We’ve covered a great deal in our Digital Humanities course over the last week or so, from Bethany Nowviskie’s discourse on the origins of hack and yack, to the Seasons Don’t Fear the Reader vibe of Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore. Nowviskie’s piece delves into the inevitable polemics which develop in a 21st-century discussion about anything. Turns out there’s nothing new, even in new things.
Sloan’s work is a fun and readable adventure story (I consumed all 300 pages in a single sitting with one meal in between) that brings together friends both old and new as facsimiles for technologies both old and new. It’s a techno-age bildungsroman for a character who desperately needs the journey. Without spoilers, I can say that the final point seems to be that the journey is all that matters. There is no such thing as an actual destination in a world where everything is so interconnected as to be nothing more than a waystop onto something else. What’s most telling is that the fantasy of the novel is a common popular-culture dream about what we can make computers do. Too often on television or in film we’ll see a character furiously typing on a keyboard to do their “hacks” or whatever they’re making happen, and they’re doing it in real time. At least Penumbra avoids that; it rightly portrays our hackers as people who set up their scripts and let them run, getting results back when the machines are good and damn ready to give them up. The fantasy is a kind of distributed computing on steroids. I’m not suggesting that distributed computing is a fantasy; if Bitcoin has taught us something (I was going to say about human greed, but we already knew that), it’s that DC is part and parcel of the 21st century. Lots of it is happen around you and you don’t even know it. The fantastic comes from how readily available resources are for our characters and the facility with which they appropriate them. Sloan frames it as an easily-understandable and rational plot device, which is all you really want from an entertainment-as-social commentary; no one should read Penumbra as a tech manual, save for on perhaps the power of curating just the right people with just the right skills in your extended social circle.
The most powerful part of Penumbra is its feminist-positive message, via one of its main characters, Kat Potente. Again, no spoilers. Kat is a strong young woman without being a stereotype, who has a skill set, motivations, and desires; she gets involved with a man, but her relationship with him does not define her character. Self-definition is left to Kat and Kat alone. What defines her is her Kat-ness (no, no Everdenes). Whether or not you might choose the same direction she does from the same position is left to your You-ness.
She’s definitely worth making a cocktail for. Kat is a red haired nerdcore girl who doesn’t mind getting liquored up. Early on, we find she’s taken the Einsteinian path to getting dressed—she just has multiple copies of the same clothes, most notably a red T-shirt with BAM! written on it. Playing on her name, I’ll offer you The Potent Kat.
The Potent Kat
(makes two drinks, because the only way to have one of these is with a friend)
6 oz. ghost pepper infused vodka
3 oz. cranberry juice
1.5 oz. orange juice
Dash orange bitters
¼ tsp chopped ginger
Lime wedge for garnish
Place all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker over crushed ice. Shake until well-blended. Strain into two martini glasses. Garnish with lime wedge.
Infusing vodka with ghost peppers is rather easy. Pour a quart of good vodka into a mason jar and drop in two medium-sized whole peppers (you can take off the stem if you want to). Store for about two weeks. Use with discretion.