Nov 162020

The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation by David Kamp is a 2006 book about American eating habits. In particular, how we went from a dull meat and potatoes country that valued TV dinners over cooking, to a society that eats sushi, organic meats and arugula. It places the credit at the feet of chefs and the food celebrities in a book that is remarkably breezy for such a big topic.

Kamp starts with the big three, Julia Child, James Beard and food critic Craig Clairborne. He details how these three dropped into the culinary scene with a splash that was powered primarily by newspaper articles and cookbooks. From these three he moves on to Alice Waters and the organic movement in California, and then onto other celebrity chefs like Wolfgang Puck. He details the challenges people had about cuisine and the massive force of will it took to get farms and growers to create the produce and meats we take for granted today. It is a fascinating story.

I had a lot of fun reading this book. It is a gossipy affair, detailing the rise of cooking cultural icons with plenty of snark and backhanded compliments from friends and foes alike. Every other page has a great story that says so much about the large personalities involve. I lost track of how many times I would seek out my wife and read her a passage because it was too funny not to share.

If I had one criticism, it is that I think the impact of the Food Network, as well as dozens of PBS chefs is underplayed. Growing up in the south, I has no interest in a lot of food until I saw it on television first. The original iron Chef demystified a lot of Asian cooking and shows like Good Eats and Yan Can Cook encouraged me to dip my toes where I would normally be afraid to go.

Still, it is a minor complaint about a book that had me laughing for days. I highly recommend it.

Oct 232020

The Tindalos Asset is the third book in the Tinfoil Dossier series by Caitlin Kiernan. Horrible aquatic incidents are happening around the world and a shadowy secret government agency knows that something terrible is about to rise out of the ocean and it all because of a crazed serial killer with a hard on for Cthulhu. Options are limited so they are reactivating a burned out agent who barely survived her last encounter with the serial killer.

You know, it pains me to see this series is inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft because that does a disservice to how incredibly creative and creepy Kiernan is. Most Lovercraftian writers are imitators, where as Kiernan brings a deep science background and a knack for truly alien weird fiction. her characters are queer, dark and deeply human in a way Lovecraft was never able to obtain.

The other thing I greatly enjoy in this series is that the shadowy government agency that is fighting to save humanity is just as byzantine, mysterious and outright lacking in humanity as the cults they fight. It is X-Files as if existing in a Thomas Ligotti world and peopled with John le Carre’s deeply compromised characters.

This book, like every book in the series, is a wonderful work of art. It is also complex as fuck. Each chapter starts in a different time period from the one before, and if you are like me, you better take notes. The complexity is a plus for me as it adds to the feeling of working your way through a damn mysterious world. The heroes in these stories are lucky to survive, much less defeat whatever horror they must face.

The books are also blissfully short. This helps a lot because you are going to want to set aside a day to read them in their entirety. They are also filled with “Holy shit” moments and concepts that will stick with you for a long time. I highly recommend them this Halloween season.

Sep 282020

Two years ago, I posted about All Systems Read, the first book in the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells. Three novella and a full blown novel later, I am hear to tell you that Murderbot is still amazing. I finished the latest book last night and I am flush with Great-Writing afterglow.

For the uninitiated, Murderbot is an entity created to be a security guard. They are a mix of cloned organic parts, weaponry and machinery. It is property with no rights of its own. At some point, it hacked itself and was able to break the hardware that fries it if it acts out of line. It has been acting out ever since.

The series is mostly about Murderbot trying to stay alive in a universe that doesn’t consider it to be a person. What redeems Murderbot is that despite really hating interacting with humans, it has a protective fondness for weak humans it encounters. Over the course of the series, Murderbot makes friends, takes on clients and inches closer to having something resembling a life.

This is a great action series. If you like efficiency porn like Jason Bourne, you will love Murderbot. The threats are always terrible but Murderbot is always up to the task. Evil corporations, alien hostiles and other murderous cyborgs make for great enemies.

Speaking of cyborgs, there is a lot of non-human intelligences in this series. There is a giant computer mind that operates a transport ship. There are combat cyborgs that desire only destruction. There is a simplistic robot that creeps Murderbot out with its willingness to trust. This is a series that thinks a lot about how different minds think and it is fascinating to see these minds interact.

That is exemplified in the unique mind that is Murderbot. They are wonderfully anti-social and yet afraid of the fond feelings it has for the humans it trusts. They love media fiction and would happily watch soap operas for the rest of their lives. They will also straight up murder anyone that threatens the humans Murderbot takes care of. It is a lovely mix of fragility and righteous violence that is wonderfully human.

So yeah, give the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells a try. It is one of the best modern science fiction series being written today.

Sep 092020

Queen and Country is a comic book series by Greg Rucka. It is thirty-two issues long, with three mini-series prequels and three novels. The series ran between 2001 and 2007 and I am kicking myself for only reading it this year. It may be my favorite spy series ever.

I have always enjoyed spy fiction but as I get older, my tastes change. I am less interested in James Bond’s missions as much as I am interested in what kind of a person Bond is. Bond is an efficient killer, but that makes him a deficient person. He engages in a lot of self-destructive behavior and although Fleming and the movies have flirted with these ideas, they never really explore them.

Queen and Country has three agents that it follows, but Agent Tara Chace steals the show. She is highly effective. She also drinks, smokes and fucks too much. The lady is a true badass, but it seems like a matter of time before she self-destructs.

My other interest in spy fiction are the people who organize the missions. In most stories, the mission is presented in whole cloth to the agent by a friendly briefer. In this series, we see the intel come in, get debated by analysts, get argued by bureaucrats, get maybe vetted by ally agencies, get approved/disapproved by the people in charge, only for the mission to get done under the table anyway, with or without government support and the agent only gets half the story. I could be wrong, but it felt like 75% of the series was this phase, and the actual mission took up only a quarter of the story. Kind of like in real life.

It means a lot of the stories are talking heads arguing with each other while drinking tea, but it is no less exciting. Operational concerns, rival agencies, global politics, local politics and sometimes just plain spite play large roles in every covert mission and I eat that kind of drama up.

I highly recommend this series. It scratches my John le Carre itch as well as my Bourne efficiency itch and throws in some agent self-destruction awareness to boot.

Aug 142020

Meddling Kids is a novel by Edgar Cantero. It concerns five kids and a dog, who used to solve crimes when they were children. They would investigate sightings of scary monsters, gather clues and then rig together a trap to capture the monster, who always turned out to be a guy in a rubber mask. Everything was great until their last case, where they ran into some real monsters, some real corpses and a real copy of the Necronomicon. They still captured a guy in a rubber mask, and that guy went to jail, but the kids always knew something more sinister was going on.

Now it is thirteen years later. Andy, the tomboy of the group and grownup badass, decides to get the gang back together. That mans convincing Kerri, the brains of the group, to ignore her nightmares and return to the worse place on Earth. That means breaking Nate, the nerd, out of the Asylum. Peter, the leader of the group, committed suicide but don’t worry, his ghost is hanging around Nate. Finally, they bring Tim, the grandson of the original dog to help them out. And yeah, they are going to need it.

I’ll be honest, early on I felt like I was reading a cross between Scooby-Doo and Stephen King’s It, and I wasn’t sure that was something the world really needed. What saves this book is the writing. Edgar Cantero breaks the rules of structure with flagrant ease. The format changes to a television script during conversations. Perspectives change in ways your writing instructor will despise. There are very meta jokes about grammar. It shouldn’t work but holy crap, does it work. I haven’t been this entertained by someone with language since Lemony Snicket. It is insanely clever.

The story is good too. These characters are real and vivid. Andy, by far the main character, is a young queer woman who is both the heart and the hero of the story. Nate is haunted by Peter and maybe an ancient God. Kerri is scared shitless but she is going to push through. Tim the dog wants to look after these people and get some more attention.

Let me tell you something about Tim. This is one of the best dogs in fiction. We get a partial view of Tim’s POV and it is so damn believable. He doesn’t talk like Scooby-Doo but he has so much personality. I would take a bullet for that dog, and that includes protecting his favorite squeaky toy.

Most important of all, the underlying mystery is really good. I didn’t predict any of it which is so rare these days. The twists are surprising and satisfying.

I highly recommend this book.

Jul 152020

FTL Y’all is a collection of short comics centered around an intriguing idea. In our near-present day, someone has uploaded a really simple blueprint for a Faster-than-Light drive. You can build this engine yourself with common parts. This creates a surge in space travel as everyday men and women strap on a FTL engine to washer machines, RV’s and whatever else they can get a hold of.

The drawback to universal space travel is that there are no maps. In some cases, there isn’t much of a guidance system. It is a mass exodus of people launch themselves into the unknown.

It has been a joy. As someone who grew up dreaming of space travel, this collection of stories resparks that same feeling I had when I first read about the Voyager probes. The stories, all SFW, range from comical to deeply touching. The stories are about space travel, but the heart of each story is the people. Love stories abound as well as a few tragedies. It sounds like a cliche, but I found this entire book to be heart-warming.

You can buy the book in your preferred format here.

Jul 102020
Aisling has a lot of range.

Elven Appetites is the first book in a fantasy erotica series by Serena Silverlake. It follows the adventures of an Elven ranger, Aisling, who arrives at a small village for a secret meeting, but ends up staying a few days and uncovering an evil cult. To kill time, she also bangs a lot of humans.

This was an unexpected treat. I am so burned out on fantasy that I often only read this genre if it is written by friends or was recommended. The book had a lot of fantasy tropes as should be expected, but what really intrigued me was that the Elves of this world are very sexually open. It is like the humans what you expect from the mainstream, and the Elves are living lives better suited in porn. It is a great contrast and really connects the porn reader to Aisling.

It also helps that Aisling prefers degrading rough sex and lots of it. Unlike a lot of fantasy stories with rough sex, Aisling is almost always the initiator and the sex is 100% consensual. I don’t know if the rest of the series will stick to that, but it works really well as a start. It is also nice to see a main heroine who is really heroic and strong on her own, as well as craving having her hair pulled and getting used like a whore.

All in all, I enjoyed the book and look forward to more from the author.

Jun 292020

Steampunk Erotica is the unfortunately uncreative title to a really fun book. Written by Ora le Brocq, this story is set in a alternate history where wax-cylinder computers, clockwork cybernetics and backpack-powered lasers are used by men and women in the latest Victorian fashions. Mina Trelawney, a genius of technology as well as a genius of copulation, must investigate the murder of her parents and take over the family factory. Intercourse and retro science ensues.

The sex scenes are good, but what delightfully surprised me about this book is the abundance of pulp action. The villain is building an army of brainwashed people and intends nothing less than world domination. There is a kidnapping, battle in the skies between dirigibles and two ruthless attacks on a factory. Remove the sex, and you would have a great steampunk action story.

But like I said, the sex is good and there is plenty of it. This feels like the first part to a longer story but it is also very self-contained. I recommend it as a great example of how to combine porn with equally detailed action scenes.

Jun 182020
Pillage me, baby.

The Pillaging of an Empire is the omnibus collection of the second Princes to Pleasure Slave Series. Written by Amanda Clover and Jay Aury, the series details the fall of an empire by horny monsters and the dark powers that command them. The monsters have access to a spell where if they ejaculate inside a mortal woman, that woman turns into a horny sex slave for their cocks. Using this power, they conquer humans, knock them up and grow their army.

Two years ago, I recommended the first part of the series, Savage Lust of the Orc Gladiator. It was a lovely fascination-with-the-abomination style story that I liked a lot. That same high quality is present throughout the other 20+ novellas in this collection.

What delighted me to the most about this series is that although some characters reappear from time to time, and there is an over-arching plot, each individual story bounces around a large empire to tell many different kinds of stories. There are mysteries, comedies, epic fantasies and tales of monstrous seduction. This variety kept everything fresh in a way that a more traditional 1000-page fantasy epic wouldn’t be able to.

Mind control is the major theme of these stories, so keep that in mind if you are not a fan. some characters submit gladly to getting fucked by monsters, while others fight it with every fiber of their being. One thing I enjoyed is that with one or two exceptions, most of the characters who get fucked and mind-controlled do so due to a flaw in their character. It is more fun to see someone succumb to a monster because they were over-confident or foolish.

All in all, this is a great series and you can’t beat the insanely low price for the collection.

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Mar 192020

It is ironic to me that I am pretty much over fantasy as a genre, but some of the best smut being made today is in the fantasy genre. I thought I would take a moment to highlight three good ones right now.

First up is “I Roved Out” by Alexis Flower. I raved about this last year and every drop of praise I gave it back then still holds true. It was my favorite work of smut last year and a big inspiration. The second book came out for Kickstarter backers and will hopefully be in the store soon. You can still get the first book in the store. It is a huge book, so order it now so you can get started on it.

Have I mentioned how gorgeous it is?
Why would any wizard break up with a hot purple Elf girl?

Next up is “Fertile in my Ex-Boyfriend’s Dungeon” by Amanda Clover. It is an interactive erotica series of ebooks. You play a warrior woman who dates the worse wizard and when he dumps you, he places you inside his dungeon full of horny monsters. Also locked in the dungeon are other ex’s, all trying to escape.

I thought I had talked about the first book in the series, but a quick search of my blog says otherwise. That is a terrible oversight on my part as I have enjoyed each book in this series. There are a lot of choices and usually three different types of monsters in each book. Some books even give you a partner to help explore the dungeon with.

The only warning I would give is that there are mind control elements. All of the “bad endings” involved losing your will to escape to become a knocked-up besotted sex slave to a monster.

I don’t know why short green Goblin women do it for me but I ain’t complaining.

But Shon, what if I don’t want to play a woman escaping from a dungeon of horny monsters? Well, how do you feel about playing a Prince exploring a tower full of horny monsters? That is what you do in “Monster Girl Tower: Level One” by Jay Aury. It flips the script without sacrificing any of the humor or hot sex.

In this book, the crone has gathered hot monster girls and forced them to guard each level of her dungeon. You will need to need to fight (or more likely fuck) your way through each level. That is my kind of campaign.

I haven’t read the entire book yet, but what I had read is great. Jay is a good writer of monster fiction so I have faith he can do a great series.