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review 2017-12-12 12:55
Casting your brain into big questions
Stories of Your Life and Others - Ted Chiang

I went in all big eyes and heavy heart and cheating, starting with the story I was curious about after watching the movie. It was sadder in it's determinism, but it was all that (and it had emotion, lordy, did it have emotion).

 

About half way through this book (and with my brain much hurting, I get so immersed into these Big Question explorations), LeGuin's introduction for The Left Hand of Darkness (I was very much taken by them, book and intro) kept popping into my thoughts. The part where she says taking a concept to it's maximum expression is like concentrating any chemical element: it causes cancer.

 

The stories vary in nature and theme, they are interesting, and unique. And in a sense, bleak. Lacking in hope, some in sentiment, some in... something. I can't quite put my finger on it, but while amazing, thought-provoking explorations that filled me with wonder or questions, each tale left me with this vague sense of depression. Which had little to do with whether they had happy ending or not (most are a dagger), since Le Guin does that, you blubber like a fool, and still makes you love it and leave bittersweet hopeful. So, not the presence of pain. Maybe more like a general lack of joy to balance them (for the most part).

 

Anyway, it is a really good book to think about or discuss, and it delves into some interesting territories (I'm itching for some looong research and reading on some things that went over my head). Different and exhausting. Will read more of the author.

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review 2017-11-29 14:11
Fictionalizing Philosopher: “Philip K. Dick and Philosophy - Do Androids Have Kindred Spirits” by Dylan E. Wittkower
Philip K. Dick and Philosophy: Do Androids Have Kindred Spirits? - D.E. Wittkower

‘In Blade Runner, also, it is an authentic relationship to Being that is taken to be what essentially ensouls both humans and replicants. Such is the import of Roy Batty’s famous final soliloquy:

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-Beams glitter in the darkness at Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain. Time to die.”’

 

In “Philip K. Dick and Philosophy - Do Androids Have Kindred Spirits” by Dylan E. Wittkower

 

 

I just wanted to say that in my opinion any attempt to construct a coherent interpretation pf Phil Dick’s universe is missing the point. To be able to to construct a Weltanschauung of Dick’s writing we should focus only on philosophy. In all of Dick’s fiction time and causality are of the essence. The point is that, once time and causality become malleable, there is no hope of forming a solid, consistent interpretation of events in Dick’s fiction. That leads to our questioning the Nature of Reality. The focus shifts from epistemology - the problem of knowledge - to ontology - the way different realities are produced. This shift, according to Brian McHale, is precisely what defines the transition from modernism to postmodernism. In its resistance to coherent interpretation, "Ubik" is similar to certain more "literary" works of the 60s, for example the “nouveau romans” of Robbe-Grillet, or Richard Brautigan's "In Watermelon Sugar". (Granted these are very different stylistically). Is it because Dick is writing SF that so many assume the incoherence is sloppiness rather than a deliberate rhetorical strategy?

 

I think Robbe-Grillet was perhaps deliberately, not just stylistically, trying to put thinking and theorizing about the art of writing into the structure of his novels to create novelty, as writing, which he called “Noveau Roman”. I don't know what Brautigan was trying to do, but Phil Dick's subjects and concerns about reality weren't about writing per se, but about living. I don't think he was trying to deliberately create a new kind of writing or novel. That doesn't mean his works are narrowly interpretable, but many, many SF novels have time travel, space/time warps, and so on, but are interpretable. Interpretations or readings are just perspectives which aren't meant to be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Reasonably consistent interpretations are possible, such a everything-is-perfect's Jungian analysis. Works like Phil Dick's makes people want to interpret them and present many overlapping and partial possibilities of interpretation and perhaps ultimate impenetrability.

 

 

If you're into Literary Criticism on Phil Dick, read on.

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review 2017-11-20 13:14
16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 2 - Guy Fawkes Night: Headless Chicken Parade Part 1: Giordano Bruno
Heresy (Giordano Bruno #1) - S.J. Parris

 

Giordano Bruno (1548 – February 17, 1600) was an eminent Italian philosopher, mathematician, poet, and cosmological scientist, whose theories extended the then-novel Copernican model. Bruno proposed that the stars were just distant suns surrounded by their own exoplanets and raised the possibility that these planets could even foster life of their own; and he insisted that the universe is in fact infinite and could have no celestial body at its "center". -- Raised in Naples as a Dominican friar from age 13 onwards, his interest in the writings of Copernicus and Desiderius Erasmus attracted the attention of the Holy Inquisition before he had even turned 30, and rather than become a martyr for the sake of his philosophical and scientific beliefs then and there, he fled from his monastery and from Italy and, having made a name for himself as a scholar in France and attained the patronage of French King Henri III himself, he eventually turned up in Britain in 1583, where he was introduced to Francis Walsingham and agreed to become a spy in Walsingham's network. The Inquisition did eventually catch up with him in 1593, however, and he was tried for heresy and burned at the stake in Rome's Campo de' Fiori in 1600.

 

While you will be able to glean the above biographical facts (up to 1583) from the beginning of S.J. Parris's Heresy and the book actually has an engaging beginning, it all goes rapidly downhill (or it did for me, anyway) from the moment when the first of several murders occurs. -- Parris's book uses details from Bruno's actual stay in England, in sending him to Oxford for a philosophical debate with the then-Rector of Lincoln College, John Underhill (who indeed opposed Bruno's views). The rest of the story is fictitious, however, and I sincerely hope the personality of this book's Giordano Bruno has nothing whatsoever in common with that of the real-life philosopher and scientist, because if it had, it would be nothing short of a miracle how he ever managed to evade the Inquisition and find his way all the way to France and, later, England.

 

As for "Bruno the sleuth," leaving aside that initially there isn't even a good reason for him to involve himself in the investigation into the dead man's murder

(even the discovery that the man was a clandestine Catholic, and that his death may thus fall into the purview of Bruno's mission as a spy, follows his death; there is nothing to make Bruno suspect as much while the man is still alive),

(spoiler show)

the murder and its immediate aftermath are described in such a fashion that anybody who has read Arthur Conan Doyle's

Silver Blaze

(spoiler show)

can't fail to notice one fact pointing very damningly in one particular direction right from the start -- and surely the real-life Giordano Bruno's intellect would have been on par with that of Sherlock Holmes in every respect? And it certainly doesn't get any better by the fact that the one person who thus draws, if not the fictional Bruno's attention, then at least that of this book's reader to themselves in a very conspicious manner, with the same act also eliminates a witness in a manner identical to that used by Ellis Peters in

the fourth Chronicle of Brother Cadfael, St. Peter's Fair

(spoiler show)

... and that in connection with a second murder, a few days later, Parris employs precisely the same slight of hand already used by Agatha Christie in

Murder at the Vicarage.

(spoiler show)

 

So, I found myself looking in one particular direction from page 95 onwards, and though it turned out that I had the dynamics between two of the persons involved the wrong way around, I never wavered in my belief that the solution lay that way -- which makes a 474-page book a mighty slog to finish, particularly if the book's alleged super-sleuth is running around like a headless chicken, missing just about ever vital clue that doesn't actually explode in his face, and standing by passively and helplessly and / or letting himself be tricked, manhandled and otherwise be manipulated in a way I'd possibly have expected from a rookie investigator, but not from a distinguished intellectual like the real life Giordano Bruno, who after all had, himself, demonstrated considerable cunning in evading the persecution of the Holy Inquisition and make his way, undetected, all the way from southern Italy to France and England.

 

There is one final twist that I didn't see coming exactly this way around (although I should have, and just possibly might if I'd still cared enough to engage with the book at that point), and I'll also have to give Parris credit for an engaging beginning and for her knowledge of the period -- even though I wondered several times how her version of Giordano Bruno, who had never before been to Oxford in his life, could have the city's layout down so pat within a day at most that the book reads as if Parris had had a map of 16th century Oxford sitting next to her manuscript virtually all the time.

 

Final note to those who don't care for first person present tense narration: There is an excerpt of the series's second book (Prophecy) included at the end of my edition, and while I didn't actually read it, I've seen enough of it to be able to recognize that it's written in that particular narrative voice. (Heresy is not -- it's in first person past tense.)

 

I read this book for Square 2 of the 16 Tasks of the Festive Season - Guy Fawkes Night: Any book about the English monarchy (any genre), political treason, political thrillers, or where fire is a major theme, or fire is on the cover.

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review 2017-11-20 07:17
The Chosen
The Chosen - Chaim Potok

I seem to have inadvertently found myself on a theological reading streak.  Like The Alchemist, this book was recommended to me by a friend (although more enthusiastically), and also like The Alchemist, I picked it up for reasons that ended up having nothing to do with the book.  I thought The Chosen was about baseball.

 

It's not about baseball.

 

What it is about, at its core, is exactly the same thing The Alchemist is about (which almost defies coincidence):  the power of silence, listening to your heart/soul, and following your own true path.  But while The Alchemist uses parable, allegory and fantastic storytelling to get its message across, The Chosen tells the same message using an opposite style, set in WWII New York, and using first person-past tense POV.  This is the story of two boys brought together by a softball game; one is a Hasidic Jew and one is Conservative (I think–it's never explicitly stated whether he's Conservative or Reform).  Although they live only 5 blocks apart, they inhabit completely different worlds within the same religious faith, and have very different relationships with their respective fathers.

 

I can't do justice to this book in my review, but it works for me so much better than The Alchemist did; while I could appreciate the beauty of the writing and the story Coelho created, Potok's creation had the profound effect on me that I think the author was aiming for.  The Chosen is going to be one of those that stay with me permanently.

 

Book themes for Hanukkah: Any book whose main character is Jewish, any story about the Jewish people

 

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text 2017-11-10 13:08
Reading progress update: I've read 42 out of 474 pages.
Heresy (Giordano Bruno #1) - S.J. Parris

 

Started last night; I'm reading this for Square 2, Guy Fawkes Night:

"Any book about the English monarchy (any genre), political treason, political thrillers, or where fire is a major theme, or fire is on the cover."

This seems to tick off all the categories -- Tudor Era political and religious conspiracies; even on the first pages, the Inquisition and the notion of burning heretics has already reared its ugly head ... and it's even got fire on the cover, too!

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