Friday, April 27, 2012

Bowie Restaurant Project: (51) On the Border

For an explanation of the Bowie Restaurant Project, look here.

For a list of all the Bowie Restaurant Project reviews, look here.

On the Border, 16403 Heritage Blvd.
Most Recent Foursquare Check-in: 04/25/2012
Total Foursquare Check-ins: 2
Pre-Foursquare Visits: No
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
I'm running out of non-sit-down restaurants to review, and with twin toddlers in tow, it's hard to get to the sit-down places (where I feel I have to eat in at least once to get a full measure of the place). Last Sunday, the desire to get the boys out of the house on a rainy day, along with a coupon, led us to On the Border.

As Christina said after the meal, "At least they have food." It's not exactly high praise. Her chicken tortilla soup was incredibly salty, and the rest of the food was mediocre. The boys, as usual, loved anything involving beans, rice and tortillas.

The best thing I can say about our trip was that the service was excellent. Our waitress was very attentive. But I can't imagine why we'd want to go back here rather than to Monterey (half a mile away) or Mi Hacienda.

My follow-up visit on Wednesday was via the take-out process. Since they have dedicated take-out parking, I hoped this would go well, and it started out in a promising vein. After being put on hold as a Yaz song played, my order was taken my someone with a distinct Latin accent.

Christina suggested I ask what they recommended, but I decided I had better had something in mind in case they weren't forthcoming with a recommendation. I settled on the chicken fajitas. (Particularly since fajitas aren't something you can order when you have kids who want to grab everything placed on the table.) So they recommended, of course, the chicken fajitas.

I picked up my meal at the bar, and it was served with an extremely generous portion of chips and salsa. I thought that was a nice touch to include the complimentary chips that you would have gotten as a dine-in customer.

When I got back to my office, after wolfing down the chips and salsa, I opened the takeout container to find...a grilled chicken breast, vegetables and tortillas. I know fajitas are assemble-your-own, but you're generally not supposed to have to cut the meat into strips yourself. (Particularly since it should be cooked that way.) The food was once again mediocre. It was edible, but I wasn't eager to finish every last bite.

So once again, great service, but it's another one of Bowie's unnecessary restaurants. It's rare to find a chain restaurant that can out-do a good, independent ethnic eatery, and Bowie has two fine Mexican places where you'd be better off spending your money.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Book Review: God's War

God's War (Bel Dame Apocrypha, #1)God's War by Kameron Hurley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

God's War is the debut novel by Kameron Hurley. It's the story of Nyx, who is a bel dame in a far-future, Islam-dominated planet called Umaya. The two major nations of Umaya have been at war for thousands of years. The bel dames, among other responsibilities, catch and behead deserters. Things get more complicated early on for Nyx, which is good, because there's only so much deserter-beheading you can put into a book.

Continuing the trend of twins and higher-order multiples in this year's Nebula nominees, Nyx is a quintuplet. That detail is almost a throwaway in the novel, but it represents one of Hurley's strengths -- interesting world-building in a way that challenges assumptions. In a world with advanced biotechnology, with a different set of societal structures for child-rearing, why wouldn't it make sense for most births to be multiple ones? It depends on the nature of the world, but it shows that Umaya isn't a space version of 21st century America, but rather a thought-out world.

I was initially somewhat put off by the harsh nature of the story. For example, here's a scene in an office where bounty hunters are collecting their bounties:

Shajin, unimpressed, replied in her booming monotone, “Read the fine print. Says here you only get sixty if this particular catch is live. They preferred him dead and would have paid you a hundred for it. I’m not killing him for you, so you take him out back and shoot him or take your sixty. If there’s something you don’t understand about that, you need to go back to state school. Get your skinny ass away from my desk. Move.”

Actually, that's a little bit funny, but there's only so many beheadings and mutilations and whatnot that I really need to read about. Fortunately, the book focuses less on the brutality and more on the plot as it goes along. I was never entirely comfortable with the level of gore, but I found it more engaging.

One problem that I had with God's War is that the copyediting is fairly uneven. The formatting is off on a lot of the paragraphs. I initially assumed it was because it was from a small publisher unused to converting to e-book format, but when I found a "you're" that was supposed to be a "your", I really got thrown out of the reading.

I think the problems extended to the editing in general. The author likes to mention details of the world without explanation. On the one hand, I can respect the desire not to have two pages explaining how cars work on this world. On the other hand, if you want to convince me that everything runs on insects, I need a little more than a brief comment, or I'm going to be skeptical that any of this makes sense.

In summary, this is a novel with flashes of brilliance, particularly in the world-building. It is harsher than my tastes would prefer, and I don't feel like the read from front to back was as smooth as it should have been. I'm not rooting for it to win the Nebula, but if it does, I won't be upset at the award going to one of the more promising writers I've read in a while.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Book Review: Embassytown

It's Nebula awards season, i.e. the time period between the nominations and the awards, where I try to read the nominees and decide on which book I would choose. I've never gotten through all of the nominees, and this year will be no different, but I hope to read four or five of the six. Firebird, which I have previously reviewed, is on the list. Of the other five, The Kingdom of Gods is by far the longest, and it's the third book in a trilogy. So I won't be reading that unless it wins, at which point I'll feel obligated to go back and read the previous two book. That may keep me busy until next year's awards. Embassytown, by China Miéville, was available as a library e-book, so it seemed a good place to start.

EmbassytownEmbassytown by China Miéville

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed Miéville's The City & the City, a Nebula nominee from two years ago, but I didn't feel like it was "science-fictiony" enough to win the award. Embassytown is definitely sf -- it takes place in a far-future setting on a planet where the humans have established communication with the very alien creatures known as "the Hosts" or "the Arieke".

Communication was not easy to establish, since the Hosts have two different types of "mouths" and only recognize speech performed by pairs of mouths. They don't recognize electronic speech, so the only solution is to use pairs of humans -- the trick is that the humans need to be synched up better than most two humans are.

The humans' first idea is to use identical twins (at least three of this year's nominees mention twins or higher-order multiples). As a writer for, I was glad to see that the author realized that identical twins are not usually alike enough for this to work -- the early experiments were mostly a failure. On the other hand, after that they turned to clones. Clones are actually less alike than identical twins, so I'm not sure why the idea would work any better. There were some references to techniques to sync up the clones, but those techniques should work even better on identical twins.

Anyway, the book starts as an interesting investigation of the weird social and linguistic structure of the Hosts. I began to wonder if Embassytown was going to be one of the rare works of science fiction without a lot of high drama -- mostly an exploration of an alien society. High drama, however, appears in quantity in the final two-thirds of the book. Without too many spoilers, I'll say that everything about the setting gets upended. I actually found it a bit much and perhaps would have preferred the type of novel I thought at first I was getting.

The characters weren't entirely compelling, and the resolution of conflict towards the end of the novel was fairly implausible. (Again, I'll stay spoiler-lite, but my reaction was, "Really? This changes everything?!") Miéville is a good writer, but this effort fell short of the mark in several ways. I am not rooting for this book to win the Nebula.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Book Review: Throne of Jade

Throne of Jade (Temeraire, #2)Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Throne of Jade is the second novel in the Temeraire series. I really liked His Majesty's Dragon, the first book in the series, which is often described as "Napoleonic Wars with dragons." The second book might be described as "events with dragons at the same time as the Napoleonic Wars." The action shifts to China and a diplomatic mission from England to there. This being the 19th century, it takes a long time to get there, and a substantial part of the book describes the journey.

I like the "world tour" approach to telling us how dragons fit into this alternate history, but negotiations are not as exciting as a war (though this book does feature dragon fights). All in all, I enjoyed the book, but it was just enough off the heights of the first book to drop to 4 stars.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bowie Restaurant Project: (50) Old Town Deli

For an explanation of the Bowie Restaurant Project, look here.

For a list of all the Bowie Restaurant Project reviews, look here.

Old Town Deli, 8700 Chestnut Ave.
Most Recent Foursquare Check-in: 03/26/2012
Total Foursquare Check-ins: 2
Pre-Foursquare Visits: No
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

When I reviewed the Uptown Cafe, I referred to it as "the only place in Bowie to get Korean food.", it turns out, that's not quite true. The Old Town Deli has daily specials, and Monday is bulgogi. I found it slightly tastier than the Uptown Cafe version, and it came with a salad, too.

Still, that's the only Korean special, so most of the time you're left ordering deli fare. The sandwich I got was unexceptional, and even though I ordered it from the "hot sandwiches" section of the menu, it was given to me cold. (If I cared much, I would have noticed, but the lack of attention to detail is not thrilling.)

It makes sense for various parts of Bowie to have their own deli -- a place to grab a quick sandwich on your way to work or elsewhere. With the exception of the Chesapeake Grille, I don't think any of them are worth driving across town to visit. I might add another exception for the Old Town Deli on Monday if I were going out to lunch with people, and we were in a "let's try something different" mood. But for the most part, it's "just another deli" that I'd be happy enough with if I were in the area.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Nebula Update: No Enemy But Time

No Enemy but TimeNo Enemy but Time by Michael Bishop

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

One of the great things about the Kindle is that I can highlight passages I want to use in my reviews. The first such passage from No Enemy but time was:
Alfie had almost certainly plucked from her the fresh gardenia of her maidenhood, for his chieftaincy of the Minids gave him carnal access to almost every female who had attained menarche.
The problem with highlighting this sentence is that it was so awful that it opened my eyes to how wretched the rest of the prose was. So that leaves the plot and the characters.

The plot can be summarized as a guy traveling back in time to observe hominids. Something about the way the author wrote about a female hominid early in the book made me sure that they'd end up in the paelo-sack later in the book...I'm not quite sure how icky that is, but it definitely is at least a little bit icky. The chapters about the time-traveling alternate with chapters about the protagonist's life which lead up to the time-traveling. Oh, and the time-traveling happens via dreams, which just makes things feel less science-fictiony.

The non-time-travel chapters actually tell a more compelling story. The time travel part features the standard question of getting stuck in the past, but by late in the book neither the protagonist nor the reader cares.

There are a few interesting ideas in this book. So it is saved from the 1-star designation, if barely. I don't know whether 1982 was a weak year for the Nebula field, or after 30 years not everything ages well. (The LeGuin books from the 1970s continue to be fantastic, however.) Hmm. Now I see Bishop beat out Asimov, Heinlein and Dick to win the award. Foundation's Edge wasn't as strong as earlier Asimov, Friday had its own icky parts, and I haven't read the Philip K. Dick work. But I think I'd recommend any of them over No Enemy But Time.

That brings me to 33 of 47 Nebula winners read. Until the 2011 awards are announced in May, I'm going to concentrate on reading the nominees rather that past winners. (I've actually read 3 of them, but I'm behind on my review-writing.) It's nice to read more "modern" works for a change.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Bowie Restaurant Project: (49) Asian Chao

For an explanation of the Bowie Restaurant Project, look here.

For a list of all the Bowie Restaurant Project reviews, look here.

Asian Chao, 3860 Town Center Blvd
Most Recent Foursquare Check-in: 04/03/2012
Total Foursquare Check-ins: 2
Pre-Foursquare Visits: No
Rating: 0 out of 5 stars

Panda Express has gone away and has now been replaced by Asian Chao. I called Panda Express a strong contender for for "Most Unnecessary Restaurant in Bowie." Not only does Asian Chao bring its own strong argument for that title, but it is definitely the most unnecessary replacement. Let's face it, what's the difference between Asian Chao and Panda Express?

Well, Asian Chao offers bourbon chicken, which puts it in direct competition with the "bonbon chicken" offered by Hibachi next door. And I described the Panda Express food as "meh", which is probably a higher compliment than I'd care to pay to Asian Chao.

When I went there the first time, I noticed a sign saying they couldn't accept credit cards. Also, despite white rice being on the menu, none was available. I ordered a 3-meat combo (in order to have more variety for my review), which was dished up in a manner to prevent my styrofoam container from closing. Well, growing pains, I figured. If the food was good, none of this would matter.

But it wasn't. The meat didn't taste like very good quality, and it wasn't prepared particularly attractively. Some dishes were not as bad as the others -- I even sort of enjoyed the egg roll. But I think this is one of the only restaurants I'd refuse a free meal from if I were hungry.

So food I didn't like, an awkward experience walking by the people at Hibachi who were trying to get me to sample a meal I'd rather have, and a whole lot of effort expended to replace a restaurant I didn't like with one that was almost identical. I think this has earned my first 0-star rating.

Bowie Restaurant News

Bowie Living reports that the Bang Bang Mongolian Grill is now open. I stopped by to ask about takeout. The guy said you can't really call in an order, since you assemble your own meal, but you assemble it "to go". Also, within 30 days, you'll be able to create a meal on-line and have them assemble it for you. That sounds cool. I look forward to reviewing this place soon.