28 September 2010

Cool Triangle spots: Big Boss taproom

As I may have mentioned, I'm a fan of craft beer. (That's what we're calling microbrews these days, because not all craft beers are technically microbrews.) I'm fortunate to live in an area where there are easily a dozen craft breweries within an hour or two's drive from my house.

Big Boss Brewing is located over in Raleigh, near 440 and Capital Blvd. Their beer selections include Hell's Belle (a Belgian blond), Angry Angel (a Kölsch), Bad Penny (a brown ale), and rotating seasonals like Harvest Time pumpkin ale and Aces and Ates coffee stout.

Ben's birthday was last week, and he wanted to go have a couple beers at the taproom with some friends. So we did.

Finding the brewery for the first time, in the dark, was not so easy. It's in a dark parking lot on a poorly-lit street in an industrial(ish) neighborhood. The sign isn't prominent at all, and Ben only found it by the neon "OPEN" sign in an upper window.

There is outdoor seating (for the smokers). Inside the door is the brewery off to the left, and the taproom is up a flight of stairs. It's not a huge place. There's half a dozen seats at the bar and several smaller rooms off the various hallways. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that it used to be an office of some sort. One room has darts, another a pool table.

The wall decor has a WW2-era theme to it, with miniature fuselage, some with kill counts on them.

We occupied one of the smaller rooms. It had two couches facing each other with a low table in the middle. The overhead light was two fluorescent bulbs, one of which flickered, so we left it off and chatted by the light of the lamp on the table (and the neon sign, once we opened the blinds).

We got in pretty early, around 8 pm, and it wasn't busy at all. When we left close to midnight, it was hopping: people were playing darts, there were several pool games going on, and the outdoor seating had multiple people with pitchers. The music never felt too loud, though whether that was because we were in a side room, I don't know.

I plan to make it to one of their brewery tours (the second Saturday of the month). October is out because of the World Beer Festival, but maybe November.

In summary: Big Boss taproom is a nice, gemütlicher place to chat with friends while drinking beer brewed just downstairs.

21 September 2010

Anime rec: PLANETES

Over on twitter, an exchange with Don inspired me to start a potential series on anime recs. There's always a chance I'll lose interest, or get distracted, but here's a good start.

PLANETES is a near-future SF tale about garbage collectors in space. Stick with me if you think that sounds boring.

The anime was made in 2003, and it was based on a series of manga that came out several years beforehand. The seed idea is the Kessler syndrome: space debris colliding with each other can make a huge amount more of space debris. It's relevant now, even. Space junk could disrupt communications networks. Just a year and a half ago, a US comsat was destroyed in a collision with a Russian satellite. New Scientist published a piece on space junk potentially cutting us off from space.

The story opens in 2075, and there's a settlement on the moon. That means there's a lot of shuttle traffic between Earth and the moon. A tiny piece of space junk can rupture the hull of a spacecraft, and that's what our intrepid misfit heroes try to prevent.

Newcomer Ai Tanabe joins the crew of the Toy Box, where she meets Hachimaki, Fee Carmichael, and Yuri Mihailkov. The story follows her integration into the team, and her training in EVA manouevres. Hachimaki wants to join the mission to Jupiter, but debris collection isn't very prestigious, so he has to fight for it.

There's also politics, both terrorist plots and interpersonal/company politics. The wikipedia entry has full details, with spoilers in the "plot summary" section, and episode summaries.

Planetes has been compared to Patlabor (another great series I should write about), as a band of misfits trying to do their jobs while being low team on the ladder. It's full of humor and dramatic tension in good proportions. The budding romance between Hachimaki and Tanabe is done realistically and well.

One episode focuses on Fee's need to have a smoke. On the space habitats, there are designated smoking enclosures, with extra filters, etc, so the life support systems don't get gunked up. She goes from enclosure to enclosure, only to find that they're closed. The reason they're closed is the Space Defense Front's attacks. The thread of Fee's frustration is woven skillfully through the larger political issue.

It's a great show, and one that I don't think has gotten enough recognition in the US.

17 September 2010

Book review: Shades of Milk and Honey

Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal. 2010.

I finished this book on Wednesday, but I've been trying to figure out what to say other than "OMG you guys, go buy this book right now!" (Which you should do, really.)

This is Kowal's debut novel, though it's not her first published work.

The idea behind the novel is this: What if Jane Austen had lived in a world where magic was real? What sort of novel would she have written? Then Kowal set out to do just that.

There's a main character, Miss Jane Ellsworth, aged 28, plain, and unwed. She has a younger sister, Melody, aged 18, who is beautiful. Jane has a great talent for glamour (the magical art, which is considered one of the arts a lady should learn, like painting, playing piano, and French), but Melody does not. Mr. Ellsworth is a delight - he loves his daughters, but he has no patience for nonsense (like fainting from nerves).

Their neighbor, Lady FitzCameron, hires an artist to make a glamural (a wall painting suffused with glamour). Jane sees it, while in progress, and she looks at the etheric folds that create it, and inadvertently offends the creator, Mr. Vincent.

Their other neighbor, Mr. Dunkirk, receives his sister for a visit, and she and Jane become fast friends. Melody and Jane both find him attractive, and there is no lack of sibling rivalry there.

Of course, not all goes perfectly, and there's a bit of Drama, but all ends well. It's a romance, you see.

Her writing is consciously Austen-esque. Kowal said she would write a chapter, then read a chapter of Austen, to get a feel for it. I'm not a connoisseur of Austen's work, but I think she did a good job of it. (I can compare her style to Heyer's, and I find Kowal's more lovely, where Heyer's is somewhat over the top.) It also reminds me a bit of Swordspoint in the prose style.

In conclusion: if you like Jane Austen; if you liked Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (or even if you thought it was a bit long and dragged a bit, but you like the idea of the Regency + magic); if you like Georgette Heyer, go out and buy Shades of Milk and Honey right now. You won't regret it.

14 September 2010

Book review: Children No More

Children No More, Mark L. VanName. 2010.

I bought a copy of this book at NASFIC, after hearing that Mark is donating all proceeds from this novel to Falling Whistles, an NGO working to rehabilitate child soldiers in Congo. (It turns out Mark lives somewhere around here, actually. There are a lot of writers in these parts.)

The story is about a freelance/retired mercenary named Jon and his ship, whose AI is named Lobo. They're contracted by a former coworker named Alissa Lim to help rescue a group of children who have been pressed into combat. Jon was himself a child soldier, and he takes the mission for personal reasons.

This book is not happy fun times. The opening chapters depict the rebel forces training the boys to be killers. There is a lot of unpleasantness, depicted unflinchingly. However: the ending, which I won't spoil, is worth every flinch, every gut punch. There are moments of levity (Lobo is sarcastic as hell) throughout, and it's not unrelentingly bleak. There's a strong thread of hope: Jon's hope for the boys, Jon's hope for himself.

The main thing that bothered me was that Lim was portrayed as losing her temper easily. She's the only major female character (there's another one, but she's fairly secondary and one of the counselors in the rehab camp; well, there's also Maggie, who's a love interest for Jon), so there's not really a counterpoint for "wimmin: they're so emotional, amirite?" Now, it's true that Jon isn't as in control over his emotions as he likes to think he is, at least regarding certain things, but here's the thing. When Jon loses his control, good things happen. When Lim loses her control, bad things happen. It seems minor, but when this is viewed alongside every other story with the same stereotyped characterizations, it's just another brick in the wall of oppositional sexism, dividing Men from Women as mutually exclusive groups.

(Note: I don't believe that Mark had sexist intentions when writing this book, or creating Lim's character. I'm also not calling him a sexist. I'm commenting on the existing sexist tropes in American culture, which surround us so much that we don't even know they're there.)

In the end, it's a tale of humanity. It's a tale of overcoming horrors and moving on with your life, even if the horrors come back to haunt you now and again.

Strongly recommended.

13 September 2010

(association) FOOTBALL!

As you may know, I'm a football (soccer) fan. Between June 12 and July 13, I watched close to 60 football matches, mostly in Spanish (on Univision, low-def). I own a jersey for the German national team (2006) and covet a 2010 away jersey in gorgeous black.

The Bundesliga's just starting up again, 3 match days into their 34-match season. I had to decide which team to follow. This was difficult. In years past, it's been more of a peripheral attention I've paid, because US news sites don't really cover German football, and it was hard to keep track. But now there are blogs and livejournal communities and twitterfeeds, and all sorts of things that are made possible with the internet.

Anyway. I don't live in Germany, much to my dismay. If I did, I'd live in Berlin, so picking a Berlin team is only natural, right? Hertha BSC was relegated to the 2nd league after a disastrous 2009/10 season, and who cares about the 2. BuLi, right? But Berlin is the home of my heart, so Hertha is the team of my heart. And they're in 3rd place in the 2nd league right now, having won all three of their games so far (ties in points are decided on goal differential, and they're 3rd on that.) So maybe they'll be back in the 1st league in 2011!

So I looked for a 1. BuLi team. There are some players from the national team whom I really like watching play, so I checked out their teams. Mesut Özil was bought by Real Madrid, so that took away my main reason for interest in Werder Bremen. As much as I like Müller, Klose, Schweinsteiger, et al, there's no way in hell I'm rooting for FC Bayern. It's like rooting for the Yankees (if you're not from New York or don't have a long-standing family tradition).

Then there's the lovely center-back Arne Friedrich, who used to play at Hertha, but moved to Wolfsburg after they were relegated. Then he slipped a disc in practice and had to get surgery, so he *still* hasn't played this season. :P

I don't like deciding on something without seeing how they play, so I watched a few Wolfsburg matches, and I tried watching a Werder match, but I couldn't get into it. And, despite the fact that the Wolves have lost all three of their matches so far (one of which went from a comfortable 3:1 at half time to 3:4 at the end), I still like them. When they actually work together, they look good. And we're doing better than Schalke (though only on goal differential...) The defense keeps falling down on the job, though. (Hopefully that'll change when Arne's deemed fit to play again.)

It's weird to sit down and consciously decide which team to support. It's not like anyone in my family has a favorite team in the German Football League; they're all American Football fans, if they follow sports at all.

I really need to time my next trip to Germany to include a live Bundesliga match. Tickets aren't too unreasonably priced.

12 September 2010

Dragon*Con

So, despite my mystery ailment rearing its head, I made it to Dragon*Con. Unfortunately, the antibiotic I was on at the time (Levaquin) made me really sick, so I spent a lot of time in my room, sleeping (and one morning in the ER and another in an urgent care clinic, where they took me off Levaquin).

The theory, which is a good one, is that I have a lingering sinus infection (possibly from the cold I got in Berlin) that flares up and gives me nasty post-nasal drip, which gets into my stomach and gives me GERD-like symptoms. While I was taking the z-pak (what I was switched to), I felt better, but in the last few days, my sinuses have felt worse, so I'm going to call my PCP (again) and ask if she thinks I should do another round of antibiotics, because the first one did OK but didn't eradicate the bastards. Persistent cusses.

Anyway, my dear Ben read my story for me in the RFR (because I was sleeping in my room). I made it to things on Sunday, including a great Q&A with James & Oliver Phelps (the Weasley twins), but I was too tired to do much else, and nothing after 10 pm.

I sure hope this whole mess is just from a sinus infection and that another round of antibiotics kills them dead and I never have to deal with this random nausea nonsense again.