Book Review: Hurricane Fever by Tobias S. Buckell

Update 7/17 16:21 to add disclosure: I received my ARC copy of this book via a reviewer giveaway from the author’s blog. I had to request the copy.

Note: this review is spoiler-free.

Tobias Buckell writes very smart people-centric speculative fiction. When I was reading the ARC of his latest novel Hurricane Fever, I realized he has quietly become one of my five favorite authors.

Hurricane Fever

One of the reasons is how he writes in a style I’ll just have to call “Flow” for lack of a more precise term. From the non-typical (and welcome) way Buckell deals with writing dialect to his pacing, his stories move smoothly from introduction to crises to resolution. You cover a lot of ground, but it doesn’t feel like it, much like a ramble through the countryside. Hurricane Rising is no exception. Even as the tension and the stakes crank up, the book is a relaxing read. Even if you haven’t read the first book in the series, Arctic Rising, you should be able to drop right in without feeling like you’ve missed anything. (I can’t promise that you will still feel that way when you get to the end; if you feel the need to run right out to the library or to a bookstore, or at least make a big order on Amazon, you’re in good company.)

Another reason is how his stories deal with big ideas of world-shaping significance. Hurricane Rising is a near-future espionage thriller that rivals the scope of a Bond story, with a world-threatening plan that would make Fleming green with envy. In most books, the writer would try to give us hints that Something Big was coming; Buckell makes us care about the people and reels us in from there. The protagonist, Prudence “Roo” Jones, is a retired Caribbean intelligence agent who is just trying to raise the nephew who is all the family he has left. Roo is drawn out of his life onboard a catamaran into the unfolding geopolitical events because he is driven by bonds of family and friendship, not for the sake of power or adrenaline or some abstract duty.

Tobias Buckell writes very smart SF

Probably the biggest reason, though, is that Buckell’s version of smart isn’t intimidating like so much SF can be if you don’t know as much as the author. Rather, his writing is inviting and comfortable. If you know as little about the Caribbean islands as I do, this may be the book that will lead you to your atlas or tablet so you can look up the geography Buckell so lovingly introduces us to. Roo lives just around the corner of tomorrow where the consequences of our bad decisions have come home to roost; climate change has remapped our coastlines, tweaked the balances of power and resources, and altered the patterns of weather. There is a lot of thoughtful worldbuilding that has gone on behind the scenes, but Buckell is comfortable enough in his skill as a storyteller to let it slip in hints and dashes – a master chef deftly and subtly spicing the meal he is preparing. There are no infodumps, no expository lumps, and no detours through backwaters whose only purpose is to show off a feature of the world that would otherwise lay untouched by the plot. I felt like Buckell had made a pact with me: he would stay on task of telling a compelling story, and I would bring my reader A-game and imagination to come play for a while.

We in the Seattle area will host Buckell at University Bookstore on July 28th, one of just five appearances in the Hurricane Rising West Coast Book Tour. I’ll be taking the opportunity to fill in some of the gaps in my library. Hope to see you there!

Local Date Night, @SoundersFC edition

This last year Stephanie helped me become something I never thought I could be: a soccer fan.

Wait, let me rephrase. She got me interested in football. Although soccer is the original and correct name, most of the rest of the world just knows it as football (or futbol if you are from a country whose primary language is a Romance language). It’s only here in North America where we refer to gridiron football as just football.

At any rate, Steph used to play as a goalie when she was growing up and has retained a love of the sport. She used to follow the Seattle Sounders FC matches via Twitter until we moved last fall and got hooked back up to Comcast as our Internet provider. While our package doesn’t include access to ESPN and ESPN2 (where MLS broadcasts national games), it does include JoeTV and Q13 Fox, the local Seattle channels that carry Sounders games when they aren’t being nationally televised. (As an aside, remind me to rant about the stupidity that the FCC permits some other time.) So this year, I got things set up so Steph can watch the Sounders games, and inevitably started sitting next to her with my Surface on my lap while she watched. Then I started asking questions. Then I started recognizing players. Then I started figuring out what the hell was going on. Really, in about three games, I understood 95% of the rules – more than I understand to this day of American football.

At that point, Sounders games became time to spend together. I’d already gotten Steph a Sounder shirt; she got me one, and got us both scarves. And then the World Cup happened. HOLY CRAP people, with all the games being televised over ESPN3/Watch ESPN, and viewable within the ESPN app on our Xbox 360, it was easy to keep games on all through the month of world soccer awesomeness. With two of the familiar Sounders faces on the US Men’s National team, it was natural to watch and cheer them on. Even when they were eliminated by Belgium in the Round of 16, I was invested in the final results. In between the World Cup games, the Sounders had moved into the US Open Cup season, so I streamed those from my Surface to our TV (thanks to the HDMI plug and the Sounder website streaming video). I had become a football fan.

Today, we watched the final struggle of Germany vs. Argentina, then tried to figure out what our options were for watching the Seattle vs. Portland game (broadcast on ESPN2). Steph finally remembered that a local pizza joint, Sahara Pizza, had advertised that they were showing all of the World Cup games. They have gluten-free and dairy-free options on their menu, so Steph called them up to see if they would be showing the Sounders game tonight. They said yes…so we had ourselves a date night.

Here we are, dressed up in our Sounders shirts, practicing for our big day next weekend when we go see the Sounders live in their exhibition game vs. Tottenham.

WP_20140713_20_23_59_Pro

My name is Devin L. Ganger, and I am a football fan.

Getaway

We’ve lived in Monroe for over 13 years. In that time, we’ve not taken advantage of many of the opportunities available in this area to get out and see the amazing beauty of the Puget Sound region. Late last summer, we finally started correcting that with hikes and drives to various attractions. Stephanie and I are also closing in on our 15th anniversary, and it’s been a while since we’ve had a getaway for just the two of us that didn’t also serve some other purpose (such as her heading to Las Vegas with me for Exchange Connections); it was time to correct this. This weekend, I combined those two imperatives and planned a Friday night overnight to Whidbey Island, as a slightly-belated celebration of Steph’s birthday.

Whidbey Island

The first thing I did was do a little research to locate a candidate list of reasonable bed and breakfasts for us to stay at. Steph had never before been to one and, frankly, hotels are boring. Ideally, I wanted one that was based out of a Victorian house, since Steph loves them. Potential bed & breakfasts of course would have to be able to handle the no-dairy/no-gluten restrictions. I really wanted to find one on Whidbey Island, which is close off-shore in the Sound, separated from Fidalgo Island by Deception Pass.

Why did I want to go to Whidbey Island for our overnight?

  • Islands are picturesque as hell. On the right island, you’re always close to the water, which I love.
  • We’d only been there once previously, during a quick drive-around last September when we got our new car.
  • Whidbey is one of the bigger islands in the Sound. It hosts several towns and has a high enough population to still offer some great experiences even during the depths of the off-season.
  • You can drive to it (by the bridge to Fidalgo Island, then by the bridge over Deception Pass to the north end of the island) or take the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry at the south end of the island. Transportation flexibility in winter months is a good thing.
  • Our most direct route to Whidbey Island is the ferry route, which runs every half-hour and is a short 20 minute ride. This helps achieve Steph’s goal of riding every ferry route in the Sound at least once. It also indulges my love of being out on the water.

Once I had a couple of candidates and knew what their check-in times were, I could work backwards for travel times and ferry crossings and determine the window of time in which we’d need to leave. This gave me the all-important time: my cut-off for the work day. Armed with this time, I set up an out-of-office calendar appointment and clearly communicated with my co-workers and clients that I had a hard stop at 3pm. As I set up each part of the weekend reservations, I sent Steph appropriate meeting requests in our shared Outlook/Exchange calendar. This let her know what my plans were and gave her the links and information she’d need to poke around and do her own reading. It seemed to work, because I quickly got acceptance notices and by Wednesday, Steph was practically bouncing off the walls in anticipation!

Whidbey-Island-Map

Whidbey Island (from the Whidbey Island Visitors Guide website)

Once Friday came, Steph was obviously eager to be off on our adventure. I think she was packed to go by 10am. At any rate, I was promptly done with work by 3pm, took a few minutes to pack, and we were out the door by 3:45pm as I’d planned. We took a quick detour to run a necessary errand, then headed for the Mukilteo ferry terminal. We arrived in time to queue up and watch (but not participate in) the loading of the 5pm ferry crossing as the sun set; it would be our turn in 30 minutes. The ride across the Sound was quick and cold in the gloaming, and we made our way north up the island until arriving at Coupeville.

The Blue Goose Inn

After doing some homework and reading reviews, it became clear that my #1 choice was going to be The Blue Goose Inn in Coupeville, overlooking Penn Cove in central Whidbey Island. Proprietors Sue and Marty McDaniel offer a fantastic getaway experience out of two lovely restored Victorian historical homes, and during a good portion of the year also operate a pub on-premises (sadly, it was closed during our visit). When I called to inquire, Sue assured me that the dietary restrictions would be no problem. A few minutes later, I had chosen the Captain’s Suite because of the king-size bed, the soaking tub, and the view of Penn Cove; we had our reservation!

steph_and_the_blue_goose

Stephanie in front of The Blue Goose Inn in Coupeville, WA

Even though we arrived after sunset, Stephanie could see enough details that she was delighted by the choice. As we walked in the front door and were greeted by Sue and Marty, we immediately felt welcome. As I’d taken care of payment over the phone when I made the reservations, there was no paperwork to take care of; we chatted for a few minutes, they approved of my choice of venue for dinner, gave us our room key to the Captain’s Suite in the Coupe House, explained the accommodations that were available besides our room, and sent us on our way. We were not disappointed; the room was lovely and tastefully appointed with beautiful and functional furniture. In many older homes, drafts can be a problem, especially on a cold, windy night; this was not a problem here! The room was comfortable without being stuffy or unpleasant. We quickly unpacked, rested for a bit, and prepared for dinner.

Once we’d returned from a fabulous dinner, we again relaxed and settled in for the evening. Other than our Windows phones, we didn’t crack open any computers, so I don’t know how the complimentary Wi-Fi access was. We can both report, however, that the soaking tub was every bit as luxurious as it was claimed. The king bed (which towered off the ground) was one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept in away from home.

Viva Whidbey Island

Looking NNW over Penn Cove from the Captain’s Suite

In the morning, we woke up, brewed tea (for her) and coffee (for me, which is not my normal morning habit), got ready, and packed. As promised, the view of Penn Cove was beautiful and not marred at all by the brief but vigorous attack of hail and rain we enjoyed. Just before 9am, we placed our bags in our car and headed back into the main house for breakfast, where Marty greeted us by name and showed us to our place in the dining room with the rest of the guests. What a treat!

  • Tea and coffee were on offer and Marty was quick to refill any cups that looked like they were thinking about becoming empty.
  • The first course was a green mango fool. Now, I’m not a mango person…or at least, I didn’t think I was. I had a tiny bite of this and it was quite simply divine. I would have promptly devoured my whole serving, but I wasn’t quite awake yet and the morning’s cup of coffee kept me from being hungry yet. Stephanie also got to enjoy this, minus the cream.
  • Our next course was buttermilk scones with currants. Again, these were very tasty, and again, my stomach wasn’t quite open for business yet. Sue made sure that Steph was supplied with gluten/dairy-free banana muffins, which Steph devoured.
  • The final course was a three-cheese omelet and a serving of oven-roasted seasoned Yukon Gold potatoes; Steph got scrambled eggs. Now, Steph’s not a scrambled egg person, but you’d never have known that — just as you’d never have known that I never eat breakfast potatoes unless they’re hash browns. The eggs came in separate porcelain oval bowls that kept them hot and tasty.

We lingered over our breakfast until the other guests left. At that point, we chatted a few minutes more with Marty (and said goodbye to Sue when she stuck her head out of the kitchen). After purchasing a Blue Goose Inn mug for me, we promised we’d be back during pub season, then hit the road back to the ferry terminal and points east. We had to head home, unpack, relax, and get the family ready for the afternoon’s plans: a visit to the Seattle Art Museum.

Christopher’s at Whidbey

Since Friday evening dinner wasn’t provided by The Blue Goose, this was the other major logistical challenge I faced in my planning. Dining is now much more exciting than it was back when I was the pickiest eater in the family, and it can be a significant source of stress for Steph. This was supposed to be a relaxing night away and I didn’t want her to have to worry about anything. Was I up to the task? As I said before, one of the reasons I chose Whidbey Island is that there are several towns on the island. Even if I couldn’t find anything near our lodgings, I was confident I’d be able to find a nice place for an intimate evening meal that could offer Steph not just one dinner option, but a choice of meals. They would also need to have food I’d eat — I still don’t like too much food with my food, if you know what I mean.

Coupeville turned out to be perfect because it’s also home to Christopher’s on Whidbey, a small and unassuming restaurant that boasts exquisite food and wine at amazingly affordable prices. During my planning, I’d called them up, explained our requirements, and in a few moments had an 8pm dinner reservation set up. They assured me that not only would Stephanie’s needs be taken care of, but that she would have a number of items to choose from. They asked me all the right questions to give me confidence that they actually did understand how to properly cook her meals without overlooking anything or putting her in danger of cross-contamination.

It was just a short drive from the Blue Goose to Christopher’s; if the weather had been better and we had still had light, we’d have walked the few blocks. When we arrived, the interior of the restaurant was well-lit, warm, and comfortably elegant without being pretentious or snobby. They greeted us by name, reassured me that they had Steph’s dietary restrictions on file, and showed us to a quiet table in the corner.

Pinot Blanc

Albrecht 2008 Pinot Blanc from Alsace, France

They had an interesting and eclectic wine selection, with offerings from a number of sources. Unlike many wine lists, they seemed to focus on offering affordable, enjoyable wines, mainly from local and regional wineries. Stephanie and I both favor white wines, and I noticed they offered a pinot blanc from Alsace. I’ve heard good things about Alsace wine but have never had it, so I enquired about it; apparently, this was a good thing, because this wine turned out to be a favorite of their wine expert. We ordered a bottle and found it to be delicate and satisfying both chilled and warm; it boasted a fantastic balance of dry vs. sweet with an unassuming and crisp fruity taste. A lot of whites taste like alcohol mixed with simple syrup; this one barely tasted like alcohol at all, and went well with both our dishes. While we waited for our entrees, Steph enjoyed a salad and I attacked a basket of bread with butter.

Stephanie chose the king salmon with raspberry barbeque sauce with greens and mixed vegetables. I went with something a little less adventuresome: linguine alfredo with chicken; in my defense, I don’t get cream-based sauces at home any more thanks to our Glorious New Dietary Regime. Our food was served rather quickly and was presented with a simple elegance that could easily have double the price tag in another establishment. I’ll let Stephanie speak for her meal if she chooses, but I will note that she told me at least once that she could eat it every day and be happy. My linguine was simply fantastic; the pasta was perfectly al dente, the sauce was light and creamy and in perfect proportion to enhance the pasta without smothering it, and the chicken was tender and full of flavor. It was easily the best pasta I’ve had in my life, and the entire meal rates up in my top three dining experiences. The service, of course, was quick, cheerful, and unassuming. We will happily come back and acquaint ourselves with the rest of the menu.

Picasso at the Seattle Art Museum

Upon arriving back at home around 12:30pm on Saturday, we unpacked, grabbed an informal lunch with the family, and planned out the rest of the day. For Christmas, the kids had purchased Stephanie a family membership in the Seattle Art Museum, in part so we could all head to the Picasso exhibit they have running through January 17. We had our tickets to get into the Picasso exhibit for 5pm, and with the Seahawks kicking off in Seattle at 1:30pm, we decided to wait for traffic to die down and head into town later in the afternoon. That gave us time to locate several alternatives for dinner after we’d been to the museum.

Once we got into Seattle and were parked at the garage underneath the SAM — a much trickier proposition now that we have a Ford Freestyle — we went up to Member Services and got our temporary membership cards. At that point, we had about 75 minutes to fill before we could enter the Picasso exhibit. We therefore broke up into groups and wandered around the museum’s various levels. Much of what I saw made little impression on me; a few of the pieces provoked a strong response (usually strong incredulity). I very much enjoyed the European and Italian galleries; in particular, they had a recreation of an Italian room, full of dark carved wood, that I found particularly intriguing.

Soon enough, 5pm approached and we queued up to enter the Picasso exhibit. I’m afraid I’m the wrong person to comment on it — I find most of Picasso’s work to be unapproachable. I tended to concentrate, instead, on the other people viewing the exhibit. There were a lot of very serious people there who apparently found all sorts of serious things to ponder. They were no fun. I liked watching the people who were totally blown away by what they were seeing; even if I didn’t share their reaction, I couldn’t help but be happy they were having a great time. These people invariably talked about how the art made them feel; the former types tended to pontificate on how it should make others feel and think. That’s an interesting lesson, don’t you think?

Once we had our fill of Picasso — or at least of walking around on the hard floors and dueling our way through the maddening crowds — we headed down to the waterfront to the Old Spaghetti Factory. I hadn’t dined here in many years — back when Stephanie and I were first married and I was working down on Pier 70. I’d really enjoyed it then and was looking forward to introducing my kids, especially because they offered gluten-free/dairy-free options. Instead, Stephanie and I found it to be one of the most disappointing dining experiences we’ve ever had. Maybe we were spoiled by still being on a high from the previous evening’s dining, but the restaurant felt crowded and dark, our table was noisy and drafty, and our server, while personable enough, couldn’t hit the right balance between competence and comedy. I can make better pasta than the half-hearted attempt I received. The best thing we can say is that Mom enjoyed it, as did the kids, although even the kids say that Steph would have made a better meal.

Wrapping Up

So, now it’s time for me to get off the computer and go spend the rest of the day with my family. I think we’ve got a board game or two on deck, maybe a family movie. Or, I could always pull out the copy of Enchanter’s Endgame that we’ve slowly been working through and read another chapter out loud. At any rate, we’ll have a good evening and get prepared to throw ourselves back into school, work, and life come Monday morning.

This is what I do for fun???

For the last three weeks, I’ve been on vacation.

Much of that vacation has consisted of quality Xbox 360 time, both by myself (Call of Duty: World at War for Christmas) and with Steph and Chris. (Alaric had a friend over today and we had a nice six-way Halo 3 match; the adults totally dominated the kids in team deathmatch, I might add.) However, I’d also slated doing some much-needed rebuilds on my network infrastructure here at home: migrating off of Exchange to a hosted email solution (still Exchange, just not a server *I* have to maintain), decommissioning old servers, renumbering my network, building a new firewall that can gracefully handle multiple Xbox 360s, building some new servers, and sorting through the tons of computer crap I have. All of this activity was aimed at reducing my footprint in the back room so we can unbury my desk and move Alaric’s turtle into the back room where she should have a quieter and warmer existence.

Yeah, well. Best laid plans. I’ve gotten a surprising amount of stuff done, even if I have taken over the dining room table for the week. (Gotta have room to sort out all that computer gear, y’know. Who knew I had that much cool stuff?) My progress, however, has slowed quite a bit the last couple of days as I ran into some unexpected network issues I had to work my butt off to resolve.

Except that now I think I just figured out the two causes. Combined, they made my “new” network totally unusable and masked each other in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways. It was rather reminiscent, actually, of the MCM hands-on lab. I guess I’ve been practicing for my retest.

Ah, well. I still have one day of freedom left before I head back to work. I might actually be ready to go.

No, just the Doctor

After looking at a lot of options, Alaric has decided that he wants to be the ninth Doctor for Halloween. This is good for us — it’s a simple costume, in theory, especially since I’ve already got a sonic screwdriver prop I can lend him. The Ninth Doctor has very simple clothing, especially compared to some of the earlier versions, and beats trying to put together a “Vader’s Apprentice” or “Master Chief John 117″ costume. However, finding a suitable jacket for an affordable (I’m thinking $15-20 here) price is going to be the challenge.

Anyone out there got good ideas of how to get a suitably sized jacket (boy size 10; men’s small is too large) for the boy in time, in an affordable range? It doesn’t have to be an exact match.

Feel free to forward this plea for help on.

Bad Nick

Nick has done a very bad thing. He bought me Star Wars: The Force Unleashed for the Xbox 360 as a late birthday present. After the stress of this last week, studying for (and passing) the Microsoft 70-237 and 70-238 exams (two-thirds of the Microsoft Certified IT Professional – Enterprise Messaging certification; I passed 70-236, the third, back in March), this led to a couple of enjoyable hours getting to wander through some very lush Star Wars locales and wreak havoc with lightsaber and Force powers.


This may have de-throned Call of Duty 4 as my favorite Xbox game.