Archive for June, 2012

Randall Reads: The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers

Like many, I was captivated by the hissy fit thrown by Christopher Priest with regards to the nominees for the 2012 Arthur C. Clarke Award.

You know how whenever anyone ever publishes a “Top X” list of any nature, some are quick to discredit the list entirely because so-and-so was left off, showing that anyone connected to the construction of the list is a complete idiot? Well, Priest took that fairly common article comment and expanded it to a blog post, first listing a few novels he thought were easily more worthy of being on the “short list” than those that actually made it, then taking shots at the nominees before calling for the sacking of the entire panel of judges and/or scrapping the 2012 edition of the awards altogether, which he ultimately called a “modest suggestion.”

Because asserting your assessment of a pile of books is so incredibly superior to that of those charged with the assessment that they should just cancel the awards altogether is “modest.”

Same scale as a presidential candidate casually suggesting college students should just borrow $20K from their fathers upon finishing school to launch their business ventures.

Hey…it’s just a modest suggestion…no biggie…

Anyhow, in Priest’s semi-scathing take-downs of the shortlist, only the ultimate winner came out relatively unscathed.

“Of the six shortlisted novels, I can find only one which I think is something we should be proud of. I refer to The Testament of Jessie Lamb, by Jane Rogers ”

As much as I otherwise wanted to be dismissive of Priest’s opinion as he was of China Mieville’s “Embassytown,” which I rather enjoyed, I couldn’t help but wonder how Rogers’ work alone survived the angry scatter-shot of the post. Had it not then won the award, I’m not sure whether I’d have followed up on it, but it did and I did.

Had I only paid slightly more attention to a criticism Priest included later in that same paragraph as the quote cited above: “It is not to my mind a wholly achieved novel: it is written with real style, excellent characterization and a lot of genuine emotion, but to be fully realized as a work of speculative fiction it needs a wider canvas, a sense that larger events are mounting in the background.”

Sidebar: If you ever run into Christopher Priest on the street, for whatever reason, and he pays you a complement on something, I think it’d be best if you brace for what’s coming next.

Because something’s coming next and, hurtful though it may be, it may also be spot-on.

He absolutely nailed this one, for sure.

“The Testament of Jessie Lamb” is not to my mind, also, a wholly achieved novel. The style is there. You can certainly say the characterization is excellent, even if you can’t find anything likable about the protagonist. Plenty of genuine emotion…well, I assume it’s genuine, but it’s hard for me to accept the annoying protagonist as being a little over-the-top captive to the whims of her emotional state from minute to minute.

Jessie Lamb is a teenager at a time when some really heavy world events are playing out, the progenitor of which is a disease that essentially makes procreation impossible. Hence, without some creative workarounds, the human race can see itself being extinct in the very near future.

That little piece of information alone would be more than enough to suck me in. It may be I’m a sucker for the whole dystopia thing, but I was immediately interested in what that world would look like.

Unfortunately, other than being mentioned as happening, you learn little to nothing about the terrorists, suicide bombers, gangs, roadblocks, religious cults, trafficking of kidnapped children, spiking suicide rates, and new social divisions between men and women including a new acceptance of homosexuality.

Or, all the stuff that would make this a vastly different book and of a great deal more interest of me than an intent focus on the thought patterns of a single teenage girl coping with the world around her and trying to find a way to contribute to its betterment in some significant and tangible way.

It’s a little unfair to review the book this isn’t as opposed to the book it is, but the entire time I was reading it, I couldn’t help but continually wish for Rogers to step back several paces and allow me to see just how crazy things have gotten from a perspective a bit removed from that of a fickle teenage girl. Though I don’t care to think of myself as necessarily needing to be able to identify with a protagonist in order to connect with a book, it would have greatly helped in this case. The best I could do was to sympathize with her father, which is more than just a gender thing, but I’d not care to give away the plot points in this regard for anyone who may seek this out.

And, maybe you should. I seem to be among the (very) few who do not have a generally positive response to the novel.

Just know that despite the intriguing setting, the book is really about a girl and her thoughts and how she perceives things. Once you are set with that, you’re much more likely to read the award-winning novel seeming to be enjoyed by many, rather than wishing for the book I thought I was going to be reading when I picked it up.


Randall Cooks: Smoked Salmon Chowder

June 10, 2012 3 comments

Bacon, smoked salmon, potatoes, cream, wine…there is pretty much no way this wouldn’t be good, right?

I’m sure had I followed the recipe from April Bloomfield’s “A Girl and Her Pig” more closely, it would have turned out even better, but I didn’t have smoked haddock; I had smoked salmon.

Fancy cookin’? Of course not!

It might be a disservice to Chef Bloomfield to simply call my dish a Pacific-Northwesterner’s take on her “Smoked Haddock Chowder,” but I didn’t stray too far from what she wrote other than type of fish used and the obvious skill gap between her and I in all things culinary.

1.25 pounds potatoes (I was trying for 3/4 pound, but ended up having a rather heavy hand at the farmers market. Get a firm potato that won’t fall apart too easily when cooked.), peeled and diced

1 pint whole milk

1 pink heavy whipping cream

Put these three items in a saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil; cook until the potatoes are cooked through, but don’t fall apart too easily when you pinch them. Cooking time will depend on how large you dice the potatoes. Remove the pan from heat.

1/2 pound smoked salmon

Submerge the salmon in the milk mixture and let steep among the potatoes off the heat while you do the next few steps.

1/4 olive oil

1/4 pound bacon ends (again, purchased at farmers market and suggested by farmer as ideal for my purpose), diced smallish

2 carrots, cut into thick matchsticks

2 stalks celery, cut into thick matchsticks

1 yellow onion, diced

1/2 cup sauvignon blanc (Monkey Bay is what I used. Tasty!)

2 cups fish stock (also made with an April Bloomfield recipe, also found in her new book)

Heat the olive oil in a stockpot to smoking over medium heat. Fry the bacon in the hot oil briefly, just until the fat begins to render, 2 to 3 minutes.

Obligatory hipster bacon appeal…

Add the carrot, celery, and onion; keep cooking until the vegetables are tender, no more than 10 minutes more.

Pretty, non?

Deglaze with the wine. That is, pour the wine into the pot and scrape whatever you can from the bottom of the pot with a flat edged implement of some sort. I’ve some lovely bamboo spoons I got with some woks at one time that are perfectly suited for this move. Pour the fish stock into the pot; stir. Let the mixture simmer until the liquid reduces by about half.

Okay, NOW you can remove the salmon from the milk. Scoop about half the potatoes from the milk mixture and add to the stockpot. Puree the remaining half either in a blender or with an immersion blender (If you don’t have one, get one! They’re brilliant!). Add the pureed potatoes to the pot. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Break the salmon into chunks and add to the soup; stir. Cook until it’s all hot, about 5 minutes more. Garnish with some chopped fresh parsley.

Better cook than photographer


See? Wasn’t that hard. Not too fussy for having originated from a pretty accomplished and talented chef.

No, not me…HER!

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