Thursday, February 26, 2015

Nebula Awards 2015 ed. Kij Johnson

Nebula Awards Showcase 2014Nebula Awards Showcase 2014 by Kij Johnson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Jacket Blurb:  The Nebula Awards Showcase volumes have been published annually since 1966, reprinting the winning and nominated stories in the Nebula Awards, voted on by the members of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America® . The editor selected by SFWA's anthology committee (chaired by Mike Resnick) is American fantasy writer Kij Johnson, author of three novels and associate director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas.

This year's Nebula winners, and expected contributors, are Kim Stanley Robinson, Nancy Kress, Andy Duncan, and Aliette de Bodard, with E.C. Myers winning the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book.



February's bookgroup selection.  We've been reading the Nebula Awards Showcase books for over 10 years now.   I somehow blanked bringing this to book group last year, so we slid it in the rotation for the start of 2015.  Several of these I read previously as Hugo Nominations. While not every story strikes a cord, the compilations tend to be consistently good. 

Immersion by Aliette de Bodard -Read previously in June of 2013.  Layers to this short story that, like the woman in the immersion, needs to be peeled away.

Close Encounters by Andy Duncan - Kinda a science can't explain everything story, that some things just need to be taken on faith that they happened.  An arrogance of science perhaps? 

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress - According to my notes, I really liked this the first time I read it in July 2013.  I noted I like the feasibility of natural catastrophic events wiping out the earth.  However, this time around I  had problems with the whole "repopulate the earth" with 10+ people.  Yeah.  Not going to happen without massive inbreeding.  And they needed more supplies.  And why would the aliens interfere to begin with?

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson -  did not read the excerpt as I plan on reading the entire book one of these months.

The Bookmaking Habits of Selected Species by Ken Liu - Usually I find Ken Liu's short stories to be consistently intriguing and good. Unfortunately, I lost interest in this one.  Yeah yeah, every species makes books.  Short story in one sentence.

Fair Coin by E.C. Myers (excerpt) - not wild about excerpts because they leave you hanging and aren't usually enough to get me to go buy the book.   I read this one because I was not familiar with the author, but it wasn't enough to keep me engaged or to want to read the full book.

Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain by Cat Rambo - different.  Reminded me of Ponies by Kij Johnson actually; a bit disturbing.

Christmas Inn by Gene Wolfe - Didn't grab my fancy.  I found it more perplexing than anything with too much left to speculation, and not just the ending...

Selected poems - A poem should be a poem, not a short story written with strange sentence structure. In my humble opinion. 


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Monday, February 23, 2015

Tucson, AZ

I took advantage of President's Day weekend to visit my Folks in Tucson, AZ.  I left on a Thursday morning and came back on Tuesday evening.  Flight out was uneventful, flight back was delayed.  So it goes.

I have not been to Arizona, but this is my Folks fourth (non-consecutive) year snow-birding.  Last year I visited them in Mission, TX, which we all found a bit underwhelming.  Arizona...just the opposite!  A veritable plethora of things to do!

Friday:
Tohono Chul Park and Botanical Gardens
This was our first stop of the day.  A leisurely stroll through the gardens gave a great overview of desert plants to a non-desert person.  My pictures showed an inclination to the artwork tucked around the grounds, particularly anything made out of wrought iron.  This was also the only place I saw a crested saguaro cactus. 

We had an absolutely fantastic lunch at the restaurant on site - someplace to visit even if you don't walk the grounds.  We were too stuffed to share homemade cannolis, panna cotta, or any of the other fabulous deserts offered.







Sonora Desert Museum (Zoo)
the endangered Mexican Wolf
I get the impression there are two aspects to this feature - the art museum and the zoo.  They are in different locations.  We went to the zoo!  This particular zoo features animals found in the desert:  mountain lions, Mexican wolves, javalinas, coyotes, bobcats, big horned sheep, birds and hummingbirds, to name a few.  We spent two hours wandering around and most critters were out and moving around.   I enjoyed the walk-in aviaries - a great opportunity to see some of the more elusive birds up close.  In the hummingbird aviary the little birds zip and fly around and watching the startled expressions on peoples faces was almost more fun than watching the birds!

Saturday:
Kartchner Caverns State Park
A delightful way to spend the day - an hour and forty-five minute underground tour of a living cave!  This cave is only open part of the year (September through April), from April to September it belongs to a small colony of bats who migrate north-ish to bear their young.  The history of the cave is just as remarkable as the cave itself:  three people kept it a secret for over 14 years until they could get the area turned into a state park, and then the years it took to put infrastructure in place to protect the cave and the bats.   This included established walking paths, railings, special chambers to keep the air regulated, misters to get lint/dander/dust to adhere to the person and not fall off in the cave.  They have a team of Cave Cleaners who come in at the end of the day and literally, clean the cave.   Tourists must leave everything but the clothes on their backs in the car.  If your sunglasses fall off, they become the property of the State Park and have to remain on the floor until the cave cleaners come and pick them up.  Seems restrictive, but this was truly an awesome cave. 
 
photo from the internet

Sunday:
Tubec, AZ - Artists "colony".
Our initial plan of hiking on Sunday was abandoned when it began to pour, specifically, when it was raining so hard over Sabino Canyon we couldn't see it.  So we decided to drive south to Tubec, where there is a permanent artists shopping opportunity.  We had a leisurely stroll around the plaza, enjoying early morning crowds.  Had a great pulled pork sandwich for lunch, with one last store on the way out.  I picked up a beautiful painted ceramic coyote (salesman called it a wolf, but I think it looks more like a coyote).  It's done up in brown with all that beautiful Mexican colorwork.  It will look splendid next to my large Mexican painted flower pot on the porch.  Assuming it survives the UPS shipping.  I decided to mail it back rather than carry it myself or have my Folks haul it back.

San Xavier del Bac Mission, Tuscon, AZ
We stopped by here on the way back from Tubec.  Being a weekend, there were a handful of vendors selling frybread, and one selling dried produce from the Tohono O'Odanam Indian Co-op.  Built  in the 1690-1700's,  the mission has been painstakingly restored over the last decade.  It is still in use to this day.  Not a long stop by any means, but worthwhile nonetheless to see this bit of history.




Monday:
Sabino Canyon National Park
Absolutely delightful!  We took the tram to the end of the road, then walked the 3.5 miles downhill to

the visitor's center.  Shear cliff faces, saguaro cactus, a flowing river, and early morning sun made for a colorful and fascinating walk. I will add, this is by no means the only way to enjoy this treasure - you can hike the more rugged paths on the canyon floor and along the upper parts of the canyon.  As we had other destinations in mind, we kept it simple.









Saguaro National Park
Stop number two for Monday!  A walk/hike through the Arizona desert!  This 91,000 acre national park has a driving tour, with numerous trails of just about any length to hike: from a half mile to 20 miles.  The longer hikes require permits for over-nighting on the trail.   We did a small 3 mile hike that offered splendid views of all the mountain ranges while being immersed in the desert environment.  These hikes are best done early morning, or when temps are going to stay below 80* - not much in the way of shade!


That sum's up my four day introduction to Arizona and the Tucson area.  I didn't even come close to getting to everything Tucson has to offer.  I missed:  downtown, the Kitt Observatory, the Pima Air and Space Museum, the University of Arizona observatory, and numerous other sites and museums.   I will be going back next year! 


And like this fellow, now I need to rest...



Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Exile Kiss by George Alec Effinger (Marid Audran #3)

The Exile Kiss (Marîd Audran #3)The Exile Kiss by George Alec Effinger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Jacket Blurb:  Marîd Audran has risen from hustling on the streets of the decadent Budayeen ghetto to being the right-hand man of one of the Maghreb's most feared men. As an enforcer for the powerful Friedlander Bey, Marîd is just beginning to enjoy his newfound wealth and privilege, when he and Bey are betrayed by a rival and accused of murder.

Sentenced to exile and abandoned to die in the vast Arabian desert, Marîd and Bey must somehow survive the searing sands and make their way back to the now-hostile Budayeen--and, then, take their vengeance.


This is book three in the series also covering When Gravity Fails and a Fire in the Sun.  I have enjoyed all three books immensely, even though I read them over a decade.  I can be pokey sometimes in reading series. 

In this final installment, Marid and his boss, Freidlander Bey, are kidnapped, accused of murdering a policeman, tried and summarily sentenced to exile in the desert, then kicked out the helicopter door and dumped in the sands.  It's only by fortitude and perseverance that they survive, to return to the Budayeen to kick some henchmen butt.  The Exile is only about a quarter of the story, the rest is resolution.

While I absolutely love the setting - the Budayeen, the Middle East - this story left me a somewhat dissatisfied.   I never really did get a feel for the why, the real motivation behind such a harsh treatment other than a cursory Mob Boss conflict.  I was also somewhat disappointed with Marid having this life altering event living amongst the Bedu, then so quickly slid back into his augmentation and drugs. 

My complaints aside, it's still the setting and world that enchants me.  The gritty Budayeen with it's augmented trash, the sex-change moddies, the illegality of nearly everything but yet, it's home to Marid.   A cyber punk book, yes, but it's still as refreshing a read today as it was when it was first published in 1991.  The Exile Kiss doesn't feel dated like some cyberpunk books do.   It's a smooth read, the plot flows, the characters are varied and interesting. 

Recommended, but start with When Gravity Fails. 





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Monday, February 16, 2015

Recipe Review from 2/9/15

By the time you read this, I will be wrapping up a long weekend of adventures in Tuscon, AZ!  There are plans to visit Sabino Canyon, a desert Arboretum, and some caves.  A bit of hiking is in the works, some good food will have been eaten, and kicking back and with a glass of wine. 

Which means this was a short week for the Meal Plan:

Sun - (L) Spaghetti with Lemon and Garlic  (S) Slow cooked Pork and Hominy Stew
Mon (yoga) - leftovers
Tues - leftovers
Wed (AM yoga, Vet, head to the Cities)
Thurs- Sun (Husband's on his own!)


Spaghetti with Lemon and Garlic  (Slim and Simple Dishes blog via Pinterest)  vegetarian, gluten free option**
I was bumping around the kitchen and perusing Pinterest at the same time when I stumbled across this recipe.  I needed something for lunch, I had all the ingredients, I didn't want a lot of fuss.  I made this on the spot.  I will note, I halved everything right off the bat - there is only two of us and I didn't have enough ingredients to make leftovers.

This comes together very quickly, so best to have everything mise en place.  I inadvertently added my lemon juice too early and sizzled it off, so the lemon flavor was not as predominate as I would have liked.  You also don't need to cook the garlic for ten minutes.  Mine was ready in about two - it really doesn't take long. You could also add some fresh grated Parmesan or kalmata olives to this for an extra flavor hit. 

A very satisfying lunch.

(Serves 4 to 6)
1 lb spaghettini, angel hair or spaghetti pasta**
6 tablespoons olive oil
8 garlic cloves, crushed or minced
zest of one lemon
juice of one lemon
10 oz bag of baby spinach
salt and pepper to taste

In a skillet heat, 6 tablespoons olive oil over medium low heat. Add garlic and cook for 10 to 12 minutes to gently cook the garlic.  Add lemon zest and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

Bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions. Drain pasta well and transfer to a large bowl. Immediately add spinach and garlic lemon oil and toss everything together. Mound the pasta on a large platter and serve.



Pork and Hominy Stew  (myrecipes.com via Pinterest)  gluten free as originally written
A fairly quick recipe to assemble, most of the prep in the browning of the meat and the brief saute of the onions.   I did a couple of modifications - I used boneless pork ribs, as I coming round to the opinion that they are about perfect for any kind of slow cooked dish.  After prepping the meat, I tossed it with about 2 tbsp flour.  I wanted my future sauce a bit on the thicker side.  I also added one large red pepper, chopped, for flavor and color, and sauted with the onion and garlic.

I served this with Bob's Red Mill GF cornbread. My favorite corn bread!  YUM! 


3 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 2 1/2-inch pieces 
photo from myrecipes.com
I used boneless country pork ribs, cut into 1" pieces
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil 
1 onion, chopped 
1 red onion, chopped
2 tablespoons chili powder
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 12-oz. bottle beer 
1 14-oz. can chopped tomatoes with juice 
3 14-oz. cans white hominy, rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon dried oregano 

Sprinkle pork with salt and pepper (and flour if thickening). Warm oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook pork, in batches if necessary, browning on all sides, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add to slow cooker and drain off all but 1 Tbsp. fat.

 Add onion, chili powder and garlic to skillet and cook, stirring, until softened, 2 minutes. Stir in beer and cook for 1 minute, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan with a wooden spoon. Add mixture to slow cooker.

Add tomatoes to slow cooker. Cover and cook on low until meat is just tender, about 6 hours. Stir in hominy and oregano and cook 1 hour more. Remove pork from pot with tongs. When cool enough to handle, shred pork. Skim fat from top of broth, stir in shredded pork, and serve.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

City of Bones by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #8)

City of Bones (Harry Bosch, #8)City of Bones by Michael Connelly

My rating: 3 of 5 stars




Jacket Blurb:  Detective Harry Bosch tears open a 20-year-old murder case - with an explosive ending that leave all Bosch fans hungrily awaiting the next installment.

When the bones of a twelve-year-old boy are found scattered in the Hollywood Hills, Harry Bosch is drawn into a case that brings up the darkest memories from his own haunted past. The bones have been buried for years, but the cold case doesn't deter Bosch. Unearthing hidden stories, he finds the child's identity and reconstructs his fractured life, determined that he not be forgotten.

At the same time, a new love affair with a female cop begins to blossom for Bosch - until a stunningly blown mission leaves him in more trouble than ever before in his turbulent career. The investigation races to a shocking conclusion and leaves Bosch on the brink of an unimaginable decision.


Read as an audiobook, with yet another change in the narrator. 

A moderately well written "cold case" mystery - which was a nice change from the previous books - that left me feeling neither satisfied or unsatisfied when all was said and done. 

My main contention with the book happened right at the beginning - when the crime scene investigators found a quarter from 1975 mixed in with the bones and Bosch, Edgar and etal all surmise the murder must have happened then because that's when the coin was dated.  I took a looksie at the change in my wallet:  2 pennies - 1986 and 2009, 1 dime - 1998, 1 quarter - 1973.   Using a coin to date a murder?  Inconclusive at best.

Okay, got that off my chest.

Other negative points, too many "We have the suspect!" cries, followed with, "No! No! They are the wrong suspect!  It's not really them!"  I counted four of these false leads, on a cold case, that seemed to suddenly drive everyone's attention and energy:  the neighbor, the sister, the father, the friend, and actually, the neighbor came up twice.  To say this became annoying was an understatement.

And in the interest of not giving away any spoilers, I really thought what happened with the most recent 'girlfriend' was stupid, given the history of Bosch and his women.

On the positive side, Harry was not the cranky ass as was portrayed in earlier books.  Now he did seem to continuously cut his partner out of the loop, but on the other hand, I would suspect that both detectives don't necessarily need to hold hands the entire investigation.  I would have liked to have seen Edgar step up his own part in the investigation, rather than always waiting for Bosch to tell him what to do.

So, I'm left feeling neither satisfied with the mystery nor unsatisfied.  I had my issues with the book, but not enough to stop "reading", nor to stop reading the series.  Recommended with a few reservations.



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Monday, February 9, 2015

Recipe Review from 2/2/2015


Vet appointments, two yoga workshops, and shuttling cars in for maintenance have kept us hopping this past week or so.  Pups had their yearly check-up where it was confirmed they have plumped out a little this winter.  I'm not overly worried as come spring/summer Andy will run it all off.  But, we will cut back food a bit and try and be more consistent with exercise.  I had a couple of yoga workshops over the weekend that I lead - teaching people how to go upside down safely.  And the Husbands car needed a bit of maintenance so that requires a bit of coordination.


The Meal Plan:
Sun (L) leftover risotto   (S) Brats, homemade pretzel buns, pot. salad
Mon (yoga)  leftover brats
Tues - Harvest Butternut and Pork Stew
Wed (AM Yoga/Vet/PM Yoga) - leftovers
Thurs (yoga) leftovers
Fri - Fish and Chips   leftovers
Sat - (2 yoga workshops)

Lunches - Slow Cooked Butter Chicken as reviewed here.  


Soft Pretzels  (Mpls Star Tribune, Jan 14, 2015)
We made these for Super Bowl Sunday, with one notable change - instead of making 12 pretzels, we made three brat buns and 6 pretzels.  Why buns?  Because we didn't need 12 pretzels, and we needed some buns.   Easy enough - and interesting! - to modify.

Despite lengthy directions, these were incredibly easy to do.  One of the fastest yeast breads I've done.  Water bath was simpler than I thought it would be, they baked up beautifully, and tasted just like a soft pretzel should.  Even the buns - lovely crust, soft center.

The one complaint we had was the pretzels did have a "greasy" feel and we're not entirely certain why.  This may warrant further research.  Otherwise, I strongly suspect we will be making these again. 
photo from Scifi With Paprika blog

Newspaper Note: These are best eaten on the same day, but the dough may be mixed the night before and refrigerated. Remove dough from refrigerator at least 30 minutes before shaping pretzels. This recipe is adapted from Martha Stewart.

• 1/3 c. baking soda
• 3 c. flour
• 2 1/4 tsp. or 1 pkg. instant yeast
• 3 tbsp. dark brown sugar
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
• 2 tbsp. room temperature butter, cut in 8 pieces
• 1 c. warm water
• 8 c. water (2 quarts)
• 1 tbsp. barley malt syrup or brown sugar
• 1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tbsp. water
• Coarse salt for sprinkling

Directions  (Makes 12)
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Spread baking soda on baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, yeast, brown sugar, salt and cayenne pepper. Stir in butter, then make a well in the center and add the water. Mix until the dough comes together in a shaggy mass. Using your hands, gather dough together and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for several minutes until it is no longer sticky. Cover with plastic, and let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.

Turn dough out onto your work surface and cut into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into an 18-inch rope and set aside. If the dough seems sticky, flour your hands (not the counter) and roll. Repeat with remaining pieces.

Place parchment paper on 2 baking sheets and generously spray or oil well.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees, and place racks on bottom and upper third of oven.

With each rope of dough, form a U shape and make a twist about 3 inches from the ends. Fold the twisted portion backwards along center of U to form a pretzel shape, then gently press ends onto the dough to seal. Transfer to the baking sheet. After all are shaped, cover each pan with a clean towel and let rest for 20 minutes.

While the pretzels are resting, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil, then add barley malt syrup or brown sugar, and the baking soda. Mixture will froth. Stir to dissolve, then reduce heat to a simmer.

Carefully place three pretzels at a time, top side down, into the water. After 30 seconds, turn pretzels over. After another 30 seconds, lift with a slotted spoon or spatula, tapping to shed excess water, and return to oiled parchment paper. Repeat with remaining pretzels.

Brush each pretzel with egg yolk mixture, trying to drip as little as possible onto the parchment, then sprinkle with coarse salt.

Bake for 7 minutes, then switch pans’ position on racks and bake for another 7 minutes.

Transfer pretzels to wire racks. Serve immediately, or keep uncovered at room temperature for up to 12 hours. Rewarm in a 250-degree oven, if desired.

photo from Scifi With Paprika blog

Harvest Butternut and Pork Stew  (Taste of Home)
Fairly quick assembly...in which we forgot to add the peas at the end of cooking.  We did pre-cook and add some of the dried beans from our garden.  I did 1 cup dried in about 4 cups of water, bring to a boil, turn off heat and walk away for 2-3 hours.  Drain and add to slow cooker.


1/3 cup plus 2 tbsp AP flour, divided
1 tbsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground coriander
1 1/2lbs boneless pork shoulder butt roast, cut into 1" cubes
(I used leftover boneless pork ribs)
1 tbsp canola oil
2 3/4 cups peeled, cubed butternut squash (I used 2 lbs)
1 (14oz) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tbsp cider vinegar
1 bay leaf
2 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 2/3 cup edamame




  1. In a large resealable plastic bag, combine 1/3 cup flour, paprika, salt and coriander. Add pork, a few pieces at a time, and shake to coat.
  2. In a large skillet, brown pork in oil in batches; drain. Transfer to a 5-qt. slow cooker. Add the squash, tomatoes, corn, onion, vinegar and bay leaf. In a small bowl, combine broth and remaining flour until smooth; stir into slow cooker.
  3. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours or until pork and vegetables are tender. Stir in edamame; cover and cook 30 minutes longer. Discard bay leaf. Yield: 6 servings (2 quarts).
Originally published as Harvest Butternut and Pork Stew in Simple and Delicious October/November 2011, p22

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Do Andriods Dream of Electric Sheep by Philp K. Dick

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Jacket Blurb:  A final, apocalyptic, world war has killed millions, driving entire species into extinction and sending the majority of mankind off-planet. Those who remain, venerate all remaining examples of life, and owning an animal of your own is both a symbol of status and a necessity. For those who can't afford an authentic animal, companies build incredibly realistic simulacrae: horses, birds, cats, sheep . . . even humans.

A favorable and interesting review on Goodreads inspired me to finally pick this classic up and read it.  

If you are intimately familiar with the movie Bladerunner, and are expecting the book to be like the movie, you will be very disappointed.  If you can read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep as a comparison, then I think you will enjoy the book and be able to extract the elements that comprised Bladerunner.  Which, having read DADES now, it's remarkable what they created the movie out of.

But I digress.  The book.  A dystopian society on what is left of Earth after World War Terminus.  Those who can have emigrated to Mars. Those who can't - or won't - are scraping by with lead codpieces, radioactive dust, empathy boxes, animals both real and mechanical, and an all encompassing religion called Mercerism.  Androids exist, but only to serve on Mars. Those androids who escape Mars and return to Earth are hunted down and "retired".

Rick Deckard.  Married. Owns a mechanical sheep. Dreams of someday owing a read animal.  He finds himself tasked to kill six androids after a fellow bounty hunter is put in the hospital.  He flies to Seattle to talk to the Rosen Corporation and administer an empathy test to see if the test works on the new androids.  He meets Rachael Rosen.

Rachel Rosen.  Android.  Purpose is to ascertain if she can pass the various tests the bounty hunters use to determine human or android.  Secondary purpose, seduce the bounty hunters.

J.R. Isadore.  "Chickenhead".  Didn't pass the IQ test and thus considered to dumb to emigrate.  Works a very menial job picking up mechanical animals for repair under the misleading title of "animal hospital".  Befriends three androids he finds in his abandoned apartment complex: Roy, Irmgard, and Pris (Rache'ls twin in outward appearances).

The story tackles what defines being "human" by looking at empathy, emotions and religion.   For a rather short book, the issues are complex but yet well presented.  For example a person must own an animal (real or mechanical) ,otherwise you might be considered an android because you are lacking empathy for a living being.  You have to occasionally "meld" with the rest of your fellow Mercerites, otherwise you aren't showing empathy and thus, you might be an android.  Not feeling quite right today?  Just dial 207 for contentment and bliss on your machine so you can maintain empathy.

So, overall an interesting book IF you can set aside how different Bladerunner is.  Read the book as a comparison to the movie instead of expecting an exact replica.  Haven't seen Bladerunner?  Read the book, then go rent it.  A true scifi classic.



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