hard sf, anyone?

Posted by Marie on Monday, June 22, 2009 in , ,
The Compleat McAndrew – Charles Sheffield
Fiction, Science Fiction; ISBN 0-671-57857-X; Baen, New York: 2000.

This is an anthology of hard science fiction (sf) stories. Hard science fiction is defined in Wikipedia as "characterized by an emphasis on scientific or technical detail, or on scientific accuracy, or on both". Charles Sheffield's definition of what isn't hard sf is better: "if you take the science and scientific speculation away from a story, and not do it serious injury, then it was not hard sf to begin with". What I like about this definition are two things - first is the stressing of the importance of the scientific mumbo-jumbo in the story, and second is that it isn't all truly grounded to reality, it may even be all just speculation, but the important thing is that it is believable and consistent to the current scientific knowledge of that time.

The book is a compilation of (mis)adventures of a physicist, Arthur Morton McAndrew and his long-suffering companion, the spaceship captain Jeanie Roker. If that sounds fun, I assure you that it is, unless you're a novice hard sf fan (I'm not even talking about those who aren't sf reader). Even the author (a true-to-life mathematician and physicist) had unapologetically stated in the Appendix that the stories the hardest sf that he had ever wrote. That is what makes the book both appealing and unappealing; people would either like it or hate it - no fence sitting.

I liked the stories but I have to admit that it has flaws. Hard sf books may ground themselves to real science, but they are still work of fictions - hence they still need to appeal to readers. I think Sheffield knows this, which is why his better stories are his later ones (they were written when he had quit his scientific profession and wholeheartedly became a writer); unfortunately, this realization had been a bit too late. I also noticed that he was often deliberately ambiguous and obfuscating, which I did not like, considering there are other sf authors that didn't need to trick the reader to force them to his viewpoint.

Finally, although his scientific grounding may be neat, some of his story development were illogical and a few characterization illogical - perhaps so that his characters will do or be in a more fantastic (hence interesting) position in otherwise boring and mostly procedural stories.

But still, all in all, I did like them, even if they are not representative of the hard sf genre. I give the book 3 out of 5 stars.

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heart, family, food

Posted by Marie on Friday, June 19, 2009 in , , , ,
Slow Food: Philippine Culinary Traditions – Erlinda Enriquez Panlilio & Felice Prudente Sta. Maria (editors)
Non-fiction, Food & culture, Filipiniana; ISBN 971-1594-9; Anvil, Manila: 2005.

The slow food movement was first established in Italy as a reaction to the burgeoning rise of fast foods in the 80s. According to the wikipedia, the movement aims to "preserve the cultural cuisine and the associated food plants and seeds, domestic animals, and farming within an ecoregion." It had spread to the Philippines with the help of the esteemed Doreen G. Fernandez, who had sadly died before the first official Manila Convivium (a sosy term for Slow Food organization's local branch) had been established. The book was written to convey to people the need to preserve our traditional culinary culture and heritage - regional dishes fills one with pride and homesickness, heirloom recipes, no-shortcut cooking, and food prepared from scratch and only with the finest ingredients. The book has three parts: the first part, "No Shortcuts" comprise of essays on heirloom recipes and familial culinary heritages; the second is called "True to Traditions" and is about regional customs and food; finally the third part is "Tastes of Times", about seasonal food and the changing food traditions of the old amidst this new era.

In between a hot cup of fruit-infused tea & a bottle of Bugnay wine

I bought the book (fittingly) in the culturally significant Vigan, in between getting myself a taste of their famous empanadas and rushing to join my group in Cafe Leonora. I've read most of the first part in the back of a van in the last leg of our Ilocos trip - thus making me regret not buying some tinubog or sukang Ilocos. In fact, before this book I was blissfully unaware of the culinary heritage that surrounded me all my life. Now, I like to think of myself as a semi-Bulakena and semi-Manilenya, plus some liberal dash of Bisaya (courtesy of my Cebuano dad and Ilonga mom) in the mix.

My favorite part of the book is the second one. It made me conscious of those that I had been taking for granted - for example, those bite-size puto that I love to buy from the lola in the Karuhatan market before traveling back to Makati is actually known as putong Polo (Polo being the former name of my hometown of Valenzuela). An essay on Ilonggo food made me remember my first trip to Iloilo with my mom - one of my best memories was of batchoy, when she brought me to La Paz market for my first taste of the soup (I can honestly say that I haven't found any batchoy within the Metro that can compare with that bowlful). And my favorite essay is on Pangalay food (hmm, shouldn't this be spelled as "Pang-alay"?), because that is MY family's tradition: to make a kakanin dish or two on All Saint's Day as a pang-alay to our dead relatives. It may be the biko of the essay, it can also be palitaw, kalamay, or this ube-colored malagkit that I can't, for the life of me, remember the name, basta I usually get conscripted to be the stirrer (an unwelcome and boring chore for a kid because of the very thick consistency of the kakanin). The cooking takes up the rest of the day. At around 6 o' clock in the evening, after lighting the first two or three candles in the front porch (when one is spent it will be replaced, up until bed time), extra dishes with the kakanins will be placed in the middle of the dining table for the relatives that will be visiting the living for that special day. Spooky? I didn't think so then, and even 'til now.

The third part isn't really that much of our tradition, considering our family don't bake. But considering our proximity to Bulacan, I love hot chocolates and sapin-sapin. And this part had a recipe for Kalamansi cake, a dessert that I fell in love when I went to Baguio last week.

So anyway, I think I'll give this one a 4 and 1/2. It's a great book; it's just that this edition isn't that great (as with any Anvil newsprint editions), with the very thin newsprint paper and the unwieldy textbook size. I guess they'll be reprinting this one into a better (but pricier) edition soon.

4 and 1/2 out of 5

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Posted by Marie on Wednesday, June 17, 2009 in ,
xkcd is the best webcomic in the whole world wide web.

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food trip

Posted by Marie on Monday, June 15, 2009 in ,
For you books AND food (who isn't both?) lovers out there, here's something to do on June 20:

Here's the link for those who are lazy to write: http://tinyurl.com/mr2hqu.

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