Monday, January 18, 2021

On monstrosity and history

Every now and then I read – or in this case, reread – a novel that meshes with the events in the world around me. The novel takes on a new meaning, or I see it in a new way, that is external to the narrative itself, but it gets at something fundamental about the author's understanding of the world or of history. It makes me see things a bit more clearly and helps me to think outside of my normal perspective.

The novel that I want to write about for this post is Don DeLillo's Libra, his imagining of Lee Harvey Oswald's life leading up to to Kennedy's assassination. This novel today hit me in a spot where I think about history and mythology, I think about personal connections, and I think about the personal ownership that we take of historical events. I haven't really taken the time to sort out everything that this means, but here goes.

Libra does something that I have seen DeLillo do in other novels that take on historical subjects. That is, he wants to reach inside the minds of people who have done terrible things and try to understand them. Oswald, in this version of the story, is constantly aggrieved and I think that DeLillo wanted to understand what it takes to be positioned in the midst of a conspiracy, to feel alienation while also pushing people away. Throughout this novel, Oswald justifies his actions and backtracks to re-narrate his own history. One example of this follows the actual story of Oswald defecting to the USSR and then returning to America, effectively defecting his adopted country. In the novel, Oswald thinks that he will receive some kind of recognition in USSR that he did not get in his birth country or in the Marines. When this doesn't happen, when he is not lionized for what he sees as his courageous actions or rewarded for the risks that he has taken, he is immediately disillusioned and begins plotting this return to America. When he gets back to America, he plays off this defection as a part of his larger plan to infiltrate the Soviets and bring intelligence back to the USA. He similarly plays double- or triple-agent when either joining or infiltrating the Fair Play for Cuba committee. Oswald tries to recast his own actions in the best way to suit himself. This re-narration conflates his personal history with a set of changing goals and motivations. In this way, the character constantly recontextualizes his own actions and, thus, his own life so that his conception of himself is always aligned with whatever his current goals tend to be. He does not see any inconsistencies in his actions, nor does he see any contradiction between what he wanted in the past and what he wants now.

In the closing pages of this novel, Oswald is perched in the book depository in Dallas, taking aim at the president. In this fictionalized version of events, Oswald takes the first two shots, but his third shot misses. He sees Kennedy get hit through his scope from a different direction, shot by another sniper. After this, Oswald struggles to figure out how he fits into the scheme, realizing that the whole conspiracy was more complex than he had imagined. Then, after Oswald is killed by Jack Ruby, Oswald's mother vows to take up her son's cause to find out what had actually happened, thinking that Oswald had been railroaded or was set up to be the patsy. DeLillo plays with historical questions and conspiracy theories throughout the novel, but in a way that makes both the reader and Oswald question what is real. The question over what is real becomes more and more complex the more that different narratives are overlain atop one another. Oswald is, in some ways, a more sympathetic character because of this. The reader is lost in the mire of narratives, as Oswald himself is.

DeLillo plays a sleight-of-hand here that creates a false sense of identity between Oswald and the reader. Because Oswald's motivations and his relationship to the truth are thrown into question and the reader is likewise questioning these very same things, the reader may feel some connection to this Oswald even while this Oswald treats people terribly and plots horrific acts. DeLillo also plays a game here with Oswald's guilt that is similar to something that happens in Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy. I am going to digress here for a moment because I think that this is significant. In An American Tragedy, Clyde Griffiths murders his pregnant girlfriend because he likes his prospects with a new, richer girlfriend better. Clyde's lawyer tries to get him off the hook by invoking a kind of regret-while-in-action defense. Basically what this means is that he admits that Clyde did set out to kill his girlfriend, and he did strike the blow that killed her. However, so that argument goes, as his arm was descending with the weapon to club her to death, Clyde repented of his act and tried to pull back, but it was too late, his arm was already in motion and he supposedly-unwittingly killed her without actually meaning to because in that last moment he didn't mean to. He was just trapped by the inevitability of his actions up to that point.

So this sort of cynical attempt to garner sympathy for a killer is something that Oswald seems to court as well, in this novel. As Oswald watches Kennedy's assassination, he momentarily regrets and wonders what his actual role in the murder is. Oswald (again, in the novel) attempts to recast his own guilt even in the moment. DeLillo has used these tactics elsewhere, as well.

In Falling Man, DeLillo's novel about the aftermath of 9/11, the very end of the novel puts the reader into the perspective of one of the terrorists aboard one of the planes. The moment is shocking and confusing because this perspective is utterly foreign to so many Americans traumatized by that attack. His purpose, I believe, was to think about the unthinkable and to attempt to view history from that unthinkable perspective. I think that in the case of the terrorist and in the case of Oswald, DeLillo makes us share a perspective with these characters in order to humanize them so that we can see motivation and see confusion. I don't mean here that he wants to make them sympathetic, per se. I think that the goal is that by demystifying these people, by stripping away their monstrosity, we begin to see the horrific acts within a new historical context. Seeing a human who chooses to do an awful thing as a monster is easy. It doesn't take any thought to dehumanize even someone who may seem brutal in their actions. But this also strips the human of agency. A monster cannot help but be monstrous. Humans can help being monstrous and it makes us short-circuit the thinking that we, in turn, could never act in monstrous ways. See, dehumanizing others based on their actions is a means that we use to protect ourselves. The thinking goes that I am human so I would never do that atrocious thing. Likewise my friends and family, the people I know. We are, thus, insulated from the harm that we may do to others, whether intentionally or not.

So at the end of all of this, I wonder whether DeLillo is right. Do we need to see the monster as human? To see things from that perspective? That is a difficult question, but I think that it is one worth grappling because I am not certain that this is necessary or good. I don't think that it is bad necessarily, I just don't know. To me, this is what fiction at its finest should do. I was born well after Kennedy's assassination and so only know it as a historical fact and never felt the trauma of it. I was a young man on 9/11 and I well remember the terrifying shift that the nation felt at that moment and the uncertainty that filled the days and years after. Yet I felt a disconnection from the event. I don't think that this is entirely uncommon. There is a concept called “vicarious trauma” that was discussed a lot in the years following 9/11. The idea is that by seeing events on television and the ensuing news reports and by experiencing the aftereffects that the terrorist attacks had on the country, it is possible to be traumatized by something that happened to someone else, to feel the trauma as though it has happened to oneself. There were a lot of critics in the years following 9/11 that thought that this was an apt diagnosis for many Americans.

This might be what DeLillo is doing. He may be trying to align our experience with those of others. If this is the case, then I do think that there is value in this exercise. I think that learning motivations and considering what others think and feel, even when we disagree – especially when we disagree – is vital. I also think that acknowledging a multiplicity of perspectives and narratives is vital to understanding history. We don't necessarily need to know the different versions but we need to be aware of that they are out there. This may be the most difficult part and it may be what ultimately helps us to see the unseeable.

I am going to end this here and try to reconstruct what I was thinking in a later post because the paragraph that I just deleted got way abstract than even the rest of this post has been. Digress and digress.


Monday, January 11, 2021

The Expanse, part 6: Babylon's Ashes


Having finished the 6th installment of James SA Corey's The Expanse series, I have to take a moment to step back a little from the novel itself to consider the whole of the series so far. First, I will say that I have been enjoying the series so far because of the development of the characters, the intricately constructed politics of the solar system (and beyond) that the authors develop and the conflicts between the factions that ensue, and for the local cultural differences that make up these factions. The novels themselves are getting more complex as the series continues as more characters move in and out of the narrative and more story lines weave into one another to form the overarching plot of the novel. Elements and characters from preceding books come back or take on new importance as the series continues, as well. In other words, The Expanse is making good on its early promise.

One of the elements of this series that I enjoy the most is the development of slang, creole, and idioms used by people in different places. Unlike other science fiction novels in which nations still play a key role in economics and politics, the base societal unit in this series is origin. For the characters in the novels – whether they were born in a gravity well such as Earth or Mars, or in reduced gravity such as on the Moon, or in the micro-gravity of the asteroid Belt – where they have lived their lives, and hence what shape their bodies take, is a profound identifying factor. Characters identify themselves and one another by these origins. Those whose bodies have adapted to micro-gravity cannot survive on a planet with stronger gravity or under higher acceleration forces, and this marks them as separate from those whose bodies are adapted to stronger gravitational forces. One of the strengths of this series is identifying this as a source of contention and, eventually, prejudice and discrimination. Because in addition to having, in some ways, more fragile bodies, the Belters (as they are known) have adapted the way that they have because they or their ancestors lived in space and have performed the menial work that permits survival for those living on Earth and the colonies. This new form of colonialism has a new set of victims with grievances that are all too familiar.

This is something that also sets The Expanse apart from other sci-fi stories. There is political strife in a lot of other stories, but they so rarely conceive of a future that seems to be so truly an extension of humanity's colonial past and cultural tendencies. The privileged in this world survive because of the invisible many who provide food, transport, oxygen, and the other necessities of life. Throughout the course of the series the invisible many begin to make themselves seen. Much of the tension of the novels arise because James Holden, captain of the Rocinante and one of the protagonists of the series, is empathetic to the realities that the Belters face. He is from Earth but he sees the iniquities of their treatment and the ways in which his own life has been made possible by the Belters.

The series is getting to the point where the individual novels cannot really stand on their own any more. The first 3 or 4 could stand alone, but too much has happened and there is too much backstory that the reader will need to know to make sense of the story of this novel on its own. Babylon's Ashes opens in the midst of the massive solar system-wide war that had been sparked in the preceding novel. To find the roots of this conflict, the reader will have to go back several novels further, but the immediate causes of the war involved a threat to the survival of the Belters and Marco Inaros' taking advantage of this fact to consolidate a fleet of ships to oppose the powers in place. Specifically, the alien gate that allows ships access to further reaches of space may prove enough to render the Belters obsolete.

As Inaros sees it, and as he pushes to make other Belters understand, their lives hang in the balance of colonies needing their work to survive. Inaros believes that the opening of nearly endless new planets will provide cheap and easy access to resources that only Belters could provide, up to this point. And because the Belters would be unable to survive on a planet's surface, he argues that their way of life and their own purpose is coming to an end. But Inaros is a demagogue, a criminal and pirate who takes advantage of the Belters' actual plight in order to make a name for himself and to build his own power. Inaros' true power seems to be his own rhetorical mastery. He successfully mythologizes himself and the Free Navy, as his fleet of pirated ships in known. He also deftly re-narrativizes events and shifts his plan so that even defeats are recast as feints or deceptions meant to lull his enemies into a false sense of security. Inaros keeps his goals abstract so that he can never be pinned down to specific aims. He is defeated in the end, but his actual fate is unknown due to an anomaly the gate's physics. He isn't nor definitively dead, which means that he may still return.

Inaros is an interesting villain because his motivations are at least partially noble. But he is also vain and petty to balance out a bit. What makes Holden appealing, then, is also what makes Inaros appealing as his foil. They both are complex reflections of human nature. They both intermingle their private and selfish desires with their broader aims. They both mix in just enough of bad with their good, or good with their bad to inspire common identification with the reader. Corey draws naturalistic character traits for these characters to heighten the drama of the series. This does tend to keep things interesting.

In the end, this novel is enough to keep me reading the series. I recently wrote a post about sci-fi series and the trouble that they can run into when the source material has seem to run its course. This series is not there and the strands that are coming together are enough to make me think that the entire arc of the series has been more carefully drawn than I had initially thought. I suspect that the authors have in mind where this is going to end up and are deliberate in their choices in taking us there. This, for me, is a great place to be as a reader. This feeling of trust that I have in the authors is exciting because I don't know where it is all headed but I think that I am going to like where it leads. This is something that may also separate the good series from the bad.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Foundation, Part 7: Prelude to Foundation

 Nearly a year and a half ago, I undertook to read through Asimov's classic sci-fi series, Foundation, and write about the books. This is one of several sci-fi series that I decided to read, including Frank Herbert's Dune series (which I bailed on after 4 books), Arthur C. Clarke's Rama series (which I also bailed on after 2 books), and James SA Corey's The Expanse series (of which I am currently reading the sixth book and will likely continue). One of the major differences that I see in these series are those that were planned to be series of novels (or even novels to begin with) and those that were not. Corey's series was planned to be a long-running series from the start, and the novels show it. Each novel is more or less complete on its own, but they also build to a broader arc across the novels. The novels serve more as episodes than as simple stand-alones, meaning that you could read just one of the novels without the others, but it would make more sense to read them together.

These other series, though (I am necessarily leaving out a lot of other series and authors I could include, but this is the choice I am making), seem to be caught by surprise by their own sequels. That is, the sequels must pick up after a conclusion has been reached in the predecing book, and not always convincingly. Both Herbert and Asimov get around this problem by jumping hundreds or thousands of years into the future. This way, there is no messy character continuity to keep up and any narrative gaps can be explained by the chronological gap. The exception to this is that Herbert keeps bringing Duncan Idaho back from the dead for some reason.

When I catch myself wondering if I am being overly harsh in judging these authors for returning to worlds that may be personal or fan favorites, and may well have proven lucrative as well, I just keep remembering all of the series I have quit reading for one reason or another. I also think about the nose-dives that some of these series take. Redezvous with Rama, for example, may be one of my favorite golden era sf books, but Rama II was enough to stop me in my tracks. Likewise, The Forever War by Joe Haldeman is a personal favorite while Forever Peace is merely okay and I haven't yet tried to get into Forever Free. I also think about the series I have loved. Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy and the book of short fiction that followed remains among my favorite novels. The same is true for Cixin Liu's Remembrance of Earth's Past series. So it isn't the form of the sequel itself that is bad. There are a lot of writers who can beautifully pull off continuing novels in a fictional world.

To bring this back to my original topic, Asimov must have felt a bit like Arthur Conan Doyle resurrecting Sherlock Holmes after killing him off in returning the galaxy of Foundation. After all, he had written the series to an end in Foundation and Earth that was, if not completely satisfying, at least conclusive. Prelude to Foundation takes up Hari Seldon's rise to prominence on Trantor and his early adventures. Some of it is good and, as a stand-alone novel, it has its charms. However when taken in the context of the rest of the series, it leaves a little wanting.

Prelude to Foundation takes place first chronologically in the Foundation series, but it was written second-to-last. At the beginning of the novel, Seldon has traveled to Trantor and delivered a paper on psychohistory. This immediately catches the attention of Cleon I, emperor of the Galactic Empire. Seldon presentation proved the science of psychohistory as theoretically possible but Cleon thought that this meant that Seldon could predict the future and brings Seldon to him in order to gain his services. Hari resists, explaining that there is no practical application for the science and that it might take his entire lifetime to actually apply it.

Disappointed Cleon lets him go but instructs his right-hand to keep tabs on Seldon so that they can take him back when they can use him. Seldon is rescued from his surveillance by a friendly stranger who then helps to keep him in hiding for most of the rest of the novel.

Seldon ends up traveling to varied parts of Trantor to stay ahead of imperial reach and there is a lot of local flavor type interactions that haven't aged well. Seldon creeps on women and he meets a kid whose speech wouldn't be out of place in a Horatio Alger novel. In the end (no worries, I won't spoil it), Seldon already knows where things will end up in Foundation and Earth, even though this takes place several thousand years after his death.

This is the problem of prequels. There is no real tension in the danger that Seldon faces because I have already read five novels in which he plays a major role and know that he doesn't die yet. Granted, he dies in the opening pages of Foundation, but by then his mark is made and his influence extends millennia. Next, Asimov retcons “foreshadowing” of events that take place far in the narrative future, but which the reader has already experienced if they are reading in publication order. This generally doesn't read well and it seems more like an aging rock group begrudgingly playing the hit they wrote 30 years prior than an authentic narrative embellishment. There are then also the connections that Asimov wants to make between Foundation and his Robot series. This connection seemed unnecessary in Foundation and Earth and it leads to more phony foreshadowing in this novel, too. I haven't read enough of the Robot series to know how this affects that series, but perhaps I will head to those books after this series is done to find out for myself.

Also, and most damningly, Asimov tries to be funny in this book. For all that I admire in Asimov's writing, it is never for his wit. See, on Trantor there is a rival faction to the Emperor and that is Wye sector. More than once, a character will mention the name “Wye” and the interlocutor will proceed to give an unneeded and unasked-for explanation, thinking the first character was asking, “Why?” They are homonyms, get it!

I've shit on this book enough. There are things that I liked about it. Hari Seldon has been a force in this whole series but he has been distant. As I mentioned, he dies very early in the series and he just keeps showing up as a pre-recorded hologram. But here, he is an actual character, and he is one of Asimov's more dynamic and round ones. Beyond this, he is a moral character who wants to both do the right thing and stand by his science. The narrative itself is cohesive and shows Asimov's inventiveness in creating these different sectors with different traditions and styles. There are a couple of genuine surprises that kept the novel interesting and it ended up being an enjoyable read.

I won't say that this is my favorite in the series, but it was serviceable. I have one more book to go before I can put this series to bed and I'm not sure what to expect from it. I suspect that it will be a grab bag, a little like this novel is. I know that it follows Hari's story between the end of this novel and the beginning of Foundation, but I don't know what time period it covers. I am hoping that there will be a bit more explanation of psychohistory and I am really hoping that it doesn't go in a direction that undoes what made Foundation great.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020 books

Best book of the year:  Hex
runner up: Radicalized

I don't always write about everything that I read.  For what it's worth, here is a list of all of the books I read this year.

Anders, Charlie Jane.  The City in the Middle of the Night.
Anderson, Poul.  Planet of No Return.
---.  The War of Two Worlds.
---.  World without Stars.
Asimov, Isaac.  Second Foundation.
---.  Foundation's Edge.
---.  Foundation and Earth.
---.  Prelude to Foundation.
Bradbury, Ray.  The Martian Chronicles.
Cebula, Geoff.  The Adjunct.
Cline, Leonard.  God Head.
Corey, James SA.  Abaddon's Gate.
---.  Cibola Burn.
---.  Nemesis Games.
Dillard, Annie.  The Writing Life.
Doctorow, Cory.  Radicalized.
Due, Tananative.  My Soul to Keep.
Golding, William.  The Inheritors.
Halliday, Brett.  Nice Fillies Finish Last.
Hart, Rob.  The Warehouse.
Herbert, Frank.  Children of Dune.
---. God Emperor of Dune.
Hill, Joe.  Full Throttle.
---.  Heart-Shaped Box.
---.  Nos4a2.  
Jay, Martin.  Marxism & Totality.
Kaku, Michio.  Physics of the Future.
King, Stephen.  Firestarter.
---.  On Writing.
Lee, M. Jonathan.  337.
Kolbert, Elizabeth.  The Sixth Extinction.
Lamott, Anne.  Bird by Bird.
Lethem, Jonathan.  Motherless Brooklyn.
MacDonald, John D.  Nightmare in Pink.
Max, D.T.  Every Love Story is a Ghost Story.
Newitz, Annalee.  The Future of Another Timeline.
Ntshanga, Masande.  Triangulum.
O'Brien, Tim.  In the Lake of the Woods.
Olde Heuvelt, Thomas.  Hex.
Paulos, John Allen.  Innumeracy.
Ramone, Marky.  Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life as a Ramone.
Robinson, Kim Stanley.  Red Moon.
Rowling, JK.  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
Rule, Ann.  The Stranger beside Me.
Saunders, George.  In Persuasion Nation.
---.  Civilwarland in Bad Decline.
Scalzi, John.  Red Shirts.
Stephenson, Neal.  Atmosphaera Incognita.
Tchaikovsky, Adrian.  Children of Ruin.
Weir, Andy.  The Martian.
---.  Artemis
Wells, H.G.  The First Men in the Moon.
---.  The Invisible Man.
Wells, Martha.  Artificial Condition.
---.  Rogue Protocol.
---.  Exit Strategy.
White, Corey J.  Killing Gravity.

... & the books I started but didn't finish...

Goldberg, Natalie.  Writing Down the Bones.
Pallister, Charles.  The Quincunx.
Trout, Kilgore.  Venus on the Half-Shell.
Wallace, David Foster.   Everything and More.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Swedish Crust Punk

I recently came across the album Det Svenka Hatet by Swedish band Ett Dodens Maskineri on Spotify the other day and I haven't been able to stop listening to it.  

This album may be one of the best punk albums that I have heard this year, and it may even be among my favorites overall for the year.  It is packed with driving songs with melodic hooks.  

"Istrid," the first song that I heard opens with melodic guitar picking that moves into a hook that sounds a bit like something from  a Leftover Crack song.  At times the song reminds of more classic crustpunk with building chord progressions and full-throated vocals. 

While I know that this music isn't for everyone, this is the perfect album for those into hardcore crustpunk.  It is well worth checking out.

Monday, December 21, 2020

God Emperor of Dune

 Last year I decided that I was going to read as much of a few classic sci-fi series as I could. In that time, I have been working my way through Frank Herbert's Dune series, Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, Arthur C. Clarke's Rama series, and the not-yet-classic series The Expanse by James S.A. Corey. So far, I have found Asimov's and Corey's series to be the most enjoyable. I quit Rama after Rama II, and I am officially throwing in the towel on Dune. I just finished God Emperor of Dune and I have taken as much as I care to from this series of novels.

I know that there is much more to go and there is at least one more book written by Herbert himself in the series before his son took over, but I have had enough of them. I won't say that I didn't enjoy the books, but they definitely become a slog. Actually, they are sort of always a slog. The narratives are not straight-forward and Herbert leaves the reader to figure out a lot of the details of backstory. I didn't intend to sit down to write about the whole series, so I will skip to this book.

God Emperor picks up several thousand years after the events of Children of Dune. For those who may not remember or who never intend to read these books, Leto II, Paul Atreides' son has turned a sandtrout skin into a still suit at the end of Children. The worm skin bonds with his own and in the intervening years Leto has pretty much turned into a giant worm with a human face. He retains his powers of prescience that were detailed in Children. Basically, all the cool stuff that made Paul Atriedes a bad ass in Dune are multiplied in Leto and combined with immortality and being a worm.

So it is now the next day and I am working on finishing this review. I just read the phrase, “Paul Atreides' son has turned a sandtrout skin into a still suit,” and realize now how bonkers that sounds. Here is what I find disheartening about this book – please forgive me, I am about to editorialize and probably will not make my way back to the actual plot – for all of the crazy stuff going on, this book is incredibly boring. Like Children, there is a lot of talking and plotting but very little action. At least in Dune there were knife fights and traps. Here, not so much. Leto talks a lot to a guy who keeps coming back as a clone from the first book. There are Fish Speakers and Face Dancers, and all kinds of other ill-defined groups.

Basically, I had to push my way through to the end of this. I think that for the right kind of reader, there is a way to immerse in this world and to invest in these characters. I didn't find them that compelling. It seems to me more that this book was an opportunity to write a divergent narrative in the same universe as Dune.

This, then, is the end of my attempts to read the Dune series and I am likewise bailing on this post.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Fermented Hot Sauce

Habanero-garlic and Ghost pepper sauces
I love hot sauce. A few years back I discovered that I also like growing the peppers and making the sauce myself. My favorite method of making hot sauce is fermentation because it gives you a lot of variables to play with that can result in a wide array of heat and flavors.

In this post, I will provide a process that I recently used to make two different sauces and after that I will discuss some other variations that you can make for your own sauces.

At it's most simple, there are only 3 ingredients for a hot sauce: brine, peppers, and vinegar. The brine is a salted liquid that provides the proper anaerobic environment for fermentation to happen. Vinegar will stop the fermentation and preserve the sauce. Many hot sauce recipes use a simple water brine, but I like to use a sweet white wine for my brine. You may also include adjuncts in your fermentation to change the flavor. I more frequently use garlic or ginger but you can use vegetables and fruits as well.

Here are the steps for two hot sauces that I made recently:

1- Prep brine (1tablespoon salt to 1 cup liquid). Set this up ahead of time so that all of the salt dissolves.

2- Clean and prep peppers. Thoroughly wash the peppers. For a smoother sauce, I try to de-seed as much as possible, though it is okay if some go in. If I am using very spicy peppers such as ghost or scorpions, I will try to remove as much of the seeds and veins as possible. I want the heat, but I also don't want the heat to overtake the flavor.

3- Rough cut the peppers and any adjuncts. Everything is going to get blended together eventually, so your cuts don't have to be pretty. The main thing is to keep the slices even so that everything ferments equally.

4- Pack your fermentables into a non-reactive container. For ease of use, I just use mason jars. When I have made larger volumes in the past, I have also used larger fermentors and pitchers. Ideally, you just want something with a wide mouth that does not have a lot of head space. You can mush this stuff in a bit. Try to pack it in without a lot of voids in it.

Beginning of fermentation
5- Fill the container with brine so that your peppers are covered. Stuff can float, you can use weights if you have them.

6- Cover the mouth of the container with cheesecloth. This is why I like to use mason jars: they come in a variety of sizes and you can use the band without the lid to hold cheesecloth in place.

7- Wait it out. I generally let it go 4-6 weeks. You will notice that your fermentation will start smelling sweeter and you'll see it bubble a bit. This is sort of where the art comes into it. The peppers should be turning translucent and will start to look more broken-down. If you add garlic, it may start to turn blue or green.

8- Making the sauce:

Once you have decided your peppers are ready, uncover them and drain the liquid. Retain this for now, you may want to add it back in or keep it for future fermentation.

-Dump your peppers into a blender or food mill. If using a blender, you can start adding vinegar now.

End of fermentation: peppers are translucent

How much vinegar you add will depend on what kind you use and how spicy you want the sauce to be. I don't have a formula for this. You can get a sense of how strong the spice will be by smell once you begin to blend the peppers. **Note: do not stick your face over the blender when you take the top off, this is a good way to pepper spray yourself. You may also want to ventilate your kitchen if you live with people sensitive to spicy food.**

-Add vinegar until you achieve the level of spiciness you want.

9- Storage:

Pour the sauce off into glass or food-grade plastic containers with air-tight lids.

-Stored in the refrigerator, these are good for a year or more.

10- Variations:

These are the elements that you can change to vary the flavors:

Wine – adjust for sweetness in the brine and end flavor

peppers – blend peppers for flavor and spice level

vinegar – I like to use rice vinegar because it is slightly sweet and does not have a strong flavor on its own. In the past I have also used white balsamic vinegar for a clean, sweet flavor, and champagne vinegar. Fruit-infused vinegars are also good for desired flavor.

Adjuncts – these are anything beyond the brine and peppers that you use to add flavor. My favorites are garlic, ginger, and herbs. You can also add vegetables or fruit to the fermentation. You can add these at the start or further into the fermentation, depending on the item (fruits and herbs hold up better when added a few weeks into the fermentation because they will break down more than most vegetables).

-Use can use thickeners in your sauces as well. I don't mind if my sauces are a little on the watery side, but some folks prefer a thicker sauce. Do it if you want. I don't have instructions for that because I don't do it.