"Real magic can never be made by offering up someone else's liver." ~ The Last Unicorn.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Melon-Basil Sorbet (with a side of Thinky)

i.e. Not A Post About Books. But I recommend eating this stuff while reading, preferably outdoors or at least by a sunny window. Add a purring cat for total bliss.

It's summer here in Southern California, and that means the farmer's markets overfloweth with gorgeous local produce. On one recent trip, we stopped by a stand that had a variety of melons, including some tiny, pale ones we'd never seen before. About the size of an oblong grapefruit and the color of honeydew, only with yellow freckles, they looked interesting and new. The lady running the stand said they were Japanese Gala Melons. She helped us pick a few ripe ones (look for a lack of the freckles) and off we went to marry melon, simple syrup, and our newly-acquired ice cream maker.

Now, I've had some delicious melon in my life. But these took melon to new, ambrosial heights. We were scraping the sweet, juicy flesh off the rinds after we made the puree, desperate not to waste any.

The following recipe is flexible; any kind of sweet, ripe melon works, really, and we've added chopped mint as well as basil. Some recipes call for equal amounts of juice/pulp and simple syrup, but we've halved the syrup with no harmful effects. Allow your personal sweet tooth to direct you here.

Melon-Basil Sorbet

1 cup pureed Japanese Gala melon
1/2 cup simple syrup
1 basil stalk
1 tablespoon chopped sweet basil leaves
Juice of 1/2 a lime (or to taste)


1. For the simple syrup: Combine 1/2 cup water with 1/2 cup granulated sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Let it come to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved and you have a clear syrup. Remove from heat. While the syrup is still hot, place the basil stalk in the syrup and allow to steep for 5-10 minutes or until the syrup is well flavored. Cool.
2. Once the syrup has cooled, remove the basil stalk. Combine melon puree, simple syrup and basil leaves in a bowl. Add lime juice to taste.
3. Process in your ice-cream maker according to the instructions.

Since we have an admittedly cheapo ice-cream maker, we've found that freezing the sorbet after processing it gets a good, firm texture that it doesn't have right out of the maker. Play with it until it works. If it still melts fast, oh, well; drink up, me hearties.

If you've got any Saint Germain ( a French elderflower liqueur, and our latest addiction here in LA) lying around, it is DIVINE to pour half a shot over the sorbet right before serving. I imagine tequila or white rum work as well.

"But... but... what if I don't have an ice-cream maker, even a crappy cheapo one?" I hear you cry.

I give you: Granita. Basically, make the mixture for the sorbet, except cut back on the simple syrup, maybe to 1/4 cup. After you've mixed everything together, pour it into a shallow freezer-safe pan or container, about 1-2 inches deep. Freeze for 2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes to break up the ice crystals. If you get big icebergs at the end, stick it in a blender and pulse gently until smoother. The granita will be rougher and crunchier than sorbet, but it will still be lovely and refreshing.

Okay, so maybe a teeny thinky bit about books...

I picked up Charles de Lint's Spirits in the Wires last night, since Gatsby wasn't what I was in the mood for at that moment. I'm seeing really interesting connections drawn between modern technology, myth, and magic, as well as de Lint's usual love of the arts and stories. How are modern writers of urban fantasy (by which I mean proper urban fantasy, not just chicks and vampires) using technology to replace/enhance/alter traditional ideas of magic? This book was written around 2002, before the Internet had quite become what it is today, and seeing that earlier relationship to something we take for granted now is fascinating. De Lint creates a new space for magic, blending the cyberspace of sci-fi cyberpunk with his own earthy urban mythology.

How has the space for magic in fantasy changed since the computer revolution of the '00s? If anyone's read something that touches on this, I'd love any recommendations. I can think of Pratchett's Hex, and I'm damn sure that Gaiman has done something along these lines, only I can't think of what.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Man, when I forget about something, I do it quite properly, don't I? It's nearly a year since I last wrote a post here. I got through an entire year of university, a decent (but, alas, never large enough) number of books, and one or two minor emotional crises without even touching this blog.

Well, the last year of my undergraduacy looms, swollen with a dissertation and an uncertain future. Grad school applications are the tune of the hour, and that, my friends, means getting my ass in gear and doing up a writing sample so all the Popular Literature MPhil programs I'm applying to know what I'm all about: fantasy. Less of the feminism than previously; gender theories and sexuality will still be very much a part of my criticism, but recently my eye has alighted upon "metafiction." And the use of language qua language in fantasy literature. And myth. Whee! Aren't you really excited to hear about all this???!!

~crickets chirp~


This blog, then, is kind of a general notebook. Idle thoughts about this or that book can occasionally mutate into, say, doctoral thesis topics, and I'd hate for something to get lost. I'm writing fiction sporadically (to put it generously) these days, but here and there something may appear. I need to polish off current projects before I get myself into something new.

Currently reading: The Great Gatsby, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, The Bluest Eye, and Treasure Island.

Currently writing: A gift for someone. Also eyeing the last few chapters of a long-term WIP and thinking that some reworking is in order.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


At first the words "halo, abstain, prayer" did nothing for me. But, in my usual way, I've gone and twisted them a bit.


Twin steel halos around his wrists. The thought catches at his lips and pulls them into a smile, for what could be angelic here?

"What is funny, pet?

It's something Rob has to remind himself constantly: do not be a writer here. Turns of phrase become strokes of the cat so easily. Abstain from the metaphors and witticisms that paid for the cuffs, the straps, the whip.

"I asked a question." Jean's words, the English still tinged with Nice after five years, precede his touch on Rob's face. "What is in your mind?"

"Nothing, sir."

"Truly? I do not come here to play with nothing."

Jean kisses him hard, his teeth pinching Rob's lower lip until he whimpers.

"That is reason for being here," Jean says. "For worshiping me with your tongue."

And after he steps away, as the air hisses around the lashing straps, Rob writes a new prayer: "Punish me, Master, for I have sinned..."


Critique welcome. :)

Thursday, August 19, 2010


If you have to steal, get this book. Murder may be acceptable. China Mieville grabbed the ink of the giant squid and shot it into his printer and wrote this magnificent book.

Billy Harrow is just a employee at the Darwin Center in London; a mollusc specialist, with a talent for preserving specimens in jars. And then one day, an entire giant squid, tank and formaldehyde solution included, vanishes from the depths of the Center.

From there, it's a whirlwind of paranormal cults and the very spirits of London city fighting over when (and how) the world is going to end. Billy rises above the Everyman status he starts off with, stumbling through an epic journey to discover what his place in history will be.

Magical beings hiding in plain sight in a major metropolitan city is not a new idea. But Mieville makes it new, by creating a wholly unique culture, with intricate laws and nasty politics. No Sidhe or vampires here; they're replaced by Londonmancers and Chaos Nazis and the Ocean as a sentient, ancient power. Trust is a nice idea here, and while some of the betrayals are predictable simply because they're inevitable, there's a lot of surprises in store.

One being Collingswood. An investigator in Scotland Yard's paranormal/cult squad, Collingswood is tough, smart, and a wonderful example of a London chav--complete with the slang and accent. She's also a female character who exists entirely independent of male interest, except as a full equal amongst her colleagues. Don't look for romance in Kraken--this is not a world where love has a chance. While at first I thought she was a token spec-fic woman, there as a prize for the hero once he lives through the Big Battle, Collingswood cuts her way through the plot on her own considerable merits.

I lied, I confess. There's a smidge of romance. Marge, offhandedly introduced as a girlfriend of one of Billy's mates, outlives her significant other and goes on to find her own path through the midden. I appreciate her loyalty to her late boyfriend; it's not the obsession of "one true love," but the rage at a world where someone she cared for can vanish with no apparent consequences. Her quest is not a vendetta, and her stakes rise with each discovery and victory.

Are there issues? Sure. The plot goes a bit wonky at times--too many threads, not enough stitches. And the ending... in as spoiler-free a way as possible, it's one of those twists based off an insignificant little clue that no one but the author could have possibly worked out. Bit like Mad-Eye Moody in the fourth Harry Potter. Very much "OMG that's what was going on!" for the second before you begin to maybe feel a bit cheated. I will say no more.

However. Mieville can really fucking write. He's a master of the craft of writing. Some sentences are so beautiful I stopped to read them several times, trying to imprint their cadence into my own meagre talents. Others made me laugh out loud with their brash tune. My only quibble with his writing is his slight overliking of the word "pugnacious." It's not a quiet word that sits in the back and can be looked over. It sounds awkward to the mind, and when it shows up more than once or twice in a novel, it stands out. Mieville takes no prisoners with his vocabulary; English-major me had to go to the dictionary a few times. God, but I love smart writers, even when they're a little too free with their cleverness.

To sum up: It's fun, feminist, and has the giant squid. Run, do not walk. And aspiring writers, take notes.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


My 3WW offering. This week's words: phase, stumble, grimace.



She grimaced and danced away from that dream. It hurt, that vacuum beneath the dreamer’s plunging self. Even if they always woke up before they hit the ground, it did her no good.

Pink flying hippos! I can fly with them, and mum and dad are here flying with me and they aren’t fighting anymore—

She phased gently into the child’s dream, unknitting herself from the aether souldrop by souldrop. For a moment she flew, and took the memory with her. Another piece to make her. The hippos she left for someone else, but she borrowed a giggle.

The next one confused her. She wasn’t sure why the men with black-and-white faces were there, nor why they drove with the dreamer in a horse and buggy over the ocean waves. But she took the word “kiss,” because she liked the sound of it.

It resurfaced, one mind over. She tried to ease into the tumble of sweat and heartbeats, but the intensity made her stumble. Some souldrops were left behind; she lost the flying (the new ones were the easiest to lose) but kept “kiss.”

And then she understood “kiss.”

She was most reluctant to draw away from that dream. From it, she gained hands, and touching, and a kind of happiness she’d seen in no other dreams.

Back to the aether, slipsliding into her place in the universe.

She substantiated back into herself, dark as the night sky between the stars. Fitting, for she was the night sky between the stars. Each tiny drop, glimmering with dream-joy, came alight as she scattered them over her hips and thighs. Around her, other angels returned to their places, absorbing new ecstasies to project during the day and light their planets.

She wondered if any of them had “kiss.”


I'm not really sure where this came from, but I like it. Critique welcome.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A short piece of my liver, thanks to 3WW

3WW, or Three Word Wednesday, is simple: three words, every Wednesday. Write, link, comment. Here's mine, for the words joke, leverage, and remedy.


Our Geometry

I am their vertex, the joining spot between them. We form an obtuse angle, he and she and I. It’s an odd form of love, to some, but we like it, though they don’t always like each other. Over and over I find remedies for their conflicts, quietly decreasing the degrees of our angle with a safe joke and my tongue in the right place. Love is leverage, in the right hands.

Sometimes they touch and spin out, flying apart until we reach 180 and I must try to join us together again.

But when it works, we form a different straight line. His cock in my cunt going through to my mouth on her clit. New leverage of hips and arms and legs to form angled positions until we are truly one. But the burst of pleasure will not remedy their clash of minds. They each leave with a light joke over discomfort. Our geometry continues.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Patriarchus Defaulcatus

I went away for the weekend--and by "away" I mean "Went to a Harry Potter symposium and the new theme park, which made me feel eleven years old"--and as you do, I brought books to read on and between planes.

Chronologically, I read Jeff Vandermeer's Shriek and then Flesh and Fire by Laura Anne Gilman. But, while Shriek was a masterpiece of ideas and mushrooms and twisty, unreliable narrators, it is Flesh and Fire that I want to talk about, in relation to larger themes of fantasy literature.

The book at a glance: Wine, if made a certain way, has magical properties, which may be harnessed and used by those who know how: Vinearts. Jerzy, a slave, is chosen as a Vineart by his owner. But his trainings are interrupted by upheavals in their world, so off he goes to make his way as best he can.

It's a damn good book, in my sense of the phrase. It's gripping (read it over two plane rides, nearly nonstop), paced perfectly, good characters, and a wonderful, bright new magic system that involves no word stranger than mustus. It also works as "Winemaking 101". Gilman creates a very interesting world, the main area of which revolves around a slave trade (and oh, do I wish I could reveal a rather juicy spoiler about that. But I won't. Go read the book.) It's not a million pages long, which defies one recent trend in fantasy literature, and there's not one goddamn vampire in sight.


Wait for it...


But. The first interesting woman is killed off fairly quickly, and the next one doesn't appear until the three-quarter mark. And despite having invented a very new world, Gilman in this book is infected by that most insidious of fungi: Patriarchus Defaulcatus. Or, default patriarchy.

Men are in charge in this world, at all the high levels. No women Vinearts are mentioned or seen. The main continuous female character has power only within a household, as the firm, but nurturing, head domestic. One noble women dies, the other has rebellious princess syndrome (but at least she gets to live to Book 2).

This is something which I greatly dislike about a lot of fantasy: even in brave new worlds, in which there are fabulous beasts, wondrous magic, unearthly beings, authors continually revert to gender power structures so prevalent in our own world. Heteronormative (more on that in a bit) and phallocentric. And I just don't see why.

Be daring. Make the genders equal in your fantasy world, and see what comes of it. Reverse things, play with roles, make a new form of society. Read lots of Ursula K. Le Guin's Ekumen stories and see how she invents worlds that work on completely different gender systems than ours. Throw out the gender norms. Make me smile.

On sexuality: there's not much of it, and what there is leans negative and slightly homophobic. This is not to say I think Gilman is a homophobe; I've met her briefly, I regularly read her blog, and I truly do not believe this to be the case. But every sexual experience Jerzy (male) has is a) unwanted and negative and b) with another man. Gilman insinuates that Jerzy, as all Vinearts, is asexual due to the magic he uses, so his distaste for amorous activity has a base. But were Jerzy's squeamish thoughts about being touched by other men necessary? Did all this attention have to be somewhat forced, and unwanted? I don't think there was a consensual sexual relationship in the whole book, only brief glimpses into the molestations young, pretty slaves like Jerzy suffered at the hands of others. An unsettling trend, I'll call it, and one I hope not to see in the second book.

I can see, at certain angles, why this book was up for a Nebula last year. Very good writing, a fascinating new world, nice characters. Some of the "coming-of-age" plot points were a little predictable, I felt, as was a certain betrayal, but after reading books for even twenty years, most things are predictable. I have issues with it, but they are my issues as a liberal sex-positive feminist, which not everyone is and I don't ask them to be. Go and read it anyway. Then come back and tell me what you thought.