Sunday, July 31, 2011

Snapshot Book Review: Machine of Death

Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories about People Who Know How They Will DieMachine of Death: A Collection of Stories about People Who Know How They Will Die by Ryan North

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book has one of the most unique premises and "development stories" that I've found in a long time.

Book Premise: A machine is exists that can tell, from a sample of blood, how any individual on earth will. It doesn't give you a date or time or even specifics; it just spits words and phrases like DROWNED or CANCER or CHOKED ON A HANDFUL OF POPCORN out onto a slip of paper. These words are always vague and more often than not, ironic. OLD AGE, for example, could mean either dying of natural causes, or shot by a bedridden man in a botched home invasion.

Book Development:The premise for this book was inspired by a Dinosaur Comic by Ryan North. From January 15 - April 30, 2007, Ryan and his two co-editors Matthew Bernnardo and David Malki welcomed short story contributions based on this premise from anyone in the world. The three editors then chose their favorites from the nearly 700 submissions.

For fear of spoiling any of the surprises this book contains, I won't go into exactly why I liked any one of the stories. As a collection, however, I thought North, Bernarrdo, and Malki did a find job of choosing 34 unique stories. Some were extremely well-written, some not so much. This is the case in any short story collection, however, and the promise of another new, completely different perspective on the same theme kept me reading avidly.

Machine of Death will especially appeal to fans sci-fi and dystopia writing, but it can most definitely be appreciated by anyone with a love of suspenseful short stories, surprise endings, and unknown writers.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What's wrong with this sign?

Sometimes, I have to wonder if everyone outsources their design projects, or if texting and instant messaging are making native English speakers stupider.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Circumnavigating Lady Liberty

We had stood in line at Battery Park, ridden the ferry, eaten a sandwich, picked up our race caps, stretched our legs, taken team photos, and were now in line with 235 other barefooted, goggle-adorned swimmers, trooping across the liberty island to line up for our race: The NYC SWIM Liberty Island Swim.
When we reached the railing that ran along the southwest corner of the island, we stopped and were instructed to line up numerically, by the race number scrawled on our caps and arms in black permanent marker. The sky was slowly darkening, and the choppy water rocked the ferry in front of us back and forth. As I found my place in line, a few raindrops pricked my skin. Please, I thought, don't let it rain until the race is over. I personally didn't care about getting wet--I was about to jump into a river, anyway--but with no sun and a relentless breeze, goosebumps had already risen on my arms and legs. If it rained while I was in the water, the sweatshirt and sweatpants I had packed in my bag, which was now sitting exposed at the fenced-in bag check area, would be useless.

"They'd better hurry up," said a a voice behind me. I turned to find a tall, pale boy looking at me. He had that underdeveloped, bony look that most fifteen-year-old boys have, where their muscles look a slightly soft and misplaced on their bodies, and their facial features are just a bit too big, giving them a somewhat comical appearance. He shook his head.
"Why are the giving out the timing chips like this, anyway?"

I looked around until I found what he was referring to: race organizers were walking up and down the line of swimmers, calling out numbers and removing black plastic timing chips one at a time. Other volunteers were trailing behind, passing out velcro strips to attach the chips around our ankles.

"They should have just given us the chips when we signed in," I agreed. "We had to pick up our caps then, anyway."

The boy grinned in relief and extended his hand. "Hi, I'm Chris."

"I'm Allison."

We continued to stand in line for the next 30 minutes, discussing our swimming backgrounds, the differences between open water and pool swimming, and our expectations for this race.

"I just don't want it to rain," I told him.

"Oh, I hope it rains!" he replied. "That'll give me an advantage."

"Are you trying to win or something?"

He looked hopeful. "Nah, but I'd love to finish in the top ten."

Right at that moment, we both heard a woman call out his name. "Chris? Chris G___?" He raised his hand and waved, and the woman came over to him. "Chris, I'm so glad I found you. I have your medal. Is your family here?" He nodded. "Great. I'll just find them and give this to them. Congratulations again."

As she walked away, I turned back to him with raised eyebrows. "So you really are trying to win this race."

He shook his head adamantly, explaining that it was just an age-group medal and insisting that the field was too competitive. "There were swimmers from all over the world here to do this race!"

Sure, sure, I thought, but you would still like to win.

Finally, we were given the go-ahead to file over the dock and onto the ferry. One by one, we jumped off the side and into the water and treaded together in one huge jumble, bumping and kicking and splashing one another in an effort to stay between the two orange start-line buoys.

At last, the final swimmer had entered the water and we were ready to go. They gave us the countdown and . . . go! Arms and legs flailed as we pummeled and struck one another in an effort to get to the clear water ahead. My heart surged as I tried to keep from being pushed under by swimmers behind me while avoiding the feet of those in front. Every time I turned to take a breath or raise my head, waves crashed into my face. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't. . . .

I was clear. I had made it past the old woman in the flowered bathing suit who kept cutting me off and the man in the wetsuit who kept swimming up on top of my legs. The feet of the person ahead of me made a burst of bubbles I could follow, and my arms suddenly felt loose and strong. Stroke, two, three, breathe. Look ahead. Stroke, two, three, breathe.

I passed four buoys, the northern dock, and then five more buoys. I could only see a few swimmers ahead, their pink caps bobbing above the murky green-gray water. And there it was: the southern dock! There was the finish!

My arms felt even stronger, and I surged forward, increasing my tempo and pulling with all my might. There was a man ahead to my left; could I catch him? I breathed to my left, keeping him in sight as I decreased the distance between us. How far was it to the finish? Two hundred yards? Five hundred? There was no way I could keep up this pace for five hundred yards. It had to be closer than that.

My shoulders burned and my lungs ached. I accidentally breathed to my right and was rewarded with a mouthful of salty Hudson River water. But I was almost there.

With my last few strokes, I cut in front of the man I had been chasing and yanked myself up onto the ladder hanging from the dock. Panting and dripping, I shuffled forward onto the mat and into the corral. I had made it! And it wasn't even raining.

Results for this race:
Race Length Finishing TimeOverall Place Gender Place (All Women) Age Group Place (F20-30)
1.2k 20:24 31/236 15/99 4/19

Also, for anyone who's interested, my waiting-line buddy Chris finished 14th overall and 4th in his age group (M10-20) with a time of 19:34.

Next open water swim: the Little Red Lighthouse 10k on September 24, 2011. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Things Similar To Giving Birth

You swear you'll never ever, ever, ever do it again.
  • Sunburns
  • Eating airplane food
  • Popping a pimple
  • Starting a new job
  • A Brazilian Wax
  • Buying cheap shoes
  • Hangovers

But then, somehow, you forget how bad it was, convince yourself it'll be worth it, and plunge back into the same cycle of swearing that this will be the last time....