Review of HALF-WITCH

Lovely review of HALF-WITCH, from Megan Szmyd of @OFirehouseBooks, Old Firehouse Books in Fort Collins CO:

Half-Witch gave me the same atmospheric shivers that ‘The Bear and the Nightingale’ gave me; it’s got that same fairy-tale quality that makes every word seem a little bit like it’s shrouded in fog, like you are discovering the book as you are reading it. And it has that same weird blend of folk-lore and Christianity that makes for a wild and excellent contrast of ideas and themes and makes me want to just dig in and discuss this book. It’s a slightly creepy, unsettling, atmospheric, beautiful story about friendship and love and the journey it takes to get to those emotions, the trials humans face and the ways they change when faced with growing up and losing their ways. It’s about Loss. It’s about Finding. It’s about Being Made New. And while I don’t know if I really liked this book, I absolutely enjoyed it. (Also the cover is gorgeous. That’s important to note.)

Tea Review

Seasons Pick Gunpowder, China Green Tea

Upton ZG04. 2.2 grams steeped for 4 minutes at 200℉. Impression: dark pellets, see photo. Dry tea smells smells grassy, hay-like. Brewed tea scent is woody, vegetal, savory. Taste: woody, not much depth, bland, little finish. Not astringent.

Upton products marked ‘Season’s Pick’ are inexpensive teas sold to institutional markets in multi-kilogram quantities. Upton also packages them in smaller packages, usually of 200 g, for sale to consumers at modest prices. My experience with these has been positive; this tea was the least impressive of the bunch, though. Not a bad tea, but not a very interesting one.

WATERSHIP DOWN and on-line data: we are the goth rabbits

I recently learned from friend and fellow-SFF writer Trent Hergenrader that there is a tabletop RPG (The Warren) that sounds like Richard Adams’ Watership Down with the horror elements amped up. Watership Down is mostly a romance of adventure, danger, flight, with some mystical/wonder stuff. But there is horror, too.

[Spoilers follow] In one section of the novel the main rabbit cast meets a colony of rabbits who are living in the wild but being maintained by a farmer who puts out food for them and protects them from predators. He also sets traps now and then when he wants a meal of rabbit. The rabbits are aware of this, in some rabbity way. They know they lead a charmed life, but at the cost of a rabbit disappearing now and then. They are living a horror story. Instead of fighting or fleeing, however, they have developed a gothy culture that romanticizes death. (Aside: it is this sort of insight and leap of imagination that makes Watership Down a great novel rather than merely a good one. Adams has, in James Blish’s famous phrase, not just ideas, but ideas about his ideas.) The main cast, when they understand the situation, are disgusted and horrified. Adams appears to feel the same way, that the gothy rabbit culture is decadent, even degenerate. Not proper rabbits.

It occurs to me that the current kerfuffle over the use of users’ on-line data and our trail of digital footprints across the web has the same moral flavor. We are the gothy rabbits. We have been given a glittery on-line playground of entertaining toys, all for free. But there is a cost. Every mouse click, every keystroke is recorded, analyzed, sold for billions and billions of dollars in the aggregate, and then used to gin up advertisements that exploit, with varying success, the interests we have inadvertently revealed. That dig into our souls to discover what we covet, what we love, what we hate, what we fear, and then use it to sell us stuff.

To be fair, viewing an ad for a 100-pack of Harley-Davidson plastic oil pan drain plugs (a recent Amazon ad targeted to me) is not as bad as being snared in a leg trap and turned into rabbit stew. We have made a deal with the devil, but the devil is going easy on us, as these things go.

Trading one value for another is a normal part of human life. But this business with on-line personal data is a new situation, a new trade-off. We’re still trying to evaluate it. Are we making the right choices? Is the value we receive greater than the value we give up?

Are we being proper rabbits?

Tea Review

Kandy BOP Tea, Ceylon Broken Orange Pekoe

Upton TC30. 2.2 grams steeped for 3 minutes at 212℉. Impression: uniformly dark BOP-size bits, see photo. Dry tea has typical spicy black tea scent. Brewed tea scent is toasted, yeasty. Taste: mild, briary, with notes of malt and cardboard. Fruity finish. Strongly astringent.

Kandy is a major tea-producing region of Sri Lanka/Ceylon. The maltiness is reminiscent of Assam teas, not usually found in ones from Sri Lanka. I like the malt and the finish, not so crazy about the cardboard.

Tea Review

Ceylon Premium Tea, Ivy Hills Estate Tea FBOPF Ex. Spl.

Upton TC23. 2.2 grams steeped for 5 minutes at 212℉. Impression: BOP-size bits, mostly dark with some pale, see photo. Dry tea scent spicy, camphorous. Brewed tea scent is sweet, lily-like. Taste: sweet, floral. Moderately astringent.

You could not make this tea’s name fancier without putting gold braid and a fourragère on it. Like some other Ceylon tea, it is dominated by a sweet, lily-like flavor which is not to my taste.

Tea Review

Formosa Tung-Ting Jade Oolong Imperial

Upton TT89. 2.2 grams steeped for 4 minutes at 180℉. Impression: leaves compressed into pellets, see photo. Dry tea smells sweet, candy-like. Brewed tea scent is floral with a hard-to-place candy-like scent, almost like bubble gum. Taste: Delicate, floral, with notes of lily in particular. Mildly astringent.

Taiwan (“Formosa,” to the tea trade, which is hilariously conservative with respect to names of origin) is the source of many fine teas, with which I am mostly unfamiliar because they tend to be pricey. This was purchased as a 12 g. sample. It gets only 3.5 stars because I’m just not that fond of flowery oolongs. I prefer baked oolongs, like the wu-yi types.

Cat Henge

Long ago, the ancient builders of my abode angled its walls and windows so that each year, on January 4th, the sun would shine through the TV room window directly on the cat.

Tea Review

Mao Feng China Tea, Huang Shan Sunset

Upton TE98. 2.0 grams steeped for 4 minutes at 212℉. Impression: black tea mixed with lighter bits of fruit, flower petals (?), and spices, see photo. Dry tea smells fruity. Brewed tea scent is fruity and flowery. Taste: black tea with notes of peach, rose, and faint spices. Minimally astringent.
This is black tea with flavorings, not an herbal tea. I am not a huge fan of most flavored teas. This one might have been better with milk, sugar, or honey, which I don’t use. If you like fruity teas, you might like it.