The Hugos: "nerd-on-nerd violence"

Wired has a piece up about the Hugos - Puppies, Puppygate, SJWs, the hotmess of this year's slate, the No Award results, G.R.R.M., etc. It's titled, "Who Won Science Fiction's Hugo Awards, and Why It Matters". (The fact that the headline has to explain what the Hugos are is an indication of the audience this piece is pitched to.)

One chunk which particularly caught my eye was this:


As an aspiring lit-fic snob author, I can't wait to get out of this crummy neighborhood I live in. With my next book, I will completely turn my back on a genre that's given me tens of thousands of hours of reading pleasure. Within five years, Franzen and I will be drinking ice water together at a tastefully exclusive dive somewhere in Brooklyn, sneering at the proles. Count on it.

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Slow Death of the Fantastic Four

Why can't the studios get the Fantastic Four right? Three big-budget tries, three flops (or two disappointments and one dog, depending on how you look at it). They're a decent superhero team, with varied powers that are interesting. Moreover, they have a 60 year archive of story lines to choose from. Surely somewhere in there would be one that would work on the screen. My theory is that the writers are too focused on the set-piece trope of the FF vs. their most iconic antagonist: Dr. Doom.

One problem with movie adaptations of Dr. Doom is the same problem that Green Goblin had in the first Spider-Man movie: he cannot express much emotion under an obscuring mask. In the comics, this wasn't a problem, since the shape of the mask changes slightly to convey emotions. In a movie that's not possible. Iron Man's ostensibly fixed mug does the same flexible thing in the comics, but the movie solved that rigid face problem with the clever device of the in-helmet projection, which allows the audience to see the actor's face.

But beyond the muffled voice and flat face, Dr. Doom was a cardboard cutout supervillain for years before he grew into the remorse-driven, megalomaniacal dictator of Latveria with a meaningful set of motivations beyond I WILL DESTROY YOU REED RICHARDS AND TAKE OVER THE WORLD. A more complex and interesting backstory is tough to set up in a movie if you also have to spend a long time explaining why he wears the Doom armor.

So, when the high-level radioactivity of this year's terrible Fantastic Four movie cools off enough that another studio decides to take another crack at them (2025? 2030?), I hope the writers a) don't bother with an origin story beyond a three-minute opening montage, and b) ignore the siren song of Dr. Doom and go for someone like the Puppet Master or Annihilus.

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Fine, I'll Finish the Damned Book

The response to my last blog post gave me a lot to think about. I'll spare you the full color commentary on that thought process, but the conclusion of it is that I should set some deadlines and finish the book I have hanging over me.

Maybe it'll be great, maybe it'll be crap, but either way, it'll be better than what it is now: a wound that won't heal. Even worse, it's a self-inflicted wound. Once I dig into it, fix what can be fixed and stitch it up as pretty as I can, it'll go away and quit troubling me.

Plus, I'll have an interesting scar that I can charge people to look at. So there's that.

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Stuck in self-realization

I had a lot of thoughts to straighten out yesterday, so I spent some time writing in my journal. (I used to write in it a lot, but then I discovered that I could vent and whine on twitter.) What struck me about the most recent entries (aside from the increasing length of time between entries) was that their themes were so similar. Same concerns, same fears, same complaints, same aspirations.

I've kept journals off and on since ~1992. It's pretty clear to me that anyone who reads them in sequence would come away with the idea that I am a fragile, miserable, inchoate lunatic. This false impression is due to pre-selection of the data. When things are going well in my life, I don't sit down to write about it - I spend my time living and enjoying life.

The only things that I journal about are the difficult, painful, tangled thoughts that require the clarity of the written word to be processed, absorbed and understood. I don't know if other people do it this way, using their journals as a brain dump for the worst of what's going in inside their heads, but that's how I do it.

And what's clear from my half-dozen most recent entries is that my relationship to writing fiction isn't bringing me any satisfaction, let alone joy. How bad is it? When I initially wrote the first sentence of this paragraph, I realized I had to change "my writing fiction" to "my relationship to writing fiction", since I've done so damned little actual writing in the last year. I've spent some time understanding the draft novel I have waiting on my desk, and have come up with the crucial improvement that will lift it from mucky crap to a serious, potent work, one which I'm almost certainly not talented enough to bring to fruition. Those notations and a few pages of fresh prose to frame in the idea are all I have to show by way of progress.

Aside from that? I've been unable (or unwilling?) to write much of anything for more than a year. I occasionally scribble down ideas and concepts for new stories, but my heart isn't in it. There's too much noise, too much self-doubt, too much despair. In the bleakest moments, I feel that I've more or less lost the right to even consider myself a writer, let alone to call myself one.

Why do it if it isn't fun? Why torture myself with a Sisyphean exercise? Why not give it up and devote my energies entirely to something more productive? Why can't I just quit? I'm not getting anywhere, so why can't I quit?

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Why exactly did we go to war?

The Declaration of Independence: A Transcription

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty - perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.


The 56 signatures on the Declaration appear in the positions indicated:
Column 1
Georgia:
   Button Gwinnett
   Lyman Hall
   George Walton
Column 2
North Carolina:
   William Hooper
   Joseph Hewes
   John Penn
South Carolina:
   Edward Rutledge
   Thomas Heyward, Jr.
   Thomas Lynch, Jr.
   Arthur Middleton
Column 3
Massachusetts:
John Hancock
Maryland:
Samuel Chase
William Paca
Thomas Stone
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Virginia:
George Wythe
Richard Henry Lee
Thomas Jefferson
Benjamin Harrison
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Carter Braxton
Column 4
Pennsylvania:
   Robert Morris
   Benjamin Rush
   Benjamin Franklin
   John Morton
   George Clymer
   James Smith
   George Taylor
   James Wilson
   George Ross
Delaware:
   Caesar Rodney
   George Read
   Thomas McKean
Column 5
New York:
   William Floyd
   Philip Livingston
   Francis Lewis
   Lewis Morris
New Jersey:
   Richard Stockton
   John Witherspoon
   Francis Hopkinson
   John Hart
   Abraham Clark
Column 6
New Hampshire:
   Josiah Bartlett
   William Whipple
Massachusetts:
   Samuel Adams
   John Adams
   Robert Treat Paine
   Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island:
   Stephen Hopkins
   William Ellery
Connecticut:
   Roger Sherman
   Samuel Huntington
   William Williams
   Oliver Wolcott
New Hampshire:
   Matthew Thornton


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A Historic Day for Marriage Equality


Here's the lede from today's Supreme Court ruling:


And here's the happy result:


This is one of those weeks the history books will spend entire chapters on.

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The Martian

Today's XKCD captures it perfectly:


And the rollover text is priceless: 
 "I have never seen a work of fiction so perfectly capture the out-of-nowhere shock of discovering that you've just bricked something important because you didn't pay enough attention to a loose wire."
Yes, this. Exactly this. If you haven't read "The Martian", you should. It's a gearhead's triumph dream.

And I'm SO excited about the movie!



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"Beyond the Sea of Storms" - an interview with Larry Kollar

Larry Kollar is a writer and friend of mine from Georgia. Not only does he write some great fantasy, having had wonderful success with his Accidental Sorcerers series, but along with P.J. Kaiser and myself, he's one of the three guiding lights of Tuesday Serial, a site that curates and promotes serial fiction. Larry's got a new book out (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00YBDHQKE) and I'm happy to give him an opportunity to introduce it to you and to talk about his writing.

"Tell us about your book."

Beyond the Sea of Storms is the sixth Accidental Sorcerers story. Chronologically, it picks up shortly after Book 5, Lost in Nightwalk. By now, our heroes have been away from home for almost two years, and it's starting to wear on Sura. Mik, meanwhile, has issues stemming from the debacle in Nightwalk and his near-death. The presence of the Deep Forest, the ancient home of the Unfallen, has a calming effect on Mik… but when Sura hatches a plan to walk through it to get back home, they find the Forest has other plans!

"Do you have a specific writing style?"
Yes, it's one that all the writing advice sites say is w0RnG. I tend to edit as I write. After a few attempts at breaking the habit, I gave up and rolled with it. It does make for less rewriting and lighter editing, so I get the time back one way or the other. My first drafts still suck, but they suck less.

"Name one entity that you feel supported you, aside from family members. A writer's community? A social network? A mentor?"

I don't think I would be where I am now without the #FridayFlash community on Twitter. I met so many of my best Twitter friends, and a lot of my writer friends, that way.

"Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?"
You mean besides getting time to write? I may be a little too prone to letting inspiration drive me. It's so easy to get distracted these days, and if I'm not feeling the writing vibe, I'm not going to get many words down that day.

"Who designed the cover art?"

As always, Angela Kulig. She's done a wonderful job of finding the right artwork for each book, and they do a great job of connecting the books together.

"Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?"

The most important thing I learned is that I'm still prone to procrastination. I should have been doing this a month ago, getting all the things done, but I didn't. Now I'm behind the eight-ball once again on the next thing. :-P

"Your doctors inform you that you have developed a life-threatening allergy to ketchup (any and all brands), and can never have it again. Not on fries, not on burgers, not at all. How do you feel?"
Wife has a similar allergy to shellfish, so I know what that's like second-hand. I'd probably be OK with BBQ sauce—if not the red stuff, the yellow mustard-based stuff that's popular in South Carolina. I don't much live for ketchup, although I would have to start remembering to tell the guys behind the fast-food counters about it… that would be the hard part.

"What's next for Larry Kollar?"
Several things! First, we're working on getting the Accidental Sorcerers series into print. I'm bundling the books in threes for the paperback release to get them up to a reasonable size. I've got conversion scripts to transform the eBooks into typesetter markup, and a set of expert fonts to use. There's some hand-fiddling to do, but they're going to look tons better than something dumped straight out of Word.

After that, it's Book 7. I'm about 15% of the way done, but don't yet have a title. I'm also drafting up the third part of my serial Blink, and getting ready to post it on writeon.amazon.com.

Thanks for giving me a soapbox!



Larry Kollar lives in north Georgia, surrounded by kudzu, trees, and in-laws. His day job involves writing user manuals—some of which may have been fiction, but not by intent. He has had short fictional works published in the Hogglepot Journal, the Were-Traveler, and the anthology Best of Friday Flash, Vol. 2. Longer works include his first novel, White Pickups, and the popular Accidental Sorcerers series.


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#FridayFlash: The Thrill Is Gone

"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned."

It was as far as he got before his nerve failed him

The priest, who had heard more halting recitations of sin than any of the laity would ever believe or could ever understand, said nothing. He heard the tension in the man's breathing, heard the crack of knuckles and the wringing of hands. This was a good sign. The ones who were completely composed either had very little to confess (and who therefore needed little in the way of help from him) or they were not truly penitant (and were therefore not ready to accept the blessings of contrition and absolution).

The ones who came in with their emotional armor wrapped tightly around them usually ended up lying their way through the confession. It was disappointing, but the priest consoled himself with the thought that merely being in the confessional was a step in the right direction.

He listened to the man's agitation. What he didn't hear was the creaking of the seat or the rattle of the doorknob. There was no indication that the man had changed his mind and was preparing to leave without confessing. So, with the wisdom of age and experience, the priest allowed the moment to stretch for a while before speaking.

After a minute or so, the man said, "It's been... it's been a long time since my last confession."

"Yes, my son? Months? Or years?" The priest spoke gently, but clearly. This was one of his favorite tactics to get the reluctant to open up. Once they've admitting to something as trivial as having neglected the sacrament of confession, the process of admitting to larger sins became easier. He knew that his voice also reminded them that they weren't alone in this shadowy box, and weren't speaking to a disembodied smartphone app. They were unburdening themselves of their sins, something they could not do by their own power.

"Y-years, Father. Many years. A long, long time."

The silence fell again, but the man didn't wait so long this time before speaking again.

"Father... this is going to sound... bad. I mean, it's going to sound crazy." The man paused. Again, the priest could hear him wringing his hands. "The thing is," the man said, "I think... that is, I know that I... that I..."

"Go on, my son. What is it that weighs on you?"

"Father, I killed B.B. King."

Silence fell again in the confessional, now punctuated by the man's heavy breathing. Each breath caught in his throat, sounding close to a sob.

The priest sat for a moment, his years of experience allowing him to keep his disappointment and irritation utterly hidden. He squelched the urge to sigh and roll his eyes. Even through the screen and in the darkness, he knew that such aspects of demeanor were apparent to a person on the other side.

Still, it was disappointing. The man was clearly not a congregant with heavy heart, not a penitant sinner, just a lucid lunatic, giving voice to his madness in the shadows behind a closed door. But no, the priest thought, however absurd the man was, he was clearly in pain and needed some help. Psychiatric help, yes, but spiritual help was a good start, too.

"My son," the priest said, "what makes you say this?"

"Because I know it's true," the man said. "I killed him. I must have. There's no other explanation for it."

"You can rest here, my child. You are safe here in God's presence." The priest knew that telling someone to calm down often had exactly the opposite effect, but that inviting someone to rest usually worked to draw down tensions. "We were all saddened to hear of his death. He was a fine musician, and I understand that he was a good man. It's a great loss, one felt keenly by those who knew him."

"You don't understand, Father. I'm not upset because I heard about him dying. Before yesterday, I only barely knew who he was. I'm upset because I killed him."

"I know how upset you are. I can hear it in your voice. My son, the confessional is a place of truth, a place where we can take off the masks we show the world. We can reveal ourselves to God in this place. Can you tell me why you think you had anything to do with his death?"

"Because I can play guitar. I mean, I can play all his songs, every one of them. 'Sweet Sixteen', 'The Thrill Is Gone', 'Every Day I Have the Blues'... I can play all his hits, note perfect. Not just those, but even the really obscure stuff like 'Sunday Morning' and 'One Shoe Blues'. I can play every riff, every solo, every goofball track he ever laid down."

"I don't understand."

"Father, I couldn't play AT ALL before he died last night! But when I woke up this morning, I had only thought in mind: to get my Gibson back in my hands. MY Gibson? Father, I've never owned a guitar in my life! But I just had to have one. I called in sick to work, Googled the closest music shop and went straight there. As soon as I walked in, I knew something was seriously wrong. There were dozens and dozens of guitars hanging on the wall, the kind of thing that would have been a complete mystery to me. Father, I knew every make and model. It was like I'd spent a lifetime around guitars, like they were my life! I went straight to the Gibsons. They didn't have an ES-355, so I got an ES-339, the model with a fatter body. They only had brown lacquer in stock, not black or red. I bought the ES-339, figuring it would be good enough until I could hunt up an ES-355. And Father... that was when I knew."

"Knew what?"

"That I'd killed B.B. King! I dropped $1800 on a guitar this morning, and I don't even play! Or at least I didn't play. As soon as I had it in my hands, I played exactly like B.B. King for ten minutes straight. The saleguy was amazed, but I was terrified. I bought the guitar, a strap, a pitch-pipe, extra strings, and ten picks. I ordered an amp, cables and pickups, to be delivered later this week. I've spent the entire day playing Lu-... playing this guitar, off-amp. But I don't have the calluses of a guitarist. My fingers are sliced to ribbons - I finally had to stop playing because I was spattering blood on the finish, even though the bandages. Father, all of B.B. King's musical ability and knowledge is inside me! I must have killed him and done some kind of a musical vampire thing, drawing out and consuming his soul. B.B. King is dead in the world, but he lives inside me! Help me, Father - forgive me for taking his life! I didn't mean to, I didn't want to, but I did! I killed him!"

Sobbing, the man collapsed in his seat, the entire confessional shaking with the force of his anguish.

And in the shadows behind the screen, the priest quietly pressed the emergency button, the one that activated the buzzer in the church office. Two shorts and a long... the code for "assistance needed with distraught congregant".

This was more than he could handle alone.

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What I'm Working On

What I'm working on at the moment:





It's just DRIPPING with passion!!!!!

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Z is for Zombie

This is another fruity drink with a silly name. However, unlike the mostly-forgotten  Harvey Wallbanger or the not-yet-passé Sex on the Beach, the Zombie WILL take you out if you're not careful. From the Wikipeadia page:

Commonly used ingredients
Preparation Mix ingredients other than the 151 in a shaker with ice. Pour into glass and top with the high-proof rum.
Notes Because of the high proof rum, this cocktail could be lit if desired.

I remember my nights spent at Ciril's House of Tiki in Chicago, on a gray, cracked section of 53rd Street. Decades later, I can't think of that place without smiling. I usually drank Mai Tais or Singapore Slings, but every now and then would end the night with a Zombie.

Perhaps you're asking, why not start with a Zombie? Why end the night with such a strong drink?

The fact is, once you had a Zombie, your night was over. Oh, there were those in my circle who could claim to be able to drink them all night, and rightly so, since I saw them do it. Not me. Also, they cost $5 each, which was a stiff price for a drink back then, even for a stiff drink.

Any drink you can light on fire is a drink to treat with care. Tasty, but dangerous.

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Y is for Yellow Bird

The letter Y is a tough one to draw a cocktail for. There's Yellow Chartreuse, a milder, honey-flavored version of Chartreuse, an aromatic liqueur. I'm sure there have been novelty cocktails named Yellow Submarine, Yellow Snow, Yellow Fever, etc., but I'd rather go with something less obvious.

Therefore, I present to you the Yellow Bird, which has an official IBA recipe: 2 parts white rum, one part triple sec, one part lime juice, one part Galliano. Shake and strain into a cold cocktail glass.

I think the Galliano is overkill, since it doesn't make it particularly yellow, but whatever.

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X is for X on the Beach

I seem to recall hearing about something called a Xanadu Cocktail, but since 1) I've never had one, and 2) it sounds disgusting, I'll write about Sex on the Beach instead. I realize it's cheating to put this one up for "X", but it's my blog.

Sex on the Beach is a drink much like the Harvey Wallbanger in one way (deliberately goofy, titillating name), but very unlike the Harvey Wallbanger in another: people still drink Sex on the Beaches, long after it was first introduced.

(Sex on the Beaches? Sexes on the Beach? Sexes on the Beaches? Or is the plural an eponymous Sex on the Beach? Must research this.)

Anyway, it's the kind of drink that has so many variations, and is served in so many different overpriced touristy contexts, that it's hard to say with certainty what this drink would taste like. I've had a few, but they were always made with cocoanut rum. They were also overly iced, sickly sweet and far too weak for my taste.

The Wikipedia page gives a few details on official recipes:

General types

There are two general types of the cocktail:
The drink is built over ice in a highball glass and garnished with orange slice.[2] Sometimes they are mixed in smaller amounts and served as a shooter.

Given my experiences with peach schnapps, I don't think I'll be trying the IBA recipe any time soon.

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W is for White Russian

The Dude knows a good drink, I'll give him that. However, I'm not so exclusive about it as he is. For example, if I were someplace that didn't have any cream (or whole milk), I would NOT use powdered dairy coffee creamer to make a White Russian. I'd just make a Black Russian; the Kahlua and vodka mixture tastes pretty good all by itself.



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V is for Vodka Tonic

A story about me and vodka tonics:

My first airplane ride was a flight from St. Louis to JFK, the start of a three week trip to the USSR. I was 14 years old and thrilled to be leaving my family on my first independent adventure. In command of lots of bravado and some pretty sketchy Russian, I was really excited and really nervous.

My parents made sure I ate a good breakfast before going to the airport, since a good breakfast is how you start any long trip. Being excited and nervous, I surely ate more than I should have. (Then as now, I had an unhealthy habit of taking comfort in food.) Fried eggs, bacon, lots of buttered toast... what I now know to be the worst thing to have before a flight.

Our flight had a scheduled stop in Detroit. My nerves, excitement, and an unrecognized propensity for motion sickness conspired together, much to my detriment. During takeoff, I was violently ill, uncontrollably throwing up my substantial breakfast into my air-sickness bag. When mine was full, I used my neighbor's.

There is no humiliation so blazing as that of a 14-year-old boy throwing up in public. Of that, I can assure you.

My situation was made worse by the terrible headache the exertions of my vomiting brought on. By the time we began our approach to Detroit, I was thoroughly shaky. When we began our descent, I began throwing up again, this time into my other seatmate's air-sickness bag. Only when we were taxiing to the terminal did it stop.

By then, it was hard to know where my physical misery ended and my psychological misery began. And if I'd known that worse was to come, I might have gotten off the plane in Detroit and hitchhiker home. 

We sat at the terminal for what felt like a year - a slow, burning, excruciating year. For the most part, the people around me did everything they could to ignore me. Their restraint was forced upon them by circumstances, of course. It was a full flight. It would serve no purpose to complain about the sweaty, pudgy, trembling young man in 23C who had been steadily vomiting for the past hour and a half. The smell, the noise, the sight of it all... none of it was intentional. The best thing anyone could do was grit their teeth and suffer through a flight from hell.

I was left alone to cope as best I could. 

When the plane left the terminal and began the taxi for takeoff, I was terrified that I would lose control yet again. After all, I was now out of air-sickness bags in my entire row. What would I do if...?

Alas, I had occasion to find out. My terror of further humiliation had amped up my adrenaline so much that just as the wheels left the ground, I felt another wave of nausea. With a voice that was spooky with dead, flat calmness, I gently asked the person sitting in front of me if I might have their bag. Three people passed me theirs.

It turned out that I barely even needed one bag. Vomiting, yes, but dry heaves. Yes, dry heaves as we gained altitude leaving Detroit. Why? Why me? I had nothing left to give, no further sacrifice to offer up for the gods of air travel. Why punish me so?

The heaving stopped as we leveled off. I just wanted to die in peace. 

The flight attendant came back to my seat and asked if there was anything I needed. Ashen-faced, drenched in sweat, trembling from my illness, half-blind with a terrible headache, I stared down at my hands. After a moment, I spoke, again in a voice that was so calm, so flat, so drained of energy and emotion that it must have been creepy as hell to hear.

"Yes," I said. "May I have a vodka tonic, please?"

(Note: you might think it strange that a 14-year-old would even know what a vodka tonic was, let alone order one on an airplane in a desperate attempt to find some way of calming his own overwrought nerves. I'll spare you the full background, but leave it by saying that a) that wasn't the first vodka tonic I'd ever ordered, and b) I had a strange childhood.)

If the flight attendant gave me a funny look, I didn't see it. What she did was to leave and return a moment later with a glass of iced tonic water, a lime wedge, and a little airline bottle of vodka. With my shaking, sweaty hands, I opened the bottle, poured it into the glass and stirred. I began to take small sips, one every few minutes as we flew on to New York.

The man sitting next to me, who seemed old at the time, but who was probably close to the same age I am now, spoke to me for the first time since we'd left St. Louis.

"Good idea. That'll help calm your nerves."

"Yes," I replied, "I hope so."

Neither of us spoke again. I finished my vodka tonic a little while before the approach to JFK. I didn't enjoy the landing, but I didn't throw up, either. 





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U is for Union Jack

Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a cocktail that starts with "U"? I ask this so that you will have an idea of how hard I work for you.

The Union Jack cocktail is one that, frankly, I wasn't familiar with. After wracking my brain for weeks to come up with a drink for "U", I finally had to cheat and look one up in the index of my Old Mr. Boston Mixologist's Guide. (Side note: everyone should own that reference text. I'm on my second copy, the previous one having fallen apart from use.)

I'd never had a Union Jack, but, because this is all about ethics in blogging, I realized that I had to make one before I could write a blog post about it. No problem - 2 measures of gin, 1 measure of sloe gin, 1 measure of grenadine, stirred with ice and strained into a chilled glass. What could be easier?

Except I was out of sloe gin last night. Not sure how that happened, since my bar is pretty well stocked. What to do? I didn't have time to run out to get a bottle before the evening's activities, so I made do.

I substituted cointreau for the sloe gin. Not bad, but too sweet. I put it back in the icer, added a small slug of sweetened lime juice, stirred and decanted again. That did the trick. It cut through the sweet with a citrus tang, and gave a delicious, complex drink. The balance of sweet orange, lime, and pomegranate with the hot floral notes of the gin was very tasty.

Later today, I'll pick up a bottle of sloe gin and try a Union Jack according to the traditional recipe. I'm looking forward to it!

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T is for Tom Collins

Here's another simple one with a rich pedigree. Gin, lemon juice and simple syrup, topped up with soda water and ice. Pace yourself, and you can drink Tom Collinses all night.

So far as I know, this drink has nothing to do with Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice. I doubt that he would ever have the presence of mind to order one.

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S is for Sangria

What is Sangria doing on a list of cocktails? Isn't the primary ingredient red wine?

Yes, but all the best Sangria has a solid mass of brandy in the punchbowl. When made properly, it's so delicious, I'll stretch a point.

Slice a few oranges, apples and peaches into a punchbowl. If you have one, crush up a pomegranate, too. Pour in a few bottles of a robust red, a Beaujolais nouveau, one of the vin ordinaire that goes so well with bread, cheese, and an attractive member of your preferred sex. Four bottles should do it. Or half a case, maybe.

Add half a bottle of brandy. Again, don't try to impress anyone with the cask reserve stuff. Make it a drinkable label, but don't go to any dark corners of the cellar to get it.

Let the bowl sit for an hour or so before you add some ice. Chill the bowl down and serve by the pitcher.

And leave the pitcher on the table, so your guests can help themselves throughout the evening. Light some candles, put on some music, enjoy your Sangria.

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R is for Rum and Coke

I've been pretty scrupulous to avoid easy drinks for this A to Z cocktail catalog. It's just too easy to slap "... and Coke" onto any kind of booze and call it a cocktail.

The Rum and Coke, however, stands alone. It's a classic, just as simple as a martini, just as complex as a new love affair.

There are those purists who will immediately shout out for the Cuba Libre, made with the old style, cane-sugar cola and a splash of fresh lime. Other partisans will no doubt wave high the banners of RC Cola, Guaranito or some other favored cola brand. The champions of dark rum will rail against the champions of light rum, and the blenders will stand on the sidelines, brickbats at the ready.

Apostates of Coke Zero, Diet Pepsi and the like will wave their freak flags high in the face of near-universal scorn, while the Dr. Pepper, IBC Root Beer, and (God have mercy on our souls) Mountain Dew fans burn together in a hell of their own making.

Rum and Coke... was there ever a better combination to enjoy on a summer evening?

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