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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Independent Cycle Touring is now Launched!

From Drop Box
As of right now, Independent Cycle Touring is now available for sale in both digital and paperback formats. The paperback book needs to go through a longish approval/proof process, but unlike a "real" publisher, I don't have to hold up the digital sales just because the paper process is slow. Note that the book was designed primarily for paper, and reads best in that format (lots of color photos, and I make full use of 2-page spreads). The digital version would be useful if you're carrying it on a Kindle when touring and just want to use it to refer to something.

I used to tell people that Raising the Bar was the best book on independent cycle touring ever written, but was usually mis-shelfed under "Business" in the bookstore. Well, this book won't be mis-shelved, but it won't be available at a bookstore either!

For a limited time (i.e., until the printed versions actually make it to me), and since I cannot guarantee delivery by Christmas time, all sales of the print edition will come with a digital edition right away, so you can enjoy the book while waiting for the paperback.

To purchase the book (or view the sample) visit Independent Cycle Touring.

Alls Well That Ends Badly

It was a gorgeous, beautiful day when Eva and I headed up Tunnel road to do th Berkeley Hills ride. It was a clear day, and the view at the Tunnel Road emergency preparedness exhibit was nothing short of stunning.
From BayArea
We stopped there to shed clothing and then proceeded to climb tunnel road at a good clip.
From BayArea
At the top, we turned left onto Grizzly Peak, and I stopped to put on gloves only to find that I must have dropped them on the climb. Not to worry, it was a beautiful day and I could do without gloves for a bit. Riding along Skyline, we had a stunning panoramic view of the Bay, including San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and many other sights. Very different from the Skyline we were used to in the South Bay. We even stopped for a picture:
From BayArea
I wanted to spend more time on Skyline so we eschewed South Park Drive to descend Golf Course road, then Shasta, and onto Wildcat Canyon. All this was in the shade so my hands were a bit cold by the time we got to inspiration point, but sticking my hands under my jersey did the trick.

Descending Wildcat Canyon, I discovered that the temperature had warmed up a bit. We then started up Bear Creek Road, and on the last of the three climbs met Greg Lutz, one of the 15 co-founders of AutoDesk. AutoDesk was one of the few completely boot-strapped startups, and I was flabbergasted when Greg mentioned that they had started with only $60,000 in funding, all from the co-founders.

Unfortunately, while climbing Pig Farm Hill, my rear derailleur hanger chose at that point to split itself into two and my chain went into the spokes (some my spokes are still kinked), and the derailleur was now hanging off the chain instead of doing its job off the derailleur hanger. There was no question that I could not continue the ride, but Eva at this point flagged down a passing SUV and we asked for a ride to the nearest BART station. The driver (a florist) was fortunately not in a hurry, helped us load both our bikes into his car and then drove us to the BART.

Eva and I then had a leisurely lunch and then drove back home. What a bust! I am not having any luck with bikes this year!
From BayArea

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

One More Cover

My friend Scarlet came up with what I think is the best front cover yet. Thanks Scarlet!

From Drop Box

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Review: Look Me in the Eye

Look Me in the Eye is the second of two memoirs from Asperger's victims that Cynthia got me to read. Reading two books rather than just one was important because you get very different views from the two authors.

For instance, Daniel Tammet's Born on a Blue Day goes into great detail into his cognitive processes when solving a problem, or memorizing a number. His description doesn't match at all my cognitive processes, so I could not relate to what he does. Robison's memoir, however, focuses on events and emotions, and those are very relate-able. In one passage, he describes his reaction to massive disasters:
I have what you might call "logical empahty" for people I don't know. That is, I can understand that it's a shame that those people died in the plane crash. And I understand they have families, and they are sad. But I don't have any physical reaction to the news. And there's no reason I should. I don't know them and the news has no effect on my life. Yes, it's sad, but the same day thousands of other people died from murder, accident, disease, natural disaster, and all manner of other causes. I feel I must put things like this in perspective and save my worry for things that truly matter.

As a logical thinker, I cannot help thinking... that people who exhibit dramatic reactions to bad news involving strangers are hypocrits... they don't seem very different from actors and actresses --- they are able to bust into tears on command, but does it really mean anything?
I wonder how many people feel that way, and whether that's a distinguishing feature of Asperger's. In some ways, the world would be a better place if people routinely reacted like that: terrorism would have less of a grip on people's imaginations and hence be less effective. But disaster relief would be much less forthcoming!

Later, as he gets better at dealing with people, he discovers that the intense focus which made him a genius at designing circuits, electronics, and mechanical devices faded as he became more and more as an extrovert:
As I recall my own development, I can see how I went through periods where my ability to focus inward and do complex calculations in my mind developed rapidly. When that happened, my ability to solve complex technical or mathematical problems increased, but I withdrew from other people. Later, there were periods where my ability to turn toward other people and the world increased by leaps and bounds. At those times, my intense powers of focused reasoning seemed to diminish...Some of my designs were true master pieces of economy and functionality...And today I don't understand them at all... Those designs were the fruit of a part of my mind that is no longer with me. I will never invent circuits like that again.
Is price of being "normal" being unable to be a genius? Yet I know lots of very smart people who are far from having Asperger's. The one thing that they have in common with Robison's description is that they have to be inward focus in order to be creative and to produce. I certainly find that even the presence of another person (unless it's another photographer intent on his own work) when I am engaged in photography makes it harder for me to concentrate and do creative work. Similarly, many writers call writing a lonely task. If that's the case, then perhaps Asperger's is just a more intensely focused version of what we find in routine geniuses.

The lessons in this book are important: Robison points out over and over again that his technical skill was not as important as the people skills that are valued in large organizations. He got less and less happy as he was moved away from creative engineering pursuits into management, until he eventually quit his job as a director of R&D to become a car mechanic. He laments over and over again that his inability to read people leaves him blind to opportunities that exist, as well as dangerous situations in the office. His description of how an executive took credit for his work reminds me very much of this recent thread on quora.

Finally his section on marriage and his relationship with his wife is hilarious. He calls his wife "Unit 2" for instance, since she was the middle of 3 sisters, and has a brilliantly logical view of mate selection that does eventually come to the conclusion that it's too complicated for him to figure out.

All in all, this book was engaging, entertaining, and I think should be on the "must-read" list for any engineer and their significant others. Recommended.

Even more covers

I'm on a cover roll here. My brother asked for more examples.

From Drop Box
From Drop Box
From Drop Box
From Drop Box

More Covers

Wow, I should have put up my candidate covers before. Here are 3 more covers. Comment away! People asked for brighter colors. So here's yellow:
From Drop Box
Then someone asked for brighter pictures with no clouds:
From Drop Box
From Drop Box


Monday, November 22, 2010

Book Cover

My second book just came back from the proof! Above is the cover. Comment away. I'm trying to get the electronic version up by next Monday, and then start shipping paper copies by mid-December.
I'm very impressed by the job CreateSpace has done on the book. I'm very pleased with how it has turned out. The cost of a full color book, however, means that this will have to be priced at $39.95. I guess I'm going to make very small print runs!
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Review: Born On A Blue Day

On last Sunday's hike, somebody asked me what the beauty mark in Silicon Valley was. I said that it's invisible, it's Asperger's Syndrome. I was only partly joking, because autism is on the rise in Silicon Valley.

Cynthia suggest that I read Born On A Blue Day to get a better understanding of Asperger's and how a high functioning Asperger's person works. This autobiography was a fascinating quick read.

The author, Daniel Tammet, was apparently featured in many TV shows and documentaries, and is a high functioning autistic. His opening chapters describes how he sees numbers, and how they combine and weave themselves when he performs computations, which is how he can do those computations so quickly: he's not so much performing computation as he is working images in his head and then reading off the resulting images as numbers. That's quite an amazing transform if you think about it.

Tammet does a great job of describing how he grew up, and the steps he took to overcome his disorder. The scene where he gives up his imaginary friend is moving, and worthy of a novel. The last few chapters of his book deals with his eventual success and fame. It seems as though he's succeeded beyond anybody's wildest dream, and his description of his memorization of Pi is gripping.

All in all, I enjoyed the book. I'm not that sure it gives me much insight as to how to deal with people with Asperger's (other than confirm for me that I don't have it), but it's a great story with many scenes that seem to come right out of a movie. Recommended.

Review: Canadian Icewine Tea

On my Canadian Rockies trip I got a chance to experience Canadian Icewine Tea. It was exquisite. When I got home, I resolved to buy some and see if it tasted just as good when I hadn't been hiking for many days straight and away from the fresh air of the Canadian Rockies.

The tea is very fragrant. You take it out of the box and you get just a whiff of it and its really great. Then you drop it into hot water, and it takes about 3 minutes to brew if you jiggle the bag a bit. It tastes exactly like Ceylon tea, but the fragrance really does take you away to the Canadian Rockies for a bit.

"Smells like wine, tastes like tea!" --- Phil Sung
"i love tea that smells like alcohol :p" --- Cynthia Wong

All in all, it sounds like the tea is a hit! Recommended. Note that it seems to be very high in Caffeine. Not recommended for an after-dinner tea if you want to sleep. I've also learned to not drink it the morning of a hard ride for that reason. Note that repeated brews from the same tea bag loses the fragrance, so each tea bag is effectively one use.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Counter-offer Conundrum

People asked me yesterday if the Techcrunch $3.5M story was true. I said it was believable, because while I wasn't involved in negotiating that particular counter-offer, I had some role in assisting someone land a counter-offer within 20% of that number some time back.

It is important when negotiating these counter-offers to realize that the most important part of the negotiation isn't really about the money. The money is nice (and $3.5M is nothing to sniff at), but you must negotiate about what's important to you. In particular, if you were going to quit because grungy work wasn't getting respected, then you have to make sure you get moved to a more sexy project with a fast-track for promotion. That could mean switching groups, getting a new manager, or extracting executive protection and coverage so you can get fast tracked. (What does fast track mean? A promotion every year would be the fast track)

At the end of the negotiation phase, I am usually asked if I recommend taking the counter-offer. My answer is almost invariably no. Most of it is because the basic things that piss you off (the company promoting technically incompetent people over your head, or not respecting the difficult work you did because you're not a self-promoting loudmouth) won't change unless you suddenly get a new job title like "Senior VP of Engineering." (Even that's questionable!) What happens in the case of such a massive retention package is that you end up working for money. While that much money is a life-changing amount (though be realistic: $3.5M after tax is only about $1.75M. That'll generate about $60K/year in income using the 3% safe-withdrawal rate, which might not be enough for you if you have mouths to feed --- and since most of the compensation is in stock your return can be quite variable), I find that creative professionals like software engineers have an especially hard time working just for the money. I usually tell the person involved to get a bigger/better offer from the other company by using the counter, and in some cases encourage them to take the lower offer from the smaller company that has a better prospect of growth. In the long run, the ability to stay motivated and challenged in a new environment is better than the golden handcuffs.

The result for the retaining company is a triple whammy. Not only was the formerly creative/hardworking worker now gotten less motivated, you now have to pay him more. Then if the package leaks (and such large packages almost always leak), the rest of the team gets de-motivated as well.

One manager told me that even people who take such a package rarely stay longer than one year. One person who took the retention package confided to me a few months later that he did indeed feel less motivated. Seen in this light, the counter-offer conundrum isn't much of one: don't take it unless you're given the power and authority to change the things that pissed you off enough to start interviewing in the first place. Or make sure that the golden handcuffs are so golden that you really will never have to work a day for the rest of your life again after you are done vesting.
[Update: AllThingsD reports a $6M offer which I have not confirmed. I will note that $6M is enough to not have to work for the rest of your life, so I can understand taking that counter-offer]

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Review: 36 Views of Mt. Fuji

Someone told me that 36 Views of Mount Fuji inspired her to want to visit Japan. I did tour Hokkaido last year, but that was a short trip, compared to Prof. Davidson's multiple long term visits as a professor of English at Kansai Women's University, amongst other roles.

Davidson's writing is gentle and easy going. It's easy to get swept up in the narrative, and to see Japan from her perspective, which is that of an exotic foreigner swept up in an adventure, albeit one given license through her unique role, gender, and position to explore parts of Japanese society that less foreign counter parts would be unable to see.

Written in 1993, this book was printed before Japan's lost decades, and deals with none of the fallout from that economic calamity. What we see instead mentioned in the book is Japan as an economic powerhouse, and one senses that Davidson's approach to her memoir of her Japanese stays is to actually focus on the humanity (and to some extent, the short falls) of Japan in order to help her readers understand Japan as something other than the juggernaut that could do no wrong. I enjoyed her exposition of Japanese women, for instance. Far from the subservient role in a marriage traditionally assigned to them by Western observers, Davidson sees that it is the Japanese housewives who make all the economic decisions in the family, from buying a house to handing out an allowance to her husband. Articles about the Japanese carry trade today echo Davidson's observations from 17 years before.

Another poignant moment comes from Davidson's description of a tragedy in her family when her in-laws are killed in a car crash. Her description of how their Japanese friends took care of them in their unique fashion is moving. One of the characters says, "...sometimes foreigners don't understand that we have rules for how to break the rules too."

One of the most amusing moments in the book comes when Davidson and her husband visit Paris. Being in a foreign country triggered her "foreign language" reflex, and instead of speaking French, she spoke in Japanese instead. I have first hand experience with this: after touring Hokkaido, I accidentally spoke Japanese my first few days on this year's Tour of the Alps. Most of that is because Japanese is probably my best "foreign language", and so all the other secondary languages I learned tend not to be able to out-compete it when I'm in the situation as a foreigner. Her experience reflects the time she was in, however. Today, I run into Chinese tourists in Europe as often as the Japanese, reflecting the Chinese diaspora's role as the new economic superpower.

One amusing part of the narrative had Davidson referring to her Canadian home of Mountain View. I was just in that Mountain View and it was very pretty. It was interesting to run into the very same tiny town in this book.

Obviously, not all aspects of Japanese society can be covered by one person. For instance, it's unlikely that Davidson could have observed Japanese society's approach to courtship and romance, so one could not find a contrasting view to the recent rise of the so-called herbivore in Japanese society. Certainly, unless you grew up in Asia, it's hard to have an understanding of how pervasive Japanese culture was throughout Asia. For instance, Davidson doesn't mention that the Japanese practice of kinen shashin has spread all over Asia, right down to the "V-for-victory" salute.

Nevertheless, Davidson does an excellent job covering all the parts of Japanese society that she did cover, and her unique experiences were certainly worth reading. Recommended.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Unusually Clear Weather

From Screen Captures

Reilly Capps, Eva Silverstein and I met at the Bicycle Outfitter at 8:45 this morning ostensibly for a ride up to Big Basin. I say ostensibly because the forecast was for high winds above 1,000 feet, and I wasn't sure I wanted to put up with that more than necessary, since the winds were supposed to get much stronger in the afternoon.

Reilly was on a mountain bike, so he broke off to visit Fremont Older Open Space Preserve, a park I recommended to him for a mountain bike visit since it had some single track and was quite pretty. Looking at how clear the sky was, I suggested to Eva that we choose to ride Skyline first, to maximize chances of seeing all the way to Big Sur. "I bet we'll get to see all the way to Monterey today." Phil Sung met us at the corner of Mt. Eden and Stevens Canyon, but announced that he wasn't feeling very well today.

Stevens Canyon was cold, and we had to push pretty hard to stay warm, but once we turned onto Redwood Gulch it was not bad at all as sunlight filtered down through the trees and the occasional 20% grades made us work hard enough to stay warm. At the top of Redwood Gulch Phil said he had had enough and rode down highway 9, leaving Eva and I to climb it. Highway 9 always feels easy after Redwood Gulch, but the amount of traffic today was annoying, though not as painful as it would be after Thanksgiving, when Christmas tree traffic would make the riding intolerable.

At the top of 9, we made a left and climbed up to the high point at Skyline Blvd near Castle Rock. We stopped at Castle Rock to use the restroom, and then rode on to the summit and took a pause right after that in the sun for an absolutely glorious view of Monterey Bay. We could see everything: water, the Big Basin redwoods, the Ventana mountains, and even the beach at Moss Landing, which was a first for me. In 18 years of cycling the area I had never seen the conditions come together so beautifully! I cursed myself for not bringing a real camera, as my camera phone did nothing but show me a glare filled screen. Given that I had anticipated the weather conditions correctly at the top of Skyline, I had no excuse other than sheer laziness.

The descent down to Bear Creek road was fast, but as forecasted, the wind picked up and I ended up making this the slowest descent I'd had for a while, since the wind blew gustily in no clear pattern. At the Bear Creek road intersection, I suggested to Eva that we changed our route, since Big Basin would be cold and we'd have to descend Highway 9 in even more gusty conditions. Not having ridden Summit Road and Old Santa Cruz Highway before, she was game for it, despite the warning that the return would be on the unpaved Los Gatos Creek trail.

Summit road was a beautiful climb and we once again got a good view of Big Sur's mountains, sans the view of Monterey Bay. We then descended to Old Santa Cruz highway, and worked our way around the East end of Lexington Dam, came down the Los Gatos Creek trail and had lunch in downtown Los Gatos, where we ran into the Western Wheelers D group, which had just returned from riding Hicks. Some complained about how warm Hicks was. The reason I don't always ride with the club (despite enjoying the company) is that the club has a tendency to plan out routes a month in advance without a good understanding of the prevailing weather conditions. When I lead a ride I like to optimize the route to fit the weather, and understandably that does not work with the club structure, so I find it easier just lead my own little rides with good friends.

Since it was windy and warm and we still had energy left over after lunch, Eva and I reversed part of Naomi Bloom's "7 Hills of Saratoga" route on the way back to Foothill Expressway. The final route was 62 miles and nearly 5200' of climbing, a little less than anticipated, but quite OK for the season and how I was feeling. I should have brought a real camera, but sometimes, you just have to be satisfied with NeuroChromes.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Review: Galen Rowell's Inner Game of Outdoor Photography

I've recently had to answer a few questions about photography. In all cases, when the prospective photographer was new to the art, I always tell them to read one book: John Shaw's Nature Photography Field Guide. Shaw was a high school biology teacher before he became a full time photographer. His ability to teach and explain is unsurpassed. If you think about what photographs tend to show up in biology textbooks, Shaw's emphasis on macro photography becomes understandable.

In truth, though, my own work is much more a legacy of Galen Rowell. I had the fortune to get into a workshop in 1998, a workshop that greatly improved and influenced all my photography since. While John Shaw rightfully emphasizes fanatical devotion to technical mastery, Rowell takes that to the next level, and his vision reflects that of an adventurer who has a camera and knows how to use it to capture his experience, rather than that of a photographer separated from his subjects. The style is distinctive, reflecting Rowell's willingness to ditch heavy gear in favor of light and fast travel.

Galen Rowell's Inner Game of Outdoor Photography is a collection of Rowell's columns originally written for the magazine Outdoor Photography. Many of these columns can be found and read online at the Mountain Light archive. However, the online archive has no photos and no references to the photos, while this book has many color plates and each article has a reference to the accompanying photograph.

Reading these articles in the order Rowell picked, I am reminded again over and over again why I can't usually recommend Rowell's books to beginners. I remember reading some of these columns years ago as a beginner, and they made no sense. For instance, in one column, Rowell claims that color is entirely a result of human perception, and does not exist in nature. That's why colors do funny things in exciting light, and why film (or today's digital sensors) does not render scenes the way you see them. In particular, some seemingly drab situations render beautifully on film, and you might have a hard time understanding why unless you've experienced the same situation before and know that even when the scene is seemingly drab, the colors that are there will look spectacular. A beginner reading those columns will be thoroughly confused. I know I was until I attended Rowell's workshop and saw for myself how a gray sky at sunset rendered by Fuji Velvia looked stunning when held in control by an ND grad filter:

From Miscalleaneous

If I had not had that experience, I would not have been able to produce the image of a Chief Mountain Sunset years later:

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors

In many ways, this book is really for advanced photographers, for whom the technical mastery have been achieved, as well as the willingness to get up or stay out at ungodly hours for the sake of the craft. The opening articles on how to see like film, why images look very different from the scene at the time of capture, and how the cognitive system automatically eliminates distractions form the foundation of an advanced class for photography. Rowell provides references for the photographer to follow up if he or she was to be so inclined, and his own articles are eminently practical, but only if you've experienced the same epiphanies he's had. Reading these articles now, I find myself nodding in agreement and the subtle understanding that I missed 12 years ago.

The second part of the book covers techniques that were new at the time of writing, but are probably obsolete in the world of digital photography. The sections on pushing film, for instance, just tells me how advanced digital photography has become. In the days of film, ISO 200 film was considered fast, and processing color slides at high ISOs were costly and required a meticulous lab. The modern digital photographer would just twist a dial. Fill-flash, however, is still useful, and Rowell's enamored of them for eliminating shadows. I don't do enough fill-flash work myself.

The last half of the book covers the gamut of topics interesting to outdoor photography. There's a series of articles about explorations in the Arctic and Antarctic. There are articles about the ethics of outdoor photography, and how much digital manipulation is acceptable, and there are articles about censorship. Rowell had thought hard about many of these issues, and I feel like it is a shame that he did not live to see what today's modern digital SLRs can do. I think he would have loved them as much as I do, despite the steep learning curve of the digital transition.

My one major criticism of the book is about the photo reproduction. Most of the photographs were reproduced from duplicate slides rather than the original, so some of the photos look surprisingly grainy despite the relatively small enlargement. The glaring mis-step, I feel, is the choice to reduce production costs by having a few color plates spread out throughout the book, rather than making the book full color and embedding the color photos along with the article for easy reference. This makes it very painful to refer to the photos that "accompany" an article to see what Rowell was talking about, and I feel it detracts in a big way from the pedagogical purpose of the book.

Nevertheless, if you're a serious outdoor photographer (studio/wedding photographers need not apply: this is a book for people like me, not people who shoot portraits), this book does belong in your library. If you read this book and don't understand the first section, that's an indication that your photography education is incomplete. The only way to really rectify that is to find a Mountain Light Workshop that suits your schedule and show up for it. As you can imagine then, I highly recommend this book.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Michael Wolf story

It was Mike Wolf's birthday yesterday. Mike, Steven Grimm, Marc Kwiatkowski, and Larry Hastings and I all worked at Mpath Interactivewhen it was a startup. Mike was one of the calmest persons you would ever meet. No matter how tense or intense the situation was, he would calmly speak as though it was sunny and there was not a care in the world. Even if the situation was that we were 50 feet off the rocks and had just committed anchoring 101 error: wrapping the anchor line around the boat's rudder. He once told someone that he only got angry if the situation demanded that he appear to be angry.

People sometimes ask me if I ever dreamed about work, and I would tell them this story. One night, I dreamed that I was in the back-seat of Mike's car (a Nissan Maxima). Mike was driving, and his roommate at the time, Steven Grimm, was in the shotgun seat. We were driving down the street when sudden Mike took a sudden left turn and drove the car up some stairs! I exclaimed, "Mike! I had no idea you could drive a car up stairs!" Completely unperturbed, Mike turned to me and said, "Piaw, it's amazing what you learn when you actually read the manual." When I got to the office and told Mike this story, he said, "Hm... you know, I've never actually read the manual for my car. Maybe I should."

Happy Birthday, Mike!

Review: Zendegi

Zendegiis Greg Egan's latest novel about Iran, its society, the possibility of uploading humans into cyberspace, and virtual reality. I panned his last novel, but with this novel I think Egan has redeemed himself and entered a new phase of his development as a novelist.

The novel revolves around just one character, Martin Seymour, a reporter who is assigned to Iran to cover the elections. A revolution happens during his assignment, he covers it, falls for an Iranian woman, and settles in the country. Reading this segment of the book is a lot like reading real-time reportage. One feels as though he was there with Seymour, a laudable achievement. We see him develop friendships with the locals, and since Egan knows he can't write romance, he carefully scurries off the stage at that part of the story and cleverly advances the timeline. I did not realize that he had worked around his weakness until well after I finished the book.

The second half of the book deals with more traditional science fiction elements. We see the rise of virtual reality parlors as entertainment centers, and then get to observe the rise of human simulation as part of the games. We get to see first hand the motivations behind human upload technology (all funded by someone who sounds a lot like the wealthy multi-millionaires we've heard about), and what the potential pitfalls are.

What I like about this novel is how realistic it is. The technology doesn't magically work overnight just because the protagonist wants it to. Bad things happen to good people, without redemption and frequently without there being a reason for it. Egan is unflinching in his portrayal of what society will make of this, and what the realistic options are for someone who is put in Martin Seymour's predicament. Unlike previous novels, I actually cared about what happened to the protagonist, and I was left in a mild state of shock at the end of the book.

As a science fiction book, it does not break new ground, and covers only a few new concepts, far short of his most recent short story collection. Nevertheless as a novelist, Egan has succeeded in breaking past his previous issues with characterization. Recommended.