476. Let’s Think of Better Fall Flavors than Pumpkin Spice

Summer is fading into autumn, and we all know what that means: pumpkin-flavored everything.

brace-yourselves

More specifically, autumn brings pumpkin spice-flavored everything. The difference is important. As certified snackologist Mike Fahey points out, pumpkin spice is generally a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice. These spices are carefully blended in order to mask the taste of actual pumpkin. Mr. Fahey puts it bluntly: “Pumpkin spice is the name for a combination of spices used to make pumpkin taste less horrible.”

I live in the United States, where the fall season happens every single year. It’s awful. The chilly weather, drab colors, and gaudy Halloween merchandise are bad enough; the pumpkin spice craze just adds insult to injury. Every year, as the weather turns painfully cold and Americans celebrate strange pumpkin rituals, I wonder why I ever left the tropics. Ecuador, my homeland, isn’t flooded by freezing temperatures and pumpkin spice-flavored products year after year. What self-destructive, Lovecraftian madness brought me back to Indiana four years ago?

What even started America’s obsession with pumpkin spice? I don’t know, but there are theories. Wikipedia tells me it started in the early aughts, and that Starbucks is to blame.

My favorite theory comes from Nerd Rage, a webcomic about angry nerds.

Seriously, though, this pumpkin spice craze needs to stop. It tinges everything from candles to Oreos to coffee—and when coffee is at stake, I can’t just sit and do nothing.

(For the record, I don’t dislike the pumpkin spice flavor. I’m just tired of it. We need something new!)

Here, then, are some suggestions for alternatives to pumpkin spice. Here are other autumn-appropriate flavors for candy, cookies, coffee drinks, and everything else.

Apple cinnamon

Apples are amazing. Since they’re gathered in the fall, and popular ingredients for cold-weather treats such as pies and dumplings, apples are a perfect flavor for autumn. Just add cinnamon for touch of spicy warmth, and lo! Not only is the apple cinnamon flavor delicious, but evocative of cozy kitchens and fall harvests.

S’more

Autumn is the perfect season for bonfires, which also makes it perfect for toasting marshmallows. As I grew up in Ecuador, marshmallows were a rare and delectable treat. (I speak of genuine, toastable marshmallows, mind you, not of the fake, dissolve-into-pink-syrup-upon-contact-with-heat “marshmallows” on Ecuadorian store shelves.) Yes, I love marshmallows. Add chocolate and graham crackers, two hearty ingredients ideal for chilly weather, and you have the s’more.

Nothing says autumn like s’mores.

Marshmallows and chocolate have the added advantages of melting in heat, making them perfect for cookies, brownies, and other baked treats. In cold weather, nothing beats a hot, gooey mess of marshmallows and chocolate.

Gingerbread

The taste of gingerbread is basically identical to the pumpkin spice flavor, but with a hint of molasses and no clichéd association with pumpkins. It’s a win-win!

Maple sugar

Maple is a strong, sweet, distinct flavor that lends itself beautifully to baking and confectionery. Since the leaves of the maple tree are famous for their stunning autumn colors, maple sugar (or maple syrup; take your pick) seems like a great taste for the fall season. And on the subject of maples….

Maple leaves

Maybe Japan has the right idea.

These actually look pretty tasty. I would eat them! (Of course, I’ve eaten such odd things as fried leafcutter ants, but that’s not the point.)

Fried leaves can’t possibly be worse than pumpkin, right?

Nuts

For some reason, nuts remind me of autumn. Is that a rational association, or am I just nuts? (Pun intended. I’m so, so sorry.) Maybe I’m weird, but in my mind, nuts evoke images of baked treats and fall colors. Nuts are not only terrific for baking, but underutilized for coffee beverages. Almonds, walnuts, or pecans complement coffee very nicely!

Fruitcake

Nah, I’m just kidding. Fruitcake is gross.

Colada morada

All right, I admit it: I just really want to drink this seasonal Ecuadorian beverage here in the United States. It’s tasty, and I miss it so much. My parents recently brought me back a bottle of the stuff from Ecuador, and I intend to cherish the heck out of it—and then to drink it, of course.

What are your suggestions for alternatives to pumpkin spice? Let us know in the comments!

Disney’s Darkest Movie

Walt Disney Animation Studios is the most famous, important, and successful animated film studio in history. Its first movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, was the first ever feature-length animation. Its latest movie, Zootopia, captivated critics and broke box office records. (It was a touching film with catchy music, and I loved it.)

Walt Disney Animation Studios gave us such enduring classics as Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King… and also The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a movie I still can’t believe was actually made and distributed by Disney. It’s dark.

It’s really dark.

I still can’t believe this film saw the light of day.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is not only grim, but brilliant: a daring film with pathos, beauty, and gleams of humor. That said, it really doesn’t fit Disney’s kid-friendly image. The movie begins with a corrupt official (one of my favorite Disney villains) pursuing and murdering a woman in front of a church, and then almost murdering her baby.

A tense song narrates the scene, and throws in some vengeful Latin lyrics for good measure: Dies irae, dies illa solvet saeclum in favilla (Day of wrath, that day shall consume the world in ashes). The video above is a dark rock cover of this song. It’s a little edgier than the original… but only a little. A few notes foreshadow another song in the film, “Hellfire,” which is exactly as cheerful as it sounds; its lyrics describe unfulfilled sexual desire, murderous intentions, and literal hell.

Lust, fear, fury, and hellfire—y’know, for kids!

After that first scene, The Hunchback of Notre Dame—which, I remind you, is an animated movie by Disney for kids—goes on to address such family-friendly subjects as physical deformity, child maltreatment, lust, genocide, and eternal damnation. I’m serious. I haven’t even mentioned all the creepy statues and gloomy Gothic imagery.

This is a dark film, and it becomes even darker if the viewer chooses a cynical view of the protagonist’s gargoyle friends. These statues come to life when nobody else is around, like Hobbes in the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, bringing Quasimodo comfort and hope.

Just who are these guys?

Sure, there are optimistic explanations. Maybe these lively gargoyles are just imaginary friends, or perhaps God brings them to life as companions for Quasimodo. He does live in a church, after all, and the film is underscored by religious themes and imagery.

However, a cynical viewer might dismiss Quasimodo’s gargoyle friends as hallucinations: symptoms of psychosis, or his deranged way of coping with the horrors of his lonely life. This theory is unlikely, but given the other grotesque subjects in the film, it wouldn’t be hard to add mental illness to the list.

So yes, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a dark film, and also a really good one. I recommend it… but probably not if you’re a kid.

On a more cheerful note, the guy who arranged the cover of “The Bells of Notre Dame” in the video above has done some other great covers, including “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” (because no blog can ever have enough covers of that song) and “The Hero,” the epic theme to One Punch Man.

475. Mario Kart and the Art of Not Giving Up

I’m really good at two things. Sure, I have minor gifts such as humor and writing, but they’re hardly worth mentioning. There are only two things in this world at which I’m really gifted.

The first is drinking coffee, in staggering amounts, at fairly high speed, with effortless aplomb. (I’ve had a lot of practice.) My second gift is winning Mario Kart races. Neither of these gifts are useful for professional success or intellectual fulfillment, but I consider them personal triumphs anyway.

Aw yeah.

Mario Kart is a series of racing video games by Nintendo, a company with an important heritage, rich history, and really weird controllers. Each Mario Kart game is packed with humor, color, whimsy, mayhem, and stuff that explodes. (For the record, Mario Kart: Double Dash!! is the best game in the series. Some people say that either Super Mario Kart or Mario Kart 64 is better. Those people are wrong.) I started playing Mario Kart in my teens, and after twelve or thirteen years, I’ve learned a thing or two.

One of the things I’ve learned is the importance of picking up speed. Every kart in the games is valued according to two statistics: speed and acceleration.

There’s technically a third stat, weight, but it’s not all that important.

Going fast is great, sure, but something is guaranteed to bring karts to a full stop. Inexperienced players drive off roads or into obstacles. Even Mario Kart veterans can’t dodge certain hazards. Consider the Red Shell, a projectile weapon that seeks outs other racers. Then there’s the dreaded Blue Shell, an unstoppable missile that wrecks the winning racer within seconds. It really puts the hell in Shell.

This diagram pretty much sums it up. (It comes from a webcomic with a lot of profanity. I guess its creator plays a lot of Mario Kart.)

Sooner or later, every Mario Kart racer ends up in a ditch… or submerged in a glacial ocean, or sinking into glowing lava. (Video games will be video games.) Every racer, no matter how fast, eventually ends up wrecked.

That’s when acceleration comes in handy. It allows players to regain their top speed quickly after obstacles or poor driving slow them down. Depending on the race, a slow kart with good acceleration might have the advantage over a fast kart that takes a long time to get moving.

I think there’s a lesson here. In nearly every day God gives me, I try to do my best. Sometimes I keep it up for days or even weeks at a stretch: making good decisions, working hard, keeping my faith, and being kind. In Mario Kart terms, I maintain a good top speed.

Then, inevitably, I wreck my kart. I make a bad decision, and swerve off the road. Some wrecks aren’t even my fault. The unstoppable Blue Shells of depression, sickness, or bad circumstances bring my kart to a grinding halt.

Aw heckles, I took a wrong turn. It’s going to be a long fall.

I really struggle to get moving again at such times. What good is a high top speed if I’m not even moving? If I’ve lost my momentum, what’s the point? I may as well just sit here. The race is lost. I doubt I can even make second or third place, so I may as well just wait for the next one… but that’s no way to live, is it?

Speed is important, but so is acceleration. It’s important to live well, but also to keep moving after living badly.

Losers sit around moping after wrecking their karts.

Winners keep driving.

474. Adam’s Story: The Lore

For anyone new to Adam’s story, here’s an introduction.

Today we take a look at the lore and mythos underlying my story project. Let’s start at the beginning—the very beginning. There’s a lot of fictional history and made-up legends here, so brace yourself!

Lance Eliot finds himself stranded in the kingdom of Guardia, which lies upon the equator of a world called Gea. The origins of this fantastical place are shrouded in uncertainty. Only legends and fragments of history have survived, preserved in folktales and the sacred writings of the Vigil, Guardia’s predominant religion.

Over time, Lance learns more about the lore and history of Gea. (That’s pronounced “HEY-uh,” by the way.) Its recorded history goes back only centuries; beyond that, only myths and religious accounts remain.

According to the scriptures of the Vigilant religion, there exists a being of infinite wisdom and power known as El. (The Vigil ascribes further titles to him, such as El Enthroned and He Who Is.) El created many worlds in many universes, and Gea was one of these worlds. It doesn’t exist in the same universe as our Earth, but in one connected to it—a sister universe, so to speak.

Looking good, sis!

Gea follows our laws of physics, with the addition of a metaphysical force known as aer. This natural energy pervades everything. (It’s similar to our own concept of qi, and to a lesser extent of magic; Lance speculates these may represent a distorted understanding of aer.) Gifted individuals known as aerists can channel aer to perform supernatural feats. These include sending or summoning objects—or people, as Lance learns the hard way—from one universe to another.

The people of Gea are not indigenous to it, or even to its universe! An ancient event known as the World-storm transported thousands of people to Gea from past ages of Earth. (This might accounts for some of the missing people across our own history.) These interplanetary castaways were the ancestors of Gea’s people, and gleams of our own cultures and languages can still be seen in theirs.

The cause of the World-storm is not known. The Vigil claims it was a miracle by which El brought new life to Gea. Secular scholars theorize irregular movements of aer or cosmic rifts between universes. Whatever its cause, the World-storm left Gea with a faint connection to Earth, to which we, here on Earth, remain mostly oblivious. However, some of Gea’s realities are echoed in the mythologies of Earth, such as dragons and other monsters.

Here there be dragons.

The writings of the Vigilant religion, known collectively as the Book of El, yield no further insight on the creation of Gea or the cause of the World-storm; after these early chapters, its history leaps forward centuries to the founding of the kingdom of Guardia, whose history is mostly corroborated by other texts. The only clues about the intervening dark ages come from myths and legends of dubious historical accuracy.

An ancient myth claims Gea, among all other worlds, was created for a unique purpose: Gea is a divinely-appointed vessel, a cosmic container for… something.

Over centuries, many questioned the nature of that which is allegedly hidden deep within Gea. Poets, prophets, and philosophers speculated, but to no avail. Some claimed Gea contains a treasure of immeasurable worth, or a cache of heavenly wisdom. Others, less optimistic, believed Gea is not a vessel for treasure, but a prison for some powerful demon or devastating catastrophe. Theories abound, but there are no answers.

Other myths tell stories of the dark ages of Gea, filling its blank pages with legends and fairy tales. One such myth claims that a race of celestial creatures ruled Gea long before the World-storm brought human beings to the planet. Ruins dot the landscape of Guardia, predating the World-storm, but nobody is sure of their origin.

Who built these? I didn’t build these. Did you build these?

The Vigil emphasizes the importance of guarding Gea, especially Guardia, from harm, hence the religion’s name. According to the Vigil, El entrusted the kingdom to the gods or archangels known as the Twelve Seraphs. These divine servants are honored in Guardia with shrines and festivals; each Seraph is considered the patron of specific groups, in the manner of patron saints here on Earth.

Guardian folk tales often represent the Twelve Seraphs and their dealings with mortals. Of particular interest to Lance are the stories of Dove Thistle-head, a folk hero who supposedly planted gardens and groves all over Guardia, and outsmarted even the Seraphs in her quest to help Guardia’s people.

Lance is skeptical of Guardia’s myths and religious writings, but remains interested in them. Who knows? There might be some truth in them somewhere. In the end, it hardly matters—Lance has bigger things to worry about!

Nintendo Makes Weird Controllers

All right, let’s have a show of hands. Who remembers the Nintendo 64? If you raised your hand, congratulations: we are now friends.

The N64 was a terrific video game system, which brought us such revolutionary and industry-defining games as Super Mario 64The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Super Smash Bros. The importance of the N64 can’t be overstated, and its legacy endures to this day.

Seriously, though, what the flipping heck went wrong with its controller?

The N64 controller looks like the misplaced head of a trident. Most N64 games required players to grasp the controller by the center and right-hand prongs, leaving the left-hand prong and its seldom-used D-pad jutting out pointlessly. It was awkward and uncomfortable. Why didn’t Nintendo put the analogue stick on the left-hand side, allowing the player to hold the controller comfortably? The world will never know.

Nintendo has a long history of weird controllers, starting with the one for its very first system, the Nintendo Entertainment System.

nes-controller

It was basic and angular, without even the slightest effort to be comfortable or ergonomic.

I find it fascinating to trace the evolution of the video game controller across Nintendo’s gaming consoles. The controller for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System was a bit better, and the one for the GameCube was frankly awesome. Then came the Wii and its bizarre controller, which was basically a TV remote with an optional attachment that made it look like a nunchaku, a kind of martial arts weapon—it was actually called the Nunchuk attachment.

Nintendo’s latest controller, for the Wii U, is basically a tablet. It’s a lot more sensible than some of the company’s previous designs, and surprisingly comfortable.

I wonder where Nintendo will go next. Maybe its next console will be controlled not by the player’s thumbs, but by the power of his mind?!

Of course, thumbs are fine, too.

473. Adam Turns into the Hulk and Rants about Poor Hygiene

Caution: This blog post contains furious ranting. Sensitive readers, and readers averse to things being smashed, are advised not to continue.

Cleanliness is next to godliness. Well, it isn’t really, but it’s important anyway.

When human beings share the same space, whether a workplace or business or restaurant, a certain level of hygiene is imperative to prevent the spread of sickness. Besides, keeping at least somewhat clean is a sign of self-respect, and also of consideration for others.

That said, why in heaven’s name don’t some people wash their hands after using the bathroom?

Worse are stinky people. If I’ve offended any sensitive ears by saying this, I can only remind them of how badly my nose is offended by people who don’t bathe. Sometimes a little stink is unavoidable, such as after exercising or working hard, especially in hot weather: I understand that. Some people, especially among the elderly, are incontinent: I understand that, too. I work in a nursing home; I’m used to it. Incontinence isn’t a choice.

What bothers me are those who choose to be consistently dirty or smelly due to poor hygiene.

How hard is it to wash one’s hands, and to shower occasionally? Seriously. It… it makes me… angry. It makes me… want… to… to….

BLOG SMASH!

SMASH! CAPS LOCK ACTIVATED!

HULK TRY NOT TO JUDGE OTHERS. HULK KNOW EVERYONE FACES UNIQUE STRUGGLES AND CHALLENGES. THAT OKAY. POOR HYGIENE NOT OKAY. EXCEPT IN CASE OF APOCALYPSE, POOR HYGIENE PRACTICALLY INEXCUSABLE.

NOT WASHING HANDS, ESPECIALLY AFTER USING BATHROOM, SPREAD GERMS AND MAKE PEOPLE SICK. NO JOKE. AT WORST NOT WASHING HANDS MAKE OTHERS SUFFER. AT BEST? EVERYTHING UNWASHED HANDS TOUCH—DOORKNOBS, SHOPPING CARTS, MONEY, OTHER HANDS—COVERED IN BATHROOM GRIME. BATHROOM GRIME IS WORST KIND OF GRIME. HULK NOT WANT TO TOUCH YOUR GRIME.

WASHING HANDS TAKE THIRTY SECONDS. THIRTY SECONDS OF YOUR LIFE NOT MORE VALUABLE THAN HEALTH OF OTHERS. WASH YOUR [HULK EXPLETIVE] HANDS!

NOT BATHING IS JUST AS BAD. ANYONE CAN BATHE. IF YOU LIVE IN MODERN CIVILIZATION AND HAVE WATER, YOU CAN BATHE. IT NOT TAKE HIGHER EDUCATION. IT NOT TAKE MUCH MONEY. IT NOT TAKE CLASS OR SOPHISTICATION. IT TAKE SOAP AND WATER. SIMPLE.

EVEN HULK BATHE, AND HULK BUSY SAVING WORLD ALL THE TIME.

IF YOU NOT BATHE, YOU GET SICK. IS BAD FOR YOU. IS UNPLEASANT FOR OTHERS. BATHING NOT HARD. EVEN HULK BATHE, AND HULK NOT EVEN FIT IN SHOWER.

RESPECT YOURSELF. YOU VALUABLE AND UNIQUE. YOU TOO GOOD FOR NOT BATHING. RESPECT YOURSELF AND RESPECT OTHERS BY NOT STINKING.

HULK ALWAYS PRACTICE WHAT HULK PREACH. HULK SMELL LIKE PEPPERMINT AND SPRING FLOWERS. EVEN GREEN MONSTER HAVE TIME FOR SHOWER AND DEODORANT. HULK MEAN, CLEAN RAGE MACHINE.

BE CLEAN. PLEASE. RESPECT SELF AND OTHERS. WASH.

HULK OUT!

…Whoa, I just—what? Sorry. I slipped into a daze there for a minute. Sorry about that. Wait, why does my room smell like spring flowers and peppermint? Was it the Hulk? Oh, that Hulk. He’s kind of a jerk, but at least he smells nice!

472. That Time I Got Saved

I’ve written about many of the strange events in my life, from an awkward stage kiss to a severed human arm, but not until now of the day I committed my soul to God. It was… I don’t remember what kind of day it was. It was probably muggy and overcast. I was indoors at the time, standing in line, waiting for a meal that was, in retrospect, soggy and terrible.

I speak of That Time I Got Saved, a tale of grace and burgers.

(For full effect, you must read the title of this story with a Southern Baptist drawl: “That Time Ah Gawt Saaaved.”)

Unlike some of my other That Time I _____ stories, this one isn’t all that exotic or sensational. Heck, it doesn’t even make for a compelling testimony. I got saved while standing in line for a nasty hamburger.

This happened nearly twenty years ago in French Burger, a sketchy fast food joint. For all I know, it’s still open for business. (I really hope it isn’t.) French Burger served beef patties on cheap buns soaked in some kind of milky fluid: probably mayonnaise diluted by the moisture from wet shredded lettuce. These mushy burgers were served in little mustard-colored plastic bags. The burger juice would collect at the bottom of the bag, along with stray wisps of lettuce and shreds of soggy bun. The horror! The horror!

A photo of the food from French Burger would have been too graphic, so I replaced it with a picture of some pretty flowers. I’ve got to keep this blog family-friendly!

French Burger was tucked in a corner of a parking lot in Santo Domingo de los Colorados, a city built to the west of the Andes Mountains in Ecuador. My family and I spent about four years there. My memories of Santo Domingo are few and faint, but I recall gloomy impressions of mud, concrete, overcast weather, and weeds.

Understandably, I spent much of that time indoors: watching VHS tapes of old cartoons, building with Legos, playing and replaying games on our Super Nintendo Entertainment System, dodging home school assignments, learning to read—subsequently reading with voracious interest—and trying to write a novel. (Spoilers: I quit after two paragraphs.) It was a formative time. I discovered Nintendo, J.R.R. Tolkien, Star Wars, C.S. Lewis, and coffee.

I did occasionally venture forth into the community: picking up fragments of Spanish, pestering the neighbors, riding my bike, and buying bread from the local shops. My family and I made regular visits to a local river, where I encountered a Giant Mutant Killer Jungle Ant. We also visited nearby restaurants, such as a French Burger and Kentucky Fried Chicken. (KFC is weirdly popular in Ecuador.)

Oh, Santo Domingo de los Colorados. I… don’t really miss you, actually.

It was during a visit to French Burger that I found myself waiting in line, and committed my soul to God. I could joke that I got saved just in case I died of my lousy hamburger, but at the time, I actually liked those soggy messes. (My tastes have much improved, I hope.) As I waited, I realized that I should probably be saved. I was raised in a Christian home, surrounded by Adventures in Odyssey and Sunday school lessons, with the Gospel of Christ rattling around in my head. It finally occurred to me that I should probably do something about it.

I… didn’t really do anything about it. I prayed a trite sinner’s prayer—which I repeated over the next few weeks just to make sure my salvation stuck—and then continued to live however the heck I wanted. My life continued to be as messy as those burgers.

That day in French Burger didn’t make an immediate impact, but it was a tiny step forward, and God is known to work wonders with little things.

It wasn’t until the start of high school that I became a proper Christian. It wasn’t exactly a decision, but more like a gradual movement toward Christ. I took prayer more seriously, began reading the Bible, and made a sincere effort to be less of a jerk. My faith has wavered over the years, but for better or worse, I’ve kept it.

The salvation of my soul wasn’t an event of dazzling beauty or splendid emotion, but it was a start. After all, redemption has to begin somewhere. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Neither bad burgers nor bad people can preclude the grace of God.

Great Music, You Dig?

Shovel Knight is an outstanding indie game that delivers fun and adventure in spades. I really dig it. (Shovel puns!) The game’s soundtrack is particularly good, and in the video above, a couple of insanely gifted guitarists strum one of its best tunes.

With Ether is a duo of guitarists whose music I’ve featured once before. The video above is their arrangement of my favorite song from Shovel Knight, “Strike the Earth!” They somehow arranged this fast, deceptively complex chiptune for a couple of acoustic guitars, and it sounds fantastic. The breakneck bit at the thirty-eight second mark amazes me every time I hear it.

471. TMTF Reviews: Something’s Rotten

An embarrassingly long time ago, I received an invitation from a band called the PDX Broadsides to share my thoughts on their latest album: Something’s Rotten.

somethings-rotten

This happened shortly before I attended a writing conference and then took a vacation. As I traveled, connecting to the Internet only briefly and infrequently, I regrettably let the PDX Broadsides and their invitation slip through the cracks.

Only a few days ago did I finally listen to Something’s Rotten in its entirety. It’s geeky; it’s folksy; it’s definitely an album worth reviewing—and by gosh, I’m going to review it. (Yeah, I know TMTF doesn’t review stuff anymore, but I’ll make an exception for today’s post.) I don’t know the first thing about music, but I am totally a geek, so I consider myself at least slightly qualified to review this album. Besides, my last music review didn’t cause The End of Civilization as We Know It, so what’s the harm in one more?

The PDX Broadsides are an acoustic-folk-geek trio. I wasn’t familiar with them prior to their invitation, and I haven’t the faintest idea why they invited me to share my opinion, but I’m glad they did.

Here we go, with due apologies for the late review.

The PDX Broadsides seem disappointed in me—just look at those disapproving faces. I’M SORRY FOR TAKING SO LONG TO REVIEW YOUR ALBUM. Geez, guys.

Something’s Rotten is an acoustic guitar-driven album of geeky music, with a folksy vibe and plenty of vocal harmonies. This style reminded me repeatedly of Peter, Paul and Mary, whose music I adore. (I’m pretty sure I’m the only person of my generation who listens to Peter, Paul and Mary, so don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of them.) As a geek who likes folk music, I really dig Something’s Rotten.

The album begins with “The Girl Who Couldn’t Even,” which I can only describe as the ballad of the stereotypical white American young woman. It matches her humorous overreactions to a melody that sounds like something straight out of the Old West. This intersection of tense music to a frivolous subject is pretty funny.

“Something’s Rotten: Hamlet’s Lament” is a musical soliloquy from Shakespeare’s most famous character—and let me tell you, it’s a heck of a lot more amusing than any of the soliloquies the Bard himself wrote for Hamlet. I enjoyed the offhanded way the song’s lyrics reference the events of the play.

“Catatonic” is the sad, slow lament of a fan whose mind goes blank every time she meets her favorite TV actor. I’m guessing this one was written from experience, because its authenticity strikes a chord with me. I’m easily overawed by brilliant creative people. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of meeting a few of my own creative heroes, and I’ve gone a bit catatonic myself.

“Hey, that’s Grey DeLisle! In person! How exciting! Wait a second. OH GOSH. SHE’S HUGGING ME. PLAY IT COOL, ADAM. PLAY IT COOL.”

“Meant to Be” is a love song, but not a typical one. Love doesn’t just happen. Love takes work. This is a song about rebuilding love. There’s a tired determination in the refrain: “I’ve tried, I’ve tried, I’ve tried.”

By the time I reached “Astronaut’s Hymn,” I was already thinking of Peter, Paul and Mary, but this was the song that really clinched it. This is basically a sadder version of “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” except the singer is leaving on a spaceship instead of an airplane, and may possibly not come home. Heavy stuff.

“Far Away and Distant One” seemed at first like an unremarkable ballad of unrequited love, but after listening carefully to the lyrics, I can’t shake the conviction they must refer to a Dalek—the pepper shaker-shaped death machine from Doctor Who.

How… romantic?

I could be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure lyrics like “you blew my world away” and “you hide behind your armor” are meant literally here, not figuratively. The repeated use of the word exterminated can’t be coincidence!

“The Ultimate Riot” tells, to a tune of almost sickening cheerfulness, the story of a riot started at a convention by a guest speaker who butchered his allusions to geeky media. This was my least favorite song on the album; I found the melody grating.

In spectacularly nerdy fashion, “Nopetopus” alludes to the Internet meme of an octopus fleeing the scene, and praises the example of that cautious creature.

nopetopus

We’ve all found ourselves in awkward social situations. The thought of fleeing like the Nopetopus, “flailing like Kermit the Frog,” is certainly a pleasant one. Equally pleasant are the vocal harmonies toward the end of the song, and its chorus of “nope nope nope.” Even the wary Nopetopus has nothing to fear from this song.

“Something’s Rotten: Ophelia’s Retort” is Ophelia’s response to Hamlet’s earlier lament. It lends a nice bit of continuity to the album, and turns Hamlet’s soliloquy into a duet. The lyrics continue to amuse: Hamlet, who early in Shakespeare’s play is confronted by the ghost of his late father, mourns, “Parental expectations never die.”

“I Ship It” is an overenthusiastic ode to shipping: the tendency of fans to support or wish for romantic relationships between fictional characters (or occasionally actual people). I regard shipping with wary amusement, and this song with the same.

“Eureka!” is a chipper ode to some of the greatest scientific discoveries in history. As with a number of the songs in this album, I’m amused to hear a folksy melody and arrangement matched with something nerdy. In this case, it’s SCIENCE!

Despite some humorous lyrics, “Smile!” makes a serious point. The song is a woman’s annoyed response to a stranger asking her to smile. As well-intentioned as it may seem, asking someone to look happy isn’t courteous. It may be irritating, creepy, or sexist, depending on the situation. A woman who looks unhappy probably isn’t waiting for a Prince Charming to offer flirtatious encouragements. She’s probably, y’know, genuinely unhappy. Her face is her own, and she has a right to whatever expression she chooses. Beneath the humor and upbeat melody of “Smile!” is a serious message, and it’s worth considering.

By contrast, the album’s final song isn’t even slightly serious. “Nathan Fillion (Please Take Off Your Pants)” is exactly what its title suggests: an earnest plea for actor Nathan Fillion to remove his pants and share his manly buttocks with the world. Fillion’s character loses his clothes in a memorable episode of Firefly, exposing his chiseled cheeks, and the writer of this song approves. Can I say this is my favorite song in the album? This is my favorite song in the album. It’s unbelievably catchy, and the absurdity of its premise is glorious. Think about it. Here, in our very universe, a song exists about Nathan Fillion’s bottom. Isn’t that bonkers? Besides, the thought of Mr. Fillion doing a little dance sans trousers is perfectly delightful.

nathan-fillion

This is a photo of Nathan Fillion wearing pants.

As I conclude this music review, I realize my conclusion is exactly the same as in the last oneIf you’re a geek, this album is absolutely worth checking out. If you’re not a geek, don’t feel guilty giving it a miss. It’s steeped in nerd culture, and its jokes and references are bound to go over the heads of listeners not in the know.

For those able to appreciate its geekiness, Something’s Rotten is a clever, well-written album of acoustic folk music. There’s a bit of bawdy humor, especially in that last track, and a few swearwords, but the album is fairly tame. Something’s Rotten is on the short side, but at ten dollars (or thirteen for a physical disc) for thirteen songs, it’s a good value.

Anyone interested in Something’s Rotten can listen to its tracks and/or purchase the album here.

470. Adam’s Story: The Characters

For anyone new to Adam’s story, here’s an introduction.

Here’s a look at the five most important characters in my story project, with GLORIOUS CONCEPT ART by the talented Sabina K! (There’s also a bonus picture from JK Riki!) I’ve been excited for this post for a really long time, and today is the day I finally get to share it with you. Here we go!

Lance (TMTF version)

Lance Santiago Eliot is a college student in the little town of Crossroads, Indiana. His plans to go home for Christmas are rudely interrupted by a journey to a strange new place: the kingdom of Guardia, a land of magic and monsters, teetering on the brink of war. Lance isn’t exactly pleased by this unexpected adventure. He isn’t a hero. He’s a timid guy who hates shaving, plays video games, and loves coffee—a beverage that doesn’t seem to exist in this other universe. The sooner he can go home, the better… but getting home might be harder than he expects.

Fun fact: Lance Eliot is Ecuadorian American, and fluent in both English and Spanish. He uses Spanish mostly for cursing, though.

Eisen (TMTF version)

To all appearances, Eisen is a former military leader living out his retirement in the luxurious heights of Faurum, the Golden City of Guardia. Lance knows better: Eisen is actually the Chairman of the Guardian Peace Committee, a group plotting the overthrow of Guardia’s king. Eisen claims it’s the only way to prevent all-out war, but Lance isn’t convinced. After all, Eisen gave the order that brought Lance to Guardia, so Lance has a hard time trusting him. Eisen prides himself on his neat appearance, dressing in the old-fashioned suits and uniforms of his military days despite the warm climate. Although he smiles constantly, he seems more polite than sincere.

Fun fact: Eisen always wears dark glasses, even indoors. He claims they prevent his chronic headaches. They give him a slightly sinister appearance.

Note for veteran readers: Eisen replaces the Kana character from previous versions of Lance Eliot’s story.

Maia (TMTF version)

Maia is an aerist: a person born with the ability to channel aer, a cosmic energy Lance defines as “basically magic.” Maia is technically an aerist in training, but she’s getting there, really! She’s already mastered Linguamancy, the discipline of tongues, and she’s working really hard on Vocomancy, the discipline of summoning. I mean, she summoned Lance to Guardia all the way from Crossroads, Indiana! (She was actually under orders to summon Lancelot, the legendary knight of Camelot, but got Lance Eliot instead. Whoops!) Maia is upbeat, friendly, and easily excited, but seems to have a hard time taking anything seriously.

Fun fact: Despite her childlike personality, Maia is exceptionally intelligent and well-read. Her interests range from contemporary fashion to ancient lore and history.

Tsurugi (TMTF version)

When Lance leaves Faurum, Tsurugi accompanies him as an escort. Lance is both intrigued and irritated by this silent soldier. What mysteries lie behind that blank face and those shifty eyes? Lance’s speculations are soon interrupted by ugly facts: Tsurugi is a war criminal working for Eisen as an alternative to execution. Tsurugi seems tired, even broken, yet hasn’t lost his edge—his military prowess is legendary. Lance suspects there’s more to his story, but Tsurugi isn’t talking.

Fun fact: Tsurugi wears a military uniform with one unusual addition: a red bandana, which he often wears around his face. The bright color is very poor camouflage for a soldier, but Lance knows better than to question it.

Paz (TMTF version)

Paz is a professional gambler, and she’s eerily good at it. She travels alone, making money in pubs and saloons all over Guardia, and hitting the road before anyone can ask too many questions. When asked why she never seems to lose, she insists she’s “just lucky.” Experience has taught Paz to act tough around strangers. In good company, however, she’s friendly and kindhearted. Paz has mastered many survival skills, including self-defense, but doesn’t have much schooling. After all, if you’re lucky enough to profit from every hand of cards and roll of the dice, do you really need a formal education?

Fun fact: Paz has picked up all kinds of hobbies to keep herself entertained on her solitary travels. In addition to cards for solitaire, she always has a book or two in her pack; when she finishes one book, she trades it for another in the next town she visits. Paz also carves trinkets and figurines out of wood. Since wood is neither expensive nor hard to find, woodcarving is the perfect hobby for a traveler!

Note for veteran readers: Paz replaces the Regis character from previous versions of Lance Eliot’s story.

Courtesy of JK Riki, here’s a bonus picture of Paz:

Paz alt (TMTF version)

That’s all for today! My next post in this series may cover the story’s lore or geography, or maybe some of its less important characters. I’ll work on it.

Thanks for reading!

(Before concluding, I want to thank Sabina and JK once again for their time, patience, and amazing talent. Working with each of you was a pleasure and a privilege. Thank you!)