Friday, May 25, 2012

Nebula Update: Among Others

Among OthersAmong Others by Jo Walton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Among Others is the fourth of the 2011 Nebula nominees that I've read. Unfortunately, it falls into the category into which I placed "The City & The City" a couple of years ago -- while it's really well written, it's not clear it's fantasy or science fiction.

With the tragic confrontation involving the narrator (Mori), her mother and her identical twin sister taking place near the start of the narrative (but not re-told directly on the page), I expected to see some sort of Harry Potter-like book. In other words, something magical happened that set the stage for a book full of magic. But that's not what happened.

Instead, you get a coming-of-age tale that's more about science fiction than it is science fiction. In particular, a lot is said about the Mori's opinions of various sf from the 1970s and earlier, but for much of the book there's a nagging feeling that the Mori is imagining the fantasy elements.

This may be a weird comparison, but I kept thinking of a book I read when I was around Mori's age -- Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars, by Daniel Pinkwater. My memory is a bit fuzzy, but as I recall, Alan seems in the first part of the book like this weird new kid in town who tells everybody he's from Mars. For all you know, you're reading something with as much sf/fantasy content as a Judy Blume novel (not that there's anything wrong with that).

But then Daniel Pinkwater commits to the weirdness. Of course, Alan Mendelsohn is really from Mars, and you have the mind control and planar travel and aliens and whatnot. It may not be a great book, but it's definitely sf.

Among Others by contrast is really well done, but I'm afraid if it wins the Nebula or the Hugo it will only be because the tale of a geeky kid who loves reading science fiction will really speak to the voters. It's a very enjoyable book, but voting it the best sf/fantasy novel of the year would be like voting a restaurant the best Japanese restaurant just because they serve miso soup on Mondays.

On the twin front (spoilers ahead), Walton gets credit for handling the death of a twin much better than, say, Avatar.  It's a sensitive portrayal of the emotional swings Mori goes through in coming to accept her sister's death. At one point Mori signs something using her sister's name. I couldn't tell whether that was a subtle emotional tell, or a mistake by the author. I should probably assume the former.

I was hoping to complete the fifth Nebula nominee, Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti before the awards were announced. I just looked, however, and the awards were announced last weekend. Oh, look, Among Others won. Boo. I could have accepted more easily if Mechanique had won. So far it's not really to my tastes, but it's an interesting and inventive approach to sf/fantasy. Among Others, on the other hand, is a well-written book that doesn't really have a clear place in the genre.

That's no criticism of Ms. Walton -- I think it's great that people write books that don't fit squarely in one genre or another. But it wouldn't have been on my ballot. (You know, if I were eligible to vote.) I'll still finish Mechanique -- it's enjoyable, and it's paid for, and then I'll probably go back to The Healer's War, the 1988 winner, which I've already started. Not much time for reading these days, though.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Bowie Restaurant Project: (BB3) KBQ Real Barbecue

KBQ is moving to DC Woodmore Towne Centre, which puts them even further beyond Bowie than I like to see for this subseries of reviews.

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

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

KBQ Real Barbecue, 12500 Fairwood Pkwy B1, Fairwood
Most Recent Foursquare Check-in: 5/16/2012
Total Foursquare Check-ins: 2
Pre-Foursquare Visits: Yes
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars 

Head about a mile west of Bowie city limits on Rte. 450, and you'll come to the Fairwood shopping center, a fairly generic retail facility that mostly provides the answer to the question: "Where near Bowie is there a Safeway with a gas station where I can use my gas points?"

What's not generic about the shopping center is KBQ, a well-reviewed barbecue restaurant that's tucked anonymously into the shopping center. Bowie has Smokey Bones, a chain establishment that I will get around to reviewing. (I've held off because I want to give it one more chance -- not generally a good sign.) But the closest thing to the BBQ shacks that dot the South (and portions of the Midwest) is located in Fairwood at KBQ.

My verdict? Pretty good -- for Maryland. I lived four years in Georgia, and this place wouldn't raise an eyebrow down there. Whenever I'm in the South, I try to get BBQ, and KBQ won't stop those cravings. What it will, however, do, is give you some tasty, filling BBQ without leaving the state.

KBQ earns an entry in my "Beyond Bowie" series for being the place I'd send people to who asked about local BBQ. I'm going to have to check out Dickey's in Crofton/Gambrills, though. It's a chain, but it gets high marks from people at work.

If you want non-chain BBQ without leaving Bowie city limits, you do have an option. Sunday mornings at the Bowie Farmer's Market, you can get BBQ and other foods from "C&JD's Stand", a food truck. It's not pilgrimage-worthy, but it's a fine way to kick off your Sunday if you're at the market.

Bowie Restaurant News

The Muffin Man Caribbean Cafe now has a sign up! I was despairing of this place ever opening, but if somebody's putting money into a sign, that's a good indication that the restaurant isn't dead yet. Looking at their menu, it seems they'll have some unique-to-Bowie offerings (goat!), but everything seems a bit pricey. (Jersey Mike's also has a sign up, but I was not doubting its existence.)

I went to Cetrone's to pick up some pizza this week and was momentarily disoriented that it seemed to have shrunk when I got inside. Sure enough, they've closed their dining room. There are still a few tables if you feel like sitting and eating, but it's another sad chapter in Bowie's pizza history. I'd knock it down to 3 or 3.5 stars without the dining room.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Geocoin Update: Further Adventures of Free State Mover #3

A couple of months ago, I updated the saga of the "Free State Mover #3" geocoin, which I released in Banff in May 2008 with the goal of returning to Maryland (inside the Beltway). After excursions to Sweden and Germany, a return to Canada, and visits to Washington state, Oregon, Utah and Virginia, it went missing in September 2009.

Free State Mover #3's worldwide journey
After resurfacing in Virginia this March, I am pleased to report that on Saturday, geocacher "magtfplanner" picked it up with the note: "Picked up on a road trip up the I-95 from Florida all the way to Canada. I'll be in Maryland's beltway in a few hours. Ill drop it off there ."

A hopeful sign! I may have to organize an excursion to retrieve it. On the other hand, it's been more than a few hours, and still no word...

Bowie Restaurant Project: (BB2) Boston Market

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

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

Boston Market, 1070 Maryland Route 3 North, Gambrills
Most Recent Foursquare Check-in: 5/5/2012
Total Foursquare Check-ins: 5
Pre-Foursquare Visits: Yes
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

As a reminder, as a supplement to my project of reviewing every restaurant in Bowie, I have a "Beyond Bowie" series capturing the types of restaurants that Bowie should have, but doesn't. The first entry was inadvertently, retroactively, Rip's, after I learned it was just outside of city limits. The second entry is Boston Market.

I hear you saying, "Really, Jon? Is that what Bowie desperately needs, a Boston Market?" No. Bowie needs a Peruvian chicken restaurant. But I'll settle for a Boston Market.

The ability to get healthier-than-normal food is a definite plus with Boston Market, which is a cut above Wendy's. What really sells Boston Market, though, is that you can go there and get a family-style meal. For around $20, you can bring home a whole roasted chicken and sides for your family (or for your smaller grouping to have with leftovers). Sure, you can cook it yourself cheaper, but if you had time to do that, you wouldn't be at Boston Market, would you?

The "Gambrills" location (just north of Crofton on Rte. 3) has the added bonus of having a drive-thru, so you don't even have to drag the kids out of the car to get your chicken fix.

If you are in Bowie, aside from the obvious option of heading north for 10 minutes to Crofton/Gambrills, you're reduced to heading to grocery store to pick up a roasted chicken. And if you're going to do that, you might as well actually get ingredients and cook some food. Nobody really wants that, do they?

So here's something that Bowie really needs -- a good chicken place. I'd prefer a new Sardi's franchise, or similar Peruvian goodness, but I'd settle for a Boston Market.