Wednesday, March 31, 2010

CBII Book 15: The Child Thief - Brom

Gerald Brom or "Brom" if you will, has taken a charming children's tale and turned it into a nightmare. We've all seen Disney's tale of a puckish Pan, and some of us have even read James Barrie's version, but "Brom" has managed to destroy my childhood memories so completely that I'll never look at Wendy the same way again.

A young boy with preturnatural abilities is...well...not "kidnapping" but, "enticing" children to come to his island. Perhaps he's a childish trickster, or maybe he's a masochist with a fetish for the young ones, but all he REALLY wants is for the run-aways to find a home.If they can help him defeat the adults and save the world, well, then so much the better.

This is not a tale for your children. Nor is it a tale for those of a gentle constitution. Brom's story begins with the recounting of a sexual assult and while it is, and is not graphic, it's meant to set the tone to the novel. Those of us who are familiar with the Disney version of Peter Pan will probably be apalled, but I'm not sure that those who are looking for "The Twist" will be satisfied  either.  Brom could have taken his work to a truly disturbing extent but he went for the PG rating instead. I can't help but think that if it was R-rated it would have made for a much better mind-fuck.  Which is what he was obviously going for.

The Child Thief is a good book in that it wields a classic story in such a way as to make one question whether the tale was really so innocent to begin with. It also provides a decent metaphore for the struggles that many children face in the world today. However it also falls into a lot of the "I saw Bobby smoking pot" cliches we're all used to0 and wish we could get awat from. If you're looking for a good retelling of an old and maybe sinister story; The Child Thief definitelty fills the bill.

CBII Book 14: Sailing To Sarantium - Guy Gavriel Kay

I was forced to read a Guy Gavriel Kay book by my wife. She's been nagging me for years but it wasn't until she very publicly called me out on Pa'eh'ba day that I decided to take her up on her most subtle insistence. She did a review of a GGK book as he's a Canadian author who happens to be from my home province. (did I mention that she received a copy of his latest, unpublished book as a thank you?). This wouldn't be such a big deal but for the fact that Guy Gavriel Kay is from one of the most redneck towns in the province but has managed to develope an imagination far beyond anything I could hope to ever obtain. While I refused to take my wife's advice for a time (mostly due to her love for American Idol, Grey's Anatomy and her penchant for watching all of the television shows my kids watch) I have to admit, she was right: Kay has a fantastic gift for storytelling. However, in this case, it is certainly not without fault.

The central story is about a newly crowned emperor, his empress of lesser means, a mosaicist, and the all the politics that go along with being favoured by His Highness. A few years after winning the throne, the emperor summons mosaicist Martinian of Varena to Sarantium to construct a mosaic unmatched in the world in his holy temple. However, Martinian (being an old man)  insists that his partner Caius Crispus go in his stead. Caius, having lost his wife and daughter to the plague the year prior, refuses to go until he speaks secretly with the queen of his country .She urges him to go with the intention that he delivers her offer to the emperor in the interest of peace and saving her life. Caius sets off with the aid of a necromancer and his "tricks"  but has no idea of the pagan religion he must face or the political intrigues that await him.

Honestly, when I began to read this book, I was about ready to call my wife on her bullshit. It bore a striking resemblance to many other tales of the city of Rome. In fact, you could substitute Rome for Sarantium and never miss a beat. At first, It's somewhat difficult to grasp who the story is about because the prologue of the book is fifty-one pages long and details the current emporer's rise to power; but it also begins with the perspective of a poor shop-keeper, then it shifts to a bureaucrat, then it  then it moves to a Senator, then it details the thoughts of a hooker and her lover then some dudes in the get the idea.

I was extremely frustrated. I could not beleive that my wife and I could be so disjointed in our appreciation of fiction. Really, it took me about a week to get through the first 150 pages, which is unheard of! Then, after that, I tore through the next 400 pages in a day.

Kay describes everything and everyone in minute detail. While this was initially perplexing to me, it all made sense at the end of the tale and I could definitely appreciate his reasons for fleshing out seemingly innocuous characters (with one exception). The way he describes objects through the eyes of his characters is truly breathtaking and his attention to detail (once you get used to it) really makes this book wholly engaging. At its heart, Sailing To Sarantium is a book of political intrigue with a smattering of the occult and a whole lot of love. As such, explaining each characters motivations in such a detailed fashion is integral to the plot. While I initially criticized Kay for being obtuse and unnecessarily verbose, he has a gift for making you understand the motivations of the characters and believing in every action they choose to perform.

Sailing To Sarantium is the first in what I understand will be a duology. If I enjoy the second book as much as I did the first (after the first 150 pages) I may have to admit to my wife that I was wrong. While I'm generally adverse to admitting her correctitude, I'm willing to accept it in this instance.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Lesson on Wrapping Your Meat

On Sunday, just out of the blue, I up and decide to try something a little different for supper. I'll do this fairly often as I just like throwing some shit (not literally) together and seeing what comes out. For the most part, things tend to work out for the best but there has been the odd failure. We don't really talk about those. Being the red-blooded Canadian I am, I decided that there was nothing better than to stuff some meat in some other meat. I guess it wasn't really stuffing, it was more like enveloping a juicy cut of beef in the smokey and savoury heaven known as bacon. "Now why would you do that, Mr. Manager?" you may be asking. If you are actually asking that, please make a vigorous attempt at removing your tonsils with an eggplant. You're an idiot and have no business being here. The world will be better off never having to hear you speak again. The following is a brief outline of my odyssey to a swiney orgasm.

First, you need a roast. It doesn't really matter what kind but you should consider that it has to be cylindrical, not very fatty and of a reasonable circumference. They don't make two foot long slices of bacon and, while I believe that this is an affront to nature, I don't make the rules. I used the butt of a beef tenderloin which was about three pounds and twelve inches in circumference. It wasn't ideal as the shape isn't a cylinder and they tend to be tapered at both ends. Please keep in mind that you don't need to use beef; pork on pork isn't a hate crime, it's a crime of passion.

If you're using a tenderloin, they usually aren't cleaned. You have to tear and slice off all of that lovely viscera so you don't end up with tender deliciousness on top of a layer of rubber. A good rule to follow is "if it's shiny, cut it off." This rule does not apply to my junk. If you've got a prepared roast (one that's been cleaned and trussed by the butcher) you're good to go. Lay out a layer of way paper to put the bacon on as this will help with the rolling process. Next, lay out the strips of bacon vertically. Use as many strips as you need to equal the width of your roast. Now the tricky part; weave more bacon horizontally through the vertical bacon. The easiest way is to simply fold back every second piece of vertical bacon, lay the horizontal piece down and fold the vertical strips back down. Alternate the vertical strips until you end up with what we have below. You may have to stretch the bacon a bit to make it reach but that's just fine.

 Fuck the pill, I choose pork!

 So now we have what I call the bacon matrix. It's as good as the Wachowski's Matrix but without all the Keanu aftertaste. Next take some herbs, pepper, garlic, and whatever else you may think will work and put it on that porcine delight. It doesn't matter if you use fresh or dried seasoning. I used fresh garlic, sage, basil, oregano, mushrooms and cracked pepper. DO NOT USE SALT! The bacon is salty enough on its own. By the way, get a mortar and pestle, you can mash up some brilliant things with apothecary tools. When done, you get something like this:

 Now slap your meat down about four inches from one end of that bitch. Take the edge of the wax paper and fold it over the roast. Now roll it all up (peeling the wax paper off of the bacon as you go) like you're rolling a nice, tight fatty. Really, keep it as tight as you can. Now you have to tie that fucker up. It's the only way you're going to keep it all together and keep the bacon close to and covering the roast. Use some butcher's string and tie it with loops every couple of inches. This is a bad example as my roast wasn't uniform in circumference but you get the idea.

Now it's time for cooking and I decided to use the rotisserie on my grill. People, I can not tell you how important this is, invest in that add-on for your grill. Pay for the extra burner and all that shit. Yes it's a little awkward at first but you will never have juicier or tastier roasts and chickens in your life. Plus, it's so easy. The rotisserie uses both direct and indirect heat so you get a lovely sear on the outside which keeps all the juices on the inside and, because of the rotation, the meat bastes itself.  Because of the direct/indirect method, you can also cook at awesomely low heats while still getting that gorgeous caramelization that we're all looking for. You can certainly roast it in the oven if you wish, but make sure you have a rack in the bottom of the roasting pan and you leave the roast uncovered. You'll also probably have to increase your heat to about 300F in order to crisp the bacon. You could also roast it on your grill sans roasting pan by way of indirect heat.

I Spit-roasted this sexy bitch for about four hours at 200 F and it worked perfectly. Actually, I cooked it to a medium/medium-well which I usually wouldn't do but there were children present and I was a virgin when it comes to wrapping my meat (That's a lie, I forgot about it for a bit). This brings us to another lesson: get a fucking meat thermometer! Not only can you stab people with them at the movies but you can stick them in your roast, chicken or turkey and they will tell you exactly how well it's done. Please note: always cook your roast/chicken/turkey to just a hair below where you want it. It will continue cooking while you let it rest (we'll get to resting in a moment). I know you're not stupid, but, use a drip pan if you're doing this on the grill. If you don't, the next time you fire that fucker up you may as well pre-warn the fire department. So, when the roast is almost done, remove it from the heat and/or take it out of the pan and place it on a cutting board to rest.

 You know you want me

 Resting allows all those sexy juices to absorb back into the meat and it will finish the cooking process. You want to leave any meats you grill or roast to rest for about 7-10 minutes and that includes fowl and steaks. After you're sexy swine-slathered stud has rested, slice it up. Don't slice it thin like a roast, slice it like you were cutting a steak for grilling. That way you get a lovely layer of bacon that hasn't been shredded by your futile attempts at fuck-cuttery. Another note, real meat lovers don't use electric knives. You spent fifty bucks on a vibrating piece of metal when you could have gotten a perfectly good slicer for the same price. So buy the good knife, then learn to sharpen it. Look, is advertising ever wrong?

Now we come to the best part, the consumption. Use a fork and knife as people expect you to use something called 'manners'. I'm unfamiliar with the term as I've never seen them demonstrated.

It's ok if you want to put your dick/clit in it.

Oh yeah, the potatoes! Those were good too! About an hour and a half before the roast is done, dump a small bag of new potatoes in a mixing bowl. Go and get about six tablespoons of the drippings out of the pan under the roast and toss with the potatoes. (You cannot use the drippings as gravy as they're too fatty so don't even try.) Put the potatoes on a foil covered baking sheet and pop them in the oven at 350F. Feel free to add whatever bacon leavin's you have to the cookie sheet too. About twenty minutes before the roast is done, pull the potatoes out of the oven and put them back in the bowl. Add a few tablespoons of dijon mustard, herbs (I used the same kind as on the roast but dill is excellent) a pat of butter, garlic powder, salt and pepper. I also added fresh mushrooms because that's how I roll. Mix, toss them back in the oven for the remaining twenty minutes and serve. Devine.

The aftermath was that the bacon was fabulously smokey but not too salty and was almost like a moist and tender jerky. It added just the right amount of seasoning to the roast and kept it brilliantly tender while not being greasy at all. The herbs were a lovely accent that permiated the entirety of my mouth and the slight bitterness of the dijon potatoes contrasted perfectly with the savory flavours of the bacon and the heady taste of the tenderloin.

Final rating: 8 out of 10 arteries.

StabbyMart: promoting coronaries so we can sell you a defective heart valve.

Monday, March 8, 2010

CBII Book 13: Wake - Robert J. Sawyer

Robert J Sawyer is a Canadian author who has won the Hugo and Nebula awards for various works previous to Wake. To non-Science Fiction geeks that probably doesn't mean a whole lot but those of you comfortable in your nerdom will recognize this awards as something to be quite proud of.  I've never read any of Sawyer's other works so I was totally unbiased while reading this book while lounging by a pool on a 28 degree day in January. Wake is the first book of the World Wide Web trilogy which will have two more contributions in relatively short order (I hope).

Wake begins in Waterloo, Ontario where Caitlin has just moved to from Austin, Texas due to her father taking a position at a technology company. Much like any young teenager she's having difficulty adjusting to life in Canada; the climate, the larger school, the new girl stigma and mostly her new surroundings. You see Caitlin is completely blind and has been from birth. She and her parents have tried many exerimental treatments and surgeries but all to no avail. It isn't much of a detriment for Caitlin though as, at the age of fourteen, she's a genius and has developed a staggering understanding of the world aound her. She excels at everything she tries, is a whiz with mathematics but her best talents are on the World Wide Web. Through the use of tools made specifically for the blind such as braille keyboards and reading software, she can use the internet with more dexterity than most sighted people. She remembers all of the links and complex pathways of the net and, for lack of a better term, generates a map in her head of where she's been and how to get there.

One day Caitlin recieves a strange e-mail from a doctor in Japan regarding an experimental surgery that she appears to be an ideal candidate for. This surgery would implant a mictoprocessor onto Caitlin's optic nerve that would interpret the visual signals it recieves and pass them on to her brain. She would also wear a small wi-fi router/processor on her belt to receive and transmit data and firmware to and from Japan via the internet. Caitlin has nothing physically wrong with her eyes, it is the way the signals are moved to her brain that causes her blindness. After some deliberation Caitlin and her family decide to go to Japan to try the surgery. The proceedure is performed with a minimum of complications and the time comes to turn everything on. Nothing.

Caitlin convices the doctor to let her keep all of the equipment for a while to see if soemthing may miraculously happen. One day when she's walking home from the school dance she sees intermittent bright flashes. Pitch black then milliseconds of bright white. She sees lightning. After conferring with the doctor they decide to do a software upgrade. During this upgrade soemthing strange and wonderful happens. Caitlin can see a series of bright lines that all interconnect and sometimes have bright globish things flying up and down the lines. She talks about this to the doctor about this as it only happens when her processor is in a particular mode. The doctor is at a loss and has made no progress on her vision so they just leave it as is. One day, in science class, Caitlin is looking at this wonder when she switches back to the other setting and...she can see! The doctor immediately flies to Waterloo to investigate her new found vision (both kinds) and upon consideration, they learn that Caitlin can not only see the physical world now, but also the internet. The actual information on the internet as it flows back and forth from node to not But there's soemthing else, something just in the background. Cailin, the doctor and her father do some test on this mysterious occurance and it turns out that it is intelligent. As Caitlin goes about her day to day routine, she begins to notice things, kind of like feedback loops in her software. One time she actually sees a picture of her face transmitted back to her. They run the intelligence tests again and find that the mysterious static has grown more intelligent almost as if its alive and sentient! The revalation that Cailtin comes to leaves her stunned at the possibilities that now exist.

Overall I found the book to be quite good but it does start off rather slowly. What I will say is that the detail and level of research Sawyer must have put into the technology that a blind person would use is rather impressive. Nothing seems out of place in Caitlin's world, whether it's the speach reading software or even the surgical implant she receives. He also delves into some pretty complex mathematics which I can't really call real or imagined (mostly because I'm lazy and won't look it up) but he does an excellent job of relating these complex theories to the reader. I found Caitlin to be quite endearing and she has a sufficiently dry wit that I could easily relate too. All told, I enjoyed the first book of the trilogy enough to continue on through the next two books, whenever they may be published.