I’m The Guy Who Knows, Apparently

I was standing at the bus stop at 4th & Pike, with a 10-minute wait for the 49 bus that would take me home. A woman I’d never seen before approached me with a friendly smile.

“Excuse me sir, how far away is Capitol Hill?”

(It occurred me that she didn’t ask if I knew how far away Capitol Hill is. Then later I remembered that I was standing at a bus stop where every bus goes to Capitol Hill.)

“It’s about two miles, maybe less, that way,” I said, pointing up Pike Street.

“Is it an easy walk? I mean, not very steep?”

“Oh, sure, it’s an easy walk. It gets a little steep past that big arch…” (pointing to the Convention Center) “…but it’s not bad at all.”

“How long a walk is it? Like, twenty or thirty minutes?”

(I don’t know how fast you walk, I thought to myself.)

“Sure, that’s sounds about right.”

“Thank you,” she said. Then she started walking up Pike Street.

What is it about me that makes me look like a city guide?

I Read: The Space Between Worlds

The Space Between Worlds, by Micaiah Johnson, was published in 2020.

I downloaded it from the Sno-Isle Libraries.

Cara is the narrator.

The Eldridge Institute of Earth Zero, the company that Cara works for, has proven that parallel universes exist. There are many parallel Earths, each one nearly, but not exactly, identical.

(From the introduction to Part One: “In the far reaches of an infinite cosmos, there’s a galaxy that looks just like the Milky Way, with a solar system that’s the spitting image of ours, with a planet that’s a dead ringer for earth, with a house that’s indistinguishable from yours, inhabited by someone who looks just like you, who is right now reading this very book and imagining you, in a distant galaxy, just reaching the end of this sentence. And there’s not just one such copy… In some, your doppelgänger is now reading this sentence along with you. In others, he or she has skipped ahead, or feels the need for a snack and has put the book down.“)

The Eldridge Institute thought it had perfected travel between parallel Earths. But the early trips resulted in every “traverser” (traveler to another Earth) coming back dead or dying.

The problem, they eventually realized, is that no one can exist on an alternate world at the same time as their “dop” (their parallel self). Traversers can visit only those worlds where their dop has already died.

The Eldridge Institute had been sending well-educated traversers who were wealthy enough have access to good healthcare. Thus, the chances of their dops being dead was low.

They needed trash people. Poor black and brown people. People somehow on the ‘wrong side’ of the wall, even though they were the ones who built it.

Cara is an ideal traverser. She grew up in the rough rural provence of Ashtown, beyond the wastelands and outside of the wall that surrounds the gleaming skyscrapers of Wiley City. Of the 380 accessible Earths, she’s dead on 373.

Cara is not a scientist. Her job is to gather data on parallel Earths and then bring it home to the scientists on Earth Zero. She realizes that when the Eldridge Institute figures out how to transmit data remotely, she’ll be out of a job.

Traversers are sent to an Earth to seek answers to specific questions. Why did an earthquake happen on one Earth, but not on any other? Why is the population on another Earth so different than on Earth Zero? Traversers are not told why the Institute is asking these questions. They’re not told the results of the data they’ve collected. Traversers are workers, nothing more.

Before they leave Earth Zero, traversers are dressed in a fashion that will cause them to blend into the local population. Their facial features are temporarily altered, to avoid being recognized from a previous visit, or from being recognized as someone who has recently died, and thus raising suspicions.

Has a traverser from another Earth ever visited Earth Zero? The Eldridge Institute says we may never know.

The book offers vague, but plausible, explanations for how interdimensional travel works, why interdimensional travel takes a physical toll on a traverser, and why two alternate beings can’t exist on the same world. (It has something to do with natural frequencies.) I like science fiction that doesn’t explain too much.

Dell is Cara’s “handler” (the person at the controls who sends a traverser to another Earth, monitors them, and pulls them back). They’ve been teamed together for six years. Cara is in love with her. Dell seems to be in love with Cara, but can’t seem to get past the fact that Cara is an Ashtowner and Dell is a Wileyite. To Dell, the two of them are from different worlds.

I loved the idea of this book. I didn’t love the book.

Before I started The Space Between Worlds, I’d started two other books and didn’t finish either one. I almost didn’t finish this one.

My main gripe was the world building. I had no idea what Ashtown looked like. (Shacks made from scrap materials? Adobe huts? Tents? Massive tenement blocks? Or what?) I had the same problem with Wiley City. (Was it just the one Eldridge Tower? The one tower surrounded by smaller buildings? A lot of massive towers? Or what?)

There seemed to be no background people, and that felt weird. Eldridge Tower is 100 stories tall, but it felt like the building was populated by about a dozen people. In every Earth Cara travelled to, she was always meeting the same five or six people.

I wanted more of a story about the job of the traversers, and more of a story about what it felt like to be a traverser. I wanted more of the relationship between Cara and Dell. I wanted less of a story about one lowly worker somehow having enough power to take down an evil corporation.

There were some nice twists to the story. I liked several parts of the book.

I wasn’t thrilled with this book.

Almost Like The Old Days

Phillip and I met up for drinks at C.C. Attle’s after work on Friday, like we used to do in the old days (a year ago).

We sat at a table in the back, where the dart boards used to be. Unlike the last time we were there, we could hear the jukebox very well. I guess it now depends on where you sit. Unlike a year ago, we were able to order food to go with our drinks.

When I was walking back from the kitchen with my food, I discovered that the dart boards had not been removed. They’d just been moved behind protective walls in the corner.

On Saturday, we hopped on a bus to Pacific Place, to see the movie Chaos Walking. We used to hop on a bus to see a movie all the time, up until a year ago.

The movie wasn’t great, but it was enjoyable. It was mostly enjoyable because we were able to go see a movie – any movie – in a theater.

Phillip and I were both double-masked – with Buffs over our face masks – when we walked into the movie theater. The guy checking our tickets also checked that we were wearing proper face masks under our Buffs.

There was one other group of three or four people in the theater. There were more employees than customers.

After the movie, we had dinner at Johnny Rockets, and were able to sit in the restaurant.

Things are slowly reaching normalcy.

I Read: Gods Of Jade And Shadow

Gods of Jade and Shadow, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, was published in 2019.

I downloaded it from The King County Library System.

The story begins in the late 1920s, in the town of Uukumil, in Yucatán .

18-year-old Casiopea Tun was named after the constellation.

Her father was an astronomer, and he upset the local priests by not giving his daughter a Christian name.

She grew up poor.

After her father died, Casiopea and her mother moved in with her bitter old grandfather. Her more affluent relatives, especially her cousin Martín, treat Casiopea worse than they treat the servants. She’s given the hardest chores to do. She often receives beatings for the slightest offence.

Outside of the home, Casiopea isn’t treated much better. Yucatán gave women the right to vote only a couple of years ago, and few men are happy about that decision.

One day, the family makes its monthly trip to the sacred cenotes, where the healing waters can help Grandfather. Casiopea is left behind as punishment for some offence against Martín.

Alone in the house, Casiopea opens Grandfather’s locked chest. It’s full of bones, not the gold she had expected. She pricks her thumb on a bone shard, and accidentally reanimates Hun-Kamé, Lord of Shadows and rightful ruler of Xibalba (the underworld).

Hun-Kamé tells Casiopea that, with the help of Casiopea’s grandfather, his brother, Vacub-Kamé, had stolen his eye, ear, index finger, and also his jade necklace, and then imprisoned him in that chest. Vacub-Kamé is now wrongfully sitting on the throne of Xibalba.

Hun-Kamé explains that he must travel to find his missing necklace and body parts, and regain his throne. He is the rightful heir, born seven heartbeats before Vacub-Kamé. He further explains that the bone shard embedded in Casiopea’s thumb is draining her humanity and is giving it to him. Eventually, it will kill her. He cannot remove the bone shard until he regains his full power. Casiopea has no choice but to accompany him on his quest across Mexico and possibly into Xibalba.

Along the way, Casiopea meets gods and demons of the Huastec, Mayan, and Aztec people.

Vacub-Kamé discovers that his twin brother has been reanimated. He travels to the mortal world and visits his servant Cirilo Leyva (Casiopea’s grandfather). The chest tells them of Casiopea’s role in the reanimation. Cirilo claims to be too old and frail to hunt down Hun-Kamé and Casiopea. Vacub-Kamé cannot do it himself, since he is a god and his movement is limited in the mortal world. (Because of his missing body parts, Hun-Kamé is merely a partial god.) So, Cirilo’s grandson, Martín Leyva, is assigned the task of stopping Casiopea and Hun-Kamé.

It’s not going to an easy task for Martín, for the bone shard in her thumb has changed his cousin into “a thing not quite human and not quite divine.” And Hun-Kamé, although he is weakened, is still a god.

Casiopea Tun had never been more than a kilometer from her home, until she met Hun-Kamé. But she is an intelligent and resourceful young woman. She’s a kind of hostage in this quest. There is something she can do to leave Hun-Kamé and survive, but she’d rather not take that step. She is helping Hun-Kamé go home, but she now has no home of her own.

Casiopea, who was named after the heavens, forms a kind of companionship with a lord of the underworld. She had been given a strict Catholic upbringing, and this worries her. “If sins were about to be tallied, Casiopea realized she might be in trouble. At this point she’d probably have to pray about five hundred rosaries. Running away from home, talking to a demon, seeing a man naked… best not dwell too much on this.” But Hun-Kamé treats her with a kindness and a respect that she is not used to.

Casiopea Tun is the main character, but the story is also told from the points of view of Martín Leyva, Cirilo Leyva, Hun-Kamé, and Vacub-Kamé.

This is a beautiful book, rich in culture, and told in a poetic way. “It is not as if gods do not express anger, envy, and desire. But these are like compartments that may be opened and closed with iron keys, and often the gods exist in a state of placid indifference. Their laughter, when it surfaces, is not born in the heart, but the head.

It’s an adventure story, often thrilling and sometimes frightening. It borders on a love story.

I loved the believable characters.

I loved the ending. It was not what I was expecting at all.

I loved this book a lot.

I’m Playing: Dorfromantik

YouTube gaming videos started popping up on my feed with people playing demo versions of a new game named Dorfromantik. This game looked like a lot of fun.

I put Dorfromantik on my wishlist on Steam.

The day that the early access version became available, I bought and downloaded Dorfromantik. Nine dollars, and twenty minutes (on very slow internet) later, I began playing.

Dorfromantik is being created by a small team of students in Berlin.

Dorfromantik is typically described using various combinations of the words “peaceful”, “building”, “strategy” and “puzzle.”

It’s a game about building an attractive landscape, using a randomly shuffled stack of hexagonal tiles. There are points awarded for connecting like elements – houses, trees, fields, rivers, and railroad lines. There are also mini quests that pop up, like connect at least five houses together, or build a forest with exactly 250 trees. The quests award points, bonus features, and also add tiles to the stack, giving you a longer game. (The game ends when you’ve played the last tile.)

Alternately, you can ignore the points and quests and simply build a pleasing landscape. There is no penalty for not completing a quest. You can play as you wish to play it.

The main menu promises that a completely sandbox option is coming in the future.

This is a beautiful game, with nice colors, a cute cartoon look, relaxing music, and wonderful sound effects. It is, indeed, a peaceful experience.

I am loving this game.

Going Out For Drinks During A Pandemic

Phillip and I went out for drinks Sunday evening at our favorite neighborhood bar, C.C. Attle’s. We hadn’t been there in (I don’t remember when we were there last).

C.C. Attle’s closed down when the pandemic hit, of course. Then it reopened for a day or two. Then it closed again.

C.C. Attle’s reopened some time ago (I’ve lost all sense of time) with stricter safety measures in place. We didn’t return, at first, fearing that it would be too crowded.

We walked in Sunday evening. The bouncer was sitting in a clear plastic booth. He was checking that we were wearing face masks. (I’ve never been carded at C.C.’s.) We were required to wash our hands with hand sanitizer. Then we were each required to have our temperature taken with a forehead reader. (Phillip and I both tested “Lo”.)

Then we were allowed into the bar.

The bar itself was entirely enclosed in clear plastic walls, except for small windows at each bartender station.

We were required to take a number for service. There were numbers for the bartender at the front of the bar, and numbers for the bartender at the back of the bar.

We were required to sit at a table. There was no standing allowed, and there were no seats at the bar. There were cards on each table stating whether the table was Occupied, Available, or Awaiting Cleaning. The cards also displayed the maximum number of people allowed at each table.

Face masks were required at all times, except while actively eating or drinking.

The tables were separated by colorful plastic walls. The pool tables and dart boards were gone.

When our number was displayed on the video screen, we were able to go to the bar and order drinks and/or food. Only one person at a time was allowed to approach the bartenders. Lines were not allowed. Payment was by card only – no cash.

(When we wanted to order another drink, we took another number.)

And, most exciting of all, C.C. Attle’s was serving food! (In all the months [years?] we’ve been there, a kitchen was rumored to exist, but food had never been available.) Menus were printed on one-use-only sheets of paper. We ordered from the bartender, and were given one of those pager things. When the pager started flashing, we walked down the hall to the kitchen window and picked up our food.

The food at C.C. Attle’s was very good.

Phillip remarked that it felt more like being in a coffee shop than in a bar. There wasn’t that level of noise or socializing that there once was. (Phillip is more likely to strike up a conversation than I am, but I missed the sense of camaraderie, and I missed having the opportunity to people-watch.)

The only other downside was that the jukebox volume was way too low. (We both had the jukebox apps on our phones, but we both had to reset our forgotten passwords.) I don’t know if it was because of all the plastic walls, or something else, but I could barely hear the songs.

The staff at C.C. Attle’s was friendly, as they always have been. The drinks were strong, as they always have been. I appreciated that the owners obviously put money and planning into making the place not only safe, but attractive. (For instance, those colorful walls!)

I enjoyed our evening out.

Alphabet Mystery: Killer

“K” Is for Killer, by Sue Grafton, was first published in 1994.

It’s ten o’clock at night, mid-February. Private Investigator Kinsey Millhone is in her office, getting her tax records in order. There’s a knock on the office door.

Cautiously, Kinsey opens her door.

There’s a woman in the hallway who introduces herself as Janice Kepler. Kinsey tries to persuade her to come back during office hours, but Janice is distraught. Kinsey lets her in.

Janice Kepler explains that, last April, her daughter, Lorna, was found dead. Lorna had lived alone in an isolated cabin. She didn’t communicate with her family often. It took two weeks for her death to be discovered. The police initially ruled it a homicide, but couldn’t obtain enough evidence to support that, so Lorna Kepler’s death is officially listed as accidental.

The reason that Janice Kepler is coming to Kinsey Millhone now is that she recently found an envelope in her home mailbox, addressed to her and her husband, but with no return address. Inside the envelope was a videotape. On the videotape is a pornographic film, starring Lorna Kepler.

Janice Kepler hasn’t told her husband, her daughters, or the police, about the tape.

Janice wants Kinsey to find out how Lorna Kepler died.

Kinsey decides to take the case.

(It’s been pointed out in other books in this series that, as a private investigator, Kinsey Millhone isn’t legally allowed to investigate a murder. But she’s investigating this case on the technicality that it hasn’t been proven to be a murder.)

Janice Kepler works the night shift at a coffee shop. Kinsey Millhone has insomnia. The investigation takes Kinsey into the seedy nightlife of Santa Teresa. She interviews members of the porn and prostitution industries. This is the closest this series has ever come to a classic Noir mystery. I admired the way Sue Grafton was able to adapt the Noir genre and fit it into a Kinsey Millhone mystery.

Kinsey interviews a wealthy movie producer at a high society party. She interviews a teenage sex worker inside a police officer’s car. I enjoy how the character of Kinsey Millhone is able to blend herself into any type of scene, and yet she never fully fits in anywhere.

The case takes Kinsey to San Francisco. She passes through the Haight-Ashbury district, where remnants of the Flower Child culture still linger. (The exact year isn’t mentioned, but the timeline of this series would put this story in 1985.)

There’s a nice flashback to the day Kinsey met Henry, her landlord, friend, and father figure. Other than that, Henry isn’t in this story at all, and neither are Rosie or her tavern. Kinsey’s all-purpose black dress makes an appearance, however.

This is a tight, focused mystery with plenty of probable suspects and a few red herrings. Was Lorna Kepler murdered by someone involved with that video? Was it someone at the water treatment plant where Lorna worked part time? Was it that mysterious man in the limousine? Was it one of Lorna’s fellow sex workers, or maybe her manager? Was it one of her clients? Was it Lorna’s landlord, or maybe his jealous wife? Was it someone in Lorna’s family?

Every series has its high points and low points, especially one that experiments with the formula as much as this one has, and “K” Is for Killer is one of the high points.

I didn’t like that the solution came so abruptly, relying on luck more than anything else. I liked how the ending didn’t try to wrap everything into a neat explanation.

I liked that Kinsey Millhone did some morally questionable things, and that the story didn’t justify them. It was an overall picture of a not-always-perfect character, and it fit with the Noir theme.

I loved this book.

Some Guy Asking For Directions

I caught the 49 bus, heading home.

The bus pulled into the stop at Broadway and John. A few people boarded. One guy got on board and asked the driver how to get to the train station. I was sitting about in the middle of the bus, a couple of seats behind the center doors, but the guy spoke loudly enough that I could hear him clearly.

I couldn’t hear the driver at all, but she was obviously giving the guy detailed instructions, pointing over there and then over there. This whole time, the bus was sitting in the bus stop, not moving. I was just one stop, just two blocks, from my stop. A couple of minutes passed.

When the driver was finished, the guy starting walking down the aisle, toward the back of the bus.

The driver called out, “Wait! I’m not heading toward the train station!”

The guy called back, “I know that! I’m not going there now! I was just asking how to get there. Geez!”