Friday, July 14, 2017

Short Book Reviews: The Nigerian Space Program Saves the Day

After the Flare, by Deji Bryce Olukotun (Unnamed Press, 2017).  Non-Western-centered science fiction has found an eager audience in recent years, and this novel is a worthy addition. In the not-too-distant future, a gigantic solar flare paralyzes the electrical grid across the world. Among the many unfolding catastrophes are the marooning of a single astronaut on the International Space Station.  Because nations near the Equator are relatively spared, it’s up to the Nigerian space program to rescue her. From this remarkable premise, Olukotun spins a tale that is part thriller (will the astronaut be rescued in time? Will the terrorists drawing ever closer to the base take over before the rescue rocket can be launched? What ancient, possibly magical artifact have the desert women discovered?), part science fictional examination of the endless ingenuity of human beings, and part cultural drama. The richness of the African backdrop, from local customs to corrupt politics to wildlife to a vanished civilization, colors every aspect of Nigeria’s fast-paced space race. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Seichi Journals - Epilog

A short while ago, we adopted a shelter dog, a young female German Shepherd Dog, named Sage (Seichi). Although she was a wonderful dog in many respects, her intensity and high prey drive didn't work out for us. We believed our cats to be at risk, and my own mental health, in a fragile state because of the recent parole hearing of the man who'd raped and murdered my mother, showed worrisome signs. So we returned her to the (no-kill) shelter, along with a detailed report of our experience and progress with her.

Seichi is a lovely, affectionate, highly intelligent dog. She has a very high prey drive and is eager to please, but needs a home without cats or small children, and an owner who is experienced in training GSDs with positive, non-force methods.

Even so, I experienced second thoughts. Had I given up on her too soon? What if no one else adopts her -- or the wrong person does, and attempts to overpower her with force? Should we give her another try? And each time, I had to talk myself down from those doubts, reminding myself of my own limitations. My husband kept reminding me, too.

Yesterday, we got an email from Seichi's special volunteer handler at the shelter. Not only had she been adopted but she will be trained in search and rescue work, focusing on finding victims in collapsed buildings! I am relieved beyond words. Not only will she have the kind of work that will give her focus and joy (since German Shepherd Dogs are working dogs and need a job!) but she will have a better life than we could give her. And she'll be saving human lives.

Sometimes what looks like a bad situation turns out to be a blessing.

Monday, July 10, 2017

A Hidden Island of Beauty in the Heavens





This image, from Astronomy Picture of the Day, reminds me of the beauty all around us, throughout the cosmos, if only we can see it. The gorgeous spiral galaxy, IC 342, is usually not visible because it lies on the plane of the Milky Way, and all those stars and dust obscure the view. The pink areas mark regions of star formation, perhaps a fairly recent burst in activity. It's thought that IC 342, which really deserves a name fitting to its glory, may have gravitationally influenced the evolution of the local group of galaxies and the Milky Way.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Short Book Reviews: Having Babies New Ways

Dreams Before the Start of Time, by Anne Charnock (47 North, 2017) examines the effect of evolving reproductive technology upon individual choice, relationship, and the meaning of family. It’s told as a series of vignettes beginning in 2034 and extending those same characters, both primary and secondary, as their lives unfold into 2084-85 and 2120. Charnock begins with current medical methods: in-vitro fertilization, donor sperm, and so forth, then spins the technology forward. 

What will it mean for family bonds if an adult of either sex can become a solo biological parent? How will marriages, families, parent-child relationships change – or will they? 

The consistent focus upon the daily lives of the characters and their emotions gives the book the feel of a mainstream or literary piece. Devoted science fiction fans may become impatient with the relative lack of emphasis on the technology, but at the same time, the thoughtful exploration of how we become parents interacts with who we are may well make this novel accessible to the general reader. Either way, the prose is strong, the scenes evocative, the questions worth asking.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Tea, Earl Grey — Iced?

In the cooler months, I often drink tea throughout the days, beginning with a eye-opening cuppa English or Irish Breakfast and proceeding through lower-caffeine green or white teas. I like flavored teas, as well: Earl Grey, Lady Grey, tropical green tea, blackberry sage. Most summer mornings I begin in the same fashion, but once it’s hot enough to make a steaming drink unappealing, what to do?

Water is, of course, the default, and ours is delicious, even unfiltered. But sometimes I want a change. Lemonade is always an option, particularly when graced by the tree of a friend with fresh lemons. Often I’ll make hibiscus tea in a quart canning jar, sweeten it to taste, let it cool, and drink it right out of the jar. Today, however, I wanted something a bit classier.

How about a variation on Captain Picard’s iconic “Tea, Earl Grey, hot”?

I embarked upon the adventure by preparing a cup of Earl Grey, only using less water than usual, adding a bit more sweetness and milk* and then ice cubes. The result was both tasty and thirst-quenching. It came with the added benefit of that lingering, perfume-like bergamot aroma.

A second experiment might be to prepare it like Thai iced tea with cream instead of milk, although I am given to understand that sweetened condensed milk is often used, which is an abomination. My larder was devoid of cream, so I used 1% and my usual sweetener.

Notes: * What? You put milk in Earl Grey tea? And you think sweetened condensed milk is an abomination!

Well, yes. I put milk in all black teas. If your stomach lining was in the shape mine is, you’d want the added protection of milk protein. Not only that, I used to be meh about Earl Grey, considering it to be highly overrated, but once I put milk in it, tea-endophins flooded my mind. It might do the same for you.

Sweetened condensed milk is a perfectly acceptable dessert recipe ingredient. Never shall it be introduced into a teacup on my premises. Should you feel otherwise, I await your report on its effect upon otherwise decent tea.