A blog for people who don't want to spend all their free time in the real world. After all, we live and work there. Escape the mundane with books, travel, and writing.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Assassins in Literature

What is the current obsession with main character assassins in fantasy literature? I find it very creepy.  We don't admire murderers, in general, yet all sorts of people say, "I love [fill-in-the-blank assassin character] because she's such a strong female!"  So..."strong" equals "kills for money?"  And then, the ubercreepy:  "We need more strong female characters like [fill-in-the-blank assassin] to empower young women."  So..."empower" equals "tell people it's great to kill other people?"  I find this very, very disturbing.  

I just read a book where the main character assassin shows very little remorse or guilt about all the killing she has done.  She does no soul-searching, suffers no trauma, has no nightmares, and doesn't seem to think it's a moral dilemma.  There is no deep probing into the ethics of the situation. Yet this heroine isn't a stone-cold, hardened, detached shell of a person either.  This is not realistic.  Any non-sociopath would suffer some of these consequences.  Through the course of the book, she does not change.  When presented with the opportunity to escape the life, she doesn't take it.  She will most likely work as an assassin in the future.  I found this profoundly disturbing.  

Even more disturbing is that I've been combing the internet for two days and I have found only one review--ONE--that even mentions this issue.  It's in a post that discusses what kind of role models YA literature is presenting to our young people.  Even in that context, the writer only skirts around the inherent unethical nature of being an assassin.  Perhaps everyone is afraid of coming off as judgmental.  I hope that's the reason.  That's much less disturbing than if it actually doesn't bother anyone else.  But here I am.  I'm going to be judgmental:  murder is generally wrong.  I stand by that.  Therefore, being an assassin is generally wrong.

"Assassin" can have different meanings, and in today's world we might think of assassins as people who kill powerful people for political, religious, or even moral reasons, sometimes thinking that they're doing the world a service.  However, in most fantasy literature, an assassin is a person who kills people for money, more like a hit man.  It's a job.  In some books there are even rules and regulations and professional organizations of assassins.  

Readers defend the heroes of these books by saying things like, "He's just taking pride in his job." But the fact that it's a job doesn't make it right. Others say, "You don't understand.  It's a dark, gritty fantasy world."  Be that as it may, if the hero is killing people for money, that's adding to the darkness and grittiness, and "everyone's doing it." isn't an excuse I accept.  Other readers argue that these assassins are only doing what they need to do to survive.  Possibly this is the case for a few of them, or for a period of time before they escape the life, but these heroes are also usually quite clever and skilled.  They could figure out another way to survive.  Fans write, "I like [this assassin] because he doesn't take guff from anyone."  Okay...not taking guff from anyone is entirely different from murdering a bunch of people, some of them likely quite innocent.  Other fans write, "I love [this assassin] because she can defend herself."  Umm... defending yourself is good, but defending yourself is not the same as hunting down a person you were paid to kill.  

If the protagonist has been forced into becoming an assassin, but over the course of the book finds a way to stop the killing and lead a less violent life...that's one thing.  If she's a reluctant assassin who struggles in a real and painful way with the morality of what she's doing, that could be powerful.  If it's political, and he's doing it for the perceived greater good...though it damages his soul...that's interesting.  But when killing is treated so lightly in some of these books, it makes me sick.    

If remorseless assassins are the type of people we're supposed to admire, this is a darker world than I thought.  
   


Friday, April 18, 2014

"Practical" Cookbook??

I like cooking when I'm in the mood, but I have more recipe books than I need.  I came upon this one on the shelf, and started thumbing through it.

The title is Practical One Pot.  To me, a practical recipe is relatively simple, with relatively few ingredients, most of which are common and not hugely expensive.  Synonyms and related words of practical, according to Merriam Webster:  functional, useful, down-to-earth, reachable.

Well, nearly all the recipes in Practical One Pot have really long lists of uncommon and expensive ingredients.  Most of the recipes are also exotic.  I like international food and new tastes, and when I try a new recipe, its often foreign, but the cookbook isn't called Exotic One Pot, and it's very misleading.  After wondering about the disproportionate number of curry recipes, I looked at the title page.  Sure enough, it was published originally in the UK, which explains some of this bias toward Indian food and seafood.  But again, it's not advertised that way.  I hate bait and switch.

Example list of ingredients for ONE recipe (Spanish Fish Stew)
-oil
-2 common vegetables
-4 common spices and seasonings (if you substitute dried parsley for fresh)
-flour
-white bread (so far so good.  But wait)
-toasted almonds
-brandy
-Cooked Lobster
-Squid
-Monkfish
-Cod
-Shrimp
-Langoustines
-Live mussels, scrubbed, with beards removed
-Live clams, scrubbed

Who on earth has all of these seafoods at one time?  It claims the prep time is only 30 minutes, but I guess that's for people who know how properly scrub mussels and clams and prepare langoustine and squid and lobster.  For those of us in landlocked parts of America, that's likely not us.    

Other recipe highlights include Shellfish in Red Curry Sauce (lemongrass, fresh gingerroot, coconut milk, Thai red curry paste, fish sauce, jumbo shrimp, cilantro, etc).  and Winter Vegetable Pot Pie (nothing too strange except the rutabaga, but 23 ingredients)

Other ingredients required:  lots of coconut milk and cream, garam masala, okra, saffron threads, preserved lemon (where you put lemon with a bunch of salt and extra liquid and leave for 1 month), black bean sauce, various liquors, kafir lime leaves, shrimp paste, galangal (I had to look that one up), dry-cured black olives, various curry pastes, green cardamom, chapattis, yerba santa, no-soak dried apricots (are those different than regular dried apricots?), superfine sugar, pomegranate juice, lamb boullion.

Don't get me wrong:  a lot of these recipes are really intriguing.  But they're all SO complex it's ridiculous for anyone who is not an amateur chef.    

A few parting stats:

Out of 27 recipes, number with "curry" in the name, or with significant curry spices:  7 (26%)

Protein breakdown:
Vegetarian:  4
Pork:  3
Beef:  4
Chicken:  5
Lamb:  3
Seafood/fish:  8  (30%)

Number of times I've personally cooked lamb:  0
Number of times I've personally cooked any seafood besides fish fillets:  3 or 4

Pros:  there are some interesting recipes, and they might be fairly authentic.  It also includes nutritional information and little food facts.  The pictures are beautiful and the instructions are good.  If you love cooking complex dishes with exotic ingredients, this book is for you.

êê

Friday, April 11, 2014

Czech Republic vs Arizona Round 2

The Current Temperature and Forecast in Glendale, Arizona today--APRIL 11!!!

The Current Temperature and Forecast in Prague, Czech Republic.
The current temp isn't fair, since it's near the hottest part of the day in Arizona and the middle of the night in the Czech Republic, but compare the forecasts.



And the point goes to....you decide.

I know that a lot of the world is recovering from winter, and hating the cold, but my point still goes to the Czech Republic.  Ninety-four (thirty-four Celsius) isn't so bad in the summer.  But April 11 shouldn't be summer.  What other people may consider "spring," I think of as the season of "dreading summer."  

However, everyone's different.  I saw someone walking down the street in a sweatshirt today, in 94 degrees.

I live in the wrong place.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Grammar and Mechanics for Writers #1--Commas between adjectives

Commas between two adjectives

Quiz

Choose the right punctuation.

1)         a. She wore tall, leather boots.
            b. She wore tall leather boots.
2)         a. I want a talented, compassionate boss.
            b. I want a talented compassionate boss.
3)         a. Jack bought a new, electric razor.
            b. Jack bought a new electric razor.

Think you've got them? Click HERE for the answers. If you answered right with no problem, move on to the next chapter. If you got one wrong, read on.

Explanation:
When you have two adjectives in a row, sometimes you put a comma between and sometimes you don't. The fancy grammar explanation has to do with whether the adjectives are coordinate or non-coordinate, and their underlying semantic categories, but you don't really need to know all that. All you need is the rule of thumb.

Rule of Thumb:
If you can REVERSE the two words or put AND between them, and it still sounds okay, you need the comma (to show that the adjectives are equal).

If you can't reverse or put AND, you shouldn't put a comma.

Example 1:
The slippery, slimy frog (good)
The slimy, slippery frog (good)
The slippery and slimy frog (good)
You need a comma between

Example 2;
The big foreign car (good)
The foreign big car (sounds weird and unnatural)
The big and foreign car (sounds a little weird)
Don't put a comma

NOTE: If you've done the tests and it's still not clear (maybe one test sounds a little awkward, but not totally wrong), it can probably go either way, depending on what you want to emphasize. Just make the call and then don't worry too much about it.

For more advanced examples, click HERE.

Practice:

For each sentence, insert or delete commas between adjectives as necessary.

1) I hated the stupid iron bars on the windows.
2) She worked twelve hours a day in a cold wet cave.
3) He sang to his laughing, gurgling baby.
4) They ate delicious, ham sandwiches in a bright airy diner.
5) The sleek, silk dress must have cost a fortune.
6) The fluffy purring kitten softened his hard unyielding heart.
7) We suffered through the long boring meeting.
8) They all understood the complicated, geometry problem.
9) No one wanted to old, beat-up, lawn chair.
10) Samantha's wide, happy smile shone like the warm summer sun.


Practice ANSWERS
1) I hated the stupid iron bars on the windows. (Correct as is)
2) She worked twelve hours a day in a cold, wet cave.
3) He sang to his laughing, gurgling baby. (Correct as is)
4) They ate delicious ham sandwiches in a bright, airy diner.
5) The sleek silk dress must have cost a fortune. (If it were "silky," you'd put a comma)
6) The fluffy, purring kitten softened his hard, unyielding heart.
7) We suffered through the long, boring meeting.
8) They all understood the complicated geometry problem.
9) No one wanted to old, beat-up lawn chair. (the comma between "old" and "beat-up" is correct, but you can't reverse "beat-up" and "lawn" (The lawn, beat-up chair), so you don't need a comma there.  See "More Advanced Examples.")
10) Samantha's wide happy smile shone like the warm, summer sun. (Correct as is)


How did you do? If you need more help, try:


Monday, April 7, 2014

Goodreads

I love Goodreads.  It's a book community that has a lot of cool features.

-You can read and write book reviews, like on Amazon, but unlike Amazon, you can choose to simply rate a book (give it a certain number of stars) without having to write a full review.
-The system will then recommend books for you.
-You can compare your books with friends or people you meet in the forums.  If you've read the same books, they show your ratings side by side, and give you an overall percentage of compatibility.  Very interesting.
-The forums discuss books, writing, movies, language, and all sorts of things (though it's true that some books get reduced to things like "camp Edward" or "camp Jacob" discussions).
-You can take fun book quizzes (or write book quizzes)
-You can vote on lists of books
-You can join book clubs and do reading challenges
-You can enter to win free books in the giveaways
-If you're an author, you can promote your book or join review groups to get those all-important reviews.
-If you're a voracious reader, you can join review groups for free e-book copies of books to review.  
-You can reaffirm your faith in the fact that people are still reading.

If you aren't a member, think about joining.  It's free and fun.