Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Glasses, Horror, Particle Physics and Book o'the Decade

It's official: We are living in the Jetsons era.  I still don't have a flying car (Detroit's working on it, right after they finish filing for bankruptcy) but I have just done something unprecedented in the lives of modern human beings.  I have ordered glasses through the Internet.  Not sunglasses but actual glasses.

Seriously, I don't know if they had a parade when this service first became available but if they didn't, they should have.  The only thing worse than shopping for glasses is shopping for shoes.  (And no, I've never successfully ordered shoes from the Internet, but if SAS ever makes them available, it'll be time to break out the credit card.)  By the time I've eliminated all the frames that won't work with my prescription and all the ones that are butt-ugly, I'm usually stuck with one, maybe two choices, both of which make me look like a librarian.  And there's nothing wrong with looking like a librarian if you are one, but I'm not one.  The last pair of glasses I got new made my boss's boss call me "Darth Vader" for a week.  (Or was that the temporary shades I had to sport because I had posterior iritis?  I forget.)  Anyway, I was able to pick out a nice pair with plastic frames and springs, with a scratchproof coating (I've had bad experiences with those, but hey, try and try again) and UV protection for only about $150.00.  That's cheap, when we're talking about glasses.  I believe my last pair was about $250.

Anyway, that's one of the danger of ice storms: Online shopping.  Never mind traffic accidents and frostbite and ice-laden trees crashing through your roof: Beware  You can't leave your house without risking a fall on your butt (I've fallen twice now) so you stay in your house, and if you have a credit card and an Internet connection, the siren call of merchandising is hard to ignore.  Especially this time of year, when you must express your love for your fellow beings through lots and lots of commerce.  If Christmas gifts were good enough for Baby Jesus, they're good enough for everybody else on the planet.  So bring it on.  Let's go to Wal-Mart and get Maced over a cheap Blu-Ray player.

That said, however, I also bought a book for my Nook.  (I love my Nook.  Have I mentioned lately how much I love my Nook?  I love my Nook.)  Barnes & Noble shells out a free Nook book every Friday, and often they're not that interesting but sometimes they are (ie, Kameron Hurley's "God's War," which, at least for me, created a monster). Last week's selection wasn't particularly interesting, so I bought a different one: Edge by Koji Suzuki.

Koji-san is known as the "Stephen King of Japan," but that's kind of a misnomer.  His books are scary but they're suspenseful first and, if I may say so, cerebral.  Koji-san is responsible for Ringu, remade in the U.S. as The Ring and starring Naomi Watts--one of my top five horror films and one which scared the pants off me, broke my heart and scared the pants off me again. (And there I was outside the theater, just after midnight, waddlin' around with a broken heart and no pants.)  So naturally I would be curious about Edge.

Unfortunately, it suffers from a rather clunky translation.  I'm of the opinion that if you're translating something from Language A to Language B, Language B better be your native language, and you ought to be able to write a little, too.  Because seriously: "Life in the name of all things that have shells separating them from the outside, the ability to sustain and reproduce themselves, and the capacity to evolve." (Page 356.) Is that even a sentence?  Given the fact that one of the main characters is a publisher who specializes in translations, the clunky language is doubly ironic.

Apart from that, though, this is a hard book to put down.  It starts off slowly, like Japanese books sort of always do, but then it picks up speed until you're struggling to keep up with it, turning pages as fast as possible.  (Or clicking pages, in my case).  Mathematicians across the world are discovering that, inexplicably, the value of pi has changed.  The value of pi, by the way, is used for calculating everything from the radius of a circle to the mirrors on the Hubble Space Telescope.  If pi has changed, then there's something fundamentally wrong at the quantum level.  And it doesn't help that large numbers of people--from whole families to about a hundred people visiting a public garden--are disappearing without a trace. Throw in weird phenomena like a giant chasm suddenly opening in the earth in California and you can see how we might have a serious problem.  But what is that problem?  How did it start?  Where did it come from? What's going to happen? And on a planet where the only thing we've been able to do at the quantum level is start a nuclear chain reaction, how in hell are we supposed to fix it?

Truth to be told, we've done quite a bit of research at the quantum level (which is all about subatomic particles and how they move around and behave; not only are they unpredictable but they seem to move when they know you're watching them).  We know, for example, that since atoms are mostly empty space, it should be theoretically possible to put your hand through a solid wall.  The fact that for the most part, we can't is one of the great mysteries of physics.  And get this:  All these subatomic particles moving around seem to create time itself, and time theoretically should move backward as well as forward on its trek.  So why don't we have memories of the future?  Well, I'd posit that some of us do, and at the end of Edge, it seems that some of us not only remember the future, but act on it.  And about that I'll say no more because Edge has not just one but two twist endings.  I'm not the easiest person to surprise, but I never saw either of them coming.

So anyway, Edge by Koji Suzuki.  Book o' the Decade.  Check it out. And stay warm.

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