NaNoBlogMo, Day 30 – Arby’s: We have the tweets

Starting tomorrow, I’ll be writing 100-word fanfiction stories. Expect to see Preacher, Sandman, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Poldark, Star Trek, Firefly, and so many more.

But today, it’s the final day of #NaNoBlogMo. It was late when I finished last night’s post, and I hadn’t eaten yet. Neither @snarke nor I felt like cooking at that hour, so we decided to visit Arby’s. As I reached for my keys, I’d wondered aloud what my final blog topic would be. “Arby’s!”, @jillwebb called out from the living room. “They offer roast beef in a world of burgers,” @snarke added. “Representation!”

And so, friends, let us speak of the place where the Curly Fry lives–and sizzles in oil.

Arby’s gets a bad rap, perhaps most famously from Jon Stewart, who good-naturedly mocked the brand mercilessly for years. I always had the sense that they were frenemies of some fashion, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Stewart sometimes feels a strange burst of affection when he drives by this local franchise. In the final days of his Daily Show tenure, the company offered him a job, bought a tribute ad, and even created a 30-second ad featuring a Stewart-inspired sandwich.

About a year ago, writer and radio personality John Moe instituted the “Arby’s rule,” which has now extended beyond cookie fortunes into…well, just about any statement of advisement.

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Admittedly, I’m hard-pressed to think of a circumstance where being apprised of Congressional hearings will help you when you’re surrounded by bags of yesterday’s unsold mozzarella sticks, but that’s because there things left in this world that I don’t yet understand, and I’m comfortable with that.

Yes, it’s suffered its share of detractors, but there’s a lot to love about the chain, Internets. Consider this:

Representation. As @snarke pointed out, Arby’s doesn’t make the same burgers and chicken sandwiches that 395 other fast food restaurants in your town offer.** You can order roast beef, brisket, a Reuben, beef and cheddar, a steak sandwich, a turkey club, a gyro, a French dip with swiss…it’s refreshing to see diversity on the menu. Sometimes you want something different in your grease-splotched sack-o-foodstuffs, and Arby’s ensures you have that choice. They also don’t limit their side selections to mere fries and onion rings. No, Arby’s is aware that when the hankering for mozz sticks, curly fries, Jalapeno poppers, and potato cakes arises, it is not easily quelled.

**except maybe Subway, but then you’d have to eat at Subway.

The sauces. Under the Drive-Thru Accords of 1592, Arby’s is required to dispense sauce packets upon request, but it is not satisfied with just handing out ketchup. One can stock up on Honey Mustard, “Horsey Sauce” (mayo-based horseradish), Marinara, Spicy Three Pepper, and others depending on location. Marinara is, as everyone knows, the modern-day nectar and pairs well*** with everything.

***I said to @snarke and @jillwebb last night that writers usually drop “pairs well” when discussing wine, but I’m using it here to talk about fast food because that’s the kind of classy guy I am.

Since we ordered our food To Go last night and our local branch didn’t have sealable containers, @snarke asked for a few packets at the counter. This is what we received:

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I could fill a moat. Next step: buy a castle.

I used three packets. My dresser is currently stacked with Arby’s sauce, and I’m planning my meals for the next few days around using up my supply. I suppose I could simply throw out the remaining packets, but this would surely constitute a serious lack of decorum, a slight in the face of such generosity!  It’s like when Jesus took those loaves and fishes and then fed 4,000 people.****

****It’s not really like that. The Parable of the Tribbles seems more probable.

James Earl Jones.

It’s a small joy to listen to James Earl Jones talk about anything, but I am being entirely sincere when I say that I would patronize an Arby’s establishment solely based on this commercial.

The fandom tweets. And this, dear Reader, is where my love of Arby’s blossoms into…well, some form of lifelong commitment. Whoever runs the company’s Twitter account is a bloody *genius*.

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This is the first fandom tweet I saw, coinciding with the 20th Anniversary / limited re-release of Princess Mononoke in theatres. For some reason, I suspect Kohroku is an Arby’s fan. And Yakul wouldn’t turn down a Chopped Side Salad.
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Simon Belmont was not only the most famous vampire hunter of his time; he also enjoyed curly fries.
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Goku and Frieza appear to be fighting over a vanilla shake and….whatever that orange-colored beverage is. Odds are if that Goku dives in and imbibes, he may not even need to wait around for Trunks to show up.
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Dinosaur Comics, y’all. I wouldn’t have expected a webcomic shout-out, and I am here for it.  
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The others are running towards the food, but Shyguy is secretly afraid of the Jalopeno Roast Beef Slider and is thus running away from its juicy, meaty grasp. It knows what it did.
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TOO SOON! BARB, WE LOVE YOU. 
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The sandwich box thought it was in charge, but E. Honda quickly disavowed it of that foolish notion.
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Putting P-Chan next to bacon seems unspeakably rude, to be honest.
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And for once, please don’t whine about it.
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This tweet has it all: origami, Discworld, a cookie….you earned your paycheck that day, Arby’s Social Media Manager. 

And so, dear Reader, we close #NaNoBlogMo with a cookie atop a paper turtle, the manner in which all things in life must inevitably end. I hope this post has brought you peace, a little introspection, and maybe–just maybe–a yearning to follow the Arby’s Twitter account. You’ll thank me.

 

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NaNoBlogMo, Day 29 -O Seacrest, Where Art Thou?

Friends, reading Twitter this morning was so terrible that it made wading through the Fires of Mordor look welcoming by comparison.

One of several news stories that broke was Matt Lauer’s firing due to sexually harassing multiple women, the latest in a flood of such claims against celebrities since the allegations against Harvey Weinstein six weeks ago. In fact, Lauer wasn’t even the only celebrity whose firing we learned about today: he had to share the news cycle with Garrison Keillor, the former host of A Prairie  Home Companion.

 

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There were SO many Lake Wobegon quips, Internets. SO many.

Recently, @snarke and I have taken to walking first thing in the mornings. We were both frustrated and angry over Lauer’s handling of the Commander-In-Chief Forum last September, in which he hammered Hillary Clinton relentlessly about her email server, but appeared to sidestep numerous campaign scandals involving her opponent, Donald Trump. He also failed to challenge Trump on statements that had repeatedly been proven false, such as the candidate’s claim that he had been opposed to the Iraq War prior to 2004.

Lauer had been selected to moderate by Andy Lack, chairman of NBC News and MSNBC. Other NBC personalities were considered as potential moderators, including Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell and Dr. Rachel Maddow. Both campaigns agreed to Lack’s choice (Trump would certainly have refused to participate if Maddow had been chosen). @snarke and I believe that in addition to being Lack’s longtime friend, Lauer was picked because he was considered to be inoffensive, more fluff than substance, and someone who wouldn’t upset either campaign or follow up if a candidate refused to answer, thereby protecting NBC from harsh criticism (which didn’t happen–Lauer was widely lambasted for his poor performance). In that way, I’d said to @snarke, he was essentially the Ryan Seacrest of journalism.

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“That’s clearly not true, y’all. Can Matt Lauer do THIS?”

Not so long ago, Internets, Ryan Seacrest was everywhere, omniscient and omnipresent. No one intended for it to happen; we simply woke one day and realized that he’d climbed his way to the upper echelon of media superstars. It’s a position Chris Hardwick occupies these days, but in the early 2000s, Seacrest successfully infiltrated show after show: American Idol, On Air With Ryan Seacrest, New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, Knock Knock Live, American Top 40, the 2007 Emmys, The Million Second Quiz**, Ultimate Revenge, various hosting and production projects for the E! Network, frequently guest-hosting for Larry King Live, and many other appearances.

**You likely don’t remember that one. It aired for a week and a half, clocking in with only 10 episodes.

In 2017, Ryan is the co-host of Live with Kelly and Ryan, having replaced Michael Strahan as Kelly Ripa’s partner. He also continues to host his two radio shows. The On Air With Ryan Seacrest website states:

Ryan is quite simply one of the most influential, well-regarded, and well-known names in Hollywood. He is the quintessential Hollywood insider who always manages to have the biggest scoops and the most sought after access to top events and celebrities. Ryan is known for both his trusted friendship with fellow members of the Hollywood elite and his personal connection with his fans, and for featuring the hottest pop acts, actors, and celebrity icons, but Ryan also prides himself on bridging the gap between celebrity and fan. At the end of the day, Ryan’s a normal guy who relates to his listeners just like any other fan of music, entertainment, and radio!

Friends, not since Napolean’s liger has there been such a magical, mystical creature: one the most influential Hollywood insiders, a man who’s friends with Hollywood elites, but who is also a normal guy just like any other fan!  Could anyone but Seacrest could pull off such a startling dichotomy? NAY, I SAY TO YOU, THEY COULD NOT.

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I mean, the man brings his own portable party with him. 

I hadn’t heard his name or his signature sign-off (“Seacrest out!”) for years, so I hadn’t been aware of his current hosting responsibilities, nor the fact that last year, the University of Georgia presented him with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. Somewhere along the way, Ryan Seacrest had been downgraded in the public consciousness from Chipper Television Demigod to Famous Man Who Still Does Things.

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Including whatever this is.

And perhaps that’s why I didn’t know prior to an hour ago that earlier this month, Seacrest was accused of sexual harassment…which brings us back to the Matt Lauer comparison.

We are betrayed, Seacrest. Where are the days when the lights grew dim and you walked us through which contestants would remain to sing “Break My Stride” another day?  Where are the moments when you rallied America to embrace the democratic process and vote for the ideals, the highly-marketable pop stars we wanted to see in the world?

If you roam the Internet still, Seacrest, if your tendrils reach this place in search of hosting gigs to reclaim your lit-marquee days: choose to shut down your Lauer, make amends, apologize, and be better. Channel all your years of experience and become a host for consent and respect.

Camann out.

NaNoBlogMo, Day 28 – Moving beyond three or four dudes

Over on Literary Twitter, there’s been a conversation in the past few days about The Canon, parts of which is being frequently RT’d.

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Like many young sci-fi / fantasy readers, I attempted to read Asimov as a teen because that was The Rule. I gave up after about five pages and went back to Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, virtually the only two authors I read in that genre until I was in my early 20s. Every time I found myself in a bookstore, I would flip open the best-selling fantasy novels, and they all read like terrible Tolkien fanfiction: just a list of names and quests and poorly-written prose.

But let not your eyes be deceived, Euripides of Falcor!  Our enemy’s grasp of the Inception Power of Grayskull grows ever more powerful. If we stop him not before the Ides of Marchdoom, all the land shall perish!  It is folly to think that a firemage alone can halt his evil shadow. We must journey to the Mountains of Flagwhosis, sometimes called Barbadune, and prevent a massacre like the Swordwielder’s Uprising of old.

Tragically, the garbage fire I just wrote above is better than a lot of the sentences I read in the books Barnes & Noble placed on its front-of-store kiosks for WAY too many years.

About a decade ago, something changed. Different types of stories became readily available–and advertised. Different voices were starting to be heard. I believe that Twitter has been an enormous part of that equation. The genre feels completely reinvented, and it continues to evolve. That shift benefits publishers, authors, and readers, specifically traditionally underrepresented populations–and perhaps most of all, little sci-fi-loving girls like Seanan once was. And so I thought I’d write a roundup featuring some of the sci-fi / fantasy novels by women and people of color I’ve read and loved over the past two years or so.

Zeroboxer – Fonda Lee

Fonda’s first YA novel (which is also her debut) follows Carr Luka, a rising zeroboxing star. Zeroboxing is essentially a combination of wrestling and boxing sans gravity. The Zero Gravity Fighting Association decides that he’s the Next Big Thing, so they assign him to Risha, a personal marketing strategist. Luka seems to have it all–fame, fortune, and love. But it turns out that due to interplanetary sociopolitical factors**, romance is fading between Earth and Mars, and he stumbles into a secret that could not only threaten everything in his own life, but might also provoke violence on two worlds.

**Not a phrase I was able to work into my Sociology 101 class.

Fonda’s background is in corporate strategy for sportswear companies, and Zeroboxer is heavily seated in sports marketing culture. As someone completely uninterested in sports, I initially feared that the novel might not hold my interest. I needn’t have worried. Much like Aaron Sorkin’s comedy-drama Sports Night, it’s a tale about sports while not really being about sports at all. And if you happen to enjoy boxing or other combative contests, well, that’s just a bonus.

A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows – V. E. Schwab

 

You’re aware of London, friends. It’s a famous, densely-populated, and historically significant city. Were you aware, however, that there are actually four Londons?

The version known to us, Grey London, hasn’t contained magic in a very long time–but there’s also a Red, lush and beautiful and brimming with sorcery; White, a scorched hellscape where people suffer under the powerful and cruel; and Black, the sealed remains of a city torn apart by magic. Or perhaps not so sealed.

Kell is a royal ambassador and one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare ability to travel between Londons. He’s also a smuggler, a fact he keeps on the down low. As it happens, there are reasons why this is NOT a good idea when you’re involved with magical artifacts. The story features a few different POV characters including Delilah Bard, a thief whom Kell meets in Grey London. She robs him, saves him, and then forces him to drag her into something much bigger and dangerous than either of them understand.

I’ve read the first two books of the trilogy, and I can’t wait to follow these characters wherever they might end up, although things look grim for our heroes and heroines at the conclusion of Book 2. We’ve always heard stories about parallel worlds and sorcery and identity. Those aren’t new ideas, but V.E. Schwab combines them here in a way that makes them feel fresh.

The Parasol Protectorate – Gail Carriger

Although I suppose this is technically paranormal romance and leans comedic rather than serious, there are certainly elements of steampunk, sci-fi, and fantasy bouncing about. Alexia Tarabotti is soulless, which means she has the ability to negate the supernatural powers of others. Set in Victorian London, the five Parasol Protectorate novels see her dragged into a complicated web of werewolves, ghosts, vampires, and proper tea times. There’s also a spinoff series called The Custard Protocol, which apparently follows Alexia’s daughter Prudence (it’s on my To-Read list).

While I enjoy the interactions between her characters, Carriger’s strength is the tone she uses in addressing us, her audience. I was sold early on with sentences like:

Highland werewolves had a reputation for doing atrocious and highly unwarranted *things*, like wearing smoking jackets to the dinner table.

and

Ivy Hisselpenny was the unfortunate victim of circumstances that dictated she be only-just-pretty, only-just-wealthy, and possessed of a terrible propensity for wearing extremely silly hats.

To my delight, the series is often ridiculous. When our protagonist is attacked by a vampire in the opening chapter of Soulless, the first book in the series, her chief complaint appears to be that he fell onto the very plate of treacle tart she’d been looking forward to eating. I’m not familiar with treacle tart, but I know it’s a dessert of some type, so I can imagine Alexia’s emotional state and fully support it.

Ghost Talkers – Mary Robinette Kowal

Our third book / series in a row set in London, dear Reader. I did not plan to be so London-centric. 

Ghost Talkers focuses on Ginger Stuyvesant, an American heiress living in London during World War I. Ginger has possibly the fiercest job ever–she’s a medium for the Spirit Corps. She interrogates soldiers who’ve died immediately after they’re killed so that Britain has instant information about enemy troop movements.

Ginger soon discovers there’s a traitor in the midst. At the same time, the Germans learn about the Spirit Corps and are plotting to destroy it. Being a woman in the early 1900s, the generals don’t take her seriously–she has a small amount of help from her friends and indisposed fiance, but for the most part, she’s on her own.

Two things I really enjoyed about this novel: the fact that we actually have a story set in World War I, which seems to be forever passed over in favor or its successor, and the originality of the conceit. Spirit mediums on the battlefield!  A hundred years ago! Who doesn’t want to read about that?

The Fifth Season
– N.K. Jemisin

Frankly, there’s so much happening in this novel that I’m not sure how to adequately summarize it. I’ll simply say this:

I initially disliked the book so much that I tried to talk myself into stopping it. I didn’t understand what was happening. I couldn’t keep track of the characters or what they wanted or where they were headed (both emotionally and geographically). Every time I thought I understood something, I discovered soon afterwards that I didn’t. At about 75 pages in, I asked @jillwebb (who’d read it some months beforehand) if it improved. She recommended that I keep going. I begrudgingly agreed.

Reader, there’s a reason The Fifth Season won the 2015 Nebula, the 2016 Hugo, and several other sci-fi / fantasy awards. It’s brilliant. It engages in numerous practices that any fiction workshop instructor would tell you to aggressively avoid. In anyone else’s hands, the story would be an unsalvageable mess. Once I figured out what Jemisin had done, I yelled at my paperback for a full afternoon. It’s the kind of novel that shouldn’t work, but ends up working so well that it makes your head hurt.

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If you haven’t read The Fifth Season, I highly recommend. You might not thank me for a while, but when you do, you’ll mean it.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – Becky Chambers

I mentioned the Wayfairers two days ago, and Long Way is the first book in that series (as well as Chamber’s debut novel). A young woman trying to outrun her past signs on to an aging ship full of exotic aliens and intriguing humans. The crew gets offered a chance to tunnel through wormholes, a venture that’s both extremely lucrative and dangerous. Their course takes one year, and along the way, the reader vicariously visits homeworlds and spaceports, and dives into the personal relationships between the characters.

I’ve seen this novel described as “an amalgamation of both Farscape and Firefly,” and I think that’s quite apt. If you’re seeking an action-driven, space-battle fueled book with desperately high stakes where the Universe hangs in the balance, this ain’t it. Long Way is unquestionably a space opera, but on a small, familial scale. It’s much closer to Farscape than it is to Star Wars. And the ending will make you renew your vow to dust the room more often. I’m preparing you now.

Also, President Obama is into it.

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The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern and Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel

The final two books on my list were quite possibly the two most moving novels I read in 2016, to a degree where I had custom charms of them made.

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They’re quite happy living on my desk.

The Night Circus, Morgenstern’s debut, was published in 2011, but for some reason, the title popped up on my Twitter feed again and again in late 2015. I reasoned that if so many friends enjoyed or were interested in reading a particular thing, then surely I ought to check it out. It’s a strange book, centering on a competition between two young magicians, Celia and Marco. The circus is their venue, and their battle one of imagination, a skirmish they’ve trained for their entire lives. Despite their attempts to fight it, the two fall in love–unaware that the rules of the game dictate that only one competitor can survive.

I read the first chapter and I didn’t understand the hype…but I plowed ahead and realized very quickly how wrong I’d been. The Night Circus is beautifully written, and its genius is in the small moments, the tiny details. There are several different settings, but the majority of the scenes occur in–wait for it–Victorian London, to be unintentionally consistent with one of this post’s themes.

Both the film and television rights were optioned shortly after the novel’s publication, and IMDB has an entry for the film adaptation, although it’s currently classified as In Development, and no information is available. I sincerely hope that the project will be abandoned, as so many scripts are. I have no doubt that the special effects would be breathtaking, but the joy of this particular novel–at least for me–isn’t the plot points. It’s the description, the deep characterization that film doesn’t always allow for, the moments where you read sentences that are simply divine and would not translate in any other medium.

We close, dear Reader, with the latest book from my now-favorite author, someone I’d never heard of until I began the first chapter. I read the majority of Station Eleven last year while at sea, and fell in love.

If you’ve read my fiction, you know that in my written work, I favor a style that centers on language and character more than plot. It’s not a conscious choice; it’s just what comes out strongest. Although I read primarily sci-fi and fantasy novels, I also consume a fair amount of literary fiction, but I’d never found an author who, in my opinion, thinks the way I do, who writes in a manner to which I aspire.

I’m not sure if Emily St. John Mandel’s books are perfect, but they’re perfect for me. They’re the books I’ve waited my entire life to read. She’s published four, and I’ve completed three–The Lola Quartet is still on my shelf, and I’m afraid to start it–for if I do, there will be no others.

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However, Mandel tweeted this picture a few weeks ago, so in theory, there could be a new novel in….a year? Six months? Two years? There’s so much I don’t understand about publishing.

So…Station Eleven. The story itself–the first half of it, anyway–is one you’ve heard a thousand times. A virus kills most of the population. The survivors band together and learn how to exist in their transformed world. In the second half, the narrative shifts focus to a troupe of actors and musicians who roam the country, which is now a wasteland, trying desperately to maintain some sense of beauty and art, of humanity. Some of them were children when civilization ended and don’t remember much about the World That Was. The novel primarily follows five characters, exploring how fate twists and turns to connects them over a 15-year period.

If the plot sounds a bit too idealistic, too contrived, it is. And it doesn’t matter one iota. It’s what Mandel does what her language, the depth and odd diction, the unconventional dialogue, the flavor of it, if you will****.

****and even if you won’t.

I’ll gush about Station Eleven all day if you let me, so you probably shouldn’t.

Huzzah for sci-fi and fantasy, for representation, for an evolving marketplace.

I can’t wait to read what’s next.

NaNoBlogMo, Day 27 – I don’t know what you’re saying, but I love how you say it.

Internets, I spent a considerable portion of Saturday morning listening to French avant-pop, and did so without even donning a cravat. Let me explain.

You see, approximately 14,000 years ago, I subscribed to a magazine called CMJ (College Media Journal), which was printed on paper and delivered through the actual postal service and everything. Those are the times we lived in. Each month, CMJ published interviews, reviews, and special features, and every issue included a CD. The tracks were from well-known bands, less-established bands…even unsigned acts. Through these samplers, I discovered the Reverend Horton Heat, Dubstar, Liz Phair, Super Deluxe, the Chemical Brothers, Prodigy, Nerf Herder, Garrison Starr, and many others.

One of the CDs had a song by Stereolab, and I liked it so much that I’ve been placing it on various playlists for the past 20 years. I’ve always meant to check out their other songs, but I’m infamously slow at that sort of thing.** A few weeks ago, I was talking with my friend Sean, who’s a big Stereolab fan and knows the band’s entire catalogue. I decided to take a full day and go through every album. What several-year-old-but-new-to-ME music would I discover?

**20 years is, I admit, a bit ridiculous.

So I’ve been thinking about songs I love in my library that are sung in a language other than English (not including anime songs, such as those from Ghost in the Shell: SAC  or Neon Genesis Evangelion or The Vision of Escaflowne, etc.***  That’s a whole separate post. And I’d need one just for Mononoke Hime). Here’s my selection from this afternoon.

***Although if we’re being honest, I’d need a separate post for Escaflowne too.

“Miss Modular” – Stereolab

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Doo-be, Doo-be, Doo-be-do

“Miss Modular” is from Dots and Loops, which remained my favorite album throughout Stereolab Saturday. It’s difficult to discern the intended meaning–’cause, you know, it’s  sung IN FRENCH–but as best I can tell, it might be about albums as commercial products that enable listeners to lose themselves in emotion and thus experience illusions (“trompe l’oeil,” or literally, “trick the eye”).

For me, the combination of the deftly-moving bassline, the 60s-era keys, the snappy drumbeat, the crisp horn section, and Laetitia Sadier’s soothing voice makes this the essential Stereolab track.

 

“Hotel California” – Gipsy Kings

If you’ve enjoyed The Big Lebowski, two things are likely true: You’re not Cassidy, and you remember the scene where we’re introduced to Jesus.

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“Hotel California” was never supposed to work as a single–it’s too long (Asylum Records pressured The Eagles to shorten it, and they refused), it’s in a weird key, and almost half the track is entirely instrumental. It went on, of course, to be arguably the most popular song of the band’s career, and if you’re over 30, there’s a good chance you’ve heard it hundreds of times. The Gipsy Kings sped up the tempo, changed the beat, translated the lyrics into Spanish, and gave us a fresh remix.

 


“Um a Um” – Tribalistas

Tribalistas is a Brazilian supergroup comprised of three very popular solo musicians. They released one album in 2002 or 2003, depending on where you live, and it’s been a favorite of mine for well over a decade. In hobbiting around to find YouTube links and images for this post, I learned that they very recently reunited and recorded a new album earlier this year.

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It’s possible I’m a tad excited.

I could’ve selected any track off their eponymous debut, but I ultimately chose “Um a Um” because the vocal blend has got me like:

 

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“Blister in the Sun” – Nouvelle Vague

As a teenager in the mid-90s, I heard “Blister in the Sun” played on my local alternative radio station quite frequently, although the track is from the early 80s. Nouvelle Vague’s version is technically in English, but it’s the sort of result you’d get if you ran the lyrics through Google Translate and then didn’t reverse-check them. There’s a playful, French nightclub feel here that I find charming.

“I Ka Barra” – Habib Koité and Kélétigui Diabaté

That guitar work in combination with the drums is just so damn stirring.

“Para Donde Vas” – The Iguanas 

I loved Tremé, David Simon’s series about New Orleanians (and specifically musicians) trying to rebuild their lives and their culture after Hurricane Katrina. Davis McAlary, played by Steve Zahn, was a part-time DJ and musician…and not particularly adept at cleaning. I don’t know why “Para Donde Vas” seems to fit this scene so well.

“Evenstar” – Howard Shore ft. Isabel Bayrakdarian

I’ve watched this scene from The Two Towers far more times than I can count. As powerful as Hugo Weaving’s performance is, it’s always Isabel Bayrakdarian’s voice  combined with the  image of Arwen clad in mourner’s robes, grieving in front of Aragorn’s tomb, that gets to me. The track is sung in Sindarin, the most commonly-spoken Elvish language in the Third Age of Middle Earth.

Translated (roughly), the lyrics are:

This is not the end
It is the beginning
You cannot falter
If you trust, trust
nothing else is necessary
Trust this, trust this, trust
Trust this, trust love

It’s a beautiful sentiment turned heartbreaking when juxtaposed with what we’re watching on screen, especially as it echoes Arwen’s words to Aragorn earlier in the film (“If you trust nothing else, trust this…trust us.”)

“Je Suis Rick Springfield” – Jonathan Coulton 

I was telling @snarke about my blog post plans, and she mentioned “Je Suis Rick Springfield,” which had completely slipped my mind. The lyrics, spoken by a man trying to convince women in an overseas bar that he’s THAT Rick Springfield, are in intentionally-bad French. In live performances, Coulton has allowed for the possibility that the narrator actually is Springfield, but the patrons’ reactions in the bridge (essentially “I don’t understand this idiot”) make that scenario unlikely. It’s a look at what happens when a badly-conceived plan does not come together.

Are there non-English-language songs that you return to again and again, Internets?  Let me know what they are!

NaNoBlogMo, Day 26 – Not all who should have been [rewarded] were.

Reader, if we’ve ever talked about books (and if we speak long enough, the topic will be raised), then you know my favorite hard sci-fi author is a gentleman named Alastair Reynolds. As is my custom with all novels I love, I usually end up yelling at his books from at least the halfway point to the final chapter. Most of his works contain multiple storylines that appear to be completely unrelated, but are later revealed to be interconnected, usually with infuriatingly good execution.

I own copies of everything he’s published to date except his latest, which I debated about internally for some time, as two-thirds of the short stories complied there were originally collected in earlier works. Ultimately (and very recently), I decided that seven new Reynolds stories is more than worth the full cost of a book. And I just learned today that two brand-new novels will be coming to my doorstep very soon!  Huzzah!

I’ve had his novel Revenger for well over a year, although it’s only been published in the US since February (if being able to purchase novels several months before they appear in the States appeals to you, check out this site. They’re based in the UK and offer free shipping with no minimum order. I’ve used them numerous times, and they’re great). I began reading it back in June, and scrouged through about 30 pages before I stopped.  Then I moved on to other novels and didn’t pick Revenger up again for weeks.

Things continued that way month after month. I’d open the book, determined to read at least two chapters, but then quit three or four pages in.

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While Revenger is an entertaining story, the blurb on the front cover suggests that the reviewer and I didn’t read the same novel.

I’m a completist; I couldn’t completely abandon the book once I’d started, but I also felt increasingly guilty when I ignored it in favor of another title. I finished Revenger this morning, having read about 350 pages in the past week. It’s not a boring story. It’s not poorly written. It just…didn’t have that Alastair Reynolds-yness that I’ve come to prize as the standard for hard sci-fi. I could predict the plot twists from pretty far off, which was new. The soundtrack to Joseph Reading This Book was essentially a few hours of:

“OK. And then they’re gonna [a plot point].”
“I bet it’ll turn out that she’s actually [another character].”
“Aaaaaaand now of COURSE her sister is going to [verb].”
“Oh, and here’s the part where their plans fails because of [logical conclusion].”

While writing this post, I discovered that Gollancz, Reynolds’s UK publisher, considers Revenger to be his first YA novel. The covers and copyrights pages do not indicate that it’s intended for younger readers, and perhaps not being the target audience has affected my experience.

But good fiction is about the path, and as I delved further in, I found myself wanting to spend more time with the novel. It wasn’t because I particularly liked the characters,–Prozor seemed like a grumpy version of Pepper from Becky Chambers’s fantastic Wayfairers series–but because despite knowing what’s behind the door, sometimes the anticipation remains palpable if the craftwork is skillful enough, predictability and all.

My conclusion: Just as the Star Wars prequels are still Star Wars films, a not-great Reynolds book is still a Reynolds book, and therefore a bet worth taking.

NaNoBlogMo, Day 25 – They’re not dolls! They’re action figures! WE’VE BEEN OVER THIS, MOM.

I took the plunge this morning, gentle Reader. I did that which I’ve thought about nearly every day this year, but have been actively avoiding for months.

I cleaned my room.

Now, I understand that revelation may seem unremarkable in the grand scheme of the Universe, but consider: where once I tripped over papery debris, the path is now clear. While I previously was forced to stack books on the floor, now they have a place of rest. My shelves have room. It is a new day, and that day smells like store-brand disinfectant wipes.

Part of the process meant unboxing and arranging the Funko Pops I’ve collected this year, a decision that essentially created two super-teams.

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The Happy Accidents Contingency (L to R:  1966 Batmobile, Purple Tentacle, Bob Ross, Dr. Jillian Holtzmann with ECTO-1.

On an initial glance, you might conclude that this team has some disadvantages: the Batmobile is a car, Purple Tentacle is obsessed with world domination, and Bob Ross paints bushes and sticks. However, you would be wrong.

With a persuasive-enough argument, Purple Tentacle’s preoccupation with conquering the Earth can be channeled into productive team-building tasks. Need a computer system cracked, a rent in time repaired, or a villain distracted?  Simply convince Purple that helping you will further his own means!   As for the Batmobile, even the 1966 version comes equipped with “wonderful toys,” as Jack Nicholson’s Joker put it. It’s both a transportation system and a weapons arsenal, and with a touching of reprogramming, it probably wouldn’t even require a sentient driver**

**which is fortunate, because Batfleck isn’t joining this outfit.

Further down, there’s Bob Ross, whose voice is so soothing that he can lure evil to sleep. Prior to his career as an artist, though, Ross was a drill sergeant in the US Air Force who spent most of his time hollering at soldiers for infractions like being late and not making their beds. When the mission requires it, the man can be forceful. Pair that with Holtzmann’s wit and technical genius, and The Happy Accidents Contingency will cut a fool.

BUT WAIT. What of the OTHER team?

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Justice For Barb (L to R:  Octopus wearing a fez, Tulip O’Hare, Alana, Marko, Heimdall, Barb.

As readers of Saga know, Alana and Marko are battle-tested soldiers, although they’d much rather just curl up with their daughter and eat some toast. Heimdall is an Asgardian warrior who can see through time and space, and Tulip is such a badass that she once built a bazooka out of coffee cans. Barb brings common sense, practicality, and fierce glasses to the team. Also, there’s an octopus wearing a fez, for the love for Pete.

Either of these teams would be formidable enough on its own–but imagine a crossover. We could call it Justice for Happy Accidents.****   There’s no skirmish from which it couldn’t prevail–or IS THERE?

****We’re definitely not calling it that.

Part of me is still 7, and I’m glad for it.

NaNoBlogMo, Day 24 – Just when I thought I was out, they pull. me. back. in.

Traditionally, I have had opinions about Thanksgiving Day / Black Friday sales.

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That was four years ago, and most of this sentiment is still true. J.C. Penney opened at 2 PM on Thanksgiving DAY. Best Buy, Macy’s, Wal-Mart, Kohl’s, and many others followed suit. Thanksgiving Day sales and ultra-early Black Friday offerings are great for shoppers. Retail employees, however, are forced to work the busiest, most stressful day of the year, be ripped away from the families and friends to sell people cheap DVDs and make minimum wage while doing it. It’s rage-inducing.

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AUGGHHHHHHHHHHHHH

But we did better this time, dear Reader!  Only five people were stabbed, shot, or beat up; we made it through Black Friday 2017 without a single death**.

**I know that sounds snarky, but I think I’m seriously proud of us, which is really depressing.

I participated in the madness for the first time in many years this afternoon, and I felt OK about that for a few reasons:

  • As it’s been an incredibly difficult year for me financially, cash is limited.
  • I visited a comic book shop and two art supply stores, which arguably could use the patronage a bit more than your typical big box store.
  • @snarke and I didn’t arrive at our first store until well after 2 PM.

We had a great adventure, in no small part due to discovering that there’s a Craft Warehouse in the next suburb over from us. It’s got all the art supplies I could ever want***, and I talked to the price tags out loud because I simply couldn’t believe their value and wanted to discuss it with them directly. $0.50 for acrylic paint. $1 for canvasses. I could’ve spent an entire day there, and someday soon, I’ll do exactly that.

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An artist’s trading card pack for $2!  This is what America was built on–42 pt. lightweight vellum that you can mail in a mini matching envelope!  Ah, America.

***Well, almost. They don’t carry this line, about which I’m daydreaming. But you can’t have everything.

I reacted to the cards in the same way @snarke often does when she sees a scaled-down kitchen appliance or a tiny piece of fruit, namely squeeing “LOOK AT HOW CUTE” and then holding up said item to admire its cuteness.

We Black Friday’d, and it was very good indeed.

I didn’t quite expect it. But that’s how Black Friday gets you.

NaNoBlogMo, Day 23 – And you should see how I dance

Last night, dear Reader, I attempted to make a joke.

The household had been talking about retail chains that have passed on to that Checkout Lane in the Sky. Someone had mentioned the softer side of Sears, and I’d tried to ask, essentially, “How soft is it?”

It crashed and burned. @jillwebb thought that I wasn’t familiar with that particular ad campaign (I was), and @snarke thought I was poking fun at people who shop at Sears (I wasn’t). My joke-fu was so lacking, Reader, that two different people arrived at two different conclusions, and neither was remotely funny.

I briefly considered moving to the Alps and knitting sweaters for moose.

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Early-series Cordelia was not interested in exploring all her options.

I was a tad embarrassed that the joke didn’t work and I called attention to that fact, because that’s what I do.**

@jillwebb replied: “Blog post!”

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**This is not a winning strategy in all situations.

 

AND SO, friends and friends-to-be, one of the things–just one out of many–that I am thankful for on the holiday that America reserves for such a purpose*** is that I tell jokes badly and you like me anyway.

***To a lesser degree, Thanksgiving exists as an occasion to eat too many biscuits and to practice not dumping cranberry sauce on your climate-change-denying uncle’s head.

Happy Thanksgiving, US-dwellin’ weirdos.

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NaNoBlogMo, Day 22 – If you believe they put a man on the moon

Last night, I shared an article to Facebook about a man who’s planning to launch himself in a homemade rocket to prove the Earth is flat. Among the highlights:

  • A group of astronauts engaged in a conspiracy to fabricate the shape of the Earth
  • For the purposes of this story, the atmosphere is referred to the “atmosflat.”
  • NASA is being controlled by the Freemasons
  • The man admits he doesn’t know much about rocket science**
  • His previous attempt to launch a rocket put him in a walker for two weeks
  • The famous astronauts we know were merely paid actors in front of a CGI globe.

**And yet he’s plodding ahead. You have to admire his initiative.

For me, one of the most interesting tidbits was the arguably the most popular among conspiracy theorists: that we faked the moon landing.

“John Glenn and Neil Armstrong are Freemasons. Once you understand that, you understand the roots of the deception.” – Mike Hughes to The Washington Post, 11/21/17

This assertion has been thoroughly and repeatedly debunked for decades now. Until recently, I’ve had friends who still remain convinced that the entire project was fabricated. These are intelligent, thoughtful people, but they have an absolute, unshakable belief that humankind has never been to space.

Hughes’s story reminds me the folks who engage in Twitter fights with Neil deGrasse Tyson–who’s a genius as long as he’s talking about astronomy and nothing else–or the 9/11 truthers. Every bit of evidence isn’t a sign you were wrong, but further proof that the conspiracy is widespread and more dangerous.

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What a way to think about science, eh?

NaNoBlogMo, Day 21 – What up with Numa Numa?

Earlier today, dear Reader, I found myself wondering how Gary Brolsma was spending his afternoon.

I’ve never met Gary, but perhaps like you, I believed wholeheartedly in his mission to bring the message of Numa Numa to the masses. I still do.

For those unfamiliar with the ways of the Ti-am dat beep–if there are those unfamiliar–Gary recorded himself lip-synching a eurodance song back in 2004. As of last year, the video has been watched an estimated 700 million times. In 2006, an article in The Believer stated that:

[Numa Numa] singlehandedly justifies the existence of webcams… It’s a movie of someone who is having the time of his life, wants to share his joy with everyone, and doesn’t care what anyone else thinks

Indeed, one has only to watch Brolsma flail, eyebrow-dance, and chin-stroke his way through a song no one understands to grok that in concentrated doses, “Numa Numa” could be an agent for world peace.

In those days, Reader, we were living like cave-dwellers, without YouTube and Twitter, and with only a very small percentage of us on Facebook. Information was certainly shareable, but without the ease these whippersnappers today enjoy.**  To go viral was like lifting Mjölnir: a task only the most worthy could achieve.

**I’m told that the majority of them don’t even walk 10 miles to school in the snow, barefoot.

Today, Brolsma is a web designer and musician, but one wonders if, on occasion, he still cues up the file that made him Internet-famous and, from his living room, does his part to keep the Universe balanced.

I know what I’d like the answer to be.

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Dance on, Gary.