Blind Rage by Nick Clausen

Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published debut books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. New posts every Tuesday. This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.

Two things I know for sure: the empty kitchen sink is a myth perpetuated by the patriarchy, and zombies are a dead genre in the world of traditional publishing. You know who didn’t get the memo? Nick Clausen, who wrote a book about a zombie outbreak in Denmark that results in a 10% reduction in the country’s measurable happiness, and I’m glad he did. It’s been too long.

The story opens with a mystery narrator telling us about the first of our perspective characters, Mark (Dan to his friends), sitting in a boring office conference room. Talk about feeling like a zombie, amirite, folks? Dan Mark momentarily loses his hearing, and feels a presence, like someone is standing just behind him. But before he can figure out exactly what’s going on, his boss (Minnie to his friends) disrupts the meeting by staring out the window at nothing. When Mark investigates, it turns out that Minnie Boss has lost his pupils. His pure white eyes are apparently inoperable, but his teeth sure as shit still work as he chews through one intern after another. So, pretty normal corporate work culture. OK, I’ll stop. A few guys go full zombie and start beating up the other guys, as well as a woman named Erika. Then some office guys start fleeing and creating a panic around the building. This isn’t my terminology; Nick Clausen uses the word “guy” to refer to any unnamed character throughout the entire book.

“Being a mom seems to be noncompatible with being a babe.”

Cut to Gina, a young woman walking down the street concerned about her looks, like women be doing. She catches some complicated feelings about getting hit on by skater guys when she experiences the same hearing loss and feeling of being watched that Mark experienced. This is a theme in Blind Rage: we get a lot of the same information from each of the perspective characters, dutifully explained in full detail. Gina’s karate reflexes allow her to fend off the now enzombled skater guys, getting a good look at their eyes in the process. The completely white eyes, with no hint of a pupil or iris, are described as even more disturbing and frightening than an actual blind person’s eyes! The horror! Looking up, she notices what everyone has been staring at: a Doctor Who rip in space-time clear across the sky.

Next Mystery Narrator follows Tommy Teenager, which means we get the hearing loss and presence again, and a glance at the sky crack. Climbing out of his stepfather guy’s car, he is surrounded by panic and chaos. The skin of affected guys appears gray and dead, with black veins showing through the pallor. He runs into Gina, but then gets hit by a Danish bus. I’ve always wondered how many people during a zombie apocalypse just get killed by, like, undercooked chicken or Danish bus collisions, and I’m glad Blind Rage is addressing these prosaic dangers in the midst of the pandemonium.

Meanwhile Mark is still trying to make his way out of the office building. He takes the time to explain the sky rip a third time, then fills us in on the eyeless zombies. They can still hear, and possibly smell, and have some limited consciousness left. In fact, after hearing them make guttural noises to each other like “wrough” and “grruah,” he realizes that the zombies are able to use a rudimentary form of communication called Danish. The Danish language is made up. I will not budge on this belief, so don’t even come for me. In writing it looks like any other language: vowels, consonants, pauses for breath. But hear it spoken and you won’t be able to differentiate one gargled uvula from another. The whole thing sounds like someone yawning through a mouth full of rubber bands.

“Maybe a plane has crashed into a building, just like it happened in New York in 2001.”

Anyway, Gina has managed to push Tommy out of the way quickly enough to save him from certain death, but now she has to drag his injured, unconscious body to the safety of an abandoned department store. Surprisingly, the 911 call goes through just fine and the Danish police are on their way. The action cuts back and forth rapidly between Gina and Mark at this point. Mark saves Useless Erika from Minnie Boss and a zombie guy on his way out the building, while Gina tries to fight off a fat retail worker zombie with her now famous karate reflexes. Tommy regains consciousness, saves Gina from a motorcycle guy, and notices her butt, which is good because she was really worried about the state of her butt, but collapses again from his injuries. The four survivors meet in an alleyway and join forces. After nine chapters and several small plot twists, Act I is only now hitting its stride. The story goes on to hit such highlights as useless cops, a prettiness competition between Girl and Girl, and plenty of wise-cracking teenagers.

Nick Clausen is clearly going for a cinematic style, and on its own that’s not necessarily a problem. In fact, it’s sadly unavoidable. I spend an embarrassing amount of time catching up on publishing news, book tours, and the latest trends, and lately the book-to-visual-media pipeline has taken over with about as much collateral damage and brazen disregard for quality of life as an actual pipeline. It’s gotten to the point that authors are carefully describing every detail of a protagonist’s outfit, and putting them in that outfit in every scene like a video game character, in the hopes that it will be an iconic look on the upcoming Netflix original series. In the case of Blind Rage, the movification is turned up to eleven. I’m not being an old fuddy duddy about this (I mean, I am one of those; my spirit animal is a Boomer asking to talk to the manager of a Culvers). It’s just worth pointing out that even in a book that defies industry trends, they are difficult to avoid entirely. The rapid fire chapters, present tense, and minute physical descriptions go beyond the cinematic. In places it even reads like scene notes, with narration like “he’s coming this way,” and “She’s just standing there.”

Actually, we need to talk about the narrator. At first I didn’t realize there was a definable narrator. I read things like “Mark saw…” and assumed it was just the sort of sloppy writing we all do from time to time. But then it kept happening. We get lots of editorializing like “Obviously…” but Mark’s own thoughts would be written in italics. The narration clearly has its own consistent style and voice distinct from the dialogue of any of the perspective characters. Who is this person? I know I sound crazy right now, but hear me out. Did Nick Clausen write a character telling the story of three people of his or her own creation? How much of it is “real” within the context of the story? Which ones are even Danish?

“The motorbike guy spins around and exclaims: Pourah? The blonde snaps back at him: Kroouh!”

I find the whole idea of a zombie apocalypse pretty weak escapism, mainly because I have spent my entire life preparing for the moment when I die in the first ten minutes after patient zero starts gnawing on people. Even in one of those realistic scenarios where the outbreak is actually contained, I am the person who dies in the opening credits. But for some people, the sort of people who always root for the Ever Given, people who don’t own canned goods but still feel like preppers deep down in their gutty-wuts, find endless entertainment in this sort of story. And that’s one reason why I love the landscape of self-published books. Nick Clausen doesn’t care what trends are dead according to the publishing industry, Dad, and neither do his readers. If you want a cinematic zombie gore fest, Nick is here for you. Blind Rage is three dollars on Kindle, and if Danish zombies and fast paced storytelling are your thing, it’s well worth the price.

I sat through another one of Madeline’s dumb reviews, so now you do too.

The Crystal Sphinx by G. D. Talbot

Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published debut books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. New posts every Tuesday. This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.

Have you ever wondered what would happen to the Indiana Jones movies if they replaced Harrison Ford with a Mediocre White Man? I mean, other than that time they put MWM patron saint Sam Witwicky in the movie. Do you think the Illuminati and the Lizard Pope should join forces and wear special jackets? Have you ever submitted “Aliens” as a write-in candidate on a presidential ballot? Most of all, would you watch a documentary about the pyramids narrated by Kirk Cameron? If you answered yes to any of these questions, The Crystal Sphinx by G. D. Talbot is the book for you. Also you’re weird.

“As Arthur drove closer to the university, he began to sigh more and more.”

Our trepid hero, Professor Arthur Tomat, has a dream about a Mayan grandpa stabbing, and a little girl who mutters clues. Technically, this is not a prologue, so I’ll allow it, but it’s a shaky start. He wakes up and we get to learn something about him as he goes about his morning routine. A middle aged untenured academic, he seems pretty dissatisfied with his life. Despite his mediocrity, he reminds himself in the mirror that he still has some muscle tone, and needs to find a wife to make him feel young again. Ladies, please form an orderly line. He sits down to breakfast and has a little chat with his grandpa. Who is dead. And in an urn. He has a conversation with an urn. OK, I need to know: who are these urn people? I see them on TV, but do they exist in real life? Are there really people who want to bring the cemetery experience into their own home? If you or someone you know talks to urns, we need to chat. I guess it’s useful for exposition, so maybe it’s just a useful trope.

During breakfast, a morning news show explains why Arthur is in such a dour mood. In an interview with a peppy morning show host, a representative of a Christian archaeological organization calls him a phony, and his grandpa too. The guest just keeps hitting the poor man and his dead grandpa with haymakers while the host asks weirdly leading, catty questions about how much of a phony he is. Newly discovered Mayan tablets in Africa have cast doubt on the integrity of the work Arthur has done on the Mayan civilization, and now everyone hates him and agrees that he smells bad. It’s a helluva good morning. Professor Eeyore mopes his way over to the University where he is probably going to get fired for being an alleged phony, taking a moment to mourn for his precious parking spot.

Arthur is a professor of “Ancient and Dead Languages.” I’m here to tell you, that’s not a department. Unfortunately, the traditional name for departments like this is almost as weird: Classical and Semitic Languages. Whatever, he’s a professor of Ozymandias plaques and shouting at Aziz for more light. His students apparently watched the same morning news program, because they cannot settle down to a nice morning of studying ancient and/or dead languages until Arthur explains the exposition to them all over again. It turns out, he and his grandpa discovered some artifacts that suggest a connection between the Mayans (who are said to live in “South America,” despite the fact that most people in the book appear to be Guatemalans who should know better) and ancient Egyptians at some point in prehistory. That’s right. Buckle your seat belts and adjust your tin foil hats. We are going full-on History Channel in this book.

“Their stares made him feel uncomfortable, so he stared at the ground until they went back to facing each other again.”

Despite having spent enough money on a world history education to buy an island in the French Antilles, I will refrain from critiquing the whole Maya/Egypt thing. I am willing to accept that ancient Egyptians founded Jack-in-the-Box, so long as I get a fun adventure story out of it. Of course, Arthur is presenting all this with the tacit acceptance that his work has been discredited, even though the reader knows this is all going to be true before long, so he’s not really giving me “fun adventure” energy. After Arthur gives a desultory run down of his life’s work to his students, “Dean Romero, the dean of the college,” whisks him away to have a courageous conversation about how on thin ice Johnson he is, about the future of his employment at the university, and how there isn’t any starting immediately please leave. Arthur is bummed that he lost his job and reputation, but relieved that class is over. It’s like a whirlwind of emotion, but tiny and inconsequential. It’s like a dancing plastic trash bag of emotion. It’s like… if a snail could be depressed, but also benefit from the wage gap.

Now that we have dismantled the protagonist’s life and given him nothing to lose, it’s time for the story to begin. Arthur notices a “large Black man” looking at him and proceeds to be afraid of this man for the duration of the book. Brutus works for the Christian archaeological organization that worked so hard to discredit him and, to Arthur’s surprise, offers him a lucrative employment opportunity. Arthur accepts the shadowy offer of millions of dollars from a man he hopes “won’t get mad,” and is whisked away on a private jet.

They land in the Iraqi desert, and Flat-as-Indiana Jones gets a VIP tour of the facility and its discoveries. There was something to his grand father’s research after all, and this hilariously massive and well funded church is pulling amazing discoveries out of the ground on a daily basis. There is golden oil that powers mysterious artifacts, colorful fruit that improve a person’s physical and mental abilities to superhuman levels, and Mayan documents to decipher. Arthur is dodging the dangerous Black man who reminds him of the wild dogs on campus, and enjoying the Christians’ excellent charcouterie (seriously, who are these people?), when he sets up his living quarters and delivers the punchline. The man still has the urn. He brought his grandpa’s urn in his luggage to an undisclosed location. How am I supposed to even when I read something like that? Thank God I wasn’t drinking water.

“Arthur felt very uneasy every time Brutus walked by or worst when Brutus was behind him. He felt like if Brutus had the chance, he would kill him or at least hurt him in some way.”

And that’s Act I. Will Arthur decode the secret Mayan inscriptions? Will he vindicate his grandfather by authenticating his most controversial discovery, the titular crystal sphinx? Will he ever address his exoticizing fetish for Black men? Does the urn talk back? Why did I spend over a decade getting two useless history degrees? The book does a great job of setting up a hook for the main body of the plot. I have to admit I was engaged the whole way through, although in my usual way of staring at the page in total incomprehension. I didn’t even talk about the quirky team of experts, each with their own specialty and foreign accent. I didn’t count the number of times people begin their sentences with “well,” like everyone in Guatemala is secretly Ronald Reagan. There’s a lot going on here. Like, A LOT, a lot. I’m not ready to say The Crystal Sphinx is… good. The writing is repetitive and not well edited. But it’s constantly surprising, and the length is about perfect for a story like this. At four dollars on Kindle, it’s worth it if you’re into tongue-in-cheek adventure stories and pop pseudo-history.

I sat through another one of Madeline’s dumb reviews, and now you do too.

Bonus Content: Barrel’s Bottom, Village of Protagonists

1 – Ye Gyrlie Chandlery: providing the community with scented candles and adjunct girlfriends.

2 – Earl’s General Store: no protagonists allowed! Boo! Hiss!

3 – The Hefty Hock: tavern, adventurers’ outfitter, and amateur barfight venue. Ask us about our local heresay!

4 – Problematic ethnic mentor. It’s not a “magic negro” trope if she’s an elf.

5 – Secret royal protagonist hunter, sworn to rid the world of child wizards, chosen ones, and gifted elementary school students.

6 – Dark forest

7 – Mini-boss dungeon

8 – Combination dark forest and mini-boss dungeon

9 – Protagonists

10 – Turnips

11 – Side kicks

12 – Steampunk dragonship trapped in temporal vortex: currently used to store turnips.

Daemon Lover by H. R. T. Burns

Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published debut books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. New posts every Tuesday. This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.

Welcome back from your long exile, far from the warm glow of my idiotic opinions. I for one am excited to be back. 2022 is going to have bonus content, end-of-year awards, possibly t-shirts. There won’t be t-shirts. But I’ve been forcing myself to read the latest self published offerings on Kindle through the holiday season, using the same will power that has allowed me to eat stale panettone, grin through racist tirades, and sit through enough showings of A Christmas Story to feel like Alex from A Clockwork Orange. To begin the year, we’re revisiting a classic subgenre: sexualized World of Warcraft, also known as “men’s adventure fiction” on Amazon, which means that this thing could show up in your customers-also-boughts when you buy a cowboy novel for your dad. I give you: Daemon Lover, by H. R. T. Burns.

“If I want your opinion, I’ll steal it from you.”

Daemona is a succubus thief in one of those standard fantasy cities where it’s always nighttime, and you can just grab an apple off a cart at the night market and nobody will stop you for some reason. Not sure why mama and papa succubus named their kid Daemona, but it fits. She gets a tip from her informant, human-rat hybrid Marcenko. It’s implied that he’s not actually part rat, but I’m not sure. This is always a problem I have with the first few pages of generic fantasy novels. You’ve introduced a main character who is some kind of devil-thing, complete with horns, and you expect me to know the short guy with an overbite is a rodent in spirit only? I can’t read your mind, H. R. T. Burns. He gives her a tip on a sweet elephant jewel in an octopus tower that has no guards and is totally not suspicious at all. But then it turns out there’s a golem guarding the sweet elephant jewel in the octopus tower with no guards! Luckily, our protagonist is a kicky flippy badass who is effortlessly cool and good at everything. Specifically, she can teleport. Poof, gone, teleport. Of course, she can’t just teleport anytime, anywhere, without consequence. She has a finite amount of teleporting energy, which has to be replenished by semen.

OK, I may have skipped some critical parts of the first chapter. Our story actually began with the first of many scenes in which Daemona has awkward and very expeditious sex with some rando. I am not complaining. The way this usually works is that I take time out of my day to curl up with a good book that explains to me how each wrinkle on Lord Bargnarg’s manhood feels passing Lady Fningwig’s uvula. Then I have to take a deep breath and promise myself that fearless emotional inventory I’ve been putting off. Any day now. The sex scenes in this book linger about as long as a Wikipedia article on a village in Poland. In, out, next disposable bowl-cutted farm lad. So the golem. It was a trap, laid by the captain of the guard, Harlin. But Harlin’s not looking to simply lock up his sexy thief nemesis. This was all a ruse to get her in front of King Graymont. The king’s daughter Tamarind was kidnapped, and his other daughter Skyrim got kidnapped chasing after the first daughter. No word on how many previous daughters burned down and fell into the swamp. By his order, Daemona, Harlin, and a third companion Obvious Werewolf team up to go find and bring back as many daughters as they can carry.

“I’m looking for some wood.”

The trio gears up, and Daemona helps herself to a quick release stable boy. A pinch, a twist, a circular motion, and voila, she is recharged. There’s a pattern of premature ejaculation in these scenes, presumably because Daemona is just so sexy, but again this is to my benefit. I’m pretty sure we don’t even get one single horse disturbance in this entire book. The journey kicks into high gear when they meet an ogre friend Tish, who makes a portal to help them escape the black soldiers of the Gray Sovereign. Tish also calls her slutty, which confuses me. What constitutes a “slutty” succubus? How does slut shaming even work in a genderless species living in a world populated by sex demons? There are some fights with random minibosses wielding D&D weapons, and more teleporting, and soon Daemona needs to recharge. She calls Harlin a cuck when he refuses to sleep with her, and also she gets rejected by a dog.

The saucy banter between Daemona and the supporting cast is a big part of the book. Unfortunately, none of it really lands, except for the part when Daemona fails to convince a dog to have sex with her. The rest of it was Tarantino-style zippy one liners that were maybe trying to be funny, or cool, or both? I’m not sure. You may have also noticed a sort of Frankenstein’s monster of sex positive girl power liberation and gross normative gender roles. Your girl loves some love-em-and-leave-em leading ladies, but the problematic aspects of a Han Solo archetype don’t get any better when you swap out the hardware. Maybe I’m overthinking it because the truncated sex scenes have prevented my brain from shutting down in self defense.

“The hunter is now the hunted.”

Long time reader(s?) of this blog will remember the award winning classic Monster Girls Unlocked, in which a young nerd finds a way to bang his professor in virtual reality. In that masterpiece we all have to watch Professor McTits and every other woman in the world throw themselves upon the altar of this guy’s sexual preferences. I’ve read plenty of books where the main character’s fetish is red flags, or where flagrant abuse and self-indulgence stand in for romance, so I was braced for the inevitable scene in which her boobies were just too big to fit through the sewer grate, or a lovingly presented scene in which an ogre dungeon guard doesn’t understand consent. To my slack jawed amazement, this book actually takes the main character’s perspective seriously, treating her as an agent of the plot rather than a vehicle for gaze-y fan service. I mean, there’s obviously fan service. I don’t mean to give the impression that you won’t get the slippery meat slapping you came for. But the author, in a strange twist of fate, seems to understand that their personal desires, the perspectives of the major characters, and the rules of the universe they’ve made, may not all be the same thing.

Not that Daemon Lover is great literature. In general the writing feels rushed. There are missing verbs, and H. R. T. Burns has a habit of spelling “the” as “eth.” It took me way too long to realize that wasn’t some Hogar-style archaic word I didn’t know. Amateurism is not a mortal sin in a debut author, and I am almost ready to say that I am curious what they do for their sophomoric installment in the Daemona series. This is one of those guilty pleasure books that scratch a secret, shameful itch many of us have for erotic fantasy. It’s cheesy; the “hilarious” banter sucks. But it manages to walk the fine line between dumb sexy fun and just dumb. It’s way too short for the five dollar price tag, but if the price ever comes down I would give it a careful recommendation to anyone who wants their erotica to contain more premature ejaculation and fewer horse disturbances.

I sat through another one of Madeline’s dumb reviews, and now you do, too.

Review: The Entire State of Minnesota

Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published debut books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. Except when I am jet lagged or reeling from getting the reading-center of my brain blended with a Q-tip, and start babbling about random nonsense. New posts every Tuesday. This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.

This one’s a little different. Normally I review books on this book review blog, but I’m in the middle of an airplane relay race across the world, so today we’re going to be taking a look at the Gopher State, the land of ten thousand lakes, the land that seasoning forgot, Minnesota. That’s right, stick around and you will get to hear many, perhaps even most, of my opinions on the North Star State.

Minnesota is famous for being a very progressive place, in local quirky ways. Sure, you can have gay sex in church and slavery in all the history textbooks, but try to buy a bottle of red wine at the grocery store and people will look at you like you’ve come to a playground to score Fentanyl. It’s an open society, but only to an extent. The fact is that anyone who doesn’t look like Bill Fagerbakke from Coach is a guest in Minnesota. That’s the strength and the weakness of their tolerance. Guests don’t have to ask for the good towels, or affordable healthcare. They get it as a matter of course. But by the same token, guests don’t ever belong, no matter how long they stay or how many legal gun permits they have in their glove compartment. It’s truly a land of contrasts. Let’s take a look around, shall we?

“I will always live in Minnesota. It’s so cold it keeps all the bad people away.” – Prince

Minnesota as we know it was founded by Scandinavians seeking greater hardships than could be provided in Europe. They must have been thrilled to find the place full of loons with their terrifying red eyes (fun fact: loons are the only state bird to feature in my nightmares). Ultimately they went on to invent the toaster, the shopping mall, and Prince, twice. Before Prince, their main recreational activity was Lutheranism. Studying the history of Lutheranism is very difficult, mostly because of the names. Let’s say you’re a Lutheran, but you have serious misgivings about the way other Lutherans Lutheran, because of course you do; you’re Lutheran. So you take down the old sign in front of your church and put up a new one with a new name. That’s the best part, picking a new name. But you have to follow certain arbitrary rules, because of course you do; you’re Lutheran. Besides “church” and “Lutheran” there are five permissible words: Evangelical, Synod, Joint, General, and Norwegian. You can use all five, in any order, but they cannot be repeated. This means there are five factorial possible names (don’t check my math). There are many more than five factorial Lutheran churches, so many of them have to have the name of a state thrown in for clarification. Not the state they’re actually in, of course, that would be confusing. If you’ve ever been to Concordia University, you know that it’s a whole series of universities associated with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, scattered all over the country, from coast to coast. Guess which state does not have a Concordia University. Go on, write down your top three guesses. Did you pick Missouri? Correct! Minnesota is famously full of liberal Lutherans, except the Minnesota Synod thought that mainstream Lutherans were too liberal, so they joined a more conservative group named after Wisconsin that was at the time based mostly in Missouri, not to be confused with the above-mentioned Missouri Synod, which is today based mostly in Nebraska, despite the fact that the Nebraska Synod is part of the main liberal Lutheran super-group that includes most Minnesotan Lutherans.

“Afterwards they would stroll home through the balmy air of August night, dreaming along Hennepin and Nicolett Avenues, through the gay crowd.” – Minneapolis native F. Scott Fitzgerald

The beating, mayonnaise-clogged heart of the state is the twin cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul. Minneapolis has a singular mission: to be obnoxiously perfect. This is where you take the effortlessly functional public transportation down to the artisanal ice cream shop, secure in the knowledge that your corroded arteries will be reconstructed at a world-class hospital by a handsome surgeon who escaped the Syrian Civil War. Cute brick condos full of working class Communists line the maple-shaded boulevards. Everyone’s smiling and waving at nothing. It’s awful. Then there’s St. Paul. Good Ole St. Paul, where every street looks like an establishing shot on Roseanne. Every few years the people of Minnesota come together and try to find the one person among them who is not nice. They name this person “Governor,” and quarantine them to St. Paul. One time the flour mills in Minneapolis dumped thousands of tons of flour into the river and it made a raft of rotten wheat paste that floated down stream a little ways and then settled along the shores of St. Paul. I’ve always felt like the gelatinized glob of mold and dead rats made the right choice.

“If you’re smart enough to go to college, you should be smart and creative enough to pay for it.” – Jesse Ventura, former Governor of Minnesota

The North Woods, Minnesota’s Minnesota, where your best source of vitamin D is a 60-watt bulb, is another distinct region. At some point this must have been the least desirable part of the state, because it has a large concentration of Native Americans. Parallel to the tradition of displacing Natives is the tradition of losing track of where you put them, resulting in the hilarious Northwest Angle, in which a cartographic error has cut off the Red Lake Indian Reservation from the rest of the United States. I’m sure the locals are very broken up about it, super for real you guys. They really wanted to go to your problematic holiday booze-up, but oops, cartographic error. Next time, for suresies. The Dakota and Ojibwe, among other groups, are not as enthusiastic about some of the cultural practices of their Settler neighbors to the south, such as genocide or potato chip-based salads, and maintain their own cultural traditions. Chief among these is the elaborate prank they have been pulling on the rest of the country for years, in which they pretend that wild rice is a food, and sell it to credulous Waabishkiiwed as a healthy alternative to edible rice. Their ability to keep a straight face while White people put this stuff in their mouths and bounce it around a few times is nothing short of astonishing. The main city of this region, Duloot, is currently in the middle of a Hail Mary play to attract tourism, having lost its industrial base, fishing rights, shipping, football team, Bob Dylan, and self respect. You can only trick a person into visiting Duloot once, so this places a cap on the number of tourists the city can attract. Nevertheless, they have built numerous shops and restaurants along their post-industrial waterfront, where you can buy leftover iron ore and wild rice. Presumably neither goes bad, so no hurry.

Above: current Minnesota state flag. Below: my favorite version of the popular alternative.

Minnesota to English Translation Guide

“hotdish” – shepherd’s pie, but with tater tots

“oofda” – expression of surprise, not a sex maneuver

“duck, duck, gray duck” – game for children with limited vocabulary

“Camp Snoopy” – surprisingly also not a sex maneuver

“crane” – stick of colorful wax used for drawing

“Juicy Lucy” – still, STILL, not a sex maneuver

“salad” – corn flakes in aspic

“meat raffle” – definitely a sex maneuver

While it is sometimes frustrating trying to convince people that the tropical rainforest does not begin at Iowa, and that slavery does not persist in the South (we cut it up into its constituent pieces and sprinkled it across the whole country years ago), the earnestness of Minnesotans is infectious. They deserve their reputation for kindness, and I am constantly amazed at their completely unanalyzed assumption that people generally do good things. It feels like being a supporting character in Come From Away every time I visit. For an inveterate hater like myself it’s kryptonite, draining my powers of cynicism until there’s very little left. Everyone should experience that at least once in their life. You should go. But bring gloves. I’ll catch you up on what I’ve been reading just as soon as I can figure out what day it is and what country I’m in.

I am now a certified expert on Minnesota, and I’m not sure how to feel about that.