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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 2017-12-11 10:00
Release Day Review! War Games (Valiant Knox #4) by Jess Anastasi
War Games (Valiant Knox Book 4) - Jess Anastasi

 

 

When one of her pilots is shot down behind enemy lines, Lieutenant Theresa Brenner will stop at nothing to save her before she’s captured and tortured, even if it means being part of the dirtside team led by Colonel Cameron McAllister. Bren might respect the way the colonel commands his men, but she’ll never trust Cam—no matter how charming he is—because he was responsible for her brother’s death. 

Colonel Cameron McAllister has a covert mission behind enemy lines to team with the Ilari rebels and overthrow the bloodthirsty dictator who’s torn their planet apart. The last thing he needs is to get sidetracked searching for a downed pilot, especially since it means having Lieutenant Theresa Brenner tag along. Not only doesn’t the frosty pilot have the ground game to keep up with his seasoned group, she’s a potential distraction with all those gorgeous blond curls of hers—and she might be just like her brother, whose foolhardiness got his men killed.

Be prepared to be kept on the edge with adrenaline pumping action, suspense, and a heated romance when you pick up this book as readers get a ringside seat to the final battle in the war to overthrow the bloodthirsty dictator.

 

 

 

Cam and Theresa are vivid characters with sizzling chemistry that must overcome their past history and personal issues in order to even think about having a relationship but that doesn’t stop the burning attraction from distracting them from their mission and heating up the pages for the readers to enjoy. The rocky romance keeps emotions at an all-time high for the couple as well as readers with some heated confrontations and red-hot passion and while the turbulent emotional battle rivals the action on the battlefield, the danger the characters face throughout their mission builds the suspense and thrills throughout the story, ensuring that readers can’t stop turning the pages.

 

I have loved joining the Valiant Knox throughout the war as Jess Anastasi brought each and every book to brilliant life with well written words, an inspired world, electrifying characters that I enjoyed getting to know and thrilling action and suspense that has readers biting their nails, so I am definitely sorry to see the series end. But what a way to go, the author did a fantastic job with the tension building final mission, the action filled and remarkable battle and the splendid epilogue that gives readers a glimpse of what is instore for the characters in the future, which I just want to say makes the parting with this series a little less painful for me.

 

 

 

War Games is the 4th and final book in the Valiant Knox series.

 

Valiant Know is available in ebook at:

Entangled   Amazon   B&N   iBooks   Kobo   GPlay

 

Jess Anastasi can be found at:

Website   Goodreads   Facebook   Twitter   Blog   Entangled   BookBub

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text 2017-12-04 12:28
Reading progress update: I've read 135 out of 385 pages.
The Science of Discworld - Terry Pratchett,Jack Cohen,Ian Stewart

Well, so far the science writing is pretty neat for what it set out to do, and this one will definitely replace my Newtonmas read for the 16 Festive Tasks.

 

Still, can I just say that I nevertheless prefer the Discworld chapters?

 

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review 2017-12-02 20:49
16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 13 - Hogswatch Night
Hogfather (Discworld, #20) - Terry Pratchett
Hogfather: Discworld, Book 20 - Random House Audiobooks,Terry Pratchett,Nigel Planer

Ponder and his fellow students watched Hex carefully.

"It can't just, you know, stop," said Adrian 'Mad Drongo' Turnipseed.

"The ants are just standing still," said Ponder.  He sighed.  "All right, put the wretched thing back."

Adrian carefully replaced the small fluffy teddy bear above Hex's keyboard.  Things immediately began to whirr.  The ants started to trot again.  The mouse squeaked.

They'd tried this three times.

Ponder looked again at the single sentence Hex had written.

+++ Mine!  Waaaah! +++

"I don't actually think," he said gloomily, "that I want to tell the Archchancellor that this machine stops working if we take its fluffy teddy bear away.  I just don't think I want to live in that kind of world."

"Er," said Mad Drongo, "you could always, you know, sort of say it needs to work with the FTB enabled ...?"

"You think that's better?" said Ponder, reluctantly.  It wasn't as if it was even a very realistic interpretation of a bear.

"You mean, better than 'fluffy teddy bear'?"

Ponder nodded.  "It's better," he said.

Finished -- and there will have to be an instant reread.  My life needs this right now.  Urgently.

 

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review 2017-12-01 17:13
16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 7 - International Human Rights Day: Et vous vouliez me dire quoi encore, M. Senécal?
Vivre au Max - Patrick Senécal

 

A French buddy read with Tannat (who doesn't seem terribly inclined to make progress rapidly with this book, either) -- and since it's not only a book originally written in a language other than English, and in a language different from my mother tongue (plus, a book by a Québecois, i.e., non-Anglo-Saxon author), I'm also counting it towards square 7 of the 16 Festive Tasks (International Human Rights Day).

 

Vivre au Max is the first half of a two-part novel entitled Le vide ("the void," "the emptiness").  It's also the title of a TV show which, if it were real, would make the likes of Jerry Springer look like innocent choir boys.  The show promises to fulfill three candidates' wildest and most unreachable dreams per episode (at least 2 out of 3 of these dreams, or "trips," typically being sordid beyond compare): "au max" is a word play on both "to the max" and its creator's and host's name -- Maxime Lavoie, former president and CEO of a ski apparel company founded by his father; a position, that Max (a would-be humanitarian and intellectual) had taken on only half-heartedly to begin with, and quickly got fed up with when he realized that his high-flying notions to turn the company into a model of social virtues -- at the shareholders' cost -- were not going to be put into practice in any way that would have counted.

 

Max Lavoie is one of three men on which the story centers; the other two are a cop named Pierre Sauvé, who is investigating a quadruple shooting that initially looks every bit like a case of violent domestic revenge, and a psychologist named Fédéric Farland, who ... well, let's just say that having gotten bored with life's ordinary thrills, he is seeking ever more exotic and dangerous ones.  Of the three protagonists, I really only ever took to Pierre -- certainly not Frédéric, whom I hated pretty much from the first page of his appearance (and not merely for his utter amorality and contempt of life); and while I was unsure initially about Max, he lost my sympathy when I had clued into where the story was headed.  Not that I feel very much like bothering to find out: I still don't get what, deep down, Mr. Senécal's point in writing this book ultimately might have been, but I don't care about two of the three principal characters, and if the story is headed anywhere near where I think it is headed, it's not the sort of thing I need in my life at all.

 

That said, the buddy read has accomplished its primary goal, in bringing back the fun of reading something in a different language than German or (mostly) English.  So Tannat, if / whenever you finish this and aren't too ennuie on your part, I'd definitely be up for another one ...

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