Ripper, by Isabel Allende

Near the end of Isabel Allende’s novel Ripper, a serial killer has abducted Indiana, the mother of the teenaged main character, Amanda. Before getting ready to kill her, the serial killer ruminates on Indiana’s faults; she is stupid and unobservant; she is passive; she is sexually irresponsible and she is a bad mother.

Sadly, I found myself in complete agreement with the serial killer.

This is usually not a good thing in a thriller, unless the book is written from the killer’s point of view, which Ripper is not. It’s more an indication that Indiana, who supposedly is not the book’s main character, takes up way too much time, and is problematic in other ways.

Ripper was marketed as Allende’s first thriller. I think the books works better if it is read as a classic Allende novel with thriller sprinkles on top. The pacing of the book is not right for a thriller, and in this case, making the “detective” character a teenager is unsuccessful, although the circle of Amanda’s game-playing friends (they gather via Skype to play Ripper, before Amanda introduces a set of real murders in San Francisco) is wonderful. I wish we had seen more of the young people and that those set pieces had more impact on the plot. Usually, the players pontificate on various aspects of serial killing, Amanda gives them an “assignment,” and the session ends. We rarely hear back on the progress of the assignments until near the end of the book.

Amanda’s grandfather, Blake, (Indiana’s father) is part of the circle. He has practically raised his granddaughter, since his daughter is so irresponsible, but within the game he is her obedient minion, never speaking without her permission. Blake is almost a fantasy father-figure. He is a retired policeman. He lets his daughter, who works at an Alternative Healing Center as a massage therapist, live in her own apartment above the garage, while Amanda lives with him in the house. Amanda’s paternal grandmother pays for Amanda’s tuition at a local Catholic boarding school. There is no reason for Amanda to go to boarding school except that it frees Indiana from having to be a mother.

Indiana, who Allende describes in an Afterword as a “white witch,” is very compassionate and intuitive, but her intuition has a huge blind spot; herself. She is an infantilized character; an “independent” woman who depends on men for everything. In her mid-thirties she lets her father support her. Her ex-husband gives her money in addition to the child support, but more tellingly, when she thinks she has had a break-in, her ex (also a cop) comes to her apartment when she isn’t there and changes the locks for her, without asking. Indiana sees this as okay. Indiana’s contribution to child-raising is that she always has Friday dinner with her daughter.

Indiana also makes bad choices in sex partners, which really isn’t surprising. Her relationship with the sleazy Alan Keller never makes sense. At one point she stands up to him and calls him out for objectifying her. They break up, but two weeks later, when he offers her a Bulgari diamond ring, she reunites with him. Later, we find out there might be a reason for doing this, but it is much too late.

Indiana really impeded my ability to enjoy many of the aspects that make an Allende novel so much fun. The descriptions of San Francisco’s North Beach, with Italian restaurants and coffee places, is lush and lovely. The eccentrics who work at the alternative healing center are completely convincing. Allende’s sly wit pokes through at the right moments, and her larger-than-life characters like Ryan the damaged Afghanistan vet and his half-titanium-cyborg dog, are vivid and wild. Towards the end of the book, Allende takes advantage of the surrounding San Francisco Bay area, describing parts of the east bay and San Pablo bay with delightful accuracy.

The killer, with an almost superhuman ability to change appearance and identity, and to manipulate people, would be right at home in a Jo Nesbo novel. The weirdness of the different murders and the “game” of finding what the victims have in common, is pretty good too. Like most thrillers, the way the law and police procedure is tortured to make the story work is hard to watch sometimes. For instance, working police detective Bob Martinez brings home files, crime scene photos and autopsy reports to show his adolescent daughter. Oh, please! But seriously, this is pretty common in thrillers, and I could have lived with it.

Allende does mis-step in my opinion, in several places. There is one gay male character in the book, who is also a drag queen. Isn’t that convenient? At a show at the drag club, Ryan, who suffers post-traumatic stress, has a meltdown and lands in jail. It’s because there is too much noise and too many people … It’s not homophobia. No, sir. Not at all.

But Indiana is the biggest problem. Perhaps I was supposed to take her with more of a grain of salt, but to me she was like the self-involved, loud person you just met at a social gathering, who keeps going on and on about her stuff, while you’d like to get to know some of the other people at the party. She was a killjoy, and she dented my reading enjoyment.

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One Thousand Words

I’m trying to write a piece of flash fiction. Flash is usually 1,000 words or less. To use an old-fashioned metric, it’s about four full pages, double-spaced, with a point 12 font and one inch margins.

It’s hard to write a complete story in 1,000 words.

You can usually pull off a story with a twist ending. You can’t really create a gaggle of characters, unless a gaggle of characters is the story in some way. My story has two characters.

I’m trying to write about the implosion of a marriage, using an extended metaphor that becomes literal in last couple of paragraphs.

It’s a topic I know nothing about first-hand.

There are no SF or fantasy elements, although the final paragraphs should have a surreal quality.

I pare away. I embellish. I delete. I add back. I walk away. I return.

It becomes a quest for the exact word, in some ways, I guess, like poetry. Writing should always be about the exact word, but when I am writing 10,000 words, I feel like a have a safety net. There’s no safety net here.

The challenge forces insight on me. As I visualized the main character’s house, it looked stylish but empty. I couldn’t fill it with the right knick-knacks and stuff. It seemed like that couldn’t be right. Then I saw that it was. Lilah’s marriage is an empty house.

That helped, but still, I struggle to fit a simple story into a 1,000 word box.

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The Negative Review

When I started this blog, I tended to approach reviews of books that weren’t very good the same way I approach Syfy Original movies; with a maniacal glee. Syfy Original movies, are, after all, fair game; nobody (not even Syfy) expects them to be good. I felt the same way about many of the genre books I read and discussed here. I could be snarky and mean to my heart’s content.

This week I posted a negative review of a well-promoted hardcover book by a famous genre author, Michael Moorcock. The book is The Whispering Swarm. Here’s a link. Writing this review was not fun. There was no dark glee, just a sense of despair — similar to the despair I felt reading it, watching hours of my life tick away and realizing the book was not going to get better.

I don’t blame myself. I hold 75-year-old Moorcock completely responsible for making this book a failure. I felt bad for myself that I had to read it, and I swore to myself that it would not be a Did Not Finish. I felt bad for Moorcock. Not as bad, but bad.

The book is an unsuccessful mix of an autobiographical novel of Moorcock in the 1960s, when he and a handful of writers (they weren’t all male, although you’d think so if you read the book) created the New Wave movement; and an alternate-world fantasy. Moorcock’s hero, a first-person narrator named Michael Moorcock, wanders into a place called Alsacia, on the River Thames, presided over by the White Friars. Alsacia (a variation on Alsatia) exists beyond the timelines and “branes” of M-theory, which the kindly monks discuss and which goes over Michael’s head. Michael’s life is part undisguised Michael-Moorcock’s-life and part hanging-out-in-a-cool-fantasy-precinct. Unfortunately, nothing much happens in Alsacia until the last hundred pages of a 480 page book — and was does happen is anticlimactic.

Still, it was hard to compose an unflattering review of someone whose work I had enjoyed, and someone I do think of as a mover and shaker, an artistic leader in his own right. And the prose, especially in the first fifty pages, was glorious, a glowing love letter to the post-Blitz city Moorcock loves. This actually made things worse, because I had been seduced by a writer who knows exactly how to sell a book on 50 pages and an outline… how to fool the readers and editors alike with a bait-and-switch.

So, I should have had some mean fun with the review, right? I didn’t. Writing it just reminded me how disappointed I was.

Now I’m going to go watch Snarknado versus Mega-Croc. That should make me feel better.

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Greg Van Eekhout at Copperfield’s, Petaluma

Greg Van Eekhout, who wrote last year’s urban fantasy California Bones, is on a “mini tour” as part of the release of Pacific Fire, a sequel. Copperfield’s in Petaluma was one of his stops. He said he had been happy to see it on the schedule because he had enjoyed stopping there on his big book tour last year.

Ross Lockhart, who works at Word Horde and has published horror anthologies like The Book of Cthulhu,led the conversation with Van Eekhout. I will have more about the event at Fantasy Literature, and I’ll update here when it is posted.

The Petaluma Copperfield’s has an author event series it calls “Other Worlds,” and they are making an effort to bring in more fantasy, SF and horror writers. Ross told me he thought it was an “uphill battle,” but I think they’re almost there. In 2014 they had Anne and Christopher Rice, John Scalzi, and Cary Elwes. Christopher Moore is a regular there. They are getting the reputation as the speculative fiction destination in the north bay. (At the Scalzi reading, I sat next to a man who had driven over from Sacramento, two hours away.) They also have a rep with authors for being a fun and relaxed stop on a tour.

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Van Eekhout, (left)and Lockhart discuss books.

 

 

 

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“A Safe and Entertaining Environment;” LumaCON’s Policy

I said I would write more about Luma-Con’s prominently posted Inclusion and Anti-Harassment policy. It may be a far less interesting topic than costumes, whether Marvel or DC has the best heroes, or which space opera game is the best, but it is important. Because so many examples at conventions lately have been of failures, I would like to discuss a policy and approach that appears to have been successful.

In the past several years, the veil of harassment (usually, but not always, sexual) has been lifted at many national themed conventions in the speculative fiction world, exposing a long-standing pattern of unwanted sexual comments, touching, pejorative language, homophobia and bullying. Most of the people exposing the behavior — again, not all — have been women. As cosplay becomes more popular and more young people choose it as their way to express their creativity, the issue of inclusiveness and a safe environment becomes crucial.

John Scalzi, who is a well known science fiction writer, blogger and personality, pushed this issue somewhat by saying that he would only agree to participate in cons that had a published anti-harassment policy. On his blog Whatever, he went so far as to delineate what he thought the policy should involve.

  • The policy is clear on what is unacceptable behavior.
  • The convention uses several modes to disseminate the policy (for example, posting, and on the website, and discussed in the opening comments).
  • All harassment reports will be dealt with promptly and fairly.

How does Luma-Con’s policy measure up?

First of all, here’s the policy:

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I like that it starts with what they want; a safe, entertaining environment. Then they spell out, including that dreaded but necessary phrase, “including but not limited to,” what is not tolerated. Why is that phrase necessary? It’s needed because a certain category of miscreant will push any boundary, look for any crack or pinhole in a rule or policy. “I was just standing close behind her and breathing heavily. I wasn’t doing anything. Are you saying I can’t breathe now?” The type of bullies who enjoy telling their victims that they should toughen up and learn to take a joke are frequently the biggest whiners when they are called on their aggression. This policy removes plausible deniability.

I did not find the policy on the LumaCON website anywhere, but this poster was right beside the registration table. You might have chosen not to read it, but you couldn’t claim you didn’t see it.

Because I got there late I didn’t hear the opening remarks, but I think the staff wore badges. If I had seen a problem, I would have gone to the registration table or the First Aid table first.

Isn’t this overkill for a fun, family event, where most of the participants were very young, and many were with their parents? For the first convention, it might be erring on the side of caution. This con is going to grow in popularity. They are less likely to ever have a problem because they have developed a policy and set a tone from the very first LumaCON.

How did they rate? I give the policy a B+. They were thoughtful about crafting the policy and they had it well displayed. (I would have liked to have found it on the website.) And they got some bonus points with me for having one at all. The planners of LumaCON did their homework and it shows.

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Luma-Con a Stellar Event

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The first Luma-Con, Petaluma’s Comic Book Convention, was a huge success. They had such a turnout (“thousands of people” per the local paper) that they overflowed their venue. The guest artists were friendly and interesting, cosplay was great, and there were many, many gifted young artists.

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I love this T-Shirt

Sponsors tell you a lot about an event. The Sonoma Library, Copperfield’s Books and Petaluma Friends of the Library were the main sponsors of this event. The library system has a librarian who is a champion of graphic novels and comic books; who understands that they teach us about narrative and character, they encourage youth to read, and that they’re just great fun. Having the library come in was awesome. Copperfield’s Books, particularly the Petaluma store, also has a champion of comics and speculative fiction. His name is Ray and he was working the booth when I was there. Copperfield’s also has a crack team of event planners, and a commitment to creating events that support community. Friends of the Library is a non-profit group that helps at events, fund-raises and manages book sales for local libraries.

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Other donors included Brian’s Comics, Outer Planes comics and The Comic Box. The food concessions were donating their time and materials, I think.

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She looked that way before I raised my camera. Honest.

Great sponsors aside, an event needs a planning committee and this one did a fine job. I say they overflowed their venue; that is a comment on the success, not lack of planning. They chose the largest building at the Petaluma fairgrounds. My only recommendations would be; next year consider Luchese Park, across the freeway, which has some larger rooms, and/or move the food concession to a smaller nearby building, which would free up about 25% more space.

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Princess Leia helps with crafts.

The event had great panels. I was late and missed the one I would have enjoyed the most, which included Eisner-award-winning novelist Brian Fies and Paige Braddock, an artist who works with the Schulz Museum and is the creator of the popular and hilarious Jane’s World. However, there was plenty to choose from. Other topics ranged from self-publishing to Star Wars.

Large panels of easel pads and colored pencils gave fans a chance to draw or write something about their favorite fandoms. Several teen and young adult artists had tables, and there are some talented young people in this county! There were two craft areas for younger children.

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If Sherlock was bored, he wasn’t at the same event I was.

Outer Planes had various-sized grab bags of comic books for set prices, while Brian’s Comics focused more on new releases. Copperfield’s provided a nice mix of graphic novel, print novels and how-to, and I picked up a copy of How to Draw Marvel Comics for Mockingbird.

Paige Braddock autographed both copies of the Martian series she is illustrating with writer Jason McNamara, The Martian Confederacy. Imagine every rural, redneck stereotype you can think of; the trailer trash bimbo, the dive-bar-and-junkyard owner, the smart and affable loser, the corrupt politician, and put them on a colonized Mars that has become an economic backwater. That’s basically the story.

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And then, cosplayers! Some were my age, most were younger, beautifully decked out in customized or fully handmade costumes.  I asked Brian’s daughter Robin why she and her sister hadn’t come in costume.  “You never cosplay at the first convention,” she said. “You check it out first, then maybe at the second convention, you do the cosplay.”

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More about this is a subsequent post.

Words of wisdom.

I am hoping and planning that there will be a First Annual Luma-Con next year. I may even volunteer. This was an exciting event! I hope next year’s is in a bigger place. And, next year, maybe I’ll go in costume.

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For More Information:

The Con website.

Brian Fies’s Thoughts.

Paige Braddock’s home page.

The local daily.

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The Imitation Game

This holiday season’s biopic, The Imitation Game, gives a good overview of the lives of one of the 20th century’s most interesting people, Alan Turing. Turing was a computer scientist and mathematician, computer inventor and pretty much the man who single-handedly broke the German Enigma Machine during World War II. He worked at Bletchley Park, Britain’s code-breaking center. He was fascinated by the idea of machine intelligence and we have named a “test” for machine intelligence after him. What he called The Imitation Game, we call the Turing Test.

The Imitation Game follows three distinct timelines; 1951/52 in Manchester, England, where reclusive college professor Alan Turing’s house has been burglarized; 1941, when a brilliant an abrasive young Turing comes to work at Bletchley Park; and the late 1920s, with a young Turing going away to boarding school and coming face-to-face with cruelty, mob mentality and first love.

The film sets each of these timelines in geographically and physically distinct locations so that it is not hard to make the shift, with the film, between the 1940s and the 1950s. This might have been hard otherwise with Benedict Cumberbatch playing Turing in both timelines (a younger actor does a fine job in the boarding school section). As good as Cumberbatch was, there were several times I felt I was watching him give a performance, not watching Alan Turing. There were other occasions, though, where I felt that the character of Turing informed Cumberbatch completely, and those scenes were depicted mostly with body language; the way he picked up a cup, or the set of his shoulders.

While the movie clearly compressed and dramatized, I loved the section that dealt with Britain’s attempt at breaking the Enigma codes. Once they have found a way to decipher the messages, the war becomes a war of intelligence. In a scene that has to be dramatic license, the code-breakers themselves struggle with the cruel calculus of war; if they notify a convoy of an impending German attack, the Germans will suspect their machine has been compromised and they will make design changes. If the code-breakers keep silent, hundred of civilians will die, but they will be able to use their machine to say thousands more. The scene is sentimental but powerful.

I thought the choice of the writers and director to play Turing as a person somewhere on the autistic spectrum (as well as having OCD), instead of just being a man who is brilliant and abrasive was taking it a bit too easy on the audience. Turing fell somewhere between Sherlock in Sherlock and Sheldon in Big Bang Theory. You don’t need to talk down to us, and it did feel that way at times. Turing’s sexual orientation is a major issue in the 1950s timeline, where he was convicted of “gross indecency.” Here, I felt that Cumberbatch delivered, explaining haltingly that he chose “chemical castration” (estrogen injections) rather than prison because he could not complete his work in prison.

Keira Knightley plays Joan Clark, a mathematician who comes to Bletchley and becomes friends with Turing. Unlike with Cumberbatch, I thought Knightley was convincing throughout as this woman who is not only brilliant but smart.

The movie is beautiful and filled with lots of well-known British actors doing there usual excellent jobs. I liked the film and it made me want to go out and get the book it’s based on. From me, that’s high praise. So far, it’s the best mathematics film of 2015.

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The Bay Model; a Cool Thing

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The San Francisco Bay Model isn’t a best-kept secret. I’m just ignorant. I knew there was a Bay Model somewhere in the area because I saw a film about it years ago on PBS, and because the Mythbusters used in an episode (the Escape from Alcatraz ep, I think). I never twigged to the fact that it was in Sausalito… basically, an hour from my house.

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This model is astounding. It covers an acre and a half, a scale model of the San Francisco estuary and watershed encompassing the San Francisco Bay, San Pablo Bay, the South Bay and the San Joaquin/Sacramento River Delta. It was in regular use until 2000, and it was manual, not computerized. The Army Corps of Engineers built it, and it was used to test models and theories, to run simulations of “what-ifs;” “What if we filled in this part of the bay? What if we dammed this tributary? What if the Sacramento River flooded? What if we had drought years?”

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This photo and the next two show the journey snow-melt makes from the Sierra Nevada

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The lights change from white (snow) to blue (water) and trickle across the Delta

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Through the estuary and into the Pacific ocean

Currently, the Bay Model exists as an educational center and museum. They’ve packed in a lot of information about snowmelt, estuaries and the purpose of estuaries, fisheries, and the history of the Army Corps of Engineers. Six or seven interactive exhibit share the ground floor with the Model, and a short tunnel leads you to the overlook, about a half story above the scale model waterway.

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So Cool

The Model is to scale as to size. It can’t be to scale for depth. Parts of the bay are so shallow that if the depth were to scale there wouldn’t be enough water in the model to measure. The simulations adjust for that by using the copper pylons that stick up. They use electrical resistance to adjust the currents and flows to match what the proper depth of the water would be.

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This is one of the copper conductors, and my inexpert attempt to show the water current.

It’s been updated, but this thing was built in 1956-57, and used until 15 years ago. (It seems like it could have been used a bit more. Building out on fill didn’t prove to be such a good idea when the Loam Prieta earthquake happened and the fill liquefied… although I guess the Model wouldn’t have demonstrated that.)

 

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I would love to see a simulation, but it’s worthwhile just to see the model with some water in it, and get an idea about the scale of this watershed. It is an amazing, dynamic system and when you are in that warehouse walking around it, suddenly it doesn’t seem weird that sluice-style gold-mining in the Sierras in the 1840s led to the silting up of the San Francisco Bay, a couple hundred miles away. You can imagine how deforesting acres in Humboldt County, for example, would have a direct effect on the water supply of Oakland or San Francisco.

Built to Answer Questions

The Model was commissioned by Congress in the mid-1950s to answer some questions about an ambitious – or I might say “catastrophic” – plan called The San Francisco Bay Project. This is, I must say, the kind of political name that has helped make me so jaded. “The Clean Water Act,” the “Freedom of Information Act,” etc, where the name is the opposite of the proposal’s intention. The San Francisco Bay Project, brainchild of a retired actor and theater producer named John Reber, would probably have been more accurately called the San Francisco Channel project. Reber made an impassioned and eloquent argument for damming the north and south ends of the bay, the mouth of the San Pablo and the mouth of the South Bay, and turning them into fresh water reservoirs. Across the top of the two massive dams he pictured an eight-lane highway (this was in the late 1940s and early 50s) and train tracks. He decided they would continue to dredge a channel through the Bay for shipping. The dams would provide fresh water for human use and allow humans to “reclaim” thousands of acres to build homes on: on fill, in the shadow of a massive dam, in earthquake country.

Reber was persistent in selling his vision; talking about the miles of “recreational beaches and boating opportunities” the lakes would provide, how they could put in an airport on the reclaimed land and have military installations. He talked about how this plan would make the Bay Area easier to defend than it was now. (This is post WWII). While I don’t see for a second how adding two massive strategic targets makes an area easier to defend, the military liked the idea. So did business people, and so did central valley farmers who thought they would be able to get water from the reservoirs.

Frankly, it’s kind of miraculous that this atrocity wasn’t perpetrated, but Congress instead allocated $400,000 ($3.5 million in 2014 dollars) for the building of a model that would test all of Reber’s claims. The model took two years to build and they tests ran for several years. Reber died in 1960, never learning the outcome of his plan. In 1961, the Army Corps of Engineers submitted a report that showed conclusively that Reber’s claims were not supported scientifically. It also covered in detail the bad results; the death of local fisheries, the loss of shipping and many others.

Worth the Price of Admission

Using that sub-heading is kind of mean, actually. This fascinating science center and scale replica is free. It is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. There is a plastic box for donations, but frankly, neither of the two docents I spoke to encouraged me to donate. Of course I did, and I was pleasantly shocked that the place doesn’t even charge a token admission.

So why this, when you can do these simulations on a computer in 3D now? You can, and it’s handy. Seeing the model in real-life 3-D improves understanding. It did for me, anyway, almost instantly.

An Orphaned Center finds a Non-Profit Partner

The Bay Model Center is not a national or a state park. It is owned by the Army, and in 2000, when the army stopped using it, they came pretty close to bulldozing the whole thing. With a donation system only, the Center is not contributing to its needs in a meaningful way, and that makes it fairly vulnerable. I think the ACE sees it as a good thing, but a “good thing” that does not provide an obvious benefit to its owner and doesn’t contribute anything to its self-support is a vulnerable thing. The days of government keeping things alive because they provide benefit to citizens is long gone.

Fortunately, the Center recently partnered with the Aquarium of the Bay and formed the Bay Center Alliance. Strangely, when you go to their website, there is something missing. There is no Donate button. I hope they correct this oversight soon!

Other Exhibits

The Center also manages an exhibit about Marinship, the World War II shipyard. Here is a nice piece of local history.

The Center has a set of picnic tables facing the harbor. It’s a good place to eat a bag lunch, or you can drive less than a mile south and have lunch in downtown Sausalito; seafood, Italian or French food, burgers, tacos or ice cream.

Disappointments

There wasn’t much I didn’t like but these few things stood out.

Parking was free and great. Unfortunately, it was hard to find and the markings were confusing. Actually, the entire place was hard to find and the two signs I saw for it were tiny. “The Bay Model.” That doesn’t tell you much. The woman staffing the bookstore talked to me about this. She said people, hearing where she works, ask if it’s a talent agency.

Advertising and Branding? Not much of either for such a cool place, although under the umbrella of the Aquarium they may begin to consider outreach.

I went there on a Wednesday. It was me and five other old people (retired, I’m guessing.) Where were the busses full of school children? People I’ve talked to remember having field trips here; but fewer and fewer schools are doing field trips these days.

The woman at the Visitor Center, who was very friendly and knowledgeable about downtown Sausalito, gave the Model one sentence, “North of town there’s a bay model, and it’s kind of a science center thing.” This is not good enough!

Who Should Go?

Soapbox/On. Everyone! Every school child north of Fresno should visit this thing twice; once in the fifth grade when they’ll just think it’s cool; once in the eighth grade when they’re starting to think about the bigger world.  Every single policy-maker in California should go to it and watch a number of simulations; not just every elected official but every single city planner, building department head, water agency manager should see this.  Soapbox/Off

Okay, since that’s not going to happen, anyone who likes the Bay Area, or likes science, or enjoys drinking water should go. Anyone who is ever going to design a video game that will have a world in it should go. Aspiring science fiction and fantasy writers should go. Take your writing group. Seriously. Writers like me, who struggle with the temptation to write, “A river ran through the middle of the city” and call that world-building should spend half a day here. We should consider how the rebel group hiding in the hills would think about the vulnerabilities of the tributaries to that capital city’s river. We should consider how the tides and currents affect the evil horde that is planning to invade by boat, or how you’re going to smuggle the royal infant to safety if the tide is coming in. And if the tide is coming in, do you really want your hero clambering around in the sewer channels under the city?

Seriously, people, it’s free. If you take a group you can use the carpool lane. You can hang out and buy souvenirs in town afterward. What’s not to love? This is one cool place.

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Seeing Sausalito

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We had lunch at the Lighthouse Cafe — more accurately, we had breakfast about 1:30, sitting at the counter of this tiny, packed diner, watching while the cooks made scrumptious food. The Ultimate Breakfast includes eggs, sausage or bacon, hash browns or home fries, and a pancake that covers the whole plate. Mine was studded with fresh, juicy blueberries.

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The woman in green to the left of the cook was our pleasant server.

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We didn’t order the bacon cheeseburgers, but that’s what they look like.

The Lighthouse Cafe doesn’t take reservations and it is small — maybe six booths and ten seats at the counter. In addition to a regular breakfast and lunch menu; sandwiches, burgers, etc, it also features a Danish section. I know, right? We went for the classic and we were not disappointed.

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The fountain in Del Mar Park

This is after we drove down Highway 101, almost to the Golden Gate Bridge, and took the last exit before the bridge. It winds down to the town of Sausalito, or you can curve left and visit the Marin Headlands, with its lighthouse, it’s stunning view of the mouth of the Golden Gate and the bridge, and during the flyover, hundreds of varieties of birds.

We didn’t do that, though. My goal was to get a sense of the town, particularly the area near the ferry landing, for a short story I was writing.

So, a few tips about visiting the sparkling little tourist town of Sausalito.

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Parking, not as hang-loose as you might think.

Parking: Expensive! Three dollars an hour. No, seriously. One hour’s parking now costs more than a gallon of gas in most parts of this state. If you are on Bridgeway Street, look around for some areas marked “Three hours free parking” and grab one. It will mean some walking, but walking’s the best way to see this picturesque waterfront anyway.

A couple of websites also helpfully point out that, although it isn’t advertised, the hourly rate is cheaper the farther you go from the ferry pier, so check out some of those lots.

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Looking east.

Views:  From the Ferry Terminal you have a view of the Tiburon penninsula and Angel Island, and, once the fog lifts, you might be able to see the Bay Bridge. We did.

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Ladybug Florist has a great selection of bromeliads and orchids

Tourist Shops:  Bridgeway Street is lined with galleries, high-end clothing shops and little tourist shops with toschkes and souvenirs. It boasts a couple of expensive restaurants and a couple of bars. I found a bicycle pin and Linda scored a frog figurine at one shop with imports, run by a friendly French woman who is probably a couple of years older than me.

Food: The Lighthouse Cafe; recommended! You can go upscale — very upscale, as in expensive, with the Spinnaker, the “grande dame” of Sausalito restaurants, which is right out on the point, or Le Garage, new and uber-trendy, or Bar Bocce, on the north end of Bridgeway. Poggio is right downtown across from the terminal.

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Stair-step houses and clearing fog.

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And just the house I was looking for.

Ambiance: Sausalito winds up the hills to the west of the waterfront, and about a block off the tourist drag you start seeing houses from the 1930s and earlier. I was looking for a particular style of house and I found it on Caledonia Street, which also houses a market, the police station and the fire station, and some other businesses.

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Cormorants

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Snowy Egret

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Greater Egret

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Harbor Seals

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Pelagic Cormorant

Marine Life: This was a bonus. I was there looking for the shape of the town, and, as I said, a house. As we were walking around a local who was dog-walking pointed out the walkways along the marina, directing us to the birds and harbor seals who make up the aquatic population of the town.

History: In 1838 an Englishman named William Richardson got a large chunk of land north of the Golden Gate in a Spanish land-grant. By the late 1860s he was broke, and sold most of his land to the Sausalito Land and Ferry Company (visionaries!) who plotted out a town and bought a small steamship, the Princess, to run potential buyers over from San Francisco.  In the first half of the 20th century, Sausalito was a transportation hub. It was a popular spot for bootleggers during Prohibition. When the Golden Gate Bridge was completed, ferry service was suspended and the town languished until world War II, when it became the home of a shipyard. After the end of the war it again slipped into relative obscurity until it was discovered by artists, writers and poets, who kept it thriving until ferry service started back up in the 1970s. I don’t have many details because the Visitor Center was closed the day we were there. The most intriguing part of the story is the town’s history during the Volstead Act. I’d love to find out more about that!

The town is a great place to go gallery walking, has good eats and most importantly, great photo opportunities!

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The Books We Got for Christmas

This year, we each got more potential books than physical books to unwrap. I got two gift cards to bookstores, including one to the Four-Eyed Frog in Gualala, and Spouse also got two. (One of his is for Mockingbird Books.)

Spouse got The Boys in the Boat, about the 1936 Olympics, and a book about gold called, well, Gold. Gold is written by Matthew Hart, who is a novelist as well as a non-fiction writer. The book does not go into great depth, but it is a good overview of the search for one of the planet’s most sought-after metals.

The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown, is about the USA crew team at the 1936 Olympics in Germany.

I got one book to unwrap; The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber. This is a strange literary novel, a meditation on the missionary experience, the nature of spiritual faith, and what keeps a marriage together. It’s thought-provoking and at time just plain old provoking. Naive, devout preacher Peter is sent through space to a planet in another solar system. It can support earth-life, and it has an intelligent, self-aware species who wants a Christian minister to teach them about Jesus and the New Testament, which they call the Book of Strange New Things. This is a dream come true for Peter, except that he is not allowed to bring his strong, devout and loving wife Bea along. This is a real detriment for Peter, who is not very perceptive, and could really use Bea’s insightful gaze. Although they can send a version of e-mail to one another, they cannot communicate face to face or send pictures, and the relationship begins to fray under the pressures of two planetary environments. The book is not science fiction in any way, really; it’s more that Faber wants to create a missionary experience that by definition carries none of the weight of our missionary history. Peter’s weaknesses, and his profound strengths, play out perfectly, and Faber’s honestly is a sharp and honest as a scalpel.

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