Ooh Ice!

Griffin and I spent some time bonding today. Walked to the barbershop, the comic store, and then stopped by a local pub for lunch and some pinball.

At the pub we visited the men’s room. The urinal was full of ice. (Why? I don’t know. Maybe they dump their ice there since it will never melt if they dump it outside.) Before I have even registered the scene, Griffin says, “Ooh, ice!!!” and plunges his hands in. Yes, into the covered-with-pee ice in the bathroom at the bar.

At which point I screamed incoherently.

Review: Ancillary Justice

Ancillary Justice
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A new sci-fi author to keep an eye on! Leckie is a world builder — the setting is broad in scope and lavishly depicted. Early on there was a bit too much exposition for my taste, but once I got into the setting I loved its richness. The characters and conflicts were compelling, including fresh takes on some genre tropes like artificial intelligence and cyborgs. Imagine a starship intelligence with a linked cyborg crew — every body shares the same overriding consciousness. Pretty cool, and deftly presented. There is plenty of moral ambiguity too; characters have complex motivations and don’t always make good choices. Thankfully, there are no obvious “good guys” and “bad guys,” except perhaps the main character / narrator, who is pretty easy to root for.

According to an interview with the author at the end of the book, this is the first of a planned trilogy. There is room for a whole pile of stories in this setting, and I’d like to see more of it. I’m looking forward to the next installment.

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Hello cold!

Winter has arrived for real. Our first big winter storm just passed through at the head of a mass of arctic air. Lots of snow yesterday (more than three feet on the north shore, but much less in the cities) and now the temps are plummeting. My phone greeted me with this outlook this morning — yes, Fahrenheit. I walk to school before sunrise, so those lows are what I dress for. And the wind chills are much lower. Brrr!

WeatherBug results this morning
WeatherBug results this morning


Update: this is my standard costume for sub-zero temps. The only thing I’ve ever added to this are additional under layers and a second hat on the rare days when the air temp drops closer to -20.

Space Suit
My space suit.


Update 2: A bit colder than expected on Saturday, with a vicious wind chill, and this is after the sun has been up for a while. Geez.

Really Cold
Colder than expected.



Book Review: “Hitchcock and Bradbury Fistfight in Heaven” edited by Dave Eggers

McSweeney's Issue 45
McSweeney’s Issue 45: Hitchcock and Bradbury Fistfight in Heaven by Dave Eggers

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is why we need to have vigorous bookstores and libraries in every neighborhood. I stopped by my local independent bookseller to look for a list of books I was interested in. This book was not on my list, but it leapt off the shelf — the cover picture and title were irresistible. After browsing through it for a few minutes, and despite the fact that there were no reviews on either Goodreads or Amazon (gasp!), I went for it. And how much fun I’ve had since then!

The title (used with Sherman Alexie’s blessing) reveals the origin of this collection. Over the past few years, Dave Eggers came across two out-of-print anthologies: Alfred Hitchcock’s 1965 Stories Not for the Nervous and Ray Bradbury’s 1952 Timeless Stories for Today & Tomorrow. He pulled the best from each collection and mixed them together with a few bonus contemporary pieces.

I loved most of the pieces in here, and found myself sharing highlights with anyone who would listen. There are classic science fiction pieces like Roald Dahl’s “The Sound Machine,” where a guy invents a machine that can hear the language of plants, Ray Bradbury’s “The Pedestrian,” about a world where people never stop watching TV, and Julian May’s “Dune Roller,” about a spooky meteor in Lake Michigan. Then there’s Jack Ritchie’s hilarious “For All the Rude People,” where Emily Post hooks up with Rambo. The opening of that story is so darkly delicious, I’ll share it here:

     "How old are you?" I asked.
     His eyes were on the revolver I was holding. "Look, 
mister, there’s not much in the cash register, but take 
it all. I won’t make no trouble."
     "I am not interested in your filthy money. How old 
are you?"
     He was puzzled. "Forty-two."
     I clicked my tongue. "What a pity. From your point 
of view, at least. You might have lived another twenty 
or thirty years if you had just taken the slight pains to 
be polite."
     He didn’t understand.
     "I am going to kill you," I said, "because of the 
four-cent stamp and because of the cherry candy."
     He did not know what I meant by the cherry candy, 
but he did know about the stamp.
     Panic raced into his face. "You must be crazy. You 
can’t kill me just because of that."
     "But I can."
     And I did.

The longest piece in the book is “Sorry, Wrong Number,” an expanded version of a famous Lucille Fletcher radio play about a bed-ridden woman making repeated phone calls to try and locate her missing husband. Although it had a bit too much exposition at times, I loved the premise and the ever-rising tension which, Bolero-like, sucked me into her mounting hysteria.

There are some unexpected names in here, too. Kafka’s got a spot (dark, ornate, but also funny at times), along with Cheever (classic sci-fi thought piece), and a bizarre Steinbeck gem, “Saint Katy the Virgin,” about a holy pig. High hilarity. Finally, there were the contemporary pieces by China Miéville, Brian Evenson, Benjamin Percy, and E. Lily Yu. My favorite was Miéville’s “The Design,” which grapples with one of the coolest ideas I’ve seen in a story in a long time. I can say no more without spoiling it.

Although this collection was all over the place, it felt coherent. Eggers does a great job in the brief introduction of explaining the guiding theme, and the book stayed true to it throughout. He also sets the reader up to anticipate the final story, describing it as “one of the creepiest things” he’s read. Then he admonishes us not to jump ahead, “Whatever you do, make sure you read ‘Don’t Look Behind You’ last.” Throughout the book, I looked forward to the finale, savoring the promised creepiness. It was worth the wait.

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