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Back from Worldcon!

So, it’s been an epic weekend. Friday morning the 15-year-old and I packed up and boarded a plane bound for Spokane. It was his first Worldcon, and he got a badge ribbon saying so.

I want to say first up that at least from my angle, the folks running the convention did a great job. I know a lot of hard work goes into putting on a con, even a small one, and this was not small. The people who do that hard work are all volunteers, and this year that work was particularly thankless, and so I want to give them props. Thanks, everyone who worked to make Sasquan so much fun!

The 15-year-old and I got in Friday afternoon, dropped our things in the hotel room, and went straight to the convention center to badge up. Ran almost straight away into S. Hutson Blount, who I had not seen for ages and was thinking maybe I wouldn’t have a chance to talk to because of schedules, so that was awesome! Ran next into the Escape Artists crew, which made me super happy.

The only panel I actually attended (that I wasn’t actually, you know, a panelist for) was on writing for video games. The 15-year-old is into video games and occasionally has thoughts of actually making one, so I figured he might like that. Plus, Scalzi was on his list of people he thought it would be awesome to meet, and was on the panel, so I figured I could kill two birds with one stone and fix the kid up.

He did have a good time at the panel, and after we went back and had room service supper, and he decided to skip the rest of the evening’s events, which were, basically, three different meetups that I really wanted to attend that were happening nearly all at the same time.

Which was probably smart, because some time that afternoon a wind had kicked up and blown a shitload of smoke into town. There were health alerts telling us that everyone should stay indoors if we possibly could because the air was super unhealthy for everyone. I heard smoke alarms were going off some places inside the convention center, it was so bad. So of course I walked the half mile from the hotel–or what would have been a half mile if I hadn’t gotten turned around and had to consult Google for instructions on how to get unlost. This would normally have been fine–I actually don’t mind getting mildly lost in new places, I often see cool things, and Spokane actually has some pretty neat buildings, and a nice river-side park with sculptures and really it’s a nice place to walk. Only, you know, it’s better when the atmosphere is actually breatheable. I spent the rest of the weekend with a sore throat and a mild cough.

Had a great time at the meetups, though! It was great seeing people from Launchpad, and to talk to folks at the EA meetup, and of course to get a chance to hang with Clarion West peeps.

Saturday I had a panel on C.J. Cherryh–got a chance to meet Jack Campbell, who was also on the panel, which pleased me, since I’d read the first couple Lost Fleet books and enjoyed them–and Jo Walton said everything I wanted to say about how awesome Cherryh is and more. I also had a panel on the New Space Opera, which was a lot of fun, and well-moderated by Rich Horton. I also got a chance to tour the dealers room with the 15-year-old, who got himself a nifty t-shirt and a personalized button (“These things never have my name on them,” complained the child named after King Arthur’s nephew (sorry, kid, totally my fault) and the person at the booth said, “We do them custom, it’ll take just a couple minutes!”). We also got presents for Mr. Leckie and the 18-year-old, so that was excellent.

Saturday evening I will talk about in another post.

Sunday was signing–the line did not stop the entire hour, which was pretty validating, let me tell you–and I gave away lots of pins and lanyards and even temporary tattoos. Yes, I went completely around the bend but it was so fun. Same at my reading, where I gave out swag, read the opening of Chapter 1 of Ancillary Mercy, answered great questions from the audience, and raffled off four printouts of the first three chapters of Mercy.

And the writers workshop, which was me and Anaea Lay and Jillian Redfern and Lori White and three hopeful (and quite promising!) writers who were brave enough to show us their novel chapters. I enjoyed that a lot.

And then, finally (because we’d been trying to meet up all weekend) dinner with Ellen Klages. And Vonda McIntyre. (Me, sitting there going “Be cool, Ann, be cool.”) I considered finding parties and hanging out more, but I’d been going non-stop pretty much all weekend and it was time to collapse.

And now I’m home! And tired, but happy, because I had a blast. Thanks again to all the folks who worked so hard to make Sasquan happen! And everybody else–I’ll see you in KC!

An Anecdote

So, I’ve actually got a long list of Things to Accomplish today, and so of course a million distractions arise, including “I should tell this amusing anecdote!”

As a compromise between “Relentlessly Do All The Things And Then Collapse” and “Sit Here At The Computer All Day And Then Realize You Have Accomplished Nothing” I will A) tell this anecdote and then B) run my many errands.

I’ve told this story before–once buried in a footnote to an older blog post, and once at Phoenix ComiCon. But you might be a new reader, or someone who doesn’t read footnotes, or someone who wasn’t at my Spotlight at Phoenix Comicon! And it is an amusing and educational story.

So. I’ve worked a lot of different, mostly low-paying (all low-paying, now I think of it) jobs. And one of those, as my bio mentions, was rodman on a land surveying crew.

At the time, the one-person remote controlled instruments were just beginning to be a thing, and were really expensive, but I’ve seen more and more surveyers out and about working by themselves, so it may be the whole rodman thing is going away. But when I was doing it, pretty much every crew at least had two people on it–the crew chief/instrument man and the rodman. The names are kind of self-explanatory: the instrument man ran the instrument that measured angles and distances, and the rodman placed and held the rod that the instrument measured against.

Somewhat ironically, at the time of this story the crew chief I was working with much preferred to place the rod himself, and so I learned to run the instrument. So not only was I not a man, I was not in fact using the rod. (I am quite proud of a couple of my accomplishments on that job, so I’ll just mention casually the time I closed a transit loop perfectly. I am still pleased to think of the chief’s reaction when the numbers all cancelled out to exactly zero.)

Surveying is pretty much all outdoors, in all weathers except rain–the instrument basically shoots a beam of light at a mirror on the rod, and that’s how it measures things. Rain gets in the way. But pretty much no matter how hot or cold it was, we were out in the field. Sometimes that meant in the city measuring a lot for someone’s mortgage, and sometimes that meant out in the country cutting our way through brambles half the day.

Which this one job was. It had been a week of brutal heat, most of it cutting through thorns so the instrument would have line of sight (that beam of light can’t get to the mirror if there are leaves and branches in the way!), and oh, yes, giant horseflies. So the fourth day, bright and early, I was setting up the instrument and the crew chief had gone ahead with the machete to cut a path to where he wanted the next measurement. I got all set up, and looked to see where the crew chief was, and saw him coming toward me. No rod, no machete, just walking. “What’s up?” I asked and he just walked right past me, back through the woods to the truck.

I found him standing by the truck, right hand wrapped tight around his left. “I cut myself,” he said. “God damn horsefly.”

So. He was tired–it had been a long week and because this site was a long drive from the office we’d started much, much earlier than usual. And he’d been cutting brush, and one of those horseflies had landed on his left hand and bitten him, and he’d forgotten that he was holding the machete in his right hand.

Yes. He’d swung the machete at the fly on his hand.

At this point I’ve got visions of severed fingers, but there’s no point panicking. “Right,” I said, “let me see.” Which he didn’t want to at first, but finally he opened his hand, and wow, that could have been much worse. He’d need stitches on all four fingers, but the blade had gone parallel to his hand, and it wasn’t great, but nothing severed, okay, good. I fished some ice out of our cooler–when you work a job like that in the summer you don’t go anywhere without a cooler full of water and ice–and got that on his hand, and I went back into the woods and hauled all our equipment back to the truck and loaded it up, and then I drove to the nearest emergency room.

It was already kind of funny by the time I started up the truck, though some of that laughing was of the “or else you’d cry” variety. And it remains funny in hindsight. But I’ve never forgotten that lesson–some tools just aren’t good for some jobs, and machetes do not make good flyswatters.

Adagio Now Sells Sample Packages of Fandom Blends

Like the title says. I was poking around Adagio Tea, and discovered that they now sell single sample tins of fandom blends. They’re a little pricey at $4 each–the site says they make about five cups, obviously this depends on how much you use, but that’s eighty cents a cup. Compare that to the per cup prices on their other, high end teas. Pretty steep. (Haha, steep.)

But! For just four bucks you can try a little bit of a blend that sounds interesting, instead of ending up with a three ounce bag* of something you really don’t like. So, say, if you were wary of the lapsang in EtrepaBo, you could try just a little bit.

This is an even cooler development than their selling boxes of ten sample tins at once. I did buy some, and gave them out to people, and then Adagio ran out of tins (they said they hadn’t expected the sample tin thing to be so popular) and I was sad, and now they’re back, and even better. You can buy ten samples of one blend, for $20. Or you can buy one tin for $4.

And there are quite a lot of fandom blends beyond mine that you might want to check out!

*Three ounces is a lot of tea. You know what’s even more? A freaking pound of tea. A couple years ago I ran across a tin of Republic of Tea Rosepetal Black. I don’t know what moved me to buy it, I didn’t think I’d like flowery tea, let alone with roses. I was probably just curious. But oh my goodness it was lovely. And then I went to the website and discovered I couldn’t buy more until spring–it was seasonal and when they ran out, it was gone till the next year. So when it came around again, I bought a pound of the stuff. It’s been two years and I think I may have gotten through half of it. Granted, I have so many other teas right now (they’re all research!) that I don’t drink it every day, or even necessarily every week. Still. One pound is a lot of tea.

Authentic

So, the whole “peas in guacamole” thing, I just find it…I don’t know. First off, you know, if someone finds that guacamole with peas in it tastes good, they should eat that and enjoy the heck out of it. Why not?

Why not. I gather I’m only seeing the edges of this, apparently actual news outlets are reporting on the vast and deep internet rage over someone suggesting we try adding peas to guacamole. Seriously? Why?

So, I suppose (perhaps I’m wrong but that won’t stop me from blogging) that it’s a question of peas “not belonging” in guacamole. So here’s my question–why not?

This is something I’ve kind of pondered over the last several years. Sometimes I’ll come across recipes or dishes that are described as “authentic.” Like, real authentic Indian food, or real authentic Mexican food or…yeah.

But what does that mean? What makes a dish or a recipe “authentic”? How about, oh, pizza. Real, authentic pizza, what would that be? Would it be the pizza margherita allegedly invented in Naples in the 1890s? Or would it be the duodecim pizze wikipedia tells us is mentioned in a Latin text at the end of the tenth century? Surely those pizze didn’t have tomato sauce on them! So, like, is real authentic pizza a flatbread with maybe some cheese on it?

My search for “authentic” pizza here completely ignores or dismisses all the more recent varieties of the dish, many of them regional, many of them changing over time. And what seems authentic to me may strike you as a travesty–in fact, I’d bet my idea of authentic pizza would almost certainly do that. I grew up in St Louis, and St Louis style pizza is very likely one of those things you don’t really appreciate unless you’ve grown up with it, or at least eaten it for years. True fact–authentic St Louis style pizza uses provel cheese. You’ve probably never even heard of it unless you’re a St. Louisan, and that’s because provel is made in Wisconsin, and pretty much only for St Louis.

If you wanted to have authentic St Louis style pizza, your best bet would be to come to St Louis and get yourself some Imos. If you couldn’t do that, you’d want to learn to make a really really thin crust and lay your hands on some provel. Oh, and cut the pizza into squares. I swear it makes it taste different. And it would totally be worth trying! Other styles of pizza just aren’t the same.

But is it authentic pizza? Well, like I said, what does that even mean? And if I say something like, “Back in the early nineties I was in the UK and saw, more than once, that sweet corn was an available pizza topping,” you might be saying “Well, duh, Ann, that’s one of those things you put on pizza!” But my reaction was basically that’s not right. Does US pizza somehow have some kind of authenticity advantage over UK pizza? Or the other way around? Or is everything but focaccia with some parmesan grated onto it an adulteration of the real thing?

The thing is, “authentic” food is just the food that particular people ate at a particular place and time, and mostly (particularly when we’re talking about the “peasant” foods that are sometimes valorized as particularly hearty and “authentic”) were made of the things that were easily available. If the same cooks were somewhere else, at a different time, they’d have chosen the things that were easily available there instead. Thinking about it this way, the closer I look at “authentic” the more it disappears into meaningless nothing.

Guacamole isn’t much different. Do you know how many recipes there are for guacamole? And if your great uncle puts peas in his, and serves it that way every Superbowl Sunday through your childhood, that would be a real thing, with its own authenticity.

Authentic is a label we put on things, to freeze them, to declare this one style or this one set of ingredients to be the “true” ones from which all others are deviations. How helpful is that, really? What does it mean when “authentic” food is all external, something other? What does it mean when we talk about “authentic” Italian food being one particular thing, Neapolitan pizza margherita, say, and other versions being fake and wrong–when quite a lot of the provel-laden St Louis Style pizza I ate in my childhood was made by Italian immigrants? Did they lose their authentic Italian-ness somehow, when they came here? Are they only “authentic” so long as they’re peasants with wood-fired clay ovens, and not restauranteurs using the technology and ingredients available to them in present-day St Louis? When I start thinking about it from this angle, I become really uncomfortable with the whole idea of authenticity.

I totally understand wanting to taste (or learn how to make) the kinds of foods that were historically available and aren’t so much today, or are available in other places than where you live, or wanting to try the results of particular cooking techniques. Trying to reproduce historic recipes? I’m totally down with that. I spent longer than was probably reasonable attempting to make a reasonable facsimile of the palak paneer I’ve had at a local Indian restaurant.* I more than understand that. But I’ve come to really side-eye the idea that any kind of food is more “authentic” than another. And when I see an odd variant of something I’m familiar with, my reaction these days is more “Oh, I wonder if that’s good!” than “Ewww, sweet corn doesn’t belong on pizza, that’s just wrong.”

Which brings me back to the peas in the guacamole. Hey, if it doesn’t sound good to you, fine, but it’s hardly a travesty. Why does it seem like a travesty to so many people? It might be worth thinking about.

_________

*The secret is cream. Regular whole milk won’t quite do the trick. This is something to keep in mind generally when trying to imitate restaurant dishes–you probably need to use real butter and real cream for pretty much everything.

Jurassic World.

So, I think the whole Jurassic World screenwriting process went something like this:

Writer 1: I think we’ve got a really cool opportunity here to really dig into the relationship between Chris Pratt and the raptors. I mean, the raptors were really the star of the first movie and they have so much personality we could…

Writer 2: Dude. Dude, you’re overthinking this. It’s dinosaurs. Nobody cares what the actors say, they’ll be watching the dinosaurs. Cut and paste the big scenes from the first movie, make sure there are lots of dinosaurs. In between the actors can just say some random shit.

Writer 1: Dude. Are you high?

Writer 2: Yes. Yes I am.

Writer 1: Cool.

Writer 2: So like I was saying. What you’re talking about–personality, relationships, that takes work. That takes thought. And I want to hit White Castle and besides nobody’s going to be watching anything but the dinosaurs. Here, you take some pages, I’ll take some pages, we’ll write some things down and be out of here in fifteen minutes.

Writer 1: Don’t we wanna at least avoid being really sexist or racist? I hear that’s kind of a thing lately.

Writer 2: That takes work! Dinosaurs! Just write some crap down!

Writer 1: Sounds legit to me. [opens laptop, begins to type] Lorem…ipsum….dolor….

Yeah, the dinosaurs were awesome and everything, but I’d say this is one you can safely wait for it to turn up on Netflix.

Peep

So, I do in fact have a tumblr. If you are a fan artist who wants me to notice Imperial Radch art, tumbl it and tag it and it’ll end up on my Pinterest board.

But, long story short, there are some things I say and do over there that don’t generally get posted here. Mostly silly, as it happens, but there was a recent concentration of silly that I figured I’d share outside of Tumblr.

So. This happened: The One Esk Annoying Song Playlist. Which is more or less what it says on the tin, but includes this:

And if Seivarden tries to start an earworm war, she has NO IDEA the forces she is unleashing.

Except that she probably does have some idea, because I have the feeling someone found out the hard way how long an ancillary decade can keep singing 99 Bottles Of Beer On The Wall.

“Wait!” says I. “Wait, I really want to share with you a thing from Ancillary Mercy at this point!” But I can’t, really, can I? Book’s not out till October and this is waaaaay to early for previews or teasers or what-have-you.

Well, maybe it is. But. So, I tumbled:

Actually, it was probably that song about the thousand eggs, hatching into chicks one by one by one by…

Oh, wait, nobody knows that song yet.

Which led to someone observing that it must be the Radchaai equivalent of “Ninety Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall,” and then I thought to myself, well, in for a penny and besides it’s not actually much of a spoiler and I’m having too much fun, so. For your delectation, The Egg Song:

1000 eggs all nice and warm
Crack crack crack! A little chick is born
Peep peep peep peep! Peep peep peep peep!

I suggested that I might release one verse a day until AM comes out.

Then this happened. Content warning: pictures of adorable fuzzy chicks, plus non-Twinkle Mozart earworm link.

And then I got to thinking more, which is a hazard, and this happened. Content warning: delicious marshmallow chicks, plus silliness.

Peep peep peep peep!

But then, I thought, all those identical Peeps. Oh. Of course.

And then, also of course, this.

I probably got all there was to get out of that. I am not going to promise not to make any more Ancillary Peeps jokes, though, because really, why would I do that. I will say that Peeps are only available during Easter, which is almost upon us, and so once the sun sets on Half Price Easter Candy Day and all my Anaander Peepanaais and Peepsarwats meet the inevitable fate of delicious marshmallow chicks, I won’t actually be physically able to for another year.

Flex by Ferrett Steinmetz

Disclaimer! Ferrett is a friend of mine, who I met when I bought his (Nebula nominated!) story “Sauerkraut Station” for GigaNotoSaurus.

Anyway. Ferrett has a book coming out on Tuesday! It’s called Flex (amazon|B&N|Indiebound|Powells|Kobo)

So, I got to read Flex some months ago. In fact, I fully intended to blurb it, but the best I could offer was “Do you like magic? Do you like drugs? Donut-based psychological theories? Video games? Do you like PAPERWORK!? Read this book!”

Yeah, I’m not so good at the blurbing thing.

So, in the world of Flex, the ability to do magic is a function of obsession. Are you a huge fan of something? Eventually your fan-ness will bend the universe around you. Except, of course, the universe will do its best to bend back, so using your abilities can be profoundly dangerous. For extra, super danger, you can distill that magic into a drug–the titular Flex–that the un-magical can take, and really cause some havoc.

Paul Tsabo, the main character of Flex, works for an insurance company. He pushes paper–he is, in fact, of the firm belief that bureaucracy is (properly used, properly followed) the instrument of justice in civilization. You could argue the accuracy of this, but there are several things that I find really appealing about it. For starters, often in fiction (and in everyday conversation) the minutia of keeping things going–accounting, record keeping, cleaning, what have you–gets short shrift. Accountants are very nearly a byword for the unimaginative and uncreative. And yet. Where would we be without those things? Without paperwork and proper procedures for things, records of things, receipts and certificates and applications? No, don’t just unthinkingly say “way better off” because actually that’s unlikely to be true, not without a lot of other massive changes to our lives. Don’t forget that writing wasn’t invented for poetry or literature or even history–the oldest examples of writing that we have are receipts and inventories. Writing was invented for paperwork.

Paul’s intense focus on paperwork has made him a bureaucromancer. You’d think this was an insignificant sort of ability, but it’s not, not when so much runs on documentation and permits and forms. And he’s got a problem–his young daughter has been badly injured in a flex-related incident, and the insurance company doesn’t want to pay up. And this is where the Breaking Bad comparisons you may have seen come in. Except I so strongly disliked what little I saw of the characters in Breaking Bad that I couldn’t watch much of it. But I really liked Paul, and I loved the hardcore gamer (and consequently game-mancer) Valentine who he teams up with. Together, they…uh, make crime. And fight it!

Flex comes out Tuesday, like I said. Give it a read! It’s great fun.

Jupiter Ascending

So, word on the street is that Jupiter Ascending is a hot mess. But remember Speed Racer? That nearly all the reviewers panned and a few years later folks were watching it on DVD for the lulz and went “Oh, wait, this is actually pretty good”? And they’d missed seeing it on the big screen? Which is a real pity because SR on the big screen was freaking awesome?

Right. Nothing was going to keep me away from Jupiter Ascending. We went to see it last night.

Now, I’m not any kind of reviewer or critic. I’m generally at a loss when it’s time for reviews. So I really won’t be able to tell you much more than “Gosh darn it, I really enjoyed that a lot!”

Well, I can tell you that you need to be willing to accept a high level of amazingly ridiculous and gorgeous stuff. The movie doesn’t waste a lot of time letting you know this. Basically, JA says to you, “Look, you see this giant ship we’re on? And the depthless abyss of ocean beneath us? And this rail, here, that would keep us from going overboard in a very large scale way? Yeah, fuck that rail. Let’s put on our antigravity rollerblades.”

I’ve seen reviews complain about Eddie Redmayne’s acting job here,but honestly, I enjoyed Redmayne, up to and including the pieces of scenery that stuck in his teeth. I’ve seen reviewers complain about the chewed scenery here, as though somehow that’s automatically bad, but all things in their place. This sort of thing really does call for tooth marks all over the set, if you ask me. The question isn’t “was scenery chewed?” but rather “how artfully, enthusiastically, and grandly was the scenery chewed?” It’s a matter of what mode you’re working in. And I’ve seen snickers about the “I like dogs” line, but in context actually it worked, at least for me. Various things weren’t explained during the course of the movie, and various things were just kind of thrown onscreen to be admired and enjoyed momentarily without accompanying explanation–yeah, so what? I admired and enjoyed, and while there’s a kind of SF that revels in explanations (and I enjoy that), this wasn’t that kind of SF–and I enjoy that kind, too.

And honestly, you know, it was obvious from the get-go that it was never meant to be a Serious Science Fiction Film of Great Seriousness. Honestly, I feel like complaining it’s filled with familiar motifs and over the top and silly in places is like being presented with a gigantic meringue-topped everyberry trifle and complaining that it’s the worst roast free range chicken you’ve ever tasted.

Okay, I’ll admit the “Bees recognize royalty” thing was a step too far even for me, but the rest? Pure meringue-covered, sabayon-drenched fun.

Now, this is not to say it’s perfect–the aforementioned royalty-detecting bees for one, and yeah, seems to me that screenplay was edited to within an inch of its life and various plot threads kind of appeared and disappeared. You will have to pay attention to make any minimal sense of the plot. Or not, if that’s not a thing for you.

But anyway. My advice–if you liked Speed Racer (inexplicably, not everyone did. I gather for some the colors and motion is headache inducing, which it’s understandable you wouldn’t enjoy that, I guess) anyway, if you liked Speed Racer (“yes, one racing team dresses like fake Vikings and has a beehive hidden in their car to launch at competitors. Just go with us on this!”) then you might be onboard for Jupiter Ascending. And if you’re half-thinking about maybe seeing it on DVD–see it now, on the big screen. Like SR, the visuals are half the experience.

Oh, but the previews beforehand. OMG. They just kept going on and on and they all were dreadful. There was this one, about some boy and some girl (there were title cards to helpfully let you know this, because otherwise you’d have taken the actors for adults) and she said “you make it seem impossible!” and some wise motherly figure advised our supposedly romantic lead that “if you don’t run after her you’re not the man I’ve taken you for” and about four hours into it I leaned over to the 15 yr old and said “This is endless. We’re in Hell.”

Anyway. Wretched previews or not, seriously, Jupiter Ascending was a lot of fun.