Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Recent Activities

My apologies for the lack of posting the last few days... I'll be back blogging around on Wednesday evening... Here are the things I'll be discussing...

- Time Travel questions raised by Hot Tub Time Machine.

- My eyelid has decided to stage a revolt.

- A book review of The Forest of Hands and Teeth.

- More rants on the behavior of other people's kids

- A review of the Denver Zoo.

- The opening day of baseball season.

Also, I'm tossing around a writing idea that would be a bit larger in scale. If anyone is interested in reading it piece by piece as it evolves, let me know. Maybe the knowledge that people are reading will make me actually do my page per day.

That should keep me busy for a while.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

What Flavor is Pastel?

I believe it's been established that I have a long way to go before I'm anything even remotely close to being a good burger chef. I think the biggest problem I have is that since there's no real formula for it, I'm too much left to my own ridiculous devices. I have good ideas, but not a ton of practical experience in actually cooking certain things.

As clumsy and unrefined as I seem to be with the savory, I've experienced a great deal more success with the sweet.

This past weekend is a good case in point.

The Tofu Muchacha and I are on a play-reading committee for a local community theater, and we had our monthly meeting on Sunday. The previous month, the TM volunteered to provide a sweet and delicious pie-type treat for this month's meeting. This seems to have been translated to "Beefy Muchacho will bake a pie for us!"

I'm a sucker for the pie baking and I was excited to try out a new one, especially considering my last effort was something of a disaster. The TM wanted me to try some sort of chilled pie, or a no-bake kind of pie. Like one of those no-bake cheesecakes. I left the recipe choosing up to her.

She settled on something called "Sweet Cherrity Pie" from the Pillsbury Bake-off Cookbook.

I made the pie after a 16 hour shift at work, so I wasn't really in the mood to take pictures the whole way through, but I think I can explain it pretty well...

The crust was made of brown sugar, crushed walnuts, flour, and butter. I mixed it up really well, and then crumbled it into a 13 x 9 pan. Then I baked the mixture for 15 minutes. Once it was baked, I (with the assistance of the TM) pressed most of the crust ingredients into a pie pan, covering the bottom. I set the rest of the crumbly crust aside.

The filling was 2 separate layers.

The bottom layer was a package of cream cheese, a cup of confectioner sugar, and some almond extract. I mixed it until it was smooth, and spread it about a half an inch thick into the bottom of the pan on top of the crust.

The top layer was even simpler, though much more time consuming. It was a cup of whipping cream (whipped all to fucking hell.. that's for sure) folded in with a large can of premade cherry pie filling. Then I covered the first layer with the second, and crumbled the remainder of the pie crust crumbles on top. It came out looking a little something like this: Looks pretty effing awesome, does it not? If you can believe it, it tasted even better!

The best part is that the flavors were distinct, and not overpoweringly sweet. The whipped cream layer didn't have a ton of sugar in it outside of the cherry pie filling, but since the whipped cream itself wasn't sweetened at all, it wasn't insanely sugary.

The textures were nice too... The crust was crispy and flavorful. Then you had a really nice creamy layer with the almondy cream cheese. On top of that was the really fluffy cherry layer. It may be my favorite of all of the pies I've made.

Also... did you see what it looks like? It looks like a pie straight out of the 1960s. Where was my jello mold shaped like a sailboat or something like that.

We re-dubbed the pie the Mad Men Pie, because it reminded us of something Betty Draper on Mad Men would serve, and they'd all ogle.

I'm 100% certain it wouldn't taste as good as my Mad Men Pie.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Adventures in Abdominal Distress

About a week and a half ago, I gave made my second foray into burger town.

The first time around wasn't what I'd call an unreserved success. There were cooking issues and texture issues. I gave it a "B-". I'll be honest and say that I was a little discouraged. I know that's utterly ridiculous. You can't create a masterpiece the first time out. But I was discouraged nonetheless.

So anyway, I did what I could to shake it off and planned another burger experiment, and got started with the planning...

I really like the idea of a spicy burger. Something that has a good amount of heat to it, but is still really flavorful. Not just hot. My solution on how to accomplish that was to cut the usual ground beef with a spicy ground italian sausage. Keeping in mind that the last burger was waaaaay too greasy, and knowing that sausage wouldn't exactly help the situation, I went with some good ol' Laura's Lean Beef. It's a 93/7 ratio. To that mixture I also added cayenne pepper and diced onion.

To top the sausage burger, I went with a hot pepper cheese and some more of that hot banana pepper and tomato relish I made the last time, only adding a couple of features. More on that in a moment.

Once again... the burger came out real, real pretty.

Oh, and it tasted pretty good. I am almost 100% certain that the Tofu Muchacha liked it better than Burger # 1.

Ugh... I'm totally bored with talking about this thing... It was alright. It wasn't great. The sausage flavor was good, but not spicy enough. For me it was a bit too much like a breakfast burger... not that that wouldn't be a valid thing to eat for breakfast, but while the pork sausage provided a nice richness, it wasn't exactly the right kind of spiciness. Next time, I think I'm going to try to mix in some sort of spice mix as opposed to multiple kinds of meats. I think the mixed mediums once again made regulating the cooking of patty too difficult to gauge, much with the cheese the last time. No more of that for a while.

Also, I liked the flavor of the hot pepper cheese, but it didn't melt very well. The Tofu Muchacha suggested creating a "steam hood" around the burger to help the melting along. I actually, think the burger would have cooked through as well.

All in all, once again the highlight of the burger was the relish. I tossed finely diced 2 roma tomatoes and a handful of hot banana peppers. To that mixture I added some spicy mustard, honey, Franks Redhot, and fresh grated ginger.

I think I've hit on something with the relish. It's effing delicious.

Now... All of that said, this burger was pretty okay. It wasn't spectacular, but I liked it. I liked it well enough to bring one to work the next day. That turned out to be a mistake. It's possible the second burger didn't cook enough, and the pork was a little raw. It's possible that it made me a little sick. All I know is that I felt completely insane the rest of the day at work. I felt like I was slurring words, and I know for a fact that I was having a difficult time focusing on tasks.

Then I barfed.

If not for the barfing, I'd give it a "B-". I think barfing automatically lowers the grade. "C"

Friday, March 19, 2010

Living in Fear

The following blog contains content of a graphic nature. Reader discretion is advised.

My friend Alan has dubbed my cat "Hatred". I prefer to call him "Pippin" (after the Hobbit, not the Broadway musical). Pippin has earned his nickname by being just about the surliest creature alive since the day he was born. In fact, when I chose him at the vet's office 8 years ago, I chose him because I was intrigued by the kitten that had to be separated from his litter-mates due to his asshole-ishness. He had another name there. Adolf. Partly due to the little white "Hitler" mustache on his otherwise black face, and partly due to his dictatorial temperment. He came out of the womb a true tyrant.

Pippin has been known to hiss and swipe at strangers who foolishly stray too close to him. He's savagely bitten me for changing the trash (I was making too much noise with the trash bag). He once brutally destroyed a poor, wayward chipmunk who found itself lost in my basement apartment, creating a mess so devastating I never did get my damage deposit back. Did I mention he's de-clawed? It's the de-clawed thing that is why he currently lives with my mother. Once I moved in with the Tofu Muchacha, it was determined that Pippin wouldn't be safe around her 2 adult cats (Sammy aka "Human Face" and Zoro). They have claws, and go outside, and Pippin isn't used to creatures who may stand up to him. Frankly, I'm skeptical that Pippin would be dominated, claws or no. Even my mother's ridiculous dog is no match for him, despite being 4 times his size.

In spite of Pippin's straight-up meanness, I'm not afraid of him. I never went to sleep thinking that if he wasn't fully fed that he'd rip out my throat. I never thought that if I turned my back he'd murder me. I didn't live in fear of the vengeful wrath of Pippin the Cat. "Hatred" is no threat to me. He's a known quantity. His anger and violence is right on Front Street.

The Tofu Muchacha introduced me to her cat named Zoro (with 1 "r"). He's this beautiful, elegant, and amazingly graceful black and white cat. When I first met Zoro, I recall thinking he was the sweetest cat I'd ever met. He lives to be patted. He will just come up to you, squeak, and put his head under your hand. Purring the whole time. To the outside eye, Zoro is the perfect cat.

Then I was left alone at the house for the first time. There I was, sitting on the couch watching TV, and I hear the familiar swing of the cat door. I look up, barely register what I'm seeing, and go back to the show. Then I do a Finlayson-esque double take. There's sweet, innocent, squeaky Zoro standing there staring at me. Bird in his mouth. Flapping, squawking bird. Zoro took a nice loooong look at me. Making sure he had my attention. Then he lets the living bird go. In the house. Don't worry... Not for long. The bird took a last-gasp dash toward freedom (straight at the ceiling) and Zoro leaped 4 solid feet into the air, grabbed the bird with his mouth and claws, slammed it to the ground, and then straight up fucking murdered that thing. Right in front of me. Making sure I knew.

I don't sleep well. I sleep with one eye open. I reflexively cover my throat with every creak in the floor or stray sound.

Every couple of weeks or so, Zoro decides that he needs to remind me exactly what would be in store for me when I get out of line.

Zoro has killed or maimed all manner of creature in my presence. The Tofu Muchacha actually bought me Critter Catchin' gloves for Christmas...you know... because of all of the critters he catches and subsequently tortures in the house. Better not to get rabies when scooping the half-paralyzed squirrel, or the insanely terrified chipmunk, or the bunny who, if not saved by me, would be providing Zoro a Bunny-Brain Feast for him sooner than later.

Things had gone quiet for some time (Winter-time and all), but the other day I heard the wails of a bird outside. When the Tofu Muchacha looked, she saw nothing. Then the next day she was walking through the yard and found this:
Please note the cell phone for the sake of perspective.

Oh no... I don't sleep well.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Delightful Romp Through the End of the World

The third book in my book review trilogy, Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse by Victor Gischler, was exceptionally enjoyable and yet also in some tiny way a little disappointing. I went in to this book with higher expectations after the Tofu Muchacha highly recommended it to my dad (by giving it to him for Christmas), and then in turn my dad recommended it to me. It definitely didn't disappoint.

It's a really quick read, and that's primarily because the pacing is like lightning. There's no long rumination on the nature of life, or the nature of some tree, or the nature of nature.... Gischler doesn't settle on anything for more than a few sentences, and this definitely lends to a sort of cinematic quality that seems to be cultivated throughout. More on that quality later.

The characters are broadly drawn and mostly straightforward. The protagonist, Mortimer Tate, has basically ridden out a nuclear apocalypse in a cave in the mountains of Tennessee, largely because he was doing everything he could to avoid finalizing the pending divorce with his wife Ann. He's smart and resourceful, but certainly not exceptional. He finds allies in convenient and coincidental ways. He finds himself in scrapes quickly and gets out of them just as quickly. He faces adversity, but always seems to find himself just this side of lucky.

The scrapes Mortimer finds himself in are all escaped just slightly too easily. If you analyze all of the different predicaments he gets into, and all of the ways he seems to just happen his way out of them. Whether it's being held prisoner in a forgotten mental hospital for women (where he's being held to provide his "seed", blatantly robbing from both The Odyssey and Arthurian legend.), or he's tied to a post and witnessing a guy get eaten limb by limb, and yet somehow getting free.

The people he meets are juuuuust slightly too archetypal. You have the self-glossed "Buffalo Bill" who dresses like a cowboy. Mortimer hypothesizes this is due to people's innate need to have identity, and how the nuclear disaster robbed people of their classical identities. There's the brutish "Kyle" who Mortimer simply knows as "The Beast" for their entire encounter. His entire character is essentially there to be a horrible violent rapist.

One particularly interesting thing about the characters, to me, is that the women are much, much more complex. It's funny, after reading Dan Brown's faux-Feminism, to read a book that on it's surface is far more chauvanistic, but in actuality is far more empowering. The 2 strongest characters in the book are Sheila, the teen-aged sex-slave of Kevin, who after his death becomes a prostitute, and Ann, the ex-wife of Mortimer who also becomes a prostitute after the Armageddon, who flat out declines his assistance when they're finally re-united. It's the secret good writing of Gischler that places these women in traditional roles of subservience and yet finds ways to make them empowered. Sheila's journey is especially satisfying.

That's about as deep as I'm comfortable getting with it... I think the book can be compared pretty aptly with movies like Pirates of the Caribbean. Nothing deep at all, and wildly funny and exciting and sexy, but also probably not up to intense scrutiny.

It's difficult to pin down exactly what makes the book so satisfying...It's not the characters, which are conventions or variations on conventions. It's not the scenarios which are all a little too similar to others we've read. I really think it's the language and style and economy. The language has a familiarity to it that edges around the colloquial almost constantly, but it also makes it completely accessible. The dialogue especially is so funny and clever. There's this great exchange between these two reluctant female cannibals that made me laugh out loud. When I say "economy", I mean that where Dan Brown will use 2 pages to explain something that may really only need 2 paragraphs, Victor Gischler uses 2 sentences and makes them suffice nicely.

I have barely discussed at all the creative and interesting future that Gischler invents. A world of cannibals and strip clubs and budding economic powers and in-fighting and martial law. It's so dense and detailed, I can't possibly do it justice, but it almost makes the book worth the read simply as an interesting "what-if".

I mentioned earlier that I found the book greatly enjoyable, but also a little disappointing. You know how almost every movie ever made that's based on a book gets the classic "it's not as good as the book" comments? Well, this book actually feels like the opposite for me. It's disappointing only because I think it would make a better movie than book, and from what I can find, there's nothing in the works. It's an amazingly visual book with potential to provide great "ruined skylines" and these seedy Go-Go clubs and blimps and trains moved by giant muscled freaks. The dialogue is truly funny and sharp. Almost like a play. The book is divided episodically, and can easily be broken down into scenes.

For the fun of it, here's my main cast:
Mortimer Tate played by Mark Ruffalo
Buffalo Bill played by Viggo Mortensen
Sheila played by Amanda Seyfried (Sheila is described as being only 16 or 17, but the movie would be a definite Hard "R", so that age would likely have to be adjusted to like... 20)
Ann played by Isla Fisher
Joey Armageddon played by Paul Giamatti
The Red Czar played by Stanley Tucci

It's easily in the top 2 books I would line up to see as a movie (along with The Wolf's Hour by Robert McCammon). I think the movie would actually be able to improve on the book, and the book is really great. I hope they do it.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Shut up and Watch

One of my favorite leisure time activities is going to the movies. Since the start of 2010 I've been to over 10 movies, mostly by myself on Monday afternoons. I'm off work on Mondays, and since the Tofu Muchacha has been having computer problems, she hasn't been able to work from home, so I have nobody to spend the day with.

Sometimes I have errands or doctor appointments (I'm coming apart at the seams), but usually those are early or late and I have time to check out whatever shitty movie I can't convince Alan or my dad or T.M. to go see with me. If you see the movies on the sidebar, you'll know what I mean. Some terrible movies. That's not what I'm talking about, though. In my recent excursions to the theater, I've been confronted with some absolutely ridiculous behavior. Seriously. Like these people haven't been allowed out of the house for years.

In light of this, I give you Beefy Muchacho's Guide to Day-Time Movie Theater Etiquette

1) If I can smell you, you're too close.

The other day I was seated in my usual spot in the first row behind the railing (because I like putting my feet up), and I was the only person in the theater. Soon enough a group of three people came in and instead of picking literally any one of 200 other seats in the entirely empty (aside from me) theater, these fools sit right fucking next to me. Like, with only the seat my coat was occupying between us. I couldn't believe it. I mean... I'm not afraid of people, or whatever, but one of the nice things about going to the movies in the middle of the day on a Monday is the solitude it provides. It's the welcome "me time" I enjoy from time to time. I don't want to hear your inane conversations about whether The Skulls or Cruel Intentions was the better movie starring "That Pacey guy", or whether there's going to be a sequel to The Passion of the Christ. Just sit further away. In fact, I'd liken an empty movie theater to a men's restroom. If there are multiple urinals open, you never ever choose the one right next to the only other dude peeing. It's just courtesy.

2) Speaking of smells...

These same people made the list in another way, through the unmistakable smell of feet. This was upsetting, because the air in a movie theater isn't exactly the freshest as it is, and the addition of FOOT SMELL is like a punch in the face. I mentioned earlier that I like to put my feet up on the rail. Apparently I'm not the only one, because as I was feeling more and more claustrophobic, I looked over at the rubes chawing on their cud and I note that these people have made themselves quite at home. Their bare fucking feet are rubbing all over the railing right next to me. This gives me pause, as I was about to puke for any number of stomach churning reasons. 1) The railing people TOUCH has all kinds of potential new germs in play. My god...their FEET. 2) How fucking gross is the floor of a movie theater? I know it's a cliche, but it's a cliche for a reason. I would rather wade in the Ganges River than go barefoot in a movie theater. 3) These feet were stinking in truly professional manner. The people may have been too close to me, but they were still a couple of seats away, and there was no missing that smell.

3) This isn't Mystery Science Theatre

One of my all-time favorite movie going experiences was when Alan and I went to see Murder by Numbers (with now Oscar Winning actress Sandra Bullock and Oscar Nominated Ryan Gosling). We were the only 2 people in the theater and we took that rare opportunity to make the movie a one-liner-thon. It was a great time. I hope I get another chance again to do it... That's all well and good, but the other day when I was seeing Cop Out (better than the reviews) and these people a couple of rows away were essentially conversing as though they were in their living room. Kind of amazing. Someone complained, and a manager came in to ask them to stop, which only made it worse. Pretty terrible. The worst part was that they weren't even remotely funny. It's like they both thought they were inventing comedy. They reminded me of George Costanza with his great line he goes back to shout out again. Sad.

4) This isn't your office/peep show booth.

I will readily admit that with the nature of my job, I get a TON of e-mails. I need to be at least generally aware of what's going on with work at all times. Keeping that in mind, I do everything I can to avoid sitting in the same row as another movie-goer. If I know I'll have to be able to respond to an e-mail quickly, I'll sit in the back so the light of the phone doesn't disturb anyone. If I have to make or take a phone call, I LEAVE THE THEATER. Pretty easy. Well, in the last 2 months I have experienced a person making multiple calls to multiple people. Taking calls and exchanging less than pertinent information (yes... it did snow a lot, etc...). I have experienced people texting back and forth to each other, one seat apart. I know this, because they talked about what they were texting as they texted. Most disgustingly, I've experienced (also during Cop Out, oddly enough) two people IN MY ROW aggressively making out. I'm talking, boob groping, tongue-kissing, crotch-fondling making out. Like... sit in the back you ridiculous pervs. They weren't even halfway back. They were in the first row you'd see when you came in the entrance. Even worse, they were making gross panting noises.

Oh.. and let's not even get me started on bringing your rude-ass baby.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Dan Brown is a Hack (and other observations)

Dear Dan Brown-

Please, for the love of all that is holy, hire a writing coach. Hire a ghost writer. Hell... Hire a third grader. Anybody. Please. I just read your newest book The Lost Symbol, and let me tell you... I hate you. You make me sad. You have stolen hours upon hours of my time. You've lured me in with your interesting secret clubs and weirdo religious artifactual do-wah (they may not be words, but they should be), and then you pull the tapestry out from under me. Well fuck you Dan Brown. Take a writing lesson.

The Beefy Muchacho

So many things to say about The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown's most recent addition to the Robert Langdon "Histo-Adventure" lexicon. Let's start with why I read it to begin with...

I readily admit to really enjoying The DaVinci Code. I never exactly thought it was this immense work of genius (I mean... it IS beloved by the American public, afterall... How truly good could it be?), but it was entertaining. Then I read the lesser known Angels and Demons, and actually actively LIKED that one. Again... it's not a candidate for the National Book Award, but it was really enjoyable and I'm a sucker for weird Catholic mythos. So yeah... I was down with The Lost Symbol. And Brown sure as hell had plenty of time to make it good. He'd been working on it since 2004... God damnit did he fuck it up.

Here're the problems:

1) The formula is far too formulaic.

The plot is almost literally identical to the other two books. I understand that he's basically working on a formula, not much different from an episode of CSI (I bet they figure out who the killer is right around minute 48), but jeez man... The writers of CSI need the formula to churn out an hour a week for 10 years. What's your excuse? Langdon gets roped into some piece of intrigue under the premise that he's some genius symbol expert. Langdon ends up alienating the law enforcement, who seem to be working against them, but really are on the same side. Langdon joins forces with an attractive and exceptional woman of some kind, in this case a Doctor of Noetic Science (don't even fucking ask...), who has a personal and emotional connection with a victim of the bad guy. Oh... And the bad guy is some loony religious zealot who has a predilection for self-mutilation in some way.

Too familiar. Too cookie cutter. Even if it IS a cookie cutter to his own work, it's still lazy.

2) The ticks are too ticky.

Dan Brown's writing has more ticks than a fucking field guide to the Insects of Pennsylvania. There's something overly repetitive on every page. It's not like Cormac McCarthy, who cultivates a rhythm that some people would call repetitive. For McCarthy it's a choice. For Dan Brown it's hackery.

The New York Times liked the book a lot more than I did, but they did point to (as one of their lone pieces of criticism) something I'd also noticed... At different points in the book, it seems that nearly every other piece of dialogue starts with a variation on "What in the hell...".

When I was in the 2nd grade, I wrote a story called "Short Duckie Blue". I remember using the phrase "Short Duckie Blue was short" and I remember the teacher (Mrs. Roberts) telling me that I should be more creative. It seems that Mr. Brown missed that lesson from the 2nd grade. It's all kinds of "What in the hell"s and "Who in the hell"s and "Why in the hell"s, and it gets old after about 10 pages... too bad there are 440 more. And you know...that's just one example. How about the number of chapters where something is revealed to a character but not to the readers that CHANGES EVERYTHING? How about a character describing another in the exact same way every time? How about every lecture scene, every phone call, every new clue uncovered fitting into the same exact pattern. How often can Robert Langdon's primary trait be incredulity?

It's not just the tired dialogue. It's the characters too... Brown seems to have this obsession with religious zealotry in his villains, but also he obviously wants to fuck them, and badly. Honestly, if he wasn't such a weird misogynist on top of being clearly a little too in love with the physical traits of his characters, it wouldn't be so bad. He's got these man-crushes on his male characters while at the same time over-sexualizing his female characters in a much grittier, grosser way. Brown spends a good amount of his books talking about how strong these women are, but then being amazingly quick to put them in times of peril that only Robert THE MAN Langdon could get them out of... forgetting, of course, that Langdon is essentially giant pussy most of the time.

Oh, and also I could definitely have done without a dozen long descriptions of how ripped the bad guy is, and how giant his junk is, and how the guy spent all this time quenching his insatiable sexual thirsts. If it were in any way relevant to the plot, that'd be one thing, but it's just superfluous nonsense.

I think my least favorite portions of the book are the flashbacks to Langdon when he's teaching. Maybe the students at Harvard are actually mentally retarded, but I've never heard of students get so intensely interested over whatever random theory or notion their professor discusses. It's all "They leaned foward in their seats. You could hear a pin drop" and "Their eyes went wide. Langdon knew he had them!". It's so unbelievable that it takes me right out of the story. I just keep thinking these Harvard students are far too easily moved to awe.

3) Is this a lecture or an adventure?

I liked the same things about The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons that everyone else did. It is really interesting to read about all of these true historical facts about these familiar landmarks and pieces of art. It's fun to postulate the conspiracies of Bernini or DaVinci. It's interesting to hear about these real organizations and locations and get these inside takes. Dan Brown's strength is his incredibly deep research, and the way he interweaves (however flimsily) the facts of his research into a plot. The Lost Symbol had all kinds of potential too. It'd be really interesting to hear about the secrets behind the architecture and art of Washington D.C.... I suspect Dan Brown agreed, which is why he started writing it. Then something unfortunate happened. He got allllmost done with his book and discovered there wasn't really all that much applicable stuff for him to delve into. There isn't a thousand years of religious art and intrigue. There aren't four-thousand year old buildings to find layered in conspiracy and cover-up. Ultimately the Masons aren't all that interesting. So what does Brown do?

He finishes the plot about a hundred pages before he finishes the book. He runs out of Masonic secrets to divulge. He runs out of Washington DC architecture to break-down. So instead of doing the wise thing and ending the book when the villain is beaten (oh... uh... Spoiler Alert), he has Langdon win the day and then he lectures philosophically about the nature of the human brain and Noetics (that's some effing crazy shit). . And the worst part is that the payoff... the big Mason Secret he's built up to for hundreds of pages. This thing that supposedly will endow the bad dude with incredible power... It's fucking LAME. It's so, so lame. I invested all of this time thinking there'd be some awesome payoff, but there wasn't. It was just a lame, silly thing.

This is the thing that pissed me off the most. I could have handled the bad writing, and the weird sexual obsessiveness, and the strangely mottled dialogue if the payoff had been cool. But it wasn't. And then, instead of sucker-punching us all and running like a decent asshole would do, he rubs salt in the wound by talking on and on and on (much like this review) about shit that I don't care about. If I want to know more about Noetics I would look it up. If I wanted to know what Kryptos says, I'll go to Langley and stare at it. Tell me a story or give me a lecture, but make a choice, and don't trick me into thinking I'm getting a story when the story is fucking over.

You know what makes me saddest? There is potential here. I would love to read an adventure story about the secret holdings of the Smithsonian. That would be awesome.

Instead I was subjected to a dumb story about a dumbass, unlucky, bumbling, indignant douchebag named Robert Langdon, who despite his having saved the world (to some degree or other) 2 times previously, seems to forget everything he's learned about himself the moment he returns to Harvard.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Beefy Muchacho's Book Club

Long time, huh? Yeah... that's what happens when all of my writing opportunities have been either severely limited by work changes (yes... I've occasionally blogged from work) or just the general lack of available free time. Once again I've overextended myself in my hobby time. In the last 2 months I've been deeply involved in 3 different theatre productions. I sang in a Valentine's Day Weekend musical revue, I've done the fight choreography for a production of The Rainmaker, and most time consumingly, I've been performing in a production of Comic Potential at The Drama Workshop in Cincinnati. Comic Potential has been an interesting experience... It's not a play that I particularly like (I was originally Stage Managing the show, but after an actor dropped out I was asked to step in). More strangely, it's the second time I've performed the exact same roles in this fairly obscure British play. Truth be told, I'm working on it to be able to spend time with the Tofu Muchacha (she's playing the lead, and is absolutely awesome.)

The biggest side benefit of doing this show has been that I've had the opportunity to do a great bit more reading than I typically get a chance to do... Over the course of this production I've read 3 books (after The Road). They were all read-able, but definitely of varying quality and structure.

The Tofu Muchacha has gotten me into reading post-apocalypic writing. Well, that and zombies. In a way, they go hand-in-hand... The best zombie books rely on absolute desperation and the removal of humanity. Reducing civilization to its deepest, darkest base. Same goes for post-apocalypse stories. Two of the three books I read fall into these categories, and they were certainly the class of the lot.

I started with World War Z written by Max Brooks. As an introduction into the world of Post-Apocalyptic zombie books World War Z is probably a blessing and a curse... It's an unbelievably detailed, creatively written, and meticulously compiled work. I say "compiled" because Max Brooks writes the whole book as a series of interviews with people who survived the zombie plague that wiped out over half of the world's population.

It's an excellent book, though not the Zombie carnage fest you'd expect from a Zombie book. Sure... there are animated corpses, epic battles between zombies and the army, swarms of the undead roaming the ocean floor, and the human survivors resorting to cannibalism, and all of the vivid horrors you expect from a book featuring the undead as its main character. But really, this book isn't about zombies at all. First, the zombies rarely make a direct appearance, even in the interviews. They're discussed in the abstract. Most of the interviewees witnessed the zombies directly in some way or another, but the stories they tell are rarely about their first-hand experiences dealing with the undead. More often it's about dealing with the other humans dealing with them. The account that sticks with me the most was that of a girl from Wisconsin who was a teenager when the "Great Panic" started. She and her family took to their RV packed with supplies and headed North to where the zombies would just freeze. That I recall, they barely encounter a single actual zombie on their travels, but it details the psychological destruction of her peaceful, loving family. The food runs out. The parents who she'd never seen raise their voices at each other start to call each other terrible names. The mother questions her husband's masculinity. The husband questions his wife's fidelity. They do what they have to do to save their daughter, possibly damning themselves in the process. It's an incredibly moving sequence in the book that doesn't feature a zombie at all.

The zombies themselves are a metaphor. They're the nuclear war in this particular post-apocalypse "What-if". They suppose what happens when the end of the world doesn't involve giant explosions or radiation poisoning, but is completely human-made. The thing about post-Nuclear scenarios is that there was a bomb. A great, wrenching, physical change. This book takes that away, but still leaves the desperation and wanton dehumanization.

It's interesting that Brooks removes the best thing about the zombie genre, the suspense and terror and the precariousness of the sitatuation, but succeeds in creating a compelling, addictive novel anyway. I realized it wasn't a traditional horror novel when I figured out that there was no danger. The book starts 10 years after the war ends. The writer is interviewing people who survived. They talk about death and nightmarish scenarios from the safety of the present. Because there's no danger, there's a freedom to take the time to ask any question and look at all of the potential answers.

I said at the beginning that reading this book as my first foray into the zombie genre was a blessing and the curse... I think I've made it clear why I felt it was a blessing. Why is it a curse? I think it would be difficult to truly reach these heights again.

Read it. For serious.

(soon, Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol.... I don't want to give anything away, so I'll just say that it was the biggest pile of shit I've read in a long time. Stay tuned.)