Lamb Burgers

Focaccia BunsFor dinner on Saturday night, Edmund made rosemary focaccia buns and cooked some ground lamb patties.  We garnished with a little harissa, goat cheese, spinach greens, and my home-made mustard.  Dessert consisted of strawberries with a little freshly whipped cream sweetened with honey.

The really neat thing is that it’s relatively cheap and every bit as delicious as it sounds because everything is made at home.  It helps to have a bread machine to knead the dough, of course.

Lamb burgers

Get your tentacles offa my allies!

Fun Board-Games-and-Fine-Food Day this weekend with our friend Steve!  It started mid-morning with a rematch of Fantasy Flight Games’ Arkham Horror; last time we had a narrow, nail-biting victory over Hast’yr using the basic rules; this time we threw in the first expansion, Dunwich Horror.

The game featured investigators Mike McGlen the Gangster (Edmund), Leo Anderson the Expedition Leader (Steve), Sister Mary the Nun (me), and Kate Winthrop the Scientist (dead man’s hand, played cooperatively).  It ended with a nail-biter defeat against Abhoth — we took him down to one point left before going down in a blaze of glory gibbering insanity.  I really don’t mind losing when it’s suspenseful and feels like we had a chance.  I won’t go over the basics of the game since I have a thumbnail in my last game report.

Vanished Planet coverWe had a lunch of tasty nibbles and leftovers: some home-made chicken soup and chicken salad, Edmund made French bread which we ate piping hot, and we added a fruit and cheese platter.

After Abhoth (“a horrid, dark gray protean mass and is said to be the ultimate source of all miscreation and abomination”) had us over for lunch, we switched to another cooperative board game, Vanished Planet.  This game completely relies on players cooperation to beat the system; there is no option for switching alliances or competing for resources.  Continue reading “Get your tentacles offa my allies!”

What did we do before the Internet? Edition #237

Tortillas_20130619-01I had made a dish of brown rice, pinto beans, ham and pepper Jack cheese, and we had leftovers so last night my husband said, “Hey, why don’t you turn this into Mexican-style filling for dinner, and I’ll make some tortillas.”  Great idea!  I added peppers, green onions, cilantro, more ham, and cumin, reheated it with a couple of tablespoons of home-made chicken broth, and with a little care it became very suitable for the purpose.

Meanwhile, Edmund is experimenting with a recipe from his usually reliable bread recipe book, but is very unhappy with the dough texture he obtained.  He looks into another book, then another, nothing helpful.  Then we think, hey, Robert Rodriguez had this tortilla recipe in his “Ten-Minute Cooking School” extra to the Sin City DVD.  So we looked it up quickly online: you can find it and other “Cooking School” videos on YouTube, and the recipes have also been transcribed in various places.

After the addition of baking powder and some water, more kneading, and allowing 20 minutes to rise, the tortillas were ready to grill and we had a delicious home-made dinner.  Thank you, Robert Rodriguez!  ^_^


Neuromancer: More Resources

BRO neuromancerStill re-reading William Gibson’s Neuromancer for this month’s book club selection.  I thought I’d include some more serious resources:

Edit: Faulty link corrected, 2013/07/03.

Mail Art: Proof of Concept

Proof-of-concept-01As mentioned in my last entry, this week’s assignment in my online art class is a piece of mail art with the topic “Correspondence With Memory.”

It so happens that every summer, my mom goes to an event called “Les Correspondances d’Eastman” — a literary festival celebrating novels, poetry, graphic novels, storytelling, letter-writing, and song lyrics.  Every time, she sends my letters she wrote there at a workshop.  So I thought she’d enjoy getting a hand-made letter back; thinking of her put me in mind of another of her favourite activities, bird-watching, so I had my theme.  I want to make a letter that looks like a bird house.

Tonight I created my “proof of concept” mock-up for the envelope; I don’t have the full insert yet.  Naturally, I now need to make this with quality paper and create the images on it.

Mail Art

780x587xpisarro1904.jpg.pagespeed.ic.CJNj_4-R2sThe topic for Week 3 of my online class “Introduction to Art: Concepts & Techniques” is “Correspondence With Memory” and focuses on mail art.  We covered three key artists who do mail art: Ray Johnson and his moticos, Ryosuke Cohen and his Braincell series (neither of which did much for me), and Eleanor Antin and her 100 Boots series (which I really liked.)

Some classmates have posted links to good resources on mail art, including:

I have limited experience with mail art.  My two inspirations are J.R.R. Tolkien’s Father Christmas Letters and Nick Bantock’s Griffin and Sabine correspondence.

tolkien-address1For years, Tolkien entertained his children around the holidays with letters from Father Christmas (known as Santa Claus in North America) filled with tales and sketches of the year’s events at the North Pole.  This book inspired me as a kid and teen to illustrate my own letters.  I don’t ever remember believing in Père Noël/Santa Claus/Father Christmas, but I remember figuring on early that the adults around me liked it when kids sent letters to the North Pole, not only for the cuteness factor but to have a useful list in hand.  So I illustrated mine with water colour images in Tolkien’s style, often writing on behalf of my younger siblings as well (at their request.)

To me, this was a piece of art for my parents and a joke between us.  Little did I know that they were actually sending copies through the post office, since Canada handles the mail for the North Pole!  The year my letter ended up published in a local newspaper, I was in high school and rather mortified that everyone seemed to think I actually believed in Santa!

Mai-Art-MA03Two decades ago, I stumbled on Nick Bantock’s Griffin and Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence and absolutely loved it.  Bantock’s lush images and collages, which continued to appear in subsequent books, were a delight to discover.  I had to examine each in minute detail to discover little connections and motifs shedding light on the story and the entire image.

Art Assignment: “Time Saved”

Last week’s assignment in my online class “Introduction to Art: Concepts & Techniques”, taught by Professor Anna Divinsky of Penn State College of Arts & Architecture via Coursera, was “The Fantastic and You”.  We talked about dadaist, surrealist, and independent fantastic artists of the first half of the 20th century like Henri Rousseau, Salvador Dali, Jean Arp, Marcel Duchamp, Marc Chagall, etc.  We were asked to produce an art piece in this spirit and to include an artist statement on the how, what, and why of our piece.

Art piece (collage): "Time Saved"

This collage is made of images cut or torn from magazines dating from 1945 to 2013 plus a map of a fictitious post-apocalypse version of my city of origin (helpfully torn to shreds by my cat). The images are glued onto butcher paper in ragged layers allowed to interweave in order to provide a three-dimensional effect.

I arranged the images into interlocking triangle patterns suggesting either time flowing or time standing still, trying to evoke moments frozen by memory or history against the passage of years and the need to save some of these moments of stillness. The clocks, watches and rooster suggested the marking of time, while the orchids, Egyptian sarcophagus and the woman’s watch shattered at Hiroshima evoked for me our brief, fragile lives.

In preparation for this assignment, I cleared my minds of designs and intentions and allowed my feelings to dictate image choices for their emotional appeal. I then considered the clippings and let a theme emerge; I then realized that I was stressed by my own choice to work on this assignment rather than attend to pressing but less interesting commitments. I turned 48 this week, and it seems there are always more chores than time left, yet I feel a desperate need to preserve some time for things I love, like art.

Edit: I received a peer score of 21 out of a possible 25, which I honestly think is too generous for the piece; I would have given it a lower score.

I received the following comments:

  • peer 1 → It’s great. Very visually appealing and your message gets across well.
  • peer 2 → Not bad
  • peer 3 → Nothing to criticise. Got very much pleasure of viewing your art-work. I liked especially your 3 dimensions effect, it makes the entire work alive.

More cyberpunk readings

The word “cyberpunk” was first used in 1980 in a short story of the same name by author Bruce Bethke. Decades later, he sounds a little bitter that he didn’t trademark the term (among other things), but he does make his story available free as a PDF (but requests donations if you liked it): “Cyberpunk” He also has some thoughts on the story of the word and genre here.

Then the word was popularized by science fiction editor Gardner Dozois to describe a then-emerging subgenre of literature, at least according to re-posts of old alt.cyberpunk Usenet FAQs. It’s no surprise at all that the cyberpunk subgenre was an instant darling with the old BBS and Usenet crowd.

I enjoy the cyberpunk range quite a bit, but my favourites are a trio of trilogies (ha-ha), as well as associated short stories.

Burning Chrome Neuromancer (Sprawl Trilogy, #1) Count Zero (Sprawl, #2) Mona Lisa Overdrive (Sprawl, #3)
Naturally, William Gibson‘s Sprawl trilogy of Neuromancer, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive plus the short stories gathered in Burning Chrome. The original, defining series — not the first, not the last, but the reference material for all other cyberpunk authors.

Next, as I’ve only mentioned about one hundred times:
When Gravity Fails A Fire in the Sun The Exile Kiss Budayeen Nights
George Alec Effinger‘s Marîd Audran/Budayeen trilogy, When Gravity Fails, A Fire in the Sun, and The Exile Kiss as well as the collected short stories Budayeen Nights (released posthumously). Honestly, I think Effinger was a better writer than Gibson at the time (though Gibson continued to develop while Effinger died). His blend of cyberpunk and hardboiled detective stories à la Raymond Chandler is smoother, more accomplished, his stories are stronger, and his characters are better developed.

That said, my third panel in this tryptic is William Gibson’s Bridge trilogy:
Virtual Light Idoru All Tomorrow's Parties (Bridge, #3)
With Virtual Light, Idoru and All Tomorrow’s Parties, Gibson showed that he planned on continuing to grow as a writer and trying new things rather than serving us the endless series of sequels and self-pastiches that some authors might have opted for.

When talking about cyberpunk I should mention Neal Stephenson and Bruce Sterling, who were also pioneers of the genre and remain strong. While I recognize the former’s creativity and impact, I simply don’t derive as much entertainment from his books; and I have yet to read a story by the latter where I did not feel let down by the ending, despite some strong world-building.

Pop Culture Neuromancer

Neuromancer cover, 20th anniversary editionThe book for June in our Goodreads post-SF/F class reading group is William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984).  This book marked the next generation of SF authors and fans, and defined the fledgling subgenre of cyberpunk.

As usual, I gathered some pop culture resources to accompany it; however, I’m now faced with Problem Type 3.  You may recall that Problem Type 1 is when a book is old enough to have been half-forgotten and there are very few resources for it (for example, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland); and Problem Type 2 is when a book is recent enough to still be covered by copyright but old enough to pre-date the Internet, yielding plenty of resources but few available online (for example, Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness).  Problem Type 3 is what happens when a book has become so intricately embedded into pop culture that it’s hard to select resources that are both representative and significant among a pervasive background!

While others had already written stories that we would now associate with the genre (Bruce Bethke invented the term with his story “Cyberpunk” in 1980, and John M. Ford’s Web of Angels pioneered the Matrix/Internet/etc. the same year) and a couple of movies had started influencing the visuals (John Carpenter’s Escape From New York in 1981, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner in 1982, probably also Tron in 1982), Gibson had already started shaping the new style with his short stories like “Johnny Mnemonic” (1981) and “Burning Chrome” (1982).

He was commissioned by Terry Carr for the third series of Ace Science Fiction Specials, which was intended to exclusively feature debut novels, and given a year to complete the work.  Although Gibson nearly gave up after multiple re-writes and crises of anxiety, the book was an underground success and became a cult classic.  It also received the 1984 Hugo and Nebula awards, and the 1985 Philip K. Dick Memorial Award.

Neuromancer fan movie trailer by Jarred SpekterThere has been a lot of talk over the years about film projects based on Neuromancer, but the projects have repeatedly fallen through.  Given how poorly the movie version of Gibson’s short story Johnny Mnemonic turned out, I can’t say that I particularly mourn the project; besides, there are still rumours of a movie project in the works.  However, there is a rather nice fan-made trailer for a non-existent movie, partly spliced from footage from other movies and accompanied by a fan-made poster.

The BBC aired a radio drama version in 2002, the clips for which can be found in a few places online.  Here are Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 of Episode 1 (playlist), and Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 of Episode 2 (playlist) on YouTube.

There have been partial releases as graphic novels, but to my knowledge none that gave the complete novel.

Neuromancer game screen captureA computer game also called “Neuromancer” and based on the novel was released in 1988 and got good reviews at the time.  Here is a remix of the soundtrack, with some stills from the game!  But the impact of Gibson’s vision is felt in many more games and movies than those officially licensed for his intellectual property.  Really, if a game description mentions “cyberpunk” anywhere, then it’s a safe to assume that it was influenced by Gibson’s Neuromancer and other stories of the Sprawl.

C yberpunk 2020 cover Shadowrun 4th Anniversary Edition coverThe Sprawl trilogy also deeply influenced the role-playing game scene, particularly with the games Cyberpunk from R. Talsorian Games (three editions in 1988, 1990 and 2005) and Shadowrun from FASA Corporation and later Catalyst Games, the latter of which adds magic and urban fantasy to the mix (1989, 1992, 1998, 2005, 2010, 2013), and their tie-in novels, sourcebooks, and derived materials.  Other significant cyberpunk role-playing games include GURPS Cyberpunk (Steve Jackson Games), Ex Machina (Guardians of Order), SLA Industries (Nightfall Games), and Tokyo NOVA (Enterbrain).

Other Fantastic Artists

This week’s theme in my online class “Introduction to Art: Concepts & Techniques” is “The Fantastic and You”, with focus on dadaists, surrealists, and independent fantasists of the early 20th century.  Aside from the artists discussed in the class, I have a few favourites who inspire me:

hygeia-detail-of-medicine-1907_smI’m partial to Austrian artist Gustav Klimt because I love the expressive lines and rich textures he used. This is “Hygeiea”, a detail of a series of paintings he made for the ceiling of the University of Vienna’s Great Hall between the years of 1900-1907. (According to the Wikipedia entry, in 1894 Klimt was commissioned to paint the ceiling. Upon presenting his paintings, Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudence, Klimt came under attack for ‘pornography’ and ‘perverted excess’ in the paintings. None of the paintings would go on display in the university. In May 1945 all three paintings were destroyed by retreating SS forces.)

Paul_Klee,_Swiss_-_Fish_Magic_detailThen there is German-Swiss artist Paul Klee, who I fell in love with the first time I saw his “Fish Magic” (in a book by Jacques Cousteau!); here is a detail of the larger work.

what-the-water-gave-me-1938_detailMexican artist Frida Kahlo‘s sense of form and colour is practically overwhelming.  Here is a detail of “What the Water Gave Me.”

Escher's_ReptilesM.C. Escher remains so popular, I know I’m not the only one to be endlessly fascinated by his use of perspective, illusion, transforming shapes, and contrast.