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A Great Start

Last week, I ran into a (younger, college-age) co-worker I hadn’t seen in a while. Here’s an approximate transcript of the conversation we had.

MATTHIAS: So I don’t think I’ve seen you in about… a month? What have you been up to in that time?

SOPHIA: Well. Mostly working 18-hour days on a web development project.

MATTHIAS: That is serious work. I don’t think I’ve ever done any single thing for 18 consecutive hours.

We both consider this.

MATTHIAS: Except be awake. I have definitely been awake for 18 straight hours. Probably on more than one occasion.

SOPHIA: That is a great start. You can’t do anything for 18 hours unless you’re awake for it.

Review: Lexicon

Lexicon by Max Barry

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is a tremendous amount of fun, which is a good thing, because if it wasn’t so much fun, I would have put it down halfway through and never finished it. The action is fun, the rules of the “magic” (actually science, but it’s the kind of science fiction science that, to this author, counts more as magic) are creative and interesting, and the characters are, if not always sympathetic, basically likeable. The main villain is well-crafted and extravagantly hideous of soul. In all the glossiest ways, this books holds its own, and, as you can see from the other strong reviews this book has already received, will not disappoint most people.

But it disappointed me, a little. I feel like everywhere the author’s trying to be a little elliptical and occult by alluding to things instead of painting them outright, he just comes across as lazy to me. Or no, not lazy, but like those illustrators who either can’t draw hands, or hate drawing hands, so everything they draw, they just draw it so the hands hidden. It’s not that he leaves important plot-dependent questions unanswered, but he does still leave enough ancillary questions unanswered that I was a bit frustrated and wanted more. But who knows, maybe this is just meant to be the first in a series of books about the so-called Poets who shape people’s minds with the power of words, in which case all questions will be answered later, and all will certainly be forgiven.

Another thing that disappointed me more specifically was how shallowly this story skimmed over words, the history of language, the neuroscience of linguistics, and basically all the really interesting and deeper history and science that could have been folded into the texture of this book’s “magic”. I wouldn’t be so picky about this, but, you know, I just felt like the author didn’t have patience for this part, which was aggravating as hell. As in, why write about this if you don’t want to actually get into it all that much? Other reviewers have made comparisons to Snow Crash, which makes total sense, right? Because that was also a book about software that could crash the brain. Except Snow Crash was about that and a lot of other things, but it still went into much more depth on the topic than Lexicon ever did, and that was the only thing it was supposed to be about.

I don’t like to write bad reviews, and I don’t mean for this to be a negative review, because despite my nitpicking, I did have fun reading this. It just didn’t have a lot of depth or surprises. It didn’t make me ask any questions about anything deep, and it didn’t challenge me, but sometimes, that’s exactly the kind of book you want to read, right?

View all my reviews

Just Outside Tampa

Last weekend we went to Tarpon Springs, Florida for a quick visit with E’s grandparents. This was my first stay of any length in Florida, and I have to say, it’s not much like anywhere else I’ve ever been. It’s definitely no New England, but it’s also not really quite the South either. In between visits with the family, we had a few adventures, met some local fauna, ate some other local fauna, and got to know the town a little bit. I posted some pictures here. Don’t miss the ones where I’m holding the baby crocodile!

This One Weird Brick

You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet. – Franz Kafka

The first flakes were skirling out of a heavy gray sky as I got on the T last night to ride home after work. By the time I re-emerged into daylight three stops later, the snowfall had increased to respectable levels. And by the time I ran my errand, and came out of the dry cleaners with freshly pressed shirts in hand, we were definitely starting to have some of the heavy snow predicted for the last few days. The wind was blowing and the temperature was under 20°F, so it wasn’t a very nice walk home, but the snow was finely-grained (due to the cold) and plentiful, so it was at least kind of pretty. I noticed that the ground had been so cold for so long that the fallen snow wasn’t so much “sticking” as “happening to alight”. The slightest breeze sent ghosts and whorls chasing each other across streets and sidewalks, as though a new and very cold kind of dust was precipitating out of the atmosphere.

Before long I arrived at the street of our Cambridge residence, and was so cold, in a hurry, and anxious to get in out of the weather, that I almost completely missed This One Weird Brick:


I passed it and was up the stoop and about to collect our mail from the box before I processed what I’d just seen. That’s unusual, I should take a picture of it. It’s such a perfect little rectangle of exception. I knew no description in my power would ever be capable of describing the character or simplicity of its small unusualness. I thought off and on all evening about all the different ways it could be a metaphor for all kinds of different things, but it doesn’t need metaphor to metastasize into something greater because the smallness of this fact is great enough. A slight difference in the thermal conductivity of this one brick is all that’s going on here, some difference in composition that causes this brick to radiate its heat at a slightly different rate than its peers. It’s probably a replacement brick for some other brick that came loose or shattered long ago, and this is just a shadow of that fact.

But still. Isn’t it cool? Slow down, you don’t want to miss this.

[hat tip to Slate for the article that got the phrase "one weird trick" stuck in my brain forever]


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