Boozy Books: The Martian

Happy Friday, readers! And welcome back to another exciting round of Boozy Books. This week we’re pairing a fantastic sci-fi read with a fantastic galactic cocktail. So sit back, relax, and let the readin’ take hold.

You may have noticed that here at Nerd Cactus we often pair established literary works or books we’ve read multiple times and/or know cover to cover. That is not the case this week. This week I’m pairing a brand new favorite. I picked this book up just a few days ago and was hooked. I couldn’t put it down! (And it’s been awhile since I could genuinely say those words…) I started recommending it to people before I’d even hit the halfway mark and discovered along the way that Ridley Scott has directed a film adaptation to be released in October. I’m so excited!

Anyhoo, the book over which I am currently gushing is Andy Weir’s The Martian. Apparently it’s been a best seller for some time now (wish I’d been clued in sooner) and as such you may have heard of it. If you’re into realistic science fiction, this book is for you. If you’ve ever wanted to be an astronaut, this book is for you. If you love Apollo 13, this book is for you. If you’ve ever looked up at the night sky and been in awe of the stars and space that make up our universe… I think we all know where I’m going with this.

The Martian follows the journey of astronaut Mark Watney after he is stranded on Mars. After a Martian sandstorm forces a mission abort Watney becomes the sole habitant of the red planet. Faced by seemingly insurmountable odds he must use his skills as a botanist and mechanical engineer to make his supplies last until he can be rescued. The Martian is about survival, science, why disco sucks, and the willpower of humanity. Told through personal logs, the point of view of NASA officials, and a few flashbacks this novel keeps the story interesting by consistently offering different narratives that work as one to provide a complete picture. The science is thoroughly researched and the result is a gripping piece of work that is not only entertaining, but believable.

I normally hate giving away too much of a book, but after watching the movie trailer I deem it safe to watch without fear of major spoilers. So if the concept of an astronaut stranded on Mars along with my glowing recommendation aren’t enough for you, here’s the link: 

I just watched it again. So damn good…

Alright, on to the main event! What can we pair with this space adventure? Well, if you’ve read the book (or when you read it) you’ll realize that the clear choice is vodka. Why? Because vodka is made of potatoes. What do potatoes have to do with anything? Read the book.

Since Mars is famously red (and straight vodka just isn’t my thing) I’m gonna go with a simple cranberry vodka because… Well, because it’s red and takes care of the vodka element. I think you’ll find it’s very appropo.

However, I did stumble upon a rather tasty little shot called the “Meister on Mars” for those of you who aren’t into vodka and are into drinking games. Here’s the link to the recipe:

As for the drinking game… I’d recommend taking a shot every time Mark Watney almost dies. You’ll get toasted real quick.

That’s all for me. Join us tomorrow for Shakespeare Saturday!

Nerd Cactus, OUT!

-A

http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/0553418025/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?qid=1438362219&sr=8-1&pi=AC_SY200_QL40&keywords=the+martian+andy+weir&dpPl=1&dpID=41-YkFaghDL&ref=plSrch

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Something, Something, Something, Monday Muse

Hiiiii! It’s Monday! I’m supposed to muse! Is gonna be great! …I got nothin’!
Anyway, welcome to Nerd Cactus, the blog for book worms, nerds, writers, cosplay ninjas, pirates, and literally anyone in between. The love is strong here. Embrace it.

I don’t normally riff on the Muse without having some idea where I’m going, but once again I find myself pressed for time due to my insane, ever-changing work schedule. As much as I’d like to lounge around in my new harem pants and daydream until the perfect subject hits me, I don’t have the time or the luxury.
Though I just might wear my harem pants to rehearsal… They’re crazy comfy, yo.

*side bar: If you’re into roomy, tribal, flowy almost-but-not-really “Hammer pants” check out harempants.com. You can use the code Harem10 for 10% off your purchase so that’s pretty neat.*

Ok, enough screwing around, let’s find a topic… Hmm. Well, here’s something that has been puzzling me lately. Although I am a bibliophile I am also a Kindle user *gasp*. Don’t judge, I have my reasons; I travel a lot and this way I can bring as many books with me as I like, it’s a bit easier on my wallet, and I can read in the dark. Also, since I have the Paperwhite it doesn’t feel like reading off a computer screen (which I detest).

Look, the point is I am a pretty frequent Amazon customer, and when trying to find new reading material I often skim through reviews. And not just reviews from the New York Times or The Globe… Though I rarely find them helpful, I actually look to Amazon’s customer reviews to gauge the reactions of the average reader. Sometimes the opinions are garbage and sometimes they simply warn of cliffhangers, strange POV shifts, or editing errors. (That last one is what I search for in particular, because it is a dead giveaway for self-published titles.)

Now I’m not knocking on self-publishing. It’s a wonderful way to pursue your dreams, share your stories, and build your name without having to be at the mercy of major publishing companies. However, the self-publishing world does not have the same standard (read: strenuous) editing process, so plenty of below-average stuff slips through. And some are definitely worse than others…

Given all that backstory let’s get to the aforementioned issue that’s had me confused. Recently, someone I know on Facebook posted a change.org petition which made me stop short. The petition in question is directed at Amazon and is titled Change theYou Know This Author” Policy. Just in case that doesn’t give it away, let me clarify… This petition is trying to stop Amazon from removing reviews that have been identified as written by friends/family/acquaintences of the author.

First of all… Way to creep, Amazon.

But in all seriousness, I immediately imagined how my mother would review my work and how incredibly biased it would be. To me, that would be an inflated review. One which I honestly wouldn’t want. It would completely undermine the other reviews I received in my own right. I’d want my work to be represented honestly, not praised to high heaven by friends who hadn’t actually read what I’d written.

The petition also attempts to claim that in an age of trolling there is no such thing as an honest, genuinely positive review. Though there are certainly a number of unnecessarily nasty reviews, I don’t think they are done in the spirit of trying to ruin an author’s career with negative feedback. Trolls don’t really make a habit of lurking on amazon.com. That’s what Reddit is for. So Amazon is just trying to put an end to exaggerated, undeserved reviews with their policy. It makes absolute sense. Why would someone fight it?

…But then there’s the flip side. It’s very difficult to break through in an online world saturated with self-published novels. These authors depend on good reviews in order to climb the Amazon market bestsellers chart and get noticed. They don’t have the luxury of press tours and book signings handled by an agent or a PR manager. So I can see and understand the struggle, but I also can’t justify putting my name on that petition when I have personally read a few real stinkers (to put it mildly) as a result of what could only have been overblown reviews.

So, yeah, that’s been on my mind. It’s a pretty interesting thought-struggle because my opinion swings both ways as a customer and as a writer. Lots to think about. I’ll post the link below if you’d like to add your name. As always, no judgment here.

See you next week for booze and books!

-A

https://www.change.org/p/amazon-com-amazon-change-the-you-know-this-author-policy

Silly Sunday: Medieval Cooking!

Heeeeyyy, readers! How’s it hangin’ on this fine almost-not-Sunday-anymore Sunday? Good? Great!

Now…you know today is for silly things. But I’m going to stretch that out to include random, perhaps-interesting-to-someone-who-isn’t-me things for today. I’m doing this because I had the most amazing fried chicken yesterday and that got me to thinking about delicious food, and how much I like to cook it.

For those that don’t actually read these posts all the way through (and I can understand that; I ramble), I am a historian. Granted, I am not earning money as one, but I have all the requisite training and a genuine obsession for the past, so I’m a historian. This includes a love of historical cooking, though of course I typically adapt cooking methods to a more safety-concerned modern approach (a giant wood oven works for some things, but not for others). Two of my favorite periods to recreate are the Medieval and the Renaissance, with recipes from all over Europe and the Islamic nations. In fact, my family’s Christmas last year was a Renaissance-themed affair, adapted slightly to not involve sugar sculptures or inedible-crust pies. This year, I’m thinking about creating a full-on Medieval Islamic feast, featuring recipes from all over the Islamic world (Moorish Spain, Arabia, Northern Africa, etc). Hope my parents are OK with it.

Anyway, in my time researching period cooking, I have amassed quite a library of period cookbooks stretching from Ancient Rome all the way to Colonial America and beyond. But I have also trolled the internet looking for sources and have a fair few of them bookmarked, and I thought I’d share some of my favorites with you, our readers. Maybe you want to throw a Shakespeare party complete with period foods or you do Renaissance Reenactment. Maybe you just want to try something cool and different from another time. Or maybe you’re just writing a story and need a period recipe or two to describe for authenticity’s sake (since all stories should be authentic). Whatever reason you need…check out these links for some awesome recipes and give them a try.

http://www.godecookery.com/

http://www.medievalcookery.com/

http://www.medievalcuisine.com/

http://all-about-renaissance-faires.com/recipes-cookbooks/renaissance-cooking/

http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/cariadoc/islamic_dinner.html

http://www.thevikingsworld.com/Skald/recipes/index.html

(And not really Medieval and/or Renaissance-y, but definitely an adaptation of foods from a Medieval-fantasy world and thus OK in my book.)

http://www.innatthecrossroads.com/

That last one is perfect for a Game of Thrones party! If Jon Snow comes back, you can celebrate with tons of food; if he’s permanently dead, you can drown your sorrows with tons of food. Either way, seems good to me! Plus, we recommend so much booze around here, I really felt it was incumbent upon us to make sure you get some food into your stomach.

Anyway, tomorrow comes the Muse! See you then.

C

Shakespeare Saturday: Orson Welles Does Shakespeare

No, not like that! Get your mind out of the gutter, Cactus friends… *insert exasperated eye roll*
I kid! If anyone was thinking it, it was me. Anyway, welcome, one and all, to Shakespeare Saturday! In today’s edition: Orson Welles has his way with the bard. (Seriously, stop snickering.)

You may associate Orson Welles with his cinematic masterpiece – Citizen Kane – or perhaps you recall his hand in the famed radio reading of War of the Worlds. In either case, you’ve probably heard the name. At the very least you’ve probably had some idiot reference “Rosebud” at you whether you have seen the damn film or not. (Ok, I admit it, I hate Citizen Kane. I realize he made a number of important breakthroughs in the field of cinematography, but it is one long, boring, piece of garbage. There, I said it. Sorry not sorry.)

OK, SO… Where was I? Oh! Orson Welles: famous actor, director, writer, eccentric, etc. He was also a very successful actor/director/producer of the stage, mounting several audacious classical revivals in his ongoing experiments with art. One of his most famous Broadway offerings was a particularly chilling interpretation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in 1937 during the rise of the Nazi empire. He dressed the soldiers in costumes resembling Nazi black shirts and lit the entire play to mimic the setting of a Nuremburg rally. Audiences were creeped out, critics were creeped out, I’m creeped out… But it generated a lot of attention, jolting many viewers into awareness, and landed Welles on the cover of Time. Neat. But this was not the only time Welles tackled the vast works of William Shakespeare. Far from it.

That which I really wanted to touch upon today is Welles’ Shakespearean radio plays. He did quite a few of them, at least ten of which are available online. I, myself, spent the evening listening to the first segment of his presentation of Hamlet. Due to radio time constraints he only presented the first two acts in the episode which I listened to, but I was quite impressed with the clear interpretation delivered by the actors. Often with Shakespeare it helps to be watching the play due to the obvious difference in speech, but the intonations and objectives were apparent and I could clearly envision the action. Being a radio play there was also the use of sound effects. I initially thought this would be detracting, but once I stopped envisioning the guy with the thunder sheet and the gravel box, I found that it was well-suited. Good on you, mister foley artist from 1936.

If you are interested in hearing Hamlet or any other of the Welles/Shakespeare offerings available at archive.org, I shall leave the link here for your perusal. It’s rather well done I think, so I hope you find some time to enjoy.

https://archive.org/details/Orson_Welles_Shakespeare_Collection

Happy listening!

A

Boozy Books: The Peter Grant Series

Hello, and welcome to the latest installment of boozy books, where we attempt to promote drunkenness and elucidate upon the nature of literature (but not really the first one, guys–ALWAYS DRINK RESPONSIBLY–and, well, not really the second one, either, ’cause half of what we do isn’t terribly literary). You know what? We entreat you to read while you enjoy a nice adult beverage! There we go. Anything to get the kiddies reading. (Note for kids: these drinks are not for you. Wait for the legal age of your respective nations, please.)

The warnings vis a vis drunkenness and underage drinking are actually apropos for once, so I’m going to pretend I did those on purpose instead of just flailing my fingers about a keyboard without any discernible self-editing process. This is because the books I have chosen this week are the Peter Grant series, aka the Rivers of London books (or whatever you want to call them), by Ben Aaronovitch. Taking place in a pretty much everyday London, these books feature Police Constable Peter Grant as he is recruited into the Folly by the last wizard in England: Inspector Nightingale. So now he’s England’s newest wizard apprentice (so close to getting Mickey Mouse up in here!) and responsible for solving cases of a special bent.

(Book one of the series. It’s called Midnight Riot in the US, for some reason.)

You see, as in so many Urban Fantasies, the world is more than just what we see about us. There are creepy things afoot in England, and it’s always been the Folly’s job to solve them. A secret division of the Metropolitan Police (both on and off the books, to be truthful, because no one really wants to talk about them), the Folly has been around since 1775–when there was rather more than one wizard–lurking about in the shadowy portions of the world that no one notices. As its newest member, Peter is now responsible for carrying on that tradition under the watchful eye of Inspector Nightingale (who is a lot older than he looks). Being a duly trained member of the force, he combines both the latest technologies available to the police and his slowly growing wizard-y abilities in order to solve crimes. And try to figure out how magic works.

See, the thing about magic in this world (or at least the kind Peter finds himself learning) is that it was invented by Isaac Newton, and it seems to have something to do with physics. Use it too much and your brain turns to mush in an attempt to convert the energy. But how it works and why isn’t really understood, even by Nightingale (not that he really cares). Peter, being of a modern bent and trained to investigate, spends a great deal of time trying to figure this out…mostly because he wants to understand if it will kill him. Which seems reasonable to me.

The absolute best thing about these books is Peter himself. He is both intelligent and hapless, a gentlemen and a bit of a lech. He is good at investigating, but better at asking questions, and damn good at the legwork of a case. His magic skills are passable according to Nightingale (who thinks he lacks discipline), but he has managed to invent a couple of his own spells (which Nightingale berates him for). Peter has imagination and heart, and yet he sometimes has bit of hangdog suffering. Best of all is his snarkiness. In fact, this whole series in infused with a dry wit and sardonic take on the world that makes for a very amusing story.

Oh yeah, and he’s the son of a jazz man and an African immigrant, which gives him a different view on the world than your typical POV character. It’s not often we get POC in leading roles, especially when they’re written by white authors, but Peter being black forces him to interact differently with the force and within his world. He faces stereotypes that other people don’t, and gets to share quite a few eyerolls with other minorities. London gets to be as colorful as it really is, too, which is not something that often gets touched upon.

All-in-all, there is very little this series gets wrong, and those tend to be very subjective. It’s written well, has good characters, the crimes aren’t so easily solved, and the supernatural elements blend seamlessly with the mundane (and the English). There’s even a posh boarding school for wizards (though it’s defunct now, being that there’s only one left). The fact that the author used to write for Doctor Who helps, too, because you can’t really get much more English than that.

Now…what to drink? I thought long and hard about this, but ultimately went with the first thing that popped into my head: a shandy. Now, stay with me. Peter is an English cop; he spends a lot of time drinking beer down the pub. Beer seemed the way to go; it’s such a part of English culture, and reflective of the every day lives of this world. But! There’s a twist to this England: the supernatural. Thus was a twist on the go-to needed to accurately reflect this world where the strange mingles with the mundane so readily. A shandy is basically beer mixed with something else, typically non-alcoholic, in a 50/50 mix (or to taste). My choice for mixer is ginger beer, which has been brewed in England since the 18th century and just seemed appropriate, but you can mix that beer of yours with just about any mixer you want (lemonade is often popular). Note: it’s probably best not to attempt a shandy with a stout…it might not work out well.

Now, if you like to drink something mentioned in the book, there’s always Star beer, which Peter uses to bribe Mother Thames. He delivers…a lot of Star beer to her place beside the river. So much. If you want, turn it into a shandy. Trust me, they’re good.

To buy the book (American version):

http://www.amazon.com/Midnight-Riot-Peter-Grant-Aaronovitch/dp/034552425X

To buy the booze:

http://www.totalwine.com/eng/product/leinenkugels-summer-shandy/38682126

(This is a premixed lemonade shandy if you want to buy an all-in-one version instead of making it yourself. Otherwise, just buy a beer you like, some ginger beer or ginger ale, and mix it about 50/50 or to taste.)

This has been boozy books! Tomorrow…SHAKESPEARE! (And, yes, we’ll get around to pairing the plays. Eventually.) Ciao!

C

Also…Boozy Books is now OPEN FOR SUGGESTIONS AND REQUESTS! If you want to see something paired, let us know and we’ll see about getting it done.

The Monday Muse: On Liking HOW You Like

I am a huge Batman fan.

Oh, right. Welcome to the Monday Muse, wherein we talk about stuff and muse together. I’m the one who usually writes about writing, because…apparently, I have no other interests, or something. But today, I’m writing about something else.

So, as I said earlier: I am a huge Batman fan.

I was five when the animated series came on TV for the first time. This was my first taste of the world of comic books and superheroes, and I loved it. I loved that Batman was putting himself between evil and the city of Gotham. I loved that he became kinder and more compassionate because of his loss. To me, Batman wasn’t the angry guy with the tech (and it upsets me that he’s been reduced to that in recent years); Batman was the guy who looked around him and saw his anger and pain and fear reflected in the people of his home. As a child, he experienced a moment of absolute helplessness–a moment where the evil and pain of the world left him feeling powerless and ineffective–and he became determined to turn that fear and helplessness upon the criminals who preyed upon Gotham. He was a man who was going to place himself between his city and those who wanted to hurt it; he was going to be a hero.

This is the Batman I love. The Batman who used his mind first and his tools second. The Batman who showed compassion for Harley Quinn because he knew she was just troubled and not really evil. The Batman who didn’t use guns and didn’t play judge, jury, and executioner. This was a hero that knew his strengths, his enemies’ weaknesses, and vice versa. He manipulated the playing field and used strategic attacks rather than brute force. What mattered was defeating the bad guy; not being the hero who brought the villain down. He was a world’s greatest detective who wasn’t afraid to fight hard if he needed to. And he has always been my favorite superhero.

There are people out there who tell me my Batman isn’t the “real” Batman. That I’m wrong and not a real Batman fan because I was introduced to him via a cartoon and not the comic media. Even though I’ve spent the last couple of decades reading Batman comics, watching movies with Batman in them, and even writing papers for Literature courses about the psychology of the Nolan Batman movies (well, the first one)…I am not a real Batman fan because, to me, he is a compassionate hero who is more than just anger and technology. To me, he’s closer to Captain America than Iron Man (yeah, I like Marvel, too…which ALSO makes me less of a fan); he’s just the dark side of that coin. I think of Frank Miller as an exploration of what would happen if Batman *lost* what made him Batman in the first place. If Batman didn’t keep control over his anger and let it overwhelm him.

I’ve written more about Batman than I intended. I meant it more as an example of people who have the gall to tell someone that there’s a certain way to like something. That being a fan has a set of rules, or a checklist that you have to pass. Fandom is not exclusive. In fact, it is the opposite; it is inclusive. We should all celebrate the fact that what we love is the same! Why are we trying to create a hierarchy out of loving something? And why does it seem to be so much worse when it comes to nerd culture? For so long, nerds have been excluded; we’ve been made fun of, maligned, laughed at, and made to feel separate from everyone else. So what do we do when we meet someone else who loves something that we love? We force them to somehow prove themselves, as if they’re perhaps interlopers just waiting for the right moment to pounce and tear us down. And, in the process, we alienate the very people with whom we should be celebrating that love.

Let’s not do that. Let’s just be happy to find people who are nerds just like us. Let’s not have DC vs Marvel showdowns where liking one makes you childish (Marvel) and the other makes you a “butthurt fanboy” (DC). Let’s not call someone an idiot because they enjoyed a movie we didn’t, or insult the movie itself. Entertainment is not a marker of intelligence any more than having a different opinion about something makes you less of a fan. Accept that we can all love something together and have different opinions at the same time. Fandom is not specific. There isn’t a single definition. There is no one way to like Batman.

Let’s stop tearing one another down. Batman would never do that shit and neither should we. I mean, he would totally have a file on everyone and preparations for the day you turned evil, but he wouldn’t assume you were evil. It’s more of a completely justifiable paranoia based on years of watching good people go bad and living in a James Cagney nightmare.

I think I lost the point there. Just be nice to one another and stop telling them how to like stuff, mmkay? It’s just not cool.

On Friday, there will be booze.

C

ps- I have massive appreciation for Frank Miller despite how it might seem. The Dark Knight Returns was an absolutely seminal moment for Batman. The last taste the average American had had of the Bat was Adam West. After Miller, Batman was a character to take seriously. Miller also affected the Animated Series. I just think we’ve swung too far into Miller’s court lately.

Silly Sunday: Chameleons

What’s silly about chameleons, you ask? Until this afternoon I honestly didn’t think there was anything silly about them, myself. I mean, they are certainly cool. Who wouldn’t want to change colors based on their surroundings? Or look in multiple directions with big, crazy eyes? So yes, I think we can all agree that they are very cool, very interesting creatures overall. But, silly? I dunno…

But for whatever reason my Sunday became silly chameleon day. Sometimes the universe catches you off guard by throwing weird coincidences your way, right? Well, my run-ins with the universe’s humor usually present themselves in repetition. So today my FB was littered with chameleons… All of whom were adorable and funny. Enjoy!

image

image

So now I basically just really want a chameleon….

A