Alexander Jablokov

 

I'm a writer, mostly of science fiction, with a new novel, Brain Thief.

The name is pronounced Yablokov, and the legal name is Jablokow.  My best friends can't spell or pronounce it, so you shouldn't worry about it either.

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Write me at alexjablokow [at] comcast.net

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"The Instructive Tale of the Archeologist and His Wife", Asimov's Science Fiction, upcoming

"Bad Day on Boscobel", The Other Half of the Sky.

"Feral Moon", novella, Asimov's Science Fiction, March 2013

"Since You Seem to Need a Certain Amount of Guidance", Daily Science Fiction, November 6, 2012

"The Comfort of Strangers", short story, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, January/February 2012

"Blind Cat Dance" reprinted in Gardner Dozois's Best Science Fiction of the Year 28

"The Day the Wires Came Down", novelette, Asimov's Science Fiction, April/May 2011

"Plinth Without Figure", short story, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November/December 2010

"Warning Label", short story, Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine August 2010

"Blind Cat Dance", short story, Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine March 2010

Brain Thief, a novel, Tor Books, January 2010

 

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« The perils of "politics": Baitz's "Other Desert Cities" | Main | Lincoln: Spielbergo's redemption »
Monday
Nov192012

The rising marginal cost of alcoholic originality

I owe the term "rising marginal cost of originality" to the economist and fantasy writer David Friedman, at his Ideas blog.  In the post I've linked to, he explains why, in intensively researched fields "anything new is quite likely to be either uninteresting or wrong". He says he usually cites city planning or architecture as examples.

But it's everywhere. I can't imagine being an academic right now, particularly in the humanities. The only things you can say about Jane Austen, or Saxon rood screens, or a Mozart quartet have either been said before, or shouldn't be said. But you need to research, you need to publish, you need to get tenure. Sometimes, I presume, something actually interesting and fruitful comes to light. But the odds are against it.

You see this a lot in cocktails. Most good cocktails are three ingredients: base liquor, secondary flavor (juice, vermouth, whatever), and something like bitters. But the number of three-element combinations is limited, and most, over the past century or two of sophisticated drink pounding, have either become established, or rejected as unpleasant.

So what is an adventurous bartender to do? Either create or uncover some new flavor (the unfortunate prevalence of drinks made with elderflower is a result of such), or create drinks of flabbergasting complexity, with at least half a dozen ingredients, many of them infusions of yet other flavors.

Sometimes they uncover a new  peak in the fitness landscape of alcoholic flavors. More often, they find themselves in some mediocre area, neither high nor low. A Negroni is a local maximum. Gin, Campari, sweet vermouth. Move too far away from that, and you've reduced the drink's value. Ditto a Manhattan (whiskey (often rye), sweet vermouth, bitters).

OK, so I sometimes like both of these perfect (half and half sweet and dry vermouth--so sue me). But monkeying with them any more benefits no one save the person hired to write the drink description in the menu. What is important for a good drink is clarity and precision, as well a good glassware, fresh peels and house-macerated cherries, and a snappy line of patter. Not more ingredients.

In his post, Friedman suggests exploring extensively--using your skills in some area that people have overlooked. In economics, his subject, it's clearly the coming thing, as the success of Freakonomics shows.

In bartending, I'm not so sure.

If you must know, this post was composed while drinking, not a cocktail, but Hoponius Union, an IPA-hopped lager from Jack's Abby, from nearby Framingham. A great beer, if you haven't tried it. There is still a lot of room of intensive exploration in the art of getting sozzled.

Thank goodness.

Reader Comments (5)

I'm always happy to see a new example of my principle. Knowing nothing about mixed drinks but a good deal about early cooking, I wonder if perhaps herbs and spices might provide an extensive margin for your field. Hippocras, a medieval spiced wine, included cinnamon, ginger, grains of paradise, nutmeg, and galingale.

November 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Friedman

There was at least part of the Middle Ages that was fascinated with elaboration. Hippocras sounds like the taste equivalent of polyphony. Plus, they just liked to show off, using things that were expensive and rare. I'm surprised they didn't dissolve amber and pearls in there too.

But I do like a good mulled wine. Been years since I made it. And it's been getting cold, so it might be time to revive it.

November 20, 2012 | Registered CommenterAlexander Jablokov

I wonder if the rise of cocktails coincided with the rise of saloons with professional bartenders -- in other words, a way for barmen to distinguish themselves in an age of package liquor (instead of taverns competing with their own home brew beers).

With the decline in saloon drinking, the new cocktails seem to come directly from the marketing departments of liquor companies, which try to be exotic and novel to drive a fad, rather than trying to build repeat drinker business.

November 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCambias

Think of the genius who got put in charge of marketing an obscure liquor consumed almost entirely by elderly Italian men, Galliano, added it to the screwdriver, invented the Harvey Wallbanger, and sent sales through the roof.

When was the last time anyone ordered a Harvey Wallbanger, I wonder?

November 22, 2012 | Registered CommenterAlexander Jablokov

The natural question to ask is, does this apply to art of all kinds? Is there an increasing marginal cost on originality in fiction?

December 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKen Schneyer

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