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Updated: Nov 22, 2022


This is a “campfire” tale. You know, the kind of story that begins all sweetness and light, and then, at some point … the disembodied hand grabs your ankle and you shriek and almost fall into the fire. I first read this on Halloween, by the way; which was extremely appropriate. Disclaimer: I received a free digital ARC for this novel. However, both the decision to post a review and the contents of the review are voluntary and my own alone. The protagonist of the story is a fusty businessman (Charles Crenshaw) and his somewhat stereotypical wife (Alice Crenshaw nee Gallagher). Following a dinner party where the Crenshaw’s end up being late by having missed the exit, Charles decides to purchase an GPS. A recommendation from a stranger (accompanied by a wink, which will be important later on) leads Charles to purchase the “Hotchkiss”. The “Hotchkiss” is amazing fun. While the author describes a number of features of the GPS that presently exist in GPS systems (or will be introduced in the next year or two) the author also describes some additional intriguing features. This whole description was clever and creative, bouncing between parody and some genuinely nifty technical ideas. From the parody side, there was the “TG” or tailgate feature. I happen to live in an area that has an excessive number of tailgaters, and found myself just delighted by the wide variety of ‘James Bond” inspired features the “Hotchkiss” incorporated for dealing with tailgaters. From the nifty technical side, I enjoyed the radar detector / lookahead feature that calculated the IOL (increment over limit) that one could go on a particular stretch of road (for example, an IOL=5mph permitting 65mph on a 60mph road) to avoid being tagged by the police for speeding. Overall, the mix of genuine technology and technology parody was engaging and fun. The “Hotchkiss” also incorporated some “adult activity” items (recall the wink). I wasn’t quite sure what to make of these when I encountered them in the book, as the discussion was a bit orthogonal to the general tone of “geeky” technology. It turns out that these are key to how the story resolves. I will stop here and let the reader discover how all this fits together (my double entendre in this description was originally unintentional, then I figured it out and left it in). With the “Hotchkiss” now installed, Charles and his wife embark on a vacation to Lake Placid. The trip starts mildly enough, but throughout the trip, more and more of the Hotchkiss features are enabled. Recall my starting comment about the campfire tale? This is the part of the story where the children learn that the gingerbread house contains more than just gingerbread. I will stop here, and let the reader discover exactly how the manufacturers of the Hotchkiss have exploited the business model that “providing services” is “generally more profitable than manufacturing products []”. There were several things I liked about the story: It has a nice balance of accessibility and geekiness. GPS systems are in wide use today, and so most people (whether technology-oriented or not) will have used/seen a GPS system. However, the author drops in enough genuine technology (or genuine technology parody) to keep geekier readers chuckling at regular intervals. It is hard to write something that can engage both the technology-oriented and the technology-adverse, and this story does a pretty good job at doing so. It is very MIT. I’m not sure this was intentional (and I’m not sure the author has any connection to MIT either). However, the cheeky mix of parody and technology just felt like MIT. Plus, lines like “[] Boston Dynamics, a designer of robots so advanced they could be taught to dance the mashed potato” seemed a pure MIT-ism. (Boston Dynamics is the 1992 spin-off from MIT that makes robots, best known for these eerie headless dog-like robots such as “Spot”.) However, I struggled with one aspect of the story as well: The “adult activities” seemed over-played. On one hand, note my comment above that the “adult activities” are key to how the story resolves. On the other hand, I found these sections a bit borderline. HOWEVER, as a caveat, I am an old fart; and the boundaries on humor move pretty fast. Other readers (younger readers?) may find additional parody and humor in this aspect of the story that I missed.





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