16 April 2009

Beer Review, Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock

Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock
Boston, MA
5.6% ABV

Appearance: Mostly black body, slightly red-orange-tinged towards the bottom, with a thick brown head that dissipates over time but leaves some significant lacing. 4.0/5

Smell: Very nutty, chocolatey, malty. Slight astringency and very dry. 3.5/5

Taste: Interesting. Dry malty roastiness up-front, with a syrupy chocolate texture on the back. Aftertaste strongly of chocolate. Almost doesn't quite taste like beer, it's so sweet and syrupy, but it's very interesting. 4.0/5

Mouthfeel: Very thick, as above, syrupy. Low carbonation. 4.0/5

Drinkability: Well, this isn't worth eighteen dollars. I wish it was a little higher alcohol and had a bit more balance. But it's fascinating the things that Sam Adams will try, and it's amazing that they even got something drinkable out of this kind of mix. 3.5/5

Overall: 3.85/5

02 April 2009

Beer Review, Arcadia Imperial Stout

Arcadia Imperial Stout
Battle Creek, MI
8.4% ABV

Appearance: Jet-black, completely opaque body with a thin brown head that sticks around. 4.5/5

Smell: Dark malt, some hints of red grapes, very bready, sweet. Perhaps some chocolate-covered cherries? Very complex, very inviting. 5.0/5

Taste: Ooh, a bit of a misfire. Very "hot" with alcohol, pretty much overpowers the palate. Underneath are some nice dry bready malts, some nice bittering hops, and a sweet (but astringent) aftertaste. If the alcohol was a bit less prominent this would get a much higher rating. 3.5/5

Mouthfeel: Not as thick as you'd expect for an RIS. Still heavy, but not exactly super-thick. Coats the palate well. 4.0/5

Drinkability: I may buy a couple of these and try them in six months or so. It's a good beer, but there are much better examples of an RIS out there -- anyplace that has this should also have Bell's Expedition. 3.5/5

Overall: 4.05/5

01 April 2009

Booklog, Pandora's Star

Pandora's Star, 2004
Written by Peter F. Hamilton
988 pages (Mass-Market Paperback)

I feel like I've been reading a lot of space opera lately. Partly this is because, well, I've been reading (or at least flipping through) a lot of space opera lately. But mostly I feel this way because I've read Pandora's Star, which is all by itself a hell of a lot of fucking space opera. It's 988 pages of fairly dense mass-market text, covering dozens of worlds and characters, with about half a dozen narrative arcs subsumed into one long one, that ends on a literal cliffhanger that leads into an equally-long (and likely equally-dense -- I haven't read it yet) sequel.

So how does it hold up? Pretty well, considering. It's the year 2380, and a series of wormholes connects humanity into an interstellar Commonwealth. Rejuvenation technology and memory backup have made death a thing of the past. The story is kicked off by the discovery by an astronomer at a small university that a distant pair of suns long-known to be enclosed by Dyson Spheres actually vanished behind those spheres instantaneously. This being the kind of engineering project that is astonishing in what it portends of the species instigating it, an FTL starship --the first ever built-- is commissioned to investigate.

This sounds like the premise for a Big Dumb Object SF novel, but Hamilton has other agendas on his mind. He intersperses the main plot with stories from around the Commonwealth that seem tenuously connected to one another, if they are connected at all. There's a group of anarchists bent on destroying the FTL vessel before it can be completed, and an investigative officer seeking to catch the perpetrators. One of the inventors of wormhole technology visits an elflike species of aliens and travels along their forest paths through the stars. And a long series of supporting characters is revealed, each surrounding the project, the investigation, or some combination of the two -- at least a dozen characters become extended viewpoint characters, and huge sections of the book cover their backgrounds and the history of the individual planets on which they live.

All of this is immersive, and Hamilton is clearly at his best when he's throwing out the details of his fictional worlds. The characters are often a bit stock, though, and many of the secondary characters blend into one another so it's difficult to tell them apart, especially during the plot-heavy second half, but it's all pretty competently done. The novel has many of the problems of any Big Fat Book, most notably the fact that any reader is going to find some sections of the book far more interesting or entertaining than others -- personally, I felt the book kind of stopped in its tracks whenever it spent more than a couple of pages on the political conflicts of the Commonwealth. But for the most part the author keeps the characters interesting enough and the stories compelling enough to engage reader interest.

As it turns out the first half of Pandora's Star is mostly stage-setting, for what is revealed once the starship reaches the Dyson Pair kicks the narrative into high gear. At the risk of including spoilers, the alien species encountered there is brilliantly conceived and the menace it poses to the Commonwealth is clear. Hamilton spends one long section of the novel learning of the details of the species' history and psychology, and by the end I was convinced that the coming conflict would be epic and fraught with real danger for the future of humanity. And I was not disappointed. Hamilton wisely mostly steps out of the way during the last few hundred pages of the novel and lets the events speak for themselves, which helps keep the pace up. There's still a lot of intercutting, but by dealing mostly with the characters' individual reactions to a small number of Big Events, all the background work helps to enrichen the reading experience by providing a broader scope through which the view them.

Overall, Pandora's Star is mostly a success, and I'll definitely be picking up Judas Unchained soon. The prose is a bit flat and the characters are unfortunately a bit interchangeable, but it's a fun ride and, as said before, a hell of a lot of space opera. Not many writers can entertain for a thousand pages, but with this novel Hamilton proves that he is one of those authors.

Rating: B+