Sunday, November 28, 2010

Microfiction 11/28/10 "Reunion"

After an eternity, I've finally gone back to writing extremely short fiction (when stories are 100 words long, then a month is an eternity).  As with the other features I've been deformalizing the last few weeks, I'll be posting them somewhat randomly, rather than enslaving myself to Monday. 

I'm also going to try some longer form fiction from time to time.  Basically anything in the 1000-1500 word range can be posted all at once...if it's longer I'll probably break it up serially.  You know, to keep you coming back.

Reunion (Jon King)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Book Review of "Dead Forever: Awakening"

Immortality is a well-worn theme in fantasy and sci-fi.  It’s in a neck-and-neck tie with “world domination” as the most popular goal for villains in all sorts of stories, driving the ambitions of everyone from Voldemort to Emperor Palpatine.  It is also in heavy rotation currently with the numberless volumes that have been written on vampires, zombies, and other monstrous denizens traditionally associated with everlasting life.  In these examples immortality is ultimately given a negative connotation, with nearly every story becoming a warning about the dangers and pitfalls of living long past your allotted time.  
William Campbell’s Dead Forever novel series takes a different approach.  Campbell seeks to utilize the concept of everlasting physical life—and the knowledge associated with it—as a way to deepen the intrigue and raise the stakes in a battle between individual freedoms and hegemonic domination.  The first novel in the series, Awakening, mostly succeeds in this goal, but is hampered by a somewhat sluggish plot arc and character dialogue that could have used some refinement.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Eat This! Pumpkin Soup With Sage and Bacon

Autumn is the traditional harvest time, when mankind celebrates its evolutionary domination of nature, particularly large semi-flightless birds and various species of gourd.  I'm doing my part with this easy and versatile pumpkin soup recipe.  Really, any winter squash would work here (it's very good with butternut as well).  And don't use the big Jack-O-Lantern pumpkin, use the little thick-walled kind your kid gets for free at cheap hay rides and pumpkin patches.  A 2-3 lb gourd before peeling and seeding works just fine.  A spectacular variation includes adding a chipotle chile pepper (canned, in adobo sauce) with the onions, and topping the finished product with sour cream.

Pumpkin Soup with Sage and Bacon

2-3 cups fresh pumpkin, cut into 2-inch cubes
3 slices thick-cut bacon
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2-3 large carrots, chopped
2-3 stalks celery, chopped
3-4 fresh sage leaves, sliced (or 1 tsp dry rubbed)
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1/2 tsp dried)
1/2 cup white wine
4 cups chicken broth or stock (I prefer low-sodium)
1/2 cup fat free half-and-half
kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper

Start by chopping the bacon into smallish bits.  Render in a dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat about 5-10 minutes, or until crispy.  Remove the bacon to a paper towel, but leave the drippings in the pot (this is seriously the ONLY fat in the entire recipe--it needs to stay).  Add the onion, carrots, and celery (or for you foodies out there, the mirepoix) and the herbs to the pot with a pinch of salt and a few good grinds of pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes or until the onions just start to brown around the edges. 

While the vegetables are cooking you can seed, peel and chop the pumpkin.  A decent potato peeler will take off the inedible rind, and you can use a spoon to scoop the guts (just like Jack).  When the vegetables are browned a bit, deglaze the pot with the wine, let it cook off for about a minute, then add the pumpkin and broth.  Bring to a simmer and cook partially covered 20-30 minutes, or until the carrots are soft.  Remove from the heat and use a stick blender to puree in the pot, or puree in batches in a blender.  Stir in the half and half (I like to do this with the stick blender to emulsify the half and half into the soup), and salt and pepper to taste. 

Sprinkle reserved bacon over top of each bowl, and serve with crusty bread and a salad for a light but satisfying meal.  If you're feeling fancy (as I clearly was above), garnish with sage leaves.

Makes 6 servings (1 1/2 cups each)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

This Week in Terrible Ideas: The Rubik's Cube Movie

Wait, what's this movie about...?
Proving, yet again, that Hollywood will never, ever make an original movie again without serious government pressure, The AV Club reports that Creative Arts Industries (an honest-to-god, reputable agency that represents such real talent as George Clooney, Meryl Streep, and Brad Pitt) has taken on the geometric nightmare puzzle from the 1980's as a client.  The agency is currently in talks with several producers to generate narrative ideas and gauge interest in a Rubik-centered film project--interest which appears, tangentially at least, to be depressingly high.

Early screenplay ideas seem to revolve around a Rubik's Cube competition of some sort, a la The Wizard, only less Fred Savage-y.  There are already lots of smartass alternate ideas being tossed out in the blogosphere, but I'll add my two cents:  the story of a serial killer who leaves a different colored block on each victim, and it's up to mathematical genius detective Denzel Washington and his attractive, loose cannon female partner to find him before the puzzle is complete.  Wait, I feel like this movie has been made before...crap.  Maybe add a train somewhere--Denzel's up for that lately.

By the way, this is far from the first nostalgic game to be dragged out of that musty box in the basement for an attempt at a quick and forgettable Hollywood paycheck.  Battleship, Monopoly, Candy Land--no family-time staple has been left unsullied.  It's really just a matter of time and waning public interest in Transformers sequels before we get "Rock, Paper, Scissors:  The Movie."

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Kids' Shows That Don't Suck

Having kids puts a damper on your entertainment lifestyle.  There was once a time you could come home on any given weeknight with a pizza and a couple of movies filled with profanity and violence, and not give it a second thought.  Heck, even babies don't put too much of a crimp in this.  I fondly remember picking up my infant son (forthwith to be referred to as "The Boy") from daycare, coming home and feeding him while watching Fight Club...ah, memories.

But eventually a child reaches the age of discerning TV viewership.  Also, they start to repeat bad words.  So the television becomes, before bedtime at least, the realm of the children.  This can be extremely distressing, especially when Dora and that damned monkey start repeating everything three times, then again in Spanish!  However, there are options out there that kids love, and I daresay an adult could watch...even without kids around.  Not that I do...

Spongebob Squarepants
This cartoon has, I think, officially reached "classic" status.  I knew people in college who swore by it, but I never watched.  Oh, how I'm saddened by my 20-year-old self's ignorance.  In fact, a good case can be made that this show isn't for kids at all, but there aren't very many kids who don't know the entire theme song, The Boy included.  The verisimilitude of the show is occasionally, um, lacking (how can Spongebob cook crabby patties on a flat top grill...under water?  It's madness!) but that's hardly a reason not to watch.  Personally, I'm waiting for the spin off featuring Mr. Krabs and Plankton running a themed restaurant together, Odd Couple style, perhaps as some sort of court-ordered punishment (note to Nickelodeon--make this happen).

I would also accept a one-man variety show featuring only Gary the snail.

Curious George
This show forms one of the anchors of PBS's educational cartoon block in the afternoons and super-early Saturday morning (<stage whisper at 6:00 AM> "Daaaad....Daaaad!  Can you help me with the remote?").  This particular iteration of H.A. Rey's beloved characters is geared toward teaching kids math and science concepts, which it does to a reasonable degree, but the writing is actually very clever and entertaining.  The man with the yellow hat (who remains nameless in this show as in the books) is the straight man to George's simian shenanigans, and is a very relatable figure for all those dads out there who could be classified as "lovable bumblers."  Though they still dance around the fact that a grown man with the scratch to afford a two-bedroom high-rise apartment with a doorman in Manhattan seems to feel more comfortable living with a monkey than a woman.

Nothing to see here.  Move along...
 The Penguins of Madagascar
In my opinion (which is really the only one that matters on this particular corner of the internet), Madagascar sucked.  Maybe it's my latent dislike of David Schwimmer--he should never have gotten Rachel in the end, she should've gone to Paris--or that I just don't believe in Dreamworks the way I believe in Pixar, but I can't stand that movie.  Except for the penguins.  From the Shatneresque Skipper to the ridiculously good-hearted Private, this crew screamed for its own show.  The plots aren't earth-shattering in their originality, but the screwball interaction of the members of the team and their lemur next-door neighbors at the zoo make the show eminently watchable.

Kind of like those lovable marching waterfowl from a few years ago, but without Morgan Freeman's voice.

The Clone Wars
I'll come right out and say it:  George Lucas is an asshole.  He gave my childhood a good kick in the pills with the "remastered" original trilogy that was re-released in the late nineties.  Apparently, "remastered" means adding a snazzy CGI song-and-dance number, at least for Return of the Jedi.  Then between Jar-Jar Binks and Hayen F-ing Christensen, the prequels took the virgin canonical territory of the Clone Wars and turned it into a series of extremely expensive toy commercials.  But an awful lot of that was redeemed when Cartoon Network picked up The Clone Wars.  The animation is interesting and edgy, with 3D CGI that doesn't strive for so much realism that human characters fall into the uncanny valley (think Tom Hanks' cold, dead eyes in The Polar Express), and the drama is arguably more palpable and real than anything in the prequels.  Kids dig it because of R2-D2 and lightsabers, adults can watch it and actually immerse themselves in the Star Wars universe again without feeling a vaguely awkward anger.

Even animated Samuel L. Jackson is a badass.

Any Holiday "Special"
OK, these aren't truly very "special" anymore, since you can have any one of them on DVD to watch in July if you want.  But in our house, Frosty goes away with the Christmas decorations, and The Great Pumpkin gets cleared from the DVR exactly one week after Halloween, so the sense of nostalgia that we all feel when watching won't diminish.  Although, it is very apparent that most of these shows were made in the 1960's--what the hell were these people smoking?  Have you ever really watched Rudolph?  The Island of Misfit Toys will haunt my dreams forever...

Pictured:  A creeping sense of dread...
And don't get me started on Frosty Returns:  John Goodman Ruins Christmas For Everyone.  Still, there's something really warm and fuzzy about watching a holiday special you've seen at least 25 times in your life with your kid, and seeing what he laughs at.  Then it becomes fresh again.  But The Little Drummer Boy will always, always be creepy.

So, if you find yourself owing your kids some TV time but still want spend "quality time" with them, keep these in mind.  Otherwise you'll be singing "I'm the map, I'm the map, I'm the map, I'm the map, I'm the MAAAAAAPPPP!" all through the following work day.  Doesn't play well on conference calls.  Avoid if possible.