before I do.

I had none of this with my NaNo project.

I pushed myself into the idea of writing a young adult novel which I have never done before. It’s currently lucrative and my publisher, Dreamspinner Press, has just started a YA imprint, Harmony Ink. And in the famous last words of so many I thought to myself ‘how hard can it be?’ I scraped up a vague idea for a story in mid-October and told myself that I could work it out as I went. Very Bad Idea. I should have known myself better.nanogp2

I never studied prose but I did study screenwriting as part of my Master’s Degree program. My professor was very big on three act structure and outlining and it does show in how I write my prose. I get twitchy if a book I’m working on can’t be broken down into a solid act structure with identifiable highs, lows, and turning points. She also ground into her students the importance of a solid step outline, and that all actions must inform and be motivated by character.

I had done none of this before starting NaNo. None of it. I had a couple of ideas for scenes I wanted, maybe about 20 lines of dialog, and a vague idea of what I wanted the story to be about. No outline, no idea how things were going to get from A to B to C. I also knew nothing about any of the characters. My old Russian method acting teacher would have been so disappointed in me.

“How can you act when you do not know who you are?!”

How can I write when I don’t know who I’m writing? The answer is I can’t.
nanogp3
One of the most important relationships was supposed to be between the main character and her step mother. On November 1 the step mother didn’t even have a name. She had no job, no past, nothing. She was just The Step Mother. I can’t write emotional connection or conflict with a character who is just The Step Mother. Maybe a better writer than I can but my attempts were a disaster.

Another important character was the Ex-Girlfriend. Again, November 1 she didn’t have a name, I didn’t know why the breakup had happened, or why they had been together in the first place. The main character was supposed to be cold and closed off, instead 4,000 words in she’s pouring her heart out to a group of complete strangers. And I have no idea if that was a legitimate character choice or just my virus addled brain doing an exposition dump.nanogp4

I have better hope for my next two novels. I’m not really sure which one I’m going to tackle next but they’ve been sitting in my head for a while. One is a sequel to my western novella Eden Springs. That should have probably been a novel to begin with but it was the first thing I put out there was insecure about it. It has been slow cooking since the moment I hit send on that first submission in 2012 (fuck I haven’t published in a long time). The characters are already set, their backgrounds are in my head, and a lot of it is already on the page.

The other story about ready to come out of the crockpot and onto the plate is a (very) slow build romance about a couple of government agents. That one has been cooking away since mid-2011 when I woke up one morning with a freeze frame image in my head of a man in a hospital bed staring at the ceiling and another man in a suit sitting on the edge of the bed looking away. I’ve spent the last four years teasing out that image, working out who those men are, how they got there, and where they are going. I have a lot of hope for that one.nanogp5

As for my NaNo project I still think I have the seed of a good story and at least two characters that might prove interesting, and I have 13k written. But I broke my own process and that (along with several viruses) broke me. So I’ll stick the story in the back of my head and put it on low. Maybe by next November it’ll be ready for another go, maybe the November after that. Maybe it’ll fall into the same file as the poly romance I started at nineteen and still can’t work out a third act for.nanogp6

But now that I have fully accepted, acknowledged, and resigned myself to the fact that I have a process it might mean fewer half finished .doc files and more fully complete novels for people to enjoy. Here’s hoping.

Posted in writing | Tagged | 2 Comments

Actually Really Good Gluten, Dairy, and Soy Free Chewy, Fudgy, Chocolate Brownies

Hello and welcome back for the first time, or something like that. Here at the start of 2015 I resolve to actually post something on this blog at least every other week. No. Really. I swear. I have reasons for this, the big one being that I have two novels coming out this year from Dreamspinner Press and I would really like it if people read them. The synopsis can be found on my Coming Soon page however the synopsis for the second has spoilers for the first.

In an attempt to actually post something every other week a solid percentage of my posts will actually be coming from my personal recipe book. As I get closer to my release dates I’ll post recipes for the home meals I mention in the books.

And now since I lured you in with the promise of a brownie recipe here it is, developed for a couple of friends with stacks of dietary requirements.

Actually Really Good Gluten, Dairy, and Soy Free Chewy, Fudgy, Chocolate Brownies
(I have no problem eating Gluten, Dairy, or Soy and I’ll eat a whole pan of these if no one stops me.)

Ingredients

1 2/3 cups granulated sugar

3/4 cup powdered baking cocoa. Non-sweetened. (Cocoa should be the only thing listed in the ingredients)

1 1/3 cups gluten free flour (If gluten isn’t a problem just use all-purpose flour. See bottom for more notes on other gluten free substitutes that aren’t flour)

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

2 tablespoons water

3/4 cup coconut oil, melted (I use Blue Coconut cooking oil. Check the label, coconut oil should be the only thing listed. If the only place you can find coconut oil is one of those make your own makeup places make sure it’s fit for human consumption. If soy isn’t a problem regular vegetable shortening should work just fine.)

2 teaspoons vanilla paste (you can use vanilla extract since the paste is expensive)

1/2 – 1 cup frozen raspberries, nuts, or anything else you like in your brownies.

Instructions

Preheat oven 175C/350F

Grease bake pan even if it’s a nonstick or silicone one. Those square pans that are about 22cm/9in across seem to give the best thickness.

This dough will be very thick so if your mixer doesn’t have a bit of grunt to it it’ll be best to do it by hand.

Carefully melt the coconut oil in the microwave or on the stove top and slowly mix it with the sugar. Don’t have the mixing bowl too cold or the oil too hot because you can cause the sugar to simply melt and form rock candy on the bottom of the bowl.

Add water, eggs, and vanilla.

Add in whatever extra stuff you want. I like using frozen raspberries because they break apart as they are mixed in so they spread evenly throughout the batter.

Stir until consistent but don’t over stir.

Slowly mix in the dry ingredients a bit at a time, maybe half a cup. The batter will be very thick at this point, more like bread dough. If you have a good stand mixer with a bread hook it would be fine to use that.

Spread into bake pan and pat down. It’s pretty thick and will not spread much so you need to push it into the corners yourself. It’s fine to use your hands at this point.

Bake 25 minutes but do a quick check at 20 if your oven runs a little hot. If you’ve added something like raspberries bake an extra minute to compensate for extra moisture.

Remove from oven and let sit.

No, really, don’t touch it. It’ll still look semi raw in the middle and if you flip it out or try to cut it while still really hot it’ll just fall apart. It’s closer to fudge and needs a bit of time to set.

Wait 15-20 minutes then flip out onto a plate or cooling rack.

Wait another 15 minutes or so before cutting. Do Not use a serrated blade. If you wait until the brownies are at room temperature you’ll get nice really clean cuts.

Should make about 16, minus whatever is consumed in the name of quality control. They are very rich so they don’t have to be large.

NOTES: I tried using rice flour with this first. It came out dry and tasting a bit like chocolate rice cakes. I tried coconut flour next. The batter came out very, very thick. It was like clay. I had to lean in full strength to get it into the pan. The brownies tasted okay but they were very dry and a bit grainy. I think with maybe some more water it would work but I didn’t have a chance to try. Someone recommended I use half and half rice/coconut flour. In the end I got the flour that was being sold in the gluten free section of Pak ‘n Save.

If anyone would like to experiment with flour options and write me I’ll post an update. The same goes for anyone who wants to try to do this egg free.

P.S.
If you’ve left me a comment in the last year or so I let my spam filter expire thinking it wouldn’t be a big deal. 100,000 spam posts later I got a new filter and ended up just doing mass deletes so if you commented I didn’t get it.

Posted in cooking | 2 Comments

Pacific Rim (A Review)

(This will contain some spoilers but I’ll try to keep them at a minimum. Really no more than I think you’ll get in any other movie review.)

A few weeks ago I talked my partner into seeing Pacific Rim in IMAX 3D for our eight year anniversary. (As a quick explanation of our relationship the copy of When Harry Met Sally is his and Apocalypse Now Redux is mine.) I had read the mainstream reviews which had trashed it, and the nerd reviews which had loved it, and since it was a Guillermo del Toro movie it was on my to watch list. I thought I would have to wait for the Blu-ray since going out now means finding a babysitter.

I am so happy I got to see this.

The most basic look at the plot is easy. A rift to another dimension opens up under the Pacific Ocean. Big ass monsters (Kaiju) come out and start tearing the place up, one monster at a time, over several years. And since the things are damn hard to kill humans build big ass robots (Jaegers) with human pilots to kick monster ass.

If you’ve spent any time watching anime, or certain sections of Japanese cinema, you are probably familiar with the whole kaiju and mecha ideas. Indeed this is a loving homage to those works. If you have seen Neon Genesis Evangelion (at least the first few episodes) parts of the first act will feel familiar. However knowledge of such things is in no way needed to appreciate this film.

One of the key elements of Pacific Rim that differs from other many mecha works is the idea of two pilots per Jaeger, and The Drift. As explained in the backstory narration a single human brain fries out trying to work a Jaeger so two are needed, working in tandem. To accomplish this there is the Drift. A sort of computer triggered mind meld that allows two people to fight and control a Jaeger together. Not everyone can drift and not everyone can drift with everyone else. This means being a street brawler is as good as formal martial arts as long it’s effective and you can Drift.

Our hero Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam from Sons of Anarchy and Queer as Folk (UK)) loses his drift copilot early on and so is out of the Jaeger program. Several years pass. The Kaiju start getting bigger. The Jaeger start losing, and politicians decide to scrap Jaegers and just built a giant wall around all major coast lines (probably built by the lowest bidder).

The head of the Jaeger program, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), scrapes up the last four Jaegers, six months of funding, and a plan to put an end to the Kaiju war. This means he needs pilots and Raleigh Becket needs someone new to drift with.

Now there has already been about a million words of conflicting meta-analysis on Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) and there will be a million more. I’ll let you go find it all yourself. I personally think she’s awesome. I don’t think her show of deference and respect to her commanding officer/father figure is a sign of weakness. Her ‘love story’ with Raleigh isn’t ‘this is the apocalypse, we just met, you’re hot, let’s have sex‘ it’s ‘this is the apocalypse, we just met, I can kick your ass, I want to pilot a giant robot and kick monster ass with you.‘ From Raleigh’s end it’s about the same. ‘It’s the apocalypse, we just met, you can wipe the floor with my ass if I blink at the wrong moment, let’s talk our boss into letting you pilot a giant robot with me so we can be bff’. (Art by Lynx with permission.)

The supporting cast are all good fun. Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman, the radioactive king of the weevils) are the mad scientist/mathematician who work out the plan to close the rift. Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman) who takes his name from his “favorite historical figure” and his “second-favorite Szechuan restaurant in Brooklyn”, is a dealer in black market Kaiju parts and probably knows more about the creatures than the scientists. There is apparently an hour worth of back story on various supporting characters that got cut and there won’t be a director’s cut. All I can say is there better be at least an hour of deleted scenes on the blu-ray.

The visuals for this film are excellent but since it’s a Guillermo del Toro that’s to be expected. Each Jaeger is as unique as is each Kaiju. The Kaiju obviously come from the same mind that brought us Pan’s Labyrinth, but as they go ripping through the Golden Gate Bridge and the Sydney Opera House they bring to mind the monsters of Ishirō Honda and Ray Harryhausen, both of whom the film is dedicated to. There are times when the battles seem overly long, but they never feel long for the sake of being long. The Kaiju are bloody hard to kill. The first one needed a nuke to take down.

Oddly enough this isn’t a dark film. It could be. It could be a cynical, bleak, end of the world, darkly lit, work of standing despite total hopelessness. It’s not. It’s well lit for one. There is a sliver of hope that everyone is clinging to. There is a sense of ‘if we’re going down we’re going down fighting’! There are moments of humor. Idris Elba gives one of the best if shortest St. Crispin’s Day speeches in the last thirty years of cinema*. There’s a bit with a dog. Everyone loves a bit with a dog.

It’s not a perfect movie by a long shot. There’s that missing hour of backstory. Burn Gorman’s performance is a bit over the top, but it needed to be to stand up to Charlie Day’s frenetic performance. It doesn’t pass the Bechdel test (though I could write a very lengthy and controversial post on that). Max Martini, for as much as I love him, really could have used a dialog coach to help with the pretty awful Australian accent. And an unexplained bloody nose seems to be the late 20th/early 21st century equivalent of daintily coughing blood into a white hanky.

There are also a lot of unanswered questions, like what happened to New Zealand and other island countries that were practically sitting on top of the rift? Did they get abandoned by the rest of the world who were building giant walls and robots? Did they say screw it and build their own Jaeger? How badly does Drifting with your father or brother mess up your personal life? Why was the rift opened where it was and what’s going to prevent the opening of another? How exactly did Hannibal Chau manage that thing he does at the very end after the credits?** (Art by flatbear with permission.)

What this all boils down to is go see this movie if you haven’t already. If you have seen it go see it again. If you can’t go see it again go pre order the DVD and buy the novelization and comic books and action figures because we want the studios to make more Pacific Rim and (much) less of The Lone Ranger.

~
* I’m even putting it over William H. Macy’s Egg Salad Sandwich speech from Mystery Men

**There might be someone reading this who hasn’t seen it.

Posted in Film Reviews | 3 Comments

Only Lovers Left Alive (A Review)

I recently had the honor of being only the second audience to see Only Lovers Left Alive as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival at the lovely vintage Civic theater. It is a droll comedy of middle-aged marriage staring Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton. No, you’re not reading the wrong review.

Adam, played by Tom Hiddleston, and Eve, played by Tilda Swinton, have been married for a long time. Adam is living in the barren outskirts of Detroit (filmed in the barren outskirts of Detroit), where he is a completely reclused musician. He’s self-recording pieces that sound a bit like the 90’s Punk/Grunge transition but with a drop of 60’s Hendrix, and modern electric mixing. His only contacts with the outside world are Ian, played by Anton Yelchin (Chekov in the Star Trek reboots), who acquires for him vintage electric guitars from the 50’s and 60’s as well as pristine vinyl recordings, and Dr. Watson, played by Jeffrey Wright, who sells him ‘the good stuff’.

Eve, played by Tilda Swinton is living in Tangiers (filmed in Tangiers), in small rooms filled with beautiful old books and not much else. She spends time hanging out at a local café where she meets with an old friend who answers to the name Marlowe (played by John Hurt). He knows a ‘good French doctor’ who supplies them both with ‘the good stuff’.

While it’s never explained why they are living apart at the time they do talk, her on her shiny new iphone, he on a jury rigged setup between his laptop, remote, and nearly antique TV. When he admits he’s writing a lot of funeral music and bemoaning the state of civilization she decides it’s time to go to Detroit.

Together they are a nicely married couple. They have some rough moments, disagreements, but they also still dance in the living room to their favorite records, curl around each other in sleep, and praise each other’s work even when they won’t praise their own. When Eve’s party girl little sister, Ava, shows up from LA uninvited, unwanted, and unforgiving for her last visit Adam does his best to suck it up and tolerate her because that’s what spouses do with their in-laws.

Oh, and they’re vampires. There are no sparkles. There is no running off to hunt the moment there is darkness. Instead there are pillows pulled over heads and grumbles about sleeping in. There is in fact no hunting at all as most human blood now has toxins, hence the need to buy ‘the good stuff’, clean blood off doctors for wads of cash. While ages aren’t given it’s implied they are probably at least a thousand. That’s a long time to be in love.

They are not stuck in the dusty past like some classic vampires. Adam considers Tesla one of his heroes. Eve teases her husband for having a dressing gown that’s over two hundred. Some of their favorite songs are blues and jazz that is old to us and yesterday to them. The supernatural powers that we see are little more than some speed and an apparent ability to see the future in broad strokes. But it’s unclear if the precognition is actually a supernatural ability or if they are just old enough to understand the patters of human behavior.

Overall I would highly recommend this film. The first act pacing is a little slow but it lays the groundwork for the sweet, truthful, and often funny relationship the blooms as soon as Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are on screen together.

As for the cast Tilda Swinton and John Hurt are actors that could read the federal budget and still be good. With this scrip they are far better than good. Anton Yelchin is funny and unrecognizable with his long rock ‘n roll hair, and slightly stoned American accent. And Tom Hiddleston truly stands out in this. He invokes a 90’s Seattle musician world-weariness (actually earned in his case), but with a steady, honest, constant love for his wife that is plainly obvious to anyone at a glance. And if you only know him as Loki from the Marvel juggernauts you’ll really want to see him in this. Also look up The Hollow Crown mini-series. He was good in that too.

According to IMDb the next screening is in October in Taiwan as it’s doing the festival circuit but as it bounces around the globe do try to find it if it comes anywhere near your area.

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Fandom, Friendship, and The Next Generation

(I know this is meant to be a blog about writing but if you follow my twitter, @adamariasoto, you’ll know the reason for the extended brain fade. This is the first attempt at putting fingers to keyboard in months and will probably be a little rambley and disjointed.)

I was not popular in school, and I’m not just talking high school, I was a social reject in kindergarten. I had the triple hit of too smart for my own good, coming from an obviously lower socioeconomic strata than my classmates, and my mother worked at my school. Social death. I wasn’t the least popular kid in school. That award went to a kid call Chris that even the teachers had a hard time being nice to. But I was the queen of the losers. However being unable to afford the cool clothes and being a general social reject had its advantages. I didn’t have to like the crap the cool kids liked. I could publicly denounce New Kids On The Block and not get less popular.

Oh, one other thing I had going against me was that I was a PBS baby. Commercial TV was not allowed (unless it was something my parents really liked). If you are a PBS baby you know the pain. You started kindergarten knowing the fibonacci sequence thanks to Square One Television but you couldn’t name a single character from Jem or G.I. Joe.

Our local PBS station at the time was KTEH San Jose and the scheduling staff was full of nerds and anglophiles. Decades before BBCAmerica they were showing Doctor Who, using Are You Being Served as evening filler, and were the first American station to air things like Neon Genesis Evangelion. And on Sundays they had Sunday Science Fiction Night where they showed Blake’s 7, The Prisoner with Patrick McGoohan, and Red Dwarf. *

I loved Red Dwarf. I also loved The Prisoner but it was a different kind of love. Red Dwarf spoke to me on some odd level. I could run around school calling people smeghead and not get in trouble for cussing, or even insults because no one really knew what it meant. I would watch it every Sunday when it was on and when they marathoned it for pledge drives I would watch it again. Even if that meant putting up with them begging for money between episodes. One year they even got Robert Llewellyn in the studio somehow, that was a big treat. I knew all the words to the theme song, could name all the episodes, quote tones of dialog, knew all about the actors long before the internet was available to the common person, and get behind the scenes footage on VHS tape, before I was ten. I was a fan. Red Dwarf was my fandom. It was my first real fandom. I don’t count Star Trek because my mother was a trekkie. I inherited that one. Red Dwarf was all mine.

Back to school. Fourth grade we get a new classmate. This was a rare occurrence as it was a smallish school, and some of us had been in classes together since we were three. A new classmate, a girl, especially one in jeans, t-shirts, and tennis shoes meant someone further down the social ladder than me. And I will fully admit I was no better than any other child and that meant I had a mean streak in me. But the new girl beat me to the punch and insulted my new haircut.** I told her something horrific about the school lunches, and I quickly had someone new of the list of people I didn’t like who also didn’t like me.

After a few months there was a standard class fieldtrip. Our school couldn’t afford busses (that’s another story there) so PTA mothers were asked to drive, and having no one who wanted to be my fieldtrip buddy I got stuck in a back seat with the new girl. The drive to Año Nuevo to watch sea elephants mate was almost certainly filled with snarking and insults. For the drive back we were told to find something we actually liked to talk about so I bring out the obscure, no one has ever heard of it, British sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf.

What I did not know was new girl’s dad was from England, and there is nothing more English than an Englishman not living in England. New girl knew Red Dwarf and I suddenly had a new best friend. And that is not even a remote exaggeration. Within seconds we were singing the theme song, talking about favorite episodes, and doing lines. She did a good Cat and my Holly wasn’t half bad. Her dad was from Liverpool so her Lister was excellent, and I managed a pretty good Rimmer. She agreed that Martina, Simone, and Kelsey were smegheads, and we were soon sitting together at lunch every day.***

I had made a friend. What’s more I had made my first fandom friend. Now fandom friends are wonderful and important and I’ve made many over the years, but it’s easy to find someone who is into Star Trek or Doctor Who. Being in the fourth grade and being made to sit next to someone, who just moved from rural Washington State, who just happens to know and love the same show obscure British show, which only had a couple of dozen episodes, and had only ever aired a handful of place, that was fate, destiny , kismet. The odds on that are simply stupidly long.

Over the years we created more common ground for each other even as our lives took very different paths. She got tattoos and piercings, went to Germany, learned to fire juggle, and smoked some pot. I got depressed and wore too much mismatched black, went to Alaska, took SSRIs, and smoked pot once. We mostly communicate by facebook now, and every so often an update via our mothers, but never once have I thought of her as anything but one of my best friends.

Now jump forward almost twenty five years from the backseat of that sensible family sedan. She’s living in the San Francisco Bay Area running a punk accordion shop with her wife.**** I’m living in New Zealand with my partner of seven years (eight in a few days), and working in the grubby end of the technology department of a TV station, and I’m pregnant.

The length, breadth, and depth of the baby names lists was epic and my partner and I could agree on nothing. Every name was completely unsuitable to one of us.***** We went down top 100 list and top 500 lists. We pulled up weird names, and painfully common names. Before we knew the gender the kid was code named Wednesday or Pugsley and we were having such a hard time picking names there was a risk of Wednesday or Pugsley ending up on the birth certificate. When we were asked if we wanted to know the gender we said yes just because it would knock half the names off our lists (and I don’t like surprises).

Finally, finely we hit the name of my old dear friend and was it acceptable to both of us. We grabbed onto it with both hands and prayed it was a girl because the only boy’s name I liked was Tristan and my partner said no to that one.

I won’t go into the details of the birth but let’s just say there is no shame in an epidural, and at the end of it they laid a lovely little girl on my chest who looked like she fitted the pre-chosen name.

Five days later I get out of the hospital we get to take our baby home. We put her in the crib in the living room (we have a one bedroom apartment), wait until she’s asleep, then with the kind of brain dead exhaustion that only new parents truly understand we flip on the TV. My partner, having no idea of how I met his daughter’s namesake, flipped on Red Dwarf. This isn’t regular watching for us and I have no idea what prompted him to pick it but we got through series IV before we managed to pry ourselves up and boil some eggs for dinner.

Now there is a theory that human brains can retain everything they are exposed to. Even things happening around them while they sleep. If this holds true then my child’s first media exposure in her home involved a bread obsessed talking toaster, a blob with a crush on an android, a wax droid Caligula threatening someone with a bucket of soapy frogs, and the knowledge that larger is the only thing that can kill a vindaloo. And I have no guilt for this, at all. There are far worse things that could be filtering into her young mind, like The Wiggles, or just about any reality TV. And if the theories of total recall hold then she also already knows that:

Wesley Crusher has about as much game as Arnold Rimmer, but that Wheaton’s Law isn’t a bad one to live your life by.

Abed is a shaman, and soup is better.

Don Draper is not a good role model (my partner’s fault).

French rugby sucks this season (my fault).

The women of her family have vastly differing opinions on Matt Smith’s tenure as The Doctor.

Bilbo is fussy but very brave (and Thorin is a bit of a dick).

Frodo is scared but willing to do what needs to be done (and casting Sean Bean in anything is an instant spoiler).

She will be a pitcher for the Oakland A’s (or shortstop, her choice).

‘As you wish’ means ‘I love you’ (and there’s nothing better than a mutton, lettuce, and tomato sandwich).

Ronald D. Moore was Star Trek’s best writer since D. C. Fontana.

Christopher Tietjens is a sad sorry bastard who just refuses to get out of the way on the oncoming train of change.

Galaxy Quest is one of the better Star Trek movies out there.

And

Joss Whedon will kill everything you love if you let him.

I know there is a chance that my daughter could end up a queen bee popular girl who wants to wear the coolest clothes, listen to top 20 music, and quite possibly just hate my guts. Despite that risk I don’t think a solid grounding in a bit of fandom is a bad thing for her. Especially the ones that make you look up and think grander thoughts than most. And considering the overall geek level of her parents I’m sure she’ll inherit some fandoms, and find her own. Hopefully she’ll make fandom friends that she’ll get to go white water rafting with, or stay up too late and cry in front of, and fight with, and make up with, because fandom friends are the best, and no matter how distant and separate your lives become you’ll always have that one thing in common.

^^^^^^^

*The first autograph I ever got (or rather begged my mom to go get for me) was from the Scott Apel who did the pre and post episode analysis for The Prisoner every Sunday. I spotted him at my first Star Trek convention. I don’t know what surprised him more, that someone recognized him, that someone wanted his autograph, or that my mother let her eight year old watch The Prisoner.

**We are talking late 80’s at this point and my mother had the idea that I should have bangs despite having very curly hair and a round face. It was a haircut worthy of insult but still…

***Yes I am so petty I can remember the name of the popular girls in fourth grade.

****And you could now probably track her down with a google search.

*****No names of people we know. No names from Jane Austen novels. No names from Lost. A name I can remember how to spell even while tired…

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