Friday, April 27, 2007

Reading list: Hikaru No Go, Volume 9

One of the reasons for these Reading List posts is so I could work why I’m reading what I am. Like many comic fans, there’s I had a collecting phase, with bags and boards and unopened copies. There’s quite a bit of my collection that was purchased via inertia—and this reviewing process is something of an exercise in determining if I should continue to follow these series.

So one on my list that has had its position grow tenuous in the last few installments is Yumi Hotta and Takeshi Obata’s Hikaru No Go. It’s about Hikaru, a middle schooler who encounter’s the family bloodstained relic go board in the attic. When he does, he encounters Sai, the ghost of a Go master who still seeks the Divine Move. All of which is impetus for Hikaru’s natural talent and interest with Go to emerge, as he chases an early opponent who’s become a pro ahead of him. It’s obviously a collaboration, and Yumi Hotta is the writer, with Obata (best known for his work on Death Note) provides the visuals. Teamed books are common enough elsewhere, but it appears to be a rarity in Japan. And it’s a book for younger readers (<15) size="2">* Iwasaki 7 Dan’s suit is awesome. He’s wearing 70s curtains as a suit. Man, I should get a scanner or something.

** Spider-Man may have come out of the recent Civil War fracas the best because he actually had a character arc that didn’t have a downward trajectory—accepting his identity and unmasking and all that. Batman could do with a revival “now less of a jerk” arc as a corrective to his recent portrayals. Otherwise, because Spider-Man’s personality doesn’t change story to story, they necessarily have to be plot, fun new adventure oriented. Even if they haven’t been fun in a while.

Taiwan Fracas

In response to a comment made in some other post, it's time to return to serious matters. Namely, Taiwan independence again.

Well, no. Really, I just have time to share this website, which lists numerous science badges. I'm pretty sure I qualify for the:
  1. "I left the respectable sciences to pursue humanistic studies of the sciences" badge
  2. "I can be a prick when it comes to science" badge
  3. "sexing up science" badge
  4. "I know what a tadpole is" badge
  5. "somewhat confused as to what scientific field I actually belong to" badge
  6. "statistical linear regression" badge

There may be others, but I have certainly not earned the "have violated the posterior of an animal in the name of science" badge.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Review: Sichuan Overlord

Ha! Its not what you think. No, its not a review of some long forgotten Shaw Brother’s flick. This, my friends, is the premier Sichuanese restaurant of the Flushing Mall area, Queens, NY. Nestled away in a small cluster of businesses on Roosevelt Avenue, this unassuming little eatery serves up some real heat. Clearly aiming for a blue collar clientele, Chuan Ba Wang, “the Sichuan Overlord” could be easily mistaken for a typical American chop-suey joint based on it’s formal English name, the Golden Sichuan. But all jokes are off when you walk in the door. Chinese food connoisseurs will immediately notice signs of true authenticity: an indifferent wait staff focused on the basketball game on in the back of the room, a fish tanks jammed full of large barely-alive fish, and a table full of foolish laowai complaining about the amount of spice in their food.

And the food is really really good. We ordered off the Chinese-language menu and were pleasantly surprised about the choices offered, fish with pickled vegetables, spicy duck, mala fen, and all kinds of fried rice. They even had stinky tofu! Because this is a murder-free family, we strayed away from the animal dishes, but still had plenty of choices. We started with a huge bowl of mala fen and a plate of hupi jianjiao. The mala fen was peppery and intense; it had a nice rich soup, and the rice noodles has a nice gumminess to them The hupi jianjiao peppers were fried (we were hoping for grilled) but had no touch of sweetness. Clearly the chef had no intentions of cultivating a more flavor-neutral American clientele, because the jianjiao were spicy enough to burn your tongue and covered in a mild vinegar. Our main courses consisted of mala moyu, small slices of tofu-like ground firm taro jelly cooked in a numbing and spicy red soup, and our one mild dish, slivers of sponge cucumber cooked with sliced tofu, was the perfect dish to “rest on” when we needed a break from the chilies.

Don’t expect much from the service. They clearly prefer watching Tim Duncan to serving you, and they are not patient with questions, but they can be helpful in steering you to some of the more interesting spots on the menu. This is definitely not a place to go if you want to impress the ladies. But it is a nice spot to show off to your financially limited friends.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Reading list: King City by Brandon Graham

This is the first volume of three by Brandon Graham, who I'm familiar with from Elevator*, a collection of short comics. I was actually pretty excited to pick this one up…which is rare lately. I missed out at first because of long, busy lines, and ended up needing to head into four stores before finding it again weeks later. But the man’s an unabashed fan of comics, and it’s always refreshing to read something where you can tell that through the work itself.

He’s got a lively graffiti-influenced style that gives off its energy without getting cluttered. Graham clearly puts down tries out every idea he comes up with—and not all in this comic, mind you. These are the ideas with legs, one presumes. And like the best outlandish ideas in the better rung of sci-fi out there, being a Catmaster isn’t Joe’s only role and Max is just drug-user (Chalk is great, by the by). Despite the energetic style, what Graham actually excels at seems to be quiet moments...probably not coincidentally the ones readers might relate to, as opposed to how you talk to your weapon cat. Unless you have a weapon cat. “Fun” as a tone seems to come first, but comedy and a little bit of something else comes out too, and without quite the attendant melodrama that tone switches bring in similarly marketed manga.**

I’m not sure the style is suitable for everything (the Cthulu-esque terror looks a bit bouncier than swollen), nothing slumps enough for every mood to be pulled off equally well, if that makes sense. And not all the crazy notions carry equal weight either, the sasquatch really seems to be there to be a sasquatch. So the wonder of it is, will the setting cohere into something more repository of Brandon Graham's ideas? As long as the characters continue to grow inside it, I can wait and see.

* I’d like a Sumo Hero to cameo…
** Still, the fact that manga ever switches moods is more interesting to me right now than a lot of other work.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Reading list: premise.

I’m going to start listing what I’m reading. Presumably, I’ll cover the why’s and wherefores it’s worth reading, and why I’m continuing (when it’s a series). Neither fish nor fowl, I don’t think any of it will be good enough to be analysis, or clear enough to be reviews, but maybe it’ll evolve into something. I’m going to start with manga (even if I wouldn’t call the first one a manga myself).* Alright, from the bottom, starting tomorrow: King City.

* I’ll venture my option to say that manga needs certain stylistic twitches, which entry number one has some of, but not enough of. Book trade format should be insufficient reason to do it the way I’m doing it, but why not start with confusion?

Alternate takes: The Prestige

I don't know how to make a jump on blogger, and am too lazy to find out. So here's how I would've finished the movie, written in invisible ink. Mix lemon juice to make it magically appear:

Cutter stops and waits outside the theater after delivering the Tesla machine to Angiers. Watches silently, glaring as Borden (Alfred? The one who loved Sarah?) goes in and has his scene with Angiers. Setting the fire he walks out, and Cutter is still outside, waiting for him and shoots him. Drags his body inside.The little girl inherits all, and the two/three obsessives meet like ends, symmetry in the narrative.

As it is, the movie gives a tacit nod to Borden who is at least complicit in a sadistic sort of lifestyle, even if it didn't involve Danton's ritualized nightly murder-suicides.

Alternatively, Cutter at least glares at him when handing the girl over. She can have a father (uncle really), but it's grudging.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

If we stick with magic, we stick with chamberpots.

I just finished Avatar: The Last Airbender (Wii flavor, of course). It was a pretty easy game, even for my limited gaming skills. Probably too easy--basically accessible and beatable for as many age groups that might pick it up. The story was pretty good, obviously fitting in the series storyline, with plenty of "Oh I know that guy" and "Those gawd-darn-hog-monkey" moments, plus all the same cast and voices, and the cell-shading looks pretty good (it's a good way to overcome tech limitations and imo overcome uncanny valley issues the naturalistic route of animation causes).

Anyway, the villain of the story creates these (pollution spewing) machines to fight the Fire Nation (the big bad of the series), but get people hurt, which is what you end up needing putting a stop to. Tech gone to far and overreaching and all that. Now, the Fire people are already the industrialists of this fantasy world, but despite industry = bad notion being a peeve of mine, I'm alright with it, because I think the series left enough wiggle room to consider the villains not the only possible representatives of these modes of thought. Game, not so much. By the end it was Stars Wars at the end. The villain, who represents the "thinkers" (their word, not mine), basically gives a rant and promises to kill everyone of the old regime. Why always the idyllic, live with magic balance of nature business foofaraa? Why always a genetic aristocracy? Or aristocracy in general?*

I'm not saying I want the equally inexplicable science/progress oriented utopia that is Star Trek, but why is the norm in fantasy always robber barons? Samurai 7 basically had mecha beaten by swords. Mind you, they trained the villagers to arm themselves with giant ballista, but that's still crossbows vs. tanks, and that only works in Civilization. Lord of the Rings had the righteous elves fleeing miscegenation, and the Incredibles had the self-made man as the villain. It's not like the guy was Dr. Frankenstein...oh wait he was. Heh.

This whole post is startlingly unfocused, but I'd really like to end it. So I'd like to know, urban landscapes in fiction manage capture some sort of complexity of it, why does it seem that pastorals are always nostalgic? Is that just how we write now?** I imagine those magical societies might invent indoor plumbing with a little more faith in industry, myself.

* Maybe China Mieville, with a dash of Marxism to go with the populism in fantasy. Just can't shake the Homeric mode, can we?
** How about, set in medieval times, MacGyver and the A-Team beat robbers and build windmills for peasants?

Saturday, April 14, 2007

filler: meme

While I'm pleased not to be the Doctor, or god forbid that plot device Book, this isn't much of a match. But it is a decent filler post.

Your results: You are Kaylee Frye (Ship Mechanic)

Kaylee Frye (Ship Mechanic


Dr. Simon Tam (Ship Medic)


Malcolm Reynolds (Captain)


Derrial Book (Shepherd)


Zoe Washburne (Second-in-command)


River (Stowaway)




Inara Serra (Companion)


Wash (Ship Pilot)


Jayne Cobb (Mercenary)


A Reaver (Cannibal)


You are good at fixing things.
You are usually cheerful.
You appreciate being treated
with delicacy and specialness.

Click here to take the "Which Serenity character are you?" quiz...

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Hot and Sour Black Beans

One of the problems with eating out in the United States, even in such culturally diverse areas New York, is that Middle American culinary sensibilities infect almost everything that comes out of a kitchen. What does that mean for you and me? It means that when you are served fermented black bean sauce in a “Chinese” restaurant, it tastes sweet; it means that the spaghetti you order in an Italian restaurant comes covered with canned sauce; it means that you have to cut raw jalapeno peppers into your “hot” salsa to make it spicy. Yuck.

Well, for those of us who cannot handle the gastronomic mediocrity out on the street, here’s a little something to tide you over at home. It’s been a few years since I’ve been given full reign over a western kitchen, and I am slowly, ever so slowly, rounding my western cooking skills back into shape. I discovered this recipe a few days ago when I was fooling around in the kitchen and was pleased with the result. The flavor is sour and pungent, with just enough spice to keep you awake.

Cooking time: under 20 minutes

You will need:

-12 oz cooked or canned black beans sitting in little bit of the cooking water.
-Two ripe tomatillos. If you can’t handle the pungent flavor of the tomatillos, substitute one of the tomatillos with a tomato.
-one small or medium white onion
-two cloves of garlic
-two to four jalapenos
-two tablespoons of cilantro or parsley
-cooking oil
-salt and pepper to taste.

Here’s what you need to do:

Dice the onions and jalapenos and mix them together on your cutting board. Finely chop the tomatillos, set them in a bowl, and mush them with a spoon. Heat up a dollop of oil (corn oil works for me) in a deep saucepan or wok over medium-high heat, and throw in your onion and jalapeno. You’ll need to stir your onions to keep them from burning, though I suggest letting them blacken a little bit on one side for a more rustic and smokey flavor. When you do this, you probably want to turn on the fan over your stove or you might risk choking yourself on the onion and chili smoke. Let this, your base, cook down until the onions begin turning translucent and then throw in your chopped tomatillos. Keep an eye on the tomatillos. You should see them begin to shed water, but not as much as a tomato. If your tomatillos seem a little bit too dry, add a few spoonfuls of water to the pan and stir. After the tomatillos have been cooking for a minute or so, stir in the garlic and let the tomatillos reduce for another minute. Now it’s bean time. Dump in your 12 ounces of beans and cooking liquid and stir the mixture well. When the beans begin to bubble, turn off the stove, spoon in your cilantro or parsley, add a couple pinches of salt and pepper, and fold the mixture once or twice.

Guess what. You’re Done! Enjoy your pungent black beans with warm blue corn tortillas and Columbian farmer’s cheese. Feel free to garnish with more cilantro, some shredded lettuce, and a little bit of lime.

There! A little bit of fluff to tide our blog over.