30 December, 2018


WWF* Superstars Cereal


Overall Rating: 24
Mushy-mouthed milksops might be satisfied with this sissy concoction, but no real macho meatface would willingly be associated with it.


Image from the Institute
Collection
Appearance
Depressingly literal. When you think of all the fun shapes a cereal devoted to wrestling could generate (folding chairs! Lucha masks!), it’s sad to see this product settle for something as dull and predictable as oat-flour stars. With holes in the centres. (We leave the symbolism for that to the reader.) The colour is a washed-out version of the unearthly yellow noted in other Ralston Purina (meow!) cereals, except that here there are no mysterious, dangerous sugar crystals to enliven the proceedings. We know that pro wrestling is fake, but this cereal doesn’t even try to keep up appearances.

Texture and Taste, Dry
Down for the count. Mouthfeel is momentarily crisp, but texturally this stuff takes a dive almost immediately. No real resistance to speak of, which is once again a tremendous disappointment in a cereal that’s supposed to be promotion a pumped-up, muscular “sport.” The flavour, believe it or not, is vanilla. (We at the Institute love vanilla, but we’re never going to attempt to persuade anyone that it has the macho connotations of, say, chewing tobacco.) Next, you’ll be telling us Hulk Hogan eats Miracle Whip on Wonder Bread†. The vanilla might have been interesting in a cereal without so much promotional baggage (an entire luggage set, really), but in this case once again we are let down after starting out with high expectations.

Texture and Taste, With Milk
The less said, the better. This product resists milk about as well as it resists the teeth when dry. The vanilla flavour is mildly pleasant, but mild is not an adjective one normally associates with pro wrestling. [raw beef flavour, maybe? -ed] If this stuff were being presented as the The Cereal of All-Star Accountants, it might have worked. In this guise, though, it’s just a tremendous letdown.

Conclusion
Maybe there’s a lesson to be learned from this. Maybe this product is really an allegory for North America’s infatuation with a “sport” that’s all surface. Or maybe this is just a lousy cereal, one that has more than just its shape in common with the unlamented Wayne Gretzky’s Pro-Stars Cereal of a few years ago. [August 1992]

*The World Wildlife Federation wishes to remind you that the McMahon family huckster-sport empire is now known as WWE. If that’s your idea of a good time.

†When he’s not linking himself to deranged libertarian wack-doodles to sue media outlets.

25 December, 2018

A Song for Christmas Day

Greetings to one and all out in Quipu land! Here's a little something you can sing in between helpings of turkey or sweet-and-sour chicken...

It's the Most Gluttonous Time of the Year


It’s the most gluttonous time of the year
Your guests are all moaning, the table is groaning,
Catastrophe’s near
It’s the most gluttonous time of the year

It’s the belt-bustingest season of all
With snackings and sweet things, the easy-to-eat things
That cause you to fall
It’s the belt-bustingest season of all.

There’s the turkey and gravy
And other things cravey
That pile on your plate as you go
And sauce of cranberry
That makes the meal merry
And might cause your waistband to blow…

It’s the most gluttonous time of the year
There’s so much to be chewing, and nothing you’re doing
To work out, I fear,
It’s the most gluttonous time of the year.

There’ll be puddings and baking
The rich things you’re making
And that’s not to speak of the drink
The rum and the brandy
Will come in quite handy
In pushing you over the brink.

It’s the most gluttonous time of the year
There’s too much overeating
And then overheating
Food coma is near
It’s the most gluttonous time
Yes the most gluttonous time
It’s the most gluttonous time of the year!

24 December, 2018

A Sense of Humour and a Story to Tell

I’ve been experimenting, in my current project, with what Ursula K. Le Guin called the involved author (still known to some as omniscient narrative), but I’m not much pleased with the results.
Part of my trouble is that I just haven’t found much modern work to copy from, and we learn by copying. (You definitely want to try this at home, kids: don't believe any writer who claims never to have copied someone else.)
There is one exception to the my comment about absence of examples: comic writing. My three favourite authors who used omniscient narrators all had these things in common: they wrote comedy; they wrote in times other than their present (for the most part, anyway); and they wrote in a world of their devising that was inspired by a real-life period but which existed in a bubble independent of the period.
These three are P.G. Wodehouse, Georgette Heyer, and Terry Pratchett. Wodehouse’s world was a fanciful version of the late Edwardian period (with twentieth century knobs on); Heyer’s world was a rarified version of the Georgian Regency into which politics and Chartism and poverty (urban and rural) were not allowed to intrude; and Pratchett’s Discworld, or at least the Lancre and Ankh-Morpork locations within it, bears a startling resemblance to pre-modern rural England (well, I was startled).
Some objections can be raised concerning each of these writers. Wodehouse, for instance, is most famous for the Jeeves stories, which are written in the first person. But there are numerous standalone stories and novels (A Damsel in Distress, Uneasy Money to cite just two examples) using omniscient narrative. To say nothing of the Blandings stories.
I've already mentioned the fact Heyer is usually called a romance novelist, and my disagreement (parenthetical in the earlier post) with that claim. I strongly believe that what Georgette Heyer wrote was comedy of manners. If you don’t crack a smile at least once a chapter then you need to up your comedy game, I’m afraid.
Pratchett―okay, I can’t think of any potential quibbles about the idea that Pratchett was a comic writer who used omniscient narrative. He’s practically the poster boy for that.

So what is it about comedy that makes it permissible for a mouthy narrator to essentially become one of the characters? And why do we cringe when we read something like this that’s meant to be taken seriously? (Or am I simply not reading widely enough?)
This is not a rhetorical question...

23 December, 2018

Kellogg's Unicorn Cereal

Overall Rating: 46
What a sad return to action for poor old Sucrophile.

Image from the Institute collection,
courtesy of Tiger Mountain Studios
Appearance
The first thing that strikes you upon opening the bag is the scent. Or possibly the smell. It's floral and sickly-sweet, like a vanilla orchid has mated with a Triffid. Weirdly enough, after the initial shock has worn off it even smells like a cupcake. Sadly, it's the sort of cupcake you find on the shelves of long-abandoned convenience stores, the sort of cupcake whose ingredients list begins with sugar and then moves on to a long series of polysyllabic polysaccharides and quasi-metabolites. The sort of cupcake whose shelf-life is measured in millennia if not epochs. In shape these are your bog-standard cereal toroids, the debased descendants of the Cheerios of our childhoods. But the colours ... the individual pieces are either a sad dull teal, a sad dull magenta or the saddest, most dull puce. It's like the colours that failed the audition for new Froot Loops. Even worse, the colours don't fade in milk. And what's with those white spots? Kellogg's calls them crunchlets, but they look like mould spores.

Texture and Taste, Dry
There's a bit of character here. We have no idea what the so-called crunchlets are supposed to do, but whatever it is, it's completely blocked by the oaten solidity of the individual pieces themselves. The sugar presents itself fully on first bite, and there's no nasty aftertaste from the artificial cake-frosting flavour. Texture is safe on the gums and there's enough flavour that one could eat a couple hundred ml of the stuff out of the bag without doing oneself a damage. It's nothing to get excited about, though.

Texture and Taste, With Milk
Something peculiar happens when you add milk. Not only does the flavour (what little there is of it) disappear, so does the scent. But the crunch it goeth not, nor doth the colour. So what you wind up with is the hard mouthfeel of a healthy cereal (gasp!) with none of the redeeming vices of a kiddyrot confection. We at the institute cannot remember a time when we have encountered a cereal of any sort that simply bobbed there, like pastel life preservers from a nightmare "Miami Vice" episode, adamantly refusing to absorb any cow-juice. After we'd eaten the test bowl nearly all of the milk remained. We poured another bowl. After that we gave up and just drank the milk.

Conclusion
This is apparently a limited-time offer from Kellogg's. We are properly grateful. And we have to ask: we came out of retirement for this?

22 December, 2018

Reading to Forget


In a little over a week I will begin an annual project I quite look forward to: my January re-reading of the Regency / Georgian social comic* novels of Georgette Heyer. I do a lot of re-reading: at least once a year I re-read one or more of Barbara Tuchman's histories (usually The Proud Tower), and in 2018 I've also been re-reading Pratchett.

Handheld folding spectacles (from
Wikimedia Commons)
One thing about re-reading has always surprised me, and at times made me feel more than a little inadequate: even with only a twelvemonth between readings, I often find myself unfamiliar with the plots of Heyer's novels. For a long time I thought there was just something wrong with the way I read.

Then, a couple of months ago, I read something that cheered me up a little, or at least made me feel a bit better about the way I read. In an essay by Joseph Epstein (no idea who this is†, and no doubt this reflects very poorly on me) I came across the following (concerning the point of a reading life—the point rather than the goal, because according to Epstein the reading life can have no goal):
Montaigne, who more than five centuries ago established the modern essay, grasped the point when he wrote, “I may be a man of fairly wide reading, but I retain nothing.”
Retention of everything one reads, along with being mentally impossible, would only crowd and ultimately cramp one’s mind. “I would very much love to grasp things with a complete understanding,” Montaigne wrote, “but I cannot bring myself to pay the high cost of doing so. . . . From books all I seek is to give myself pleasure by an honourable pastime; or if I do study, I seek only that branch of learning which deals with knowing myself and which teaches me how to live and die well.” What Montaigne sought in his reading, as does anyone who has thought at all about it, is “to become more wise, not more learned or more eloquent.”
As I put it elsewhere some years ago, I read for the pleasures of style and in the hope of “laughter, exaltation, insight, enhanced consciousness,” and, like Montaigne, on lucky days perhaps to pick up a touch of wisdom along the way.
That is, I realized the instant I read it, precisely the way I read, and why. And now I feel much better about the fact of my not retaining huge amounts of what I’ve read. Really, how could I? I’m reading a couple hundred books a year—by a conservative estimate—and if I retained even a tithe of all that material my brain would probably burst. What I hope I retain is general ideas from all those books, plus the occasional fragment of something exceptional, the revival from time to time of which will please or amuse me.

*She is generally called a romance or historical romance novelist, but I would argue that while male-female relations play a large part in these novels, and they all have happy endings in which the heroine and hero are united, the social comedy is what really matters. Put it another way: "male-female relations play a large part in these novels, and they all have happy endings..." also describes the novels of P.G. Wodehouse. Because he was a gent, nobody ever calls Plum a romance novelist.

Here he is. I still know pretty much nothing about him.

The Appeal of Alternate History

I have a guest post up on the blog at Five Rivers Publishing, wherein I describe some of the alt-historical background of A Poisoned Prayer and the forthcoming A Tangled Weave. I have thought a lot about alternate history and about why it might appeal to some people. People like me, for instance.

Not this French flag...
A huge appeal, for me at least, is the pleasure I get from catching a twisted historical reference (understanding why a common object has a different name in the alternate timeline, identifying a minor character as being a very different version of someone from OTL), without the author having to bludgeon me over the head with it.

...and definitely not this one...
So I have made something of a practise, whenever I write alternate history, of dropping in this sort of prize from time to time. (You could call it a batch of Easter eggs, I suppose.) They say you should write the sort of thing you want to read, and I definitely like the ego-appeal of catching something the author has provided but not explained.

So, for example, the reference in A Poisoned Prayer to the King of Navarre is for some readers just a nice little bit of background to Lise's character, explaining the origins of her family. But some readers will know that Henri IV, the first Bourbon King of France, was originally King of Navarre. In the timeline in which I'm writing, the Bourbon family still occupies that role.

But probably a variant of THIS French
flag (all images from Wikimedia)
And instead of a French king we have a French emperor... drawn from the family of the old Dukes of Burgundy. Which will lead some readers to think that perhaps I've allowed Charles the Bold to be not quite so stupidly bold in my timeline, and usurp the crown from the Valois, who in the period of the Hundred Years War had some scions who were not among the best and brightest.

Not that I consider either A Poisoned Prayer nor A Tangled Weave to be true alternate-history novels. As I wrote for Five Rivers, in a true alt-history story the world's as much a character as the protagonist. If the timeline in these novels is a character, it's a walk-on role. I intend to have more to say about this in the new year*.

*This post, the one on the Five Rivers blog, and the promised posts to come, are based on notes I made for a panel appearance at When Words Collide in August 2018. 

19 December, 2018

You Don't Want To Go Home Again

This Sunday brings the first new Sucrophile column in 25 years, courtesy of people who really ought to know better. As is our wont here at the Institute, we performed the test tastings while watching kids TV from the golden age of same.

Rather than watch animation, though, we fired up a DVD from "Thunderbirds," the wonderful puppet disaster series produced by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson in the mid-sixties. And while my ten-year-old self was thrilled to be watching those old episodes again, my sixty-something present was more than a little appalled at what I was seeing. These episodes were like an item-by-item list of all the hubristic things that went wrong in the sixties and seventies*.

The pilot, for example, features a nuclear-powered airliner. Even in 1964 I can't believe anybody thought a flying nuclear reactor would be a good idea—to say nothing of a flying nuclear reactor whose shielding lasts only as long as it takes to watch the in-flight movie.

Then there's "Pit of Peril," in which the US Army develops a very mobile walking fire-base, with enormous claws at the front for tearing out trees and otherwise defoliating the place, to deal with those "pesky jungle wars" the country was always getting involved in. Just as Vietnam was beginning to escalate.

In the aftermath of 9/11 and Grenfell Tower, I can't see anybody being comfortable watching "City of Fire," with its flaming and collapsing world's-biggest building. Then there's the fact of the fire being caused by a flamingly (sorry) incompetent woman driver. A "joke" the writer makes a point of repeating at the end...

Still looking forward to seeing "Path of Destruction," in which a gigantic walking (there's that conceit again) super-logger is designed to deforest enormous tracts of land. And "Attack of the Alligators!" in which growth hormones released into a South American river super-size the title reptiles. Honestly, it's as if someone used a time machine to go forward and learn the most stupid things humanity was capable of, and then went back to write kids' scripts about them.

Time for me to dust off the ol' keyboard and write that "Thunderbirds" global-warming-is-good teleplay.

18 December, 2018

They Shall Not Grow Old

Image from 1418 Now media gallery 
My first thought as They Shall Not Grow Old began running last night (it's showing again in North American cinemas on 27 December) was, I have been duped. First, I’d paid 3D prices for a movie that was manifestly NOT in 3D (when I put on the glasses the image jittered about as if it were actual film and the sprockets had shrunk). Second, the footage was old and unrestored, and for the first quarter-hour or so what I was watching was just a bog-standard documentary about first world war recruitment and training.

Then the film shifted to France. And the images filled the screen and shifted to Right Now.

The raves in the media do not do justice to the movie nor to what Jackson’s team did with it. The effect of the speed-corrected, colourized, audio-enabled footage on me was enormous, and I believe the impact on others in the audience was nearly as great. Imagine, then, the impact when we were shown enhanced, colourized photos of the dead.

I have watched a lot of documentary footage concerning the First World War, and many of these images I had never seen before. In some cases this was because of censorship―or self-censorship, on the part of producers or directors―but in others it was simply that the film had deteriorated to the point where nobody was prepared to try to make it watchable.

Nobody but Peter Jackson, that is.

I hope this film is released for home viewing. And I really hope Jackson uses some of the footage from the Imperial War Museum to make a documentary about the Royal Flying Corps.

As marvellous as the movie was, I was equally as interested in the brief How We Did It documentary that followed the closing credits. I am now convinced that Peter Jackson is what I would be if I lived in New Zealand and had a shit-ton of money. The man flew his colourization team to New Zealand from the US so that they could examine the 1914-18 uniforms―in Jackson’s personal collection. Which also includes artillery pieces, shoulder arms, (presumably) machine guns, and flying replica aircraft from the period.

I strongly advise anyone with even a shred of interest in the subject to see this film.

Wardrobe Malfunction

I like to write on historical subjects. Probably this is because I like to read on historical subjects. The two activities tend to blur together, such that any reading I do these days has a better-than-average chance of suggesting a story background or idea to me.
Lately I’ve been reading about Edwardian Britain. The original inspiration for this is the first chapter of my favourite book ever, Barbara Tuchman’s The Proud Tower. Now, though, I’m reading mostly for its own sake; if a writerly idea comes out of it, great. Otherwise, reading is its own justification.
Fashion has undone me more than once with researching (about which more shortly), but seldom with more disturbing panache than with a book I read recently: I was going back, the other day, through Juliet Nicolson's The Perfect Summer: England 1911, Just Before the Storm (rather an antithesis to the Tuchman book, by the way) to find notes of further interest, and before I went into the bibliography I came across this sentence, on the page immediately after the first photo insert: Small silver rings clamped into [sic] the nipples deepened, enhanced and raised the cleavage by providing a sort of ledge on which the evening gown rested precariously. (p. 83)
Say what? I have to regret (really regret) that Ms Nicolson isn’t a more academically inclined author, because this is the sort of sentence that absolutely demands a citation. And there isn’t one.
As can be imagined, this is not an easy thing to research online…

16 December, 2018

Sucrophile: Batman Returns Cereal

Overall Rating: 89
The Bat. The Cat. The Cavities. Sugar runs riot, with more than a passing nod to the Dark (as in chocolate) side.


Appearance
Imagine Rice Chex gone straight to hell. This product passes on the obvious representational gambit (it leaves the bats for the easier-to-shape marshmallows) in favour of a standard Chex/Shreddies woven square. In this case, though, the square is coated with a dark, nasty-looking sort-of-chocolate ink-cum-syrup. Against this virtual blackness the pastel-coloured marshmallows look rather pathetic. Points are lost because of the pastel colours (Batman don’t do pastel!) and because the “chocolate” starts leaching out almost before you pour on the milk.


Taste and Texture, Dry
A good mixture of mouth-feels, with the crisp yet yielding crunch of rice squares contrasted nicely with the deranged squeegee and sugar-rush of an extraordinary number of marshmallows. Eventually, we’re convinced, Ralston Purina (woof!) will give in to the obvious and start marketing a nothing-but-marshmallows cereal.


Taste and Texture, With Milk
In the bowl is where this cereal really shines. A truly lavish use of sugar is readily apparent, yet the artificial chocolate flavour has a deranged bitterness that prevents the flavour from being cloying. In fact, your mouth almost puckers. Once again the marshmallows are the perfect finishing touch, their intense sweetness matching the bitter choco-something sensory blast for sensory blast. The cereal starts to disintegrate fairly quickly, but this is less of a problem than it seems. The sugar content of the product is so high, and its impact in the bloodstream so immediate, that within a couple of spoonsful (or possibly within seconds of your opening the box, if you haven’t developed a tolerance for kiddyrot sweetened cereals), you’re in full sugar-rush and literally shovelling the stuff into your mouth. We like this product a lot, and have a great deal of difficulty stopping with just one bowl. We also have a great deal of difficulty typing after testing the product.


Conclusion
This stuff is just whibblefreem! [August 1992]


We have tried to imagine a kiddyrot cereal tie-in to the Christian Bale Batman movies and our imagination fails us. If such a thing ever did exist, we do not want to know about it.

15 December, 2018

Now We Are Sixty-Four: I

[i]


Non-aligned.


I think I am a liberal, I grieve for people’s pain
(Though I haven’t helped the Homeless to come in out of the rain).
Perhaps I might be antifa; I know I’m not alt-right
Because while I look good in black, my friends are not all white.
Perhaps I’m a reactionary; No―I am PC.
I’m feeling very mixed-up and I don’t know what to be―


Left and Right
And Right and Left
And vacillate I go―
All around the spectrum―
The pol-i-tical spectrum―
Wishy-wash
And washy-wish
And up and down I go;


I think I am a Socialist embracing all with Care;
No―I believe in Trickle-Down,
In benefits cascading
In benefits cascading from a Hand that isn’t there.


SO
Galbraith, John
And Friedman, Milt
And Hayek, Keynes, et al―
All around the spectrum,
The ec-o-nomic spectrum―


I think it is irrelevant what politicians preach,
And it really doesn’t matter what the proud professors teach;
What I believe―yes, I believe I’ll have another drink;
‘Cause I’m feeling pretty fed-up and I don’t know what to think.


BUT
Muddle through
I’ll muddle through
No theories will I borrow.
I’ll think the way I want to think.

―At least until tomorrow.

14 December, 2018

Now We Are Sixty-Four

Yes, I know: Somebody already wrote a book called Now We Are Sixty. But I had the idea first; that book dates from the late nineties, the first poem in my collection of poems for aging boomers was written back in 1992. Or 1991; my records aren't too clear.
Anyway, most of those older poems have had to be scrapped. They were about television and the anti-Yeltsin coup in Russia; does anyone even remember that? Fortunately, there is no shortage of inspiration for a contemporary revival of the original idea... starting perhaps tomorrow.

NOTE: I have retconned this and other entries in this series to reflect a change in title. I cannot believe it didn't occur to me until last night that the revised title made much more sense because a) it name-checked Sir Paul M's fifty-one year old ditty; and b) it more closely resembles my age at the time of writing.

12 December, 2018

This Is Not a Story, It's an Epic

We entertained the other evening, and at one point a bunch of us were discussing agile development methodology*, with which we all had some familiarity.

Karl Schroeder started talking about agile armies, and without warning began to riff on the idea of the conquest of Poland as a sprint. And before we knew it, this was happening:

Adolf Hitler: Scrum Master

[We open on an artificially lit room in what may, or may not, be a bunker. A group of uniformed men stand around a whiteboard, on which are glued a collection of brightly coloured pieces of paper. The papers are organized under handwritten column headings such as "Paris," "Maginot Line," "Channel Ports" and "Documentation." The latter heading is scuffed and worn and apparently has been on the board for some time without any attention being paid to it. The uniformed men look up as their scrum master approaches.]

Hitler: Good morning. Not sorry I'm late. We have a lot to get through today so everybody be concise. Von Runstedt? You go first this morning.

Von Runstedt: Shouldn't we wait for Halder?

Hitler: Halder is no longer with the organization. There will be a whip-round for his funeral later. So? [He gestures, impatiently]

Von Runstedt: [nervous] Yesterday we, uh, we completed the last of the tasks in the Netherlands story. Which is good. [He moves a bunch of papers to the "Completed" column.] Today I am going to start work on the France story. But, well, I'm blocked. By the Maginot Line.

Hitler: [screaming] FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION! YOU WILL ATTACK!! [He quiets] Okay, we'll take this offline. [He glares at von Runstedt a moment, then turns.] Manstein?

Von Manstein: We think we might have a way around the Maginot blockage. Heh-heh. Around. [He looks around. Nobody laughs.] Um. Okay, anyway, Guderian and Rommel think they can go through the Ardennes Forest and outflank the French.

Von Runstedt: We can't make changes now! This is not in the plan.

Hitler: [screaming] WE ARE AN AGILE ORGANIZATION! WE DO NOT PLAN! WE MAKE SHIT UP AS WE GO!

Von Runstedt: Just invading a major power like this without planning is dangerous, my fuhrer.

Guderian: We started yesterday.

Hitler: You WHAT? [His sweat begins to bubble as though it were boiling.]

Rommel: And we finished this morning. We're through the Ardennes, across the Meuse and behind the French.

Hitler: [screaming louder—and yes, his sweat really is boiling] You will all be SHOT!! Nobody disobeys or acts without my order!

Von Manstein: [whispering] My fuhrer, this means we can close out all our stories by the end of this sprint.

Hitler: And all of your FAMILIES will be sho — Wait, what did you say?

Von Manstein: We're finished. France ist kaput.

Hitler: Well, aren't I just the brilliant tactician, then? Okay, everyone back to work. [He pauses.] Don't forget your timesheets this week. Goring, you haven't submitted a single timesheet since the Anschluss.

*Yes, the quality of the conversation at our soirees is utterly top-drawer. Nothing but the pure potato for us.

10 December, 2018

How We Write No. 2

Every year or so (or is it every month?) somebody posts something about the Great War Between Plotters and Pantsers. For my sins I have to confess that until relatively recently (say, last year) I had never heard either of these terms. I know; I’ve led a sheltered life.


This isn’t to say the question of how to approach the writing of a novel hasn’t come up. Even within this blog I've already noted one approach to setting out a story. And on the evidence I’ve been thinking about this subject for a long time.

I recently discovered, in my files, some notes from a conversation I had with Lois McMaster Bujold, concerning her own approach to novel-writing. I have put what follows into past tense because I have no idea whether or not Bujold still writes her Penric stories (set in the world of the Five Gods) in the same fashion. Consider this a snapshot of something that was, then.

The inspirations for her novels, she told me, came from a variety of places. The Vorkosigan novel she was working on at the time, for example, was (she said) inspired by a song from Enya’s album Waterfall and by the story of the martyrdom of forty Roman legionaries*. She said she usually had an idea both of how the novel would begin and how it would end, but not necessarily any detail about the latter.


She wrote her novels in blocks, a block being the chunk of novel about which she was actually aware of what was going to happen. In some ways, this is like working without a net; she told me she usually had next to no idea of what would happen beyond the end of the block she was currently working on.


Within the block, she usually did one- or two-and-a-half drafts. The “half-draft” (I like to think of it as Draft Version 0.5) is how she started: writing longhand, she sketched out scenes as far as she could, working in bits of dialogue if they occurred to her. What she ended up with, I suspect was a sort of schematic of part of the novel.


From this she typed a first full draft (Draft 1.5?) into a word processor† using the schematic as a guide. Subsequent drafts followed the usual pattern of revision, until she decided she had it right. The one thing I’m not sure of (because my notes don’t make clear) is whether the whole novel was completed in the Draft 1.5 stage, or whether she completed each block before moving on.


The important element, I think, is that schematic first draft. When I’ve tried it myself I have been impressed at how smoothly it makes everything flow. Of course, I seem to have tried just about every different approach there is to novel-writing, and will probably try others if I discover any.


*This would be a reference to The Vor Game, the first six chapters of which were first published as "Weatherman," in the February 1990 Analog.
†Remember, this was 1989. Word processors were an exciting thing back then.

09 December, 2018


Addams Family Cereal

Overall Rating: 64
If you’re tempted, best to lay down a supply of this fairly quickly. Gimmick cereals have a notoriously brief shelf-life. (Of course, the fact Paramount is working on a sequel to the movie could mean this product will be with us for a while.*)

Appearance

Confusing. More deliberately abstract than TMNT, and therefore it’s not so frustrating that a key (thoughtfully provided on the side of the box) must be used to identify the three different shapes. For the record they are: “skulls, headless dolls, and Thing cereal pieces.” It helps that they’re supposed to look eerie. Free use of artificial yellow, red and blue (!) colouring results in a cereal that seems to phosphoresce in the bowl. Adding milk only heightens this effect, especially as the individual pieces lose their structural integrity fairly quickly and your breakfast degenerates into a faintly glowing yellow and brown mush; it’s probably best not to eat this stuff while hungover.

Texture and Taste, Dry

Image from the Institute collection
Very light, more crisp than crunch. Mouthfeel is not very substantial. Like ghosts, the stuff just seems to fade into the ether. Decent sugar balance, but a strong maltiness colours the flavour and effects a somewhat sour finish. There’s a sense of an unearthly fermentation going on here. Snackable in small amounts, but prolonged nibbling will leave your mouth feeling like the morning after a weekend-long beer binge.

Texture and Taste, with Milk

Nice, crispy beginning. Fades fairly quickly, though: initial crispness is gone by the second or third spoonful (20 seconds elapsed time, max) and individual pieces start to clump together very shortly after. Barely audible popping as milk saturates individual pieces. Fully moistened, this is not much fun: don’t dawdle over your bowl, kids. Nice, strong hint of vanilla stays throughout, and blends well with sugar. Finish is still malty, however, and cumulative aftertaste will probably stop you at one bowl.

Conclusion

A nice introduction for someone unused to the concept of highly sugared cereals.

*Could, but didn’t.