Codex Entry: Kitchen Electric --> Ice Cream Maker

Now that it's officially summer up here in the Northern Hemisphere, I thought it would be a good idea to present a seasonal update to our Kitchen Codex. Certain foods are inextricably linked, by social convention or personal preference, to the sun-filled, BBQ-laden nostalgic brilliance that is summer. Though the stereotype of a subterranean, seasonless existence holds true for some of us (I'm a redhead; UVA/B rays and I exist in mutual antagonism), even the most solar-adverse nerds have a favorite flavor of ice cream.
One of the best parts about being an adult: ice cream for dinner
But I can go to the store to get ice cream, or my local Dairy Queen/Pinkberry/Red Mango/Baskin Robbins/Cold Stone Creamery/independent purveyor of chilled dairy deliciousness. Why bother making it when it's so easy to go out and buy it?

Fair question. Short answer: as with anything homemade, it's a matter of control over the finished product and exercising the predilections that shape said outcome. As mentioned before, we of the geeky persuasion often get thrown under the LAZY bus when it comes to the matter of feeding ourselves. This does not need to be the case, as we saw with the mini pie maker. Easier =/= Better.

However, I very much sympathized with the above skepticism as to whether actually making your own ice cream was a worthwhile venture. Floating somewhere in my temporal cortex is the memory of my mother attempting to make ice cream with an antique wooden drum, a hand crank, some cream and a smattering of rock salt. Attempting is an accurate verb, as this effort ended in creating little more than a salty, slushy mess. Similarly, a much more recent endeavor to make ice cream in one of these as a fireside diversion while on a camping trip produced inedible lactose mush and a cracked spherical plastic paper weight.  Given this dubious track record, I was aporetic of the potential of the tidy appliance that I'd been gifted with and was ready to consign it to the Valley of Unloved Kitchen Electrics even before removing it from its box.

I was sorely, sorely mistaken.

Sorbet, a fun alternative for the lactose intolerant
The ice cream/frozen yogurt/sorbet that you make yourself is better than 95% of the commercial offerings you'll encounter. Craving extra-rich coffee or chocolate chip cookie dough that's equal parts ice cream to cookie dough? Totally feasible. How about mudslides, sorbets or slushies? Also possible. Prefer to work with non-dairy alternatives for your desserts? No problem. What about tart or even savory flavors? Yours in about 20 minutes.

Seriously? Seriously.

Akin to the mini-pie maker, the amount of prep time required and degree of difficulty associated with using the ice cream maker is highly dependant on what you'd like to accomplish. Ostensibly, single flavors without additives are almost always simpler and quicker to make than something like Toasted Almond with Coconut or an ice cream that features all the marshmallows you'd find in a box of Lucky Charms.

Ok, this sounds great and all…but what do I look for in an ice cream maker?

There are a few different base models of ice cream maker currently available for retail: manual, freestanding electric, and attachment. All effectively utilize the same mechanic of churning liquid and semi-liquid ingredients in a chilled environment but vary considerably in composition and price. The cliff notes analysis is as follows (all prices are in USD):

Possibly the next fad in arm workouts?
The manual version is just what it implies, that you'll be the one supplying the power to churn the ingredients until they solidify. This could be via a vintage hand crank or by rolling the housing for the chilling core back and forth. These models tend to be the least expensive of the aforementioned three, ranging in price from $15 to $50, largely because many consumers prefer the convenience and ease of having something else do the churning on their behalf. If you're undeterred by the notion of spending 20-30 minutes cranking or rolling (tends to be best for kids or especially antsy geeks) then this may be a good option for you. However, as an item subject to human abuses on a regular basis, these makers tend to break frequently.

Freestanding electric ice cream makers are self-contained appliances that do all the labor of churning for you. Arguably the lowest-maintenance of the three base models, freestanding makers typically require only the addition of ingredients and the throwing of a switch/pushing of a button. These models are usually priced between $40 and $100 with some high-end versions costing as much as $300. In my experience, anything over $60 is too much for the number of uses and quality of experience the average nerd would want from a small kitchen electric.
A fairly fancy freestanding model

An attachment model
The third iteration of ice cream maker are those models that exist as ancillary modular components of a larger, multifunctional appliance. The classic example is this, the attachment for the KitchenAid Stand Mixer. Most of these are similar in price to the freestanding makers but, of course, you have to either purchase or already own the base appliance, which renders these the most expensive of the three options. If you already have a Stand Mixer or similar device then this may be an excellent alternative to a freestanding maker, as both function identically. Stand Mixers are versatile and can do a lot of work for you in the kitchen, but they are extremely expensive ($250-$500) and require thorough cleaning to properly maintain.

All three models make use of a core chilling unit, usually a metal drum that will need to be near-freezing prior to use. I leave the drum of my ice cream maker in the freezer when it's not in use and atone for the space it requires by storing frozen fruits and veggies inside it. Doing so allows for the creation of frozen concoctions on demand (otherwise the chilling units may take between 2 and 8 hours to reach an appropriate temperature). The chilling unit and housing of the makers tend to be very easy to clean, requiring only a gentle pass with soap and water, particularly if they have been allowed to thaw completely. (Exception: spherical manual ice cream makers can be very tough to clean)

Things to consider/keep in mind
¨      Don't be afraid to experiment. Again, you're limited only by your imagination and what ingredients you're able to procure. If you're unsure about trying this or fear wasting food with a failed batch then I recommend starting with frozen yogurt or sorbet rather than ice cream. Frozen yogurt/sorbet generally requires fewer ingredients and less prep time than ice cream (which sometimes requires cooking the components first). Bonus: you can easily beta-test your frozen yogurt by experimenting in a single-serving cup of standard yogurt, then tripling the ingredients to get to batch size.
¨      Be patient. Yes yes…this is not a virtue for which we geeks are renowned, but think of this like you would any other experimental process. It may involve some trial and error (I'll share my algorithm for beta-testing in a future post) but it will undoubtedly be worthwhile. The recipes you make are yours, to your specifications, made just the way you like it.
¨      Get creative. Aside from playing with flavors and additives, you can manipulate aspects of your frozen concoction in previously unconsidered ways. Now you can adjust texture, consistency, even preferred serving temperature. 
¨      Mull over the amount of space available in your kitchen you can devote to storing an ice cream maker. Most models aren't large (think 2 toasters stacked atop one another), but Stand Mixers or spherical makers may require extra space.
¨      Consider the amount of space available in your freezer. As mentioned, the core chilling unit will need to be brought to temperature before you can successfully use your maker. Unless you're reading this from Nunavut or Vostok Station this will probably mean devoting some freezer space to the drum.

This can be a fun addition to your kitchen arsenal, particularly on those steamy summer nights where you're loathe to go near your stove. As always, best of luck on your culinary adventures!
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Cosplay: Operation Go Jedi Update

Holy summer steaminess Batman! The decidedly unsubtle arrival of the solstice and its attending oppressive combination of energy-sapping heat and humidity threatened to derail Operation Go Jedi this week, but, with Gen Con fast approaching, there's literally no time to waste. Though I'm not prone to procrastination, the last six weeks before any convention has become my traditional costume crunch time. A month and a half provides enough leeway for a measure of trial and error if necessary but also can accommodate things like shipping delays, malfunctions, or just plain-old screw ups. Any and all of the aforementioned list are bound to occur to every cosplayer, but I posit that Murphy's Law must have some multiplying component that arises from its dormancy only in matters of cosplaying, grant proposals, and term papers. This time around I'm taking no chances and started the full, dedicate-each-spare-moment effort approximately eight weeks out. Why?

The Aayla Secura costume is deceptive in its apparent simplicity (lekku notwithstanding). There are a whole host of minute details that are not striking in and of themselves, but would actively detract from the costume if they were misrepresented or omitted. Additionally, there is the pressure inherent to cosplaying as a well-established, canonical character from an extremely famous visually-based property. Anyone who's seen Clone Wars and/or Episodes II or III knows what Aayla looks like. There's a plethora of pictorial and textual data that describe her garb, complexion, build, and weapon preferences. While this removes a bit of guesswork on the part of potential cosplayers, this also presents the expectation of accuracy, not artistic interpretation. Granted, I've seen some brilliant mash-ups of characters/species from the series and other genres (including some excellent steampunk twi'lek smugglers at PAX East in April), but I'm a fairly ridiculous Star Wars fangirl and would be peeved with myself if I didn't strive for the closest possible match to the source material.

So the majority of this pressure is admittedly self-wrought. Fortunately, this has not detracted from the costume-making process at all and may actually be enhancing the experience in some overly-invested way. It has been the most enjoyable costume I've made to-date and it only stands at just over 50% completion. Previously my costuming efforts followed a rigid trajectory: each constituent of the piece was finished individually, then brought together at the very end. This time around the efforts wash in waves over several different components concurrently, resulting in slower progress but for more of the costume as a whole. There's no discernable reason for this really, but this diversion from the norm has renewed my passion for this avocation and forced me to pick up some new crafty skills in the process. My apologies for the resulting non-sequential formatting of the procedural breakdown for the costume. Once the whole getup is finished I'll link the posts that covered the how-tos so they'll read like a recipe.

First on the roster of pieces-in-progress are the lekku. As mentioned earlier, they arrived as a nude-hued 'rough' cast that required some post-production work. Now, all stuffed and buffed, they were ready for some color. There are a number of different paints that will adhere to latex, but I highly recommend using this juncture as the opportunity to consider and decide upon the type of paint you'll be using on your skin. Ostensibly you want the color of both the lekku and your skin to be as similar as possible and what simpler way to assure yourself of a perfect match than to pick a paint that can be used on both surfaces? Professional grade body paint can perform this double duty with aplomb, as latex is frequently the base of stage prosthetics. These coloring implements come in two distinct varieties: water-based paints and alcohol-based inks. A bit of research on each yielded the following conclusions:

  • inexpensive,
  • comes in myriad colors
  •  highly portable
  • easy to remove
  • can be used with either conventional brushes or an airbrush
  • requires touch-ups
  • multiple application layers may be needed
  • long-lasting
  • requires few (if any) touch ups
  •  can be easily custom-blended
  • expensive
  • requires an airbrush
  • can be difficult to remove
  • not easily transported

Many professional and semi-professional cosplayers who have tackled twi'lek costumes and/or regularly use full-body paint swear by alcohol-based inks. The ease of application, even spread of the color and the hours of reliable wear without the need for touch-ups allegedly to outweigh the expense. I would have gone this route myself were it not for two concerns. First, the premise of toting an airbrush and its associated canisters of propellant on a plane makes me squeamish. A good airbrush will run you a couple hundred dollars (even lower end brushes will cost you $60-$100), can be quite heavy, and will be comprised of several semi-delicate parts that will invariably be shunted about within the confines of your checked bag. Short of shipping the brush to the convention ahead of time, there are few options available that will ensure both the brush and the canisters will make it to your destination in workable order and replacement parts are not easy to come by. Second, the alcohol-based hues are inks, not paints. The same trait that makes the inks so desirable, their longevity, is simultaneously one of their biggest drawbacks. Your skin is being temporarily stained so you have to be prepared to devote some serious time to scrubbing yourself clean at the end of the day. There are plenty of cleansing agents out there that facilitate the removal of these inks, but they do not come cheap. When I give this costume a go at PAX East I'll invest in the inks but, since Indy requires a flight, I chose to use the water-based paints.

But wait! What about liquid latex? Wouldn't that work well?

No. Not in this instance anyway. The only time I would recommend using liquid latex while making an Aayla costume is if you have lekku that are made of nylon or another fabric. If you have fabric lekku you may want to consider coating them with a layer of neutral-colored liquid latex, then applying water-based or alcohol-based agents. Doing so may make the lekku seem more fleshy and lifelike without adding too much weight, but this is certainly not required and taking this step is entirely up to you. I do NOT recommend using liquid latex as a replacement for either of the skin coloring agents described earlier. Aside from being notoriously temperamental to apply, it is a long, painful process to remove it. Imagine your face and torso being slowly waxed by a disgruntled aesthetician. Yeah, that's pretty much the experience. Don't get me wrong. It works very well as a flexible adhesive and for small skin decorations (I've used it as a stand-in for woad with much success), but there are infinitely better, less excruciating ways to paint yourself.

The lekku with 3 coats of paint
At the suggestion of the lovely Pam, I selected Ben Nye Magicolor liquid paint and purchased a 4 ounce bottle of Cosmic Blue and a 1 ounce bottle of White. This should be plenty of paint for both you and your lekku. It took four coats of blue to achieve full, even coverage on the lekku using foam paintbrushes. That being said, you could easily get away with as few as two coats if you're using an airbrush (since that's one of a few application options with this type of paint), but you'll likely need more if you're painting by hand. I recommend foam rather than bristled brushes to ensure even application without disturbing the surface of the latex; working with the latter can take some getting used to. Between coats, I did a spot test/time trial on my skin.

Successful spot test/time trial
(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: ALWAYS do both a spot test AND a time trial when working with any new makeup, especially if it's a cosmetic that will be applied on a significant portion of your skin. But that's such a pain and can be pretty boring. That can be true, but these are crucial preludes to your cosplaying experience. A few minutes spent gauging the qualities of your cosmetic is almost assuredly preferable to discovering the day of the convention that you're allergic to the paint or that your skin coloring agent will take hours to dry.

The Ben Nye formula takes about 6-10 minutes to dry after its applied to the skin and you'll need two coats to get even coverage. You may want to invest in a few additional products if you're planning on cosplaying for more than two or three hours. Ben Nye makes a finishing spray called Final Seal that, when misted over your painted skin, helps keep the paint neatly in place and buys you a measure of "rubbing room" so you're not making spot repairs to your paint job every fifteen minutes. Also, the same company makes a removal formula, Hydra Cleanse, that gently assists in washing away the paint at the end of a long day of cosplaying. Though the paint itself is water-based and comes off easily enough, the Hydra Cleanse speeds the rinsing along and eliminates any remnants stubbornly clinging to your skin.

I'm currently in the process of adding a speckled, mottled pattern to the lekku (faintly visible in Episode II, but prominent in Episode III and Clone Wars) and doing so has turned out to be trickier than originally surmised. More on this and the construction of the vest/top in the near future!
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Nerd Rage: the Double-Edged Sword

There's a costume update in the works (woot for progress!), but that will likely be the subject of the next post. This entry is a tangential follow-up to last week's dissection of the most common labels ascribed to…well the conglomerates of individuals who would most likely enjoy the contents of this blog and sites like this. It was one of the most-read posts featured on the blog thus far and for good reason. Though being a nerd or geek in some way, shape or form is probably as old as human history (I get a phenomenal mental image of two Indo-Aryan kids arguing about which demon king posed the greatest threat to the gods) we've only been able to regularly extend beyond our immediate social circles, and outside the context of a convention, and observe the geekiness of our brethren for the past few decades. Of course, this holds true for many other social sub-groups, which is why we see the kind of debate surrounding our own self-identifiers that was discussed earlier.

Looking over that introductory paragraph, we can see that 'arguing' and 'debate' seem to seed themselves naturally in those descriptions. Indeed, there are likely few among us who are not at least familiar with just how prevalent conflict and angst are in nerdy society. While some disputes concerning properties have a fairly prodigious history which have, in turn, been used as qualifiers for discerning one's identity as nerd/geek/dork/all of the above, general contentiousness seems to be just as prevalent as this formal discussion. Though these may foment the behavior, these historic discourses are far from the font of all nerd rage.

Oh nerd rage. You are simultaneously as stereotype-reinforcing as you are misunderstood. Nerd rage, like many other nerdy/geeky descriptors, boasts a plethora of potential definitions, but the underlying core of this behavior is somewhat consistent throughout. The Rage is a emotion or series of emotions expressed by our peers (and/or ourselves) when a beloved nerdy property is misrepresented or a long-held belief/expectation concerning said franchise is brusquely called into question by another individual.
Deliberate misrepresentation = nerd rage fodder
While most of us have accepted this reaction, on some level, as intrinsic to our social subgroup, those who self-identify off the Nerd-Geek Spectrum will point to this indignant, sometimes incoherent, ranting as 'evidence' of nerds/geeks being little more than overgrown man-children (or woman-children). What we see as impassioned defense of our long-hewn opinions on a given subject is regarded by others as little more than a temper tantrum.

So what is it? Is Nerd Rage a modern-day form of the Socratic Method as applied to Tolkien, Wizards of the Coast, or Valve? Or is it the periodic outbursts of a spoiled, socially awkward minority accustomed to getting their way?  The burgeoning of the Nerdaissance and the corresponding influx of curious individuals has muddled the line between these distinctions, particularly with regard to video games as the latter arguably has the most crossover traffic between nerds and non-nerds. The interwebs, in addition to allowing for a sharing of nerdy experiences, gives any connected person the ability to vent their spleens at any given hour across any number of forums. This sheer facility, and the volume of complaints related thereto, combined with the illusion of safety that only anonymity can provide has merged to create a certain weight behind this digital conglomeration of semi-public opinion. The angst of this collective is a powerful thing that can be used to bring about change, as we saw with the response to the ending of Mass Effect 3. Though this is comingled frustration concerning what was historically regarded as a nerdy property (video games), can it actually be termed 'nerd rage'? Many geeks/nerds would probably say no; the backlash against EA was the cumulative chagrin of fans of the series who expected a certain experience and were mightily disappointed. The issue is the following: it doesn't matter what we feel this reaction was; the non-nerdy public considers this behavior to be nerdrage, thus equating our frustrations with petulant whining.

This is a disturbing trend to say the least. As the non-nerdy world writes off these paroxyms as the misbehavior of querulous gamers, our own vocalizations are depreciated in kind. Such disregard will worsen if we, as nerds, do not make concerted efforts to understand what is occurring in the industries we helped bring into being and utilize the resources at our disposal to countermand this when possible.

A different sort of raging, but a feeling most of us can readily relate to.
Do we tend to exhibit certain levels of social awkwardness? Sometimes. Does our passion for certain properties occasionally spill over into the realm of anger? Sure. (see: the Star Wars Prequels) Were many of us the subjects of merciless teasing in our youth and now, as adults, tend to be oversensitive and thus highly defensive of the things we hold dear. Definitely.

The above is nerd rage. It's wrought from a childhood often spent on the proverbial fringes and rooted in the defense of the things that brought us comfort and made us feel alive during those times (the social repercussions of nerdiness will be the subject of a future post). It's not always justified and, with the onslaught of the Nerdaissance, more closely resembles the nascent hipster movement in recent years. It is not making aimless demands or lashing out irrationally at an individual who is clearly new to a game. The latter is just straight douchebaggery.

The mis-labeling of nerd rage may temper somewhat when the cycle progresses and nerdy properties fade into the background for a time. What we need to do in the meantime is get smart about how we are regarded by those around us. While it's one thing to maintain your individual thoughts and emotions, we need to realize that the outside perception of our demographic is shaping the industries thatare the caretakers of the properties we love. Dismissing this trend will not likely produce results that are favorable to anyone and we, sensitive as we are, stand to lose the most.

We tend to be an intelligent lot. We just need to apply the foresight and attention to detail that we're capable of to mindful consumption and conscious reaction. What we, as a collective, do now will likely shape nerdery as we know it for generations to come.
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Nerd Life: What Makes a Nerd/Geek?

Ok, so it may seem strange to run this post now, after 11 other posts have already been featured, but this is a subject that deserves extra care and the additional time that such an undertaking typically requires. The previous posts have touched on a number of assumptions and made reference to certain characteristics that are considered commonplace amongst those of the nerdy/geeky persuasion, but we've never actually delved into the latter and attempted to parse out what it means. It's generally assumed that the terms nerd/geek are fairly specific terms but, like many labels that seek to define social characteristics, a moment's thought will bring forth a myriad of potential definitions. So, ideally, this post will serve as the first in a series of entries that will dissect these labels and, in turn, how we identify ourselves.

Like many other terms that attempt to encompass a diverse, often abstract set of subject matter, there is considerable debate concerning the very words 'nerd' and 'geek'. Concordantly, there have been countless endeavors to compose concrete definitions, often by delineating the alleged differences between the two by transmuting them into a classification system of sorts. Unsurprisingly, these efforts have not resulted in any sort of consensus and the community remains starkly divided between those individuals who cleave to the notion of separate definitions and those who use the terms interchangeably. The majority of English language reference materials lend their support to the cause of the latter group and describe the words 'nerd' and 'geek' as synonyms. Perhaps it's an appropriate illustration of our characteristic tendencies that some of our brethren require additional precision beyond that provided by the Oxford Unabridged.

Ongoing debate or no, there are a handful of associated descriptors that are nearly ubiquitous when either definition for 'nerd' or 'geek' comes up for discussion. References to intelligence, social facility, obsessive tendencies, and existing apart from what is considered 'normal' are most common and are often applied to both words. It is the degree to which these descriptors apply that Separatists claim makes 'nerd' distinct from 'geek'. Specifically, it is the level of social awkwardness inherent to a given individual and the degree of obsessive adoration for a subject that causes the former to diverge from the latter, with a nerd possessing a higher quantity of both.

Your affiliation as a Separatist or a Mutualist is probably derived from a proprietary set of definitions or an inherent, self-wrought belief that the terms are, in fact, one and the same. This fact is what renders the above debate at least somewhat moot. Regardless, you probably find yourself agreeing that much, if not all, of the following is an accurate depiction of yourself:

-   There are given subjects (or subsets within a subject) that you LOVE. These subjects may be considered 'normal' by an outside observer but, more likely, they are obscure, complex, or not-deemed-age-appropriate by the general populace.

- You probably know more about the subject discussed above than the average person and you may relish in the notion that engaging with the subject of your adoration lies outside of what mainstream society would consider a fun or worthwhile hobby.

- You possess a certain curiosity or imaginative capability and these drive your desire to venture beyond more conventional avocations and entertainment. 

This last point is, I feel, the crux of our communal identity as nerds/geeks. This drive is often accredited to the expression of inherent intelligence, but this is not entirely accurate when we seek to describe ourselves. All our commonalities can ultimately be attributed to our vast and insatiable curiosity/imagination. It was probably obvious to you even as a child. You perceived things differently than your peers. You may have expressed that perception in paintings, in a collection of characters from various tabletop gaming sessions, in a novel, or via the cataloging of every butterfly that ever fluttered through your yard. These weren't just hobbies; these were expressions of your truest self. You felt alive.  Your voracious consumption of literature concerning Norse mythology or World War II era firearms weren't an attempt to become an authority on the matter, but rather to expand the breadth of your creative horizons. To build a convincing campaign that featured Vikings, you needed to be well-versed in Nordic culture. Your appreciation of Call of Duty was heightened by your knowledge of contemporary ordnance. It is this curiosity, this power of the imagination, that separates us from someone with an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball statistics. It is the difference between fact collection/obsession and actual nerdery/geekery.

This is why we're often told that it seems like we "never want to grow up". It's a part of ourselves that we should, and do, guard zealously (more on this in a future post!) though this may seem curious to those bearing witness to our lab experiments or gaming sessions or debates concerning the virtues and vices of certain captains of the U.S.S. Enterprise. This is fundamentally who we are and, despite our differences, something we just might be able to agree on.
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Book Review: Arctic Rising

Like many, arguably most, nerds, I'm a voracious reader. Serendipitously, my present daily commute allows for at least 40-60 uninterrupted minutes of potential reading time five days a week. The reason why being packed into the subway sardine-style doesn't faze me? My imagination is usually running on all cylinders before the automatic doors ease shut (when I'm not buried under assignments for school that is). As such, my hope is that this will be the first of many book reviews, since most of us are continually on the lookout for a solid read.

This year boasts a particularly dense and diverse roster of new titles that would appeal to those of the geeky persuasion. My most recent encounter with one of these came in the form of Arctic Rising by Tobias Buckell. Released back in February, this tight-knit thriller has been making waves amongst fans of several genres and the title appeared has on several 'must read' lists. The book claimed to combine my love of spy-action, political intrigue, near-future hypothesizing, and science. A quick perusal of the plot synopsis was enough to convince me to give it a go.

Set approximately 60-75 years beyond present day, Arctic Rising presents a rendition of planet Earth that scientists have been warning us about for over 30 years now. The atmosphere, rife with anthropomorphic carbon, has retained more than enough heat in the biosphere to eliminate the Arctic icecaps and open the entirety of the Northwest Passage (somewhere in Samsara, the spirit of Sir John Franklin faints). The climatic shifts associated with global warming have resulted in corresponding shifts in sovereign wealth and, concordantly, in geopolitical power.  State, corporate, and supranational actors alike are jostling for control in this still-changing environment while simultaneously dealing with an volatile post-Peak Oil economy.

Amidst this stifled furor, we meet our protagonist: Nigerian airship pilot Anika Duncan. Having forsworn her days as a mercenary, Anika enjoys the comparative quiet and routine of flying reconnaissance missions for the United Nations Polar Guard (the UN having climbed to increased prominence as many territories exposed by the receding Arctic ice are either hotly contested or stated to be autonomous and separate from any given country). After her airship is shot down by what appeared to be the RPG of a smuggler trafficking in nuclear arms, Anika finds herself to be the unanticipated wrinkle amidst reams of seamless political scheming.  The book focuses primarily on Anika's attempts to discern the identity and motive of the parties who blew her out of the sky and, as the facets and scope of what turns out to be a conspiracy of a titanic scale, her efforts to simply keep breathing.

It's a taut, quick read set at a pace that you'd expect of a thriller. The quality of the writing starts out somewhat weak, and there are points where you question the judgment of certain characters, but it strengthens markedly by the time you're about a third of the way into the story. Buckell earns points for creating a strong, intelligent heroine, but the majority of the cast of secondary characters fall into the realm of one dimensional. The author takes care to create an extremely realistic setting for his tale, but the twists and turns he subjects his readers to are well-worn and the climax of the action feels so cliché that you may wonder if he'd originally envisioned the text as a comic book.

Mercifully, the science was clearly a priority to Buckell and his presentation of the environmental factors at work and the consequences they wreak is arguably the strongest facet of the narrative. As someone who studies sustainability and environmental management, I was especially discriminating of Buckell's depiction and was pleasantly surprised by the end product. His characterization of the 'Arctic Tiger' nations (the countries that would experience a substantial inflow of wealth as climate patterns shift and fossil fuels are displaced out of necessity) is highly feasible and the conflicts that arise amongst claimants of newly freed Arctic territories seems probable. You find yourself agreeing with Buckell's description of human reactions to the altered Earth simply because they feel legitimate. This stuff seems like it could happen tomorrow. Furthermore, the author doesn't shy away from thorny social, political, and scientific issues during the course of the novel. He makes a point to touch on race, gender roles, sexuality (Anika's lesbianism factors heavily into the tale), and the quest for personal happiness as well as macro quandaries like how denizens of low-lying island nations must be properly compensated after their homes are swallowed up by the melted remnants of the Arctic icecaps (something that Grenedan-born Buckell plays close to the chest). There are several occasions where Buckell takes his eco-enthusiasm to a near-bombastic level of sermonizing which do actively detract from the rest of his narrative, but this is typical of the vast majority of literature concerning global warming (this will be the subject of a future post). Additionally, there are a handful of scenes that ostensibly seek to dissect a larger social matter, but end up contributing to the issue on the very side that Buckell sets out to turn on its proverbial head (oh yeah, we get 'empowered' hookers with hearts of gold).

Overall Grade: B-

Bottom line: it's a fun read so long as you don't try to take it too seriously. If anything, you can easily atone for the book's weaknesses with your own conversational deconstruction. It's brain candy, particularly if you're a fan of the genre or ecological sciences. A good nerdy beach read best enjoyed with a margarita and a pinch of salt.

Totally unrelated interjection: Be sure to check out our new pages on G+ and Facebook, as well as our new accounts on Twitter and Pinterest! (see preceding post for details!)

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