16 June, 2019

Chicken and Waffles
Who the hell puts marjoram and sage into a breakfast cereal? We repeat: A BREAKFAST CEREAL.

Overall Rating: 59
This doesn't deserve to be as interesting as it turns out to be. However intriguing the flavour profile out of the box, the spiciness doesn't compensate for the bitter cynicism of the very concept, to say nothing of its execution.

Image from the confusing Institute collection
This is the second of a pair of joke cereals released by Post earlier this year in "honour" of something called National Cereal Day in the U.S. I'll give the marketing weasels at Post credit for this much: you can actually see a resemblance, in some of these cereal pieces, to their real-world namesakes. Some of the pieces look like cartoon chicken drumsticks; others are rectangles with a sort of waffle pattern in them. Mind you, the weird flaccid flakes we mentioned in last week's review are in this product as well, for no good reason. But at least this joke stays funny for long enough to get the box open.

We feel confident those who test this particular product are going to be drawn to the list of ingredients, because the smell (to say nothing of the taste, which we'll deal with next paragraph) is so astonishing. The hint of savoury (the sensation, not the herb) is strong the instant the bag is opened—a hint that is explained when one realizes that amongst the ingredients are onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper, thyme, and the aforementioned marjoram and sage. Those are not normally considered part of a balanced breakfast.*

Taste and Texture, Dry
The initial taste impact of the chicken-like pieces is horrifying. The herbs are weirdly bitter, making this seem to be the sort of cereal you give to Bad Children. But a curious thing happens after a couple of chews: the spiciness begins to combine with the otherwise-cloying sweetness (that would be your honey, barley malt, corn syrup and cinnamon) in a way that is intriguing if not entirely satisfying for those who are sweet of tooth. There is sufficient black pepper in the spice mix that there is a bite, the merest hint of heat, on the finish. And it's possible to lift a lot of this product from the box without having one's fingers glue themselves together. Just be careful, though: the distance between enough of this stuff out of the box and too much of it is very small indeed.

Taste and Texture, with Milk
Again, this is something that absolutely should not work and yet somehow does. Mind, the window of pleasure for this product is very small indeed, and closes not so much with a bang as with a sodden deliquescent whuffle. But for a few tantalizing seconds a bowl of this product with cow-juice produces a peculiar deliciousness that is, in its own highly artificial way, reminiscent of the mixture of sweet and savoury that one finds in some Moroccan dishes. Sucrophiles are warned, though: don't dawdle through your snack, because when this stuff stops being fun it becomes quite nasty indeed.

Remember the movie Attack of the Killer Tomatoes? The TV series "Sealab 2020"? There is something more than a little nauseating about a consumer product deliberately designed to mimic what others created in earnest. Ineptitude, yes, but earnest, serious ineptitude. Post's recent assault on boomer nostalgia and post-millennial irony is a breakfast equivalent of these cheap jokes. You might find yourself laughing, but the laughter turns bitter all too soon. [June 2019]

*The fact that the author of this piece regularly consumes soup for breakfast, and so is familiar indeed with these spices as a matutinal pleasure, is beside the point here. 

14 June, 2019

High Risk 5.5

Previous    First

[Concluding chapter five]

Casey awoke suddenly, shaking, his ribs aching with an intensity totally unjustified by the extent of his injury. A nightmare, he thought. From the hangar, just a few feet away from his bed-roll, he smelled castor oil, remembered what it was that he was supposed to do later today, and suddenly knew just what it was that his nightmare had been about.

13 June, 2019

High Risk 5.4

Previous    First

[Continuing chapter five]

He spent much more time in downtown Los Angeles and Beverley Hills than he did in Hollywood. Downtown, he window-shopped clothes in the hope that the coming week would give him enough free time to actually buy something decent to wear. He wanted a proper hat, too, something snappier than the old cloth cap that was all he had right now. In Beverley Hills he mostly fantasized about the houses—which was, he supposed, a form of window-shopping too. If he could make a go of it this time, as a stunt flyer—or even a contract player for Monarch, if it came to that—maybe one day he'd be able to afford a house of his own. No more rented rooms; no more cold suppers from a tin by the light of a single bare bulb. How would that feel?

12 June, 2019

High Risk 5.3

Previous    First

[Continuing chapter five]

It took maybe ten minutes, and when she’d finished Casey couldn’t really see much difference. He could feel it, of course: his face seemed wet, sticky, as if he was wearing a too-tight mask. But Susan gave him another appraising look, then nodded. “Good,” she said. She grabbed a hat from the rack by the door, tossed it to him. “Let’s go.”

11 June, 2019

High Risk 5.2

Previous    First

[Continuing chapter five]

“You’re on time,” Straebo said, emerging from the gloom. “Good habit to get into.”

“Good morning,” Casey said. Jerry Straebo looked like several of the inner circles of Hell. His face was puffy, and below each eye was a wrinkled arc of bruised flesh that suggested a deflated tire tube. The director’s eyes had the glittering, unfocused look of someone who’d been forced to use stimulants just to get his heart pumping today. I wonder if Eve Adams caught up with him? Casey thought. Sure looks as if someone did. “I don’t suppose a man could get a cup of coffee,” he said.

10 June, 2019

Tesseracts 22 is Now Available

Well, the ebook version is, anyway. You can order it direct from Edge or, presumably, from the usual suspects.

This volume contains my short story, "If There's a Goal"; I am vastly amused to realize that my very first fiction sale, the story "Rain," was to the second volume of the Tesseracts series, long long ago (and long before they began assigning titles to the volumes).

There's a longer announcement of this milestone on the website of SF Canada.

This is my fifth appearance in a Tesseracts anthology. It's strange; I'd thought I'd placed more than five stories with them. Well, my memory has been playing tricks with me lately: I've just come across a reference to a story, allegedly by me, that I have no memory of writing, much less selling.

High Risk 5.1

Previous    First


Monarch wasn’t the biggest studio Casey had seen in his brief time in Hollywood. But he’d never been closer to any of the others than the street in front of them; as the studio truck pulled up to Monarch’s gate the collection of buildings loomed larger than any place Casey could think of since his first glimpse of the university back home in Toronto. Even if the gate itself was just a simple arch, with none of the grandeur he’d seen, for example, at the entrance to Paramount’s lot. As he passed under the gate, Casey saw paint peeling away from the word “Monarch”, the letters of which were revealed to be nothing more than crudely carved wood.

09 June, 2019

Maple Bacon Donuts
Nope. Nope nope nope.

Overall Rating: 27
This doesn't taste anything like bacon. Fortunately it doesn't taste anything like maple either. Failure to satisfy on the donut aspect goes without saying.

Image from the Institute Collection
(and boy do we regret having it)
Have you ever found yourself having to explain a joke? As you watch your audience's eyes collectively glaze over, you can feel yourself shrinking in stature along with your joke. Somebody should have warned Post that just because something makes people laugh in the elevator you're not supposed to expect to cause a laugh-riot in the boardroom.

This is one of a pair of joke cereals released by Post earlier this year in "honour" of something called National Cereal Day in the U.S. (We'll deal with the other next week.)  The product consists of two different shapes, one at least of which does resemble a donut (or a bagel or an inner tube); these pieces (made mostly of oat, we suspect) are (artificially) coloured to look sort of like the (artificial) colour of a maple-glazed donut (artificial, we repeat). The other piece is a flake of corn and wheat flour and is supposed to represent... what? The crushed, flattened souls of the marketing weasels responsible for this travesty? Well, in a perfect world that's what would happen to them anyway.

Taste and Texture, Dry
The only positive thing to say about these is that your fingers won't get sticky when you pick the pieces out of the box. Okay, we suppose there's one other potential positive: if you're one of those sad boomers who actually like the taste of those horrid molasses-flavoured Halloween toffee pieces, you'll find something in here to cheer you. There's a disclaimer on the back of the box saying no pigs were harmed in the making of this cereal. O how we did laugh... The disclaimer's not necessary, because nothing in the flavour of this product hints at any sort of exposure to porky goodness. We'd been worried the product would smell and taste of artificial smoke; there's none of that here. Not much of anything else either. We never thought we'd ever find ourselves missing the cloying scent and flavour of artificial maple, but would it have been so hard to at least put a hint of that in here? The closest we came to it was a post-testing belch that might have suggested maybe a touch of artificial maple. No trees were harmed in the making of this mess either.

Taste and Texture, with Milk
If it's not worthy of snacking from the box, is it at least going to justify immersion in dairy liquids? Don't be silly, gentle reader. If this product earns points for anything it's for the amazing speed with which the flakes turn into papier-mache goop. Most of what little flavour this ever possessed seems to evaporate when the milk is poured on; not even that  ghastly Halloween flavour bothers to stick around. All that remains by the time the bowl is empty is a somewhat sour taste of complete and utter failure.

It used to be a lot of fun to pick up kiddyrot cereals and assess them with a degree of seriousness totally unbecoming to what they actually were. This product represents the Marketing Department's sly, sardonic acknowledgement of what kiddyrot cereal fans were getting up to. In the process they're pretty much killed the joke.

We are reminded of what Tom Lehrer said in the mid-seventies: political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. [June 2019]