Inhuman Swill : August 2012
            

Whether you'd like to join today's Unofficial Worldcon Pub Crawl in Chicago from the start, or want to meet up with us somewhere along the route, here's the revised itinerary I've come up. It involves three train rides and only two cab rides, and gets us all over the North Side to some great brewpubs and beer bars:

11:00 am: Group meets at front entrance of Hyatt Regency Chicago, 151 E. Wacker Dr.

Transit: Walk to CTA Blue Line at Clark/Lake, ride (in direction of O'Hare) to California stop

11:30 am: Revolution Brewing, 2323 N. Milwaukee Ave.

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Chicon 7, the 70th World Science Fiction Convention, gets underway tomorrow at the Hyatt Regency Chicago! In case you're interested, I'm so far scheduled to appear on two panels:

Sunday, September 2, 4:30 - 6:00 pm, Columbus CD

Incorporating the Personal into Speculative Fiction

If the sampling of short fiction presented and discussed in the New Yorker Fiction Podcast is any indication, mainstream literary writers draw heavily on events from their own lives, sometimes barely veiled, as inspiration for their work. Since science fiction is generally regarded as writing of ideas, is there any room for this same mining of one's personal experiences? Our panel will discuss to what extent when writing the fantastic they are writing about themselves.

Moderator: Cat Rambo
Panelists: Inanna Arthen/Vyrdolak, Gwynne Garfinkle, Nick Mamatas, William Shunn
Monday, September 3, 10:30 am - 12:00 pm, Columbus EF

Getting the Most out of Writing Groups

There are all kinds of writing groups for all kinds of writers. What should you look for and what rules should you follow to get the most out of the experience? How do you handle conflicting suggestions and how do you comment on others' writing effectively?

Moderator: William Shunn
Panelists: Derek Kunsken, David McDonald, Sarah Stegall, Tim Susman
That first panel was a programming suggestion of mine, so I guess it's only fair that I should be part of it.

I've been told there may be an opportunity to get slotted in for a reading sometime this weekend as well. I'll be sure to post an update if that happens.

Also, and most importantly, on Thursday, August 30th (tomorrow!), I'll be leading a small group on an unofficial daytime pub crawl to various breweries and beer bars around the North Side. We'll meet in the front lobby of the Hyatt at a little before 11:00 am, then take cabs and trains to Haymarket Brewery, The Bad Apple, Revolution Brewing, and more. We should be back no later than 7:00 pm, probably earlier.

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As the Republican National Convention gets into full swing today, one of the topics that probably won't be talked about very much is Mitt Romney's religion. It's odd that this has become such a non-issue during the campaign, given that a) Romney is the first Mormon ever to receive a major-party presidential nomination, and b) the Mormon Church is the fourth largest church in America.

Wait, what? The fourth largest?

Yes, I too was startled by that statistic, which I've been hearing time and again from various outlets—for instance, in an "On the Media" story from late last year about the LDS Church's "I'm a Mormon" ad campaign. I was catching up on that episode via podcast when this statement from LDS Internet and Advertising Senior Manager Ron Wilson caught my ear:

"Even though the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the fourth largest church, fifty percent of the population didn't really know who we were."
The fourth largest church. I was raised Mormon, which means I was raised with the Mormon inferiority complex. Somehow that assertion didn't strike me as quite right. It sounded like a small man reporting his height in inches, not feet. I decided to do some digging.
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The Quiet American: a cocktail

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A couple of weeks ago, my friend Jeff Lang sent me a link to Studio 360's listener cocktail challenge—create a cocktail inspired by and named after a classic work of literature.

I wanted to give it a try, but I wasn't able to work on it before the August 12th deadline. Last night I had some spare time, though, so I cobbled together a drink I'm calling the Quiet American. I combined 1.5 oz. of Laird's Applejack, 0.75 oz. of Créole Shrubb liqueur, and 1.5 oz. of blood orange martini mix (blood orange, key lime and cane sugar), stirred with ice, and strained.

The result was not bad—sweet and orange-y with a slightly bitter undertaste. It gets that name because of the distinctly American spirit (the applejack) getting all into the poor tropical country's business (in this case, Martinique). Of course, it was Vietnam in the novel, so my cocktail inhabits the entirely wrong part of the world, but hey, it was the best I could do.

Laura thought it needed more of something tart, like lime juice or a twist. I'll keep meddling with it, like a good American.

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Shock and jaw

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A few months ago, my jaw popped out of place on the right side. Suddenly my molars no longer fit together on either side of my bite. A month or so later, my jaw went back into place for a few hours, but it didn't last. It's still out of place.

I went to my doctor early on, who sent me to my dentist. He told me my bite problem, with a left-to-right sliding displacement, was pretty rare in his experience. He sent me out to get a panorex and i-CAT 3D scan of my head so he could figure out what my options might be.

Upon reviewing the results of the scan, my dentist told me there was very little he could do to try to fix my bite short of making crowns for half my teeth. My best option, he said, was to consult an oral surgeon, who would take the scans and work out the best way to cut my jaw apart and reassemble it into something with a proper bite.

I suspect that my dentist wasn't really listening to me all the times when I told him that the problem had come on suddenly. I hope the oral surgeon I talk to is a better listener, and has a better solution than turning my skull into a jigsaw puzzle. I've never had many dental problems, and I find the idea of surgery both extreme and terrifying. I've never had to have surgery of any kind before.

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Microwaves ruin everything

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The wonderful video below reminds me of a good story about a microwave oven. Two microwave ovens, actually. But watch the video first, before I tell it. Don't worry, I'll wait.

Wasn't that awesome? Especially the metal stuff. I used to have a girlfriend who would put metal in the microwave all the time. Spoons, aluminum foil, whatever—she wouldn't bother to remove any of it before nuking her food. I'd tell her that was a bad idea, a dangerous idea, but we had the kind of relationship where anything I said was considered silly and untrue just by virtue of my having said it, no matter that it was easily verifiable by checking with any other human being on the planet.

This was 1998. We lived together, and eventually the very bad breakup that had been coming for a very long time was upon us. Our microwave over was very old and very primitive, and my soon-to-be ex-girlfriend had at last saved enough money to buy the kind of very advanced, fancy new microwave she'd been dreaming of for a very long time. She didn't even take it out of the box when she bought it. It was going to be a housewarming gift to herself in her new apartment in her new city, and she was graciously leaving the old crappy microwave behind for me.

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Squirrel's-eye view (sorta)
I think I've finally figured out how Ella can be all the way at the front end of our apartment and detect the presence of a squirrel in the back yard. Birds are the key. When a rodent invades their garden space, the sparrows set up a particular squawking racket that Ella has learned to associate with the presence of a squirrel. She hears that sound and charges toward the back door yipping and yelping like her tail's on fire.

Late one morning last week, alerted by one of these yelping fits, I rushed to the kitchen to open the back door for Ella. As usual, she tried to squeeze through the opening before it was wide enough for her. Then she clattered down the stairs from our second-story deck, and I could hear her charging around the yard like a wounded rhino. She started barking from near the gate at the side of the house, so I leaned over the railing to make sure the gate was shut.

What I saw when I looked down was a squirrel climbing past the security lights installed on the corner of our brick building. (I wished I had a camera but my iPhone was in the apartment, charging. The photo below is one I took a few minutes later.) Ella was on her hind legs, barking up at the squirrel. The moment the crafty little rodent saw me peering down at it, it changed direction and darted along the railing of the deck below ours.

I hurried toward the stairs, my only intent being to flush the squirrel in Ella's direction. (I'm a good wingman for her in that regard, as is Laura.) But the squirrel didn't stop when it reached the end of our downstairs neighbors deck railing. It launched itself through the air, over Ella's head, leaping six feet to snatch at the branch of a tree in the garden. In moments it had swarmed up the trunk of the tree and made its escape over the roof of the garage.

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One of my earliest memories is of standing with my father after dark on the front lawn of our home in Highland Park, Los Angeles. He pointed at the moon and told me, "There are men up there right now."

The Apollo 11 mission reached the lunar surface on my mother's 24th birthday. I was still weeks shy of my second birthday, so I find it doubtful that this memory (if, indeed, it isn't wholly apocryphal) comes from that first landing. Maybe it was Apollo 12 later that year, or Apollo 14 in 1971 (though that date seems too late). Doesn't matter. I remember feeling a childish awe that people had flown to that distant bright sphere.

No humans landed on Mars last night, just a robotic rover, but the wonder and awe I felt were perhaps even greater than on that Vietnam-era night. Because, in a sense, we all traveled along with Curiosity on its thrilling, harrowing, lonely plunge to the Martian surface. NASA brilliantly sucked us into the narrative by walking us through its "7 Minutes of Terror" in advance, then let us hang out with the gang in mission control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to live those seven minutes with them. Yes, this is something like the seventh time that humans have landed devices successfully on Mars, but never before have we observers all been able to experience the event with such immediacy, unmediated by professional reporters. I'm not ashamed to say that I burst into tears when Curiosity was reported to have landed safely, and I know from the conversation taking place on Twitter that I was far from the only one who did.

Kind of a silly reaction to the fact that we humans (or some of our smartest representatives) had fired a hunk of metal and glass through space to a soft landing on a neighboring ball of rock, right? Not really. Those first couple of pictures, featuring the wheel or shadow of a human-made object on Mars made clear that, even if most of us had long since come to terms with the fact that we would never set foot on the Red Planet ourselves, an emissary could still go there for us and make its first task upon arrival to send us back photos. And that was almost as wondrous as being there.

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