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review 2017-12-16 01:01
The Power of Narrativium
The Science of Discworld - Terry Pratchett,Jack Cohen,Ian Stewart

Murder by Death and BrokenTune have essentially summed up a lot of the points I'd want to make about The Science of Discworld.  (What a misnomer that title is, incidentally -- and not only because the science part is really concerned with "Roundworld," i.e., our world ... the science part in this book expressly negates what chiefly makes Discworld tick, namely narrativium, which is described here as the narrative imperative, but actually stands for so much more.  But I'll get to that in a minute.)  And there is quite a bit of more discussion in MbD's post here and in the comments sections of BT's posts here and here, so little remains for me to add. 

 

There is one point in particular that is bothering me about the assertions made by the scientist co-authors, though, and that is their constant poo-pooing of any- and everything that isn't scientifically quantifiable or measurable, even though (in one of their many contradictions) they do admit in the book's final chapters that the "How-to-Make-a-Human-Being" kit we have inherited and are, ourselves, passing on to future generations (both individually and collectively) includes "extelligence", which constitutes not only collectively shaped knowledge and experience, but also virtually every abstract concept known to mankind today ... as long as -- according to Stewart and Cohen -- a person's response to such a concept can be measured and recorded in some way, shape or form.  That, however, still doesn't stop them from talking down the concept of a soul (human or otherwise), or from insisting that narrativium doesn't exist in our world.  I disagree, and largely in lieu of a review I'm going to throw their co-author Terry Pratchett's own words right in their teeth (and incidentally, Pratchett was, for all I know, an atheist, so religion -- which seems to be a key part of Stewart and Cohen's objection to the notion of a soul -- doesn't even enter into the discussion here):

"I will give you a lift back, said Death, after a while.

'Thank you.  Now ... tell me ...'

What would have happened if you hadn't saved him?' [the Hogfather, Discworld's  version of Santa Claus.]

'Yes! The sun  would have risen just the same, yes?'

No.

'Oh, come on.  You can't expect me to believe that.  It's an astronomical fact.'

The sun would not have risen.

She turned on him.

'It's been a long night, Grandfather!  I'm tired and I need a bath!  I don't need silliness!'

The sun would not have risen.

'Really?  Then what would have happened, pray?'

A mere ball of flaming gas would have illuminated the world.

They walked in silence.

'Ah,' said Susan dully. 'Trickery with words.  I would have thought you'd have been more literal-minded than that.'

I am nothing if not literal-minded.  Trickery with words is where humans live.

'All right,' said Susan.  'I'm not stupid.  You're saying humans need ... fantasies to make life bearable.'

Really?  As if it was some kind of pink pill?  No.  Humans need fantasy to be human.  To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.

'Tooth fairies?  Hogfathers? Little --'

Yes.  As practice, you have to start out learning to believe the little lies.

'So we can believe the big ones?'

Yes.  Justice.  Mercy.  Duty.  That sort of thing.

'They're not the same at all?'

You think so?  Then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder and sieve it through the finest sieve and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy, and yet-- Death waved a hand.  And yet you act as if there is some ... some rightness in the universe by which it may be judged.

'Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what's the point--'

My point exactly.

She tried to assemble her thoughts.

There is a place where thwo galaxies have been colliding for a million years, said Death, apropos of nothing.  Don't try to tell me that's right.

'Yes, but people don't think about that,' said Susan.  Somewhere there was a bed ...

Correct.  Stars explode, worlds collide, there's hardly anywhere in the universe where humans can live without being frozen or fried, and yet you believe that a ... a bed is a normal thing.  It is the most amazing talent.

'Talent?'

Oh, yes.  A very speccial kind of stupidity.  You think the whole universe is inside your heads.

'You make us sound mad,' said Susan.  A nice warm bed ...

No.  You need to believe in things that aren't true.  How else can they become?  said Death, helping her up on to Binky."

(Terry Pratchett: Hogfather)

So you see, Messrs. Stewart and Cohen, there is narrativium everywhere where there are humans.  It may not have been part of the universe from the time of its creation (however we attempt to pinpoint or define that time).  And we don't know whether any of the long-extinct creatures who populated our planet millions of years before we came along had it -- if they did, it seems they at any rate didn't have enough of it to create a lasting record beyond their fossilized physical remains.  But humans wouldn't be humans without narrativium.  Because that's how the rising ape becomes something more than a mammal (call it a falling angel or whatever you will).  Because that's why it is the sun we see rising every morning, not merely a ball of flaming gas.  Because that's why the stars are shining in the sky at night, not a collection of galactic nuclear reactors that just happen to be close enough so we can see them with our naked eye.  And because that's what enables us to hope, to dream, and to consequently make things come true that nobody previously even thought possible.

 

It's narrativium that got us where we are today.  Not alone -- science, technology, and a whole lot of parts of the "How-to-Make-a-Human-Being-Kit" helped.  A lot.  But narrativium is the glue that holds them all together.

 

And since as a species we also seem to be endowed with a fair share of bloodimindium, maybe -- just maybe -- that, combined with narrativium and scientific advance all together will even enable us to survive the next big global catastrophe, which in galactic terms would seem to be right around the corner (at least if our Earth's history to date is anything to go by).  If the sharks and a bunch of protozoons could, then one would hope so could we ... space elevator, starship Enterprise, or whatever else it takes, right?

 

P.S.  Like MbD's and BT's, my love of the Discworld wizards is unbroken.  And clearly there is no higher life form than a librarian.  (Ook.)

 

P.P.S.  I said elsewhere that I'd be replacing Val McDermid's Forensics with this book as my "16 Festive Tasks" Newtonmas read.  I'm still doing this: at least it does actually have a reasonable degree of actual scientific contents; even if highly contradictory in both approach and substance and even if I didn't much care for the two science writers' tone.

 

 

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review 2017-12-15 17:33
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman

By: Gail Honeyman 

ISBN: 978-0735220683

Publisher: Pamela Dorman 

Publication Date: 5/9/2017 
Format: Other

My Rating: 5 Stars +

 

30 Best Books of 2017 

Glasgow-based author, Gail Honeyman’s debut hits it "out-of-the-park" with her hilarious and emotional tale of a misfit with a secret past. A young eccentric (oddball) woman suffering from a mysterious childhood trauma— ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE. 

The author cleverly takes us on a journey of self-discovery through the eyes of an often “naïve” (peculiar), troubled, and sheltered young woman. With a dysfunctional past, she makes her way through adulthood to "first time" new adventures, and possibly love. 

Soon to be a major motion picture produced by Reese Witherspoon! (It will be dynamite)! Can't wait to see the cast lineup.

For fans of Elizabeth Berg, Elizabeth Strout, Fredrik Backman, Jo Jo Moyes, and Jennifer Weiner.

Eleanor Oliphant is single and twenty-nine years old. She lives a solitary life. She lives alone. She keeps to herself and uses her Vodka to keep her warm and safe from the cruel outside world. 

She works Monday thru Friday and of course, on the weekends she has her Vodka, pizza, pills, and sleep.

And her . . . devastating weekly phone calls with her Mummy. She is cruel, evil, and hateful. (the narrator is "award-winning").

Eleanor thinks the outside world is foreign. She is clueless. Almost like someone with, Autism spectrum disorder (ASD). 

As she rides the train she watches observes and criticizes.She has a routine. She does not go outside this arena. 

Eleanor has a scar on her face, raised in foster care, and she is miserable. She is opinionated and highly intelligent. No social skills and awkward with interactions.

She does like to stockpile painkillers to keep on hand for emergencies. Weirdly obsessed with a local musician, whom she has not met. 

After a mysterious event in her childhood (the author keeps that under her belt until the end; leaving readers glued to the pages), that left half her face badly scarred. While in college she was in a very abusive relationship. We can only assume she had an abusive childhood. 

However, she thinks she is perfectly fine. 

 

 



Eleanor has no social or people skills and is awkward in social settings. She dreads her phone calls with her nasty mummy. 

Then one day at work she has some computer issues and meets IT guy, Raymond and they help an old man. They develop an unlikely friendship. They can relate to one another since he is a bit geeky as well. 

Through Raymond, Eleanor slowly goes outside her comfort zone. She ventures to the mall. She is introduced to restaurants, shopping, shoes, clothes, hair, makeup, nails. The makeup Bobbi Brown counter was hilarious as was the restaurant! All this is foreign to her. 

She has made fun of everyone; however, she never thought to look inside or beneath the surface to find the true meaning of people’s hearts and soul. Everyone has circumstances and baggage. Including her own self.

When she hits rock bottom, she is pulled out with the help of Raymond and is forced to seek the counsel of a therapist. The therapist helps her maneuver through her muddy dark past (this is when we learn the events of her tragic past) and the witch of a mummy.

Was dying for her to stand up to her dear mummy and cut her out of her life. 

Through it all, Eleanor desires love, friendships, family, and acceptance. However, there has never been any role models in her life; however, she still has the capacity to love and be loved when pointed in the right direction —with patience and understanding. 

Razor sharp and clever writing, ELEANOR OLIPHANT is compelling, quirky, moving, romantic, endearing, heartbreaking, sad, complex, witty, charming, and comical. Almost like a coming-of-age with a bag full of emotions, mixed with thriller, and comedy. Loved it!

Fans of Fredrik Backman’s Britt-Marie Was Here and A Man Called Ove; Elizabeth Berg’s The Story of Arthur Truluv and Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge.

Highly recommend the audiobook, narrated by Cathleen McCarron for endless hours of entertainment! Looking forward to many more books by this talented new author. 

JDCMustReadBooks

Source: www.judithdcollinsconsulting.com/single-post/2017/12/08/Eleanor-Oliphant-Is-Completely-Fine
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review 2017-12-15 00:41
Thud! (Discworld #34, Watch #7)
Thud! (Discworld, #34) - Terry Pratchett

Whenever long bloody feud between dwarfs and trolls heats up the cry, “Koom Valley”, springs up just before both sides decide to fight the next one but now it looks like it’s in Ankh-Morpork but not on Sam Vimes watch.  Thud! is the 34th installment of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and seventh in the “Watch” subseries focusing Sam Vimes pursuing culprits across the Ankh-Morpork and beyond to bring them to justice, no matter the species.

 

A dwarf demagogue is killed and a troll is the only witness, all of this as the anniversary of the Battle of Koom Valley is approaching with tensions in Ankh-Morpork between dwarfs and trolls reaching a boiling point.  After Sam Vimes learns that the murder was supposed to be hidden from him, he leaps to action to solve the murder as well as not sending both species into war.  Unfortunately Vimes has to contend with a new vampire member of the Watch, an auditor, and always making it home by 6 to read to Young Sam.  And then the case begins to involve mystical elements, really annoying Vimes especially as they travel to Koom Valley in pursuit of justice.

 

Although the overall plot was well thought out, especially concerning Vimes there were problems.  The various secondary arc, the humor, and quality of writing were noticeably not up to Pratchett’s earlier standards and ranged from bad to passable.

 

Although Thud! isn’t the best of Pratchett’s work nor the best in the Watch series, it is still a good read for any fan.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-12-14 07:55
November 2017 — A Wrap-Up!

I know, I know. It has been forever since I last posted. So, I combined my wrap-up post with an infographic to atone for my er blogging sins.

 

 

For all that they are “novellas”, these books have way too much happening in them! I read and loved the first one (Read my ravings here). This one, I found to be okayish. Maybe it was the attitude of Binti’s family towards her that I didn’t like. Or, maybe it was the plot device, “something that happened a long long time ago is disregarded by everyone to such a degree that its origins are completely lost”. I just don’t buy it. For instance, look at the words that have now become obsolete. They might not be used today but that doesn’t mean they have been erased from the record.

 

I didn’t completely hate it though because it was saved by the ending. It was a cliffhanger where an important character is killed off. Don’t you just love that feeling you get when you don’t know what might happen in the next book? I sure do!

 

 

Someone somewhere (I forget who and where now) described this book as Jane Austen in Dragon world. Of course, I just HAD to read it and duh, I ended up liking it.  I mean, I liked the part about:

putting out a gentle claw

I also liked that the dragon stayed true to their natures yet maintained Austen-tatious sensibilities as a son promised his dying father, his still unestablished siblings would:

take the greater shares when we eat you.

I found myself chuckling when a parson made untoward advances to a maiden of quality. It put me in mind of Mr. Collins. She responded in the right manner:

I am sensible of the honor you do me…

And then I shuddered when the full implications of what had just happened hit me. The maiden’s scales colored when the parson crowded her. She didn’t feel anything for him, yet her honor had been compromised: she had been raped!

 

I rooted for my favorite character: Sebeth, a female dragon who had suffered the same fate when she was kidnapped. She didn’t let a thing like that stop her from falling in love, earning a living, becoming a clerk, and secretly following an outlawed branch of religion.

There was the usual gender discrimination, females with a less than useful dowry, proud males who fell for them, manners and sensibilities, scary rich disapproving mothers in law, and females with backbone who gave no inch.

 

No wonder I loved it!

 

 

If I have to come to expect anything from Wilde’s works, it is laugh-out-loud funny prose that bites:

I guess the laws of Nature are not going to be suspended for the British aristocracy.

This one didn’t disappoint on that account! A ghost who wouldn’t accept its defeat and an American family that refused to be haunted made up the plot:

(said to the ghost) My father will be only too happy to give you a free passage, and though there is a heavy duty on spirots of every kind, there will be no difficulty about the Custom House, as the officers are all Democrats.

It is amazing that Wilde knew exactly the right length of the story and when it should end. If this is what I have to look forward to, I can’t wait to read The Picture of Dorian Gray!

 

Now for the promised infographic: During our trip, we stayed at a hotel for a few days. It was amazing to indulge ourselves in all the hot showers we wanted after we returned to the hotel every night. And, it felt decadent to not have to do anything but sink into the fluffy pillows and let the housekeeping staff take care of the rest. But, we also learned a few things; things that might have helped us save a few bucks had we known about them before.

 

And then, I thought, why not compile them and make them into an infographic? If nothing else, it might help you guys when you go on vacation. So, here goes…

 

 

Originally published at midureads.wordpress.com on December 14, 2017.

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review 2017-12-13 12:37
How to Fight the Presidents
How to Fight Presidents: An Illustrated Comedic History of the Wildest, Toughest, and Most Interesting and Badass Facts About Every US President - Daniel O'Brien

Total. boy. humour.  And it's hilarious.  Really silly and did I mention the boy humour?  There's a lot of it.

 

At a guess I'd bet that maybe 60% of the information in each section covering each president (except those that are still alive - is that for legal reasons, do you think?) is probably factual.  20% is blatantly called out by the author himself as just wishful thinking, and the other 20% could go either way.

 

But I hope nobody thinks they're picking this up in order to expand their factual knowledge  of presidential history.  There's a lot of good stuff I didn't know before, but the focus is very narrow and aimed solely at making the presidents all look like bad asses.  How to Fight Presidents is a fun, entertaining, wishful thinking sort of book that will accidentally import some small inconsequential facts into the reader's brainpan when they aren't paying attention; guaranteed to make them only slightly quirky at the next cocktail party, or the dark horse at their next trivia night.  Or maybe just slightly better prepared should he or she accidentally find themselves in a dark alley with a sitting president-pretender. You never know I guess.

 

Book themes for Festivus: Read anything comedic; a parody, satire, etc.  Books with hilariously dysfunctional families (must be funny dysfunctional, not tragic dysfunctional).  Anything that makes you laugh (or hope it does).

 

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