Mad Times

“To be sane in a mad time is bad for the brain, worse for the heart.” – Wendell Berry

November 25th, 2007 at 6:55 pm

Spirits In the Wires by Charles de Lint

woman facing a wall with an oversized white robe sliding off her bare shouldersThis book comes before Widdershins in the continuity of de Lint’s Newford stories. That doesn’t matter too much as you’re reading either story, but there are some relationships that begin in this book that make Widdershins make a little more sense.

Rather than just having faerie permeate the modern world as he usual does with his urban fantasy novels, this book has faerie saturating cyberspace as well. The plot is pretty much boilerplate de Lint (see my Widdershins review for a description). But as usual, the attraction of the book is less in the plot and more in the characters and how they manage when suddenly confronted with the presence of magic in a world they thought was governed by knowable scientific principles.

Christy Riddell’s girlfriend Saskia who if you’ve been reading the books for a while you’ll know was somehow born out of the Wordwood web site disappears when a virus attack takes down the site. But she’s not the only one, lots of other people went poof at the same time. Christy and his friend Holly who helped create the site work to organize a rescue mission into the faerie otherworld where the Wordwood manifests as a real place.

It sounds pretty cheesy, but as long as you’re willing to engage your disbelief suspension equipment, the adventure is exciting and reveals cool stuff about some of the characters.

In writing this review I remembered to go google the Wordwood and discovered that some fans have set up a wiki at to simultaneously document de Lint’s work and emulate the Wordwood site in the books.

November 25th, 2007 at 6:28 pm

Factoring Humanity by Robert J. Sawyer

a face overlying a grid floating above a wire frame boxy structureAs with many of Sawyer’s science fiction novels, this one starts off with a purely human problem. Heather Davis and Kyle Graves have been separated for nearly a year when their daughter Becky brings them together to make an announcement that threatens to sunder the family completely. This family drama is accompanied by a parallel drama in Heather’s work where she is part of a global effort to decode an alien transmission received from Alpha Centauri A. Heather has a breakthrough and determines that the message is instructions for building a machine. When she constructs it she discovers that the machine will affect not only human society, but also her own family in far-reaching ways.

While there are a dozen different ideas being explored here, one of the biggest ones is how pervasive transparency in human relationships would affect society and individuals. It’s a theme Sawyer has explored in other books, in particular his series that started with Hominids. This book takes the concept further, but shares that one’s optimism positing that if only we could review what really happened to people in a situation, the result would be a kind of utopia. While the situations that Sawyer puts together do seem to collapse into a solution when easy review becomes available, I’m not convinced that this is a universal cure for what ails humanity. I’m hoping that this doesn’t become to Sawyer what telepathy became to Spider Robinson, the one-cure-fits-all-ills that made many of Robinson’s books so predictable.

November 24th, 2007 at 1:45 am
November 16th, 2007 at 10:55 pm


cat sitting on a furnace vent with curtain draped on her head

More evidence that Alice will sacrifice propriety if it comes into conflict with other priorities like getting in the sweet spot for the maximum warmth from the furnace vent.

November 11th, 2007 at 10:56 pm

New venture

A couple of weeks ago I was walking home from the rental car place after returning a car. It’s about a two mile walk and along the way I thought about transportation. Part of the reason I was walking was that I missed the Metro 200 bus by about a minute so it was going to be a half-hour wait for the next bus. This minor frustration made me think of all the other minor frustrations associated with any method of transportation other than getting in your car and driving.

It occurred to me that these small things make a big difference in our choices of how to get around. So as I walked I tried to see small impediments to my walking and think about how they might be removed. That bench would be a nice place to rest only it’s covered with moss and blackberry brambles. I could cross this street if only the crossing signal button worked. It would be easier to get to that grocery store if there had been a sidewalk included in this parking lot.

A lot of these things are theoretically the responsibility of the city’s maintenance and design staff. But I have talked to some of those people and I know that they are all overworked and overwhelmed. Walking and cycling are sort of fringe concerns when you’re designing a road intersection or a shopping center. There just aren’t enough of us to make the effort worthwhile.

I thought about getting the city switchboard on speed dial on my phone so I could bring these things to their attention as I see them. But I can see where that’s going to lead. “Oh no, it’s Youngstrom on the phone again with another crossing button on the fritz.” Some of the things I could just fix. It would be easy to go clean off that bench. But some require either help from the city or vigilance in design reviews.

So I thought about how I could keep from being a simple annoyance. What I came up with was that if I was a representative of a group who share my concerns about non-motorized transportation then my gripes might hold more weight. And if there was a group, maybe I wouldn’t be the only one complaining. But there isn’t a group.

You see where this is going? I decided to form a group. I thought about it for a while and the thoughts had that fun sparkly feeling about them. Ideas kept coming. I kept jotting them down. Pretty soon I had a big pile of thoughts and I was still excited about it. Me. Excited. Clearly this is something I should pursue.

So I came up with a name with a cool acronym. It’s GAIT for Getting Around Issaquah Together. I registered a domain: and today I put a blog there. For now it’s just me. I’ll use the blog to talk about my ideas for what the group should be and do. I’ll talk about my initial forays into addressing those small issues that make walking and biking harder than it should be. If more people are interested then maybe I’ll take the next step and make it a real organization.

If you want to watch me stumble down this new path then add to your reading list.

November 10th, 2007 at 2:12 am


cat sitting on an open binder

Theo was helping me stay focused on the song we were playing at drumming the other day.

November 2nd, 2007 at 11:51 pm

Egg head

Cat lying in an egg carton

You know how a few weeks ago I said that Alice has a highly developed sense of propriety? Well, except when she doesn’t.

And lest you think that she was just lying there like that, see below for a little animation of the photo shoot this was an outtake from.

Read the rest of this entry »

November 1st, 2007 at 2:41 am

Farthing by Jo Walton

light in a window seen through a swastikaMurder mystery set in an English country house. Alternates chapters with the points of view of a Scotland Yard inspector and the newlywed wife of a prime suspect. What sets it apart from other “cosy” mysteries is that it takes place in an England that chose to sign a treaty with Hitler. Matters are complicated by the fact that the victim negotiated the treaty and the manner of his death throws suspicion on the only Jew who happens to be around.

My clumsy summary does not do justice to Walton’s delicate and nuanced narrative. This is a carefully written and deeply thought book that reads like a potboiler. And while it’s easy to dismiss any comparison of current events with those of WWII as hyperbolic, it’s difficult to deny that there is some resonance. Enough that even though I read the book very quickly the characters and situations have stayed knocking around my head even here over a month after I finished it.

Her second book in this setting just came out (Ha’penny) and there will be one more forthcoming.


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