Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Video: Clarissa and the King's Cookbook

This is a video about the time of King Richard II of England and the cookbook he commissioned, The Forme of Cury. It features Clarissa Dickson Wright (one of the Two Fat Ladies). If you're interested in the history of food or medieval food and food preparation, it's quite interesting. I love the reconstructed kitchen scenes, where the chef sits on a raised chair and manages what goes on in the kitchen. I didn't know that's how a large kitchen was run, so it was cool to see. Meanwhile, a scribe sits in a vestibule copying out what the chef says, as the head chef himself was likely illiterate. They make a few recipes - using medieval techniques - and then have several historians/food critics try it and comment about it.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Book Review: The Coincidence Makers by Yoav Blum

Pros: fascinating world, interesting characters, tight ending, thought-provoking


Guy, Emily, and Eric are coincidence makers. They receive a white envelope with their mission parameters, and then arrange for those conditions to be met, resulting in a love affair, a new career, a dream attained, whatever is required for the humans around them. Then Guy gets a strange new assignment, one that will change his life.

I first heard of this book not long after seeing the film The Adjustment Bureau. I loved the film (note, it has little resemblance to the Philip K. Dick short story it was based on), but more than that, I loved the idea that there’s a bureaucracy in charge of planning fate for certain people. So I was curious what Blum would would do with his idea regarding those who plan coincidences. Make no mistake, while the ideas are similar, the execution is very different - and excellent in both cases.  

In the first half of the book you learn a lot about who the coincidence makers are and how they’re trained as you witness the three of them working on different cases. This part is heavily character driven, which I didn’t mind as there was so much to learn about the world and people that I didn’t really notice the plot was light. The second half of the book becomes more plot heavy as the various threads introduced earlier start to pull together into a cohesive - and immensely satisfying - ending.

I loved that their world includes things like imaginary friends and that there’s a history to coincidence making where theories change and develop over time. 

The characters are all quirky, with different foibles. Eric creates coincidences so he can go on dates. Guy plans his coincidences on one wall of his apartment so he can visualize what has to happen when. The side characters were a lot of fun too, especially the General.

The book makes you think about why people act certain ways when it comes to making decisions. It encourages looking at the larger picture. It is at times heartbreaking and at others sublime.

This is a fun, quirky book, that didn’t go where I thought it would, but looking back there’s no other way it could have gone. Definitely worth the read.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Movie Review: The Adjustment Bureau

Directed by George Nolfi, 2011

Pros: great acting, interesting story, impactful


A chance meeting between a young senate hopeful and a dancer inspires both of them. But when they meet again their attraction runs the risk of disrupting THE PLAN. So agents of the adjustment bureau are sent to keep them apart.

I loved this movie. It’s very, VERY loosely based on a Philip K. Dick short story, which I read after seeing the film. While I found the story kind of meh, the movie is sweet and sad and makes you want to cheer.

Matt Damon and Emily Blunt have so much chemistry, and his plight - knowing what their being together will cost both of them - is heart-wrenching to watch. I also loved Anthony Mackie as Harry Mitchell, the angel / agent who shows mercy to the pair.

I liked that the film left things up to the viewer to interpret. This is the kind of feel good movie that poses some interesting questions whose answers you don’t care about so long as things turn out well. 

[Like most trailers nowadays this one gives away quite a lot of the film, so you may not watch to watch the whole thing if you're interested in seeing the film.]

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Shout-Out: The Future’s Dark Past by John Yarrow

When futuristic soldiers jump back in time to save mankind from a nuclear winter, a modern day FBI agent is reluctantly drawn into their time dimensional battles. His AI technology may be the most effective weapon to avoid The Purge War that destroys civilization in 2098...or it may be the perfect trigger.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Video: Cat Mind Control

Today's video is a quirky cat film, showing the dangers of mind control.  ;P  It's by Aaron's Animals.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Book Review: Dominion by Shane Arbuthnott

Pros: fun protagonist, interesting world

Cons: lack of nuance

Molly Stout has lived most of her fourteen years in the sky, engineer on her father’s airship, harvesting the spirits that control the machines that power the new world. When she helps capture a powerful spirit that talks to her, a skill spirits aren’t supposed to have, she begins to learn that her world is built on lies. 

Molly’s a great character navigating a difficult world. She deals with some terrible consequences, both for the actions she takes and the actions of those around her. As she discovers that spirits aren’t the monsters she’s been taught they are, she’s forced to realize the extent of the slavery and murder perpetrated on them by humans - herself included. 

I was impressed that the book pointed out both the ills of slavery and how difficult it is to dismantle an institution so much depends on. 

This may not bother other readers but I found Molly’s designation of engineer suspect. To me an engineer should know the ins and outs of the machines they’re working with. Molly doesn’t know what all the interior wires and gears do, she simply does exterior maintenance to keep the engine working.

While you don’t learn everything about the spirits, the author does a great job of showing both their powers and limitations in the Earthly realm. I liked that there are more than one kind of spirit, though not much is said about the terrics.

The family dynamics were interesting. The mother dead in childbirth seems to happen a lot in stories, as does the mixture of anger and sadness surrounding the child whose birth caused it. So I found Molly’s relationship with Rory refreshing. I’d assumed he’d be the teasing brother who drove her nuts or screamed abuse at her, and instead he helps her with a later goal in the book. I would have liked to see more interaction (or even flashbacks) with Brigid, and more nuanced interactions with her father, but I liked that the family loves each other but is also disfunctional in some ways. Molly’s emotions regarding her father at the end of the book were realistic given everything that happened.

There’s a lot of adventure - even if Molly manages to get away with more than is likely (I’d still like to know how she left the shipyard considering her route of entry wasn’t an option). But it’s no different from other books for this age group.

One aspect of the ending left me feeling troubled. I’ll deal with it in the spoiler section below.

All in all it’s a fun, quick read, that asks some hard questions and requires some contemplation.


It greatly disturbed me that the spirit who ran their ship comes back to help them after it’s freed, because Molly was nice to it. I found the idea that a creature that was tortured for so long would return, ridiculous. Regardless of Molly’s treatment, Legendermain should have felt nothing but anger towards her family for the years it lost and the lives of its kind they captured and sold. From an outsider’s point of view it’s possible to feel sympathy for the masters - especially children who don’t realize why slavery is wrong - but I cannot believe the slaves themselves feel any such sympathy. As a book for young adults, it’s dealing with themes that apply to the real world, which help teach real world kids how to react to things. And I believe the book dropped the ball here. I understand that the author wanted the family to have a flight capable ship for the next book. But maybe that book could have dealt with the family creating a new friendship and mutually beneficial relationship with the spirits instead, which would achieve the same goal while showing that abusing people doesn’t make them friends, but actual change and hard work can dismantle dysfunctional systems and create systems that work for everyone. Beyond Molly’s dubious friendship (she only freed it when the ship was taken away), what does Legendermain get out of this new arrangement?

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Shout-Out: Patently Absurd by Bradley Schenck

Six stories; forty-four illustrations; 250 pages; one Patent Investigator; one slightly maladjusted robot secretary; and more Mad Science than you can shake a centrifuge at, all from the author/illustrator of Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom.
In the city of Retropolis - which is where the future went, when we got something else - all science is Mad. So scientific laboratories are confined to the city's Experimental Research District. It’s laid out in the zoning laws, but what it really is, is self-defense.
There’s always the danger that something really awful might happen in the District, though: something so awful that it will escape to the city outside. That’s why the Retropolis Registry of Patents keeps an eye on what the inventors of the District are doing from day to day.
At the Registry you might meet Ben Bowman, a patent investigator who’s smart in at least one or two of the ways that are important, and his friend Violet, the robot secretary. Violet is convinced that she ought to be an investigator herself.

Between you and me, she’s not wrong. But she’s had a terrible time convincing one Patent Registrar after another that they ought to promote her; and, strangely, the Registrars never seem to last very long once they disagree.

Out March 13