A Spy in Seven-League Boots

I’m writing this from the Khan el-Khalili marketplace in central Cairo. It’s hot here; I can tell from the ruddy exertion clear on the faces of the merchants around me, the thin veneer of sweat that sheens every temple and neck. I move as silently as an assassin through block after block, ignoring the cries of beggars and the accosting hands of merchants thrusting faded silver ankhs and exotic stringed instruments at me. No, I don’t want a tattoo…or any other, erm, ‘services,’ miss. Something that I mistake for a ferret is shoved at me, and I move backward awkwardly; it’s a monkey, one trained by one of the merchants to attract business to his cart. Just as I recover my senses, an aircraft carrier-sized platter of fresh bread, balanced atop the head of a kid who cannot be older than twelve, slides past me and I nearly jump in surprise.

In my chair.

In Littleton, Colorado.

The Internet has transformed the lives of billions of people worldwide, enabling everything from telemedicine to remote camera feeds from the top of Everest to live coverage of emerging news events around the globe. I’m no exception, in either my professional or avocational lives; it’s simply unbelievable what I can do today in researching a book  from my office chair. So here I am, Longboard at hand, navigating a high-definition first-person POV tour of Khan el-Khalili – which features prominently in Khemnet – and taking hundreds of screenshots. Off they go to Photoshop, where I circle objects in red, tagging this merchant’s face, that prostitute’s awkward come-hither, that platter of bread (it’s damned impressive), capturing to the best of my ability the beet-faced urgency of commerce in (literal) heat.

It’s amazing.

Until I began Reswyt, I hadn’t written in what I’d consider the ‘modern’ Internet era. I’d started – and failed to advance – a half-dozen books in my life, starting in college (and I’m dating myself to say I graduated from CSU in 1991) and progressing through the mid-90s. Things got awfully busy from 1997-2007; I finished a second master’s degree, started two businesses, saw three amazing children enter my life, . Writing took a back seat, and when I did get started once again, it’s been with a profound sense of awe and gratitude that the Internet of this decade exists.

It’s a virtual prepaid ticket anywhere, from the Metallurgical Laboratories of King’s College in the UK to the museum housing an original papyrus of the Book of the Dead to the barked, fervent storm of currency that is Khan el-Khalili. I can slip into virtually anywhere – onto the American River Bridge in Sacramento for a virtual bike ride, into suburban Portland for a look at the architecture of older homes, down the Nile river as it looks now – or as it might have looked in Dynastic Egypt, courtesy of CGI-driven archaeological reconstructions. I get what I need and slip out just as quietly, the locals unaware that I was ever there; no footprints mark my passage, no currency has changed hands.

My hope in this sort of endeavor is that it enriches the books in small but significant ways; characters don’t bike to a park to stargaze, but to this park. This is the path to the hospital; this is where he died, this is where they kissed, this is where she made the decision. We live in a world of fictional precision made possible by spies in seven-league boots; why would we not take maximum advantage of what has been given to us?

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