Thursday, August 27, 2009

Try this recipe for a Brazilian Avocado Shake

A Brazilian friend of mine introduced me to the idea of the avocado milkshake, which is a great summertime food in his country.

Blend at high speed the following ingredients:

  • 1 Avocado
  • Milk, 3 cups
  • Ice, 1 cup
  • Sugar or Sweetener, 6 tsp.

If you'd like to kick it up a notch, just melt some semisweet chocolate and dilute it slightly with milk, and then drizzle it on top!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Robert Novak dies; Simon Belmont and Abraham van Helsing wanted for questioning

Robert Novak died today, which I refuse to believe until I see the stake through his heart.

The Dick Cheney of the pundit class, as we know, played a big role in the outing of Valerie Plame, the sleaziest hit operation of the sleazy Bush years. Further, Novakula debased the role of political commentary for liberal and conservative alike with his insider status and beltway chumminess, and played a large role in the transformation of the political journalist into employee of political parties.

Boy, I hate looking at Novakula's mug. The best way to get it out of your head, you ask? Why, yes, I do happen to have some pictures of international vixen Melissa Ford on hand for this very purpose!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Julian Perez Goes to the Movies: District 9

The entire audience I saw District 9 with removed our jaws from the floor. What an extraordinary, thoughtful science fiction picture. I would say it's the best science fiction film since Blade Runner.

The thing that is so extraordinary about District 9 is that it is not predictable, and you can't predict where it is going, and your feelings about characters change from moment to moment.

Take for instance, the introduction, where we hear about the arrival of the "prawn" aliens to Johannesburg. The aliens are physically revolting, malnourished, believed to carry disease. They are (with respect to Victor Hugo) Les Miserables. There's a point at which pity transforms into disgust, particularly when we see the aliens start riots in JHB, eat cat food (a delicacy to them), and root through peoples' trash. I started to be as physically revolted as the people of Johannesburg, who want the aliens far, far from them. I started to mentally imagine what it would be like if one of these prawn creatures moved next door to me, and I will say, I was revolted.

People are tired of the proximity of District 9, the walled off alien slum, and it's easy to understand helps at a visceral level, these things are just plain gross: they are deliberately designed to be distasteful to be around, a combination of an insect and a shrimp. The movie does a good enough job that despite our liberal, humanitarian instincts we see pictures like the above picture with suspicion and as near laughable examples of useless idealism that doesn't solve real problems. I suppose that must be how racists and reactionaries see "multicultural" and "can't we just get along" types...a very disturbing comparison the movie doesn't let us forget.

We are then introduced to our hero, a white South African that works with the mercenary and arms dealing corporation (MNU) that is working to evict the aliens from JHB into another slum, District 10, 200 miles away. Van de Merve is an over-eager, perky and loathesome desk jobber you instantly hate: he got his job because he's married to the boss's daughter. While we have no love for the prawns at this point, he comes off as infuriating and patronizing, "talking down" to the aliens, and exploitatively getting them to sign the Eviction notices that would make MNU's mercenary transplantation to District 10 "legal."

I should mention at this point that this review has some spoilers, but it's necessary to do so for descriptive purposes that others can understand exactly why I was so impressed with this movie.

We also learn that part of the reason that the MNU has such an interest in District 9 is because of the alien weaponry, which they want to exploit as it is both high-tech and unusable to humans. Apparently the reason that the aliens don't often use the weapons to protect themselves is because (and this is barely touched on but important) it is speculated the majority of the aliens are members of a "worker-class" that are lost without a leadership, which may explain their malaise. While raiding the slum den of a particularly intelligent-looking mantis (named by the humans "Christopher Johnson") and his young son, van de Merve is exposed to a strange alien liquid which Christopher Johnson had been collecting for over 20 years in the trash and landfills that make up the area.

Van de Merwe starts to transform into a prawn, and because of his transformation it is noted he can use alien weaponry. Being the truly greedy corporation that they are, the MNU immediately sets to work on killing van de Merwe, who is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Van de Merwe escapes, and hides in District 9.

All the while, you're thinking, "ha ha, van de Merwe, you sure got yours, didn't you? Somehow the fact you're 'punished' like this is poetic justice."

That feeling instantly changes when the friendless van de Merwe, rejected by his wife, comes to District 9 and hides in a slum shack with a rotting cardboard box as a cover. Suddenly your feelings turn from distaste to pity, and this is not the last time the movie makes us change our mind about characters. There's more to come, of course.

Van de Merwe hides out in the very shack of Christopher Johnson, who immediately understands why the human is changing: he was exposed to the chemical, which Christopher needs to return his race home.

What was effective about this film was how utterly it reverses our earlier view of the "prawns" as monsters with the character of Christopher Johnson. Sensitive, intellectual, and with a young son that wants to go home, he emerges as the most sympathetic character in the film. It was amazing to see this happen, because instead of the Prawns being monsters, surprise! They're people like us, with a family.

One of the great dangers of adventure movies is, it's possible to fixate so totally on action and adventure stunts, that you forget that part of what makes them work is not the hero being in peril, but the fact that we like the hero so much that we actually care whether or not he lives or dies. It is this sense of something being at stake that makes our hero's peril truly alarming and involving.

My blog's regular reader and commenter, David Morefield, once did a routine on why Errol Flynn's movies were so fantastic, and as evidence, he points to his dramatic fight sequences, skillfully done by a great athlete and choreographer. Now, I do agree that Flynn's fight in the Sea Hawk is dramatic, but all the great choreography and fencing skill in the world won't matter if we don't actually care enough about the hero that we feel there's something at stake if he loses.

In Errol Flynn's defense, he usually played his characters with enough likeability and his great personal charisma and style that we did indeed care what happened to his character. But that's the trouble with a lot of action-adventure movies: so much is focused on delivering great exciting stunt pieces and fight scenes that it is sometimes easy to confuse their entertaining flash and style with what really makes them exciting: the sensation of experiencing real emotions when the hero is in peril and the relief of knowing whether he will survive.

Despite the fact Raiders of the Lost Ark had the most exciting scenes ever captured on film, none of it would have mattered if we didn't have an emotional investment in the likeable and unique character of Dr. Henry Jones, Jr., because otherwise we'd just be looking at the pictures instead of involved.

What makes District 9 extraordinary is, it isn't an escapist film, so there isn't the guarantee that our characters will survive or that there will even be a happy ending, which heightened every emotion. This is what, at times, makes "dark" movies so much more emotionally challenging in a way "light, escapist" movies aren't: because the outcome is necessarily in doubt, we the reader are that much more involved in seeing our hero win. When I started watching District 9, I had a feeling that it was the sort of movie that wouldn't have a happy ending, so for that reason I was very anxious and totally interested.

I am a big fan of adventure stories, superhero comics, and yes, even dramatic battle sequences, which sounds very much at odds with my insistence on believeable characters, realism, and the necessity of a sense of peril. But I don't see it that way at all. If anything, it is even more important for genre action and adventure films to do this. People throw around talk of "believeable" characters all the time but often forget why it is so important to have them: if we don't like them and believe in them, we don't care what happens, and consequently the movie is less engrossing.

I apologize for going on that tangent, but I think it was a spectacular element of District 9: we actually cared about the characters and there was a very real sense of peril. The story gave us stakes, and made us emotionally invested. I cared about what happened to Christopher Johnson, and when it looked like he might die (a real possibility at many points) I was literally at the edge of my seat cheering he'd make it through, and when I say "cheering" I mean it quite literally...and I wasn't alone.

First, we see Christopher Johnson's son looking at a globe of their home planet, and wondering wistfully what it must be like there. The little guy is cute, and we like him right away: when he sees van der Merve and his alien arm, he sets it side by side with his own and says, "we're the same!" When the chemical is taken and it looks like the aliens won't go home, the Dad is crushed to tell his son they won't see their home planet again, and rather, they point to one tent in the District 10 brochure and say, "if we're lucky, that one may be ours."

Your heart breaks. Suddenly the matter of getting the aliens off the earth becomes a matter of real desperation.

The goals of the heroes converge, as on the ship, Christopher Johnson can make van de Werke fully human again, so he can see his wife. Stealing some alien weapons, the pair go after the chemical.

Now, this is one thing I love about this movie: despite the fact it has an action sequence, there's a reason the action scene takes place and we the reader care about the outcome. That's a problem with a lot of movies that gratuitously use action scenes. I never understood why the chase scene with the Bat-Tank wasn't cut from Batman Begins, since all Batman needed to do was to have some antidote on his person to give to Rachel; the whole scene was gratuitous. Likewise, in the 2008 Hulk, it was never entirely clear to me exactly why the Hulk and the Abomination were exactly fighting about. This is what I mean when I say there is no distinction between being a fan of adventure and action and insisting on traditional storytelling values like characterization. In this film, we know exactly why Christopher Johnson and van der Merve are attacking MNU research offices.

As soon as the two return to District 9, they are immediately hunted by MNU's mercenaries. Suddenly our feeling changes on the human characters. The MNU becomes villainous, but an entirely human kind of villainy: they're dirty, ruthless men of the kind entirely believably capable of violence, who enjoy their jobs "killing prawns" sadistically, and who in general are greedy brutes capable of violence. Likewise, we also learn that Nigerian gangsters are also in District 9, brutally exploiting the prawns. They are evil in all-too-human and tragic way: the superstitious belief that if they eat prawn body parts they get their spirit inside them and get their powers. You really, really get involved in the film and boo and hiss the baddies. You feel like shouting at the Nigerian gangster, "you stupid, stupid superstitious brute, it doesn't work that way! Nothing will happen if you eat van der Merwe's body!"

This was another part of the film I liked: the way it makes humans into the heavies for tragically all-too-human reasons: greed, bloodlust and superstition. I really, really dislike movies featuring alien invasions, because they're all about our fear of the Other, or People Not Like Us. It at times frustrating to find people that dislike things like pure politics in their escapism, as in "I don't think we should trouble ourselves about seeing political and other issues in movies, I go to them for escapism."

This attitude frustrates me because, like I've said before, built in assumptions and attitudes ("politics") are a part of fiction, even escapist fiction, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. Like I said, alien invasion films, even escapist ones, are based on an anxiety that I don't think come from admirable instincts.

What's even more extraordinary is, District 9 first presented the prawns to us as disgusting bottom-feeders, and then so totally reverses our expectations and gets us to root for them over the human race. If the aliens had been presented as likeable first (and perhaps something cute or cuddly), it wouldn't have been as thoughtful a film and invite us to challenge our assumptions.

When van de Merwe learns that Christopher Johnson can't come back for three years to cure him after he activates the ship, the naturally panics and steals the ship's command module, all with Christopher's son inside. Van de Merwe lies to his son, and tells him his father will soon be coming while he takes the ship. This was an interesting reversal, because we had just gotten accustomed to liking the previously jerky van de Merwe. When he steals the command ship, Christopher Johnson is captured by mercenaries, and van der Merwe gets the command ship - the very thing necessary to the aliens to return home, is shot down by his actions. It is quite literally the darkest part of the film.

If I could digress from the summary one final time, I find it interesting, very interesting, that the alien technology, while advanced, is still vulnerable to human weaponry. The command ship is downed by artillery, for instance, which makes us very anxious.

(On a related note, I find it a great tribute to reality that in a floating city, there is ground-to-air artillery and even attack aircraft. If there wasn't, it would reaaaaally strain disbelief.)

Finally, in the darkest moment, when Christopher is about to die, van de Merwe runs away from the dangerous mercenaries with gunfire. This is a totally realistic thing to do for a pencil-pusher desk jockey like van de Merwe. But to everyone's surprise, he returns to save Christopher and his son, along with the aliens' dream to return home.

This was really the high point of the film, because up until then, while we didn't dislike van de Merwe after we were filled with pity for him, nonetheless he was driven by entirely sympathetic but ultimately selfish motives, the desire to become human and see his wife again, and nonetheless had trouble acknowledging the prawn as "human." When he goes back, we see the character as totally different: someone that changed from the start of the story to the end, and ultimately became a "bigger" person. It was very impressive.

I won't say how the film ends, but the thing I liked about the ending was that it had a degree of ambiguity. In fact, the ambiguity is a little maddening for the same reason feelings of suspense or mystery are maddening. I stayed in my chair like my booty had superglue and watched the credits hoping for more.

Like I said, District 9 is one of the best science fiction movies of the past thirty years. I'd even put it in company of movies like Blade Runner. Perhaps the best advocacy I can give for this movie is that, here I am at home after catching a showing with some friends, and not only did we talk about the movie all the way back home, here I am at four in the morning on a Friday night, polishing off a blog entry about it the very night I saw it.

I know how silly it can be to try to give yourself a catch phrase, but I'd like to close this movie review, and all my future reviews, with a statement that I think is not only apt for this particular movie but summarizes my feelings toward all stories, novels, comics and the like, especially in the when we're encouraged to 'enjoy' something as "mindless fun:"

Never, ever, ever turn your brain off.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Julian Perez Conquers the Kitchen

I wanted to write a few of my thoughts on cooking a while back, and it occurred to me that I really didn't have much in the way of concrete recipes, but more like a list of a few essential things to keep around the kitchen for sudden improvisation. The one thing I always loved about Italian food was the sense of spontaneity.

That's one thing that always bugged me about the introduction most people have to Italian cooking, the books by Marcella Hazan. Hazan is to Italian food what Julia Child is French cooking, and everyone's read her Marcella's Italian Kitchen. The thing with Marcella is, she brings the kind of precision of French cooking over to Italian. Not that I have anything bad to say about French cooking, but rather, there's a certain kind of exactness about her work that bugs me.

Let me give you an example: she has a recipe for risotto which involves a very specific vintage of Italian wine. Marcella wrote the following statement: "You can use an inferior wine, of course, and you might create a great risotto. It will not, however, be this risotto."

See what I mean? Now, thank goodness for me I live in a larger city, so I was able to find the vintage just fine. The wine she gave as totally necessary for this recipe cost well over $50 per bottle. I couldn't believe it. Now, I've had some recipes that call for pretty specific liquors in my wonderful recipe for leg of lamb requires a basting in dried fruit, mint leaves, pomegranite juice and an Iraqi liquor named Arak, which I finally found after going to six Asian groceries...but shelling out fifty bucks for a wine? Now that's just crazy.

Also, Marcella Hazan popularized balsamic vinegar in the United States, to which I owe her a hearty 'fuck you' as it is now the single most overused condiment ever.

Salads, though, are the ultimate improvisational food. It's really hard to mess it up, and it encourages you to keep fresh veggies around.

A few things to always have with you if you're a salad lover:

  • Dark Greens. I'm talking about arugula, romaine, and (especially) spinach. The darker the green, the better it is for you and the less chance it has of being invisible a taste in the salad. Let me tell you a dark greens story: I remember being in the cafeteria at the New York Museum of Natural History, when another goofy tourist that I rightly sized up as being either an Iowegian or Ohiowegian, asked them to take back the arugula and romaine salad because the greens had "gone dark and wilty."
  • Dried Cranberries. I've found them to be much, much better than raisins for that sweet touch.
  • Shredded butter-nut squash. Yes, it's not just for soup anymore. I've found it is actually a lot better than the usual carrot slices.
Never buy store bought salad dressings if you don't have to. For one thing, it's much easier to make your own. Asian or Thai peanut restaurant sauce is basically three parts peanut butter, one part soy sauce, one part tap water and one part lemon juice.

Here's a special recipe of mine for a special kind of Tofu, Blue Cheese and Walnut Salad:

4 cups spinach greens
1 cup cilantro tofu
1 cup white mushrooms
1/2 cup sliced cucumbers
1/2 cup butternut squash, diced
1/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup of blue cheese, crumbled

Try a raspberry vinaigrette for salad dressing, or a combination lemon juice and (Marcella's favorite), balsamic vinegar, a mixture weighted toward the lemon juice.

On a different tack, here's a recipe for a healthy, low-fat one-person wheat and yogurt dessert salad.

1 Banana, sliced thinly
3 tbsp wheat germ
1 tbsp walnuts, crushed
1 cup plain lowfat Kefir

(Kefir is a type of Middle Eastern sour yogurt drink. It's become quite trendy these days, so you can probably get it in any supermarket.)

Toss the sliced banana, wheat germ and walnuts together on a bowl, then pour the kefir. Stir it until the wheat germ and the fruit are mixed.

Monday, August 10, 2009

L. Sprague de Camp's Viagens Interplanetarias, the Krishna Stories

"Tarzan" was nothing short of an extraordinary creation. No wonder he was so popular: he went down a feral path that made him different from the rest of the human race. A lot of effort was spent by Burroughs getting us into Tarzan's inner life, his attitudes and prejudices to mankind, animals, religion. When I was a kid, I ate and drank Tarzan; his stories were pure romance and adventure, with hordes of Arabs, spy saboteurs, Tarzan hunting beside beasts, and images like Tarzan smoking cigarettes and drinking absinthe while going to art galleries in Paris, just before tossing aside his fancy duds to swing on a streetlamp to escape police.

John Carter of Mars, on the other hand, was a dud; a boring 11th-level Fighter with a nonexistent personality besides alpha male valor, an irritating Gary Stu. It's no wonder Tarzan went on to fame and fortune as a pop culture icon, whereas the duller J.C. is far less famous.

It wasn't just that John Carter was a total bore, but that his world of Barsoom was downright insane. Guns were available, but everyone fights gallant duels with cutlasses and sabers. There were a few occasions where it was just a little too "Duck Dodgers in the 24th and a half Century" to possibly be taken seriously: for instance, the idea that to avoid intrusion, at night houses on Mars have giant columns that raise their homes up hundreds of feet into the air (!) and how the mass transit system of Martian cities were based on shooting people out of giant guns (!). There was even one scene where, God help me, I couldn't stop laughing at the mental image: in Warlord of Mars there's a tower that turns into a giant magnet, which despite the best efforts of Burroughs's baroque prose sounds like nothing quite so much as a gigantic free-standing dildo. The giant tower magnet, when turned on sweeps a whole fleet from the air, all the battleships stuck to the surface like fridge magnets!

As a Heinlein-loving kid (Heinlein being a guy that, like all good science fiction writers, realized suspension of disbelief had to be earned and so he concerned himself with science and plausibility), I always had a feeling there was something screwy about John Carter's world and physics. For instance, his improbable hundred-foot leaps into the air "under Martian gravity." This is the kind of misunderstanding that happens when you barely hear an idea, like how when you were a kid, you heard that you would only weigh 1/5th your current weight on the Moon, and you actually thought you would lose weight! Not to mention the absence of armor from Martial society; even Stone Age people use coconut husks and tortoise shells for shields! And finally, most implausibly of all, John Carter had a baby (an egg!) with his Martian wife. Ask any genetic scientist and they'll tell you it's easier to cross a human with a geranium than an extraterrestrial.

So, along comes one of the most talented writers of science fiction's Golden Age, L. Sprague de Camp, with the determination to do a "Sword & Planet" story, but to "get it right," without technological or biological absurdities, a world that is every bit as exciting as Barsoom but which actually makes sense. And lo, the Krishna stories were created! While reading the Hostage of Zir, I have to say I was delighted for nearly every moment.

Krishna is a planet with technology in the Middle Ages range, whose primary inhabitants are antennaed green-skinned humanoids. Because of the dangers of exposing a warlike, primitive planet high technology, explorers and other human visitors are limited to the local weaponry, bows and armor and sailing ships. It's interesting to note that FTL travel is impossible in the universe of Krishna; it takes eleven years (in "real time, " though not relativistically) to jaunt to the planet and back, although because of the increase in the human lifespan that isn't a catastrophic absence. I always thought this was a great touch of realism; in many ways the freewheeling ability to zip through the cosmos in a lot of space opera really makes you forget how huge and overwhelming space actually is.

My all-time favorite of the Krishna stories is the Hand of Zei. In it, Dirk Barnavelt, a ghost writer ruled over tyrannically by his aged mother, is sent by the publishing company to find the actual explorer their works are based on, who disappeared on the low-tech world of Krishna while searching for a group of pirates that smuggle janru, a narcotic that makes men subservient to women.

What's especially interesting is that the planet Krishna has actually changed as a result of contact with human beings. At dive bars on Krishna, the singer was heard performing earth songs like "Jingle Bells" and the latest pop hits. Worse, one of the more popular games on Krishna is Chinese Checkers, although the natives call it "Chanichekr" or "Chanichekash."

To reach the legendary Sunqar, a floating island made entirely of giant mats of seaweed like the Sargasso, Dirk Barnavelt traveled in disguise as a legendary to Qirib, a country ruled by amazon warriors, with a horrible old virago of a queen that reminds Dirk of his domineering mother. In one memorable scene, he rides the mass-transit rail system linking cities and countries, which instead of locomotives, on the low-tech world are instead pulled by gigantic bishtars, two-trunked alien elephants.

The Princess Zei of Qirib is captured by the pirates, which means Dirk has to rescue her whether he likes it or not. I love the Princess Zei. She has a big nose, talks with her mouth full, and gets off on men telling her what to do, and yet somehow she is far more fascinating and loveable than the flawless and boring Dejah Thoris.

Dirk Barnavelt leads a ship into the Sunqar, a pirate realm nearly the size of a kingdom who live on a floating island of giant ship choking seaweed mats. Someone call Doc Savage, that's the plot of the Sargasso Ogre! What's interesting is that as an American raised with ideas of equality, he has real moral problems with being the kind of brutal, authoritarian disciplinarian sort of sea captain that is required in that kind of society in order to maintain order. In addition to possible mutiny, he has to face a gvam, a hideous sea monster that is a cross between a swordfish and an octopus.

When he arrives at the Sunqar, Barnavelt finds the leader of the pirates is an alien from the planet Osiris, a giant velociraptor like creature with mental hypnotic powers, who far from being a sinister mentalist, is portrayed as a nervous, high strung hypochondriac. Dirk is able to rescue the Princess, only to find his ship beached in an escape attempt against a haunted island. The origin of the haunted stories are revealed to be brutish tailed men, who are related to Krishnans the same way Neanderthals are related to Homo sapiens.

(This is another thing I like about the Krishna books: L. Sprague de Camp's broad knowledge of everything, including paleontology. Krishna, unlike other Sword & Planet worlds, had a definite prehistory. Indeed, Krishnans themselves have a taxonomic category: Krishanthropus Sapiens, and the tailed men are Krishanthropus koloftus. There is even a Linnean explanation for why some creatures on the planet have six limbs and others four, as both families left the sea at different times.)

What I find most interesting about the burgeoning relationship between Dirk Barnavelt and the Princess Zei is, the problems that keep them from being together are real problems. One of the more irritating thing about Burroughs females, especially that useless pain in the ass Jane, is their tendency to do things that are illogical and wildly out of character for no other reason than to create the requisite conflict for the story. By contrast, in Zei's amazonian country, the husband of the queen rules for a year and then is ritually cooked and eaten. This could have just been another little side-gag to emphasize this planet's barbaric exoticism, along with the Krishnan love of attending public executions, but it is actually a major obstacle to their relationship. In fact, when the two are stuck in the Sunqar without food and are starting to starve, Dirk looks at his Princess and starts to shudder. When the two are necking, Dirk laughs and asks her if she's trying to get a little taste of him first.

In the end, Dirk returns with Zei a hero and leads a gigantic fleet against the Sunqar pirates, all of which will wear skis so they can run over the terpahla seaweed. Krishnan warfare is a beautiful thing: reconnaissance is done with hang-gliders given temporary boosts by explosive chemicals, who land on a flat-topped ship rather like a modern-day aircraft carrier with a rubber band like device for launching the gliders.

Dirk leads the army of amazons and gliders to victory, causing the pirates to honorably surrender. But when the virago Queen Alvandi, the mother of Zei who only wanted to go after the pirates as they cut into her percentage decides to maroon them, Dirk switches sides and teams up with the pirates. He thereafter discovers that his lovely Princess Zei is - surprise! Also an earthling in disguise, captured by the Queen Alvandi from slavers in disguise. The Princess knew Dirk was an earthman all along too. How? He had a belly button! As the people of Krishna lay eggs, nobody on Krishna has a navel.

Dirk Barnavelt in the end leads the pirates against the Qirib monarchy and restores equal rights for men. By standing up to Queen Alvandi, it's like he's stood up to his own mother too and declared his personal emancipation. Shortly thereafter he takes Zei, and forms a company in the Sunqar dedicated to soap production.

There's even a little sarcastic aside where Dirk Barnavelt's buddy, Tangaloa, a grossly overweight, tail-chasing Polynesian Anthropologist, warns him about the dangers of his Warlord of Mars dreams, which might as well be a chastising tut-tut to fans of all Sword & Planet stories:
"Ahem, Dirk, you know these earthly adventurers who run around backward planets exploiting the natives tend to be inferior types that can't compete with their own kind back home. They take advantage of earth's more sophisticated culture, which they themselves do nothing to create... " "Oh, foof! I've heard that lecture too. Call me an inferior if you like, but here I'm quite a guy. npt a shy schizoid Oedipean afraid of his Ma."

My summary above doesn't quite get across the marvelous sense of humor the stories have. I wouldn't be comfortable calling them parodies, the way some other analysts have, because they are first and foremost very boyish, fun adventure stories. But they do reverse expectations in a very amusing and wonderful way, and set about breaking the formula of the Burroughs narrative. The alien leader of the pirates that rules over them with mind control powers is a nervous, easily excitable velociraptor hypochondriac.

One of my favorite parts was when, as Barnavelt returns from the land of the tailed beast-men, his anthropologist friend chastises him for the destruction he wrought on a society anthropologists would like to study. Barnavelt rightly points out they were cannibals about to eat him. Tangaloa says that many Polynesian tribes in the South Pacific only became "savage to outsiders" because they were preyed on by slavers. This is an interesting observation since many tailed Krishnans were in fact, seen in the book series as slaves!

That's what I like about L. Sprague de Camp. Any other writer would have just stuck in some savage cannibals because that's what the story needs. He thought through exactly why these guys are such jerks, what would lead them to be this way historically. That's why Krishna fascinates me: this is obviously written by someone that is a world traveller, that has undergone the experience of going to a bar in Asia and then hearing the latest Top 40 song on the intercom, who knows what they're talking about when it comes to weapons and antique sailing ships.

The chapter where Dirk Barnavelt reconfigures his sails is so full of antique sailing terms that it is nearly incomprehensible jargon. Still, you can't help but be impressed, just as you would be with Tom Clancy's rapid-fire use of military acronyms and terms, because it shows this guy knows what he's talking about and has clearly thought it through.

I can't mention the Hand of Zei without mentioning how the interior illustrations are done by master pulp illustrator Edd Cartier, who also did most of the art for the original Street & Smith Shadow magazine. I tried looking for some Edd Cartier Krishna art, but none of it was online, so I scanned some from my copy and put them up here.

Man, mentioning Edd Cartier's name has got to at least double my google hits. So, here goes: Edd Cartier. Edd Cartier. EDD CARTIER.

The other Krishna stories are hilarious, full of eccentric, weird kings with unusual hobbies like clockwork toys. One of the best was the king of Kalwm in The Prisoner of Zhamanak.

In it, a big black Nigerian named Percy Mijpa hears of an earth girl xenologist held prisoner by a Krishnan. Despite being a black African, he looks down on Krishnans like a Victorian Englishman does on "the natives," and vows to rescue Alicia Dykman.

In one of the best scenes of the book, Percy and Alicia are captured by the ruler of Kalwm like zoo animals, wondering if the Caucasian and African races on earth can interbreed together. He even has their clothes removed as they're placed in the cage. This is made all the funnier by Percy's natural uptightness and attitude of devout monogamy to his fat, jolly little wife that he left back at the spaceport. Obviously the sheer awkwardness of this scene makes it to nearly every single cover of every single edition I've seen.

All in all, the Krishna works are science fiction classics and worth reading. In the words of Reading Rainbow's Levar Burton: "You don't have to take my word for it...but I'd be pretty pissed if you didn't."

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Julian's SECRET Kenyan Birth Certificate Found!

Revealing Julian as the evil Muslim plant we all know he is, the birth certificate gives his full name as "Julian Hussein Jihad Whiteykill Mr. T Perez."

Why, it would be irresponsible NOT to speculate!