Book Review: Finished Business

david wishart finished business

Last summer, I posted about reading David Wishart’s latest Marcus Corvinus mystery, Solid Citizens. This summer, I received the newest one, Finished Business, which means more Roman mystery. YEAH!

Marcus Corvinus is aging a bit now, and becomes a grandfather when his adopted daughter and her husband have their first child. But he doesn’t quite have time to be the doting grandpa with all the mysteries, murder, and kidnapping going on around him.

Finished Business is  another really great Marcus Corvinus mystery, set at the end of Caligula’s reign. The story’s on a larger Roman scale, a bit like Germanicus, because Marcus Corvinus stumbles upon a conspiracy against Caligula. This time period will be familiar to fans of Robert Graves and Suetonius.  (Oh! Did I tell you that I tried to watch I, Claudius with Harold? He said he liked it, but then he wandered into the kitchen for a soda during “don’t touch the figs”, so I’m thinking he was just pretending to follow it.) Without revealing too much, Marcus Corvinus has to decide just how loyal he is to a notably unstable emperor.

The author’s note explains a couple minor deviations from history (although I expect the details around an assassinated emperor have been fudged many times before), but it’s still close enough for a Roman historian reading a novel. Wishart also explains that Messalina must have had a previous husband since she’s an aged spinster of at least 21 at the time of her marriage to Claudius. (I just remembered my 30th birthday, drinking margaritas and toasting my impending spinsterhood, with Tryon, Kate, and Roy. Which is preferable to a Roman woman of that age sacrificing to, I don’t know, Juno Lucina, probably, in thanks for not dying in childbirth in her twenties.) I really only get cranky about historical inaccuracy when it’s glaring, like when someone gets a message from Gaul that was written yesterday.

Overall, more adventures in ancient Rome, with plenty of household snark, and the ending makes it pretty clear that there will be another Marcus Corvinus tale under Claudius’ rule.

I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher for review.  Opinions are my own, as always.

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Block, Block, and Block

depression questI tweeted my link to my Depression Quest review the other day, and accidentally walked into the Zoe Quinn Twitter battle. I try to tweet my games journalism multiple times, because I’m a narcissistic attention whore, or working freelance writer, tick where applicable, but this is the first time I’ve had to immediately block Twitter burners saying awful things to me about it.

Game designer Zoe Quinn’s ex-boyfriend has written a pretty scathing tell-all blog post, with dates and names and screenshots of chatlogs, accusing her of sleeping with several guys in the games industry. This would just be weird gossip about people I don’t really know, except for the disturbing number of people (gamers, male) who decide that a post from an angry ex is 100% true beyond all doubt, and proves that the female designer slept with reviewers for positive reviews of a clearly awful game. For large numbers of angry gamers, an ex’s blog post completely legitimatized the shadowy spectre of the talentless and immoral woman, sleeping her way to success, and so the angry hordes took to the internet to vilify Zoe Quinn, in the particularly terrible ways gamers are constantly awful to women on the internet, usually involving Photoshop and porn, or rape threats on burner accounts.

Info from an angry ex is often unreliable (source: Existing on earth), and social media screenshots can also “prove” that Aeneas was on Facebook. Not that I’m saying the ex made it up – I don’t actually know either of them, so for all I know, she cheated even more, with more guys in the industry, and he never found out. For all I know, his manifesto is the tiny tip of the cheating iceberg!  She could have banged every man in the state while her boyfriend wasn’t looking! That doesn’t really have any bearing on the quality of her game design work, though.

For the record, I reviewed Depression Quest positively for Indie Game Mag, over a year ago, before any of this happened, and I chose to reshare the post during a wave of conversations about suicide and depression following Robin Williams’ suicide. Also, no one offered me sex or cash or kickbacks for it. Also if there really is a lot of money and prestige in reviewing indie games, I am definitely doing it all wrong.

Shaun at Discover Games has a really good take on it:

The difference in this case is that the developer is a woman, and the game she’s selling (as pay-what-you-want, I think it should be noted) is the exact kind of nontraditional game that makes myopic hateful nerdbros apoplectic with unrestrained rage. So, instead of people either ignoring it or reviewing the journalists’ writing and questioning their ethics as we do with every other case, all those angry nerdbros have turned this into the Scandal of the Century, and it’s all about the deceitful woman using her sexuality and feminine wiles to extract positive press for her terrible game that could not have gotten good press by any means other than her prostituting herself.

Ultimately, of the many accusations flying around, I have no idea which are true and which are not. And I mostly don’t care. I find it difficult to believe someone would sleep with people they didn’t want to sleep with just to get a few positive nods for a game they’re basically giving away for free. But even if it’s all true, I’m more interested in the way the story is being framed, and the way in which it is different from the numerous other instances of similar situations.

Anyway, Depression Quest is a good, thoughtful game, I hope you play it and I hope you get something out of it. Encountering angry dudebros on the internet is neither good or thoughtful, and I’m embarrassed that this kind of harassment and attack is (still, frequently) happening in my industry.

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Soccer Physics

soccer physics iconSoccer Physics, from Otto Ojala and on CrazyGames, invites players to a chaotic mini soccer game.

You can play against a friend, or against the computer, in a funny two-versus-two soccer game. Players try to adjust to random elements in each silly version of the game. Soccer Physics players get random balls (sometimes you get a typical soccer ball, but sometimes it’s a beach ball), random fields, and random player abilities (we’re mostly talking rocking and jumping, here, not superpowers). Five goals wins the game, but be careful, with all the random factors, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Because the game is a little chaotic and very random, you don’t have to know a lot about soccer (aim ball for goal, stop opponent from hitting the ball into your goal) in order to play. Since you’re just trying to bounce the ball, it’s probably more like foozball than the World Cup. It reminds me of another mini sports spoof, Wrestle Jump, from the same developer, and a little bit of Mighty Knight, another cute buttonmasher on CrazyGames. Not a lot of time for strategizing, but the randomness and fast pace makes it fun.

The silliness and constant near-misses make for a fun, quick game.

You can play Soccer Physics on CrazyGames, along with puzzle game 2048, and evil twin 2584vampire makeouts in Twilight Kissing, and cute buttonmashing adventure Mighty Knight.

crazygames
This post has been sponsored by CrazyGames.

 

 

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‘Rich Kids of Instagram’: Satyricon and the City

rkoiRich Kids of Instagram is a Tumblr of, well, rich kids posing with their expensive stuff. Whether it’s yachts, sports cars, resorts or dropping $10,000 on cosmetics , the Tumblr recalls late-Roman excesses. It’s hard to tear my eyes away, and while I scrolled, I learned that some rich kids prefer humblebrag captions over their private jets and shopping sprees, while other prefer the more blatant #hatersgonnahate and middle fingers. Also, I learned that pools come in more styles than in-ground or above-ground. Who knew?

The upcoming novel Rich Kids of Instagram is written by the anonymous creator of the RKOI Tumblr and by Mara Sloan. Her previous novel is High Before Homeroom, just in case you’re wondering how curating a submission-based Tumblr will translate into writing a novel.

Rich Kids of Instagram is half Candace Bushnell’s Trading Up, half Petronius’ Dinner With Trimalchio. The characters are mostly unabashed social climbers, with a few old-money heirs and a tech wunderkind for frothy good measure. Their high-stakes, high-budget conflicts lead to a guilty-pleasure page-turner, with plenty of backstabbing, sex, and general excess.

All the characters are tropes, sure, but delightful ones. A tortured royal just wants to design his unique jewelry before heading home to his arranged marriage and more respectable hobbies. A sweet Southern belle deserves to get her way because she’s a good Christian girl — and definitely not because she backstabs her way to the top. Oh and a poor little rich girl wants Daddy’s attention, of course.

I once heard a certain style of New York City or Los Angeles dramatic fiction (Disclosure: I read the hell out of these novels.) as “lifestyle porn”, a tag that fits the almost loving descriptions of purchases and fashions in Rich Kids Of Instagram. One character has a particular strain of affluenza that requires her to touch and price luxury items to calm herself. It’s this unlikable excess that makes the novel impossible to put down.

Rich Kids of Instagram takes some wild turns and telenovela-style reverses of fortune, with loads of dark secrets. It’s difficult to find a relatable or likable character in the book, but that’s almost the point. Dinner With Trimalchio highlights excess, by pairing aspirational riches with classless freedmen, and goes on to describe truly pointless, hilarious waste. And RKOI takes a similar path by beginning with jealousy-inducing luxuries like champagne and jewelry, and then leading readers into a bizarre, over-the-top world of hostess kitty bars and Biblically themed launch parties.

Rich Kids of Instagram is a delightful romp through luxury brands, conspicuous consumption, and blatant social climbing.

I received an eARC of this book from the publisher to review. All opinions and references to chicklit and Roman history are, naturally, my own.

 

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Jersey Girls Don’t Pump Gas

My parents moved to coastal Massachusetts this summer, and this weekend I came to visit them in their new house.  My mom’s always lived in New Jersey, so this is her first time pumping gas. After making fun of her, of course, we started talking about driving firsts.

My first car was my dad’s old car, which still had my dad’s personalized NR1A license plates on it. NR1A means that my dad is, um, a certain class of operator that is good at, um, ham radio things. I forget the details, but if you are a ham radio operator, it means something good, so when I’d drive that car, other drivers would (not unreasonably) assume that I was a radio operator, and honk HI in Morse at me. And I would (not unreasonably) jump nervously every single time.

“Yeah, I can still hear it. It’s four quick and then two quick, right, Dad?”

“Yes, it has a wonderful rhythm, it almost sounds like laughing.” My dad said.

“No, Dad. It might sound like laughter to a ham radio guy, but to me, a string of honking just sounds like terror.”

(Also, of course I pumped the gas for my mom. Driving is stressful enough.)

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Is “Cookie Clicker” a Message Game?

cookie clicker iconLike Cow Clicker, Cookie Clicker is a parody of certain casual game mechanics. Players start by clicking a cookie to earn a couple points to spend on an upgrade to earn extra points. Eventually, you’re earning millions of points per second, and saving up to buy that billion-point upgrade that will increase cookie production even more. Whether it’s hiring your first cooking-baking Grandma or opening a portal to the cookie dimension, the mechanics don’t change. Points, upgrade, more points.

Everything else is window dressing on that mechanic.  Players start out buying an extra cursor, for extra clicks, or hiring a grandma to bake more cookies. As the game goes on, all semblance of a consistent gameworld is gone. Grow a cookie farm. Mine for cookies. Open a portal to the cookie dimension. Whatever! Just keep clicking to bake cookies!

Actually, you don’t even have to click. Soon, your extra cursors and cookie farms and cookie mines will start producing click-free cookies. And Cookie Clicker evenrewards you for alt-tabbing over to your work. Finish that email, and you have enough cookies to build a Cookie Farm (Apparently cookies grow from cookie seeds.) Leave it running all night, and you’ll be able to buy a Cookie Lab (or 10) in the morning.

With a casual game like this pared down to its simplest form, the motivators in a lite builder become extra clear. Of course you receive achievements, with funny one-sentence flavortext. Scores are massive, so you can gaze happily on your bajillions of points. There’s no learning curve for new players, either, making it extremely accessible, while the ever-increasing points provide that feeling of improvement, even though the game doesn’t require more skill. Future upgrades are greyed out, and the need to find out what zany improvement will come next is a powerful motivator.

Cookie Clicker is a genius parody of exactly how casual builders work.

Other People Clicking Cookies

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Morning

morningI took full advantage of the break between summer classes and fall classes, and went on a little road trip to Wrightsville Beach with my friend. Lovely place overall, but I think the best part was when I got up early and went to the beach by myself.

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Chinese Cooking for Diamond Thieves

Here is the tragic thing about my love for China: I really hate Chinese food. Especially the stuff you get in a fancy Chinese restaurant, the steamed fish or abalone or boney-chicken-bits. Too many chewy textures, too many things flavored with bai jiu. My years in China were more a case of finding a dish or two that I don’t mind, and eating that until I’m not hungry anymore, than finding local cuisine and sampling exotic flavors. Give me Beijing street food or American mall “Chinese” food any day.

chinese cooking for diamond thievesI know that Dave Lowry’s descriptions of dishes in Chinese Cooking For Diamond Thieves were accurate, because they weren’t very appetizing. In one section, our hero is making a steamed fish dish, and even while I wanted the lao wei to win the prize for best Chinese chef in St. Louis (I’ll get to that), the smell of steaming carp is a distinctive one. And not my favorite one. And it’s associated with a distinctive taste. And actually it’s turning my stomach to think too much about eating it. Evocative prose for sure.

Tucker, the hero of Chinese Cooking for Diamond Thieves, is a lao wei in St. Louis, Missouri, trying to become a Chinese chef. Kind of steals the thunder from the diamond thievery, doesn’t it? Tucker is the best kind of unreliable narrator, beginning his list of dozens of rules with keep it simple, and trying to be completely honest from his very subjective perspective.

Fortunately, Tucker’s Mandarin is better than mine, so he’s able to eavesdrop on full speed Chinese, instead of just perking up at colors, numbers or “chubby white girl” out of a conversation. (Look, I’m able to do basic tasks in Chinese, but I talk like a baby.) So, when he overhears a girl at a rest stop telling her friend in Mandarin that she’s stranded, he gallantly offers her a ride. Also, she’s hot, because in fiction, stranded girls are always hot.  The early-twenties romantic plotline wasn’t bad, ticking all the required boxes for witty banter, quirky semi-dates, and sexual tension that must be fulfilled when a Very Smart Guy falls in love with a Mysterious Girl, but fortunately not the focus of the novel.

Spoiler, or I guess, an un-spoiler: The diamonds are not hidden in the New Hampshire rest stop, so the novel doesn’t end with Corinne and Tucker retrieving the diamonds from the spot where they met. (I was expecting that for about 2/3s of the novel, and was pleasantly surprised when it didn’t happen.)

The diamond thievery is interesting, and in general, the secondary characters are quite believable. Bao Yu, especially, is a lifelike mix of mockery and shyness.  In China, when someone calls you by a polite, formal name and asks if you had a nice weekend, they probably hate you. A real friend will call you Pudgy or Specs or Slowpoke or something else mildly insulting. (I happen to know the Mandarin for zits — dou dou — because it was the affectionate nickname of one of the secretaries in my Yantai school. Ouch.) As Tucker gains friends in the restaurant kitchen, he naturally trades casual insults far worse than grass mud horse. It was a little bit odd how many of the English-speaking characters all spoke in the same snarky banter, but I chalked it up to Tucker’s narration, the way a friend will recount events in their own words, putting their own speech patterns on repeated dialogue.

Chinese Cooking for Diamond Thieves is a good story about new-adult identity, Chinese cooking and customs, and avoiding murderous Hong Kong gangsters in the midwest.

I received an eARC of this novel from the publisher to review. As always, all opinions are my own, and review copies have never stopped me from snarking about a bad book.

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I Guess That’s A Thing

During the semester, the rhythm of new students and returning students and recent grads and professors and college staff is a beehive of activity in Chapel Hill.

There are endless warnings that the semester is starting, like a speedtrap behind every bush, and a Help Wanted sign in every restaurant. Balloon clusters advertising move-in specials. Residents moaning about the noise level increasing and the lack of parking. Still, I only remember that I live in a college town when I see hordes of people wearing light blue for sportsball, or when someone asks me if I’m a student (Aww.), and I remember that there’s actually a reason to live here.

It’s buzzing with activity now, getting ready for the semester, and one lone bee kind of wondering “Oh, pollen? Honey? Flowers? Yeah, I guess some people here are into that. Whatever.”

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Hello Kitty Curriculum Vitae

My career retrospective, as told through Hello Kitty:

hello kitty chinglishI gave out Chinglish Hello Kitty stickers in class to reward my Beijing students.

last day The sad evening when I took my Hello Kitty desk toys home, after my last day at Next Island.

morning hello kittyBut soon I had a new Hello Kitty and a new desk at a new MMO!

meeting hello kittyTraining new teachers at work, so I used Hello Kitty figures. As one does.

 

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Mayflies, Collage, and Music in Super Chop Games’ Ephemerid

ephemerid superchop Super Chop Games’ new iOs release Ephemerid is a musical game, but fortunately, very little of it involves tapping in time with the background music (Ugh. How is that a genre?). Instead, players explore a paper collage world of flowers, leaves, and snowflakes as a mayfly, using the game’s music as a guide.

Ephemerid has no points, no winning, no failure messages. Actually, almost no messages at all. Except for a little icon of headphones next to a thumbs up, Ephemerid doesn’t directly communicate with the player. Instead, the player is gently encouraged to tap and swipe different parts of the papercut art to explore the world and see what the interactions do.

best puzzle ever ephemerid super chop

The best puzzle. Beautiful and simple.

Each scene asks the player to interact with something different, usually in a new way, but always inspired by the music. The music adds to each scene, or hints at what the player might want to try. Taken together, the scenes tell a story of an inquisitive mayfly’s life. Sometimes, you’ll take part in moments of joy and excitement, calling up ancient Chinese dragons or bouncing through the starry sky. Some scenes are puzzles, which can be solved with a little experimentation and exploration. Ephemerid is playful without being childish or cutesy.

There’s no way to screw up in Ephemerid. Not everything you see will help you progress through the world, but there’s no “wrong” thing to tap or touch. This creates an environment for relaxed exploration, allowing plenty of time to enjoy the world, but it prevents players from deviating from the mayfly’s intended path. You might slow down to enjoy the flowers, clouds, leaves, stars, or boombox-bearing dancing spider, but no matter what, your life as a mayfly involves finding a mate, procreating, and then dying.

record ephemerid

Turntable Seasons

When you complete the life cycle of a mayfly (that came out sounding very 4th grade science fair), you’ll be back at the beginning on the Ephemerid record, ready to begin again as a new mayfly. Symbolically, as the vinyl circle of life, it works very well, although I don’t know if there’s much replay value in mayfly reincarnation.  I only used the record-menu to return to sections in which I’d been too absorbed to take a good screenshot.

Actually, I wanted to screenshot almost everything.

Actually, I wanted to screenshot almost everything.

I first checked out a demo of Ephemerid at SXSW, and I loved the childlike exploration and simple elegance of the intro version. (Although I have to admit it was pretty odd playing such a gentle musical game amid the craziness of the SXSW gaming pavilion.)

ephemerid spider boombox
If you follow @SuperChopGames right now, it’s entirely likely that a spider somewhere will dance with his boombox.

It didn’t seem even a little odd to have a cardboard spider light up and dance for followers. Other folks at SXSW offered me breakfast tacos, t-shirts and cocktails for @ mentions, and at least a musical cardboard spider related to a musical paper mayfly, right? When I played the full version, though, I laughed to find my funny spider friend as the mayfly’s dangerous enemy.

Ephemerid is available on the App Store and is currently on Steam Greenlight for a computer version  as well.

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Purple

purple hair allison

Post Purpling

My friend Allison from college lives in Texas now, with her husband and adorable little son, so I don’t get to see her very often. I mean, we talk and Tumblr and tweet at each other, but it’s not the same thing!

This week, we both independently responded to completely different stress by dying our hair purple. We happened to choose the same brand of purple dye and to work from home while the dye was setting, so I imagine it seeping into our hair, while we responded to work messages from our respective tech/edu workplaces, hundred of miles apart.

I’ve only gotten to see Allison twice since she’s moved to Austin,  but it’s good to know we’re still the same.

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Small Blessings

small blessingsSmall Blessings, by Martha Woodroof, is about a small college town where everyone cares about each other just a little more than usual.

Professor Tom Putnam is planning to live out his life quietly teaching English and quietly caring for his mentally ill wife. But a series of sudden events, beginning with the arrival of a new bookstore clerk and a letter from an ex-lover telling Tom he has a son, change that for him.

I want to tell you about this story, but listing the events just sound like random plot twists. Sure, there’s insanity and alcoholism, and a paternity test,  a surprising death, a backpack full of cash, and a kidnapping. But mostly what matters is each character trying to connect with others.

This is, despite all the dramatic events, a really gentle story about fallible humans trying to care for other fallible humans.

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No Way Out of ‘Depression Quest’

depression quest choices

I’ve decided to share a post I wrote for IGM last year about text-based Depression Quest. There’s an ongoing conversation about depression and suicide, and talking about games is also how I like to talk about feelings. Depression Quest is a simple text-based game, but it succeeds in using the gameplay format to mimic the hopelessness and frustration of depression. The game brings empathy and highlights the difference between having a bad day (or week. Or month. Or when feeling like garbage is connected to garbage events.) and depression.

Depression Quest is an interactive story in which players take on the role of a twenty-something living with depression. Players attempt to manage family, work, a romantic relationship and a creative project, while struggling with the challenges presented by the character’s depression. Depression Quest resembles another indie game experience, Actual Sunlight in that the game makes a statement about the effects of depression through the player’s interactions.

The game uses a format I particularly enjoy, with a segment of narrative and and list of player options. I’ve already written pretty extensively about how much I love this type of interaction in text-based games like Heroes Rise. This format distills gameplay to its simplest form, a series of situations and choices for the player to make.

Depression Quest very successfully plays on this expectation by presenting a narrative passage describing the character’s experiences, and then offering several player choices, with a range of possible outcomes, but makes some of the readable choices inaccessible to the player. Players can read options like making the most of a social situation, getting a good night’s rest, and so forth, so it’s very clear that these are possible reactions to the presented narrative segment, but they just aren’t able to choose those options.The player might want to call a therapist or get out of the apartment for a change of scene, but the depressed character literally can’t.

Some of the attempts to make the experience universal — a project for an unspecified hobby, a vague but menial job, some awkwardly non-gender-specific pronouns — make it harder to relate to the character’s experience in the beginning. I’m not sure if so much generalization was necessary, readers can connect well to protagonists with names and individualized experiences in novels.

But as the game progressed, the vagueness did create a feeling of isolation. I knew my character was overwhelmed by his job, and worried about screwing up in unspecified ways, and so was I, especially since I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing at work, anyway. I felt like the named characters – older brother Malcolm, coworker Sam, and college friend Amanda – were bright spots in a vague and somewhat confusing environment, a very effective part of the game’s portrayal of depression.

Player choices influence the progress of the story, but it’s not always a simple cause and effect. Players can’t, for example, decide to seek a therapist or pursue antidepressants. Instead, players are told that a co-worker’s cat has had kittens, and one of the litter needs a home, and then decide whether getting a kitten is a fun distraction or another overwhelming responsibility, for example. Giving players some choices with a little agency, but not a clear way to fix things or counteract depression is an accurate representation of living with depression.

Although it’s not a “fun” gaming experience, Depression Quest successfully uses interactive fiction game mechanics to tell an artistic and informative story about the effects and experiences of depression.

Depression Quest is available online. Players are encouraged to pay what they can, although there is no minimum requirement to experience the game. A portion of the proceeds earned from the game will be donated to iFred, a non profit that works on depression research and education.

Crossposted from Indie Game Magazine, this article originally appeared here: Battle Depression In ‘Depression Quest’  — Meg Stivison | Indie Game Magazine.

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Bonnie Rozanski’s Upcoming Novel ‘The Mindtraveler’

mindtravelerIn the tragic ending of The Mindtraveler, physicist heroine Dr. Margaret Braverman wins the Nobel Prize.

No, wait, I’m doing this in the wrong order.

Bonnie Rozanski’s The Mindtraveler tells the story of aging physics professor Margaret Braverman, disgraced 25 years ago when her secret experiments with time-travel led to an embarrassing electrocution. At sixty, she lectures in physics, lives alone, and half-heartedly attends faculty meetings, while indulging in the odd daydream about what might have happened if her great experiment had succeeded.

Margaret is pretty blunt about losing her love, about years spent alone, and her academic failures, at first, like the acceptance of age or the clear-eyed rationality of a career researcher. But it only takes an offhand comment from her grad student assistant to encourage her to give that great experiment one more go.

Back in her 35-year-old body, Margaret is re-experiencing her life and seeing the small events that set her on her current path. Margaret’s curiosity is always her strongest motivator, and she remains a blunt and not terribly emotional narrator. It’s hard not to sympathize with her here, re-experiencing a love affair that has ended quite badly in her own past, re-experiencing an embarrassing professional failure, and seeing her friends in the physics department back when they were young, healthy and hopeful. But if she can make a tiny change in the past, maybe she won’t end up sidelined and alone.

Blending wild time-travel with daily details of academic life gave this story the feel of magical realism. Margaret accepts the physics behind her great experiment, as well as the amazing opportunity she has with time travel, which makes it easy for reader to accept both.

The romance between Margaret and Frank is layered and believable. In one scene, 60-year-old Margaret hears and understands what 35-year-old Margaret is told by Frank, and didn’t fully understand at the time. But the story isn’t a romance — Margaret’s friendships with her colleagues in the physics department are very important, and she puts asides her own worries to try to help these bright, young men at 35 to avoid the problems she’s seen them encounter at 60. In one case, returning to 35 with the wisdom of 60 gives her new insights into her friend’s character, and not for the better.

She’s also a rare female heroine with deep professional ambitions, motivated by endless curiosity and a desire for glory. Academic backstabbing and departmental infighting are frighteningly realistic, although the sleazy department chair is just a little too shameless and predatory.

With multiple timestreams, crossing and affecting each other, and different versions of Margaret’s self, The Mindtraveler has so many opportunities to devolve into confusion or technobabble. Instead, Margaret’s no-nonsense narration keeps the story clear. Almost too clear for those of us rooting for happy ending, because she’s shown us her weakness for impulsive and selfish decisions many times, leading to an ending that is both heartbreaking and strangely inevitable.

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