Elsewhere for August 14, 2016

Barack Obama accuses Donald trump of founding The Village People

Autism, OCD and Attention Deficit May Share Brain Markers

Print your own high-quality topographic map from National Geographic (via Life Hacker)

Earliest population of America not through Bering Land Bridge In a research study published in Nature “researchers conclude that while people may well have travelled this corridor after about 12,600 years ago, it would have been impassable earlier than that . . . If this is true, then it means that the first Americans, who were present south of the ice sheets long before 12,600 years ago, must have made the journey south by another route. The study’s authors suggest that they probably migrated along the Pacific coast.”

Whale wars: Why Humpbacks save other species from Orca attacks Recent whale-watchers in British Columbia, CA witnessed Humpbacks fending off Orcas interested in a humpback calf.

Posted in Elsewhere

Elsewhere for August 7, 2016

You should read this for 8/7/2016:

Dear Hillary: How Very Dare You!“I bought into a narrative about Hillary Clinton that has been produced, packaged, and perpetuated by mostly the GOP with the help of many democrats and independents.”

For the love of stuff: I am my things and my things are me. I don’t want to give them up: they are narrative prompts for the story of my life

Campaign to help archaeologists search for an Iron-Age broch in Scotland

An Artist’s Pet Dog Photobombs the Middle Ages Elizabeth Morrison at The Getty: The same charming dog appears in illumination after illumination by late-medieval artist Simon Bening. Was it possibly his own pet?

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Elsewhere for July 31, 2016

Hillary Clinton Helped Me Realize That Powerful Women Deserve Love

Trump: Clinton should have congratulated me for making history

Nature published a Neolithic DNA study revealing “three genetically distinct farming populations living in the Near East at the dawn of agriculture 12,000 to 8,000 years ago: two newly described groups in Iran and the Levant and a previously reported group in Anatolia, in what is now Turkey.” The data suggests that “agriculture spread in the Near East at least in part because existing groups invented or adopted farming technologies, rather than through population replacement.”

The British Library has just added digital facsimiles of manuscripts related to the Roman de la Rose, Christine de Pizan, and what scholars call La Querelle des Femmes. See
Metaphors, Misogyny and Courtly Love for back ground and links to some stunning medieval manuscripts.

Muslims across France have attended Catholic Mass in a gesture of solidarity after the murder of a priest on Tuesday.

Thousands of tricolored Blackbirds saved by California farmers

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England’s Premier Cowboy Singer!

Posted in Music, There

A. M. Dellamonica, Child of a Hidden Sea

Cover of A. M. Dellamonica's Child of A Hidden Sea showing a tall ship's sail behind a woman wearing swashbuckling clothes and a man

Sophie Hansa is a twenty-something videographer living in San Francisco, a much-loved adopted child with a younger (briliant) brother. She’s a child of privilege in that her parents can help her with college and travel; she’s a partially-trained biologist, an all-but-thesis grad student. She’s also been seeking her birth mother, whom she finds, but who wants nothing, at all, ever, to do with her. In the course of finding her mother, she inserts herself into the thick of exactly what her adoption was meant to avoid, when she defends her previously unknown aunt from what appears to be a mugging.

Cover of A. M. Dellamonica's Child of A Hidden Sea showing a tall ship's sail behind a woman wearing swashbuckling clothes and a manThat action sends Sophie to an alternate Earth called Stormwrack, one where her mother is a self-exiled member of a powerful ruling family, thereby allowing Dellamonica to simultaneously subvert two fantasy tropes at once; the portal fantasy and the fairy princess. Sophie is also one of those sorts of heroines that we’re more familiar with from urban fantasy; the unlikeable but yet oddly likable heroine. She is unlikeable in her willingness to manage the lives of others; likable in her desire to make the world better, her insatiable curiosity and fascination with science and nature. Sophie is vulnerable in ways that don’t quite ring true; her self-perception as someone that isn’t and won’t be listened to is more a matter of her own petulance than reality. It’s not an unbearable character flaw, but it is a little disconcerting in terms of her own perceptions of herself and those around her.

The alternate Earth aspect of Child of a Hidden Sea includes the familiar (stars and the moon) and the unfamiliar; new species and the art of scribing, wherein magic is embedded into people or objects in ways slightly reminiscent of the was geasa function in medieval Irish tales. The efficacy of a scribing has to do with the creator’s intent, which is one of the aspects that makes it similar (though quite different) from geasa. Sophie is in someways reminiscent of Miriam, the heroine of Charlie Stross’ Hidden Family series, but where Miriam’s approach to problem solving is via economics and political theory, Sophie focuses on science and deduction (and both use social engineering successfully).

There’s some fine world building here, both in terms of the magic system, and the ecological differences and similarities between this Earth, or Erst While, and Stormwrack. The world building includes some well-done cultural and linguistic foundations. It’s refreshing to see queer characters without a lot of hand-waving or cultural blindness.

A. M. Dellamonica’s Child of a Hidden Sea is the first of a projected Stormwrack series. The second book Daughter of No Nation has just been published, and I’m very much looking forward to reading it. You might want to take advantage of the current ebook $2.99 sale price for Child of a Hidden Sea, at the usual vendors.There’s an excerpt here. A. M. Dellamonica has a website and tweets as @AlyxDellamonica.

(Tor, 2014)

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Sara Kasdan, Love and Knishes

Sara Kasdan’s Love and Knishes is both a cultural guide, and a cookbook. Sara Kasdan’s much guide to traditional Jewish cooking (illustrated by Louis Slobodin) first appeared in 1956. The book was rapidly reprinted as it proved strikingly popular with Jews and non-Jews alike who wanted to know how to make traditional Ashkenazi comfort food from matzah ball soup to kugel and mandelbrot. It’s all here, from knaydelach to kugel, and everything in between, including hamentaschen.
kasdan_love_and_knishesI should point out that this is a very basic primer for Jewish cuisine; its not fancy, and it’s very down to earth for people who want to make tsimmes, not have one. Note that parts of Love and Knishes is written in authentic dialect; ignore those reviewers who are wringing their hands over the use of dialect. Here, it’s done well, and it’s both authentic and charming, and a mark of affectionate nostalgia rather than mockery. There are many who remember that bubula used just that phrase. There are also those who are offended by Kasdan’s cultural impropriety in including a few standard American dishes of the 1950s; they should get a life and get over themselves. This cookbook was written for the generation that was all about adapting to life in America, yet still missing the food they grew up with. And yes, it’s true, there is an entry in the table of contents for Yom Kippur; if you turn to the chapter in question, you’ll see “Shame! You looked.” What’s not to love about an authentic cookbook with a sense of humor?

This is the cookbook I used when I learned to make latkes. It’s also the one I used for hamentaschen.

There are lots of copies of Love and Knishes at the usual used book sites (including the first hardcover edition) it is, alas, no longer in print. If you’re looking for a broader, less Americanized take on Jewish cuisine, I suggest Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food. Roden’s book is a thorough international culinary, cultural and historic survey of Jewish history via a very large selection of recipes, many of which she presents with regional variations. For a kosher survey of Jewish cuisine, see Spice and Spirit The Complete Kosher Jewish Cookbook by Esther Blau, Tzirrel Deitsch, and Cherna Light. For those interested in Jewish desserts specifically, see George Greenstein’s A Jewish Baker’s Pastry Secrets: Recipes from a New York Baking Legend for Strudel, Stollen, Danishes, Puff Pastry, and More.

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Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond, Eds. The Art of The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Cover of The Art of Lord of the RIngs, ed. by Christina Scull and Wayne Hammond, showing Tolkien's jacket design for The Lord of the Rings of

The Art of The Lord of the Rings is a magnificent book. Published to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of The Lord of the Rings, this collection of Tolkien’s art was edited by Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond, the top-notch Tolkien scholars previously responsible for The Art of The Hobbit, among other Tolkien-related books.

The Art of The Lord of the Rings includes all the art, the maps, the preliminary sketches and final versions that Tolkien sent his publishers for possible use as interior art and covers, as well as the numerous sketches Tolkien made in various mss. to help him visualize the story and scene. In some cases there are multiple versions of the same image, as Tolkien works through a rough sketch to a version he sent to his publisher, or a finished piece for his own use. In each instance, Scull and Hammond provide both a context for the piece in terms of Tolkien’s composition and in terms of the internal chronologies of LOTR.

Many of the sketches were originally created on scraps of paper from the end of student exam booklets or similar bits of paper; these are already yellowing with age and acid, so having all of these images not only reproduced accurately at full size but having had a digital record made by the two primary libraries involved (Marquette University and Oxford University’s Bodleian) is especially wonderful.

There are some truly wonderful images here, like the “facsimiles” of leaves from the Book of Mazarbul found in Moria, which Gandalf reads from in Book II chapter 5 (“The Bridge of Khazad-dûm”). Plates 55–63 show multiple versions of the leaves as Tolkien used different materials and deliberately tried to capture the look of a worn ms., complete with the typical holes, as well as showing the damage done by fire. I know Tolkien felt a bit awkward about making some of the drawings, and certainly he was stung by some of the critical response to the small images included in the first publication of The Fellowship of The Ring, but I think that the “manuscripts” he created like The Red Book of Westmarch, as well as Tolkien’s own scholarly background, suggest that we should view many of the drawings and maps as if they were in fact parts of an illuminated manuscript.

It’s also wonderful to see full-color full size plates featuring some of the “finished” drawings Tolkien made for himself or for possible inclusion in the books, like the aerial view of Rivendell (plate 34).It’s also fascinating to see the writer’s mind at work, not only in the examples of the recursively edited mss. but in his recursive sketches as he works out the appearance of Orthanc, or Farmer Cotten’s house, or, most especially, the various maps of Middle Earth. In all there are over 180 images, more than half of which have not been previously published.

This is a beautifully produced and meticulously edited book, and so well done that it’s of interest to the casual reader of LOTR as well as the dedicated reader or scholar. I’m going to be giving The Art of The Lord of the Rings as holiday present, and can’t wait to hear what the recipients think.

(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015)

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Samuel Fromartz, In Search of the Perfect Loaf: A Home Baker’s Odyssey

Cover of Samuel Fromartz IN Search of the Perfect Loaf

I was intrigued by the basic premise of Samuel Fromartz’ book In Search of the Perfect Loaf: A Home Baker’s Odyssey. An experienced journalist with a weighty list of credits, Fromartz got That Call in late 2008. The economy was in a downward spiral and he lost two major long term gigs on the same day. When a travel publication appeared on his horizon, he pitched a story about going to Paris to learn how to make the perfect baguette, that iconic symbol of the Parisian boulangerie. The editor accepted, and that initial article was the starter for this book.

Fromartz, an experienced home baker, had tried to make the classic baguette (his “perfect loaf”) at home and been less than satisfied. The book begins with his trip to France, and his experience working in a French bakery (Boulangerie Delmontel). From there, successive chapters discuss trips to other bakers, covering a variety of bread and baking styles, ranging from sour dough and flat bread to archaic and heritage wheats and grains, to a trip to Germany to learn the secrets of working with rye.

As much as I value Ken Forkish’s Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast, I think Fromartz’ book is a better place to start as a serious home bread baker (honestly, you’ll want both books). There are some important concepts explained exceedingly well in In Search of The Perfect Loaf, most notably, the idea that a long rise is ultimately beneficial for good bread. This is not unique to Fromartz, of course; in fact he notes that it’s part of the reason that “no knead” breads popularized by Jim Lahey and Mark Bittman work so well. But Fromartz explains the whys and the wherefores very clearly, both in terms of the science of bread making, and perhaps more memorably, by anecdote. The other concept that underlies his introduction and the narratives that frame his recipes is the idea that a lot of the difficulty of bread making is removed by practice. By being open to less than successful loaves, and willing to try again, bread makers will learn. As Fromartz notes, “it takes time to learn.”

The chapters each feature a recipe, its difficulty graded as Easy, Moderate or Difficult. The measurements are given in gram weights (you really do need a kitchen scale and a thermometer, at least at first), but one of the most helpful aspects of the recipes are the detailed instructions about the process, including the schedule, divided into sections as “Morning, First Day,” “Evening, First Day,” “Second Day,” and “Baking.” Having said that, his explanation and tips for a baker’s first time creating a sour dough starter are the clearest and least fussy I’ve seen.

There’s a glossary at the end of the book, though Fromartz does a great job of explaining words in context, and end notes for those interested in the particulars of, for instance, the history of grain cultivation, the nature of yeast, or celiac disease, an extremely useful and clear “Bibliographic Note,” and an index. There aren’t a lot of pictures, but they’re well chosen, and do more than offer eye candy.

In Search of the Perfect Loaf was short-listed for the Art of Eating prize and won the Literary Food Writing award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals for the first edition (Viking, 2014). I read the paperback edition for this review, and I would encourage Penguin to list the difficulties for the various recipes in the table of contents, where they list the included recipe as part of the chapter detail. This book is a perfect book to publish as a video annotated multimedia ebook; I hope that that happens some day.

Samuel Fromartz has a website. He blogs and is on Twitter as @fromartz. For a typically clear and practical example of his writing, see this post on his blog about dough temperature and successful bread making; the book is full of such information.

(Penguin Books, 2014)

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Kate Elliott, Court of Fives

Cover of Kate Elliott's Court of FIves showing an elaborate labyrinthKate Elliott has created a richly detailed world in Court of Fives, her first YA novel, though not her first excursion into heroic fantasy. Jessamy, or Jess, is a twin, one of four sisters, the daughter of a Patron (or Saroese) army officer, and his Efesa (and hence a Commoner) concubine spouse Kiya. Her father Esladas has done the unthinkable; he has kept his Commoner concubine by him, instead of a Patron wife, and he has kept and acknowledged his four daughters, including a pair of twins and one with a club foot, much to the scandal of those of higher social status than he.

When the novel opens, Jessamy is scheming to sneak away to compete in the Fives, an elaborate and dangerous race that takes place on an obstacle course. Her father is being fêted as the triumphant hero of a military success, even invited to bring his socially suspect concubine and daughters to witness his triumph as his sponsor and superior, General Ottonor rewards him for his military service.

Jessamy manages to sneak away just long enough to run the Fives, but must deliberately lose the Fives competition or risk discovery. Her competitor, who is well aware that she let him win, is a highly placed Patron, Kalliarkos. Kaliarkos recognizes her after the competition, but promises to keep her secret. Jess’s life starts to go pear shaped when Ottonor unexpectedly dies. His extensive debts provide a remarkably convenient opportunity for Lord Gargaron to attach Jess’s father Esladas to his household, and wed him to Lord Gargaron’s niece. Gargaron takes great delight in revealing that Jessamy has been secretly, even scandalously competing in the Fives. He forces Jessamy to join his Fives “stable” to train, separating her from his sisters and mother, and dissolving her family and the home she has known her entire life.

What’s more, it turns out that Kalliarkos is Gargaron’s nephew, and that Jessamy will be expected to train along side Kalliarkos. It turns out that nothing is exactly as Jessamy has thought, life is much more complicated, as is her own situation. Yet in the end, Kalliarkos, like Jessamy, proves both his loyalty and his courage, as both work to save Jessamy’s mother and siblings from a horrible fate.

Elliot notes on her website that

I call this Little Women meet American Ninja Warrior in a setting inspired by Greco-Roman Egypt while the publisher has pitched it as “Little Women meets Game of Thrones meets The Hunger Games.”

I think that’s a fair comparison, though Jessamy is both a compelling and a believable narrator. Court of Fives like Fran Wilde’s Updraft is a female bildungsroman, with a well-thought out and richly drawn world. Elliott’s subtle use of magic is especially well-done here, with a world that has both animated corpses and magically powered robotic spider warriors driven by soldiers. Elliott proves especially adept at navigating the troubled waters of a colonized culture, with complicated cross-cultural social, linguistic and class issues, and a much more complicated history than her protagonist Jess is initially aware of. I hope to read more about Jess and her world, and will definitely look for more of Elliott’s fiction.

Elliott is both a Nebula and World Fantasy award finalist, and her latest book Black Wolves has just been released by Orbit. In addition to Kate Elliot’s website and blog, you can find her on Twitter as @KateElliottSFF. You can read an excerpt of Court of Fives at Tor.com.

(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2015)

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David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

Sometimes I’m very late to the party. There’s little to do in those cases, but make my apologies as I make my entrance. That’s the situation I find myself in, now, endeavoring to review David Mitchell’s excellent and award-winning novel, Cloud Atlas, more than ten years after its release.

I’m not entirely sure how I missed reading this acclaimed novel a decade ago, while it was still making headlines and the literary world was abuzz with a mixture of adulation and disgust regarding the novels difficult structure and sometimes brilliant prose. In my case, however, that may have worked out for the best. Sometimes all the hype surrounding a famous book gets in the way of simply engaging the text for what it is, and what it is not. Experimental structure is hardly new in ambitious novels, and make no mistake, this is an ambitious novel.

Cloud Atlas is composed of six stories whose relationship with one another isn’t immediately clear until after the sixth and final narrative. Each of the first five sections is abruptly truncated during pivotal scenes, an authorial decision I’ll admit I found both frustrating and disorienting. None of the various parts share a common voice, narrative thread, or even prose style. The first story is set in 1850, and the final story takes place in an unspecified, vaguely post-apocalyptic future. Only after the sixth section are the unresolved threads of the first five sections finally taken back up and knitted together into a whole, so if the individual stories were numerically ordered, the overall skeleton of the whole would look like 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

Now, generally speaking, I’m not a huge fan of authors showing off just for the sake of proving how clever and facile they can be. I’m especially skeptical of technique-as-showmanship, because all too often, that showmanship seems to be covering a multitude of failings with regard to plot, characterization, or storytelling skill. I’ll freely confess that I approached Cloud Atlas expecting just that sort of stylistic showmanship, ultimately lacking in substance. I was wrong.

There was no one character in the book I especially cared about or identified with, but the book ultimately works because of its sure handling of the overall sense of how relationships and cultures work, and our very mortal interconnection. While the actual characters of the novel aren’t particularly richly-developed or sympathetic, ultimately the whole book succeeds brilliantly as a stitched-together panoramic snapshot of history and potential future; a somewhat-distorted lens capturing the landscape of our humanity, our triumphs and failings.

(Random House, 2004)

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