Cost, Health, and Flavor – they battle it out in America’s abundant, controversial, and fascinating food industry, and change your own tastes #food #cooking #sustainability #future

Heritage Red Delicious Apple varietyThis is a Red Delicious apple. You’ll notice it looks nothing like the dry, mealy mahogany fruits in your grocery store. I can tell you it tastes nothing like them either. It’s wonderfully sweet, crisp, and apple-y.

This apple came from a tree over 60 years old in the Mimbres Valley of southwest New Mexico, and you’ll have to visit a local farmer’s market to buy one.

I seem to be on a food kick lately. America’s food industry gives us more, safer, and cheaper food than ever before, but at a price. Are we poised to take a step forward to a better system?

This reminded me of a book I read recently.

Third Plate book coverDan Barber is a chef concerned with the farm-to-table journey of America’s food. He works with boutique farmers in upstate New York, including the Stone Barn Center for Food and Agriculture – a farm built in the 1930’s in a “Normandy style” by wealthy philanthropist John D. Rockefeller to “preserve a memory – the place where he sipped warm milk from the lid of the milking jug.” (No matter how nostalgic, I do not recommend drinking raw milk, more strongly the longer it’s been out of the cow.)

Barber is owner and chef at two New York restaurants, Blue Hill in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Tarrytown (45 minutes from Grand Central Station). I visited his website at Blue Hill Farm.com.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns is an elegant restaurant where jackets and ties are preferred for gentlemen, though apparently fancy restaurants gave up trying to tell women what to wear.

In keeping with the ideal of serving the day’s harvest (and perhaps because of shortages of entree-sized portions), Barber serves “multi-course tastings” for about $200 per person. You’ll be happy to know you can buy Dom Perignon by the glass ($80).

Most Americans are unlikely to dine here. But rich or extravagant people serve a social function. They are early adopters for things that can become everyday benefits – air travel, electric cars, television, ocean cruises – so perhaps they can blaze the trail to better eating. Trends from expensive restaurants can affect the local grocery store so, for example, designer pizzas are now available in your frozen food section.

New York is the right place for this venture. Judging from my travels in lower upstate New York, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a farmer’s market or stand. Farm-to-table is a popular idea.

Barber presents interesting stories about growing heritage varieties of crops and rotating crops and livestock to maximize soil fertility. This is not mass market organic farming that retains America’s industrial mindset to grow monocultures and supply slabs of meat to serve with a few vegetables. It must be wonderful for a farmer to have the financial support to try these ideas and we meet many such farmers (at least one who, by the way, eats “hulking pork chops” and butters bread so thickly Barber “thought he was joking.”)

It’s not clear the average American wants the foods Barber champions. He notes that while “feeding grain [to animals] flattens flavor” and modern crops are not bred for flavor, the system produces bountiful, low cost food. “[T]he cost of one pound of meat is cheaper now than at any time in history.”

Americans prefer “soft, almost flabby meat” and “have a singular preference for blandness.” We want mild butter that tastes the same across the country and the year, rather than tastier butter that varies by region and month. But is this truly our preference or what we’re trained to expect? Maybe popular, super-spiced snacks show American’s want flavor.

Barber always comes back to flavor. His farming methods are labor intensive, generate less profit even at higher boutique prices, and produce uneven and limited supplies, but Barber says the food tastes better.

Gardeners will find the stories fascinating. Non-gardeners may find some sections too long.

What others are saying
The Third Plate remains popular four years after it was published, with 4.7 stars on Amazon from 237 reviews.
“It has taught me so much about making sustainable food choices.”
“Pretty cool take on the food industry.”
Rebecca had a pros and cons review: “This is one of the most interesting books I have read that discusses everything wrong with our food culture today. That said, it’s also one of the most obnoxious…
“managed to turn my beliefs upside down…
“[the author] works in the food equivalent of an ivory tower. His book is dripping with elitism, and most of the time I felt like he was so out of touch with reality it was laughable.”

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Looking for a Good Read? Check Out Reviews Here including my book :) #review #bookreview #scifi #sciencefiction #fantasy

Thanks to N K Chavush for reviewing my scifi story about a near-future Mars colony, Glory on Mars. Authors can be the hardest critics, so it’s an honor to be his Book of the Week.

Glory on Mars coverLately there has been a buzz with Mars being at its closest to earth for a long time and appearing bright in the summer night’s sky. Kate Rauner’s genius writing style brings the red planet even closer to us and is so original that it’s a lot different to other science fiction space novels. The characters work so well together and fit well into the alien scenery.

If you’re looking for a good scifi/fantasy read, check out the reviews here by author N K Chavush.

Then check out N K Chavusk’s own book, Anto: Curse of the Hidden City, also available in the UK

book coverWhen something dark and evil is headed towards Anto, an underground city that is unknown to man, the Anthidden tribe will do anything to protect their very own existence. Only one soldier: Tarmus has what it takes to save the city, but will it be enough against what’s coming?

Scifi by Asimov and a Transgendered Search for Identify – Wait a Minute – Isaac Asimov? #scifi #sciencefiction #bookreview #genderequality

cover Robots of DawnIsaac Asimov, a giant of early 20th Century science fiction, is often criticized for awkward writing with flat characters. Could his book The Robots of Dawn, and in particular a sex scene in the story (Asimov? sex?) have helped a trans preteen find his way?

This is a great article and you should read it in its entirety. What riveted the author about Asimov’s character was:

Bailey’s desires and fantasies effortlessly become reality: Without his asking for it, sex came to him exactly as he imagined it because he was a smart masculine detective guy. I wanted that pleasure and ease and wordless understanding between the object of my desire and myself…
The phrase I now have for it is gender dysphoria—I shunned any experience that sought to tie me to my female body, and in turn escaped that body by mapping my sexual fantasies onto those of cisgender, heterosexual men, in scifi, in pornography, and beyond.

Asimov’s story focuses on a case of roboticide. There are, of course, robots with positronic brainpaths (Mr. Data, here’s your creator.) But he set his story on a planet where sex is casual and monogamy nonexistent. Well, Asimov is also known for writing for adolescent boys. And his story opened up new possibilities for at least one youngster.

I’ve never read the book and headed to Amazon to find over 200 reviews and a 4.5 star rating. Readers love the robot mystery, and also note some elements that didn’t age well over the decades.

  • Fascinating take on culture clashes and assumptions made–even while it remains blind to some of the assumptions of the time period in which it was written.
  • The sex scenes were written in an odd way, I thought, showing that the character (as well as the author perhaps?) was not comfortable
  • There doesn’t seem to be any ethnic diversity
  • This book dragged on and on. I bought it for my 14 year old and found it was really inappropriate.

Even the writer who found the book transformative as a preteen says, “When I re-read The Robots of Dawn now, passages that I absorbed uncritically at the time are transformed into stumbling blocks… a fantasy world that had no place for me or anyone like me.”

I’ve found some of Asimov’s other work to be dated. I have fond memories of some of his books and have avoided re-reading them exactly because I don’t want to spoil the memories.

I’m intrigued. The book resonated for a particular person at a particular point in his young life. What do you think? Should I read Robots of Dawn? Will you read it?

Bowl of Heaven a bowl of rehash, doesn’t even have an ending #bookreview #review #scifi #sciencefiction

Bowl of Heaven coverIt’s not often I finish a book with the urge to throw it across the room, but that’s where Bowl of Heaven left me. I didn’t even get that satisfaction because I had a hardcover book and was afraid I’d break something.

With two popular authors, “science fiction masters” (so the blurb says) Larry Niven (best known for Ringworld) and Gregory Benford (best known for Timescape) I expected more. The story begins with grand ideas – an interstellar ship with most of the crew in hibernation and an amazing, huge ship-star, a variation on a Dyson sphere (and, therefore, a variation on Niven’s Ringworld from 1970) that is quite cool and fun to contemplate. Cool enough that the book seems to repeat descriptions and slack-jawed wonder of the contrivance (the authors like the word contrivance) from time to time throughout the book. But, okay, maybe some readers forget and appreciate the repetition. I noticed but wasn’t especially annoyed.

A landing party from the interstellar ship gets separated, one group captured by the enormous bird-like rulers, the other running and trying to learn about the vast contrivance. They’re mostly on foot so we see only a teeny tiny bit of the vast Bowl. The captured group escapes, so the story follows two groups on the run in the Bowl, plus those remaining on their ship above the contrivance. (I’m getting used to that word.)

Some scenes are told from the Bird-Folk’s point of view and therefore comment on humanity’s weaknesses, though I couldn’t shake the image of Sesame Street’s Big Bird from my mind.

The landings parties wander around the Bowl. Well, I guess wander isn’t fair – they are being chased. As the story progresses, they find more interesting technologies and species of Bowl inhabitants. Interesting, but not especially riveting.

What got me was – the book ends after 400+ pages, but the story doesn’t. There isn’t even a particular cliffhanger. It just stops – go buy the next book. The blurb on Amazon doesn’t warn you that you’re buying half a story (at $8.99 for the Kindle version.) That makes me angry. I’m used to multi-book series, but I expect each book to have an ending. Scheisse. The next book is available. They call it a sequel. Sequel my eye – it’s part 2, and I hope the story gets to a conclusion, but I don’t expect to read it.

The Bowl gets 3.1 stars on Amazon (from a hefty 291 reviews the day I checked.) I’ve never seen a distribution like this – reviews are evenly divided among all five star rating levels! As many people hate the book as love it.

“Old themes rewarmed and mixed together,” “long, rambling, resolves nothing.” I agree with those comments. “Physics is solid and the engineering is great.” I agree with that too. Maybe that’s why the book returns to descriptions of the Bowl so often.

So after six years on Amazon Kindle, how can this book still rank #644 in its scifi category? With an overall Kindle store ranking of #118,990, someone buys the book every day. Those are awesome rankings that I, as a newbie scifi author, would love to have.

Come on people. Try something new! How about my near-future Mars colony? Find Glory on Mars and the rest of the series on Amazon and other favorite stores. Or join my Readers’ Club and get a coupon for a free download of Glory on Mars. Mars isn’t as big as the Bowl, but give the story a try.

RetrogradeIf not my story, give someone’s story a try. You can probably buy two or three ebooks from new authors for what the Bowl will cost you. Here’s a story by a friend of mine that offers the exploits of an interstellar diplomat, with thoughtful themes I rarely find in scifi. With art on the cover instead of the almost-standard Fiverr covers assembled from stock images. Creativity is good 🙂

Time Travel Without Wormholes, Historical Fiction from Science Fiction’s Golden Age #review #bookreview #history #fantasy #historicalfiction

Kindle cover, which is WRONG. My paperback has the 1882 picture in tinted color with black & white around it, the way the hero sees New York

Jack Finney wrote some classic science fiction. I’m most familiar with his book The Body Snatchers from 1950, a Golden Age story. But I recently found one of his later paperbacks in a used book store. It’s from 1970 but now on Amazon, Time and Again.

This is a time travel story, but there are no wormholes or flux capacitors. I’ll let you discover the method on your own. It may disappoint hard science fiction fans, but the detail put into the experiment is engaging.

The real point of this story is to contrast New York City today (remember, published in 1970) with New York in 1882. There are loads of real pictures from the era, though not all exactly from 1882. An apartment building is a key part of the story, and Finney admits in his author’s note that it wasn’t completed until three years after his story. Why didn’t he simply move his story a few years? There’s another building that figures in the story’s climax, where Finney uses a real event that was more important than the date the Dakota was completed. But the Dakota is such a magnificent structure I’ll forgive the little fudge.

The Dakota apartment building

I’ve got to show you the Dakota

The Dakota may sound familiar to you. It’s been a fancy abode for the rich and famous from its opening to today. Yoko Ono lives there now and John Lennon was murdered outside the building in 1980. So it’s infamous as well as famous.

If it seems odd to talk so much about buildings instead of the story, I think Finney would approve. Any lover of New York or the late 1800s will adore the detailed descriptions of places, people, and the way of life. Finney and his hero Si Morely love New York in 1882. The point of the book is to contrast the two times, and there are more period-correct illustrations than I bothered to count.

Si Morely is impressed at how he experiences 1882. He goes on about it quite a bit, and during his returns to today everyone wants to know how it feels. Si can’t truly put the feeling into words, but Finney tries. He’s impressed throughout the book and I thought he would have gotten a bit more used to the feel over time.

Okay, the story: Si is recruited for a secret time travel experiment, and at first his only goal is to successfully arrive in New York’s 1882. But an odd personal motive arises – a mystery. Half way through the book, it seems that his mystery is solved. He even says, my mission is over and I wish that it weren’t. At least in part, that’s because he’s falling in love with a woman as well as with 1882.

When he returns to today, a second mission arises and Si makes a decision that promises to cause trouble. It does. Towards the end, the placid tale picks up some real action. Lives are in danger and lives are lost. The original mystery turns out to have a second mystery inside, in a neat twist. Finally Si tackles the core paradox of time travel, how the past effects the present.

So if you read for action, be patient and you’ll get there. But this book is really for lovers of cities a hundred and thirty years ago. Especially New York.

What others are saying
A Kindle version came out in 2014 and has 4.2 stars from 882 reviewers on Amazon. Most readers love it, especially the vivid, brought-to-life history. “Masterpiece,” “brilliant,” and “awesome.” Of course, no book appeals to everyone. Others thought it was over-hyped, or that parts were tedious. I will admit that once I got to the action part of the story, I began skimming descriptions so I could find out what happens. The person who said “nothing ever really happened” must not have gotten all the way to the end, but if you want a fast paced story, this is the wrong book.

Fantasy Story to Share With the Kids in Your Life #review #bookreview #fantasy #story #kids

Portal Keeper book coverIf you’re looking for a fantasy to keep kids reading over a school vacation, check out this book, and read it yourself, too.

A mysterious portal, which opens at dawn and closes again at dusk, is located deep in the woods and kept secret from the vast majority of the people who inhabit the kingdom of Rastella.

When Ajax, a newly appointed teenaged keeper, takes his post, his first day does not go well. Soon the kingdom’s prince and his best friend have vanished into another world and he must follow them or they will never return.

The story travels through a Land-of-Oz like world, where the characters meet friends and enemies, and battle dangers.

Listed under Amazon’s Children’s eBooks category, this book held my adult interest too. A perfect story to read and share with a youngster in your life.

Teens Battle to the Death in Ruthless Dystopian Games – Latest Big Hit Contribution to the Genre #review #bookreview #dystopia #scifi

Teen Dystopian BookRed Rising is in the scifi/fantasy dystopian genre – the sort where teenagers fight and kill each other in “games.”  Like other stories in this genre, adults are generally corrupt or ineffective. The genre favors medieval sorts of weapons with flashes of high-tech and high-fashion. The main character must win the game to maneuver into a position to topple the evil society. You may think this has become predictable stuff, but Red Rising by Pierce Brown is phenomenally popular.

The story delivers all the requirements of the genre, and grandly. The underdog hero, Darrow, is a Red slave in a society of many rigid classes ruled by the Golds. He chooses to join the game to give meaning to his murdered wife’s death, bravely suffers a dreadful preparation, and doesn’t really know what he’s getting into. There’s lots of violence and suffering by all involved, more than any one of us could endure because the characters are supermen and superwomen.

Darrow repeatedly ruminates about his lost love, which drives him and makes him unwilling to settle merely for revenge. He feels guilt over some of the terrible things he must do to win and sometimes suffers consequences. He makes and loses friends and enemies. The story is well done and doesn’t devolves into merely a video game plot.

At one point I was getting a little tired of the violence, and laughed out loud when a character said that he was getting tired of the game. How about that – an author who can read my mind.

What others are saying
There are always some negative reviews. Darrow’s ruminations strike some as “rehashing” and “tedious.” Others noted this is more of a fantasy than hard science fiction (though the scifi genre has been stretched into fantasy forever.) The book is set on Mars but there’s only one grim element that says “Mars” to me – the planet’s been terraformed, so the story could have been set almost anywhere.

Others disliked similarities to previous popular dystopias. “I am very bothered, and even distracted… because it is following The Hunger Games in 2008 and Divergent in 2011 and Red Rising came out in 2014 which wholesale loots plots and character arcs from the previous two books.” Joel De Gan.

The comparison wouldn’t bother the author – the Amazon description brags about the similarity to Ender and Katniss.

My bottom line.
I’ve read enough stories in this genre lately, and that may blunt my opinion. I’ve read that scifi is always about us today, so they make me wonder – do teens and twenty-somethings see school as an arbitrary game imposed on them by callous adults? And the real world on the other side of school as grim and rigged?

Red Rising is well done and if you’re looking for this sort of story, you’ll love it.