Latest Entries »

Ye olde roadtrippe, day four

I’m in Canada, y’all! Took only 40 minutes to get my car through customs: they were very confused that I’ve managed to fit everything I own into one Kia. (I also heard a Canadian say “eh” for the first time, so that’s an unlocked achievement right there.)
 
Typing this up at Tim Horton’s, using the free wi-fi and munching on some potato wedges like the stage-one canuck that I am. 🙂
Onward to explore. :^D

Another day, another 887 miles. Just six hours away from my destination! (Plus customs, of course.) Spending the night in an odd little Michigan village called Paw Paw.

There should be a congressional hearing into the utter lack of bacon at hotel breakfasts. (Breakfast sausage just ain’t the same.)

Along the same stretch of I-90 in Minnesota, there are towns called Alpha, Welcome, Blue Earth, and Ceylon. Heh.

I dined in the town of Nodine, MN, but didn’t see any of the Spartans in Sparta, WI.

South Dakota’s radio is filled with religion, in-depth weather forecasts, and detailed analysis of pork futures and corn contracts. This is probably the only part of the country where being obsessed with weather is justified. (Evidently, 40 barns collapsed the night before because of all the snow on the roofs.)

Minnesota roadside shops have free cheese samples. 🙂

Chicago’s highway traffic isn’t any worse than Vegas on a Friday night, but wow, they really do like their tolls. Had to stop to pay them seven times, and one of those didn’t accept anything but coins. (Well played, robots, well played.)

Ye olde roadtrippe, day two

Drove farther today than I did yesterday. More than halfway done! Ended up taking a rather big detour to avoid a flooded section of the highway. Later on, I drove over a long stretch of almost-flooded highway, with impromptu lakes surrounding it on both sides. (An omen of the not-too-distant future?) That was followed by the post-apocalyptic remnants of an old wildfire. And after that, fog. Hundreds of miles of fog. Being able to outrun a major weather pattern is intrinsically cool. Managed to escape not just the fog but a local river that’s projected to get a couple of feet above the comfortable level.
 
It took three attempts to find a South Dakota hotel that a) was on a paved road, b) had outdoor lights, and c) was actually open at the late, late hour of 10pm. The bastards still don’t have bacon at their free breakfast, though.
 
When your food consumption consists solely of water, black coffee (bitterness is energy entering the body!), and prepackaged food, it gets ridiculously easy to track the caloric intake. Welcome back, cheekbones!

Ye olde roadtrippe, day one

Drove 687 miles today on the mighty I-90. 26.4% down – almost there!

It’s logical but still unbelievable that just one day of dedicated driving can get you from Seattle to the Yellowstone national park.

I was greatly amused by dozens of signs telling me how close I was to Butte. (Hey, I’ve never claimed to be mature.)

Montana and Idaho are mind-boggingly boring. Judging by their 80 mph speed limit, they strongly suspect that too, and they may or may not be sorry.

There are two small towns in Montana: Anaconda and Opportunity. For about 5 miles before I figured that out, the “Anaconda Opportunity” road sign had inspired myriads of ideas in my understimulated mind.

Passed a sign that said “Amsterdam Manhattan.” Nice try, Montana: I have it on good authority that those two cities are at least 50 miles apart.

I moved to the United States from Russia when I was 16. Now I’m 32, and it’s time to move once more – someplace safer, more stable, more civilized. Somewhere like Canada.

Over the past 16 years, I’ve been a burger-flipper and a student, a busboy and an analyst, a canvasser and an investigator, a minister and a rescuer. These days, I work at an online company. (It’s fairly small – you’ve probably never heard of it.) When an opportunity to transfer to our Ontario office presented itself, I pounced on it.

I remember visiting a dollar store for the first time: the glorious cornucopia of stuff where everything cost just a buck. I remember being amazed that 15-year-olds could drive their own trucks. I remember the overabundance of election signs and the novelty of free and fair elections.

Since my arrival in 2003, I’ve lived and worked and studied in rural Nevada, Reno, Las Vegas, Fort Worth, Tampa, Seattle… So many journeys and experiences, sights and friends, adventures and mishaps. So much to explore, with ever so much beauty.

I remember driving upward, toward to the clouds, on the picturesque Sunshine Skyway Bridge, with a giant pelican flying by as we both crossed the beautiful Tampa Bay. I remember the breathtaking drive through the Arizona desert as the first rays of sunshine lit up the sand dunes in every single shade of gold and scarlet. I remember seeing the entirety of New York City from the top of the Empire State Building at sunset: the world’s greatest city, its lights shining bright in the darkness.

And then… During yet another roadtrip, I narrowly avoided the deadliest shooting in American history. After spending most of the day driving from Boise to Las Vegas, I was too tired to brave the strip’s traffic, and I went to an off-strip casino. My laziness was the only reason I ended up two miles away, at the Orleans casino, instead of being near the Mandalay Bay on the night of October 1st, 2017. As I was gambling, hundreds of people got shot: 58 dead, 851 injured. Later that night, I saw a sea of sirens to the west, and learned the details shortly after. The entertainment capital of the world, the city of sin, was forever transformed by the action of a single 64-year-old madman. I can’t begin to imagine what it was like to be in the midst of the carnage but I saw plenty of the aftermath: the locals, each of whom had known somebody at the shooting; the impromptu vigils and shrines; the seemingly endless line of people waiting to donate blood. I too gave a pint of my blood – the very least I could do to help the city recover.

There were also a few other incidents that got me to this point. I remember a crowd of Sunday morning churchgoers shaking their fists and yelling obscenities at me and my fellow canvassers because they vehemently disagreed with our politics. I remember living next to two measles outbreaks: one in a megachurch in Texas, the other one on an island full of yuppies in Washington, both groups driven by ignorance and superstition. I remember the blatant and cartoonishly evil case of voter fraud in North Carolina’s 9th district, where nobody got punished.

I remember – and I forget, for there has been so much to view, to try, and to experience.

America has always experienced a balance of bad and good, of ugliness and beauty, of villains and heroes. It seems the balance has shifted – and not for the better. This isn’t the same country I fell in love with in 2003. The changes have been for the worse, and there’s no reason to believe it’ll get better. If I am wrong, I’ll just spend a few years in an interesting new country; another fun adventure to be had. If, on the other hand, I’m right, I’ll outlast the worst of what’s to come. No more mass shootings. No more people declaring bankruptcy due to illness. Far fewer preventable outbreaks of the diseases that should have been left behind in the previous millennium.

I spent half of my life in Russia, and I left it because there was no promise of future: nothing but corruption and despotism. I spent just as long in the US, and I’m leaving because it’s no longer safe, no longer the country I’d fallen in love with, no longer the beacon of freedom. The time has come for me to move once more. By the time you read this, I will be gone, driving into the sunrise, toward a new and better place. I hope that someday I might make it back.

“Trojan horse” – 6,170,000 search results on Google
“Trojan cow” – 12,800 search results
“Trojan giraffe” – 10,400 search results
“Trojan zebra” – 9,500 search results
“Trojan chicken” – 8,040 search results
“Trojan wolf” – 8,040 search results
“Trojan tiger” – 7,470 search results
“Trojan walrus” – 5,530 search results
“Trojan bull” – 5,390 search results
“Trojan penguin” – 555 search results
“Trojan hippo” – 536 search results
“Trojan whale” – 95 search results
“Trojan rhino” – 93 search results
“Trojan armadillo” – 72 search results
“Trojan human” – 65 search results
“Trojan platypus” – 60 search results
“Trojan aardvark” – 51 search results
“Trojan hedgehog” – 28 search results
“Trojan kangaroo” – 27 search results
“Trojan gorilla” – 21 search results
“Trojan dingo” – 15 search results
“Trojan otter” – 14 search results
“Trojan alligator” – 11 search results
“Trojan axolotl” – 5 search results
“Trojan mongoose” – 5 search results
“Trojan wildebeest” – zero search results

In his second sci-fi novel, Andy Weir, the author of “The Martian,” tried to do a 180 turn and write something different. His novel “Artemis” was only partly successful.

“Artemis” takes place on the sole human settlement on the moon, where everyone has a specific task, laws are mostly guidelines, the population is just a few thousand people, and everybody knows and (mostly) adores our protagonist, Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara.

Jazz is a 26-year-old full-time porter, part-time smuggler, whose family left Saudi Arabia when she was a kid, and who ends up getting in the world of trouble as the novel begins. It’s unclear what Weir was going for with this character: she has the mentality of a 16-year-old and the inner monologue of a teenage boy. (John Scalzi’s “Zoe’s Tale” came much closer to adopting the persona of a female protagonist, and he said that it took him ages to hone in on that writing style.) It doesn’t help that Jazz is Mary Sue incarnate: she can become an expert in electronics in just one day, or understand a groundbreaking PhD dissertation in chemistry after spending a few hours online.

To be fair, the science part of this science fiction novel was beautiful: Weir goes to great lengths to explain why Kenya would end up as a spacefaring superpower with its equatorial location; how to survive a fire in an oxygen-rich moon city; how and why an aluminum processing plant would prosper on the moon. The economy he describes is interesting as well: a single credit can buy you a gram of cargo shipped from the Earth.

Overall, the book is great sci-fi but with a supremely flat main character. When it inevitably becomes a movie, the screenwriters will probably do yet another 180 and give Jazz a personality transplant. Until then, however, I don’t recommend picking up “Artemis” until and unless you finish everything else on your “to read” list.

I give this book two out of five stars.

Full disclosure: I received an advance reader copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Buy “Artemis” on Amazon here, if you so choose.

I really, really wanted to enjoy the new Welcome to Night Vale novel. As a faithful podcast listener who went to the live shows and enjoyed the first novel two years ago, I’d expected something as fulfilling and creative, but I was a bit disappointed in what I found.

The new novel focuses very little on the characters we all know and love from the podcast. Instead, Cecil, his family, and the protagonists of the first novel make a brief appearance, and Carlos shows up for a little while, but most of the action is concentrated on brand new characters. One is Nilanjara Sikdar, one of the scientists who arrived to Night Vale with Carlos. The other one is Darryl Ramirez, a faithful follower of the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God.

This novel is yet another attempt to approach the ancient debate between science and religion. The two main characters, unfortunately, are two-dimensional stereotypes with a fair amount of personality slapped on top. As they team up to investigate the strange phenomenon (or possibly a creature) that devours parts of Night Vale, the anti-religion scientist learns to accept unscientific things and hunches, while the super-naive religious guy reconsiders his beliefs and offers some moral pointers to Carlos and his merry team of scientists.

This novel has some great writing, and oh-so-many quotable passages, as well as little jokes that make Welcome to Night Vale so great. (“D-Day is short for Dog Day, which happened during World War II, when we defeated the Germans by not letting them come over to pet our dogs anymore.”) It has some insightful thoughts about the nature of humanity and the overall silliness of humans. But overall, it’s not an entertaining novel that was written to entertain the reader. It’s a story about science and religion, with some characters thrown in to keep it going and bring a preachy ending that’s relatively easy to see coming.

Without giving away any of the plot, let me put it this way: if you enjoyed the postmodern romance movie “500 Days of Summer,” which was cleverly written and shot but had a very non-traditional ending, you’ll enjoy this book. If, on the other hand, you want your leisure reading to have a concise story where everything ends well and everyone lives happily ever after, you might want to skip this book – or get it from the library.

Come to think of it, a good analogy would be the Narnia books by C.S.Lewis: it’s a fun and interesting story on the surface, but then you realize the author is preaching to you, and it becomes far less enjoyable. In this case, the preaching is balanced out and neither side is fully right, but that doesn’t make it better in my eyes.

I give this book three out of five stars.

Buy “It Devours” on Amazon, if you’re so inclined

I love time travel novels: they’re challenging to write and fun to read. There are inventive plot twists, creative time machines, and tons of historical trivia. Paradox Bound, the new novel by Peter Clines, is all that and much more. According to Clines, he’d spent more years writing Paradox Bound than he did any other book – and that certainly shows!

It’s tough to describe the plot without giving away the wonderful, delicious surprises, so I’ll just state the very basics. It’s a story about a Millennial guy named Eli who lives in a boring small town in Maine and who has a crush on the mysterious woman who passes through every few years, wearing antique outfits and driving a souped-up Ford Model A. It’s a story about America and its history, both the heroic past and the uncertain future. It’s a story about a community of time travelers (or “history travelers,” as they prefer to be called) who travel through history in their antique cars. (Similar to Chuck Palahniuk’s “Rant,” only with less NC-17 content.) It’s a story about the pursuit of a dream above all else.

It also features faceless government men, an ancient Egyptian god, the Founding Fathers, and subtle references to every other novel Clines has ever written. The many, many plot twists kept me glued to the book: some of them could be guessed, while others were both beautiful and brilliant in their complexity. It helps that Clines used to be a Hollywood writer and knows his way around pacing, dialogue and overall structure – the book flows like a dream. (Or like the 2030 Tesla X!)

The only other time travel novel I’ve read that achieved this level of beauty and twisted complexity is The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold, an underappreciated 1973 masterpiece that was ahead of its time. Clines left enough loose ends for there to be a sequel, which I’ll await most eagerly.

Paradox Bound also touches on some deeper themes. There is an interesting encounter with a folk hero from the 19th century whose story is told from a different angle. There’s the uncomfortable fact that female time travelers have a much easier time if they disguise themselves as men in their trips to the past. There’s an interesting subplot of cops forcing another cop to sign a document that would permanently change his life. (And not for the better.) The book doesn’t preach, but it gives more than enough food for thought to its careful readers.

One word of caution: there are a couple of mild adult moments in the novel, so you may not want to give it your 8-year-old – wait until they hit their teenage years. If, however, you’re buying this book for yourself and if you enjoy time travel yarns, inventive plots, and strong female characters with low tolerance for nonsense, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

I give this book five out of five stars.

Full disclosure: I received an advance reader copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Buy Paradox Bound on Amazon

Seattle summer scene

At
my
midway
bus stop,
met an artsy
young woman
with an MBA
from
an
unlicensed
pharmacist.
Together,
we harvested
roadside
berries.