Author: cemcgill

What I’m Reading: The Murderbot Diaries

Recently I read the first of (and then promptly inhaled the rest of) Martha Well’s Murderbot Diaries! This series of novellas (with the exception of Network Effect, which is a full length novel) is written from the perspective of a SecUnit, a human/robot construct designed to act as a security guard on human space missions. I was drawn to this series not only because of the gorgeous cover art and the fact that the main character’s name is freakin’ Murderbot (clearly, I need to up my character-naming game), but because of the fascinating and hilarious premise:

After many gruelling years spent under human control, Murderbot has disabled its “governor module” and gone rogue. And what does this absolutely jacked, guns-for-arms security robot do with its newfound free will? Murder the rest of the crew perhaps, in typical rogue-AI fashion?

No. It watches several thousand hours of TV dramas while on the job.

It didn’t take me long to fall in love with this series. The contrast between Murderbot’s flawlessly capable performance in combat situations and its self-deprecating, darkly funny narration is just delightful, and I really enjoyed watching its friendship with the human crew unfold. (Plus, you know my nonbinary ass was thrilled to have a genderless protagonist!) But it isn’t all touching character moments, of course; the universe of The Murderbot Diaries is not a happy one, and Wells pulls no punches in examining how the trauma of being controlled—either by a governor module, or by an oppressive capitalist system—affects her characters’ lives.

In short: Murderbot is wonderfully engaging protagonist, and Martha Wells does some very interesting work throughout the series on personhood and the dehumanizing nature of capitalism. Highly recommended—give it a read!

— CEM

Apocalypse Cookies

Several cookies cooling on a tray.

Hi all! So; things are looking pretty rough right now. If you’re like me (i.e. an unquestionably Non-Essential worker), you’ve likely been stuck at home the past week or two with no one but your family and a dwindling supply of toilet paper to keep you company. (And several hundred pages of edits I should be working on as we speak, but let’s not talk about that.)

No, what I’m here to talk about today is cookies! Today I made what I’ve decided to refer to as Apocalypse Cookies; or, if you prefer, I’ve Got Jack Shit Left in the Pantry and I Ran Out of Sweets a Week Ago But I Can’t Go Out and Buy More Because I’m Practicing Responsible Social Distancing cookies. I thought I’d share it here, in case any of you are working with the same appalling lack of baked goods as I was this morning. This recipe is designed to be easy, quick, and nigh-infinitely adjustable to whatever leftover back-of-the-pantry crap you’re working with.

A close up of the Apocalypse cookies.

So, without further ado!

  • Step One: Check your pantry. If you have the ingredients for making regular cookies, make those first. This recipe is for the DESPERATE, do you hear me? If you still have chocolate chips, what are you even DOING here?
  • Step Two: Re-evaluate your conception of what counts as a cookie. These things are going to be imperfect. They may even be a little ugly. But be honest: you’re in your pajamas right now, aren’t you? I certainly am. We’re in no place to judge. Give these cookies space to be whatever they turn out to be — at least 6 feet of space, preferably.
  • Step Three: Gather the ingredients. The following is what I used to make my Apocalypse Cookies, but make whatever substitutions necessary.
    • 1½ cups flour. Regular, gluten free, leftover waffle mix, anything you have. If you don’t have any flour, use oats.
    • 1½ cups almond flour. Or hazelnut flour. Or flour flour. Or more oats. Or, if you’re truly insane and have 45 minutes to kill, stick some almonds in a food processor and grind them yourself.
    • Approx. ½ cup oats. Or oatmeal mix. Useful for adding bulk and filling in for any flour you don’t have. Disregard if you don’t like oatmeal cookies.
    • 1 cup brown sugar. Or date sugar. Or coconut sugar. Or white sugar. Or ½ cup honey or maple syrup.
    • 2 eggs. Or 1 mashed banana. Or ½ cup of yoghurt or apple sauce. Or 1 Tbsp flax or chia powder + 3 Tbsp water. Baking temps or times may have to be adjusted accordingly; this page has some handy info on adjusting recipes for egg substitutes.
    • 6 Tbsp water. I’m assuming you have this. I hope.
    • 2 tsp baking powder. Or 1 tsp baking soda + 2 tsp cream of tartar. Or ½ tsp baking soda + 1 tsp lemon juice. Or use buttermilk or sparkling water in place of the 6 Tbsp water. Or, honestly, if you already have eggs, you’re probably fine to skip this extra raising agent.
    • 1 pinch of salt.
    • 2 capfuls almond extract + 2 capfuls vanilla extract + 1 capful orange extract. Or whatever flavors or extracts you have on hand. Some (i.e. professional bakers) would say this is far too much extract. They would be WRONG. The trick, you see, is to disguise the sins and substitutions elsewhere in the recipe with as much flavor as possible.
    • Optional accessories: Cinnamon. Cocoa powder. Chopped walnuts or almonds. Go nuts.
  • Step Four: Preheat oven to 325°F. Then, while you’re waiting:
  • Step Five: Rewrite your recipe. Write it down. Write it dooown! Especially if you’re using complex substitutions or a different raising agent.
  • Step Six: Add dry ingredients.
  • Step Seven: Add wet ingredients.
  • Step Eight: Mix. This is a one-bowl, one-spoon recipe folks. I know you don’t have the mental or physical energy to wash eight different bowls right now.
  • Step Nine: Line a tray with baking paper and spoon cookie-sized dollops onto tray. If your mixture is very sticky (as mine was) I recommend using a wetted fork to get the mixture off the spoon and shape it on the tray.
  • Step Ten: Bake until done. About 25 minutes, probably. But look, every batch of Apocalypse Cookies is its own unique creature. Listen to your cookies; talk to them. Give them the time they need.
A pair of Apocalypse cookies on a plate with a mug of tea.

And that’s it! Eat them on their own or with tea, coffee, or whatever else you have. This is a tough and stressful time for all of us, but we’ll get through it if we just stick together. I mean — not stick together. Stay apart, that is to say. Stay at home. You know what I mean.

Eat cookies and stay safe!

— CEM

SHORT STORY: PASSENGERS

Julia had grown up knee-deep in superstition. Augury itself came with superstitions, though most would say they were purely common sense. That night, as Julia sat in inky silence tapping her fingers against the steering wheel, she thought about one warning in particular. One that her mother had whispered in her ear years ago, before kissing her softly on the head and buckling her in for some late night road trip.

Always put something in the passenger seat at night. An open seat next to you is an invitation.

A belated announcement, but here nonetheless — my latest short story, Passengers, is now published on Strange Constellations!

Do you like to read about ghosts? About girlfriends? About grief? Do you start sometimes, while driving home at night down those winding country lanes, because you looked in the rearview mirror and saw some huge and shambling shape cross the road? Do you tell yourself after you’ve parked your car, only twenty feet of yawning black void from your front door, that that tapping sound on the roof is just the engine cooling down, just the engine, just the engine? Then this one might be for you.

— CEM

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