So one of my favorite Sci-Fi authors, James P. Hogan, wrote a book back in the ’90s called Bug Park:
Eric Heber and his wife, Vanessa, are on the cutting edge of technology, using direct connection between the human brain and mecs–tiny insect-scale robots–to explore a whole new world of experience and knowledge. But someone is out to steal this bold new science and pervert it to their own uses. Eric’s teenage son Kevin and his friend Taki are caught up in these machinations and must convert their skills at playing with the mecs to the deadly serious business of outwitting the criminals and saving the life of Eric’s engaging lawyer, Michelle Lang. Hogan’s talent carries the reader from peak to peak in the story, while his knowledge of science and the meticulously drawn Seattle and Puget Sound locales constitute a splendid backdrop for the nonstop action.
It’s set in Seattle and is loosely based on the tech industry here (namely Microsoft), reframed as companies specializing in neurocoupling technologies — direct sensory input to the brain — along with micro-scale robotics. The Big Bad Company in question is named, not coincidentally, Microbotics.
Despite my description above as “one of my favorite authors” I only got around to reading this one recently, despite Mr. Hogan himself telling me about it several years ago; he was* a very personable author, corresponding with many of his fans via email, so there are many of us with fond memories of actually communicating with him. But, you know, I don’t read much fiction for the past many years, so it was only this past year that I finally took it up.
It was pretty fun reading a book actually set around here, and being able to recognize and really place in my imagination where the various scenes were taking place. One in particular caught my attention: the location of the “Garsten Law Offices” building. It’s described (p.250 of the paperback) as “a spacious single-family town residence, in the First Hill district, close to the Seattle University campus between Twelfth Avenue and Broadway.”
After some confusion with the location (initially had it mixed up with Seattle Pacific University which is in a different part of town), I realized it was only a few blocks from where I work! Could I maybe find a building, perhaps even the building, that was the model for it? I took a couple of walks (on sunny days, of course, which took a while to arrange around here) to see if I could find something. The location covers a wide area, but I think the most likely area was reasonably close to me: south of the campus. North of the campus looks to be far more commercial and built-up.
Here’s the description of the building itself:
The house had been restore to an immaculate condition as a property investment, painted pale yellow with white trim and a red tile roof. It stood set back from the street behind a white picket fence and secluding green of shrubbery, giving it an air of permanence and dependable confidentiality becoming of the profession.
So I wandered around a bit and found that it was a typical close-to-campus buildings: lots of big old houses that had been converted to student housing at some point. Being student housing, most were not all that “immaculate”. Another complicating factor was that this was all researched and written 15+ years ago. A lot could happen to a house in that time, and the area has also been heavily built-up in the last few years with newer high-density apartment buildings. So it’s quite possible that the house has since been torn down and replaced by something else.
The upshot is that, while I initially expected to just see one that looked very similar with no problem, I soon realized that was a bit optimistic. Instead, I tried to find something that may have, minimally, served as inspiration rather than as a full-fledged model since nothing I could see really fit the bill to a T. The closest I could find was this one at the corner of E. Jefferson and 11th Ave:
There are problems, of course. It’s not really “set back” from the street, not in very immaculate condition, no red tile roof, etc. OTOH, it’s pale yellow, is one of the more elaborate and fancy of the old mansions, has a white picket fence, and despite their somewhat unruly current condition, has some shrubbery around. This is actually much closer than anything else I could find, and much of it could have changed in the intervening years: new roof, new paint, deterioration, etc. So while it doesn’t really line of exactly, it’s definitely in the ballpark, IMO.
You can probably go to Google Maps or something and check out the area for yourself. I was hoping there’d be a Street View of that area so you could virtually take a tour and look around, but it doesn’t seem to be there for that part of town yet. Matter of fact, when I was initially pondering this little project, it suddenly occurred to me that instead of actually going there I could just use Street View to do the work and imagined Hogan somewhere screaming at me “use the Internet, you idiot”. There is actually a red-tile roof building north of the campus around E. Union and 11th but that’s too far for me to check on with foot recon; the location and environs doesn’t seem very similar though.
So, no great moment of revelation where I raised my gaze and saw the living embodiment of the Garsten Law Offices. Still, it got me out and about into an area I probably wouldn’t haven’t gotten to otherwise; and, heck, I knew that JPH had probably wandered around the same place looking for a suitable “set” as it were.
* Yes, was, he unfortunately passed away a couple of years ago. As a cautionary note, some years ago in one of our little email exchanges he mentioned he was going to be in Seattle at a convention and suggested I stop by. Well, I didn’t, figuring probably there’d be plenty of time for that. I was, as you can see, sadly mistaken in that assumption and passed up my only chance to meet him in person.