YOU Are the Experiment

fiction by Jason Edwards

Chemistry 1-A at Dunmaru High is buzzing with the usual student chatter. Jenni Olmack’s wearing that jacket everyone saw at Oldsen’s, the one that cost like a gajillion dollars. Greg Tarkley and Michel Inbay are punching each other in the shoulder. Everyone’s ignoring Lisa Besson because everyone always ignores Lisa Besson.

Mr. Kilsome walks into the room, chanting “All right, all right, quiet down.” Jenni glances over in time to see Greg mouthing exactly the same words, a big smile on his face. Nevertheless, the room quiets down. A few chairs squeak as students sit on their stools at their lab stations. Pots of powders, Bunsen burners, sinks, tongs, flasks and beakers. A school in a county that pays its taxes.

“All right everyone, here’s what we’re going to do today,” Mr. Kilsome says “We’re going to synthesize a very strange chemical, one of the least understood chemicals in the world. For this one, though, you’re going to need the heavy aprons.” Mr. Kilsome takes off his coat and reaches for his own heavy leather apron. Half the students file to the closets in the back—they’d learned chem-lab protocol on day one, so no need for everyone to clump up around the closets.

Lisa brings back an apron for Jenni, who takes it but otherwise ignores her. Greg brings one and throws it in Michael’s face. It’s heavy enough to smack him in the head. But Michael plays football, so there’s no way an apron, of all things, is going to injure him. He puts on the apron, and remains standing—the thing’s too heavy to allow for sitting on the lab stools at all.

“Goggles, everyone,” Mr, Kilsome says. The class obliges. “Gloves…” and everyone in the class pulls gloves from cubby holes at the lab tables. These are stiff, thick, heavy gloves. Soon the class, with the heavy gloves, thick aprons, and goggles, look like something from one of those weird 1950s German medical-horror movies.

“Alright. We’ll start with mystery pot one. Open that, and measure out 35 ccs of the white powder into a flask. Be very very careful—try not to inhale too close to the flask when you pour it in.

A few students glance around, a bit nervous. Greg and Michael fight for a second over who holds the flask and who holds the measuring spoons. Jenni stands back, arms folded awkwardly in the gloves, while Lisa does all the work.

“Good, excellent. Now, close mystery pot one—tightly! And open number two. Measure out 15 ccs into the flask. And whatever you do, do NOT shake the flask. Please, class, be careful.”

Lisa proceeds, hands shaking slightly. Murmurs from some in the classroom, but not as many as usual, a nervous silence. Greg and Michael, big stupid grins on their faces, are nevertheless a little more exacting in their measurements and cooperation.

Everyone sets their flasks down, and stand absolutely still, looking at Mr. Kilsome.

“Okay. Now, pour some water into a beaker, and make sure it’s cold, you’ll want exactly 25 ccs…”

“How do we know it’s cold with these gloves on?” Michael says, his voice cracking slightly.

“Use a thermometer, Mr. Inbay. The taps should run less than 68 degrees… if we’re lucky.” His face is grave as he glares at Michael.

Michael swallows, reaches for a thermometer. Greg turns on the taps. Lisa is still doing all of the work, but Jenni’s taken a few steps back, not realizing she’s now just that much closer to the students—and flasks—behind her.

“Once you’ve gotten 25 ccs of cold water, gently, and I do mean gently, pour that into the flask.” The students begin to pour. “Mr. Inbay! Gently!” Michael’s eye go wide and he stops pouring. “And you, Gregory, don’t hover over the top like that.” Greg steps back.

“By now your flask should have the powder mixture on the bottom, with the water on top.” He pauses for effect, and says in a lower tone, “uh, does anyone, uh have debris… floating in their water?”

“Oh my god,” Jenni says, backing up and pointing. “Hers does! Hers does!”

“Okay everyone. Start to stir the mixture, vigorously.”

“But you said not to agitate it!” says Gregory, a large frown distorting his face. Agitate is probably the biggest word he’s ever said.

“That was before you had the dihydrogen monoxide. Now stir! Stir!”

The students begin to stir. Lisa is holding her flask at arm’s length, head twisted to the side. Other students are following suit. Everyone’s eyes are huge behind their goggles.

“Once you have a uniform texture and consistency, set the flask down.” There are few thumps as students, eager to the get the flask out of their hands, set them down quickly.” Gently!” Mr. Kilsome shouts.

Greg and Michael set theirs down, jaws agape, staring. Lisa sets her down, eyes shifting back and forth from Mr. Kilsome to the flask.

The room is utterly still.

In a quiet voice, Mr. Kilsome says. “Now I will reveal to you the nature of this truly remarkable chemical. Are you ready?”

Nobody moves.

“Peel back the label on pot number one.”

Arms out stiff to keep from approaching the lab tables too close, the students pick up pot number one, the sound of labels peeling off like whispers in the silence.

Greg says, out loud, “Flour baking powder salt.”

“Yes.” Mr. Kilsome says, an evil grin on his face. “And now pot number 2.”

The students peel off the sticker on pot #2. “Powdered milk powdered eggs sugar”, Michael reads.

Mr. Kilsome says “The chemical we’ve just created… is fear.”

No one moves.

“We’re making pancakes?” Lisa suddenly shouts, and starts laughing. Other students follow her and start laughing as well. It’s the happiest day of her life.

Mr. Kilmore is laughing too. “And now we’ve created another fine chemical—relief!” The students laugh louder. “Go ahead and turn on your Bunsen burners. You should find wire frames, small frying pans and spatulas in the cabinets below your lab tables.”

The students continue to laugh and shout as they turn on the burners and pull out their pans. That Mr. Kilsome… what a crazy teacher. Greg socks Michael in the arm for being such a fraidy cat. Jenni steps close enough that Lisa can smell her shampoo, and they make eye contact for the first time, ever.

Mr. Kilsome smiles, and picks up another pot, making sure the false label on it hides the words “rat poison. “I’ve got the powdered sugar!” he shouts.

Sharing (the Important Parts of) My Ragnar Plans

Another one posted on the blogs on Runner’s

I have run a marathon in Zurich, a 5k around the Roman Coliseum, and a few half-marathons along the Las Vegas Strip (both in the daytime and night). Those were all fantastic runs, but my favorite year-in and year-out is the Ragnar Northwest Passage. On this adventure, a team of 12 people take turns running between 3 and 8 miles at a time, covering 187 miles nonstop.

This will by my fifth running, and this year I am runner #6. I have been planning assiduously for my legs, and I’d like to share my plan for my first sortie, a 6.5 miler outside of Bellingham.

7:30 am Our first runner begins in Blaine, Washington, right at the US/Canada border. I was given this leg the very first year my friends and I ever ran the Ragnar, so you could say I’ve been doing this long longer than anyone I know.

12:00 (noon) According to some very rough estimates based on average paces, altitude changes, ambient temperature, relative humidity, playlist selection, shoe selection, hydration, and the position of Mars in Sagittarius, I expect runner #5 to be about 14 minutes and 19 seconds away from our exchange. I’ll put on my shoes (Nike Free 3.0 with about 150 miles on ‘em), my cool 70’s-style bandana, my Nike+ GPS watch on one wrist, my iPod Nano in a wrist-band holder on the other, and don a pair of supremely choice sunglasses even if it is raining.

12:02 I’ll head to one of the Honeybuckets.

12:04 I’ll slather my hands with Purell, and down a 5-Hour Energy Drink.

12:06 Another visit to a Honeybucket.

12:08 More Purell, and begin stretching.

12:10 One more Honeybucket visit.

12:12 Purell. More stretching, start the GPS watch and put it on pause so it’s not still searching for a satellite while I’ve already started running.

12:13 Cue up the playlist. John Petrucci, Daikaiju, Tool, Jethro Tull.

12:14:19 Runner 5 comes at me. I take the baton/slap-bracelet. Off I go!

1:12:49 Slap runner 7 with the bracelet, begin earnest search for beer.

A perfect 9 minute/mile average! Way to pace yourself over the elevation gains and frequent busy street-crossings, me!

Now you maybe be wondering about the specifics during the running itself, but let’s face it: running is extremely personal (and the truth is I did type it up but it spans some 15,000 words, taking more time to write than it literally takes me to run 6.5 miles. This is a blog post, not a book by Cheever).

But at least I shared the beer part with you.

So I Read The Back of a Book about Marxism…

Dusk; another wonderful day ends in corporate America. The sky is on fire with reds yellows and purples, or golds and royal plums if you like. The chemicals dumped into the sky by the industries that bring you everything you love make the sunset as glorious as the amazing life you live on the backs of peasants. Your masters in the oligarchs are pleased with your contentedness…

But lo, what is this? Across the twilight sky arcs a brilliant flash of light. What is it? You have no idea, maybe an airplane, maybe a meteor, a bolide, maybe an alien in a spacecraft. You don’t know what it is, so it is an unidentified flying object. The irony here is that you’ve given it a name, even though you don’t know what it is, so you can return to the task of removing your workshop pajamas, to put on your nightclub pajamas, in the hopes of meeting someone and eventually waking up next to them in your birthday pajamas.

A UFO, then, is just a way to explain something away. A lightning bolt kills your favorite sheep, you need to believe it happened for a reason, lest you becoming bogged down in an existential depression. So you invent and blame gods. A light flashes in the sky, and you need to make sure it’s not a hallucination, lest that good looking sex-companion in the designer pajamas turns out just to be a figment of your imagination as well. So it is a UFO.

The thing is, you are Ugly, Fat, and Old. You are a UFO as well.

I happen to know, for fact, that you’re not really ugly. You may not be on the cover of magazines, you may not star in movies, but you are not ugly. The lack of prettiness that you think you possess is not your sole identifying feature. When people think of you, you are not filed, in the network of memories their brains maintain, under connotations of ugly. I know this for a fact.

Same for how fat you are. Maybe you don’t have an athlete’s body. You’re not appearing on a box of Wheaties any time soon. According to that work of fiction called “BMI,” you are technically “overweight.” But again, the sum total of your being, in the hearts and minds if your friends and family and even the people who don’t like you, cannot be captured in the word “fat.” Maybe you think you could lose a few pounds. But you do not personify Platonic “fatness.”

And then there’s your age. Sorry, you’re not “old,” either. Age is relative—a mayfly is “old” after only 20 hours. A tortoise is not “old” even after 75 years. If you think you’re “old” it’s because of context, and trust me, there are much “older” people in the same contexts. You’re maybe not the youngest, but you certainly don’t represent all of the negatives attributes associated with “old.”

But you still consider yourself a UFO—why? Because that’s how you explain things, how you explain why you’re so unhappy, why you can’t have the things you think you want. You see what corporate America feeds you: visions of success from hard work, and the rewards are pretty, slender youths. Again with the irony—nobody who works as hard as we’re expected to work stays pretty, fit, or young. Nobody.

What am I asking you to do, here, is to quite calling yourself ugly, fat, and/or old, because every time you do, you are accepting the gestalt that your slave owners are foisting on you. The problem is, you’re a slaveowner too—you too benefit from the hard work that the unrewarded poor contribute to our gross national product. If you justify your misery by calling yourself a UFO, you also justify the crimes you commit against the poor. Stop making excuses. Accept how gorgeous you are. Own it, and let it motivate you to go get the things you deserve. The final irony: if you do, you’ll be stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. That flash in the night sky was just your imagination, internal inspiration, a spark urging you to recontextualize your existence.

Jennifer Government– review on Goodreads

Jennifer GovernmentJennifer Government by Max Barry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finished up Max Barry’s Company and decided I’d go back in time and re-read JG as well. I called Company “corporate cubicle fiction” so I guess JG is “corporate overthrow fiction,” for want of a better term. Barry takes the idea of the corporation as a world-changing force of nature and pursues it to a logical (and therefore, ironically, absurd) conclusion, where governments are pushed to the side as corporations and the countries they represent start to merge. Capitalism as nightmare, without any of that silly communism as an antidote.

You’ll want to take a few willing-suspension-of-disbelief vitamins before diving in, but you won’t be disappointed if you do. Barry’s economic structures take a little getting used to, but they’re just props for him to explore corporate partnerships run amuck, the dangerously pervasive nature of advertising, global-mob psychology, and a dog-eat-dog world. Is that too much for you to swallow? Never fear—it’s all part of an action-adventure. Murder! Violence! Guns! Guerilla Marketing!

And a twisted story line that will having you hopping around the globe from character to character, trying to keep track, although they all come together at the end for the final showdown. Allow me to repeat what I said about Company, which is even more true in JG: Barry’s style is a bit stark, a bit plain, matter-of-fact. He gives you just enough description to keep things straight, letting you fill in the rest. But, whereas in Company that forced the reader to paint with her own experiences, in JG it’s just stark—existentialism as advertised by Nike.

Another fast read; and what review would be complete with mentioning, nation simulation game and a tie-in to the book that’s been online now since JG‘s publication in 2003.

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Company– review on Goodreads

CompanyCompany by Max Barry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoy corporate cubicle fiction, for some reason. Books like Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris, and I’ll even include Last Night at the Brain Thieves Ball by Scott Spencer. Company is sort of a mix of these, in as much as there’s the petty politics of working in a cube farm, and a deeper conspiracy fueling the intrigue. Don’t read Company if you feel good about the corporation you work for and don’t want that feeling challenged. Calling Max Barry “cynical” is like calling Microsoft “profitable.”

Barry’s style is a bit stark, a bit plain, matter-of-fact. He gives you just enough description to keep things straight, but leaves the rest of it to yourself, and the reader will eventually fill in details from her own experiences. Again , this can have a devastating effect on someone otherwise sympathetic to working between four half-walls all day long. Barry is unrelenting, but not so harsh as make his fictions seem hateful or mean. I mentioned Ferris and Spencer, above, but the end of the novel was evocative of Neal Stephenson’s The Big U, although not quite as heavy or taxing.

Comparisons to Dilbert are inevitable, but whereas Scott Adams pitches withering sarcasm against smug incompetence, Barry’s Company is more about the corporate machine itself, the kind of synergies it fails to generate while wasting vast amounts of energy. Adams has a lock on irony; Barry has a lock on pathos. This is a quick read, and you’ll find yourself shaking your head throughout, not at the absurdity of how business operates in the Company, but instead at how familiar that absurdity is.

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Tokyo Suckerpunch– review on Goodreads

Tokyo SuckerpunchTokyo Suckerpunch by Isaac Adamson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So it turns out Tokyo Suckerpunch is out of print, but I was lucky enough to find a copy in a used bookstore. Reading books made out of paper and ink is weird, but I managed, thanks to Adamson’s engaging style sense of humor. I was a little let down by a meandering plot and not much payoff at the end, but if books are for getting lost in on a rainy day, you could do worse than this one.

I got my copy at a Half Priced Books, one I’d never been to and visited on a whim. Didn’t find it in the sci-fi aisle (which was appropriate as TSP’s not sci-fi). Didn’t find it in the mystery aisle (which threw me, since this is clearly a take on the traditional detective story). It was in the mainstream fiction section… but that is where they stow magic realism, right? Looks like I should have taken that as a bit of forewarning.

Because on the one hand a mash-up of genres seems like it would be a lot of fun. A journalist in Japan covering a martial-arts competition for a teen rag published in Ohio, on the trail of a mystery woman, pursued by the Yakuza and a secretive religious organization, and all of it wrapped around a dead B-movie director. Oops, that sentence had no verb. And TSP had no point, either, I’m afraid. The genre-mash suffered from a lack of cohesiveness.

Which is not to say it wasn’t fun to read, but only as a gaijin tourist in Adamson’s version of Japan. Some fun action scenes, some witty dialogue, some good moments straight out of your favorite noir library… but that’s about it.

The back-of-the-book blurb calls this a mix of The Big Sleep and Memoirs of Geisha, with some Chinatown thrown in. Can’t say I agree with that. The geisha parts of the novel are incidental, and have little or nothing to do with the plot. It’s an interesting choice for creating a femme fatale, but Adamson’s geisha might as well have been a faerie. And as for the Chandler reference—TSP’s main character, Billy Chaka, isn’t nearly as self-loathing as required for such a comparison.

Go ahead and read the book if you can find a copy. Or I’ll loan you mine. And if you find a copy of the sequels, let me know. It rains a lot in Seattle, so it’s nice to having something to curl up around when my e-reader is recharging.

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I Am Stupid

Here’s a quick personality test for you: go read this article, “Apparently This Matters: Paging Dr. Mario,” and then answer the following question.

Does this article

A) make you mad because people get paid to write drivel like this and you could do that so why isn’t someone paying you
B) make you happy because people get paid to write drivel like this and since you could do that maybe someone will pay you to do it someday.

Personally I would answer A, and I am really trying very hard to convert to B. I am. I want to stop being such a bitter, cynical grumpy old man. It’s not even a matter of “not taking things so seriously.” Trust me, I don’t take anything seriously. But I want to stop being so darn snarky.

(And for the record, it is snarky, and not sardonic. Only very attractive women can pull off sardonic. The rest of us are merely snarky, and if we’re not careful, we might even be snidey).

A few years ago I pledged that I would stop making people feel bad for liking things. And it’s been going fairly well, except that I’ve been shifting my judgment from “you’re stupid” to “that’s stupid.” And it is such a worthless evaluation. At worst it comes across as condescending, at best, patronizing. “That thing you like, I think it’s stupid. But it’s okay that you like it! I like really stupid things too!”

Sorry, to those of you who’ve had to hear me say that. Not cool.

Who am I to judge? Well, I can judge, you know. I got credentials. I have taste (I married into having taste, anyway) and an education and enough lifetime experience that when I think something’s dumb, it’s not just a knee-jerk reaction.

But that’s not the point. Just because I think something is stupid, doesn’t mean it is, and even if it is stupid, what benefit comes from my evaluating it as such? Whatever injury I feel is being done to me by experiencing the stupidity is only made worse by my complaining about it. It takes less energy to change the channel, put down the book, click on the a different web page. Way way way less energy. I’m the one’s who stupid.

Seriously: it takes one to know one. The truth is, Jarrett Bellini had an experience and shared it and that he gets paid and I don’t is irrelevant. Entirely pointless. If I get upset, that’s on me, not him, is a reflection of me, not of him. I’m the one who’s stupid.

Which is not to say I should just be all hippie-dippie lovey-dovey about everything. I should have standards, and set expectations for high quality. But getting upset doesn’t make anything better at all, so why bother.

Instead, I should try to take inspiration from things. I should use my well-earned powers of judgment to find what is useful and good—and if I don’t find anything, then at least I got the benefit of exercising my abilities.

Or, at the very least, I got an excuse to write my own drivel and post it too. And yes, I am available for paid writing positions, if anyone’s, wondering.

For The Love of Socks

Posted on my “blog” at Runner’s World

I’ve been participating in these monthly run-raffles at a nearby running store, where they give away shoes, GPS watches, races entries, and so forth. My first night there, they were throwing socks into the crowd. And then, out of hundreds of people I won… a gift certificate for socks. I have to say I was sort of disappointed.

When I started running 5-ish years ago, I was in old sneakers, gym shorts, cotton briefs, cotton t-shirt, chunky mp3-player. I was too slow and running distances that were too short for any of those things to be a problem. But I wanted to get into it, so I went to the internet. I was told shoes! You must have the right shoes!

So I went and got the right shoes. Did one of those treadmill tests, you know, with the video camera and the sales associate who knew how to link my stride to the shoe they wanted to sell me. Yes, I’m being cynical here. Turns out the guy was way wrong, that my natural-forefoot strike doesn’t need any kind of correction at all.

But he also talked me into getting some socks. And for that I’ll be eternally grateful. I also, over the course of a few months, learned about moisture-wicking fabrics for my shirts and undershorts. I got a slick mp3 player and an arm-band to hold it. But it was those socks that changed me from a guy who sometimes goes for a run to a real runner.

There have been times when I’ll want to go for a run, and maybe I can’t find the shirt I want, so I make do. Or my shoes are muddy from a previous run, so I’ll use an old pair. Or I have to revert to gym shorts again because I haven’t done the laundry. But run in anything besides my running socks? Forget it.

Anything else and my feet get uncomfortably hot almost immediately. My toes feel cramped and suffocated. Blisters and not just likely, but guaranteed. Chafing on the ankle. Cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria.

Yeah it’s probably more psychosomatic than anything. But whatever gets me out there is a good thing, and this an ode to help me remember that. The other day I found myself frantic, looking for clean socks. No socks, no run! (I’ve tried barefoot running and I like it but my calves won’t let me do it all the time). Finally I found one of those pairs I’d won in that running-store raffle… and you should have seen the smile on my face. Sure, a new expensive GPS watch would have been cool, but it would have been worthless, me sitting next to the washing machine, waiting for my socks to get clean.

Its Okay to Walk Now and Again

This is mostly a message to myself, but if you can take some sort of inspiration or consolation from it, that would be just fine with me. I’m not trying to be a living example, or anything, however. I’m sure some people would read this and think “yeah, rationalize it, ya fat lazy baby.” That’s fine too. I mean, inspiration can come from bums in gutters as much from heroes on plinths. So if you’re running too fast and need to walk, or if you’re walking too much and need to run, you can go ahead and eavesdrop on this conversation with myself. And if you’re just fine the way you are and can accept that about yourself, if you don’t need to be listening-in on the self-indulgent ramblings of a tired old man, fine, I’ll talk to you later.

Oh, and this is about running, but it can be a metaphor for life, if you want. I think someone said that 40 is the new 30, which would be nice except I think they only said that because someone else said 30 is the new 20. And I think they only said that because all of the 20-somethings are having trouble finding jobs since the 60 somethings won’t retire and let the 50 somethings have their senior-management positions. It trickles down, and so the 30 year olds are still writing all the copy. They still want to be lauded and revered, so they’ve designated themselves the new youth. That means what 20 years old used to call “too old” (30) is not now 40. That’s me.

And just to be clear, this is not the same kind of message as when I said that you have to learn to run slowly. That was about not pushing myself too hard, even though I was capable. I didn’t mean it as a metaphor for anything, but if I did, I guess it would have to do with banking your energy and holding back just a bit, learn how to contextualize your performance, so that you shine when you shine. Tree in a forest kind of thing maybe.

(Or not, I don’t know. I’ve been drinking beer all day so I can be too drunk to drive so I can’t go to Burger King and get some onion rings because they’re bad for me. I don’t know if that’s the best solution to my problem, but that doesn’t matter—I’m just trying to tell you why I may not be very clear in what I am saying. And that totally isn’t a metaphor for anything at all.)

Running slow instead of fast all of the time is so when you do run fast it’s awesome. You know what they say: if you do it too much, it’s stop being special. Not very Zen, but then that’s where this idea of it being okay to walk now and again comes in. You run and run and something starts to hurt or the hill looms too large or you’re so thirsty you can’t spit. And then you think “Ah, what the hell’s the point of any of this.”

Well, there is no point, and if there was, maybe you wouldn’t bother anyway. Admitting you don’t want to, even if you think you have to, gives the power to choose to do so back to you, so you can run again later. Half a mile later, or tomorrow, or next week. There’s some things you have to do whether you like it or not, and you can try to enjoy turning 40 and 50, but sometimes you’re not going to.

And while you may be willing to hate a few miles now so you can love a few dozen later, when you’re well trained and ready and able, the truth is you’re no star athlete, so you’re not going to lose much walking now and again. So go ahead and walk, and learn to enjoy that too, and if nothing else, let it inspire you to write yet another goofy blog post.

The Atrocity Archives– review on Goodreads

The Atrocity Archives (Laundry Files, #1)The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My goal is to read 52 books this year, and it turns out The Atrocity Archives is really two books, or maybe even three. But I had no idea, going in, that this was the case. Some other review said “Terry Pratchett mixed with Mark Leyner” and my response was “sold!” So I jumped in and halfway through, I was on the denouement, wondering how the heck this Stross guy was going to keep it going. I started in on the second story, and couldn’t figure out what it had to do with the first… and when I got to the end of that one, I realize the bulk that was leftover was an essay on the co-mingling of the horror and detective/spy story genres.

So, on the one hand, you get your money’s worth (in the e-book edition, anyway; can’t vouch for others) but on the other hand, I wish I had known all of this before going in. (Which is more a reflection of me than it is of this book.) Add to this that I do notagree with the assessment that this is Pratchett mixed with Leyner, and you can get a feel why I’m only giving this 3 stars instead of 5. I’m way too biased by a mild disappointment.

That said, These so-called “Laundry Files” stories have a lot of potential, so I willread more of them, the sequels and such. What I’m hoping to see is better development—the risk when mixing two genres is you get the boring, pedestrian parts of each and no synergy. That’s what I felt was going on here. I’m no Lovecraft expert, and I’ve only reads a handful of spy novels, so maybe, again, it’s just me. But I didn’t get a sense of either genre, really. I did like the inter-office politics that Stross plays up as a major plot point, so I’d love to see more of that.

I know Stross is getting raves for his more recent works, so if nothing else, reading this older stuff is prep-work to get a feel for his style. The Atrocity Archives is readable, funny in the right places, descriptive, and the actions scenes don’t get bogged down in details. Some of the reference to magic and the mathematics of quantum mechanics are a bit glib, but then if he got too specific, the book might become unreadable afterall, so credit goes to finding the right balance.

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