Monday, April 7, 2008

Moving House

I've decided to move this blog over to Wordpress. It just seems better there somehow. I won't be tranfereing all the older posts over. They can stay here, like a wasp in amber. Come on over.

Monday, March 31, 2008

The Confusion by Neal Stephenson

Luckily this book is not confusing, as the title suggests. In good literary style, the title refers to an older meaning; con-fused, or joined together. Through the journeys of its characters, particularly one who makes an eastward journey from India to London, Stephenson shows how the lines of trade connect and join the globe, even in 1700. The naming of a ship in Malabar can have consequences in Paris, should the wrong name be chosen. Trade has always been global.

In The Confusion the three characters from Quicksilver return, though in this book they are rarely together. The Confusion is a book about the journey. The evidence of con-fusing is background, a detail if you will. Jack's journey around the world is the principal focus of the book, and the effects his actions can have on Eliza are unforeseeable. Daniel Waterhouse is rarely seen, being mostly immobile in London during the years of this book, and wishing he were in Massachusetts. The mercurial character of Enoch Root also returns, to save our trading heroes from a subtle and deadly trap set by the Japanese.

As in Quicksilver, the slow emergence of what we today would recognise as science continues, though here science is still con-fused with alchemy.

As with Quicksilver before it (and The System of the World after) this novel is dense and rewarding to read. Like all good books, the reader is encouraged to seek out yet more books to read to answer or confirm (or not!) questions raised.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Dilbert Future by Scott Adams

Reading Scott Adams at length is like reading the output of a thousand monkeys on a thousand typewriters. Mostly garbage, with the occasional line of insight. So it goes with The Dilbert Future. There's good stuff in here, and it was the memory of that good stuff that lead me to re-read this book. I had forgotten the garbage.

Still, at least the garbage sections are peppered with Dilbert cartoons. This gives it a big advantage over the work of monkeys.

The concept of the confusopoly was the one thing I took away from this book last time. It's a delightfully expressed concept that is so very accurate. Any industry that essentially sells an identical service/ product falls into this state. It's for their own benefit. Obscuring the difference between identical products means that consumers can never make a rational choice, after that it's all down to who has the best marketing. Companies seem happy to compete on this level. Home loans, insurance, mobile phone plans, electricity for the home, these are all examples of confusopolies where the direct comparison of identical products is rendered impossible through obfuscation. Good call, Scott.

The Dilbert Future was written in 1998 (or at least published then, according to my copy) so reading it ten years on, some things are dead wrong, some things are kind of right, if you're generous, and some things are spot on. I say that's not bad. Sometimes it is simply chilling. "The incarceration of the entire planet will come about due to a chain of events beginning with an increase in terrorism." Did you have
to be right on that one?

Many of the 'predictions' are simply observation of trends that were well under way in 1998, such as the move to contracting and consulting work for skilled professionals. However I liked his prediction that no one will watch the news anymore as what is presented as 'news' is simply irrelevant. As someone who gave up watching the news years ago, I can only agree. I still watch The Daily Show, mainly because what is presented there is relevant - an interpretation of daily events. If
Scott had foreseen that the leading source of news for many would be a daily show presented by comedians, that would have been impressive.

I'm not going to talk too much about what I didn't like, which is everything else, because then I'll just go on and on and on until everyone rolls their eyes and wishes they were sitting at another table. Nobody wants that.

I would say that The Dilbert Future holds up more than other similar books that attempt to divine future social trends, but I don't waste my time reading any of those other books. They don't have Dilbert cartoons in them.

I can't recommend this book, due to the garbage, instead do a Google search on confusopoly.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Olympos by Dan Simmons

After last week's late and sleepy starts, I read Olympos over the week-end to avoid any repetition of that this week. Hey, I'm not totally absorbed in my reading. I realise there are wider considerations. Spending a large amount of time sitting on the couch read is a luxury to be savoured.

Olympos is the closing sequel to Ilium, and reveals the deeper mysteries behind the events of Olympos, as the situation of the last humans on earth goes from bad to dire. Cut off from the automations that made their life so easy, humans must once
again learn to fight as previously benign robots of earth begin killing everyone they can find. Genius can create whole universes, but that's not always a good thing.

Like Ilium, this is a book that forcibly pulls me through the story. My will is not my own as I turn page after page. Just another 10 minutes I think, and then an hour has gone by. People talk about getting lost as though it were a bad thing. Getting lost in a good book is strongly recommended.

Ilium by Dan Simmons

The Trojan War will never be the same again. Dan Simmons has seen to that. Reading this book had an immediate and noticable impact on my life. I was at work late and tired every morning last week.
The reason was, that I had been up late reading Ilium.

It's a strange and intriguing tale of Hockenberry, a resurrected scholar tasked by the gods of chronicling the siege of troy, and informing of any discrepancies
between homer's original and actual events. It's also the tale of Mahnmut and Orphu, two robotic life forms living on Jupiter's moons Europa and Io, who become tasked with finding out the cause of alarming quantum instabilities on Mars. It's also the tale of the last humans on earth, who have devolved into an eloi-like society that unthinkingly moves through the ruins of a once greater society.

All of these threads are connected, and the best part of this book is following the
characters as they unravel the mysteries facing them. It also contains some of the best fighting scenes I've read anywhere ever.

The first book ends with Achilles declaring war on the gods themselves. Good times.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Artificial Kid by Bruce Sterling

I first read this book when I was twelve, and it was a cool book about a martial arts fighter who gets into some political trouble and ends up exiled in a strange alien jungle.

I read this book again in my early twenties, and discovered instead it was a very interesting take on society, sexuality, and nature.

Reading it again in my mid-thirties, the book is still highly enjoyable. The eponymous Kid is a 'combat artist' who enters arranged fights for money or honour. He is followed everywhere by his camera drones that record his every action. After a fight he edits and uploads his own tapes for the enjoyment of the masses. At the peak of his art, he is becoming very rich.

It all goes wrong after Kid encounters Moses Moses, the planet's founder returned after 500 years cryo-sleep. Forced to flee to the planet's untamed wilds, Kid meets his former mentor and understands the true nature of the planet that has become a playground for the indolent.

The Artificial Kid is all of the things I found the first two times I read. This time I discovered another theme - self. Kid and Saint Anne have denied their true natures for so long, subsumed in distractions until they thought that was their life. Trapped together in the wilds, they discover something unexpected - themselves. Hmm, does that sound like the voice-over to a crappy romance film? It wasn't meant to. Self. It's another theme. Go read it, it has nunchuks with guns hidden in them.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Gridlinked by Neal Asher

What better way to end my run of non-fiction than with a good sci-fi action story? Gridlinked is certainly that, starting with a massive explosion in a supposedly failsafe travel system.

The title of this book is somewhat misleading. The central character begins the novel ‘gridlinked’ that is, connected permanently and wirelessly to the Internet of the future. However for reasons of his own health he is advised to disconnect and does so. A fair amount of the book details his slow reintegration after spending such a long time hooked up.

Gridlinked is a science fiction adventure story, so there’s murder, mystery, aliens, and spaceships. Not usually the kind of science fiction I choose to read, but this is an enjoyable book. I assume this is a first novel since there is a lot of people staring at people “for a long moment” which was a bit off putting after the first 12 times.

Too much hard science fiction can be bad for you I think. I kept wondering why the bad guys were waiting for the good guys at their destination, when the good guys travelled instantaneously via runcible (a quantum transporter) while the bad guys took a spaceship so they could smuggle weapons. I just had this dry voice in my head wondering why the bad guys didn’t arrive like eighty years too late instead of two days early. But this is my issue. I must do something about that voice.

The central character is distant from those around him, and I can almost believe the whole idea of him being gridlinked for so long is just a device to explain his introversion. It was the similarly introverted character of Mika who caught my attention. There are other characters to choose from, the android, the space pilot, the mercenary, the psycho terrorist. You may remember them from just about every other sci-fi action story you’ve read.

Gridlinked is an enjoyable read, not to be taken too seriously, but worth the time spent reading. It's no think piece like Revelation Space, but it's no mindless bore like Descent of Angels either. Books like this should have a place on everyone’s shelf. Plus, you know, Taryn liked it.