Lunch Date: Taking Normal out to brunch

(Once in a while, I take a new book with me to lunch and give it a half an hour or so to grab my attention. Lunch Date is my judgment on that speed-dating experience.)

Who’s your date today? Normal by Warren Ellis.

Where’d you go? Roxy's Diner, in Fremont.

What’d you eat? I had the Roxy's Deli Scramble with corned beef, sauerkraut, and Swiss cheese ($12.95)

How was the food? Holy cow. Ever since the I Love New York Deli went out of business a few years back, I've been looking for a good Jewish deli in the Seattle area. (My favorite is Goldberg's, in Factoria.) Turns out, Roxy's has been serving up really fine diner fare for a decade and a half. The food is plentiful, tasty, and relatively affordable. I'll be coming back here for a Reuben as soon as I think my arteries can handle it.

What does your date say about itself? From the publisher’s promotional copy:

There are two types of people who think professionally about the future: Foresight strategists are civil futurists who think about geoengineering and smart cities and ways to evade Our Coming Doom; strategic forecasters are spook futurists, who think about geopolitical upheaval and drone warfare and ways to prepare clients for Our Coming Doom. The former are paid by nonprofits and charities, the latter by global security groups and corporate think tanks.

For both types, if you're good at it, and you spend your days and nights doing it, then it's something you can't do for long. Depression sets in. Mental illness festers. And if the abyss gaze takes hold there's only one place to recover: Normal Head, in the wilds of Oregon, within the secure perimeter of an experimental forest.

Is there a representative quote?

Adam stood there and wondered what it would be like to live at Normal Head forever, like Colegrave. Would it feel like being trapped? Or would it feel like being free? There was a lot of space. There was a forest. There was so much silence. The quiet felt like a huge new country that he could wander around inside for years without ever meeting its coastlines. A silence the size of the wky. If he stayed here long enough, he'd eventually be sent to Staging, and he'd have one of those simple, clever micro-homes to live and work in. There would be internet, and books, and music. He could think, and be, and hold the world at a distance in order to see it properly. Nothing would ever hurt or frighten him again. The micro-home of his very own could be his hermit's cave. He could be a wise man of the woods, spoken of in whispers, his words and thoughts becoming spooky action at a distance in the world beyond. A secret wizard of the future.

Will you two end up in bed together? Yeah, In fact, as I'm writing this a day after the meal, I've already finished the book. Normal is a novella that was originally published in four serialized chapters, and it's a quick read. The premise of Normal is a lot of fun: imagine if all the douchiest TED Talk prognosticators wound up in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Ellis uses the premise to plug in a bunch of great little riffs about the internet and drones and modern life, and he's clearly enjoying himself. Like a lot of latter-day Ellis work, Normal doesn't so much end as fade away, but it's a lot livelier than other books he's written lately. If you're on the fence with Ellis's recent work, Normal might just remind you why you loved his big, beautifully deranged brain in the first place.