In which the hype, somehow, is real

I am fully, 100% aware of just how behind the times I am, that it is April of 2021 and I am about to use precious space on Beyoncé’s internet to talk about the Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich. But yes, somehow I managed to wait a year and a half from the launch of the sandwich in August of 2019 to finally eat one. But there really isn’t a Popeye’s anywhere near me, and it’s not like we’ve been able to eat in restaurants lately. But I have dinner with my dad every week or two, and generally the way it works is that I bring something over, and he said yesterday that he was in the mood for chicken sandwiches and didn’t specify where from.

And there is a Popeye’s near Dad’s place. Now, it’s a shitty Popeye’s– but then, they all are, right? But if he wants chicken sandwiches anyway, and there’s one by him … well, what the hell, let’s gird our loins for disappointment and try the damn things out. Surely they’ve been out long enough that I can just go get a couple of them, and they’ve probably been scaled back from what they were when they were first out and people were literally murdering each other for the damn things.

Ha.

This particular Popeye’s is a freestanding restaurant that is basically in the middle of a parking lot. It’s not really built to have a lengthy drive-thru line, and when I got there not only did the line completely wrap around the building– let me remind you again that it is April of 2021 and this damn sandwich has been out for nearly two years— but they had someone in the parking lot fucking directing traffic, so that Popeye’s customers could get in line for the drive-thru while still at least theoretically allowing people access to the Subway (this Subway) fifty feet away.

I was in line for maybe fifteen minutes. Given the number of cars, not bad. I ordered three Original sandwiches– Dad had said he wanted two, so I figured I’d get two as well– and one Spicy.

Do not order two of these damn things, and do not try to eat both at a sitting unless you are a giant fat man like me.

Look at that fucking sandwich. That’s the spicy one. The chicken patty was an inch thick. The other one didn’t overhang the bun like this one did but holy hell, this much food for $4.50 or whatever they were charging me– it’s less than that, I think– is madness. The damned sandwiches were delicious; they weren’t overwhelmed with sauce (mayo for one and spicy sauce of some sort for the other,) the pickles were tasty and crunchy although there could have maybe been a couple more of them (I think they slid to the one side of the sandwich during transit?) and the patty itself in both cases was fucking great. This is 100% the best fast-food chicken sandwich I’ve ever had, bar none, and other than a particular sandwich served by one single restaurant in Chicago that obviously I can’t get any longer, it’s probably the best chicken sandwich I’ve ever had, period, and it’s not close. Even the spicy sandwich was, for me, balanced more or less perfectly. It’s probably not hot enough for people who genuinely like super-spicy foods, but for me it hit the sweet spot where I was definitely feeling it but it wasn’t overwhelming.

I finished the damn things nearly two hours ago and my mouth is still kind of watering. That good.

But seriously, don’t order two of them, especially if you want any kind of side. I’ll have more of these– they’re worth going out of my way for– but it’s an enormous amount of food. If, like me, you didn’t want to battle crowds to get one of these when they were all over the news and then just sort of let it fall off your radar, make a trip. It’s worth it.

#REVIEW: Godzilla Vs. Kong

Let’s be real, here: this movie is as review-proof as a movie can be. You already knew when you saw the words Godzilla Vs. Kong whether this was going to be a movie you were going to want to see, and no amount of bad reviews can talk someone who wants to see a movie called Godzilla Vs. Kong out of seeing a movie called Godzilla Vs. Kong.

The only meaningful criticisms that can be made of a giant monster punching other giant monster movie is to compare it to other giant monster punching other giant monster movies. You gotta compare it to its competition, y’know? So, for what it’s worth: I’ve seen Pacific Rim and Godzilla (2014) and Kong: Skull Island. although Godzilla: King of the Monsters or whatever it was called has thus far escaped my attention. I disliked Pacific Rim quite a bit and enjoyed Godzilla and Skull Island, although I don’t seem to have reviewed the latter. Godzilla vs. Kong is not as good as either of the two previous entries, unfortunately, although the jury’s still out on whether it’s better than Pacific Rim.

And the funny thing is that where GvK falls down is more or less exactly the same place where Pacific Rim falls down: that this movie has injected additional stupid where stupid was not necessary. Stupid is a choice, people! Every single second and every single object on-screen in a movie like this was on purpose; they did not have to do a single thing, so anytime something is blatantly stupid it’s either because they decided they wanted it that way or they didn’t notice, which is worse. Now, it’s possible that a big chunk of the stupid in GvK is King of the Monsters‘ fault, but all that does is push the dumb back a generation; it doesn’t excuse it. Whoever was responsible for the phrase gravitational inversion being in this movie should be flogged. I can ignore the fact that scientifically speaking both Godzilla and Kong are literally too big to exist on land because giant monsters are cool. They add something to the movie. You could snip the entire idiotic hollow Earth plot completely out of this movie and absolutely nothing of value would be lost except for runtime. It was only included to make the movie longer and stupider and, I suppose, to give Kong his magic axe.

King fucking Kong does not need a magic goddamned axe. You know what would be cooler than King Kong carrying a magic axe? King Kong snapping a skyscraper off at the base and whacking Godzilla in the face with it. Would it be scientifically accurate? Of course not. Would it be cool? Yes. And the axe is kind of cool but it is the only thing about the detour into the hollow Earth that eats up the entire first 2/3 of the movie that actually, like, matters. Other than that it’s all wasted time, and worse, wasted time that adds extra stupid and extra questions– like, for example, exactly how did you get the 60,000-ton gorilla onto that aircraft carrier? You sedated him, you say? With fucking what? And after he wakes up and has a deeply unfair battle with Godzilla where Godzilla is breaking other aircraft carriers like they’re made of popsicle sticks but somehow neglects to break Kong‘s aircraft carrier like it’s made of popsicle sticks, how did you manage to re-sedate him to get him into that net that you carry him — I am not joking– to Antarctica in?

The movie spends thirty minutes on gravitational inversion, a concept so stupid that I refuse to get into the details of its role in the movie because it hurts me, but does not explain how they got a 350-foot-tall unconscious gorilla into a net. Nor does it explain how they rendered said 350-foot-tall gorilla unconscious in the first place. Or the second.

And there is just not enough punching to make up for all of these decisions to add stupid into the movie. They could have written around all of this stuff. None of it had to be there. But dozens of people woke up every day while they were working on this and chose stupid over exciting, and I have to report it that way.

(You may be wondering who won. Don’t worry, this is not a spoiler review, but let me simply say that one entity definitely loses. Other aspects may be up for debate. That’s all I’m saying.)

#REVIEW: Requiem Moon, by C.T. Rwizi

Y’all.

I keep telling y’all to read more African fantasy and science fiction literature. I have been on this for at least a couple of years now. C.T. Rwizi was born in Zimbabwe, raised in Swaziland and currently lives in South Africa, and his phenomenal debut novel Scarlet Odyssey was my favorite book of last year. I have had the sequel, Requiem Moon, pre-ordered for months. It jumped to the top of my queue as soon as it got into the house, and I finished it this morning, and …

… man, this guy is not a fluke. I admit it! I was kind of worried. I’ve read enough sequels to great debut novels that weren’t great, and if I slip and say “trilogy” at any point in this piece, be aware that I have no idea how many books Rwizi plans this series to run. I know that it’s entirely possible for a second book to fall apart, and there’s good reason for that; second books in a series are a fuckton harder to write than first books, and they’re frequently written under time pressure to boot; you had your whole life to get that debut novel ready, and the sequel needs to be out in a year. Look around for the sequel to Skylights. Believe me, I understand second book syndrome.

I am pleased to say that while I don’t love Requiem Moon quite as much as I loved Scarlet Odyssey, and it and The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue are battling it out in my head for my favorite book of the month, it is still a phenomenal novel and is absolutely a worthy sequel to the original.

My only regret? I probably should have reread Scarlet Odyssey before I picked this one up. It does a great job of getting you caught up, but there is a lot going on in this book. You lose the coming-of-age narrative of the first book and much of the prejudice that the mystic Musalodi had to put up with in the first novel, and also the travelogue aspect, as the entire book takes place in the capital city of Yonte Saire … or, at least, almost all of it, except the part that doesn’t, and I really want to spoil the place where Salo ends up for a chapter but I feel like it would be mean. What the book does is crank up the political complexity and gets deeper into the worldbuilding, and you find out quite a lot more about the genuinely refreshing and original math- and high tech-based magic system Rwizi has cooked up here. This book, by the way, does not give one single shit about genre conventions; Rwizi’s gonna put some science fiction in his fantasy and some fantasy in his science fiction and everybody loves a Reese’s so you’re not going to whine about it. Salo grows a lot, both in character and in power, over the course of the book, and … shit, I don’t want to spoil any of this, and there’s not really any point into getting too far into the plot anyway since it’s a second book. Just believe that shit, which was perhaps not previously as real as we thought, gets real, and I caught myself thinking at about the halfway point that there hadn’t been nearly as much action in this book as compared to the first and yeah that was just Rwizi teeing up my emotions.

And then like Jesus holy shit the ending. I have no idea where the hell he’s going with this series, and it’s fantastic.

I loved this book, I love this author, and you need to read Scarlet Odyssey, then read this, and then listen to me and start reading African speculative fiction on the regular, because there’s all kinds of good stuff out there and it needs more exposure.

#REVIEW: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, by V.E. Schwab

This book sort of danced on and off my radar until a guy I follow on BookTok (which is TikTok but about books, in case you aren’t In the Know) read it and proceeded to wax rhapsodic about it for a solid week, at more than one point calling it his favorite book of all time. This, from someone whose book tastes I am already inclined to trust, is absolutely a phrase that is going to cause me to sit up and take notice, and the book got ordered immediately.

tl;dr: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue isn’t my favorite book of all time, but it’s my favorite book of the year with a damn bullet so far.(*)

The titular Addie LaRue, having sold her soul to the devil in the 1700s, is suffering under a curse: no one remembers her once she’s out of their sight. Any interaction with her is instantly forgotten, and any trace she’s left in the world disappears as well; things she breaks are immediately repaired, her writing vanishes from paper, and she cannot say or write her own name. She is also effectively immortal; she cannot die of thirst or hunger (although she can experience both) and minor wounds, at least, vanish instantly; one presumes she would survive larger injuries as well although the book spares us a scene where she tries to, say, jump off a bridge or anything like that. As the book begins, she is over 300 years old, and the devil, who she calls Luc, has been visiting her on the anniversary of her deal from time to time to see if she is ready to end her curse.

(Let’s address the book’s biggest weakness head-on: if you’re thinking hey, that kind of sounds like Hob Gadling from Sandman #13, you’re absolutely right, and while other than in the broadest strokes the book doesn’t borrow from that story much, the line “Death is a mug’s game. I got so much to live for.” would not sound entirely inappropriate coming out of Addie’s mouth.)

The book jumps around from “now” in 2014 to various points in time throughout Addie’s life, as she evolves from a terrified, orphaned young girl to someone who is effectively a master thief, who more or less survives solely through stealing everything she needs. You can imagine life for someone who cannot be remembered can be terribly difficult; you can’t rent a room, because your reservation disappears; you can’t hold down a job, because the second your new boss wanders into the back room he’ll forget you exist, you can’t even have a meal at a restaurant because your waitress will forget about you immediately. Relationships and friendships are effectively impossible, although Addie has a reasonably active sex life– she’s just grown unfortunately used to the men not remembering her when they wake up the next morning. But as it turns out, it’s not hard to charm people when they forget who you are every time you disappear from their view– you can just try again with a different approach the next day, or the day after that, and as the book starts she’s effectively been living with the same guy for several weeks.

There’s a lot more to it than that; I’m making it sound like a thriller and it’s absolutely not; it’s both richer and more character-driven than one would typically expect from that kind of book; this is not quite a Litratcher, as it’s a bit more story-heavy than I typically see in my Smart Person Books, but it’s still smart as hell and I need to check out more of Schwab’s work. Eventually, Addie meets someone who actually can remember her, and from there the story really takes off.

This book does a phenomenal job of dealing with an exceptionally old character, which is a really damned difficult thing to write about, and Addie herself is a marvel of a character, and her relationships with both Luc and Henry (who are the only people she can actually have relationships with) are well-drawn and hugely interesting. Henry starts off as a little bit of a cypher but once you find out why he can remember Addie when no one else can … *chef’s kiss*

Oh, and there’s an element of art history that I liked a hell of a lot, too. More books need art history.

I loved the hell out of this book, guys, and it’s another one that’s going to be ending up very high on the list at the end of the year. Go snap it up and set aside a weekend for it.

(*) The next book I’m reading is Requiem Moon, by C.T. Rwizi, the sequel to Scarlet Odyssey, which was my favorite book of last year, and which I have enormously high hopes for.

#REVIEW: Spider-Man: Miles Morales (PS5)

If one were to look through the “Spider-Man” tag on this site, one would see that I posted several times about the original PS4 Spider-Man game, over a period of several months. Typically my game playing is serial; I pick up a game, finish it, then move on to another one, which might be a new one or might be a playthrough of something I’ve already beaten. But I’m usually just playing one game at a time, and if I abandon something before beating it it’s very unlikely that I’m going to go back to it.

I am genuinely fascinated that my move on both of Insomiac’s Spider-Man games was to play it for a while, set it aside for months while I did something else, then come back to it and finish it. I pulled this several times on the first game and only one on Miles Morales, but Miles is a considerably shorter game. The talk is that originally it was supposed to be an expansion as opposed to a new game in its own right; I feel like I got my money’s worth out of it regardless and am not concerned with what they choose to call it.

When I wrote about the game previously I said that it was, in many ways, the exact same game as PS4 Spider-Man, with some gameplay changes to account for Miles’ bioelectric abilities, and that remains true. This is a hellaciously fun game to play, if perhaps a tiny bit too unconcerned with the rule both Spider-Men have against killing people. While there isn’t actually an achievement for it in this game, you’re gonna toss people off buildings or redirect rockets into their faces a whole lot in this game, and if that’s going to break immersion for you you’re gonna have a hard time. Boss encounters are, I think, largely better done than the original game, although there’s not nearly as many of them, since Miles doesn’t really have much of his own rogues’ gallery yet. And the game is still a tiny bit too much into beating people up and hunting down collectibles than I’d like it to be. They even hold back an entire thingy-hunting mission to the epilogue, even if they end up making it make great story sense anyway.

But yeah. That story?

Goddamn.

Can we get these people writing comic books, please? Because both of these games had me teary at the end, and this one compounds things by a surprise dedication to Chadwick Boseman that messed me up, as well as a kind of randomly-placed statue of Stan Lee that I came across by accident at about the 2/3 mark of the game. These games get Miles and Peter better than any other incarnation of the characters I’ve ever seen other than Into the Spider-Verse, and I am including several iterations of the comic books in that as well.

I played it on the PS5, obviously, and it’s gorgeous as hell; I could stare at the textures in Miles’ various costumes all day long, and there’s even a Spider-Verse costume that lets you reset the frame rate so that the game looks more like a movie. You can’t throw bagels at people, unfortunately, but it’s still neat to play with for a little while. The music is better than the original game, and Miles’ love of hiphop plays an actual role in several different places in the game. And we finally get Ganke in a Miles-centric non-comic thing, which made me very very happy, as I love the character, even if they dial his computer nerd stuff up to about 15 to give him something to do.

So yeah, this is a great game. It’s not a reason to buy a PS5 on its own, I don’t think, but it’s available on the PS4 as well, so if you have either system and you don’t have it yet, definitely pick it up. I absolutely can’t wait for the third game, and I’ll try not to take four months to finish it when it comes out.